Jacques Maritain Center : Elements of Moral Theology


§ 1. Introduction.

In a very general sense every virtue contains the idea of what is due to Divine or human law.

So viewed, justice embraces them all. But, as a special virtue, it regards the good as what is due to our neighbour, as general justice is concerned with what is due to the community or to God. In both of these, avoiding the evil and doing the good are integral parts. In doing the good, in acting justly, equality in relations is established as far as is possible. In shunning the evil, in avoiding injustice, such equality is preserved.

Virtues annexed to justice.

Since justice is relative to another, all virtues which imply such relation may be connected with it; yet they may fall short of the perfect idea of virtue as it is found in the chief virtue of this class, which is justice, the giving to others what is due and the full equivalent of what is due. Other virtues may give what is due without giving all that is due. (1) First, all that man can render to God is due, but he cannot render as much as he ought. Religion, then, is a virtue annexed to justice.

(2) Parents cannot be recompensed fully for what they have done. Filial piety is an imperfect form of justice.

(3) Man cannot recompense virtue as it deserves. Outward respect and honour ("observantia") is an imperfect form of justice.

But virtues annexed to justice may fall short of it, also, as regards the idea of what is due. Morally due is what one owes according to the propriety of virtue. It may he so necessary that without it an honourable life cannot be preserved. On the part of the one who owes this obligation, the duty is that he show himself in words and deeds such as he is in reality. (4) Truthfulness is annexed to justice.

Or, on the part of the one to whom the debt is due, one recompenses another for the kindness which he has shown, (5) by gratitude in word and deed. Or, (6) in the case of ill which has been done (of course, with those due motives which have been heretofore pointed out), proper vengeance is a virtue annexed to justice.

But this debt of virtue, which ought to be paid, may contribute to an honourable life without being essential to it. Such virtues are (7) liberality, affability, and the like, in which the idea of debt almost vanishes.

§ 2. Religion.

What is religion?

It is a virtue by which man renders to his God due homage, worship, honour, and reverence. Giving any one his due is a virtuous act, and if it proceed from a corresponding habit, marks a virtuous man. Manifestly, then, the definition of virtue heretofore given applies to religion.

(1) What S. James says (i. 27) does not conflict with this. For religion produces acts of two kinds; some are its proper and immediate acts elicited by it, through which man is ordered with respect to God only, as sacrifice, adoration, and the like; but it has other acts which it produces through the virtues which it directs as means to its end, which end is homage to Almighty God. Such acts are "visiting the fatherless and the widows in their affliction," acts elicited by mercy, and "keeping self unspotted from the world," an act commanded by religion, but elicited by temperance or some such virtue.

(2) We owe one another service in the Church of God (Gal. v. 13), but God's dominion and right is infinitely exalted, and the service which is due to Him ("latria") is preeminent and distinct from any other.

(3) Men may have a claim to marks of honour ("with my body I thee worship"), but the honour due to God is special and distinct, "Eusebeia" or "Theosebeia."

This virtue gives reverence to one God as the Creator, Governor, Father of all men.

It has various outward acts, but they are all reducible to those Divine honours which are paid from reverence for His infinite excellence, or that service which is due from God's subject creatures; but these two are the one act of reverential homage.

Religion is a special virtue, because of the special good for which it is ordained; viz., paying due and peculiar honour to God.

Every virtuous act is a sacrifice, so far as it is ordained for reverential homage to God. But so it is commanded by the special virtue of religion. All things, says the apostle (1 Cor. x. 31), are to be done to the "glory of God." But the same remark applies; such acts are religious, not religion, because they pertain to it, not as elicited, but as commanded by that reverential homage which is religion.

Is religion a theological virtue?

Worship of God springing from reverential homage is a dictate of natural reason; it is natural religion. What positive Divine or human law has done is merely to determine it in this way or that way. (This fact itself shows that religion is not a theological virtue; but the author thoroughly examines the ground of denial.) Theological virtues have God for their direct object. He is the object of faith, of hope, of love. But He is the end of religious acts, not their direct object or "matter;" their matter is worship; for due worship is offered -- say, sacrificial offerings -- out of reverence for God.

"By faith, hope, and charity" (S. Aug., Enchir. 3) which have God as their proper object, God is worshipped, because they command acts of religion as things ordained to the end of those virtues.

Religion, as we have seen, is a part of the moral virtue of justice.

Religion is preeminent among the moral virtues,

because, while all those virtues have God for their end, it comes nearer to that end than the others do, producing what is directly and immediately ordained for the Divine honour.

(1) The praise of virtue consists in the good will, not in the power of doing much. Religion cannot pay all that is due, but that is no derogation from the supreme rank of this moral virtue.

(2) God, it is true, needs nothing from us; but it is in those things which are bestowed on others for their benefit that gifts to the more needy are the more laudable, because they are more useful. But nothing is offered to God for His benefit, but for His glory and our own good.

Does religion require outward acts?

We offer reverence and honour to God, not on His account, since we can add nothing to His glory, but on our own account. The perfection of our own soul is found in this subjection. But the human soul needs, in order that it may be united to God, the guidance and assistance of sensible things. Therefore in Divine worship it is necessary to employ outward, bodily acts, in order that by them, as by signs of the inward act, the soul may be lifted up in its spiritual acts by which it is joined to God. Therefore religion has inward acts as chief, and as, per se, its own; but outward acts as secondary and ordained for the other.

Therefore Christ said (S. John iv. 24), "God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

The outward corporal acts may be similar to those which are presented out of respect to men (bowing or kneeling, etc.), but they are only needful signs of inward and spiritual actions.

Is religion the same as the virtue of holiness?

Holiness is attributed to those things which are applied to Divine worship, so that not only men but churches and sacred vessels are said to be sanctified by being so applied. Now, inward purification is necessary in order that the mind may be elevated to God, because the soul is defiled by cleaving to lower things; sanctity is that virtue "without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. xii. 14). Since, then, holiness is that by which the mind of man directs itself and its actions to God, it does not differ from religion in essence but only in our conception of it. For religion offers to God due service in that which pertains to Divine worship, as sacrifices, oblations, and the like; but holiness refers to God not only these but the acts of the other virtues, or fits man for Divine worship.

§ 3. Devotion and prayer.

Devotion is a special act of religion, being the act of a will prepared to do promptly what belongs to the service of God.

It is the same virtue which does the thing and has the prompt will to do it. Charity is the root from which spring both religion and devotion. It is meditation on the Divine bounty and benefits and the cousideration of our own needs which is a special cause of devotion.

Prayer is an act of reason moved by a loving will, in which God is asked for what is fitting for Him to grant.

It tends to the end of charity, which is to be united with God, both because this is the chief object of prayer (Ps. xxvii. 4), and because he that makes any petition must approach him of whom he asks it. Prayer, then, implies an uplifting of the soul to God.

Is prayer a proper act of religion?

That it is an act of religion is evident, for it pertains to that to offer reverence and honour to God, and all things by which such reverence is manifested belong to religion. But in prayer such reverence is manifested in subjection and acknowledgment that God is the author of all good for the supply of human need. All good desires fall under the precept of charity, but the asking under the precept of religion. "Ask, and it shall be given you" (S. Matt. vii. 7). In asking, the soul, subjecting itself, makes oblation of itself, which is far above all outward and corporal oblations and sacrifices.

And prayer is fitting, notwithstanding the three-fold error of ancient and modern heathen: (1) It is vain to pray if human affairs are not ruled by Divine Providence; (2) prayer is useless if some physical necessity control all events; (3) prayer is superstition if it suppose that Divine Providence is variable, and that God's good will can be changed. (Note the familiar but profane objection of the day.)

In maintaining the usefulness of prayer, we neither impose necessity on human affairs subjected to Divine Providence, nor deem the Divine good pleasure to be mutable. Divine Providence not only orders effects, but also from what causes and in what order they shall come. But among those causes are human acts; and men must do certain things, not that they may change the Divine will, but that by their acts they may fulfil the order appointed by God for the accomplishment of certain results. We do not pray in order that we may change our Father, but in order to ask what God has arranged to be fulfilled through prayer. "Men by asking merit to receive what God arranged to give before the world was made" (S. Greg.).

(1) We do not pray that we may inform God of what we need: "Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things" (S. Matt. vi. 32); but we pray in order that we ourselves may consider that in our needs we are to seek Divine aid.

(2) God, unasked, wills to give us many things from His own boundless liberality; but that he wills to give us some things when we ask, is for our own benefit; sc., that we may go to our Father with confidence, and that we may recognize Him to be the author of all good.

In prayer ought we to make any special petition?

There are things which a man can use well or ill, which may prove mischievous for himself; but there are also good things which a man cannot use so, and these are asked for absolutely.

(1) It is true that "we know not how to pray as we ought" (Rom. viii. 26); but it is also true that the "Spirit helpeth our infirmity," inspiring us with holy desires, that we may rightly ask.

(2) In making determined petitions one may seem to be trying to incline another's will towards his own, whereas our aim should be, not that God should will what we will, but rather that we should will what He wills. But in asking what pertains to our salvation (however special the petition maybe), we do conform our will to His who "willeth that all men should be saved" (1 Tim. ii. 4).

And, finally, our Lord Himself taught His disciples, in the "Lord's Prayer," to make determined and special petitions.

Ought man in his prayer to ask for earthly things?

Agar said (Prov. xxx. 8), "Feed me with the food that is needful for me;" and S. Augustine says (Ep. ad Prob. 130), "It is lawful to pray for that which it is lawful to desire." But temporal things may be lawfully desired, not indeed as an end, but as means to an end, by which we are aided in seeking beatitude, since by them the corporal life is sustained and they can serve the acts of virtue.

(1) The Lord said (S. Matt. vi. 33), "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." They cannot lawfully hold the chief place, but are to have a subsidiary one; the true riches are to be sought as our chief good; these as needful for our earthly life.

(2) Not all care for such things is prohibited (S. Matt. vi. 25), but inordinate anxiety.

(3) When the soul seeks earthly goods as its rest, it is lowered to their level; but when it prays for them in their relation to its beatitude, it is uplifted to that and to God.

(4) They are not asked for unconditionally, but in relation to something else; that is, as they are expedient for our salvation.

Intercession is a form of prayer; we ought to pray for others.

For charity requires that we desire others' good (S. Jas. v. 16); and what we ought to desire we ought to pray for.

We do not say, "My Father," but "Our Father;" nor do we say, "Give me," but "Give us." " The Lord of unity was unwilling that each should merely pray separately for himself. He willed that one should pray for all, since in His one Person He bore the burden of all" (S. Cyprian., De Orat. Domin.).

Prayer for another may not always be granted, even when it is faithful and persevering and for things pertaining to salvation, because of obstacles which that other puts in the way of an answer; but nevertheless such prayer, springing from charity, is meritorious like any other work of charity.

Prayer is to be made for the just, that they may persevere and go forward; for sinners, that they may turn and be saved (1 Ep. S. John v. 16). We know not who the reprobate are, therefore prayer is to be made for all sinners (1 Tim. ii. 1).

We ought to pray for our enemies (S. Matt. v. 44).

Prayer for others is a work of charity; as, therefore, we are bound to love our enemies, so are we bound to pray for them. But how we are bound to love our enemies has been already considered (see page 200). We are to love their nature, not their sin. We are not commanded to give them special love, except in the preparation of a soul ready to love an enemy with special love and to help him in necessity or if he ask pardon. More than this is love's perfection, not its indispensable obligation. The like obligation applies to our prayers; enemies are not to he excluded. But that we pray specially for them, when not in necessity or other peculiar circumstances, is a work of. perfection, not of absolute obligation.

(1) Holy Scriptures, indeed, contain many imprecations against enemies, as in Psalm Xl. 14, and many others. But these imprecations are to be understood, first, as prophetic denunciations; secondly, as temporal chastisements for the correction of sinners; next, as directed against the kingdom of sin, not against particular sinners, that by the correction of men sins may be destroyed; and, lastly, as conforming the will of man to Divine justice. (We may add that Christians speak the Psalms in the name of their Lord against His enemies.)

So the martyred saints beneath the altar in heaven say, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (Rev. vi. 10). But they pray for the overthrow of the kingdom of sin and rejoice at the work of Divine justice.

(2) It may be said that men's prayers should not contradict their actions, and it is lawful to fight against enemies, for wars are sometimes lawful. But the object of just war is to put down evil, and this brings good to enemies as well as to others. So prayer and action need not contradict one another.

Should prayer be vocal?

Prayer is either private or public, i.e., the prayer of the faithful people of God offered for them by the ministers of the Church. This should be known by all the people for whom it is offered, which cannot be if it is not vocal. So the Church orders respecting it.

But the private prayer of an individual for himself or for others need not be vocal. Yet the voice is added to such prayer for three reasons; first, outward signs of devotion, such as spoken words are, may excite the inward devotion by which the soul is uplifted to God. But if the soul be distracted by these outward signs, whatever they may be, or be hindered in any manner, they are to be discontinued; and this is especially true of those who are sufficiently prepared for devotion without these outward signs of it.

Secondly, vocal prayer is added to inward prayer as paying what is due; sc., that man serve God with all that he has from God -- i.e., not only with his mind but with his body (Hos. xiv. 2).

Thirdly, the warm affections of the soul break forth in audible language.

Vocal prayer is not uttered to inform God of what He is ignorant, but to raise the mind to God. It is not wrong to be "seen of men" (S. Matt. vi. 6), but to pray outwardly in order that we may be seen of men.

Must prayer be with fixed attention?

This question chiefly concerns vocal prayer. If we speak of necessity in this matter, it signifies either that by which the end is better reached, or that without which the end is not reached at all. For the first, attention (undistracted) is absolutely necessary. But there are three effects of prayer. The first, which is merit, is common to all acts which are "informed" by charity. And for this effect it is not necessarily required that there be fixed attention throughout the prayer, but the first actual attention with which one began his prayer renders the whole efficacious in this way (this is virtual attention; one began with hearty desire to pray, but was unwillingly distracted). The second effect of prayer is peculiar to it; viz., the obtaining a petition; and the first intention, which God chiefly regards, suffices for this effect also. But if the first intention to pray is absent, there is merely the empty form of outward prayer; it is neither meritorious, nor does it obtain any answer from God.

The third effect of prayer which it directly produces is a spiritual refreshment of the soul; and for this actual attention is necessary.

The sense of the words may be attended to, or the mind may be fixed on God and the thing prayed for; and this latter is in the highest degree necessary.

(1) They that worship God "must worship Him in spirit and in truth" (S. John iv. 24). But they do this who begin their prayer from the prompting of the Holy Spirit, even if, through infirmity, their mind afterwards wander.

(2) Through infirmity of nature, the mind cannot long be lifted up on high; its own heavy load drags it down.

(3) If any one purposely wander in mind during prayer he mocks God; he sins, and loses the fruit of prayer. But unintentional distractions do not take away the first and second fruits of prayer.

Continual prayer.

The Lord said, "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint" (S. Luke xviii. 1); and S. Paul said, "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. v. 17). The cause of prayer is the desire which springs from charity, which desire ought to be continually in us, either actually or virtually, for this desire virtually abides in all things which we do from the motive of charity. But we ought to do all things to the glory of God (1 Cor. X. 31). In this way we ought always to pray.

But prayer considered in itself cannot be continual, for there are other duties in life; "therefore, at certain intervals of time we call upon God in words also, that by those signs of inward devotion we may admonish ourselves, discover how far we have advanced in that desire, and excite ourselves more zealously to increase it" (S. Aug., ad Probam, Ep. 130). But the quantity of a thing should be proportioned to the end. Prayer, then, should last as long as it is useful to excite the fervour of inward desire. But when it exceeds this measure, so that it cannot last without weariness, it should not be protracted. This principle applies also to public and common prayer as compared with the devotion of the people. (Well worthy, I think, to he noted.)

(1) Christ said that the heathen "think that they shall be heard for their much speaking" (S. Matt. vi. 7). But "it is not much speaking to pray a long time. For much speech is one thing, enduring affection is another. The Lord Himself continued all night in prayer, giving us an example of protracted devotion. Much speaking is using superfluous words; but much praying is entreating Him to whom we pray with long and devout uplifting of the soul" (S. Aug., loc. cit.).

(2) The Lord did not give His prayer as the only form, but to show us what things we are to desire and ask for.

To pray without ceasing is to persevere in the appointed times for vocal prayer, and to have fts effects remaining in a more devout soul.

Is prayer a meritorious work?

It is so inasmuch as it proceeds from the root of charity, whose proper object is eternal good, for whose fruition charity fits us. Prayer comes from charity through religion, whose act is prayer, along with other virtues which are requisite for a good prayer; viz., humility and faith. Religion offers the prayer, charity gives the desire of what is prayed for. Faith is necessary, for we must believe that we shall obtain what we ask for. Humility is necessary, for we must recognize our need. But prayer is efficacious from the grace of God, who also leads us to pray.

(1) But does not prayer precede grace, since the Lord says (S. Luke xi. 13), "Your heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him"? Yes; but prayer without justifying grace is not meritorious; neither is any other virtuous act. And yet the prayer which asks for this grace proceeds from some grace, sin so that very prayer is the gift of God.

(2) But if prayer is meritorious at all, it seems to merit to be heard. But oftentimes it is not heard, as we notice in S. Paul's case. I answer that the merit of prayer may apply to a different thing from that which is asked for. For merit is chiefly the fitness for beatitude, but many other things are prayed for. If, then, that thing which is asked for is not serviceable for that beatitude, it is not merited. Sometimes it is neither necessary to salvation nor manifestly contrary to it; and then, though the prayer may merit eternal life, it does not merit to obtain the petition. "Mercifully it may be heard, and mercifully it may be rejected. What is useful for the sick man, the physician knows better than he" (S. Aug.). S. Paul was not heard, because it was not expedient that he should he heard. But if that which is asked for pertain to the soul's life, it is merited not only by prayer but by other works of charity. Undoubtedly the petition is granted, but at a fitting time, which granting can be hindered if one does not persevere in prayer.

But since man cannot merit eternal life by his worthiness, nor be worthy of the things which pertain to eternal life, he is not always heard in praying for another. There are then four conditions, which concurring, one always obtains his petition -- sc., that he ask for himself, what is necessary to salvation, devoutly (i.e., with faith, hope, Love, humility, and attention) and perseveringly.

Do sinners ever obtain anything from God by prayer?

The publican in the Gospel did not say in vain, "God be merciful to me a sinner." For two things are to he considered in the sinner, his nature which God loves, and the sin which God hates. If, then, he ask anything as a sinner -- i.e., according to sinful desire -- he is not heard in mercy, though sometimes he is heard for vengeance, when he is allowed to rush still further into sins. But God, out of pure mercy, hears the prayer of the sinner proceeding from such good desires as may remain in him, provided that the four conditions above mentioned be found in that prayer.

§ 4. Outward acts of Divine worship: Adoration, sacrifices, and oblations.

"Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God" (S. Matt. iv. 10).

Adoration is reverential homage, an act of religion due to God preeminently on account of His infinite excellence, in which other beings can only participate at infinite distance. Outward signs of inward reverence are due to superiors, but sacrifice can be offered to God only. King David lawfully accepted such "worship" from Nathan the prophet (1 Kings i. 23), but the angel of the Apocalypse refused it from S. John (Rev. xxii. 8), excluding occasion for idolatry.

Does adoration imply a corporeal act?

Because we are of two-fold nature, we offer to God a twofold adoration: the spiritual homage of inward devotion, and the outward, of lowly bodily abasement before Him. The latter is for the former; viz., that by outward signs of humility our inward affections may be the more subjected to God.

This is "worship in spirit," if it proceed from Spiritual devotion, and has that for its end.

Corporeal adoration implies a determined place where it is offered to God.

Inward devotion apprehends God as not limited to any place. But the bended knee in sign of human weakness, or prostration in sign of our nothingness in the sight of God, requires a determined place.

A place is Consecrated for the use of man, not on God's account. It is for the adoring worshipper, first, that he may be the more devout; next, because of the sacred objects, sacramental and other, which are there contained; and lastly, because of the promise, "Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them."

Sacrifice. -- Is offering sacrifice a part of the law of nature?

Natural reason indicates to man his dependence on another, because of the defects which he feels in himself, in which he needs to be aided and directed by another. That other is what all name God. And natural reason also dictates to man that he, after his manner, exhibit honour and subjection to what is above him. But the fitting manner is for him to use sensible signs. Therefore it is from natural reason that man employs sensible things, offering them to God in sign of due honour and subjection. But this is sacrifice. Therefore the offering of sacrifice is part of the law of nature.

Men differ widely in what they offer. But there are some things which in their general principle are part of the law of nature, while their particular application depends upon positive law. Thus it is a law of nature that malefactors be punished; but the kind of punishment depends upon positive law, human or Divine. So, also, sacrifice in general is a law of nature, but its determination belongs to human or Divine institution.

Sacrifice is to be offered to God only.

For it is offered as a sacred symbol. What is outwardly offered signifies the inward spiritual sacrifice, in which the soul offers itself to God ("The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit," Ps. li. 19), for outward acts of religion are ordained for the inward acts. But the soul offers itself for a sacrifice to God as its Creator, and the only source of its beatitude. Therefore, as we are to offer to God alone the spiritual sacrifice, so we ought to offer to Him alone its outward symbol.

The offering of sacrifice is a special act of religion.

It is praiseworthy only as done out of reverence for God. Other virtuous acts may be intended for the same end, as giving alms, or patiently enduring affliction, but sacrificial acts are for this end alone. Man's good is three-fold, and each may be offered to God, and in a general way is then called a sacrifice. First, there is the good of the soul, which is offered to God in the inward sacrifice of devotion and prayer. This is the principal sacrifice. But next there is the good of man's body, which is offered to God in martyrdom, abstinence, continence. And it is said (Rom. xii. 1), "Present your bodies a living sacrifice." And, third, there is the good of external things, which are directly a sacrifice when we offer them to God, and they are indirectly a sacrifice when we communicate them for God's sake. "With such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Heb. xiii. 16).

Every sacrifice is an oblation, an offering to God; but not every oblation is a sacrifice, because the latter signifies also that some religious change is made in the oblation; thus, animals were killed and burned, and bread is blessed, broken, and eaten. First fruits are oblations because they are offered; they are not sacrifices, properly speaking, because no further action follows.

Are all bound to offer sacrifice?

What is the law of nature obliges all, and this is part of the law of nature; therefore all are bound in some way to offer sacrifice. All owe the inward sacrifice of presenting to God a devout and humble spirit. But the outward sacrifice, as we have just seen, is of two kinds; one which is laudable only because some outward thing is offered in token of subjection to God. Those who are under revealed law, whether the Old Law or the new Gospel law, are bound to offer certain sacrifices according to the commandment given to them. But those who were not under the law revealed, were bound to do certain outward things for the Divine honour, according to the fitting customs of their place and nation.

The other outward sacrifice is when outward acts of other virtues are undertaken as marks of homage to God, and some of these are bound upon all.

Priests, indeed, offer those sacrifices which are especially instituted for Divine worship, not only for themselves but also for others; but there are other sacrifices which each one can offer for himself.

Oblations. -- As a general term the word applies to all things which are offered in Divine worship.

If the offering is converted into a sacred thing, at that time to be consumed, it is both sacrifice and oblation. But if it remain to be employed in Divine worship, or for the use of the ministers of the sanctuary, it is an oblation and not a sacrifice. Such offerings must be voluntary; but they may also be obligatory, as Church rates, or subscriptions and gifts bequeathed to the Church, or offerings for the support of the clergy, etc.

Gifts to the poor are not, strictly speaking, oblations unless they are first offered to God through the priest (Heb. v. 1).

These oblations may be consecrated and set apart, as sacred vessels and vestments are, for the service of God. Then they cannot be turned to common uses; but otherwise they may be dispensed by the clergy. (See the Offertory rubric.)

The command (Prov. iii. 9), "Honour the Lord with thy substance," applies to all things justly possessed.

Things unjustly acquired and possessed cannot be made an oblation to God. Accidentally, even that which is lawfully possessed cannot he so used; say, if doing so tend to the injury of another, as a son's offering what his father needs, or any offering which causes scandal, etc.

The imposing of tithes, while it rests on the law of nature, belongs to the positive law of the Church, which has authority in this regard. (But the subject is here omitted as not directly applicable to our circumstances.)

§ 5. Vows.

A vow implies a certain obligation to do or leave undone anything.

Obligation between man and man is created by a promise, a rational promise, made through outward signs of it, as spoken or written words. But a promise may be made to God in the thoughts of the heart, although the outward signs of it may stir one up to its fulfilment, or call others to witness it.

But a true promise proceeds from the deliberate purpose of a will which intends to bind itself. So, then, a vow requires three things first, deliberation; next, purpose of the will; and thirdly, a promise, to which may be superadded the words of the lips and the witness of other men.

The Divine law of vows is given in Deut. xxiii. 21 "When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, a free-will offering which thou hast promised with thy mouth, thou shalt not be slack to pay it; for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee. But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee." It would be a vain promise if any one should promise that which would not be accepted. Therefore nothing illicit, nothing indifferent, may be made the subject of a vow, but only some act of virtue. But because a vow implies a voluntary promise, nothing which is absolutely necessary to be or not to be can be the subject of a vow.

But that which is not absolutely necessary, but is so only on account of the end sought for, as that which is necessary for salvation, may be vowed because it is voluntary. But that virtuous act which is not necessary to salvation is altogether voluntary, and is most peculiarly the subject of a vow. It is some greater good which is vowed.

(1) The vow of baptism (renewed in confirmation) is voluntary; so far it justly takes the name of a vow; but it is not a vow in the narrower sense just explained.

(2) Jephtha's vow, in itself considered, had a good object, but an unlooked-for event made it evil, and it was not to be observed, for what is evil cannot be the subject of a vow.

(3) Ascetic practices like vigils and fasting are acceptable only as they are virtuous, which is when they are adopted with due judgment to restrain concupiscence without injuring the body. So far they may be vowed. So the apostle (Rom. xii. 1), after he had said, "Present your bodies," etc., added, "which is your reasonable service." Such vows are better observed or set aside under advice of superiors; but if it cannot be had, and great and manifest injury is felt, one ought not to keep such a vow. (This is not omitted, though there is reason to suspect that it is little applicable to a luxurious and easy-going age.) But vows which are made respecting vain and useless things are rather to be laughed at than observed.

Every vow, when made, is obligatory.

"Pay that which thou vowest. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay," is God's law (Eceles. v. 4). Man owes the highest fidelity to God, both because of His Lordship, and because of benefits received. And keeping vows is a part of that fidelity.

Objection may be made that man needs what we may promise, while God needs nothing from us; and yet a mere promise made to another is not obligatory in law, because it only expresses a purpose which may change. Much less, then, does a simple promise of what is not obligatory before God bind a man's conscience.

But in conscience a man is bound by his promise to another man, according to the law of nature; although, for expediency's sake, other conditions are required by civil law. And although God needs not our good things, our highest obligation is to Him.

If any one has vowed that which proves impossible to be fulfilled, he ought to do what in him lies towards its fulfilment, as having a ready will.

Is it expedient to vow anything?

Holy Scripture says (Ps. lxxvi. 11), "Vow, and pay unto the Lord your God." A promise made to God is not for His benefit, but for our own. And by our vow we fix our will immovably on that which it is expedient to do. Therefore it is expedient to vow. (Per contra, Luther, De Libertate Christiana.)

(1) This does not conflict with Christian liberty; for as the not being able to sin does not diminish liberty, so the necessity of a will fixed on good does not detract from liberty. Such is the necessity of a vow -- "happy necessity which compels to better things" (S. Aug., Ep. 127, ad Arment. et Paulin.).

(2) Some one may say that there is risk of breaking the vow, and one ought not to incur such risk. But when the danger springs from any action itself, then that action is not expedient, as the crossing a river on a very rotten plank. But if the risk is in a man's ceasing from that action, then the deed on that account does not cease to be expedient, as it may be expedient to mount a horse, although there is a possibility of getting a fall in consequence thereof. Otherwise it would be necessary to cease from all good actions; because they may possibly have some risk connected with them. But the danger to him who vows lawfully is not from the vow, but from his fault in changing his mind and transgressing his vow. A vow is an act of worship or religion.

Every virtuous act umy be made an act of religion by being offered to God, by being ordained to the service of God. And a vow is a promise made to God, an ordaining of that which is promised for Him to whom the promise is made. For example, fasting or continence may be virtuous acts, but when any such thing is promised to God, it becomes aa act of religion, like prayer or offering sacrifice. The promise may be made to man, also, as to the bishop in ordination, but the vow is made to God alone. It may be more laudable to do some virtuous act with a vow than without a vow.

There are three reasons for this: (1) First, to vow is an act of Divine worship, and the act of the lower virtue is better and more meritorious when it is commanded by the higher virtue, as the act of faith or hope is better if it proceed from charity. The act of abstinence, or whatever it be, becomes a kind of sacrifice to God.

(2) Secondly, he who vows and does anything, more fully subjects himself to God than by the simple act of doing it, because he binds himself to do nothing different from what he has promised.

(3) Lastly, by the vow his will is more immovably fixed towards the good, not only with respect to one particular act but for all the future.

We may distinguish solemn vows from simple vows,

because the former are accompanied by some spiritual benediction or consecration, as in the case of Holy Orders, or the entering some religious order, or, in a different way, in the nuptial benediction.

This is not merely the question of public celebration, a sort of human solemnity; it is a spiritual and Divine solemnity, no matter how few are present at it, because God is the bestower of the spiritual benediction or consecration, although man is the minister of it (Num. vi. 27).

May those who are under the power of others be hindered from taking a vow?

No one can by promise bind himself to that which is in another's power. But whoever is subject to another, has no authority to do what he will in that respect wherein he is subject. Therefore he cannot bind himself in those things without his superior's consent (Num. xxx. 3).

It may seem that the obligation by which any one is subjected to man is less than that of a vow made to God. But the promise made to Him must be virtuous, and it is contrary to virtue that man offer to God what is another's. It is not a true vow at all, except under the condition that he who has authority in the matter make no objection. (Thus parents can annul the vows of their children until they come of age. But see, further, Supplement on Holy Matrimony, chap. xi. § 3.)

The Church has power of dispensation.

Dispensation from vows is like the release from keeping some law which, though made for the general good, may prove in some special case to be not good, and the law-making power may dispense with the observance of the law in that case.

So in the case of a vow made for what is in itself and in general good, it may happen that the thing vowed proves to be evil in that particular ease, or useless, or a hindrance to some greater good, which is contrary to the very idea of a vow. Therefore it is necessary that some authority in such a case determine that the vow is not to be kept. This is dispensation.

(1) In the case of human law, it is not decreed that the law should not be obeyed, which would he contrary to the law of nature and to Divine command, but that the law does not apply to the ease in question. So, also, the authority of a superior may determine that what was vowed is not suitable matter for a vow. The bishop, in such a case, does not dispense with natural or Divine law, but he determines that which could not be fully foreseen in advance.

(2) Such a dispensation is not contrary to the fidelity which is due to God, because such fidelity does not imply that man, having ignorantly vowed, shall do what is evil, useless, or a hindrance of greater good.

A bishop cannot annul a solemn consecration, so that that which is solemnly blessed and vowed to God loses its sanctification. Holy Orders cannot be so annulled. But for cause the bishop may inhibit the fulfilling of the vow of Orders; i.e., deprive of the right to execute its functions.

§ 6. On oaths.{1}

Human testimony is requisite in particular contingent facts which cannot be directly and infallilby known by demonstrative proof.

But this testimony is deficient through lack of veracity in the witness, and defective knowledge of the future, of the secrets of the heart, etc. Now, in the oath God is called to witness, He who cannot lie nor be deceived.

This testimony may be of the past or the present; it is then an assertory oath, as in courts of law. It may be intended to confirm the future; it is then a promissory oath, as the oath at taking office. In quoting Holy Scripture the testimony already given by God is used; but in the oath He is implored to give testimony, to manifest the truth, as by punishing the liar (imprecatory oath).

Are oaths lawful?

Holy Scripture says, "Thou shalt swear by His Name" (Deut. vi. 13). A thing may be in itself good, and yet turn to evil in his case who uses it ill. And the oath is in itself lawful and good, as will appear both from its origin and from its end. The oath is introduced because men believe that God has infallible veracity and universal foresight and knowledge of all things. Its end is to justify men, and put a stop to controversies. "The oath is final for confirmation" (Heb. vi. 16). But it may be turned to ill, in being used without need and without due caution. For he seems to have little reverence for God who invokes His attestation in a trifling cause, and such as he would hardly venture to call a man of standing to witness. Besides, there is great danger of perjury in such cases.

The Lord said, "Swear not at all" (S. Matt. v. 34); but the example of S. Paul shows us how those words are to be understood; viz., that we avoid forming the evil habit of swearing lightly and on trivial occasions. S. Paul's oaths in his Epistles are for confirmation of truth deliberately committed to writing (5. Aug., De Mendacio, c. 5).

What are the conditions for a lawful oath?

An oath is lawful if it be lawfully used; but this good use of it requires, first, that one swear, not lightly, but discreetly and from a necessary cause. Judgment (i.e., discretion) is the first condition of a lawful oath. Next, what is confirmed by the oath must not be false nor any unlawful thing. Veracity is the second condition of a lawful oath. Lastly, justice is the third condition; what is confirmed must be licit. A rash oath lacks discretion; a false oath, veracity; an iniquitous or illicit oath lacks justice (Jer. iv. 2).

Is the oath an act of religion or Divine worship?

He who swears invokes the Divine testimony to confirm what he says; and his oath contains a profession that God is all powerful, of indefectible veracity and perfect omniscience. This is an act of reverence, and therefore it is an act of religion or worship. The object of the testimony is some human affair, but the testimony invoked is Divine.

The earthly aim may be to certify something before men, but with this goes the aim of offering reverence and honour to God.

The oath is not sought for its own sake, but as an aid in human defect or infirmity, a sort of necessary medicine, because man disbelieves the witness of his fellow-man. Such things, necessary on account of the imperfections of this life, are unduly used if they are needlessly employed.

An oath differs from a vow, because what is confirmed by the oath does not on that account become an act of religion, whereas the vow makes the action (fasting, continence, etc.) such.

Has an oath obligatory force?

The question is of the force of promissory oaths. In an assertory oath, the obligation does not concern the thing which has been or is, but the act itself of taking the oath; one swears that which is or has been true. But in the promissory oath, the obligation concerns the thing which has been confirmed by an oath. One is bound to make that true which he has sworn; otherwise his oath lacks the essential condition of veracity. But if the oath cannot possibly be kept, it lacks discretion or judgment unless, perhaps, it was possible to keep it when made, but it has been rendered impossible by some unforeseen event as when one swears that he will pay a certain sum of money, which has afterwards been stolen from him. Then he seems to be excused from doing what he has sworn, although he is bound to do what in him lies to fulfil his promise.

But if the fulfilment is possible, indeed, but ought not to be done, either because it is evil per se, or is a serious impediment to the good, then the oath lacks justice, and therefore the oath is not to be kept when it is sin, or a serious hindrance to good. (It was sin to take such an oath; it is an added sin to keep it.)

Whoever, then, swears that he will do a thing, is obliged to do it, that truth may he kept, provided that judgment and justice are also present (Num. xxx. 2).

(1) The promise has veracity, if it express the present purpose; but the oath invokes the Divine attestation to a fixed and unchangeable purpose.

(2) An oath may tend to evil in two ways; in one way, because it had from the beginning an evil result, either because the thing sworn is evil in itself, or because it is an impediment to some greater good. Such oaths are illicit from the beginning, but differently. For if one swear that he will do some sin, he sins in swearing, and he sins in keeping the oath. But if he swear that he will not do some better good, which, however, he is not bound to do, he sins in swearing by opposing the Holy Spirit, who is the inspirer of every good purpose; but he does not sin in keeping his oath, although he would do better if he did not keep it.

An oath may have a bad result in another way, on account of some unforeseen event, as was the case with Herod's oath, who swore to give his daughter whatever she asked for. This oath might have been lawful at first, the due condition being understood, viz., that she should ask for what it was right to give; but the fulfilment of the oath was illicit.

(3) Suppose that one takes a lawful oath under compulsion. There is a two-fold obligation to be considered; one to the man who receives the pronuse -- such obligation is annulled by the force employed; he does not deserve that the promise to him be kept. But there is another obligation to God, the fulfilling what has been promised in His name. Conscience is not released from that obligation (unless the force destroyed all rational power of action). We ought rather to endure temporal loss than break an oath. But one may seek release in court, or denounce to authority even if secrecy have been sworn respecting the force employed; for such an oath tends to a worse result, being against public justice.

(4) Suppose a difference of understanding of the meaning of the oath between the two concerned in it. If this come from the fraud of him who takes the oath, he is bound to keep it according to the sound understanding of it on the part of the one who receives it. But if there have been no guile, the oath must be understood according to the intention of the one who takes it.

Can any human authority dispense from keeping an oath?

We have seen that the necessity of dispensation in the case of laws or vows arises from the fact that what is in itself or in general virtuous and useful may, through some particular circumstances, become immoral. and injurious, and so cannot be fit object for either law or vow. But the same principle applies to oaths. If the thing be immoral, it is repugnant to that justice which is an essential condilion of a licit oath; if it be injurious, it is repugnant to that judgment or discretion which is also requisite. And since a man is not the best judge in his own ease, and has no authority to he judge, by parity of reasoning it follows that the power of dispensation is needed, and is to be found in the Church, which has received authority to loose as well as to bind (S. Matt. xviii. 18).

(1) But veracity is required equally in promissory as in assertory oaths; and no power of dispensation can permit an oath contrary to truth respecting the past or the present; therefore no power can permit that any one make that to be false which he has promised with an oath respecting the future.

I answer that the power of dispensation cannot extend to Divine commands, cannot allow anything to be done contrary to what has been sworn. But that authority may decide that what was included in the oath is no longer such, as being unfit matter for an oath. The object of the assertory oath, being past or present, is immutable; and as there is no power to dispense from the veracity of the oath itself, there is no power of dispensation at all. But the object of the promissory oath is something in the future which is variable, and may become immoral or injurious, and consequently unfit matter for an oath, Such an object may come under the power of dispensation.

(2) A man may promise with an oath what is for another's benefit. That other can release him from his obligation. But in another way one may promise another what pertains to the honour of God, or the benefit of the community (as the promise made to the bishop in ordination). The promise is chiefly made to God; he who receives it cannot release it (unless he have power of dispensation).

Since the oath is for confirmation of veracity, and implies some doubt, it seems to be decent that the priesthood should not ordinarily take such an oath in temporal affairs. (Let him claim his privilege in courts of law, etc.)

§ 7. Superstition.

(The greater part of the author's discussion of topics under this head is adapted to a different state of society from ours. What seems to be of special and permanent value will be briefly indicated.)

Superstition is a vice opposed to true religion in its excess; not that it offers to God in worship more than religion does, but it gives Divine homage to what it ought not, or in a manner it ought not.

Pernicious worship may possibly be offered to the true God.

Thus a lie is most pernicious in what pertains to religion. But it is a lie if any one express outwardly by signs, as in religious worship, what is contrary to the truth. This is a pernicious worship, and it may occur in two ways: First, as respects the thing signified, which may be discordant from the signification of Christian worship. Thus it would now be pernicious to use those ceremonies of the Old Law by which Gospel mysteries were prefigured. (And sitting at the reception of the Holy Eucharist was, not many ages ago, made a symbol of unbelief in the Lord's Real Presence therein.)

In another way, falsity in outward worship may directly concern the worshipper, especially in public worship which is presented by ministers in the name of the whole Church. For as it is fraud to claim authority for action where none has been given, so he is guilty of falsity who in the name of the Church offers worship to God contrary to what has been with Divine authority established by the Church, or is customary in the Church (so far as custom has the force of positive law). They that worship God must worship Him not only in spirit but "in truth." (A warning against lawlessness in the Church.)

Can anything be superfluous in Divine worship?

Certainly not, if we speak merely of quantity; for man can do nothing which is not less than he owes to God. But something may be superfluous in not being proportioned to the end. The end of Divine worship is that man may glorify God, and subject himself to God both in body and in spirit. And, therefore, whatever a man does which pertains to the glory of God and the subjection of his soul, and of his body also, according to the ordinances of God and the Church and the customs of those with whom he lives, is not superfluous. But if there be anything which does not come under any one of these heads, it is to be deemed superfluous and superstitious, as consisting only in outward observances which have nothing to do with inward worship. "The kingdom of God is within you," condemns those superstitious persons who give their chief attention to outward ceremonies.


It is a species of superstition which gives Divine honour where it is not due. As in idolatry it is offered to some creature of God through sensible signs -- say, sacrifices, etc. -- so, also, the creature worshipped may be represented by some sensible form, which is called an idol (Rom. i. 23). Idolatry is a mortal sin, whether it be giving the outward or the inward worship, a sin condemned by the Second Commandment. All superiors are to he revered, but not all with the same reverence. Special marks of reverence are due to Almighty God; viz., Divine adoration ("latria"). "Outward sacrifices are signs of the inward sacrifice, as spoken words are signs of things. Wherefore, as in prayer and praise we direct our words to Him to whom we offer in our hearts the reality which we signify with our lips, so in sacrifice we know that we are to offer the visible part to none save to Him before whom we present in our hearts the invisible sacrifice, the offering of ourselves" (S. Aug., Civ. Dei, x. 19).

In the temple under the Old Law, and in the Church to-day, images or pictures are not introduced that Divine homage may be paid to them, but for the sake of what they signify; that faith may be made more real and strengthened in the minds of the beholders.

Idolatry is in its own nature the gravest of sins.

The gravest rebellion in a commonwealth is setting up another in place of the lawful ruler. So, while sins against God are the greatest of all sins, the worst of those sins seems to be the paying Divine honours to any creature, which, so far as it goes, is setting up another in place of God.

But the gravity of sin depends also upon the sinner's inward state; for sins of malice are far worse than sins of ignorance. And so the heretic who with eyes open corrupts the faith which he has once received, may be worse than lhe ignorant idolater. Attempts at divination, through "clairvoyance" or otherwise, are not uncommon sins.

The future may he foreseen through its causes, and if those causes have necessary and invariable effects, those effects may be foretold with absolute certainty, as in the prediction of eclipses. And certain events are so generally followed by others that the first may be reasonable ground for prediction, as in the case of medical diagnosis. But there are other causes, like the free-will of man, which are not determined to one necessary result, and their effects can be predicted by God only, who in His eternity sees in one vision what we call past, present, and future. And if any one presume to have this knowledge of future contingencies, he manifestly usurps what belongs to God alone. This is the sin of divination. It may be from the temptation of devils, who try to seduce the minds of men by such idle search into the unknown future.

The end sought may be idle curiosity, but the means used belong to evil superstition. (See Isa. viii. 19.)

§ 8. Irreligion; viz., Tempting God, perjury, sacrilege, and simony.

We are now to consider vices opposed to religion, which spring from contempt or irreverence towards God and holy things.

Tempting God.

We try another by our words, in order to ascertain whether he knows what we ask or is able or willing to do it. We try another by our actions to prove his judgment, will, or power. We try him openly, professing our purpose, or secretly, as the Pharisees tempted Christ (S. Matt. xxii.). So man tempts God sometimes in words, sometimes in deeds.

One would be expressly tempting God in His prayers if he should ask anything in order to make experiment of God's love, power, or knowledge (as in the "prayer-test" proposed by Professor Tyndall). Constructively he does the same who asks what is of no other use than such a test.

In his deeds one expressly tempts God when, by what he does, he intends to make trial of his God; constructively he may be doing the same thing by his words.

When, therefore, on account of some necessary or useful end one commits himself in his petitions or in his actions to the Divine aid, he does not tempt God. But apart from such occasions the commandment is, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" (S. Matt. iv. 7).

Tempting God, then, is a sin.

For no one tries experiments on that of which he is certain. Every trial proceeds from some ignorance or doubt, either in him who makes the trial, as when he wishes to find out the qualities of a thing, or in others, as when he tries an experiment to show something to those others. In this latter way God is said to tempt us. But ignorance or doubt of what pertains to God's perfection is a sin. Tempting God, then, in order to know His power, is a sin. But it is not tempting God when one desires to show to others the greatness of God, for some just necessity or pious utility. For so the apostles (Acts iv. 30) prayed, and asked God that "signs and wonders might be done through the name of Jesus," for the conversion of unbelievers.

Since tempting God is a direct act of irreverence in doubting of His excellency, it is directly opposed to religion.


This in assertory oaths is falsity; but if a man swears what he believes to be true, though it is in reality false, his act is perjury (material perjury), but he is not a perjurer (formal perjury). This of assertory oaths; but an imperfect kind of perjury may be found also in promissory oaths, when they lack justice. For in swearing an illicit thing, he incurs falsity, because he is under obligation to do the contrary of his oath. And if he swear indiscreetly, he incurs the danger of being false to his oath.

Every act of perjury is a sin against religion, for it is a sign of irreverence towards God that he is invoked to attest a lie. This implies either that God does not know the truth, or that he is willing to attest a falsehood.

(1) He who swears that he will do an unlawful action commits imperfect perjury in the act of swearing, on account of the lack of justice; but there is no perjury in not doing what he has sworn to do, because the thing was not the proper object of an oath. (There need be no perplexity in such a case. The sin was in swearing; it would be an added sin to fulfil the oath.)

(2) In like manner, he who swears that he will not do some good action which he ought to do, sins in the lack of judgment. But he is not perjured if he do that action, for what he swore to could not be fit object of an oath.

(3) So, again, if one swear that he will do another's will, obey another's commands, the due conditions are implied; sc., that the command be lawful, virtuous, and not intolerably difficult to execute. Otherwise there is no perjury in violating the oath.

(4) But may not some change occurring after the oath is taken release from its obligation? New members join the society which has taken an oath; are they bound by it? New statutes are made in an institution. Does the former oath which has been taken respecting old statutes bind one to observe the new? To the first case I answer that the oath is a personal action, and does not bind him who has not taken it. But if any one enter a society and share its advantages, he is bound to submit to its burdens, or else to leave it at once. To the last question I reply that the oath does not bind one to keep new laws for all future time, but the member of the institution is bound by the coactive force of its laws so long as he remains in it. Perjury is mortal sin, both because it directly violates the express command of God (Lev. xix. 12), and because it implies contempt of Him.

Even he who swears jestingly is guilty of irreverence towards God. But he who swears falsely through "lapsus linguae" if he be fully conscious of his act, is not excused from contempt of God; but if the action were inadvertent, there was no intention of taking an oath, and no perjury.


What is set apart for Divine service is sacred; reverence for it is referable to God, whose it is in special manner. Irreverent treatment of it is doing injury to God; it is sacrilege.

It has its own special deformity, in violating sacred things; it is therefore a special sin, opposed to religion, which reverences what belongs to God.

Sacrilege differs as what is sacred differs. There are consecrated persons, consecrated places, and consecrated things. The greater the sanctity violated, the greater is the sacrilege. Violation of sacred persons is graver than violation of sacred places, for the place was made sacred for man, not man for the place.

Similarly, in the third kind of sacrilege, that against things, most sacred are the sacraments by which man is sanctified; gravest, therefore, is sacrilege respecting the Holy Eucharist, the sacrament of the Lord's Body and. Blood. Next comes sacrilege respecting the holy vessels of the sacraments; then what pertains to the ornaments of the Church and the vestments of its ministers; then sacrilege respecting what is offered to God for the support of the ministers of the altar. Whoever sins against any of these falls into the crime of sacrilege.

Simony is a sin.

Spiritual things cannot be bought and sold. First, they cannot be compensated by any earthly price. And S. Peter condemned the depravity of Simon in its very root whcn he said, "Thy money perish with thee; because thou hast thought that the gift of God can be purchased with money" (Acts viii. 20). Secondly, no one can sell what is not his own. The clergy are not owners of spiritual things, but only dispensers of them, "stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. iv. 1). Thirdly, selling is repugnant to the origin of spiritual things, which come from the free grace of God. "Freely ye have received, freely give" (S. Matt. x. 8). Therefore simony, or buying and selling some spiritual thing, is the sin of irreverence towards God and Divine things.

When simony is defined as the deliberate buying or selling some spiritual thing, or what is annexed to such a thing, understand by buying or selling any contract which is not gratuitous.

Is it always unlawful to give and to receive money for the sacraments?

The sacraments of the Gospel are preeminently spiritual things, inasmuch as they are the means of spiritual grace whose value cannot be estimated in money; and it is against their nature that they should not be given gratuitously. But they are dispensed by the ministers of the Church, who must be supported by the people; so the apostle says (1 Cor. ix. 13), "Know ye not that they who minister about sacred things eat of the things of the temple, and they which wait upon the altar have their portion with the altar?" Therefore to receive money for the spiritual grace of the sacraments is the crime of simony, which no custom can excuse, because custom cannot violate natural or Divine law, and simony is forbidden by both of them. And by money is to be understood anything whose value can be estimated in money.

But to receive money for the support of those who minister Christ's sacraments is not simony nor any sin. For it is not taken as pay, but as a necessary stipend.

It is better to go without the sacraments than to sin by purchasing them.

The same remark applies to Holy Matrimony. The blessing of the Church cannot be purchased. If the priest merely solemnized the civil contract, he might be paid for doing so.

Is it lawful to give and to receive money for other spiritual ministrations?

As the sacraments are called spiritual because they confer spiritual grace, so certain other things are called so because they either proceed from spiritual grace or dispose man for it.

Yet these require the ministry of men, who must be supported by those who receive these benefits (1 Cor. ix. 7). To sell or buy acts of this nature is simoniacal. But to give and receive something for the support of those who minister in these spiritual things, according to the ordinance of the Church and approved custom, is lawful, if the simoniacal intention be not there, and if the demand be not made on those unwilling to contribute, by withholding those spiritual ministrations. For this would be a kind of selling. But when spiritual ministrations have been already freely bestowed, it is lawful to demand, from those who are able but unwilling to give, the appointed and customary offering for clerical support (say, the pew rent).

The case of the physician or lawyer is not the same. He who has any science does not get with it the obligation to use it for every one alike, as do the ministers of spiritual things. The former may receive pay, not as selling their science, but in exchange for their labours. But if they were bound by the obligation of their office to give their services, as in the case of a hospital physician, etc., they would grievously sin in selling their services.

Some things are so annexed to spiritualities as to depend upon them, as the benefice of a rector, which can only be held by a clergyman.

The sale of such things would be understood as the sale of spiritual things, and is unlawful.

But other things are annexed to the spiritual as being ordained for them, as the right of presentation to a living, or the sacred vessels (not yet consecrated and used) which are prepared. for sacramental use. Such things precede the spiritual in order of time, and may be sold, but not as annexed to the spiritual.

In case of need for the Church or the poor, even the consecrated vessels may be broken and sold for their value as precious metals.

There is another form of simony, when spiritual things -- say, office in the Church -- are given as a reward for personal service, or, in response to a request, in order to obtain some temporal advantage. What can be estimated in pecuniary value is equivalent to money, when simony is in question.

Nepotism is a sin in these matters, but it is not simony, unless some temporal advantage is in some way expected.

{1} For a fuller and thorough treatment of the subject, see Bishop Sanderson, De Juramento.

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