AS VIRTUE LEADS TO HAPPINESS, so vice causes unhappiness. Virtue coordinates human energies under the control of reason or of reason enlightened by Divine faith. Vice dissipates human energies in the random impulses of the sense appetite. Virtue gives a man peace within himself, with God and with his fellow-men. Vice sets a man at war with himself, with God, and with his fellow-men.

As VIRTUE IS A GOOD HABIT, so vice is a bad habit. As good acts form a virtue or good habit, so bad acts form a vice or bad habit. As virtue disposes human powers to good acts in accord with reason, so vice disposes human powers to bad acts against reason.

SIN THEN IS BOTH the cause and the effect of vice. Sin or evil actions lead to the formation of vices or bad habits. Vice in its turn leads to further sin. Therefore the primary cause of unhappiness in human life is sin.

ST. AUGUSTINE DEFINES SIN as a thought, word, or deed contrary to the eternal law. There are two elements in every sin. First there is the act itself, which may be a thought, a word, or an external action. Secondly the thought, word, or deed, is contrary to the eternal law of God. It is this second element which makes the act formally sinful. St. Augustine speaks of the "eternal law" rather than the law of right reason. He does this because the law of human reason is based on the eternal law of God and because the eternal law of God directs men in matters of faith which are beyond the reach of human reason.

SIN IS THE ENEMY OF VIRTUE. Sin and virtue cannot be at peace within a man's soul. They will be at war with one another until one or the other is expelled from the soul. But the power of sin to expel virtue varies with the gravity of the sin and the cause of the virtue involved. Charity, or the love of God above all things, is the root of all the other infused virtues. Mortal sin means that a man prefers some creature to God. It is therefore incompatible with charity and with all the virtues rooted in charity. It is true that the theological virtues of faith and hope will not be expelled with charity unless the mortal sin is a sin against either hope or faith. But in this case, although faith and hope remain, their actions are not meritorious since they are not rooted in the love of God, which is charity. The acquired natural virtues are formed by repeated good acts. Consequently one mortal sin is not strong enough to expel an acquired virtue. An acquired virtue can be expelled only by repeated sinful acts which set up a contrary vice. Lastly, venial sin can expel neither the infused nor the acquired virtues. But venial sin is like the psychological warfare which weakens man's will to resist an invader. It can weaken a man's resistance to the major onslaught of mortal sin and so lead to the loss of virtue.

SINS ARE DISTINGUISHED from one another chiefly by their goals or objects. To take someone's property unjustly is different from taking his life unjustly. The first is a sin of theft, the second a sin of murder. To distinguish one kind of sin from another is to distinguish the different objects of sin.

EVERY SIN WILL BE AN OFFENSE against either the sinner himself, or his fellow-man, or God. The man who deliberately gets drunk sins against his own human nature. The man who steals sins against his neighbor. The man who wantonly sets fire to a church sins against God. We might put this in another way by saying that all human acts must be ruled by human reason or by the eternal law of God. Right reason governs human acts in relation to the individual himself and in relation to his neighbor. The eternal law of God includes the law of reason but goes beyond it to regulate man's relations with God in both the natural and the supernatural order. Every sinful act will be an act against either right reason or the eternal law. It will therefore be a sin against the individual himself, or his neighbor, or God.

WE ARE ACCUSTOMED also to other ways of distinguishing sins. We speak of sins of the spirit as contrasted with sins of the flesh, or of sins of thought, word, or deed, or of mortal and venial sins.

THE MOST IMPORTANT of these distinctions is that between mortal and venial sin. While this distinction does not enable us to distinguish precisely the different kinds of sin, it is important because it enables us to gauge the effect which sin has upon a man's relation to God, the ultimate goal of all human life: and activity. Since man exists and acts in order to find happiness in God, God is the ultimate goal of all human acts. When a man's soul is so disordered by sin that he turns away from God, that sin is mortal. If the sinner does not repent of that sin, he will not see God. God does not force anyone to enter the kingdom of heaven unwillingly. On the other hand, a man may sin without actually turning away from God---without rejecting God as his ultimate goal. In such a case his sin is a venial sin. Venial sin is like a sickness in the soul. Mortal sin is like death in the soul.

As VIRTUE MEANS ORDER in human life, so sin means disorder. In the perfectly virtuous man his body is subject to his soul, his sense appetite to his reason and will, and his reason and will to God. But in the sinful man his body is at war with his soul, his sense appetite is in rebellion against his reason and will, and his will at war with his neighbor and with God. Whereas the virtues are united with one another in directing human acts to the attainment of happiness, the vices of the sinful man are at war even with one another, seeking the destruction of man and his chance for true happiness.

WHILE ALL SINS ARE EVIL, they are not all equally evil. The evil in a sin will vary first of all with the object of the sin. Every sinful act will be an attack on some good, and the greater the good attacked, the greater the evil of the sin. It is a greater evil to take a man's life unjustly than it is to steal his automobile. And a direct sin against God, such as blasphemy will be more evil than a sin against man or his external goods.

THE GRAVITY OF SIN will vary also according to the excellence of the virtue which it attacks. A sin against justice, which is a virtue in the will is more serious than a sin against temperance which is a virtue of the concupiscible sense appetite. Similarly a sin against divine faith is more serious than a sin against justice, for faith is a nobler virtue than justice.

GENERALLY SPEAKING SINS OF THE SPIRIT are more serious than sins of the flesh. We say "generally speaking" because it is easy to see that a mortal sin of adultery is a graver sin than a venial sin of intellectual pride. But, all things else being equal, sins of the spirit are more serious than sins of the flesh. This is so for three reasons. First, it is proper for man's spirit to turn to God and natural for his flesh to turn to the goods of the body. Consequently a sin of the spirit is more simply a turning away from God, whereas a sin of the flesh is chiefly a turning toward the good of the body. Secondly, a man ought to love his neighbors and God more than he loves his own body. Hence a spiritual sin against his neighbor or God is more serious than a sin against his own body. Thirdly, the impulses of the flesh drive a man more strongly to sin than do the desires of the spirit. And the stronger the impulse to sin the less grievous will the sin be.

OTHER FACTORS can also increase the gravity of a sin. Deliberate malice in the will makes a sin more evil. Anything that lessens freedom therefore will also make the sin less grievous. The cold-blooded traitor sins more than the soldier who betrays his comrades under torture.

THE DAMAGE DONE by a sinful act will also affect the seriousness of a sin. To say falsely that a man has money in the bank will be less evil than to say falsely that he is a thief. The first lie may make people think he is stingy. But the second will cause him to lose his job.

THE GRAVITY OF A SIN will be measured too by the dignity or excellence of either the person offended or the person sinning. It is worse to sin directly against God than it is to sin against a human being. Likewise it is more serious for a king or president to steal from the public treasury than it is for a private citizen to steal from his neighbor.

A SINFUL ACT is a human act. As a human act it is a voluntary act. Sin comes then chiefly from the will of man. But it can be found also in human reason and the sense appetite in so far as these human powers are inclined to be moved by the will to actions in the pursuit of good or evil.

SIN THEREFORE is a disease of man as man. This is the frightening thing about sin. It is like a cancerous growth in the human personality precisely where it is most human. It eats away gradually a man's control over his own human actions in the pursuit of happiness. A cancerous growth in the body may begin in a less important part of the body. But it will grow until it prevents the working of a vital organ such as the lungs, or brain, or digestive system and so lead to the death of the body. Sin is a cancerous growth in the soul of a man. If allowed to grow it will ultimately prevent man from attaining happiness. And the failure to attain happiness is the death of man as man.


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