Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION X.: OF UNBELIEF IN GENERAL. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1)
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QUESTION X.: OF UNBELIEF IN GENERAL. - 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 UNBELIEF IN GENERAL.
Article I.—Is unbelief a sin?
R. Unbelief may be understood in two ways: in one way as a mere negation, so that a man is called an unbeliever simply from not having the faith. In another way unbelief may be understood as signifying contrary opposition to the faith, whereby one stands out against the hearing of the faith, or even despises faith; and in this the proper and perfect essence of unbelief consists; and thus understood, unbelief is a sin. But if it is taken for a pure negation, as in those who have heard nothing of the faith, it has not the character of a sin, but rather of a penalty, inasmuch as such ignorance of divine things is a consequence of the sin of our first parent. Unbelievers of this class are damned for other sins that cannot be forgiven without faith, but they are not damned for the sin of unbelief.1
Article II.—Is the intellect the subject in which unbelief resides?
R. Sin is said to be in that power which is the principle of the act of sin. Now we find two such principles: one primary and general, that commands all acts of sin; and this principle is the will, because all sin is voluntary. The other principle of the act of sin is the proper and proximate principle that elicits the act. Thus the concupiscible faculty is the principle of gluttony and luxury; and accordingly gluttony and luxury are said to be in the concupiscible faculty. But dissent, which is the proper act of unbelief, is an act of the intellect, as also is assent, an act of the intellect moved by the will. And therefore unbelief, like faith, is in the intellect as its proximate subject, but in the will as its prime mover. And in this way all sin is said to be in the will.2
§ 2. The cause of unbelief is in the will, but unbelief itself is in the intellect.
Article III.—Is unbelief the greatest of sins?
R. Every sin formally consists in a turning away from God. Hence a sin is the more grievous, the more a man is thereby separated from God. Now it is by unbelief that a man is furthest removed from God, not having a true knowledge of God. Hence the sin of unbelief is greater than all sins of moral perversity. But the case is otherwise when there is question of sins opposed to the other theological virtues.
§ 3. An unbeliever is more grievously punished for the sin of unbelief than another sinner for any other sin, considering the kind of the sin: but for another sin, say adultery, committed by a believer and by an unbeliever, other things being equal, the believer sins more grievously than the unbeliever, as well on account of the knowledge of the truth of faith, as also on account of the sacraments of faith which he has received, and which he dishonours by sinning.
Article VII.—Ought we publicly to dispute with unbelievers?
R. In disputing of the faith there are two things to consider: one on the part of the disputant, the other on the part of the hearers. On the part of the disputant we must consider his intention. For if he disputes as doubting of the faith, and not premising the truth of the faith for a certainty, but intending to make a trial by argument, unquestionably he sins, as one doubtful of the faith and unbelieving. But if one disputes of the faith to confute errors, or even for practice sake, it is a praise-worthy proceeding. On the part of the hearers we have to consider whether they who hear the disputation are instructed and firm in the faith, or are simple people, easy to unsettle. In presence of the wise and firm in faith, there is no danger in disputing of the faith. But with regard to simple folk a distinction must be made. Either these people are assailed by unbelievers striving to destroy the faith in them, or they are not at all troubled in the matter, as in lands where there are no unbelievers. In the first case it is necessary publicly to dispute about the faith, provided there be found persons fit and proper for the purpose, and able to refute error: since by this means simple people will be confirmed in the faith, and the power of deceiving will be taken away from unbelievers; and besides, the silence of those who should withstand the misrepresentation of the truth of faith, would of itself be a confirmation of the error. But in the second case it is dangerous publicly to dispute of faith before simple people, whose faith is all the firmer from their never having heard anything different from what they believe. And therefore it is not expedient for them to hear the words of unbelievers disputing against the faith.1
Article VIII.—Are unbelievers to be brought to the faith by compulsion?
R. Of unbelievers, some there are who have never received the faith, as Gentiles and Jews. Such persons are on no account to be brought to the faith by compulsion, that they themselves should become believers, because believing is of the will; they are however, if possible, to be compelled by the faithful not to stand in the way of the faith by blasphemies or evil persuasions, or open persecutions. And for this reason the faithful of Christ often make war on unbelievers, not to force them to believe, because, even though they had beaten them and got them prisoners, they would still leave them their choice whether they would believe or no, but for the purpose of compelling them not to put hindrances in the way of the faith of Christ. Other unbelievers there are who have at one time received the faith, and profess it, as heretics,1 and all manner of apostates. Such persons are to be compelled even by corporal means to fulfil what they have promised, and hold what they have once received.
§ 3. As to take a vow is voluntary, but to pay the vow is of necessity; so to receive the faith is a voluntary act, but it is of necessity to hold it, once received. And therefore heretics are to be compelled to hold the faith.
Article XI.—Are the rites of unbelievers to be tolerated?
R. Human government is derived from divine government, and ought to imitate it. But God, almighty and supremely good as He is, nevertheless permits sundry evils to happen in the universe that He might prevent; lest if they were taken away, greater good might be taken away, or even still greater evils ensue. So then also they who preside over human government, do right in tolerating sundry evils lest sundry good things be hindered, or even worse evils be incurred, as Augustine says: “Take away prostitutes from human society, and you disorder the world with lustful intrigues.” So then, though unbelievers sin over their rites, they may be tolerated, either for some good that comes of them, or for some evil that is avoided thereby.
Article XII.—Are the children of Jews and other unbelievers to be baptized against the will of their parents?
R. The greatest authority attaches to the custom of the Church, which is always to be followed in all things; since even the teaching of the Catholic doctors has its authority from the Church. Hence we must rather stand by the authority of the Church than by the authority of either Augustine or Jerome or any doctor whatever. Now it has never been the usage of the Church to have children of Jews baptized against the will of their parents; though there have been in past times many powerful Catholic princes, with whom bishops of great holiness have been on intimate terms, who would on no account have failed to obtain their sanction for this practice, had it been consonant with reason. The ground of the rejection of the practice is twofold. One ground is the danger to faith. For if the children received Baptism, not yet having the use of reason, afterwards when they came of age they might easily be induced by their parents to abandon that which they had received in ignorance. Another ground is this, that the practice is opposed to natural justice: for the son naturally belongs to his father. Indeed at first he is not distinct in body from his parents, so long as he is contained in his mother’s womb. Afterwards when he leaves the womb, before he has the use of reason, he is contained under his parents’ care as in a sort of spiritual womb. For so long as a child has not the use of reason, he differs not from an irrational animal: hence as an ox or a horse is another’s to use when he will, according to the civil law, as an instrument of his own, so it is a provision of the natural law that the son should be under the care of his father before he has the use of reason. Hence it would be against natural justice for a child to be withdrawn from his parents’ care before he has the use of reason, or for any arrangement to be made about him against the will of his parents. But after he begins to have the use of reason, he begins to be his own at last, and can provide for himself in things of divine or natural law; and then he is to be induced to the faith not by compulsion, but by persuasion; and he may even consent to the faith against the will of his parents, and be baptized, but not before he has the use of reason.
§ 4. Man is referred to God by reason, whereby he is able to know God. Hence before the use of reason the child is in the order of nature referred to God by the reason of his parents, to whose care he is naturally subject; and it is according as they arrange, that the things of God are to be done upon him.
[1 ]The hardest thing in the condition of men who have not the true faith, is the difficulty of getting any grievous sin forgiven them. Still there may be, nay, there must be, channels of divine mercy open to all men of good-will (Trl.)
[2 ]All sin is commanded by the will, but elicited by the power of which it is immediately the act. The sin is at once in the eliciting and in the commanding power. (See I-II. q. 6 art. 4.) Thus all sin is in the will, but not in the will only. (Trl.)
[1 ]St. Thomas evidently regarded revealed truth as a gift of God necessary for salvation—a deposit that we have a duty to keep, a treasure that we are in danger of being robbed of, a trust which it is a sin to betray—rather than as matter for an intellectual game which all can play at and exercise their critical faculty upon with advantage (Trl.)
[1 ]The heretics whom the mediæval writers had in view, were the heretics of their own time, i.e., apostate Catholics The Protestant of our day falls under St. Thomas’s first class of unbelievers. (Trl.)