Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION LXXIV.: OF THE SUBJECT OF SINS. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1)
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QUESTION LXXIV.: OF THE SUBJECT OF SINS. - 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 SUBJECT OF SINS.
Article I.—Is the will the subject of sin?
R. There are some acts which are not transient to any exterior matter, but are immanent in the agent; of this nature are all moral acts, whether acts of virtue or sins. Hence the proper subject of an act of sin must be the power that is the originator of the act. And since it is proper to moral acts to be voluntary, the will must be the originator of sins. And therefore sin must be in the will as in its subject.
§ 1. Evil is said to be “beside the will,” because the will does not tend to it under the aspect of evil. But because some evil is apparent good, therefore the will sometimes desires some evil; and in this way sin is in the will.
§ 2. To the objection that this wishing for apparent good which is not really good, seems to be traceable rather to a want of power of apprehension than to a defect of will, it is to be said that, if the failure of apprehensive power were a thing in no way under the control of the will, there would be no sin either in the will or in the apprehensive power: as appears in persons labouring under invincible ignorance. The alternative is, that even the failure of apprehensive power, being as it is a thing subject to the control of the will, should be reputed unto sin.1
Article II.—Is the will alone the subject of sin?
R. Every originating principle of a voluntary act is a subject of sin. Now by voluntary acts we mean not only acts elicited by the will, but also acts commanded by the will. Hence not only the will can be a subject of sin, but also all those powers that are liable to be incited to their acts or to be restrained from their acts by the will. These same powers are also the subjects of moral habits, good and bad: because acts and habits lie at the same door.
§ 1. Augustine says that “sin is never committed except by the will:” that is to say, by the will as prime mover; but it is committed by other powers as moved by the will.
Article V.—Can there be sin in the reason?
R. The sin of every power is found in its act. Now there is a twofold act of reason. There is first the ordinary act of reason in regard of its proper object, which is the knowledge of truth: then there is the act of reason as directing the other powers. In both ways there may be sin in the reason. First, when reason strays from the knowledge of truth: which straying is imputed to it as sinful, when it involves ignorance or error on points that the reason could and should know. Secondly, when reason either commands the inordinate acts of the lower powers, or after deliberation does not repress them.
§ 1. A defect of reason about what one cannot know, is not a sin, but an excuse from sin. But a defect of reason about what a man can and ought to know, is not at all an excuse from sin, but is imputed as sinful. Again, a defect merely in the direction of the other powers is always imputed as sinful, because such a defect is capable of being met by reason’s own act.
Article VI.—Is the sin of lingering delectation in the reason?1
R. Sin occurs in the reason, not only in respect of the own proper act of reason, but also forasmuch as reason is the directrix of human acts, as well of exterior actions as of interior passions. And therefore, when reason fails in the direction of the interior passions, there is said to be sin in reason; as also when it fails in the direction of the exterior actions. But it fails in the direction of the interior passions in two ways: in one way when by command it calls forth unlawful passions, as when a man deliberately incites himself to a movement of anger or concupiscence; in another way when it does not repress an unlawful movement of passion, as when a man, after having made up his mind that a rising movement of passion is inordinate, nevertheless dwells upon it and does not cast it out. In this latter sense it is that the sin of lingering delectation is said to be in the reason.
§ 3. Delectation is called lingering, not from the length of time that it stays, but because reason deliberating lingers about it, and still does not reject it, “holding to and turning over with pleasure what should have been rejected as soon as it touched the mind,” as Augustine says.
Article VII.—Does the sin of consent to an act lie in the upper reason?
R. Consent implies a judgment on that which is consented to. The practical reason judges and passes sentence on things to be done, as the speculative reason judges and passes sentence on things to be understood. Now in every judgment the final sentence belongs to the supreme court. Thus in speculative matters the final sentence is given by reduction to first principles: for so long as there is a higher principle still left, the matter in question may be examined by it, and judgment stands reserved. But human acts are capable of regulation by the rule of human reason, taken from created things, which man naturally knows,1 and above that, by the rule of the divine law. Hence, as the rule of the divine law is the higher rule, the final sentence, which closes the question, must belong to the higher reason, which attends to eternal truths. But when there is question of several things, the final sentence passes upon that which last occurs. But in human acts the last thing to occur is the act itself, the preamble to which is the delectation leading on to the act. And therefore to the higher reason properly belongs the consent to the act; but the judgment in the first instance on the delectation belongs to the lower reason, because that has the lower judgment. At the same time the higher reason can also judge of the delectation: because whatever is subject to the judgment of the lower court, is also subject to the judgment of the higher court, but not conversely.
§ 2. From the mere fact of the higher reason not directing human acts according to the divine law and hindering the act of sin, it is said to consent to the sin, whether it thinks of the eternal law or not. For when it does think of the eternal law, it contemns it actually: when it does not think of it, it neglects it by way of omission.1
Article VIII.—Is consent to delectation1a mortal sin?
R. A person thinking about fornication may take delight in two things: in the thought itself, and in the fornication thought about. Now the delight taken in the thought itself follows the inclination of the affection to the thought itself. But the thought itself in itself is not a mortal sin. Sometimes it is a venial sin, as when one thinks of the matter to no useful purpose,—sometimes no sin at all, as when one thinks of it to a useful purpose; for example, if he wishes to preach or dispute about it. Consequently the affection and delight thus felt about the thought of fornication, has not the character of a mortal sin, but is sometimes a venial sin, sometimes no sin. Hence consent to such delectation is not a mortal sin either. But when one thinking about fornication takes delight in the very action thought of, this happens because his affection is inclined to the action. Hence to consent to such delectation is nothing else than to consent to the inclination of his affection towards fornication: for no one takes delight except in what is conformable to his desire. But for any one deliberately to choose to have his affection conformed to those things that are in themselves mortal sins, is a mortal sin. Hence such consent to the delectation of mortal sin is a mortal sin.
R. Though unbelief is a mortal sin of its kind, still a sudden movement of unbelief is a venial sin, because a mortal sin is only that which is against the law of God.1 Some article of faith may suddenly occur to the thinking mind under another aspect, before the eternal reason, that is, the law of God, is consulted or can be consulted on the point; as when one suddenly pictures to himself the resurrection of the body as impossible according to nature, and upon that notion he is set against the doctrine before he has time deliberately to consider that it is delivered to us to be believed according to the divine law. But if the movement of unbelief continues after deliberation, then it is a mortal sin.2
[1 ]See St. Thomas, Contra Gentiles, iii. 10. a medio. (Trl.)
[1 ]“Lingering delectation” is the ordinary form of what Catholics making their confession call a “bad thought.” (Trl.)
[1 ]In Part I. q. 79. art. 9. St. Thomas tells us that the upper and lower reason are one and the same power, but are distinguished in acts and habits, inasmuch as the upper reason attends to eternal truths, but the lower reason to temporal things. In the upper reason is wisdom, in the lower science. See above, q. 57. art. 2. (Trl.)
[1 ]The Holy See has condemned the proposition (Denzinger, n. 1157) that “philosophical sin, or a human act out of accordance with natural reason, in one who either knows not God, or is not actually thinking of God, is not an offence of God or a mortal sin.” St. Thomas here explicitly denies the proposition, at least for the case of him who knows God, but does not think of God at the time when he does wrong. As for the case of ignorance of God, we should have to consider whether such ignorance is consequent, voluntary and imputable, or antecedent and involuntary. (See q. 6. art. 8.) Theologians commonly hold that antecedent, or invincible, ignorance of God cannot last for a long time, not at least in his case who has wit enough to commit what he recognizes to be a grave offence against the exigences of human reason and propriety. See Ethics and Natural Law, pp. 119—125. (Trl.)
[1 ]Delectation as explained above, art. 6. (Trl.)
[1 ]A venial sin is said to be not against, but beside the law, q. 88. art. 1. § 1. (Trl.)
[2 ]We must beware, however, of supposing that whatever has an ugly look, and yet is not a mortal sin, must necessarily be a venial sin. It may be a temptation and nothing more. Without some voluntary malice, or some voluntary negligence, there can be no sin, neither mortal nor venial. For “voluntariness is of the essence of sin,” q. 76. art 3. And “even the first motion of sensuality has not the character of sin except inasmuch as it is capable of being checked by the judgment of reason; and therefore when the judgment of reason is taken away, the character of sin is taken away.” II-II. q. 154. art. 5. (Trl.)