Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION LXXXVIII.: OF VENIAL AND MORTAL 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 LXXXVIII.: OF VENIAL AND MORTAL 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 VENIAL AND MORTAL SIN.
Article I.—Is it proper to divide sin into venial and mortal?
R. The principle of spiritual life is reference to the last end. If this reference is set aside, the defect cannot be made good by any intrinsic principle, but only by the power of God; and therefore such sins are called mortal, as being irreparable. But those sins are reparable, the inordinateness of which is in regard of means to the end, while the due order of reference to the end is preserved; and such are called venial sins. Mortal sin then and venial sin are opposed to one another, as being the one reparable and the other irreparable. This irreparability must be understood as regards all principles of action within the culprit, but not in regard of the power of God, which can repair the ravages of any disease, corporal or spiritual.
§ 1. The perfect character of sin attaches to mortal sin only. Venial sin is called sin as bearing the character of sin in an imperfect degree, and as being related to mortal sin, in the same way that an accident is called a being in relation to substance, as possessing an imperfect character of being. For venial sin is not in the teeth of the law, since he who sins venially does not do what the law [substantially] forbids, nor omit to do that to which the law [substantially] binds him by precept to do; but his action is wide of the law, since he does not observe the measure of reason which the law intends.
§ 2. The precept of the Apostle, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever else you do, do all to the glory of God,”1 is affirmative: hence it does not bind us to be discharging it every moment. Hence it is not against this precept, if a man fails actually to refer all that he does to the glory of God. It is sufficient then for one habitually to refer himself and all his ongoings to the glory of God, to escape sinning mortally every time that he does not actually refer an action to the glory of God.2 But venial sin does not exclude an habitual reference of human conduct to the glory of God, but only an actual reference; because it does not exclude charity which directs a man to God habitually.
§ 3. He who sins venially, adheres to a temporal good, not by way of fruition, since he does not set up his rest therein, but by way of use, referring to God not actually but habitually.
Article II.—Do mortal sin and venial differ in kind?
R. It being by charity that man is adapted to his last end, when the will is carried to that which of itself is repugnant to charity, that sin is mortal in point of its object, and hence is mortal of its kind; whether it be against the love of God, as blasphemy, perjury, and the like, or against the love of our neighbour, as murder and adultery: hence such sins are mortal of their kind. But sometimes in sinning the will is carried to that which contains in itself a certain inordinateness, but yet is not contrary to the love of God and our neighbour, as in the case of an idle word or excess of laughter; and such sins are venial of their kind. But because moral acts take a colour of good or evil, not only from their object, but also from the dispositions of the agent, it happens occasionally that what is a venial sin of its kind so far as its object goes, becomes mortal on the part of the agent: it may be because he directs it to something which is mortal of its kind, as when one puts out an idle word as a step towards the commission of adultery. In like manner on the part of the agent it may happen that a sin which is mortal of its kind becomes venial on account of the imperfection of the act, it being not fully deliberate.1
[1 ]1 Cor. x. 31.
[2 ]The mere omission of the actual reference of the action to God is no sin at all, not even a venial sin. But as such actual reference is a bar for the moment to venial sin, so venial sin may find an entry where such reference is omitted. (Trl.)
[1 ]Mortal sin and venial sin, as such, do not differ in kind (I-II. q. 72. art. 5.); but some kinds of sin are mortal, objectively considered, and some kinds are objectively venial. In other words, the difference of mortal and venial is not itself a specific difference, but it follows upon specific differences, though it may also be found where there is no specific difference. So St. Thomas says himself in the above art. 5. § 2. (in the Latin). (Trl.)