Aquinas and Trent: Part 4

Apr 2nd, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts, Featured Articles

In this fourth post in our series on Aquinas and the Council of Trent, I examine what St. Thomas Aquinas says about another effect of sin, namely, stain in the soul. How does sin cause a stain in the soul? What is this stain? Is it caused by all sins or only mortal sins? Does it remain in the soul after the sinful act is concluded?

The Temptation of St. Thomas Aquinas, by Bernardo Daddi

The Temptation of St. Thomas Aquinas1
Bernardo Daddi (1338)

St. Thomas Aquinas on Stain in the Soul as an Effect of Sin

Therefore beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.” (2 Peter 3:14)

In order to understand the Catholic Church’s teaching on salvation, one must first understand her teaching on the fallen human condition. That is why the Council of Trent first put forward the Church’s position on original sin before turning to the subject of justification. And the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, as I argued in Part 1, played a very significant role in the deliberation of the Tridentine Fathers. So in this series, we are looking at those areas of the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas that help us understand the theological rationale behind Session 5 and Session 6 of the Council of Trent, on original sin and justification, respectively. In my previous post in this series, I began to explain what Aquinas says about the effects of sin. Aquinas says that sin has three effects: corruption, stain, and debt.2 In that post I explained what Aquinas says about corruption of our nature as an effect of sin. Here, in this post, I examine and explain what Aquinas says about stain of the soul as an effect of sin.

The Soul’s Twofold Comeliness

Concerning the stain of the soul, Aquinas writes:

A stain [macula] is properly ascribed to corporeal things, when a comely body loses its comeliness through contact with another body, e.g. a garment, gold or silver, or the like. Accordingly a stain is ascribed to spiritual things in like manner. Now man’s soul has a twofold comeliness; one from the refulgence of the natural light of reason, whereby he is directed in his actions; the other, from the refulgence of the Divine light, viz. of wisdom and grace, whereby man is also perfected for the purpose of doing good and fitting actions.3

Aquinas says that the human soul has a twofold comeliness [nitorem]. This term means brightness, radiance or beauty. One way in which the human soul has comeliness is by the refulgence [refulgentia] or reflection in it of the natural light of reason. The more perfectly the lower powers of the soul are ordered to the soul’s highest power, i.e. reason, such that they submit to it, the more perfectly the natural light of reason is reflected throughout the soul. The other way in which the human soul has comeliness is by the refulgence of the Divine light, i.e. wisdom and grace [sapientiae et gratiae], by which man is also perfected for the purpose of doing good and fitting actions.4

The wisdom Aquinas refers to here is not natural wisdom, i.e. an intellectual virtue that could be acquired by the unaided power of human reason. Aquinas is here referring to the supernatural gift of wisdom, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and which follows upon the supernatural gift of charity.5 It is worth considering this gift of wisdom more carefully. Concerning this supernatural wisdom Aquinas writes:

As stated above (Article 1), wisdom denotes a certain rectitude of judgment according to the Eternal Law. Now rectitude of judgment is twofold: first, on account of perfect use of reason, secondly, on account of a certain connaturality with the matter about which one has to judge [connaturalitatem quandam ad ea de quibus iam est iudicandum]. Thus, about matters of chastity, a man after inquiring with his reason forms a right judgment, if he has learnt the science of morals, while he who has the habit of chastity judges of such matters by a kind of connaturality.6

Aquinas notes that there are two ways in which right judgment can take place. One is by the perfect use of reason [by ‘perfect’ here he simply means proper], and the other is by a connaturality to that of which one is to judge. ‘Connaturality’ means a kind of sharing of the same nature, in some respect. In the encounter of that which is connatural to oneself, one finds that one already knows the other insofar as one knows one’s own nature.7 The encounter of that which is connatural to oneself allows one to judge concerning the other by ‘seeing’ the other within (i.e. by the light of) one’s own nature, either one’s primary nature (i.e. human nature) or one’s second nature (i.e. acquired nature in the sense of acquired habits), or even one’s participation in the divine nature.

As an example of the difference between judging by reasoning and judging by connaturality, Aquinas describes two ways in which someone may judge rightly regarding what should be done in a matter of chastity. One man by deduction reasons from first principles to determine correctly what is the chaste action to be done. Another man, let us say, has no formal training in the science of ethics but has the virtue of chastity. This man reaches the same correct conclusion about what is the chaste action to be done, yet he reaches this conclusion without reasoning through a syllogism. He simply sees this action as what chastity requires in these circumstances. The virtue of chastity in his soul as a kind of second nature works ‘upward’ through his cogitative faculty, such that even without deliberation or deduction he sees clearly the chaste course of action by a kind of connaturality with chastity and the circumstances before him, even though he may not be able to explain why that is the chaste course of action.8 His virtuous disposition toward chastity illumines to his intellect the chaste action to be done.

In a similar way, argues Aquinas, the supernatural gift of wisdom allows a man to judge rightly about Divine things, by a kind of connatural seeing without deliberation. He writes:

Accordingly it belongs to the wisdom that is an intellectual virtue to pronounce right judgment about Divine things after reason has made its inquiry, but it belongs to wisdom as a gift of the Holy Ghost to judge aright about them on account of connaturality with them …. Now this sympathy or connaturality for Divine things is the result of charity, which unites us to God, according to 1 Corinthians 6:17: “He who is joined to the Lord, is one spirit.” Consequently wisdom which is a gift, has its cause in the will, which cause is charity, but it has its essence in the intellect, whose act is to judge aright, as stated above (I-II, 14, 1).9

By the natural wisdom that is a virtue of the intellect a man may reason correctly to conclusions about Divine things. But there is also a supernatural wisdom which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and by this gift one judges rightly concerning Divine things through a kind of connaturality with them. This connaturality with divine things, according to Aquinas, is the result of the theological virtue of charity, which is a supernatural gift along with faith and hope. Since by the natural love of friendship the beloved is one in spirit with the lover, so a fortiori by the supernatural gift of charity the beloved is one in spirit with the divine Lover. Aquinas quotes 1 Corinthians 6:17 in support of this conclusion.10 The one who has the supernatural gift of charity loves God above all other things. And with that love of God comes a mutual indwelling: “He that abides in charity abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)

Concerning this mutual indwelling that results from charity, Aquinas says, “Therefore, for the same reason, every love makes the beloved to be in the lover, and vice versa.”11 Through this mutual indwelling we have a kind of connaturality with God, and this connaturality with God allows us to judge rightly concerning divine things.12 If we lose the virtue of charity, necessarily we lose this connaturality with God, and so also we lose this divine gift of wisdom. Because charity is incompatible with mortal sin,13 therefore this divine gift of wisdom is incompatible with mortal sin.14 So for Aquinas, all who have sanctifying grace have this divine gift of wisdom,15 by which they are guided in their actions not only by the natural light of reason, but also by the Divine light visible to them through their connaturality with God on account of the mutual indwelling that arises from the supernatural virtue of charity.

Sin Causes a Stain on the Soul

How then does the loss of the refulgence of both the light of natural reason and the Divine light produce a stain in the soul? Aquinas writes:

Now, when the soul cleaves to things by love, there is a kind of contact in the soul: and when man sins, he cleaves to certain things, against the light of reason and of the Divine law, as shown above (Question 71, Article 6). Wherefore the loss of comeliness occasioned by this contact, is metaphorically called a stain on the soul [macula animae].16

When a person sins, he turns away both from reason and from the Divine law. Aquinas explains that there are two rules or standards by which the human will is measured: “one is proximate and homogeneous, viz. the human reason; the other is the first rule, viz. the eternal law, which is God’s reason, so to speak.”17 By turning away from both of these lights, and loving something inordinately, a kind of stain in the soul results, as he explains:

[T]he act of the will consists in a movement towards things themselves, so that love attaches the soul to the thing loved [ita quod amor conglutinat animam rei amatae]. Thus it is that the soul is stained, when it cleaves inordinately [quando inordinate inhaeret], according to Hosea 9:10: “They . . . became abominable as those things were which they loved.”18

We know that a man cannot have two ultimate masters. (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13) This explains the sense in which we are not to love the world. The Apostle John writes, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15) Why is that? Love by its very nature attaches the soul to the thing loved. But love for something can be inordinate in two generically different ways: in itself contrary to love for God and neighbor, or compatible with love for God and neighbor but contrary to the perfect expression of love for God and neighbor.19 Inordinate love of the former sort is a love that prefers some created thing over God. But to love a creature more than one loves God is not to love God as God, but is rather to reject God as God. Therefore, when the soul cleaves inordinately to some created good in this way, that soul, in that particular way, turns away both from reason and from loving God. And by turning away from reason and from God, this soul loses the twofold refulgence of comeliness it possesses in the state of grace. That loss of comeliness is what Aquinas refers to as the stain in the soul.

Explanation of the Stain in the Soul

What exactly is the stain in the soul? Aquinas writes:

The stain is neither something positive in the soul, nor does it denote a pure privation: it denotes a privation of the soul’s brightness [nitoris] in relation to its cause, which is sin; wherefore diverse sins occasion diverse stains. It is like a shadow, which is the privation of light through the interposition of a body, and which varies according to the diversity of the interposed bodies.20

The stain is neither something positive nor a pure privation [privationem solam]. A pure or simple privation is a kind of corruption of being.21 But the stain in the soul is a complex [non simplex] privation, a privation of the soul’s comeliness in relation to the sin that caused this privation. In that respect, the stain in the soul is like a shadow that takes the shape of the object that is blocking the light. The manner in which the soul has turned away from reason and from God, in that very manner deprives the soul of its comeliness. Murder, for example, produces a different stain in the soul than does adultery or blasphemy, according as each by its inordinate love for something other than God causes a different sort of ‘shadow’ in the soul. The stain in the soul takes the ‘shape’ of the idol that is put in the place of God by that sin.

Here it is important to point out the significance of the distinction between mortal and venial sins, in relation to the stain in the soul.22 According to Aquinas, mortal sin, but not venial sin, produces a stain in the soul. He writes:

Now, just as in the body there is a twofold comeliness, one resulting from the inward disposition of the members and colors, the other resulting from outward refulgence supervening, so too, in the soul, there is a twofold comeliness, one habitual and, so to speak, intrinsic, the other actual like an outward flash of light. Now venial sin is a hindrance to actual comeliness, but not to habitual comeliness, because it neither destroys nor diminishes the habit of charity and of the other virtues, as we shall show further on (II-II, 24, 10; 133, 1, ad 2), but only hinders their acts. On the other hand a stain denotes something permanent in the thing stained, wherefore it seems in the nature of a loss of habitual rather than of actual comeliness. Therefore, properly speaking, venial sin does not cause a stain in the soul. If, however, we find it stated anywhere that it does induce a stain, this is in a restricted sense, in so far as it hinders the comeliness that results from acts of virtue.23

Aquinas explains that the comeliness of the soul is twofold in another respect: intrinsic and extrinsic. The soul’s intrinsic comeliness is by the refulgence of its intrinsic dispositions. The soul’s extrinsic comeliness is by the refulgence of particular actions performed by this soul. Venial sin, by its very nature, does not destroy the habit of charity. Therefore, venial sin does not destroy the intrinsic comeliness of the soul, even though it hinders its extrinsic comeliness, by hindering charitable acts. But a stain, properly speaking, refers to something more permanent, not merely external or temporary. Therefore the stain on the soul refers to the loss of intrinsic comeliness rather than of extrinsic comeliness. But according to Aquinas one act of mortal sin destroys the virtue of charity in the soul.24 Moreover, the loss of charity entails the loss of grace and supernatural wisdom.25 Therefore it follows that for Aquinas, while venial sin does not produce a stain in the soul, one act of mortal sin destroys the intrinsic comeliness of the soul, and thereby creates a stain in the soul.

The Stain in the Soul Persists after the Act of Sin is Past

According to Aquinas, the stain in the soul remains after the cessation of the sinful act. He writes:

The stain of sin remains in the soul even when the act of sin is past. The reason for this is that the stain, as stated above (Article 1), denotes a blemish in the brightness of the soul, on account of its withdrawing from the light of reason or of the Divine law. And therefore so long as man remains out of this light, the stain of sin remains in him: but as soon as, moved by grace, he returns to the Divine light and to the light of reason, the stain is removed. For although the act of sin ceases, whereby man withdrew from the light of reason and of the Divine law, man does not at once return to the state in which he was before, and it is necessary that his will should have a movement contrary to the previous movement. Thus if one man be parted from another on account of some kind of movement, he is not reunited to him as soon as the movement ceases, but he needs to draw nigh to him and to return by a contrary movement.26

Aquinas explains that the stain in the soul is not caused fundamentally by the sinful action per se, but by the inordinate attachment of the will to something other than God. This inordinate attachment underlies the act and endures beyond it. So long as this inordinate attachment remains, the stain remains in the soul. But the cessation of the sinful act does not remove this inordinate attachment. Rather, this inordinate attachment remains in the will after the cessation of the sinful action, unless by a contrary movement the will is attached to God in love as its highest good. When the will turns to God in love, then the soul is reattached to God, because love attaches the soul to the thing loved, as explained above. Only then is the twofold refulgence of the natural light of reason and the Divine light restored to the soul, and the stain thus removed. But this movement of the will, turning from inordinate love of the world to love of God, is possible only by grace. Thus only by grace can the stain in the soul be removed.

In the next post in this series, I will examine what St. Thomas says about the third effect of sin: debt of punishment.

  1. To read about this particular incident in the life of St. Thomas, see here. []
  2. Those three effects can be seen in the verse above. Peace requires the integrity of the various powers of the soul such that they are no longer at war with each other. This requires the healing of our corruption. To be found spotless requires the removal of the stain of sin. And to be found blameless entails no debt of payment to justice. []
  3. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.86 a.1 co. []
  4. Notice the twofold order: reason as the light to man’s natural end, and Divine wisdom and grace as the light to man’s supernatural end. []
  5. Summa Theologiae II-II Q.45 a.1 co. This gift of wisdom is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, as Aquinas explains in Summa Theologiae I-II Q.68. []
  6. Summa Theologiae II-II Q.45 a.2 co. []
  7. For Aquinas, God knows all things by a kind of connaturality, for He knows them all by knowing His own nature, in which all things live, and move, and have their being derivatively. Since necessarily the cause is greater than the effect, therefore God has a greater knowledge of creatures by knowing Himself than He would if He knew creatures only by exhaustively studying them. See Summa Theologiae I Q.14 a.5 []
  8. On the cogitative faculty, see Summa Theologiae I Q.78 a.4 []
  9. Summa Theologiae II-II Q.45 a.2 co. []
  10. I have written about the natural love of friendship here. []
  11. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.28 a.2 []
  12. This connaturality with God, by way of charity, fits with what the Apostle Peter says in 2 Peter 1:4 concerning our becoming “partakers of the divine nature.” [γένησθε θείας κοινωνοὶ φύσεως] []
  13. Summa Theologiae II-II Q.24 a.12 []
  14. Summa Theologiae II-II Q.45 a.4 co. []
  15. Summa Theologiae II-II Q.45 a.5 []
  16. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.86 a.1 co. []
  17. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.71 a.6 []
  18. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.86 a.1 ad 2 []
  19. See Summa Theologiae I-II Q.88 a.2 co. This distinction is what grounds the distinction between mortal and venial sins, respectively. []
  20. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.86 a.1 ad 3 []
  21. For an explanation of the distinction between the two kinds of privation: pure/simple privation, and complex privation, see Summa Theologiae I-II Q.73 a.2 co. []
  22. I will be discussing Aquinas’ explanation of the distinction between mortal and venial sin in the subsequent post on the debt of sin. []
  23. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.89 a.1 co. []
  24. Summa Theologiae II-II Q.24 a.12 []
  25. Summa Theologiae II-II Q.45 a.4 []
  26. Summa Theologiae I-II Q.86 a.2 co. []
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15 comments
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  1. Bryan,

    Excelent post!

    Just one question. You state in your closing paragraph:

    “Aquinas explains that the stain in the soul is not caused fundamentally by the sinful action per se, but by the inordinate attachment of the will to something other than God. This inordinate attachment underlies the act and endures beyond it. So long as this inordinate attachment remains, the stain remains in the soul.”

    Say, for example, that through temptation a hint of lustful desire is produced in me after seeing a beutiful woman, and I don’t act on it in any way, but the desire doesn’t easily go away, then is this a stain to my soul even though im not acting on it, or even meditating on it with lustful purpose? In other words, can I suffer mortal separation from the charity of God even from a temporal and accidental inordinate attachement to this thought without ever acting on it?

    I recognize this may be difficult to answer.

    In Christ,
    Jared B

  2. Bryan (or anyone) – Do you know where people typically go to buy an inexpensive copy of the Summa? Or is the $200 5-volume set from Amazon pretty much the only option?

  3. Hello Jared,

    The Catechism quotes St. Augustine in defining sin as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.” (CCC 1849) It might therefore seem that every desire that is contrary to the eternal law is a sin. But, that wouldn’t be correct. To be a sin, an act must come from the will. In order for a desire to be sinful, not only must it be contrary to the eternal law, but the person must in some sense will it, or nurture it with his will. So a temptation is not a sin, otherwise by the very fact that Jesus was tempted He would have been a sinner. The lustful thought that might appear in one’s mind is not a sin. (Of course we’re assuming that the person has not sinfully put himself in temptation.) Whether the lustful thought becomes a sin or not depends on what one does with that thought.

    If a person chooses to dwell on it, willfully letting his mind or imagination go where it shouldn’t go, that is sin. And it is grave matter, as Christ tells us in Matthew 5:28: “everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” If done with full knowledge and deliberate consent, it is a mortal sin, and the person should immediately make a perfect act of contrition, with the intention of going to confession as soon as possible.

    But if a person chooses not to dwell on it, resists the temptation to dwell on it, takes captive the thought, and sets his mind on things above, he has not sinned. And if he regularly resists this temptation (and all sexual sins), he develops the virtue of chastity.

    Jonathan, welcome to Called to Communion. The 5-volume set is the English standard. Amazon has it for $154 (US). I got mine for $135 a long time ago, but I don’t remember where. I think it is worth every penny!

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  4. Thanks Bryan. I think I’m going to have to splurge on the Summa. I’m excited to get into it with my newly acquired How To Read a Book techniques, but I’m also terrified of its great length!

  5. Sin causes the stain on the soul. What does the stain on the soul cause?

  6. Ryan,

    What does the stain on the soul cause?

    The loss of heaven. No one whose soul is stained and who passes from this life in that condition, can enter heaven. Here’s a selection from the Catholic Encyclopedia article on sin:

    This state of aversion carries with it necessarily in the present order of God’s providence the privation of grace and charity by means of which man is ordered to his supernatural end. The privation of grace is the “macula peccati” (St. Thomas, I-II.86), the stain of sin spoken of in Scripture (Joshua 22:17; Isaiah 4:4; 1 Corinthians 6:11). It is not anything positive, a quality or disposition, an obligation to suffer, an extrinsic denomination coming from sin, but is solely the privation of sanctifying grace. There is not a real but only a conceptual distinction between habitual sin (reatus culpæ) and the stain of sin (macula peccati). One and the same privation considered as destroying the due order of man to God is habitual sin, considered as depriving the soul of the beauty of grace is the stain or “macula” of sin.

    We have to be in a state of grace in order to see God, and seeing God is what heaven is. If our soul is stained (i.e. not having sanctifying grace), then we cannot enter heaven.

    “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt 5:8)

    “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Eph 5:5)

    “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.” (2 Peter 3:14)

    “Nothing impure will ever enter it [i.e. heaven]” (Rev 21:27)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  7. Bryan,

    Do you know if anyone has published the Latin text recently?

  8. Hello David,

    The only recent one I’m aware of is Kevin Keiser’s project (Latin and English side by side), but he only has the first volume done right now — Questions 1-64 of the Prima Pars. But it looks great.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  9. Bryan,

    Perhaps this is an area in which Protestants and Catholics differ. Mortal sin causes the stain-on-the-soul (but venial sin doesn’t), and the stain-on-the-soul prevents one from spending eternity with God. If that is true, then deliberate sin renders someone “unsaved” even if they were “saved” before the mortal sin. If so, does this mean Catholics teach that a single mortal sin prevents the sinner from spending eternity with God if the sinner doesn’t “immediately make a perfect act of contrition, with the intention of going to confession as soon as possible”?

  10. Ryan,

    The Catholic Church teaches that salvation is ultimately and irreducibly personal, in this sense: salvation is a loving union of human persons with the Divine Persons (and thereby with all those other created persons, human and angelic, also in loving communion with God). So, until we are perfectly united to God in the beatific vision, in this life our freedom is such that we can choose to turn away from loving God, because we are persons, and persons are free beings capable both of freely loving and freely not loving. (Love, to be love, must be freely given.) But this turning away from God can take place in a single free act. And that is what mortal sin is.

    Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. (CCC 1861)

    One act of mortal sin destroys charity in the heart:

    Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it. (CCC 1855)

    If a person dies in a state of mortal sin, then he spends eternity separated from God, because he cannot be in loving union with God if he does not love God, i.e. if he does not have charity in his soul:

    Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” (CCC 1035)

    That is why as soon as a person (who is already baptized) realizes that he has committed a mortal sin, he should immediately make a perfect act of contrition, with the intention of going to confession as soon as possible. By making a perfect act of contrition, sanctifying grace and charity are restored to him. The person who is not yet baptized, who realizes that he has committed a mortal sin, should also immediately make a perfect act of contrition, with the intention of being baptized as soon as possible. In that way he receives by desire the gracious effects of baptism, in what we call “baptism of desire”.

    Protestant theologies generally don’t recognize the distinction between mortal sin and venial sin. So the tendency is therefore either to treat all sins as mortal (i.e. each in themselves making us deserving of eternal damnation), or as venial (i.e. incapable of causing a loss of heaven). If all sin were mortal sin, then we would be losing our salvation every day. By construing salvation *fundamentally* as juridical, one gets around this problem. But then salvation is not fundamentally personal. If, on the other hand, all sins were venial, then again, our relationship with God would be quite independent of what we say and do, both to God and to others. And this too treats salvation as impersonal. So the distinction between mortal and venial sin has significant implications, as does overlooking this distinction.

    There are Protestant theologies that recognize the possibility of apostasy, not just in the sense of merely seeming to have had salvation and then losing that pseudo-salvation, but of actually losing salvation. This tends to be located primarily in the acceptance or rejection of the faith, and only signified by other acts of immorality. Whereas in Catholic soteriology, one can have faith (i.e. unformed faith) without charity, and such faith does not save. So according to the Catholic Church retaining faith while losing charity does not prevent one from losing salvation. Therefore any mortal sin (whether against God in the first table of the Law, or against one’s neighbor in the second table of the Law) destroys charity, and therefore separates a man from God, until his heart is turned back to God in charity and sanctifying grace.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  11. Bryan,

    The Catholic exposition of John’s statement about “sins leading to death” and “sins not leading to death” helped me to begin to see where one could find the mortal/venial description in scripture. That passage was always confusing to me, so I think that the Catholic treatment is at least as plausible as any Protestant treatment. How, though, does James tie into this, when he says that someone who has transgressed the law at one point is guilty of breaking all of it? Isn’t this where Reformed Protestants get the idea that all sins are “mortal”?

  12. Bryan,

    I was thinking that it would be a real good idea for a future post to write about the involvement of the conscience in this whole thing. I believe the conscience plays a huge part in Pauline soteriology. I believe once a person understands the role of the conscience in their relationship with God, then they will be able to see the Catholic doctrine with more clarity and understanding. What do you think?

    In Christ,
    Jared B

  13. David,

    When James is there referring to transgressions of the law, he is talking about mortal sins, as can be seen in the very next verse (James 2:11), by the examples of transgression he gives, namely, murder and adultery, both of which are mortal sins. A venial sin (e.g. an idle word) doesn’t make one a transgressor of the whole law, because it doesn’t destroy charity. While mortal sins differ in their gravity, they are all equal in another respect, namely, they equally destroy charity. Murder destroys charity no less or no more than adultery. That’s what grounds James’ statement in 2:10.

    If the interpreter doesn’t start out with the distinction between mortal and venial sins, then he may not see it in Scripture, and verses like this will even seem prima facie to oppose it. But if a person has help from the Church’s tradition, then he sees it clearly, and sees what was intended in passages like James 2:10.

    Jared,

    Thanks for the suggestion. Conscience does play a very important role. One of the primary errors of our time is to fail to understand the need to inform our conscience. Certain types of actions are objectively wrong, whether or not one’s conscience concurs. Without an informed conscience, we are left with an unreliable guide.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  14. It should be noted that parts of the Lutheran tradition have elaborated a distinction between mortal and venial sin that is comparable to the Catholic distinction: see, e.g., Martin Chemnitz, Loci Theologici. While eschewing the distinction, Martin Luther also believed that the believer could lose his justification, which then needed to be restored by repentance and faith. The mortal/venial sin distinction also has a long history within the Anglican moral tradition. Protestantism does not present a monolithic witness on this theme.

  15. Thanks Fr. Kimel. This is an important qualifier.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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