St. Thomas Aquinas on Penance

Mar 30th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

In 1273, the year before he died, St. Thomas Aquinas was in Naples working on the third part of his Summa Theologica. Having just completed the section on the Eucharist, he was praying in front of the crucifix on the altar, before Matins, and caught up in mystical ecstasy in the presence of Christ. Three of his brethren were there, and they heard a voice come from the image of Christ on the cross, saying, “Thou hast written well of me, Thomas; what reward wilt thou have?” St. Thomas replied, “None other than Thyself, Lord.”1

Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas
Benozzo di Lese di Sandro Gozzoli (1453-1478)

After that event St. Thomas continued his work in the Summa, now writing on the sacrament of Penance. He completed seven questions (thirty-six pages in my edition) on this sacrament. Then on December 6, 1273, while he was celebrating Mass on the Feast of Saint Nicholas, he experienced “an unusually long ecstasy.” From that moment on he did not write. Father Reginald urged him to finish the Summa, but St. Thomas replied, “Reginald, I can do no more; such things [secrets] have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now, I await the end of my life after that of my works.”2

In this post I will examine one of the articles within one of the seven questions that St. Thomas wrote between the time that the voice spoke to him from the crucifix, and the day he laid down his pen for good. The article is Summa Theologica III Question 86 article 4, which concerns the effect of the sacrament of Penance, as regards the pardon of mortal sin. First I will summarize what he says in articles 1-3 of that question.

In the first article of Question 86, St. Thomas asks whether all sins [omnia peccata] are taken away by the sacrament of Penance. His answer is ‘yes, for two reasons’. The first reason is that although at death the will is confirmed [i.e. permanently fixed, established] in its orientation toward or against God such that after death no one whose will is opposed to God can repent, yet during this present life the human will remains flexible to good and to evil,3 such that repentance (and apostasy) is always possible while we remain in this present life. Second, the power of Christ’s Passion, “through which Penance produces its effect” is such that no sin is incapable of being pardoned through the sacrament of Penance. These two reasons together imply that in this life, true repentance always remains possible. And when repentance takes place, the power of Christ’s Passion, made available to us through the sacrament of Penance, is always sufficient to pardon the sin.

In order to understand the argument in the second article, we need to understand what St. Thomas means by “penance as a virtue,” because the sacrament of penance is not the same thing as the virtue of penance. St. Thomas discusses the virtue of penance in Summa Theologica III Q. 85. There he says that penance as a virtue (which we could also refer to as repentance) belongs to the Divine law, because God commands that we repent of our sins. What kind of virtue is penance? Penance, he says, is a species of justice. Recall that justice is the virtue of giving to each his due. Penance (or repentance) is a kind of giving to God what is His rightful due. Penance is the disposition of the will or an act of the will that aims at the destruction of one’s past sins which one recognizes to be offenses against God. Penance thus is aimed at giving God what is His rightful due, by grieving (with the will, not necessarily the emotions) for those acts that have offended God, and by seeking to make amends for them, through some kind of compensation.4

Destruction of our offenses against God is not effected merely by ceasing to sin; some kind of compensation is necessary, to make amends for one’s sins against God. That is because sin leaves wounds, marks and debts in our relation to God. For example, if a man has been abusing his wife, the emotional wounds are not removed simply by his ceasing to abuse her, even if she forgives him. He must not only be truly sorry for what he has done, he must do whatever is in his power to make amends, something that may take years. Sin, as St. Augustine defined it, is a “word, deed, or desire, contrary to the eternal law.”5 But the eternal law is not a creature; it is God Himself. For this reason sin always involves a component that is against God Himself. And thus sin always involves our taking some pleasure in a word, deed or desire that deprives God of the charity, honor and obedience that He is justly due. So sin always contracts a debt of justice. By sinning we have taken something from God, by not giving to Him what is rightly due to Him. For this reason, penance involves two things: contrition, that is, grieving for one’s sins, and satisfaction, i.e. depriving oneself of temporal pleasures, or subjecting oneself to hardship in some way, to make amends to God for the pleasure that one took at God’s expense. Of course no one who has turned away from God can make sufficient satisfaction for that offense. St. Thomas says, “wherefore in such cases, he that falls short of the other must do whatever he can. Yet this will not be sufficient simply, but only according to the acceptance of the higher one”.6 In other words, just because we cannot fully make amends for our offenses against God, nevertheless, we must still do what we can to make amends, not because we think our penance is objectively sufficient to rectify our offenses, but in the hope that in His mercy God will find acceptable what penance we offer to Him out of sorrow for having offended Him whom we should love above all things.

In the second article, St. Thomas asks whether sin can be pardoned without Penance, that is, without repentance. His answer is ‘no.’ He writes:

It is impossible for a mortal actual sin to be pardoned without penance, if we speak of penance as a virtue. For, as sin is an offense against God, He pardons sin in the same way as he pardons an offense committed against Him. Now an offense is directly opposed to grace, since one man is said to be offended with another, because he excludes him from his grace. Now, as stated in Summa Theologica I-II, 110, 1, the difference between the grace of God and the grace of man, is that the latter does not cause, but presupposes true or apparent goodness in him who is graced, whereas the grace of God causes goodness in the man who is graced, because the good-will of God, which is denoted by the word “grace,” is the cause of all created good. Hence it is possible for a man to pardon an offense, for which he is offended with someone, without any change in the latter’s will; but it is impossible that God pardon a man for an offense, without his will being changed. Now the offense of mortal sin is due to man’s will being turned away from God, through being turned to some mutable good. Consequently, for the pardon of this offense against God, it is necessary for man’s will to be so changed as to turn to God and to renounce having turned to something else in the aforesaid manner, together with a purpose of amendment; all of which belongs to the nature of penance as a virtue. Therefore it is impossible for a sin to be pardoned anyone without penance as a virtue.7

Here St. Thomas says that an offense is directly opposed to grace, since that is just what it means to be offended with another person, to exclude him from one’s grace. But there is a very important difference between the grace of God and the grace of man. The grace of man does not cause, but rather presupposes either true or apparent good in him who is graced by man. The grace of God, however, causes the goodness in the man who is graced by God. Thus for any man who is graced by God, that man has goodness, and that goodness was caused by God’s grace.8 Therefore, while a man may pardon another man’s offense without a change in the offender’s will, it is impossible for God to pardon a man for an offense, without that man’s will being changed. Since the offense of mortal sin is due to man’s will being turned away from God and inordinately turned to some mutable good, therefore for the pardon of mortal sin, it is necessary that man’s will be turned toward God and away from the inordinate love of the mutable good, with the intention of making amends for the wrongs he did to God. Since this turning toward God and away from the inordinate love of created goods, belongs to the nature of penance as a virtue, it follows that it is impossible for a sin to be pardoned anyone without his having penance as a virtue.

In the third article, St. Thomas asks whether by penance one [mortal] sin can be pardoned while another [mortal] sin remains unpardoned. He answers that this is impossible, because, as he has shown already, without grace no sin can be forgiven.9 But since every mortal sin is opposed to grace and excludes grace, therefore it is impossible for one mortal sin to be pardoned while another remains unpardoned, for then grace and mortal sin would be co-present, which is impossible. The reason that grace and mortal sin cannot be co-present within the soul is that to be in mortal sin is to be at enmity with God, not in friendship with God. But to have sanctifying grace is to be in friendship with God. And since person cannot both be in friendship with God and be at enmity with God, therefore grace and mortal sin cannot be co-present in the soul.

These first three articles help us understand what St. Thomas says in the fourth article. Before I turn to the fourth article, I want first to explain what St. Thomas argues in Summa Theologica I-II Q.87 a.4, because his analysis of sin is essential for understanding what he says in article four of Summa Theologica III Q.86 a.4. Speaking of mortal sin, he writes:

Punishment is proportionate to sin. Now sin comprises two things. First, there is the turning away from the immutable good, which is infinite, wherefore, in this respect, sin is infinite. Secondly, there is the inordinate turning to mutable good. In this respect sin is finite, both because the mutable good itself is finite, and because the movement of turning towards it is finite, since the acts of a creature cannot be infinite. Accordingly, in so far as sin consists in turning away from something, its corresponding punishment is the “pain of loss,” which also is infinite, because it is the loss of the infinite good, i.e. God. But in so far as sin turns inordinately to something, its corresponding punishment is the “pain of sense,” which is also finite.10

Notice that mortal sin always has a two-fold component. It necessary involves a turning away from God in some respect, and an inordinate (i.e. disordered) turning to some finite created good. This two-fold aspect of sin means that justice is violated in two ways, in each mortal sin. In turning away from God, the sinner has not given to the eternal God His due, for which action the just punishment is the eternal loss of God, because the nature of the sin determines the punishment of the sin. But the sinner has also turned inordinately to some finite mutable good, for which action the just punishment is the “pain of sense,” which is a finite punishment.

In the fourth article of Summa Theologica III Q.86, St. Thomas asks whether after the remission of guilt [remissa culpa] through the sacrament of penance, there remains any debt of punishment. His answer is “yes, there remains a debt of punishment.” But first he raises three objections to his answer. I will present and explain his three objections, and then at the end present and explain his replies to these objections.

The first objection is this:

It would seem that no debt of punishment remains after the guilt [culpa] has been forgiven through Penance. For when the cause is removed, the effect is removed. But the guilt is the cause of the debt of punishment: since a man deserves to be punished because he has been guilty of committing a sin. Therefore when the sin has been forgiven, no debt of punishment can remain.

This is a good objection, and one that many Protestants might be inclined to raise. Here’s the objection. The cause of the debt of punishment is the [objective] guilt [culpa] of sin.11 This is because of the requirement of justice, that each person be given his due, as discussed above.  The person who is guilty of an offense against God, by justice has a debt of punishment on account of that guilt. Hence, it would seem that when the sin is forgiven (i.e. the guilt is remitted), there should no longer be any debt of punishment.

The second objection is as follows:

Further, according to the Apostle (Romans 5) the gift of Christ is more effective than the sin [of Adam]. Now, by sinning, man incurs at the same time guilt [culpam] and the debt of punishment. Much more therefore, by the gift of grace, is the guilt forgiven and at the same time the debt of punishment remitted.

In this objection St. Thomas is saying that since the gift of Christ is more effective than the sin of Adam, and since when man sins, man incurs at the same time both guilt and the debt of punishment, therefore, it would seem to follow a fortiori that by the gift of grace not only is the guilt forgiven but also the debt of punishment remitted.

The third objection is as follows:

Further, the forgiveness of sins is effected in Penance through the power of Christ’s Passion, according to Romans 3:25: “Whom God hath proposed to be a propitiation, through faith in His Blood . . . for the remission of former sins.” Now Christ’s Passion made satisfaction sufficient for all sins, as stated above (Q.48, Q.49, Q.79, a.5). Therefore after the guilt has been pardoned, no debt of punishment remains.

In this third objection St. Thomas explains that the forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of Penance is effected through the power of Christ’s Passion. But Christ’s Passion made satisfaction sufficient for all sins. Therefore, it would seem that after the guilt of sin has been pardoned through the sacrament of Penance, no debt of punishment would remain. To claim that some debt of punishment remains after the forgiveness of sin would seemingly imply that Christ’s Passion was insufficient. This too is an objection a Protestant might raise.

St. Thomas then offers the Sed contra (But on the contrary), which appeals to an authority to support his position. He writes:

On the contrary, It is related (2 Samuel 12:13) that when David penitent had said to Nathan: “I have sinned against the Lord,” Nathan said to him: “The Lord also hath taken away thy sin, thou shalt not die. Nevertheless . . . the child that is born to thee shall surely die,” which was to punish him for the sin he had committed, as stated in the same place. Therefore a debt of some punishment remains after the guilt has been forgiven.

St. Thomas understands this incident recorded in the Old Testament to reveal that the forgiveness of sin does not necessarily take away the debt of all punishment. He explains why in his Respondeo where he writes:

I answer that, As stated in I-II, 87, 4, in mortal sin there are two things, namely, a turning from the immutable Good, and an inordinate turning to mutable good. Accordingly, in so far as mortal sin turns away from the immutable Good, it induces a debt of eternal punishment, so that whosoever sins against the eternal Good should be punished eternally. Again, in so far as mortal sin turns inordinately to a mutable good, it gives rise to a debt of some punishment, because the disorder of guilt is not brought back to the order of justice, except by punishment: since it is just that he who has been too indulgent to his will, should suffer something against his will, for thus will equality be restored. Hence it is written (Apocalypse 18:7): “As much as she hath glorified herself, and lived in delicacies, so much torment and sorrow give ye to her.” Since, however, the turning to mutable good is finite, sin does not, in this respect, induce a debt of eternal punishment. Wherefore, if man turns inordinately to a mutable good, without turning from God, as happens in venial sins, he incurs a debt, not of eternal but of temporal punishment. Consequently when guilt is pardoned through grace, the soul ceases to be turned away from God, through being united to God by grace: so that at the same time, the debt of punishment is taken away, albeit a debt of some temporal punishment may yet remain.

I’ll go through his argument step by step. First he reminds us, as we saw above, that in every mortal sin there are two turnings: a turning away from God who is the immutable Good, and an inordinate turning to some mutable good. This two-fold turning of mortal sin induces two debts of punishment, because these two turnings intrinsic to every mortal sin are not equal in their degree of injustice. The just punishment for turning away from the eternal God is eternal separation from God; this separation is called ‘hell.’12

But the sin of turning inordinately to some mutable, finite good also incurs a debt of punishment, “because the disorder of guilt is not brought back to the order of justice, except by punishment.”13 Hence there must be temporal punishment, “since it is just that he who has been too indulgent to his will, should suffer something against his will, for thus will equality be restored.”14 Justice can be violated in the short-term, as when someone commits an unjust act. But ultimately justice cannot be violated, because all violations of justice must eventually be brought back to the order of justice, and this can only be done by just punishment.

The debt of punishment for turning inordinately to some mutable, finite good is not eternal punishment, but temporal punishment, because a finite sin does not justly deserve an eternal punishment. So when a man turns inordinately to a finite good without turning away from God, as happens in venial sin, he does not incur a debt of eternal punishment but he does incur a debt of temporal punishment.15 Thus, when the guilt of sin is pardoned through the grace that comes to us through the sacrament of penance, “the soul ceases to be turned away from God, through being united to God by grace.”16 But, the debt of temporal punishment may yet remain.

Let’s consider now St. Thomas’s replies to the three objections raised earlier. The first objection was that the removal of the guilt of sin should also remove the debt of punishment. In reply to this first objection he writes:

Mortal sin both turns away from God and turns to a created good. But, as stated in I-II, 71, 6, the turning away from God is as its form while the turning to created good is as its matter. Now if the formal element of anything be removed, the species is taken away: thus, if you take away rational, you take away the human species. Consequently mortal sin is said to be pardoned from the very fact that, by means of grace, the aversion of the mind from God is taken away together with the debt of eternal punishment: and yet the material element remains, viz. the inordinate turning to a created good, for which a debt of temporal punishment is due.

As St. Thomas has already explained, every mortal sin involves both turning away from God and inordinately turning to a finite good. But the essence of mortal sin is turning away from God. Therefore, since by the sacrament of penance the essence of mortal sin is removed, in the pardon of mortal sin, by means of grace the aversion of the mind from God as well as the debt of eternal punishment are removed. But, says St. Thomas, in the sacrament of penance, the inordinate turning to a created good remains, and therefore a debt of temporal punishment remains. What does St. Thomas mean in saying that in the sacrament of penance the pardon of the guilt of mortal sin does not in itself remove the inordinate turning to a created good? St. Thomas explains this in the very next article. There St. Thomas writes:

Mortal sin, in so far as it turns inordinately to a mutable good, produces in the soul a certain  disposition, or even a habit, if the acts  be repeated frequently. Now it has been said above (Article 4) that the guilt of mortal sin is pardoned through grace removing the aversion of the mind  from God. Nevertheless when that which is on the part of the aversion has been taken away by grace, that which is on the part of the inordinate turning to a mutable good can remain, since this may happen to be without the other, as stated above (Article 4). Consequently, there is no reason why, after the guilt has been forgiven, the dispositions caused by preceding acts should not remain, which are called the remnants of sin. Yet they remain weakened and diminished, so as not to domineer over man, and they are after the manner of dispositions rather than of habits, like the “fomes” which remains after Baptism.17

Here St. Thomas explains that mortal sin produces in the soul a disposition or even a habit, of inordinate love for a mutable good. When the guilt of mortal sin and the eternal debt that it incurs, are removed from the soul by the grace that comes through the sacrament of penance, these inordinate dispositions remain in the soul. These remaining inordinate dispositions are called “remnants of sin.” In a sense, we bear in our bodies the debt of temporal punishment, the sign within us that justice has not been restored. But since our eternal debt has already been paid through the grace Christ merited by His Passion and death, which we receive through the sacrament of penance, therefore the remaining debt is the debt of temporal punishment. This is why, in response to the objection, the pardon of the guilt of mortal sin through the sacrament of penance does not in itself remove the debt of temporal punishment.

The second objection was that since Christ’s gift is more effective than Adam’s gift, therefore, since by sin we incur both guilt and the debt of punishment, so a fortiori they should both be removed by the grace of Christ. In reply to this second objection, St. Thomas writes:

As stated in I-II, Q.109, a.7, a.8, I-II, Q.111, a.2, it belongs to grace to operate in man by justifying him from sin, and to co-operate with man that his work may be rightly done. Consequently the forgiveness of guilt and of the debt of eternal punishment belongs to operating grace, while the remission of the debt of temporal punishment belongs to co-operating grace, in so far as man, by bearing punishment patiently with the help of Divine grace, is released also from the debt of temporal punishment. Consequently just as the effect of operating grace precedes the effect of co-operating grace, so too, the remission of guilt and of eternal punishment precedes the complete release from temporal punishment, since both are from grace, but the former, from grace alone, the latter, from grace and free-will.

Here St. Thomas draws upon a previous distinction between operating grace and and co-operating grace, which is a distinction St. Augustine makes in his work titled On Grace and Free Will.18 Operating grace is the actual grace whereby God works in us without us. Co-operating grace is the actual grace whereby God works in us with us, by strengthening our will and granting us the capability of performing some act. According to St. Thomas, the forgiveness of guilt and of the debt of eternal punishment belongs to operating grace. We cannot merit either the forgiveness of sin or the removal of the debt of eternal punishment. But, says, St. Thomas, the remission of the debt of temporal punishment belongs to co-operating grace. Then, just as the effect of operating grace precedes the effect of co-operating grace, so the remission of guilt and of eternal punishment in the sacrament of penance precedes the completion of our payment of the debt of temporal punishment. This is why when we walk out of the confessional after receiving absolution from our sins, all our sins are forgiven and our debt of eternal punishment is paid, but we must do some penance, as assigned to us by the priest. In doing so we are making satisfaction for the purpose of paying our debt of temporal punishment, which payment is, at the same time, a growth in sanctification, by removing from us the dispositions of inordinate love for created goods.

The third objection was this: The forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of Penance is effected through the power of Christ’s Passion. But Christ’s Passion made satisfaction sufficient for all sins. Therefore, it would seem that after the guilt of sin has been pardoned through the sacrament of Penance, no debt of punishment whatsoever would remain. In reply to this objection St. Thomas writes:

Christ’s Passion is of itself sufficient to remove all debt of punishment, not only eternal, but also temporal; and man is released from the debt of punishment according to the measure to which he participates [participat] in the power [virtutem] of Christ’s Passion. Now in Baptism man participates totally [totaliter] in the power of Christ’s Passion, since by water and the Spirit of Christ, he dies with Him to sin, and is born again in Him to a new life, so that, in Baptism, man receives the total [totius] remission of debt of punishment. In Penance, on the other hand, man shares in the power of Christ’s Passion according to the measure of his own acts, which are the matter of Penance, as water is of Baptism, as stated above (84, 1,3). Wherefore the entire [totius] debt of punishment is not remitted at once after the first act of Penance, by which act the guilt is remitted, but only when all the acts of Penance have been completed.

St. Thomas teaches here that Christ’s Passion is sufficient in itself to remove all debt of punishment, not only eternal but also temporal. But we are released from the debt of punishment according to the measure of our participation in the power of Christ’s Passion. But we participate in Christ’s Passion differently in the sacrament of Baptism and in the sacrament of Penance; otherwise they would be one sacrament, not two. Every sacrament has both a form and matter. The matter of the sacrament of Baptism is water; the form is the baptismal formulate “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”19  In the sacrament of Penance the acts of the penitent are the matter.20 Because the matter in the sacrament of Baptism is water, our participation in the power of Christ’s Passion is immediate and total. Hence in baptism all debt, both eternal and temporal, is remitted. By contrast, because in the sacrament of Penance the acts of the penitent are the matter, therefore, explains St. Thomas, in the sacrament of Penance we share in Christ’s Passion in one respect according to the measure of our own acts. That is, in the sacrament of Penance, while the entire debt of eternal punishment is remitted at once, the entire debt of temporal punishment is not remitted at once, but only when all the acts of penance have been completed.

Why is this significant?

One reason it is helpful to consider what St. Thomas says here is that his teaching on this subject quite perfectly matches the doctrine of the Catholic Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly teaches that sin incurs this twofold debt:

[I]t is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. 21

And the Catechism likewise teaches that the absolution we receive in the sacrament of Penance removes sin, but not the temporal punishment of sin:

Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. This satisfaction is also called “penance.”

The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent’s personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all. They allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, “provided we suffer with him.”22

Once we understand the distinction between the debt of eternal punishment and the debt of temporal punishment, and the basis for that distinction, then we can begin to understand certain other Catholic doctrines such as purgatory and indulgences. Purgatory is that place in which those who died in a state of grace pay any remaining debt of temporal punishment, in order that with a pure heart they may enter into the joy of seeing God in the Beatific Vision, for only those with a pure heart will see God.23 An indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment for sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, and thus whose debt of eternal punishment has already been paid. These doctrines only make sense if we first apprehend the two-fold turning intrinsic to every mortal sin, by its very nature.

The primary Protestant objection to the notion of penance is that it is incompatible with the finished work of Christ. According to this objection, since on the cross Christ already paid for all our sins, therefore the notion that we must still make satisfaction for our sins is a denial or belittlement of the sufficiency and completion of Christ’s sacrifice. This objection typically presupposes that there is no distinction between eternal and temporal punishment, and in addition presupposes that our satisfactions would in some way diminish the satisfaction made by Christ, rather than be a participation in and acceptable through His satisfaction. Another objection is that the distinction between eternal and temporal punishment is not found in Scripture. But the Council of Trent gives a number of examples from Scripture that presuppose or imply the distinction.24 Another objection is that doing penance would give us ground for boasting. The Council of Trent also addresses that objection, teaching:

The satisfaction that we make for our sins, however, is not so much ours as though it were not done through Jesus Christ. We who can do nothing ourselves, as if just by ourselves, can do all things with the cooperation of “him who strengthens” us. Thus man has nothing of which to boast, but all our boasting is in Christ . . . in whom we make satisfaction by bringing forth “fruits that befit repentance.” These fruits have their efficacy from him, by him they are offered to the Father, and through him they are accepted by the Father. … But let [priests] bear in mind that the satisfaction they impose [in the sacrament of Penance] be not only for the protection of a new life and a remedy against infirmity, but also for the atonement and punishment of past sins; for the early Fathers also believed and taught that the keys of the priests were bestowed not to loose only but also to bind. It was not their understanding, moreover, that the sacrament of penance is a tribunal of wrath or of punishments, as no Catholic ever understood that through our satisfactions the efficacy of the merit and satisfaction of our Lord Jesus Christ is either obscured or in any way diminished.25

In this way temporal punishment, penance, and purgatory are all compatible with an affirmation of the forgiveness of all our past sins, and with the perfection and completion of Christ’s Passion. Temporal punishment is compatible with the forgiveness of all our past sins, because of the two-fold injustice in every mortal sin. Temporal punishment is compatible with the perfection and completion of Christ’s Passion because of the distinction between operating grace and co-operating grace. By way of these distinctions, the saint to whom Christ had just spoken days earlier, saying, “Thou hast written well of me, Thomas,” teaches us here why it is wrong to think either that we can make full satisfaction for our sins or that we do not need to make any satisfaction for our sins.

Domine, miserere nobis. Amen.

  1. St. Thomas Aquinas. []
  2. Source. []
  3. [cuius liberum arbitrium flexibile est ad bonum et ad malum] []
  4. The three traditional forms of penance are fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Whereas vengeance is defined as just retribution on the part of the offended, penance is just retribution on the part of the offender, where the offended is God. Penance as a virtue is a species of justice not only because it seeks to give God what is His due but also because the penitent seeks to give to himself, in some measure, what is due to himself for his offenses against God. We can see penance as a virtue exemplified in St. Luke 18:13, when the tax collector beat his breast on account of his sins. Of course God is due more than grieving for our sins and seeking to make amends; that is why penance is not the whole of the virtue of religion. For St. Thomas on the virtue of religion see Summa Theologica II-II Q.81 a.1. []
  5. Summa Theologica I-II Q.71 a.6 []
  6. Summa Theologica III Q.85 a.3 ad.2 []
  7. Summa Theologica III Q.86 a.2 []
  8. This difference between God’s grace and man’s grace is one reason why treating the nature of man’s grace as laying out the semantic and conceptual boundaries for the nature of God’s grace, is a bad idea. This is a large part of the reason why assuming that since man-t0-man justification is merely extrinsic (i.e. extra nos), therefore God’s justification of man is also merely extrinsic, is a humanistic assumption — it limits God to what man can and does do. I discussed this in a bit more detail in “The Tradition and the Lexicon.” []
  9. Summa Theologica I-II Q.109 a.7, and I-II Q.113 a.2 []
  10. Summa Theologica I-II Q.87 a.4 []
  11. St. Thomas is not talking about the subjective feeling of guiltiness. []
  12. The literal translation is: “so that whoever against the eternal Good sins, in eternity is punished.” [ut qui contra aeternum bonum peccavit, in aeternum puniatur]. []
  13. quia inordinatio culpae non reducitur ad ordinem iustitiae nisi per poenam []
  14. iustum est enim ut qui voluntati suae plus indulsit quam debuit, contra voluntatem suam aliquid patiatur, sic enim erit aequalitas []
  15. cf.  Summa Theologica I-II Q.87 a.5 []
  16. tollitur aversio animae a Deo, inquantum per gratiam anima Deo coniungitur []
  17. Summa Theologica III Q.86 a.5 co. []
  18. On Grace and Free Will, 17. []
  19. Compendium, 260. []
  20. “The acts of the penitent, namely contrition, confession, and satisfaction, are the quasi materia of this sacrament.” Council of Trent; Sess. XIV, c. 3. []
  21. CCC 1472 []
  22. CCC 1459-1460 []
  23. Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14 []
  24. See the Council of Trent, Session XIV chapter 8. []
  25. Council of Trent Sess. XIV chapter 8 []
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  1. Bryan,

    All your posts contain beautiful Christian art. Where are you finding these great pictures?

  2. Hello Ryan

    Thanks for the compliment. I collect these works (in digital form) from all over the internet. Many are available on Google images and other online art museums. Whenever I see one I like, I save it. And usually if I like one work by a painter, I like his other works as well. So, I try to track down other works by the same artist. And so when I want to include a work of art in a post, I have in my files a selection ready from which to choose. Gozzoli painted this particular work in 1471, and it now hangs in the Louvre. The inscription at the top (just beneath Christ) reads “BENE SCPSISTI DE ME, THOMMA” (“You have written well about me, Thomas.”) That is why I chose this work for this post. To the right and left of that inscription are the four Evangelists. Below, on St. Thomas’s right is Aristotle, and on his left is Plato, both learning from him, of course. At his feet is the Muslim philosopher Averroes, whose philosophical writings St. Thomas profited from but also in important respects refuted. The Pope in the lower left side of the painting is said to be Sixtus IV, who was pope from 1471-84. The inscription above the pope translates “Truly here is the light of the Church,” apparently put in the mouth of the pope, as he examines St. Thomas’s writings. The inscription on the lower right translates, “here he found the entire way of learning,” which is a quotation from Baruch 3:37 in the Vulgate.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. Bryan,

    Three quick follow-up questions.

    QUESTION 1. Would it be fair to say that penances which remedy the temporal punishment for sin by co-operation with the intrinsic grace flowing from Christ’s passion can take two forms:

    A) suffering / asceticism (such as when fasting is practiced as a “suffering” which counters/corrects an inordinate affection for food). Such penances remit temporal punishment and simultaneously correct/re-order our nature by way of abstention.
    B.) Acts of love – where, by the same intrinsic grace flowing from the passion of Christ, we perform positive acts of charity (such as almsgiving, care for the poor). Such acts would constitute a kind of pro-active penance where temporal punishments are remited and our nature simultaneously corrected by an increase in charity.

    Your post seems clearly to affirm penances of type (A); I am curious about your thoughts concerning (B). I have in mind passages such as “love covers a multitude of sins”.

    QUESTION 2. Would it be fair to say that an indulgence has a similarity to baptism in that it presents for us a “matter” for the remission of temporal punishment other than our own penances? I am thinking that an indulgence represents a case where the Church, in view of the authority invested in her by Christ to bind and loose, proposes a type of “matter” (say attending daily mass on the first Friday of a month). This “matter” as proposed by the Church (with Christ’s authority) will then possess the capability to convey grace (like the waters of baptism) when appriated by the Christian who is in a state of grace. In other words, the “matter” of the indulgence will draw on the infinite merits of the passion of Christ, much like the waters of baptism (in so far as remission of temporal punishment for sin is concerned). Hence, when the individual, by an act of free-will, enegages the “matter” of the indulgence, he will be co-operating with the grace of Christ and thereby simultaneoulsy recieve both the juridical remission of temporal punishment for sin as well as an ontological healing of his nature.

    Does that sound right, or do I have something out of whack? I am just trying to achieve clarity in my own understanding of such issues.

    QUESTION 3. I have used the term “simultaneously” above repeatedly, because it seems to me that the Catholic understanding of every doctrine related to sin and its effects (as well as the repair and remedies for the same) always involves both a juridical and ontological aspect. In other words, just as any correct understanding of “the Good” or “Goodness” is rooted in Being itself (Himself) rather than some purely legal/jurdical (nominalist) conception; so too any correct understanding of sin and its effects and remedies must also be understood in relation to “being” (i.e. the privation/dissolution or re-gracing/re-ordering of our own “being) rather than legal/juridical terms only. I am not, of course, denying that the Juridical aspect is untrue – just that it always, simultaneously, involves an ontological aspect as well.

    Does that sound correct ?

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray

  4. Bryan,

    I’m going to read that slower the second time. there is a lot there to think about. As you alluded to, I find that it’s true that the idea of penance somehow rendering Christ’s work unfinished is hard to get over as a Protestant. But the distinction between eternal and temporal punishment makes it much clearer to me.

    I have a question. you said:

    Destruction of our offenses against God is not effected merely by ceasing to sin; some kind of compensation is necessary, to make amends for one’s sins against God. That is because sin leaves wounds, marks and debts in our relation to God. For example, if a man has been abusing his wife, the emotional wounds are not removed simply by his ceasing to abuse her, even if she forgives him. He must not only be truly sorry for what he has done, he must do whatever is in his power to make amends, something that may take years.

    What if in the abuse the man kills his wife? It seems that no penance for temporal punishment can ever be enough. Would I be on the right track if I were to think of the penance done for the temporal punishment as being accepted by God in the way the Reformed would think of faith being accepted in a forensic way in the sense of simul iustus et peccator?

    What I mean is, would I be correct in saying the Father “counts” the assigned penance of the murderer for temporal punishment as satisfying the need for temporal punishment?(when in reality nothing the man can do will satisfy)

    Or is the assigned penance done by this man seen by the Father as a participation in Christ’s satisfaction and therefore the penance actually does remove the temporal punishment?

    I think I am correct when I say the physical liquid in baptism does not need to clean physical dirt for the sacramental water to clean sin. Is baptism a proper comparison with penance in the sense that the physical acts of penance do not undo the results of sin in this world (the man’s wife is still dead) but sacramentaly the physical acts of penance remove the temporal punishment?

    I am sorry if my writing is unclear. I am just finding no “category” in my mind to place this doctrine and making a new category is mindbending for me.

    Thanks,

    David Meyer

  5. Ray,

    Yes to 1 and 3.

    As for 2, let me back up and say something about indulgences. The Church’s teaching on indulgences follows from three things in conjunction:

    (a) the power of the keys given to St. Peter (Matthew 16:19), by which the magisterium of the Church, as Christ’s authorized representative (in persona Christi, ἐν προσώπῳ Χριστοῦ [2 Cor 2:10]), can forgive sins (John 20:23) through the merit and satisfaction of Christ’s Passion,

    (b) the communion of the saints (1 Cor 12, Job 1:5, Col 1:24, Apostles’ Creed) by which we can aid one another in the Body of Christ through our prayers and sacrifices,

    and

    (c) the two-fold nature of sin (both away from God, and toward a mutable good), which entails two sorts of debts of punishment, one eternal, and other temporal, as I explained in this post. That two-fold nature of sin is confirmed when Jesus refers to a two-fold forgiveness (“in this age, and in the age to come” – Matt 12:31), and in the practice of prayer for the dead (2 Macc 12:46), which would be of no use to the damned. Thus, if the Church by the authorization of Christ can forgive sins, and thereby remove the debt of eternal punishment, then it follows a fortiori that she can remove the debt of temporal punishment, by the merits of Christ and all the saints. And that is just what an indulgence is.

    As for your question, indulgences belong to the sacrament of penance; they have a similarity to baptism inasmuch as the sacrament of penance has a similarity to baptism. The ‘matter’ of the indulgence remains the act (on our part) proposed to us by the Church. And grace comes to us through that matter. So, there is a similarity to baptism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  6. I just read Ray’s comment, and he nailed my thoughts before I could post! Very well put.

  7. Bryan

    Thanks for the clarifications. The two-turnings in relation to sin are very helpful. Baptism’s two fold effect is to immediately addresses both the eternal and temporal punishment for sin.

    The post-baptismal remedies to the two-fold nature of sin (originally resolved by baptism) both flow from the sacrament of penance:

    a.) Absolution granted within the sacrament of penance addresses the issue of eternal punishment for sin

    b.) Penances flowing out of the sacrament of penance address the issue of temporal punishment for sin – Indulgences being a particular type of penance

    Great post

    Pax et Bonum,

    -Ray

  8. David,

    The purpose of my example of the abusive husband was to illustrate how sin leaves relational wounds that are not removed by a single act of the will. It wasn’t intended to imply that we can make it as though it never happened. Of course we could never make sufficient amends for the debt of eternal punishment; hence we needed Christ. The murderer can never bring back the life of his victim, and in that respect he can never make sufficient amends for what he has done. This is partly what makes murder so evil. But, the murderer would still owe a great debt to the family of the victim, and would be right to seek to make whatever amends he can to the family.

    Would I be on the right track if I were to think of the penance done for the temporal punishment as being accepted by God in the way the Reformed would think of faith being accepted in a forensic way in the sense of simul iustus et peccator?

    The Reformed way of thinking about faith in justification is that faith is the instrument by which the person receives the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. In Catholic doctrine, we do penance in both the vertical (man-to-God) and horizontal (man-to-creature) directions. In the vertical dimension, we do penance for our sins against God; these acts of penance (in the vertical) could never by their own worth pay the debt of eternal punishment. I mentioned that in my post by saying:

    Of course no one who has turned away from God can make sufficient satisfaction for that offense. St. Thomas says, “wherefore in such cases, he that falls short of the other must do whatever he can. Yet this will not be sufficient simply, but only according to the acceptance of the higher one”.6 In other words, just because we cannot fully make amends for our offenses against God, nevertheless, we must still do what we can to make amends, not because we think our penance is objectively sufficient to rectify our offenses, but in the hope that in His mercy God will find acceptable what penance we offer to Him out of sorry for having offended Him whom we should love above all things.

    See also the last quotation in the post, the one from the Council of Trent.

    That’s the vertical dimension of penance. But, in the horizontal dimension of penance, we will (either in this life or also in purgatory) complete the amount of penance that is justly due for all our horizontal (human-to-creature) acts contrary to justice, unless we receive an indulgence. Murder is a mortal sin because in the vertical dimension it turns away from God, and thus gives offense to Him, incurring a debt of eternal punishment. But in the horizontal dimension, no act (not even murder) incurs a debt of eternal punishment. So a murderer who has been absolved (and thus had his guilt and debt of eternal punishment removed), will pay the last penny (either in this life and/or in purgatory) of his debt of temporal punishment for that murder.

    What I mean is, would I be correct in saying the Father “counts” the assigned penance of the murderer for temporal punishment as satisfying the need for temporal punishment?(when in reality nothing the man can do will satisfy) Or is the assigned penance done by this man seen by the Father as a participation in Christ’s satisfaction and therefore the penance actually does remove the temporal punishment?

    The vertical penance could never be sufficient, as I explained above, and yet we offer it in love that God in His mercy may accept it, in union with Christ’s perfect satisfaction. The horizontal penance can be sufficient, and we will pay it all (unless we receive an indulgence) before entering into the Beatific Vision.

    I think I am correct when I say the physical liquid in baptism does not need to clean physical dirt for the sacramental water to clean sin. Is baptism a proper comparison with penance in the sense that the physical acts of penance do not undo the results of sin in this world (the man’s wife is still dead) but sacramentaly the physical acts of penance remove the temporal punishment?

    Correct.

    I am sorry if my writing is unclear. I am just finding no “category” in my mind to place this doctrine and making a new category is mindbending for me.

    It is a very different paradigm, and most people aren’t able to ‘see’ in both paradigms, unless they have lived in both. Those of us who have been Reformed and are now Catholic have the benefit of having ‘seen’ in both paradigms, and hopefully that helps us communicate across paradigms.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  9. Bryan et al, there is an issue I’ve heard come up twice now and to which I’m looking for clarification. Here’s the question, I’m sure most of the contributors here have heard it before in one form or another:

    Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with *all* of your heart, *all* of your mind, *all* of your soul, and *all* of your strength. What does a Catholic understand this commandment to entail, and does violating it constitute a mortal sin, given especially that Jesus calls it the greatest commandment? What does keeping this commandment look like, if indeed it is actually possible to keep.

    Now the traditional Reformed answer is that it is basically a rhetorical commandment, in that obviously ‘no’ we cannot possibly keep such a commandment and therefore our only hope is in Christ’s keeping it for us and thereby his obedience to it being imputed to us. I’m skeptical of what seems to be the prevalent Reformed paradigm which views most of Jesus’ commandments to obedience and moral uprightness as essentially there to make us realize our need for a savior and not meant to be actually practiced.

    However, I have been making my way through the debate called “What Still Divides Us” between Michael Horton et al and Patrick Madrid et al. Horton asked Robert Sungenis this question, to which Sungenis replies that it *is* a mortal sin to break this commandment and that it *is* actually possible to keep it. This seems a little hard to believe because a) it seems to me that if I commit even a venial sin I am guilty of violating this commandment, thus committing a mortal sin and b) because I don’t know if I could have any kind of practical definition with which to truly judge if I have broken this commandment, and thereby need absolution from a priest. Unfortunately, during the debate time expired before a more detailed discussion could ensue.

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  10. Aaron, (re: #9)

    When Protestants hear or read this verse, they tend to think of the command in terms of exclusive and absolutely maximal conative exertion. So the feeling is a bit like running a long race, and then, after completing it, asking yourself whether possibly you could have dug down deeper, and given some more effort. And usually it is very difficult to believe that you couldn’t have given some additional modicum of effort at some point in the race. You always think, I probably could have cut off at least another hundredth of a second. I could have done a little more, fought a little harder, sucked it up a little more, endured a little more pain, etc.

    And that’s the way many Protestants read that verse. And so, of course, on that interpretation, it is impossible to love God with all your heart, because no matter how much you love God, you could always have dug down a little deeper, and loved Him a little more, done some other loving deed for Him, spent a little more time in prayer, given one more cup of cold water to another needy person in His Name, etc. The I-could-have-done-more way of interpreting the standard God calls us to in this verse suggests then that God is calling us to recognize that we can’t actually fulfill this verse, and that we need someone (i.e. Christ) to do this in our place, and have that active obedience then imputed to our accounts. (You’re not supposed to ask whether Jesus could have done more.)

    But that’s not how this verse is understood in the Catholic tradition. What Christ means by “all your heart” is not the degree of conative exertion, but that love of God is the highest end or purpose in the hierarchy of ends in our life. It is a teleological standard, not a conative standard. This is what agape is, a supernatural love for God above [i.e. more than] all other things, for His sake. This is why charity (the Latin term referring to agape) is defined as the virtue by which we adhere to God as our final end and give ourselves to Him for His own sake. That definition captures the meaning of the ‘all’ in the command to love God with all our hearts; God is highest (i.e. “final”) in the order of ends, and He highest in that He is not pursued as means (hence “for His sake”.) So love of God, here, is not referring to a feeling or an emotion or affection. It is the supreme act of the will (and the will’s disposition to this supreme act) to order everything else (in one’s life), including oneself, toward blessing and glorifying God, for His sake. When we order our lives to God as our highest end, even higher than ourselves, and do so for His sake (not in order to get something from Him) that is loving God with all our heart. Of course sometimes this requires self-sacrifice and exertion of the will, to say no to evil, and yes to God, much as a married man must sometimes say no to temptation and yes to fidelity to his spouse. But the degree of exertion of the will is not the meaning of the ‘all’ in the command to love God with all our heart. Rather, it is the place of God in the hierarchy of ends in our will.

    To cease to adhere to God as our final end and to cease giving ourselves to Him for His own sake, is to commit mortal sin. That can be expressed in different kinds of mortal sins (e.g. murder, adultery, etc.) but it is what makes a mortal sin a mortal sin, namely, that in committing this act, with full knowledge and complete consent, we are choosing to make ourselves our final end, and act not out of love for God as our final end, but for ourselves. And no man can serve two masters. Hence no man can love himself as his highest end, and love God as his highest end. To choose to make oneself one’s own god, is to vanquish charity from the soul.

    Venial sin, by contrast, is sin in which, though God remains our final end whom we love for His sake, our action deviates from the means by which to attain that end. We can experience this distinction even in ordinary friendships, where there is a difference between an act that hurts the friend but in which the offender still loves the other person, and an act which makes it clear that the person does not love the other person — and this sort of act destroys the friendship. See the section titled “Some Sins do not Incur the Debt of Eternal Punishment” in “Aquinas and Trent: Part 5 for a bit more on the distinction between mortal and venial sin, as well as comment #58 in the “St. Augustine on faith without love” thread.

    I hope that helps clarify the distinction between mortal and venial sin. That doesn’t mean that for any particular sin on your part, it will be clear in your mind which it is. For that, I recommend talking to a good priest. But I hope I am making clear here the difference between the Protestant and Catholic ways of conceiving the ‘all’ in the divine command to love God with all our heart. And that difference is what allows Catholics not to be compelled to think of the command as a rhetorical move on God’s part to get us to realize that we cannot actually love Him as He commands, but to understand it as something can and must do, and that anyone who does not do it, cannot enter into eternal life.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  11. Bryan, RE #10
    Thanks for your response. Your distinctions are helpful. I am absolutely convinced that this and other commandments by Christ are not rhetorical moves on God’s part.

    Would it be correct to say that the the greatest commandment is one of a general disposition of the will? And further, that when judgement day comes for us, we will have a whole life’s worth of thoughts and deeds before us that will either show that this general disposition to have been present, or that it wasn’t? And in this way we can say that obedience (I prefer the term ‘obedience’ to the term ‘works,’ ‘works’ is too theologically pregnant) does in fact play a role in our justification. I know that this is somewhat similar to what N.T. Wright argues.

    If this is indeed a general disposition of the will then I can see where a commandment like this would be preferable to a list of divine “dos and donts.” But I can also see where it would be more challenging and lead to much more self-reflection.

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  12. Aaron,

    Yes. If you haven’t looked at it already, I suggest reading my post from last year titled “St. Augustine on Law and Grace,” because it gets at this. Love for God is what unites us to God, and this love is a divine gift, not something intrinsic to our natural powers. It is a gift infused into our soul, as a disposition of the will. If we perform works but do not have agape, this profits us nothing. But if we have love for God (i.e. agape), then all that we do in that love is ordered toward heaven, and merits a supernatural reward, namely, a greater participation in the life of God. And that’s what Trent 6 is talking about when speaking about an increase in justification.

    I think it may help to look at St. Thomas here as well. In Summa Theologica II-II Q.23 a.2, he is answering the question, “Whether charity is something created in the soul?” The subsequent article answers the question “Is charity a virtue?”, but the second article is more relevant for your question. He writes:

    I answer that, The Master [i.e. Peter Lombard] looks thoroughly into this question in 17 of the First Book, and concludes that charity is not something created in the soul, but is the Holy Ghost Himself dwelling in the mind. Nor does he mean to say that this movement of love whereby we love God is the Holy Ghost Himself, but that this movement is from the Holy Ghost without any intermediary habit, whereas other virtuous acts are from the Holy Ghost by means of the habits of other virtues, for instance the habit of faith or hope or of some other virtue: and this he said on account of the excellence of charity.

    So first, St. Thomas describes Peter Lombard’s position. Lombard thought that charity is the Holy Spirit, who dwells within the believer and moves the believer to love God. St. Thomas disagrees with Lombard, and explains why he disagrees, writing:

    But if we consider the matter aright, this would be, on the contrary, detrimental to charity. For when the Holy Ghost moves the human mind the movement of charity does not proceed from this motion in such a way that the human mind be merely moved, without being the principle of this movement, as when a body is moved by some extrinsic motive power. For this is contrary to the nature of a voluntary act, whose principle needs to be in itself, as stated above (I-II, 6, 1): so that it would follow that to love is not a voluntary act, which involves a contradiction, since love, of its very nature, implies an act of the will.

    Here, St. Thomas says that Lombard’s position would be contrary to charity, because if Lombard were right, this would be kind of monergism. The human agent would be like a puppet, moved to love God, but not moving himself to love God. And this would not allow the act of love for God to be a voluntary act. But love by its very nature is a voluntary act. Therefore, according to St. Thomas, Lombard’s position is contrary to charity.

    Next St. Thomas considers another possible position, writing:

    Likewise, neither can it be said that the Holy Ghost moves the will in such a way to the act of loving, as though the will were an instrument, for an instrument, though it be a principle of action, nevertheless has not the power to act or not to act, for then again the act would cease to be voluntary and meritorious, whereas it has been stated above (I-II, 114, 4) that the love of charity is the root of merit: and, given that the will is moved by the Holy Ghost to the act of love, it is necessary that the will also should be the efficient cause of that act.

    He considers the position in which the Holy Spirit moves the human will as an instrument. That can’t be right, claims St. Thomas, because that too, would remove the power of free choice from the will, and the act of loving God would neither be voluntary nor meritorious. So, it follows, claims St. Thomas, that though the Holy Spirit moves the will to the act of love, He does so in such a way that the will is not made into a mere instrument, but is the efficient cause of its act of loving, and acts voluntarily and freely.

    He concludes:

    Now no act is perfectly produced by an active power, unless it be connatural to that power of reason of some form which is the principle of that action. Wherefore God, Who moves all things to their due ends, bestowed on each thing the form whereby it is inclined to the end appointed to it by Him; and in this way He “ordereth all things sweetly” (Wisdom 8:1). But it is evident that the act of charity surpasses the nature of the power of the will, so that, therefore, unless some form be superadded to the natural power, inclining it to the act of love, this same act would be less perfect than the natural acts and the acts of the other powers; nor would it be easy and pleasurable to perform. And this is evidently untrue, since no virtue has such a strong inclination to its act as charity has, nor does any virtue perform its act with so great pleasure. Therefore it is most necessary that, for us to perform the act of charity, there should be in us some habitual form superadded to the natural power, inclining that power to the act of charity, and causing it to act with ease and pleasure.

    Here St. Thomas argues that for a perfect act to be produced by a power, that act must be proportionate or connatural to that power. (e.g. cows can’t jump over the Moon; that act is not proportionate to the cow’s jumping power.) But, the act of charity surpasses the nature of the power of the human will. We cannot naturally love God, as He loves Himself, i.e. with the love by which He loves Himself. He is His love for Himself. But we are not Him. Therefore, to love Him as He loves Himself infinitely exceeds the natural power of our will, because the Creator infinitely exceeds the creature. For that reason, unless God adds something to our natural power, “inclining it to the act of love,” we could not love God perfectly, i.e. as He loves Himself, nor would it be pleasant for us to do so. But through charity we do have the inclination to love God in this way, and enjoy doing so; with charity, we find that His yoke is easy and His burden is light, much as Jacob’s seven additional years of labor for Rachel seemed like nothing to him, because he loved her. Therefore, concludes St. Thomas, in order for us to perform the act of charity, “it is most necessary that there should be in us some habitual form superadded to the natural power, inclining that power to the act of charity, and causing it to act with ease and pleasure.” In other words, God has to place the virtue of charity in us (as a disposition in the will), in order for us to act with charity. Acts of charity flow from a heart infused with the virtue of charity.

    When the Catechumen is baptized, he is given a white robe, representing the righteousness that he has received in baptism, by the infusion of sanctifying grace and faith, hope, and agape into his soul. The priest (or bishop) then says to him, “Receive this baptismal garment and bring it unstained to the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that you may have everlasting life.” What it means, to bring it unstained to the judgment seat of Christ is never to commit a mortal sin for the rest of one’s life, i.e. never to drive from the soul the agape the Holy Spirit infused into him at his baptism. Part of the command then, to love God, is to guard and preserve the agape in his soul. With that disposition (i.e. virtue) of charity in his soul, he may walk in the light, and not in darkness, fulfilling the Lord’s command to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving his neighbor as himself, for God’s sake.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  13. Jerry Walls is a Protestant professor of philosophy at Houston Baptist University, and has recently published a book on purgatory titled Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation (Oxford University Press, 2011). In the video below he speaks about a Protestant way of conceiving of purgatory. It may be worthwhile to discuss what he says in the video (and in his book) in relation to what St. Thomas says in the post above.

    UPDATE:

    See also his lecture titled “CS Lewis on Why Our Souls Demand Purgatory,” delivered October 25, 2012, at Houston Baptist University:

  14. Bryan,

    Nice find. That video was fantastic and I hope that it will spark some more discussion in this thread and on the topic.

    It is worth pointing out that the sanctification (or purification) model of purgatory is explained in the Catechism. Article 1031 stats:

    1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire: (954, 1472)

    “As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.” (St. Gregory the Great, Dial. 4, 39: PL 77, 396; cf. Mt 12:31)

  15. Bryan,

    I am confused. I am not really understanding the difference in Baptism and Penance in regards to temporal punishment of sins. In the CCC it states (concerning Baptism):

    1264 Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, “the tinder for sin” (fomes peccati); since concupiscence “is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.” Indeed, “an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”

    How does this statement in the catechism tie in with the statement you made on this post here:

    Hence in baptism all debt, both eternal and temporal, is remitted.

    You are saying that in baptism all debt is remitted and if this is so why then do the temporal consequences remain? If they remain, do they not have to be dealt with as in the sacrament of Penance? Do not both sacraments have to deal with the temporal consequences? If an adult is Baptized does he not have to deal with the temporal debt in some way—if he has stolen does he not have to make amends to the one from whom he has stolen? Are you saying the temporal consequences that remain after Baptism are not “punishments’ , but that the ones that remain after Penance are punishments? Could you explain the differences? HELP!

    Thanks, Kim

  16. Kim (re: #15)

    Temporal punishment for sin is not the same thing as the temporal consequences of sin. Temporal punishment is the temporal punishment due to oneself for one’s own sins. But the temporal consequences of sin are the result of Adam’s sin, not one’s own sins. Hence in John 9, when Jesus’s disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” His being born blind was a temporal consequence of sin (i.e. the loss to mankind of the preternatural gifts, including the gift of impassibility), but it was not temporal punishment for his own sins. Nevertheless, by offering our sufferings to God in a state of grace, we can reduce the debt of temporal punishment we owe for the sins we have committed after our baptism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  17. Bryan (#16),

    Thanks. Would temporal punishment be the same as (or include) the type of discipline that Heb 12 mentions? Or is temporal punishment different than discipline?

    Kim

  18. Does Purgatory have a prayer with Protestants?” by David Gibson.

  19. Secondly, there is the inordinate turning to mutable good. In this respect sin is finite, both because the mutable good itself is finite, and because the movement of turning towards it is finite, since the acts of a creature cannot be infinite. Accordingly, in so far as sin consists in turning away from something, its corresponding punishment is the “pain of loss,” which also is infinite, because it is the loss of the infinite good, i.e. God. But in so far as sin turns inordinately to something, its corresponding punishment is the “pain of sense,” which is also finite.

    Pls explain what turning to ‘mutable good’ means??

  20. Joseph (re: #19)

    A mutable good is a changeable good, i.e. a good that can change. Every created good is a mutable good. The only immutable good is God Himself.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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