Jacques Maritain Center : Elements of Moral Theology



§ 1. Faith.

In order to consider rightly the virtue of faith, we must inquire first into its object, then into the act of faith itself.

Faith assents to nothing except as revealed by God, and because it has been revealed by God. Therefore it rests on the primal verity, on God. This is faith's "formal" part, the essence of faith. But if we consider the things which are received by faith, the "material" part, not only God's existence but many other things also are believed, which, however, do not fall under the assent of faith, except related to God. In both ways, then, the object of faith is primal verity (either God Himself, or the Divine veracity in revelation).

Is the object of faith things or propositions?

Things known are in the knower after his proper manner. Now the proper mode of human intelligence is through propositions which analyze or synthesize. So, then, the object of faith also can be considered in two ways; one, on the side of the thing believed, and so the object of faith is the very thing (or being) concerned; another, on the part of the believer, and so the object of his faith is some inward proposition of his mind. But the act of faith is not terminated in the proposition, but in the thing (or being) which is the object of the proposition. And thus we say, "I believe in God the Father Almighty."

Can the false be the object of faith?

No; for nothing can be embraced in the faith which does not stand under that primal verity which is its "formal" object.

(1) Truth is the good of intelligence; therefore all the virtues which perfect it, and chiefly faith, totally exclude the false. Hope and charity may in a certain way be deceived, but these perfect the will, whose good is a different good from that of intelligence.

(2) Human conjectures may be attached to the object of faith, and may err, but this is not error in the faith.

Faith is "the proving of things not seen" (Heb. xi. 1).

Faith signifies the assent of the mind to that which is believed. But that assent is given, first, when the mind is moved to it by the object itself, which is either known per se -- sc., primary self-evident truths -- or known through another object, the necessary inference or conclusion of scientific knowledge. But that assent is given also, secondly, not because the intellect is sufficiently moved by its proper object, hut because through some choice the mind voluntarily inclines to one side rather than to the other. And if indeed this is done with hesitation and fear of the other side, it will be opinion; but if with unhesitating certitude, it will be faith. But the things which, per se, move our intelligence to know them, are seen by the senses, or by the mind. Hence it is manifest that neither faith nor opinion can be of things seen by sense or by the intellect. A thing may he seen to be credible, to harmonize with the habit of spiritual faith, and so on; but this is not literally seeing with the mind the object of faith.

Can those things which are of faith be known or demonstrated?

All knowledge comes through principles known per se; i.e., they are seen. And, therefore, whatever things are known, in some way are seen. But the same thing cannot at the same time, and by the same person, be known and believed. Still it can happen that what is seen and known by one, may be believed by another. "Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face" (1 Cor. xiii. 12). What we believe, the saints see and know. The same thing may be true in this present state of life. But that which is proposed to all men in general to be believed, is in general not known; it is simply the object of faith.

(1) This is not the ignorance of unbelief; but through the light of faith, not through demonstration, the faithful see what they are to believe.

(2) As science demonstrates its conclusions, so the truth of the faith is argued in two ways; one, not demonstrative but persuasive argument, showing that the things believed are not impossible; another, deducing the articles of faith from the Holy Scriptures, the foundations of the faith.

(3) Some things are believed which philosophy undertakes to demonstrate, as the being and unity of God, etc. But these are numbered with the articles of the faith, both because they are preambles of the faith, and because where they are not demonstratively known they must at least be believed.{1}

§ 2. The inward act of faith.

What is it to believe?

If we say that it is thinking with assent, we shall need to examine our terms. What is it to think? (1) Any consideration of a thing by the mind may be called so; and he who considers the things which he knows does so with assent to them. But this is not belief. (2) It may mean a consideration of some subject with inquiry into it, before there is perfect insight into it. This is an act of the deliberating intellect. Now there are acts pertaining to the intelligence in which, without further reflection, there is firm assent, as when one considers what he already knows or sees to be true. And there are acts of intelligence also in which there is a thought without firm assent, inclining sometimes to neither side, as in doubt; or to one side through some trifling indication, as in suspicion; or adhering to one side with fear of the opposite, as in opinion. But in belief there is firm adhesion to one side, and so far it agrees with knowledge and intellectual insight; and yet there is not perfect knowledge through clear insight, and so far it agrees with doubt, suspicion, and opinion. And so this mental reflection with assent, is peculiar to belief.

But the inquiry is not into direct demonstration of the things which are believed, but into the reasons for believing, say, that they have been spoken by God, are confirmed by miracles, etc., etc.

Assent may also be said to be the act of will, because the mind of him that believes is determined to one proposition, not by reasoning but by his will. So assent as here used signifies the act of the intelligence, as it is determined by the will to one thing. (The reason why the will assents to what the mind does not see, is because God has said it.)

There are three acts of faith in relation to its object.

For since believing pertains to the intellect as it is moved to assent by the will, the object of faith may be viewed either on the intellectuai side of the act, or on the side of the will moving the intellect. If the first, we may consider the very thing believed, the "material" object of faith. This is God. For nothing is proposed to faith, except as it pertains to God. This is "credere Deum" (believing that God is). Or we may consider why the assent is given, the "formal" part of the object. And this is primal verity, to which man adheres, on account of it assenting to what he believes. This is credere Deo (believing what God says). But we may consider, thirdly, the object of faith, as the reason is moved by the will. So viewed, the act of faith is credere in Deum (to tend to God as the ultimate end on account of whom we will to believe).

The unbeliever, indeed, may admit that God exists; but he does not believe it under those conditions which faith determines.

Is it necessary to salvation to believe anything which is above natural reason?

Rational nature alone has immediate relation to God. Its perfection requires not only what naturally belongs to it, but what is given to it through a certain supernatural participation of the Divine goodness. Hence the ultimate beatitude of man consists in the supernatural vision of God. (See page 4.) To this man can attain only as he is taught of God (S. John vi. 45). But this discipline is not instantaneous, but gradual, according to the laws of man's nature. But every one who is taught must believe in order to reach perfect knowledge. Hence if man would attain his perfect beatitude, he must believe his teacher, God.

(1) The things to be believed exceed natural reason, because the nature of man depends on a higher nature.

(2) It is true that man cannot judge of what is proposed to his faith, by referring it to those primary truths through which we judge of all things besides. But there is no risk of illusion in this. For as by the natural light of reason man assents to principles, and as a virtuous man through his habit of virtue has right judgment respecting those things which harmonize with his virtue, so, by the light of faith divinely infused, man assents to those things which are of faith, but not to their contraries.

Is it necessary to believe those things which can be proved by natural reason -- e.g., that God is one and a Spirit?

Yes; and for three reasons: (1) that man may more speedily arrive at the knowledge of Divine truth. For the science to which it appertains to prove that God exists and other such truths respecting Him, is the last to be acquired by men, many other sciences being presupposed. And so man would arrive at the knowledge of God only at a late period of life.

(2) There is the same necessity of belief in order that the knowledge of God may be more widely diffused. For many are too dull of understanding, or too much Occupied, or too sluggish of will to acquire this science (philosophy), and they would altogether be deprived of the knowledge of God, if it were not offered to them through faith.

(3) There is the same necessity of belief in order that there may be certitude. For humau reason is very defective in Divine things, and even about human affairs philosophers have widely differed, and many have erred. In order, therefore, that there might be unhesitating certitude respecting God, Divine things (even those which might be proved) Were delivered to faith as spoken by God.

Man is bound to believe explicitly all the articles of iliefaith, and implicitly whatsoevej. is contained in the holy Scriptures.

"He that cometh to God, must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that seek after Him" (Heb. xi. 6). For the determination of the act of any virtue to its proper and per se object is part of the command, like the act of the virtue itself. And the object of faith, per se, is that by which man is rendered blessed.

But the determination of the virtuous act to things which are accidentally or secondarily related to its proper object is not commanded except under the suitable conditions of place and time. And thus man is bound implicitly or in preparation of soul to believe whatever the Divine Scriptures contain. (The argument seems to require, as qualification, the contents of Holy Scriptures as connected with the primary object of faith. It may not be possible to draw the line of division, but if, beside the Divine element in Holy Scriptures, there is a human element -- say, numbers, names, and the like -- the argument hardly seems to reach to that; in fact, that element was probably not in the mind of the saint at all.)

(1) But how can a man be bound to that which is not in his power? "how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?" (Rom. x. 14). Man is bound to many things which he cannot reach without assisting grace, as, to love God and his neighbour.

(2) But the good of faith consists in obedience (Rom. i. 5), and the virtue of obedience does not require that one observe any determinate precepts, but it suffices that he have a ready mind (Ps. cxix. 60). Therefore it seems to suffice for faith that one have a ready mind to whatever may be Divinely proposed, without explicitly believing anything.

But I answer that the virtue of obedience is properly in the will, and, therefore, to the act of obedience (act to the act of faith which is in the intellect) it suffices that there be a promptitude of will subject to the one who commands; and this is properly and per se the object of obedience.

Faith is a meritorious act, (in the sense in which we speak of virtuous acts as being meritorious; see p. 42). "Through faith" the saints of old time "obtained promises" (Heb. xi. 33). This could not be if their faith had no merit.{2} Observe, then, that our acts obtain reward, are meritorious, in so far as they proceed from free-will moved by the grace of God. Hence, every human act which is under free-will can be meritorious if it is referred to God. But faith is the act of the intellect assenting to Divine truth at the command of the will which is moved by the grace of God. Therefore it can he meritorious.

(1) Charity indeed is the principle of merit. But nature and faith are precedent to charity; nature, as the matter in which charity is found; faith (fides informis), as a precedent disposition. But when charity is come, nature and faith act in virtue of that (fides formata), and so neither nature nor faith can produce a meritorious act without charity; but charity supervening, the act of faith is rendered meritorious by it, as is the act of nature and the natural act of free-will.

(2) Even in knowledge something of a similar kind may be found. For while assent is compelled by the cogency of demonstration, and is neither subject to free-will nor is meritorious, yet the actual consideration of the thing in question is so subject, since it is in a man's power to consider or not to consider. And so the considering may be meritorious if it be referred to the end of charity; i.e., to the honour of God or the good of our neighbour.

(3) A superficial objection says that if a man assent to anything with faith, he either has sufficient reason leading him to believe, or he has not. If he has, his faith is not meritorious, because he is not free to believe or disbelieve. If he has not, he shows empty credulity. Either way there is no merit in the ease. But I reply that he who believes has sufficient motive for doing so, since he is led by the authority of Divine doctrine confirmed by miracles, and, which is more, by the inward drawing of God Himself. Hence, faith is not credulity. But still there is none of the compulsion of demonstration, and merit is not taken away.

Do credible arguments for the faith diminish the merit of that virtue?

Reason may precede the will in believing -- say, when one either would not have a believing will, or not so prompt a one, if human reasons had not led up to faith; and so they diminish the merit of faith, for we ought to believe, not on account of human arguments, but of Divine authority. (Of course, in point of time motives for believing must precede, if we would not fall into mere credulity. But the author is speaking of the cause, the reason of assent.) In another way reason may follow the will of him who believes; for when a man has a will prompt to believe, he loves the verity which he believes, and he reflects upon it, and delights in finding reasons for it. This does not detract from faith, but rather increases its merit.

§ 3. The outward act of faith.

Spoken words are ordained to signify what is conceived in the heart; and outward confession of the faith is an external act of faith.

Is it necessary to salvation? The apostle says, "With the mouth confession is made unto salvation." But this confession as an affirmative act can fall only under an affirmative precept. It is necessary to salvation after the manner of other affirmative commands. Now, these are of perpetual obligation, but not at all times ("semper, non ad semper"). But they bind in certain times and places according to due circumstances, in accordance with which the human act must be limited in order to make it an act of virtue. So, then, confession of the faith at all times and in every place is not essential to salvation, but confession in some place and time is so; when, sc., through omission of this confession honour due to God would be withheld, and even the benefit of our neighbour criminally neglected; say, if one who is asked respecting his faith should keep silence, and so should be taken for an unbeliever, or others should be turned away from the faith through his silence.

(1) But cannot our hearts cleave to Divine truth without speaking of what we believe? I answer that the end of faith, as of other virtues, must be referred to charity, the love of God and of our neighbour. Now, when the honour of God or the utility of our neighbour demands this confession, a man ought not to he content to possess Divine truth through his faith, but ought to declare it with his lips.

But apart from any benefit to the faith or to the faithful, it is not laudable to proclaim one's faith if tumult among unbelievers is the result. If good is reasonably hoped for, let the disturbance be despised.

§ 4. The virtue of faith.

What is the virtue of faith?

If we consider the apostle's description (Heb. xi. 1), we shall see that it contains all that is essential to definition. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the proof of things not seen." Primal verity is the end and object of this theological virtue, verity not seen as yet. And so it is spoken of as "hoped for." For to see the truth is to possess it. But no one hopes for that which he already has, but for that which he has not. So, then, the relation of the act of faith to its end, which is the object of the will, is expressed thus "the substance of things hoped for." Substance here means the beginning of a thing when all that follows is virtually contained in its beginning. So we may say that primary indemonstrable principles are the substance of science, because they are first in logical order, and virtually contain all science. This is likewise true of faith, because the first beginnings of the things hoped for are in us through the assent of faith, which virtually contains all the things hoped for. For we hope to be blessed in seeing face to face the truth to which we adhere through faith. But the relation, secondly, of the act of faith to the object of the intelligence, as it is object of faith, is next described, viz., "the proof of things not seen." Proof is here taken for the effect of proof. Faith is thus distinguished from all other things which pertain to the mind. "Proof" or evidence distinguishes it from opinion, suspicion, and doubt, in which there is no firm adhesion of the mind to anything. "Things not seen" distinguishes it from knowledge and understanding. And, finally. "the substance of things hoped for" distinguishes the virtue of faith, from faith in general, which is not ordained for the beatitude hoped for. We say, "the things hoped for," not "the things loved," for love may be of things seen, which cannot be the object of faith. Note, too, that evidence from the proper principles of the thing makes it to be (inwardly) seen; not so the proof from Divine authority (except in a common figure of speech).

Faith is primarily a virtue of the speculative intellect.

For believing is primarily an act of the intellect, because the object of this act is the true, which properly pertains to the intellect. And therefore it is necessary that faith, which is the proper principle of this act, be there also. To faith succeeds vision; "now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face." But vision is in the intellect, therefore faith also is. The act of faith, indeed, as we have seen, proceeds from will also which moves to assent. Therefore both powers must be perfected by their respective habits, in order that the act of faith may be perfect in its kind.

Living faith.

The object of the will is the good, and the act of faith, as we have just seen, is ordained for this end. But this Divine good, which is the end of faith, is the proper object of charity. Therefore by charity the act of faith is perfected and "informed" (fides formata). Faith works through love.

Dead faith and living faith are one so far as intellect is concerned; but what distinguishes living faith is found in the will; i.e., the grace of charity.

Fides formata is a virtue, for "we are justified by faith" (Rom. v. 1). Since believing is the act of the mind assenting to the true under the command of the will, in order that the act may be perfect (i.e., proceed from virtue), two things are required: first, that the mind infallibly tend to the true; next, that the will be infallibly ordered with respect to the ultimate end on account of which that assent is given. Both of these are found in the act of fides formata. For, first, faith is directed to the true, since the false cannot be the object of true faith (see page 154) next, charity by which faith is "informed" (rendered living) directs the will to the good end.

But dead faith is not a virtue, since it lacks the due perfection on the part of the will.

Why is faith first among virtues (in order of generation)?

Since, in things which are to be done, the end is their first principle, necessarily the theological virtues, which have as their object the ultimate end, are prior to other virtues (if we speak of the perfect virtues). But the ultimate end itself must be in the intelligence before it is in the will, because nothing can be willed which is not previously cognized, apprehended by the mind. Hence, since the ultimate end is in the will, indeed, through hope and love, but in the intellect through faith, the latter is necessarily first among virtues. Per accidens, however, other imperfect virtues may prepare the way for faith, as humility may remove the pride which makes the reason refuse to submit itself to the verities of the faith.

Charity is the foundation of the spiritual edifice (Col. iii. 14), which binds all parts of it together; but this does not make it first in order of generation.

Is faith more certain than knowledge (scientia) and the other intellectual virtues?

Wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, the three intellectual virtues which concern necessary truth, resemble faith in this, and are thus distinguished from prudence, which concerns contingent truths. The question before us plainly regards the three first, since prudence cannot have the same certitude in its object. Observe, also, that the same three names are applied to three of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. If, now, we speak of the three intellectual virtues as compared with faith, certitude is of two sorts: one depending on the cause of certitude. That is more certain which has the more certain cause. In this way faith is more certain (objectively), because it rests on Divine veracity; but the three intellectual virtues rest on human reason. But certitude may be viewed (subjectively) on the side of the one who has it, and so that is said to be more certain which the mind of man more fully attains to; and, in this way, since the things of faith are above human understanding, but the objects of the aforesaid virtues are not, faith, on this side, is less certain. (Not that one adheres less firmly to the first, but the mind cannot rest with an intellectual intuition of the truth beyond the reach of disturbing doubt.)

But if we speak of the gifts, faith is their principle, and is presupposed, which renders faith more certain than they.

(1) There can be no doubt in the three intellectual virtues, as there can be in the believing soul. But then this doubt is not on the side of the cause of faith, but in ourselves, as understanding does not fully attain to the objects of faith.

(2) Caeteris paribus, sight is more certain than hearing, and faith comes by hearing (Rom. x. 17). So that it might seem as if faith had less certainty than the intellectual virtues have. But if he from whom we hear far exceeds us in power of sight, then hearing may he more certain than sight. A "layman" in science is apt to have more certainty from what scientific people tell him than from his own unassisted observations. And so man is more certain of what he hears from God, who cannot be deceived, than of what he sees by the light of his own reason (I Thess. ii. 13).

(3) Understanding is more perfect than faith, because through faith we arrive at understanding. But this greater manifestation in understanding and knowledge does not imply a more fixed adherence and certitude, because all their certitude as spiritual gifts proceeds from the certitude of faith. And, as intellectual virtues, they rest on the natural light of reason, which falls short in certitude from the Word of God on which faith rests.

Can he who disbelieves one article of the faith have dead faith (fides informis) in the other articles?

In the heretic who rejects one article of the faith remains neither living nor dead faith. The formal object of virtue being taken away -- i.e., what makes it virtue -- the virtue is destroyed. But the formal object of faith is primal truth as manifested in the holy Scriptures, and in the teaching of the Church which proceeds from the primal verity manifested in those Holy Scriptures. Hence he who does not adhere to the doctrine of the Church as an infallible and Divine rule, has not the habit of faith, and if he hold anything which agrees with articles of the faith, he does not hold it through faith, but in some other way. So a man may hold a scientific conclusion; hut if he have no scientific proof of it, it is his opinion, and it is not science.

But he who adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, assents to all which the Church teaches. But if he holds what he likes of Church teaching, and what he does not will to hold he does not hold, he adheres to his own will, not to the doctrine of the Church. Hence it is manifest that the heretic who pertinaciously rejects one article of the faith is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church. If this is not pertinaciously done, he is not a heretic, but is merely in error. But it is manifest that the heretic concerning one article of the faith has not faith respecting the other articles, but only some opinion according to his own self-will.

(There is only one mode of approach for all articles of the faith. In wilfully rejecting that mode of approach for one, it is virtually rejected for all.)

He who has faith is prepared to believe explicitly all that is contained under it, but one may explicitly believe more than another. And, also, one may adhere to primal verity with more certitude than another, with more firmness, promptitude, devotion, or confidence.

Is faith acquired, or is it infused by God?

There are two requisites for faith; one, that credible things (things to be believed) be presented to man, in order that he may explicitly believe something; the other, assent of the believer to the things so presented. As regards the first, faith is necessarily from God, for the articles of faith exceed human reason, and so do not fall under man's cognition unless God reveal them; to some immediately -- e.g., apostles and prophets; to others through the medium of preaching the Gospel (Rom. x. 15).

But as regards assent, we may find two causes, one outward, like miracles seen or the persuasive preaching of men; neither of which is sufficient, for one man believes, and another does not. Therefore, it is necessary to recognize another inward cause, which moves a man inwardly to assent to the things of faith. This cause is not man's freewill, as the Pelagians vainly talk, because in this assent man is raised above himself, and so there must be an inward supernatural cause moving him, which is God.

Faith, indeed, comes by hearing, and it is voluntary, but the hearing is only of what is to be believed (not the cause of belief in it); and the will must be prepared by grace in order that it may be raised to what is above nature. (Eph. ii. 8): "By grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God."

The effects of faith

are, from dead faith servile fear; from living faith filial, reverential fear; purification of the soul from error by dead faith; from all impurity by faith informed by love.

To the virtue of faith correspond the spiritual gifts of understanding and knowledge (qu's. viii. and ix.). The first is a supernatural light which man needs in order that he may penetrate further in knowing what he could not know by natural light. Not that the very same things believed by faith are understood through the gift; but things connected with the faith are better understood, though imperfectly, but yet enough to know that apparent difficulties are no good reason for departing from the faith. This gift is bestowed only on those who have already received justifying grace, "gratia gratum faciens," and clearer light is thrown on the objects of faith, making more explicit what is believed.

(2) Knowledge is a second gift, because the faithful needs for perfect assent of faith to what is revealed not only a clear insight of understanding, but also, in order that he may not err in his belief, a certain and right judgment, distinguishing what is of faith from what is not. This is not discursive or argumentative, but direct and simple. This definition of the gift of knowledge would lead us also to the gift of wisdom; but we may make the distinction that the latter has reference to Divine things as such; the former considers human things as connected with the faith. It knows what is to be believed on the earthly side of heavenly things.

§ 5. Infidelity, heresy, apostasy, and blasphemy

Is unbelief a sin?

There is an unbelief which is purely negative, the mere absence of positive faith. So viewed in those who have never heard of the faith, it is not sin, but rather the penalty of sin, because such ignorance of Divine things is the fruit of our first parents' sin. Such infidels, if they are condemned, are condemned not on account of their infidelity, but because of other sins which cannot be remitted without faith (S. John xv. 22).

But there is also (a privative infidelity) an infidelity of contradiction, by which one resists or even despises the hearing of faith (Isa. liii. 1). This is perfect infidelity and is mortal sin (S. John iii. 18).

(1) As every sin is against nature, so, although supernatural faith is not in human nature, yet that the mind of man should not resist its inward promptings and the outward preaching of the truth is certainly natural.

(2) If you say that no one sins in what he cannot avoid, and therefore unbelief is no sin, you are speaking of purely negative unbelief.

(3) Infidelity proper may be traced to the capital sin of pride, through which a man is unwilling to subject his intellect to a creed as the rule of faith (and to the teaching of a Church composed of fallible men like himself, no wiser, if so wise and learned, etc.).

Infidelity is a sin of the intellect.

Every sin, indeed, is in the (depraved) will, which commands all the acts of sin; for every sin is voluntary. But sin has also its proper and proximate principle, which elicits the act of sin, as gluttony and lust are found in the concupiscible soul. But dissent, like assent, is the act of the mind as moved by the will. Therefore unbelief, like faith, has the intellect for its proximate subject, but the will as its prime mover. Contempt of the word preached, for example, has its cause in the will, but the unbelief produced is in the intellect.

Is unbelief the greatest of sins?

Since the essence of all sin is aversion from God, any sin is graver the more man through it is separated from God. But this is especially true of unbelief, since true knowledge of God is rejected; but by falsehood respecting Him, one does not draw near to Him, but rather removes self from Him. The unbeliever's false opinion is not God at all. Thus it is manifest that infidelity is worse than sins which consist in perverse morality. It is otherwise with sins which are opposed to the theological virtues. (See page 180.)

(1) It does not follow that the unbelief of a heretic is worse than the immorality of a Catholic Christian, for what is worse in kind may be rendered lighter by palliating circumstances, as also the sin of a Catholic may be aggravated by the circumstances of it.

(2) Although infidelity is wilful opposition to the faith, yet it may be joined with ignorance, which palliates it, especially when one, like Saul, the persecutor, does not sin from malice (1 Tim. i. 13).

(3) It is true, also, that sorer punishment falls on the faithful for their sins than on infidels (Heb. x. 29); but infidelity as sin may, nevertheless, deserve heavier punishment than any one sin of another kind. But the believer sins more gravely in any offence, caeteris paribus, than the unbeliever, both because of his greater knowledge of the truth derived from the faith, and because he has received the sacraments of faith, which through his sin he tramples under foot.

Is every action of the unbeliever sinful?

We have seen that mortal sin takes away justifying grace ("gratia gratum faciens") (see pages 110, 115). but it does not totally corrupt the good of nature. Hence, since infidelity is a mortal sin, the infidel has not that grace, but natural good still remains in him. It is plain, then, that infidels cannot do those meritorious works which come from grace, but, in some way, they may do those good actions for which nature is sufficient. It is not necessary, then, that they sin in whatever they may do. But whensoever anything is done from unbelief, then they sin. For as one who has faith can commit some sin in an act which he does not refer to the end of his faith, so also the infidel can do some good act in that which he does not refer to the end of his unbelief.

Faith, indeed, directs the intention with respect to the supernatural end, but the light of natural reason can direct the intention with iespect to some connatural good.

Heresy: is it a species of infidelity?

He who rightly holds the Christian faith, of his own will assents to Christ in those things which truly pertain to his doctrine; and any one can deviate from the rectitude of Christian faith by refusing to assent to Christ. Such an one has an evil will respecting the end itself. This is the infidelity of those who reject the Church altogether, as heathen and Jews. Or, in another way, one may intend indeed to assent to Christ, but fail in choosing those things in which the assent is given. Heresy is this evil choice. The heretic does not choose those things which are truly delivered by Christ, but those which his own mind suggests to him. Therefore heresy is a species of infidelity pertaining to those who profess the faith of Christ, but corrupt its dogmas. (It may be defined as "pertinacious error manifestly repugnant to the faith, in him who has professed that faith in its verity.")

It is counted among the works of the flesh (Gal. v. 19), by reason of its remote cause, which is pride, cupidity, etc., the desire of some wrong end.

This evil choice may be made in what directly and principally pertains to the faith, as the articles of the Christian creed; or indirectly and secondarily, in those things from which follows the corruption of any article.

Not all differences among theologians are to be called heretical, because, as S. Augustine says (Ep. 48), "If any one defend his judgment, although it be false and perverted, without pertinacious obstinacy, and seek the truth with careful solicitude, ready to be corrected (by it) when he shall have found it, by no means is he to be counted among heretics," because he makes no choice contradicting the doctrine of the Church. Differences, then, which are not heretical may concern those things which will not affect the faith whichever way they are decided (e.g., the historical or scientific value of the Holy Scriptures), or those things which, though they are connected with the faith, have never been determined by the Church.

(Articles against toleration of infidels and heretics are omitted.)


It is an aggravated form of infidelity, since it is a departure from, a casting off of, the faith after it has been received (2 Pet. ii. 21).

Blasphemy: what is it?

Whoever denies of God anything which belongs to Him, or asserts respecting God that which does not belong to Him, derogates from the Divine goodness, for He is the very essence of goodness, and whatever, therefore, belongs to Him, pertains to His goodness. But this derogation from the Divine goodness may be only in the intellect, or it may be also accompanied by a certain detestation in the affections (which constitutes the perfect sin of blasphemy). If this is found in the heart only, it is blasphemy of the heart; if it is also uttered, it is blasphemy of the lips.

It is a mortal sin, because it is repugnant to Divine charity, inasmuch as it is derogatory to the Divine goodness which is the object of charity.

It may be venial sin only when one does not observe that he is speaking blasphemy, in sudden heat bursting out in words whose significance he does not consider. But in itself it is aggravated infidelity, because a detestation of will is directed against the Divine honour. It is worse than homicide, because the latter is sin against our neighbour, but this is directly against God. Of course, if we speak of injurious effects, the case may be different, but the gravity of sin depends more upon the perversity of the will than on the effects of the action.

The "sin against the Holy Ghost" takes various forms; but, in general, we may understand it as a casting off in contempt that which might have hindered the choice of evil, as hope is rejected through despair, and godly fear through presumption. But all these hindrances to the choice of evil are the effects of the Holy Ghost in us. And this malicious wickedness is sin against the Holy Ghost. There are six forms of it (1) despair, (2) presumption, (8) that impenitence which implies a purpose of remaining impenitent, (4) obstinate adherence to sin, (5) impugning of known truth in order that one may more freely sin, and (6) envy not only of a brother's prosperity but of the grace of God in him.

Spiritual blindness and dulness of heart are vices opposed to spiritual knowledge and understanding.

Mental blindness is privation of the principle of mental vision. Now this principle is three-fold (1) The light of natural reason, of which the rational soul is never deprived, although it may be hindered from its proper activity through impediments in lower mental powers which the mind needs for thought. (Note this view of ordinary forms of insanity.)

(2) Another principle of mental vision is an habitual light superadded to the natural light of reason, and this light indeed is sometimes taken away from the soul. This is penal blindness, the light of grace being taken away as the penalty of sin.

(3) Another principle of mental vision is a certain mental principle by which a man understands other things, at which principle the soul can aim, and is able not to aim. And this not aiming at it is due sometimes to a will spontaneously turning itself away from its consideration, of which the Psalmist speaks (Ps. xxxvi. 3). But sometimes, also, this blindness is due to mental preoccupation with things which are loved more, and this blindness of concupiscence, like the preceding, is sin. To understand the truth is, indeed, in itself agreeable to every one; but it may become hateful, if a man is hindered thereby from things which he more loves.

Instead of absolute moral blindness, there may be a dulness of moral feeling in the consideration of spiritual goods, and both are opposed to that gift of spiritual understanding through which man apprehends and knows spiritual goods, and keenly penetrates into their deepest recesses. And this dulness of vision is sin just so far as it is directly or indirectly voluntary, as in him who, strongly affected towards carnal pleasures, feels disgust for spiritual things, or neglects them.

These are especially the sinful fruits of fleshly sins, because the soul is most strongly drawn to that in which it finds the intensest pleasure, and consequently the mind is enfeebled with respect to spiritual things; while, on the other hand, the opposite virtues of abstinence and chastity especially dispose a man's soul for spiritual activity. And this is more or less true even of those who have a natural gift or an acquired habit of intellectual speculation.

{1} Other articles on the object of faith, though of great value, are omitted as not essential to Moral Theology.

{2} The illustration shows that S. Thomas is here speaking of a holy life as the effect of heavenly grace, and of its worthiness to receive a supernatural reward. Cp. the 13th Article of Religion, and consult Summ. I. ii. 114.

<< ======= >>