Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION XXI.: OF THE PROPERTIES CONSEQUENT UPON HUMAN ACTS CONSIDERED AS GOOD OR EVIL. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1)
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QUESTION XXI.: OF THE PROPERTIES CONSEQUENT UPON HUMAN ACTS CONSIDERED AS GOOD OR EVIL. - St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1) 
Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas. A Translation of the Principal Portions of the Second part of the Summa Theologica, with Notes by Joseph Rickaby, S.J. (London: Burns and Oates, 1892).
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OF THE PROPERTIES CONSEQUENT UPON HUMAN ACTS CONSIDERED AS GOOD OR EVIL.
R. In acts of the will, the proximate rule is human reason, the supreme rule is the Eternal Law. Whenever then the act of man proceeds to the end according to the order of reason and of the Eternal Law, the act is right: when it swerves from this rectitude, it is then called a sin.
§ 2. Moral acts stand in a different category from the performances of art. In the performances of art reason is directed to a particular end, which is something devised by reason: in moral performances it is directed to the general end of all human life. But the particular end is subordinated to the general end. Now as wrong-doing is by departure from subordination to the end, there comes to be wrong-doing in a performance of art in two ways: in one way by departure from the particular end intended by the artist, and that will be a sin peculiar to the art,—say, if an artist intending to make a good work, makes a bad one; or intending to make a bad one, makes a good one: in another way by departure from the general end of human life; and in that way he will be said to sin, if he intends to make an evil work and makes it, so that another is deceived thereby.1 But this is not a sin proper to an artist as an artist, but as a man. Hence for the former sin the artist is blamed as an artist: but for the latter the man is blamed as a man.2
Article III.—Is a human act meritorious or demeritorious according as it is good or evil?
R.Merit and demerit are predicated in view of retribution, which is rendered according to justice. Retribution according to justice is rendered to one for doing something to the profit or hurt of another. Now every one living in a community is in a manner a part and member of the community; and any evil or good done him redounds to the whole body. A double character therefore of merit or demerit attaches to any good or evil done to another individual. There is in the first place retribution due to the doer from the individual whom he helps or offends; and again retribution is due to him from the whole body corporate. Again, when one addresses his act directly to the good or evil of the whole body corporate, retribution is due to him primarily and principally from the whole body, and secondarily from all the members of the said body. But when one does what turns to his own good or evil, retribution is still due to him, inasmuch as even this good or evil goes to the common account, in so far as he is himself a member of the body corporate, but not inasmuch as it is his own individual good or evil,—except such sort of retribution as may be due from himself, so far as there is any likeness of justice of a man towards himself.
Article IV.—Is a human act meritorious or demeritorious before God according as it is good or evil?
R. As has been said, the act of a man has a character of merit or demerit so far as it is referred to another, either on his own account or on account of the community. In both these ways good and evil acts have a character of merit or demerit before God. On His own account,—inasmuch as He is the last end of man, and there is a duty of referring all acts to the last end: hence he who does an evil act not referable to God, does not observe the honour of God, due to the last end. Again, on the part of the whole community of the universe,—because in every community he who governs the community has especial care of the common good: hence it belongs to him to deal out retribution for the things that are done well or ill in the community. But God is Governor and Ruler of the whole universe, and especially of rational creatures: hence it is manifest that human acts have a character of merit or demerit in relation to Him: else it would follow that God had no care of human acts.
§ 1. By the act of man nothing can come in or be lost to God as He is in Himself: but still man, so far as in him lies, withdraws something from God, or affords Him something, when he keeps or does not keep the order which God has instituted.
§ 3. Man is not referred to the civil community to the extent of his whole self and of all his belongings; and therefore it is not necessary that his every act be meritorious or demeritorious in reference to the civil community. But all that man is and can and has, must be referred to God; and therefore every act of man, good or bad, has a character of merit or demerit before God, so far as is of the mere nature of the act.1
[1 ]St. Thomas, when a youth, is said to have broken a speaking-machine, the work of his master, Albertus Magnus, taking it to be a fraud upon humanity. The translator has always fancied that these words are a reminiscence of some such incident. (Trl.)
[2 ]The one is a technical sin, or blunder, and no more: the other is a sin in the ordinary sense of the word, morally and theologically. See Ethics and Natural Law, p. 74. (Trl.)
[1 ]This clause seems to be added to cover the case of an act being good in itself, and therefore meritorious, “so far as is of the mere nature of the act” (cf. q. 18. art. 9. § 3), and yet meriting nothing of God, because it is the act of one who by sin unrepented of is and remains God’s enemy. St. Thomas in this article treats merely of natural merit, which is all the concern of the ethical standpoint. In q. 114 (not translated), he deals with the theological question “of merit as an effect of co-operating grace.” (Trl.)