BASED ON THE WRITINGS OF THE SUMMA OF ST. THOMAS AQUINAS
FOR THE CONFRATERNITY OF THE PRECIOUS BLOOD, BY
FRS. WALTER FARRELL AND MARTIN HEALY, 1952
CHAPTER 12, EFFECTS OF SIN
MAN EXISTS TO BE HAPPY. Sin causes unhappiness. Sin therefore must in some way injure human nature. In this chapter we shall consider the effects of sin on human nature. We can summarize the effects of sin by saying that sin corrupts human nature, stains the human soul and makes man liable to punishment.
FIRST OF ALL sin corrupts or wounds human nature. This is true both of Original Sin and of personal, actual sin. As we said in the last chapter, Original Sin means the loss of the special Divine gift of Original Justice. Through Original Justice the sense appetite of man was subject to reason and will, and the will was subject to God. When this gift is taken away, as it is by Original Sin, then these human powers are said to be wounded.
THROUGH ORIGINAL SIN man's reason becomes subject to ignorance, his will subject to malice, his concupiscible sense appetite loses its subjection to reason and so is wounded by concupiscence, and his irascible sense appetite loses its strength in the face of difficulty and so is said to suffer the wound of weakness.
BUT THESE SAME FOUR WOUNDS are caused also by men's personal sins. Experience shows that a sinful man has lost his ability to judge what he should and should not do. It also shows that his will has become weak in the pursuit of good, that good actions have become difficult for him and his concupiscence more impetuous. All sin therefore wounds a mail's nature in the sense that it makes it more difficult for him to pursue his true happiness. As the virtuous man is a man whose powers are efficiently ordered in the pursuit of good, so the sinful man is a man whose powers are dissipated in the pursuit of evil.
SIN WOUNDS HUMAN NATURE but it does not destroy it. Man remains a reasoning being, even after sin. Hence he retains his freedom. This means that it is possible for man to recover from the disease of sin.
THE POSSIBILITY OF RECOVERY is made difficult however by the fact that sins lessen man's natural inclination to virtue. Since every sin is contrary to virtue, every sin must necessarily diminish a man's inclination to be good. This is why repentance of sin is so necessary. The more a man sins without repentance, the weaker is his inclination to virtue. The multiplication of sins builds a barrier between a man and the possibility of his relinquishing his sinfulness and returning to God.
PHYSICAL DEATH is also a penalty of sin. If Adam had not sinned, he would have been preserved immortal by God. This gift of immortality would have been passed on to his children. But by his sin he lost immortality for himself and for us. Every human being must suffer the death of his body.
BUT WE MUST REMEMBER that immortality of the body is not natural to man. By nature we are subject to death. We would have been immortal only through a special gift of God's generosity. In fact, at the end of the world, God will make us rise again to immortality.
ACTUALLY THE MOST HARMFUL EFFECT of sin is the stain which obscures the beauty of the soul of man. The soul is the nobler part of man. In it God has impressed the light of reason which is a reflection of the light of the eternal law or reason of God. When man is justified by God's grace the soul shines also with the light or glory of Divine grace. But mortal sin is contrary to the light of reason and to divine grace. It expels grace from the soul and dims the light of reason. It is this lack of the light which should exist in the soul which stains the soul. The soul should be resplendent with the light of reason and of grace. But sin subtracts the glory of grace and diminishes the power of reason to illumine man's soul. When we say that sin stains the soul we mean that just as an ink stain detracts from the glorious whiteness of a clean shirt, so also sin detracts from the glory that should light up man's soul.
THIS STAIN IN THE SOUL will remain as long as man does not turn away from his sin and return to God. Sin is a turning away from God to some lesser temporary good. The stain of sin will remain in the soul until the sinner turns from the lesser good to God. The act of sin is over and done with as soon as the action is completed. The lesser good which the sinner sought may pass away. The thief may spend all the money he stole. But his soul remains stained until his will turns back to God.
THE SAD PART OF THIS STAIN in the soul is that it darkens the light of reason and makes it difficult for man to see clearly the good he should seek. And, worst of all, if the stain of mortal sin remains until death, then the soul of the sinner remains divorced from God, its only true happiness, for all eternity.
THE SOUL IN THE STATE OF SIN is out of order. Its sinful act was out of order and the consequent state of sin in the soul is against the order willed by God. Hence sin demands punishment.
SIN IS PUNISHED by the authority to whose order it is opposed. But all sin is either against the order of human reason in the individual, or against the order of human reason in the rulers of society, or against the order of the divine law. Sins therefore are punished by one or all of these authorities. In the individual, sin is punished by remorse. When a man's reason sees the disorder in sin, it induces in the man the pain of remorse. In this way every sin brings its own punishment. When man has sinned against the laws of society, then the civil authority imposes its own penalties. In this way men are sometimes punished by fines or prison sentences and so on. Since every sin is against the divine law God also punishes sin.
GOD PUNISHES SIN in this present life and even after death. But the punishment inflicted by God is always proportionate to the guilt involved in the sin. Since sin involves a turning away from God and a turning to some lesser good, Divine punishment is measured according to these two elements in sin. The sinner who turns away from God does not want God for his ultimate happiness. God will not force Himself upon such a man. Consequently if a man dies in such a state he will suffer the pain of loss, that is, he will never see God. But the sinner has turned away from God by turning to some lesser good thing in this world. For this he will be punished by the pain of sense.
FROM THE POINT OF VIEW of punishment the distinction between mortal and venial sin is important. Venial sin does not destroy the basic order of man's will to God as his ultimate goal. The venial sinner is not choosing some worldly good to the exclusion of God. Hence he does not merit an eternal punishment. But mortal sin does turn a man's will away from God. In a mortal sin the sinner does choose some worldly good to the exclusion of God. Therefore it merits an eternal punishment. Venial sins will slow down a man's progress to God. But mortal sins put man on the road away from God, on the road to Hell.
SINCE VENIAL SIN HAS, in fact, the dangerous habit of leading to mortal sin, both types of sin are the enemies of human happiness. The wise man, if he has fallen into sin, will try to repair the damage he has done to himself. Now the stain of sin---which remains in the soul after actual sin---is removed when the sinner turns his will back to God. Sin is a disorder in the soul. It is healed by restoring order to the soul. This is accomplished by God's grace. But the penalty of sin still remains to some extent. Sin has broken the order of God's world and the damage must be paid for. The sinner can do this by inflicting some punishment on himself or by accepting the punishments which God may send him in this life or in Purgatory.
THIS DEBT OF PUNISHMENT for sin shows the illusory character of the happiness sought by sin. Every sin must be paid for in one way or another. Every sin begets its own punishment. The punishment may be eternal or only temporary. But all punishment is painful and therefore opposed to true happiness.
SIN IS THE GREAT FOE of human happiness. No disease of the body, no matter how painful or loathsome, can be compared with sin, the disease of the soul. Physical illness can destroy for a time the life of the body. But sin can destroy forever the life of the soul in God. In this life it enslaves a man to the conflicting desires of a soul whose powers are at war with one another. In the next life it condemns a man to eternal agony. As fire destroys a house, so sin destroys happiness. A sane man will neither enter nor stay in a burning house. A wise man will neither enter nor stay in the house of sin.
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