Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION LXXI.: OF VICES AND SINS IN THEMSELVES. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1)
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QUESTION LXXI.: OF VICES AND SINS IN THEMSELVES. - 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 VICES AND SINS IN THEMSELVES.
Article I.—Is vice contrary to virtue?
R. The goodness of any given thing consists in its being disposed suitably to the manner of its nature. A good action is the effect whereunto virtue is ordained to lead. Sin is opposed to virtue in respect of that whereunto virtue is ordained to lead: for sin means an inordinate act, just as an act of virtue is an act well-ordered and due. But in respect of that which is directly of the essence of virtue, the opposite of virtue is vice: for a vice, or flaw, in any given thing seems to be its not being in a disposition suitable to its nature.
Article II.—Is vice against nature?
R. The virtue or proper excellence of everything consists in its being well disposed according to its kind and nature: hence vice must signify a disposition contrary to nature. But we must observe that the nature of everything is principally the form whereby the thing receives its species. But man is constituted in his species by a rational soul. And therefore what is against the order of reason is peculiarly against the nature of man, as man; and what is according to reason is according to the nature of man, as such. “The good of man is in being according to reason, and the evil of man is in being astray from reason,” as Dionysius says. Hence human virtue, which makes man and the act of man good, is so far forth according to the nature of man inasmuch as it is in accordance with reason; and vice is against the nature of man inasmuch as it is against the order of reason.
§ 3. In man there is a double nature, rational and sensitive. And because it is through the act of sense that man arrives at acts of reason, therefore more men follow the inclination of sensitive nature than the order of reason, as there are more who attain to the commencement of a thing than who attain to its consummation and completion.
Article III.—Is a vice more of an evil thing than a vicious act?
R. Habit is something intermediate between power and act. But for good and for evil alike the act stands above the power: for well-doing is better than the power of well-doing, and evil-doing more to blame than the power of doing evil. Hence as a good or evil habit stands above the power in point of goodness or evil, so also does it rank below the act. The same is further evidenced by this consideration, that a habit is not called good or evil except for its inclining to a good or evil act; hence the act for good and for evil goes beyond the habit: because that by which any given thing has any given attribute, has itself more of that attribute.
§ 1. There is nothing to hinder a thing absolutely ranking above another thing, while in a certain respect it falls short of it. Now from the very nature of an act and of a habit, an act ranks both for good and evil above a habit. As for the habit being more lasting than the act, that comes from both of them being found in a nature that cannot be active perpetually, and whose action consists in a passing movement. Hence absolutely an act ranks higher both for good and for evil: but a habit ranks higher in a certain respect.
§ 2. Absolutely, a habit is not a plurality of acts, but only in a certain respect, that is, virtually. Hence we cannot conclude that a habit ranks absolutely higher in good or evil than an act.
§ 4. A person is justly punished for a vicious act, but not for a vicious habit, if it does not proceed to act.
Article IV.—Can sin exist along with virtue?
R. A habit in the soul does not of necessity produce its act: but the man uses his habit when he will. Hence he may forbear the use of a habit that he has, or do an act contrary to it. Thus one who has a virtue may proceed to an act of sin. Now an act of sin, considered in its bearings on the virtue itself as a habit, cannot destroy the habit, if it is one act only. For as a habit is not engendered by one act, so neither is it by one act destroyed. But if we consider the bearings of an act of sin upon the cause of virtues, we shall see that it is possible for some virtues to be destroyed by one act of sin. For every mortal sin is contrary to charity, which is the root of all the infused virtues, so far as they are virtues. And therefore as by one act of mortal sin charity is excluded, with it are excluded all the infused virtues, so far as they are virtues. And this I say on account of faith and hope, the habits of which remain formless after mortal sin, and so are not virtues. Venial sin, not being contrary to charity, neither excludes it, nor, consequently, the other virtues either. But the acquired virtues are not taken away by one act of any sin whatever. So then mortal sin cannot be with the infused virtues; but it can be with the acquired virtues: while venial sin can be as well with the infused virtues as with the acquired.
§ 1. Sin is contrary, not to virtue in itself, but to virtue in its act. And therefore sin cannot be along with the act of virtue, but it may be along with the habit.
§ 2. Vice is the direct contrary of virtue, as sin is of a virtuous act; and therefore vice excludes virtue, as sin excludes the act of virtue.
Article V.—Is there some act in every sin?
R. This question is raised principally on account of sins of omission, on which there are different opinions. Some say that in every sin of omission there is some act, either interior or exterior: interior in such a case as when a person makes up his mind not to go to church when he is bound to go; exterior when a person at the time that he is bound to go to church, or even before, applies himself to occupations that hinder his going to church. This latter case seems to fall back upon the former: for he who makes up his mind to anything with which something else cannot be at the same time, consequently makes up his mind to go without that other thing; unless he happens not to reflect that he is being thereby hindered from doing what he is bound to do, in which case he might be judged to be to blame for negligence. Others say that in a sin of omission no act is requisite, for the mere failure to do what one is bound to do is sinful. Both opinions have something of truth in them. For if we consider in a sin of omission purely and solely that which of itself essentially bears the character of sin; so considered, the sin of omission is sometimes committed with an interior act, as when a person makes up his mind not to go to church; and sometimes again it is without any act either exterior or interior, as when a person at the hour that he is bound to go to church, has no thought of going or of not going to church. But if in the sin of omission we consider also the cause or occasions of the omission, in that aspect there must be some act in the sin of omission. The sin of omission is then only when a person leaves out an act that he is competent to do or not to do. Now a person’s swerving to the side of not doing what he is competent to do or not to do, must come from some cause or occasion at the time or going before. If that cause is beyond the man’s control, the omission is not sinful: as when one fails to go to church through sickness. But if the cause or occasion of the omission lies under the control of the will, the omission is sinful;1 and the cause in that case, inasmuch as it is voluntary, involves some act, at least an interior act of the will. This act sometimes falls directly upon the omission itself; as when a person makes up his mind not to go to church, to save himself trouble. The act in that case belongs ordinarily and of itself to the omission: for the will to commit any sin belongs ordinarily to the sin, because voluntariness is of the essence of sin. Sometimes, on the other hand, the act of the will lights directly upon something else, that hinders the man from the performance of the act which it is his duty to perform. The matter on which the will lights may be something coexistent with the omission, as when one wills to play when he ought to be going to church; or, again, it may be something in time past, as when one chooses to sit up late at night, the consequence being that he does not go at the morning hour to church.2 In that case the interior act is incidental to the omission, because the omission follows beside the intention; and we call that incidental, which is beside the intention. Clearly in that case the sin of omission has some act attached to it either at the time or going before, which act, however, is only incidental to the sin of omission. But we must pronounce judgment upon things according to what is ordinary in them and properly belongs to them, not according to what is incidental. And therefore the more correct thing to say is, that there may be some sin without any act; otherwise adjacent acts and occasions would belong also to the essence of other sins.1
Article VI.—Is sin aptly defined to be any word, deed, or desire against the eternal law?
R. Sin is nothing else than an evil human act. An act is human by being voluntary, whether voluntary as elicited by the will—like the act itself of willing or choosing—or as commanded by the will—like the outward acts of speaking or working. Now a human act is evil for want of due proportion to some measure. But the measure or rule of the human will is twofold, one proximate and homogeneous to the will itself, namely, human reason; the other is the first rule, namely, the eternal law, which is as it were the reason of God. And therefore Augustine has inserted in his definition of sin two elements, one which is as the material element of sin, any word, deed, or desire; the other appertaining to the idea of evil, and being as it were the formal element of sin, against the eternal law.1
§ 5. By theologians sin is considered principally as an offence against God; but by the moral philosopher, as an act contrary to reason.2 And therefore Augustine more fitly defines sin by its being against the eternal law than by its being against reason, especially since we are regulated by the eternal law in many things which exceed human reason, as in matters of faith.
[1 ]That is, it may be sinful; and will be, if the motive for placing the cause of the omission be not enough to justify the omission. (Trl.)
[2 ]It is beside the intention, properly so called, q. 12. art. 2. and beside the election, q. 13. art. 3; but not wholly beside the will. It is indirectly willed. Ethics and Natural Law, p. 204, n. 4. (Trl.)
[1 ]The instance given above of a sin without any act is “when a person at the hour that he is bound to go to church, has no thought of going or of not going to church” In that case he can hardly be said to contract the guilt of sin just at that hour, but any sinfulness there may be is the sinfulness of some previous volition, which is the cause why he now has no thought of his obligation. But there is another case conceivable: the person remembers that it is church-time, and that he is bound to go; and without making up his mind not to go, he fails to make up his mind that he will go, till the time is past. Is not that a sin of omission without any act of the will? The matter has been previously treated, q. 6. art. 3. (Trl.)
[1 ]This idea of the composite nature of sin is fundamental in the theory of morals. See Ethics and Natural Law, c. vi. pp. 109—125. (Trl.)
[2 ]Ethics and Natural Law, pp. 124, 125 (Trl.)