Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION XLIII.: OF SCANDAL. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1)
Return to Title Page for Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
QUESTION XLIII.: OF SCANDAL. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Article I.—Is scandal aptly defined to be “any word or deed, less right, that gives occasion of fall to another”?
R. An obstacle set in the way, so that one is likely to fall over it, is called scandalum, a stumbling-block. So in the course of the spiritual way one is exposed to a spiritual fall by the deed or act of another, who by his advice or persuasion or example draws you to commit sin; and this is properly called scandal. Now nothing of its own nature exposes any one to spiritual ruin, except what labours under some defect of correctness: for what is perfectly right rather fortifies a man against falling than exposes him to fall. And therefore it is appropriately said that “any word or deed, less right, that gives occasion to a fall,” is scandal.
§ 2. “Less right” does not mean here what is surpassed by something else in point of correctness, but what labours under some lack of correctness, either as being in itself evil, or as having the appearance of evil. And therefore the Apostle admonishes us: “From all appearance of evil refrain yourselves.”1
§ 3. Nothing can become to a man a sufficient cause of sin, that is, of a spiritual fall, but his own will. And therefore the sayings or doings of another man can only be an imperfect cause, in some manner inducing to a fall. And therefore we do not say, “giving cause to a fall,” but, “giving occasion,” which is an imperfect cause.
§ 4. The word or deed of another may be a cause of sin to you in two ways, ordinarily and incidentally. Ordinarily, when one by his evil word or deed intends to induce you to sin; or even though he intends not that, his mere deed is such as of its own nature to be an incentive to sin, as when one commits sin in public, or what looks like sin; and in that case the man who does such an act, properly gives occasion to another’s fall: hence it is called active scandal. Incidentally one man’s word or deed is an occasion of sin to another, when apart from the intention of the doer, and apart from the quality of the work, some evil-disposed person is led on by such a work to sin, as when one envies the goods of another; and in this case the doer of the good and proper act gives no occasion, so far as in him lies, but the other takes occasion to sin. And therefore this is passive scandal without the active: for so far as in him lies, he who does right gives no occasion to the fall which the other suffers. Sometimes then there is at once active scandal in the one party, and passive in the other, as when one man sins at the inducement of another: sometimes there is active scandal without passive, as when one by word or deed tries to induce another to sin, and that other does not consent: sometimes again there is passive scandal without the active, as above explained.
Article III.—Is scandal a special sin?
R. Passive scandal cannot be a special sin: because for one man to fall by occasion of the word or deed of another may happen in any kind of sin; nor does the mere taking occasion from another’s word or deed constitute a special fashion of sinning, seeing that it does not involve any special deformity opposed to a special virtue. Active scandal as it occurs incidentally, when it is beside the intention of the agent, as when one does not intend by his inordinate word or deed to give another any occasion to fall, but only wants to gratify his own will, is not a special sin: because what is incidental does not constitute a species. But active scandal as it occurs ordinarily, when one intends by his inordinate word or deed to draw another to sin, derives the character of a special sin from the intention of a special end: for the end in view fixes the species in moral matters. Hence as theft is a special sin, or murder, on account of the special hurt intended to our neighbour, so also is scandal a special sin for the special hurt intended; and it is opposed to fraternal correction, in which the removal of a special hurt is intended.
Article V.—Can passive scandal befall even perfect men?
R. Passive scandal supposes a certain unsettling and divorce from good in the soul of him who suffers the scandal. Now none is unsettled who clings firmly to an immoveable object. But perfect men cling to God alone, whose goodness is unchangeable: for though they cling to their superiors, they do not cling to them except inasmuch as they cling to Christ. Hence, however much they see others misbehaving in word or deed, they budge not from their rectitude, according to the psalm: “They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Sion: he shall not be moved for ever that dwelleth in Jerusalem.”1
§ 3. Perfect men do fall at times into some venial sins by the infirmity of the flesh; but they are not scandalized in the proper sense of the word scandal, by the sayings or doings of others.
Article VI.—Is active scandal to be found in perfect men?
R. It is the property of the perfect to do what they do according to the rule of reason, as the text has it: “Let all things be done decently and according to order.”2 And this caution they particularly follow in matters where there is danger of their not only themselves offending, but also giving offence to others. And if in their public words or deeds anything is wanting of this moderation, that defect comes of human weakness, in respect of which they fall short of perfection, yet not so far short either as to imply any great departure from the order of reason, but only a small and slight departure, not great enough for any reasonable being thence to take occasion of sin.
§ 3. The venial sins of the perfect consist for the most part in sudden impulses, which being hidden cannot give scandal.
Article VII.—Are spiritual goods to be abandoned for fear of scandal?
R. Scandal being twofold, active and passive, there can be no question here of active scandal: for as active scandal is “any word or deed less right,” nothing must be done with active scandal. But the question has place, if it be understood of passive scandal. We must consider then what is to be abandoned for fear lest another take scandal. A distinction must be drawn in the matter of spiritual goods. Some of these are of necessity to salvation; and they cannot be let go without mortal sin. But clearly no man ought to commit mortal sin to hinder another man’s sin: because in the order of charity a man ought to love his own spiritual welfare more than that of another. And therefore points that are of necessity to salvation, are not to be dropped for the avoiding of scandal. But with regard to those spiritual goods that are not of necessity to salvation, it seems a distinction must be drawn. For the scandal that arises from them sometimes proceeds from malice: that is in the case when some persons wish to hinder such spiritual goods by setting scandals afoot; and this is the scandal of the Pharisees, who were scandalized at the teaching of our Lord; which scandal, the Lord teaches, is to be despised.1 But sometimes scandal proceeds from infirmity or ignorance; and such is the scandal of little ones; for which sake spiritual goods are either to be concealed, or at times deferred, until such time as by means of an explanation an end can be put to scandal of this sort. But if the scandal continues after the explanation, it then seems to come of malice, and so affords no motive for abandoning such spiritual works.
§ 1. To the objection taken from the words of Augustine, that “where danger of schism is apprehended, we must desist from the punishment of sins,” it is to be said that the infliction of punishment is not desirable for its own sake; but punishments are inflicted as medicines for the prevention of sins, and therefore have the quality of justice in so far as they are checks upon sin. But supposing there is a clear case of sins being multiplied and made greater by the infliction of punishment, then the infliction of punishment will not fall under justice. Of such a case Augustine speaks, namely, when danger of schism threatens to ensue upon an excommunication: for then it is no point of the truth of justice to pronounce the excommunication.
§ 5. Some have said that venial sin is to be committed for the avoidance of scandal. But that involves a contradiction; for if it is the right thing to do, it is no longer evil nor sinful; for sin cannot be a due object of choice. Sometimes however the presence of some circumstance makes that not a venial sin, which would be a venial sin were that circumstance away. Thus a jesting word is a venial sin when uttered to no useful purpose; but if there is a reasonable cause for its utterance, it is no longer an idle word nor sinful.
Article VIII.—Are temporal goods to be given up for fear of scandal?
§ 6. Against [an unqualified affirmative] stands the fact that Blessed Thomas of Canterbury demanded the restoration of the goods of the Church, to the scandal of the King.1
[1 ]1 Thess. v. 22.
[1 ]Psalm cxxiv. 1.
[2 ]1 Cor. xiv. 40.
[1 ]St. Matt. xv. 1—14
[1 ]This reference of St. Thomas Aquinas to St. Thomas of Canterbury cannot be omitted from an English translation. The general answer about temporal goods here is analogous to that returned about spiritual goods in the Article preceding. (Trl.)