Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION LXXII.: OF THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN SIN AND SIN. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1)
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QUESTION LXXII.: OF THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN SIN AND SIN. - 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 DISTINCTION BETWEEN SIN AND SIN.
Article I.—Do sins differ in species according to their objects?
R. Two things go to make up a sin, the voluntary act and the inordination thereof, which inordination is by departure from the law of God. Of these two elements the one attaches ordinarily and properly to the sinner, who intends to do such a voluntary act in such a matter. The other, that is to say, the inordination of the act, is merely incidental to the intention of the sinner: for “no one is active unto evil intending it as such,” as Dionysius says. But everything has its species according to what is ordinary about it, not according to what is incidental. And therefore sins differ in species in regard of the voluntary acts that they involve, rather than in regard of the inordination that there is in the sin. But voluntary acts differ in species according to their objects: and therefore sins properly differ in species according to their objects.
§ 1. The end in view bears the character of a principal good; and stands as object to the act of the will, which takes the initiative in every sin. Hence it comes to the same thing whether we say that sins differ according to objects or according to ends in view.
§ 2. A sin is not a pure privation, but an act having a privation of due order.
Article II.—Is it proper to make a distinction between sins of the spirit and sins of the flesh?
R. Every sin consists in a craving for some perishable good, which is sought inordinately, and in which consequently, when it comes to be possessed, inordinate pleasure is taken. Now there is a twofold pleasure, one psychical, which is complete in the mere mental apprehension of the thing desired and won, and this may also be called pleasure of the spirit: as when one takes pleasure in human praise. Another sort of pleasure there is, bodily, or physical, which results from bodily contact; and this may be called also pleasure of the flesh. Thus therefore those sins, in the doing of which there is pleasure of the spirit, are called sins of the spirit; and those others, in the doing of which there is pleasure of the flesh, are called sins of the flesh; as gluttony, in the commission of which there is the pleasure of food, and lust, or luxury, in the commission of which there is sexual pleasure. Hence the Apostle says: “Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and of the spirit.”1
§ 1. Idolatry and witchcraft are called “works of the flesh,”2 not because there is fleshly pleasure in the doing of them, but the flesh is there taken for the man, who living according to his own liking, is said to live according to the flesh. The reason of this is, because all defect of reason in man has somehow its beginning in some fleshly view of things.
Article IV.—Is that a proper division of sin, into sin against God, sin against self, and sin against one’s neighbour?
R. Sin is an inordinate act. Now there ought to be a threefold order in man: one in reference to the rule of reason, by which all our actions and passions should be regulated; another in reference to the rule of the divine law, by which man should be guided in all things. And if man were by nature a solitary animal, this twofold order would suffice. But because man is naturally a political and social animal, therefore there must be a third order to direct man in his dealings with other men in whose society he has to live. Of these orders the first1 contains the second, and goes beyond it. For whatever is contained under the order of reason, is contained under the order of God; but there are things contained under the order of God that go beyond human reason, as the things of faith. Hence he who sins against such things, is said to sin against God, as does the heretic, and the sacrilegious person, and the blasphemer. In like manner also the second order includes the third and goes beyond it:1 because in all things in which we have relations with our neighbour we must be guided by the rule of reason; but in some things we are guided by reason to our own concerns only, and not to those of our neighbour; and any sin committed in such matters is said to be committed by a man against self, as with the glutton, the debauchee, and the spendthrift. When again a man sins in matters in which he has relations with his neighbour, he is said to sin against his neighbour, as does the thief and the murderer.
This is a distinction according to objects, which make different species of sins. The virtues also are thus distinguished in species. For it is obvious that by the theological virtues man is put in relation with God; by temperance and fortitude he deals with himself, and by justice with his neighbour.
§ 1. To sin against God, in so far as the order of relation to God includes every human relation, is common to all sin: but in so far as the order of relation to God goes beyond the other two orders, in that way sin against God is a special kind of sin.
Article V.—Does the division of sins according to the punishment they incur make a difference of species?
R. The difference of venial or mortal sin, or any other difference in point of punishment deserved, cannot be a difference constituting a diversity of species. For no incidental circumstance ever constitutes a species; and what is beside the intention of the agent is incidental; and obviously punishment is beside the intention of the agent, and is an incidental circumstance of the sin in so far as the sinner himself is concerned. Still it is directed upon sin from without by the justice of the Judge, who inflicts different punishments for sin according to their different conditions. Hence a difference in point of punishment incurred may follow from a specific difference of sins, but it does not constitute such a specific difference.1
The difference of venial and mortal sin follows upon the diversity of inordination that enters into and makes up sin. For there is a twofold inordination: one by the withdrawal of the principle of order; another where the principle of order is maintained, but some inordination occurs in what follows upon the principle. Now the principle of all order in morals is the last end. Hence when a soul is disordered by sin to the extent of turning away from its last end, that is, from God, to whom it is united by charity, then is the sin mortal; but when the disorder stops short of turning away from God, the sin is venial. For as in animal bodies the disorder of death, which is the removal of the principle of life, is irreparable in nature, while the disorder of sickness can be repaired, because the principle of life is safe, so it is in the things of the soul. For in speculative matters he who errs in principle is beyond the reach of persuasion; but he who errs indeed, but adheres to first principles, may be recalled by the aid of those same principles. And so in matters of conduct, he who by sinning turns away from his last end, suffers a fall that is, so far as the nature of the sin goes, beyond repair, and exposes himself to be punished everlastingly. But he whose sin stops short of turning away from God, is under a disorder that by the very nature of the sin admits of repair; and therefore he is said to sin venially, because he does not so sin as to deserve never-ending punishment.
§ 1. Mortal sin and venial sin differ infinitely, as to the turning away, which the former involves, from the divine good that perishes not, but not as to the turning to the created good that perishes. Now it is this turning to created good that puts the sin in relation with the object, whence it derives its species. Hence it is quite possible for a mortal sin and a venial sin to be found in the same species.
R. Where there comes in another motive for sinning, there we have another species of sin; because the motive for sinning is the end and object of the sin.
[1 ]2 Cor. vii. 1.
[2 ]Galat. v. 19.
[1 ]St. Thomas means the first mentioned in the title of the article, that is, the order of relation to God (Trl.)
[1 ]Taking second and third as they are in the title of the article. (Trl.)
[1 ]See below, q. 88. art. 2. with note. (Trl.)