Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION LXXXVII.: OF LIABILITY TO PUNISHMENT. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1)
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QUESTION LXXXVII.: OF LIABILITY TO PUNISHMENT. - 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 LIABILITY TO PUNISHMENT.
Article I.—Is liability to punishment an effect of sin?
R. The rule passes from the domain of physical nature to human affairs, that what rises up against anything, suffers loss from the same. For we see in physics that of two contraries the one acts more violently when the other supervenes.1 Hence in men this is found in accordance with natural inclination, that every one tries to put down the man that rises up against him. But since sin is an inordinate act, it is manifest that whoever sins acts against some order, and consequently must be put down and degraded from that order, which degradation is punishment. Hence man may be punished with a threefold punishment, according to the three orders to which the human will is subject. Human nature is subject in the first place to the order of its own reason; secondly, to the order of human government, spiritual or temporal, political or domestic; thirdly, to the general order of divine government. Each of these orders is upset by sin, in that the sinner acts against reason and against human law and against divine law. Hence he incurs a triple penalty: one from himself, which is remorse of conscience; another from man, and a third from God.1
§ 3. On Augustine’s words, “Every inordinate mind is its own punishment,” it is to be said that this punishment, consisting in an inordinate mind, is due to sin, as sin is a perversion of the order of reason. But the sinner becomes liable to another punishment by his perversion of the order of divine or human law.
§ 4. It is said: “Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that worketh evil.”2
Article III.—Does any sin make a man liable to everlasting punishment?
R. Sin incurs liability to punishment by this, that it is the subversion of some order. Now, while the cause remains, the effect remains; hence so long as the subversion of order remains, the liability to punishment must remain. But order is subverted sometimes reparably, sometimes irreparably. For in all cases a defect that means the withdrawal of a principle is irreparable; but if only the principle is safe, by virtue thereof other defects may be repaired. Thus, if the principle of sight is lost, the restoration of sight cannot take place but by the power of God alone; whereas if the principle of sight is kept, and some hindrances to vision occur, they may be set to rights by nature or by art. Now in every order there is some principle whereby one becomes partaker of that order. And therefore if by sin the principle of order be destroyed, whereby the human will is subject to God, an inordinateness will ensue of itself irreparable, though it can be repaired by the power of God. Now the principle of this order is the last end, whereunto man clings by charity. And therefore whatsoever sins turn men away from God by taking away charity, do of themselves bring on liability to everlasting punishment.
§ 1. In no court is it required that the punishment should be adapted to the fault in point of duration. For though adultery or murder is committed in a moment, it is not on that account punished with the penalty of a moment, but sometimes with perpetual imprisonment or exile, sometimes also with death: in which latter case we must consider, not the time taken in executing the offender, but the fact that he is cut off for all time to come from the fellowship of the living, and so represents after his fashion the eternity of punishment inflicted by God.
§ 2. Even the penalty that is inflicted according to human laws is not always medicinal to him that is punished, but to others, as when a robber is hung, not for his own amendment, but according to the text: “The wicked man being scourged, the fool shall be wiser.”1 So then also the everlasting punishments of the reprobate, inflicted by God, are medicinal to those who upon consideration of these punishments abstain from sins, according to the text: “Thou hast given a warning to them that fear thee, that they may flee from before the bow, that thy beloved may be delivered.”1
Article IV.—Is the punishment due to sin infinite in amount?
R. There are two elements in sin: one is the turning away from the good that perishes not; and that element is infinite: hence in this respect sin is infinite. The other is the inordinate turning to the good that perishes; and in this respect sin is finite, both because the good that perishes is itself finite, and because the act of turning to it is finite, for the acts of a creature cannot be infinite. On the part of the turning away then there answers to sin the pain of loss, which also is infinite: for it is the loss of the infinite good of God. But on the part of the inordinate turning to there answers to it the pain of sense, which is finite.
Article VI.—Does the liability to punishment remain after the sin?
R. In sin there are two things to consider, the culpable act and the stain ensuing. It is plain that on the cessation of the act of sin liability to punishment remains. For an act of sin makes a man liable as a transgressor of the order of divine justice, to which order he returns not otherwise than by a certain penal compensation, which brings him back to the equilibrium of justice; so that he who has indulged his own will beyond due bounds, acting against the commandment of God, suffers according to the order of divine justice, either spontaneously or reluctantly, something contrary to what he would wish. And the same is observed also in injuries done to men. Hence it is clear that when the act of sin or of injury done is at an end, the debt of punishment still remains. But if we speak of the taking away of sin as to the stain of it, evidently the stain of sin cannot be taken away from the soul except by the soul being united to God; as it was in separation from Him that the soul incurred that loss of its own lustre which is the meaning of a stain. Now the soul is united to God by the will. Hence the stain of sin cannot be taken out of man, unless the will of man accepts the order of divine justice, by either spontaneously taking upon itself punishment in compensation for the past fault, or patiently bearing the punishment inflicted by God; for in both ways punishment bears the character of satisfaction. Now the fact of being satisfactory takes off something of the nature of punishment. For it is of the nature of punishment to be against the will. But satisfactory punishment, although, absolutely considered, it is against the will, yet is not actually against it as things actually stand; wherefore the punishment here is absolutely voluntary, but involuntary in a restricted sense.1 We must say then that after the removal of the stain of sin, there may remain a liability, not to punishment absolutely, but to punishment inasmuch as it is satisfactory.
§ 2. Punishment absolutely so called is not due to the virtuous: still there may be due to them punishment in its satisfactory aspect; for this is also a point of virtue to make satisfaction for offences to God or to man.
Article VII.—Is all punishment for some fault?
R. Satisfactory punishment is in some sort voluntary. And because those who differ in deservingness of punishment may be one in will by the union of love, it sometimes happens that one who has not sinned, voluntarily bears the punishment of another in his stead; as we see that sometimes one man takes upon himself another man’s debt. But if we speak of punishment absolutely so called, as bearing the proper character of punishment, then punishment always has reference to the sufferer’s own fault, sometimes his actual sin, and sometimes original sin. Primarily the punishment of original sin is that human nature is left to itself, deprived of the aid of original justice: consequently upon this come all the penalties that befall men from the defect and shortcoming of nature.
It is to be noted, however, that sometimes a thing wears the look of a penal infliction, and yet has not the absolute character of punishment. For punishment is a species of evil, that is, of privation of good. Now a man may suffer loss in a less good, to have increase in a greater; for instance, loss of money to gain health of body, or loss of both for salvation of his soul and the glory of God. The loss in that case is not absolutely an evil to the man, but only an evil in a restricted sense. Hence it has not the absolute character of punishment, but of medicine; for physicians also give bitter potions for the recovery of health. And because these sort of evils are not properly punishments, they are not reducible to any fault as their cause, except inasmuch as the mere necessity of the administration to human nature of medicinal inflictions arises from the corruption of nature, which is the punishment of original sin: for in the state of innocence it would not have been necessary to lead any one to advance in virtue by exercises that could be described as inflictions. Hence whatever there is of the character of a penal infliction here, is reducible to original sin as its cause.
§ 2. Temporal and material goods are indeed some good to man, but they are petty goods; the grand goods of man are spiritual. It is part of divine justice, therefore, to give spiritual goods to virtuous people; and of temporal goods or evils, so much as serves the purpose of virtue. For as Dionysius says: “It is the care of divine justice not to soften the fortitude of heroes by gifts of material things.” But with other men this very bestowal of temporal goods turns to their spiritual evil: hence the conclusion drawn, “Therefore pride hath held them fast.”1
Article VIII.—Is any one punished for another’s sin?
R. Loss of material goods, or even detriment to the body itself, is a manner of medicinal infliction ordained to the salvation of the soul. Hence there is nothing to hinder one being punished with such penalties for the sin of another either by God or man, as children for parents, and subjects for their lords and masters, in so far as they are in a manner the chattels of the same;1 yet so that if the son or subject be a partaker in the fault of his principal, this manner of penal deprivation bears the character of punishment for both parties; but if he is not a partaker in the fault, it bears the character of punishment as regards him for whom the other is punished, but as regards him who is punished, the character of medicine only.
[1 ]St. Thomas’s illustration here is from Aristotle, that “water freezes more after it has been warmed.” We might perhaps quote Newton’s law, that “action and reaction are equal.” (Trl.)
[1 ]Ethics and Natural Law, pp. 171, nn. 4, seq.
[2 ]Romans ii. 9.
[1 ]Prov. xix. 25.
[1 ]Psalm lix. 6.
[1 ]Cf. above, q. 6. art. 6. (Trl.)
[1 ]Psalm lxxii. 6.
[1 ]Filius est ves parentis was a maxim of the Roman law. On the doctrine of this and the preceding article, cf. II-II. q 108. art. 4. (Trl.)