Summa Theologiae

Thomas Aquinas

I-II 85-87 (selected questions on the effects of sin)

Question 85

On the corruption of natural goods by sin

Article 3

Whether it is fitting to set down four wounds of nature resulting from sin: weakness, ignorance, malice, and concupiscence


It should be said that through original justice, reason perfectly controlled the lower powers of the soul, and reason itself, being subject to God, was perfected by him. But this original justice was taken away by our first parent’s sin, as was said above. And therefore all the soul’s powers remain in a certain way deprived of their proper order, by which they are naturally ordered to virtue, and this deprivation is called the wounding of nature.

Now there are four powers of the soul that can be the subject of virtue, as was said above: reason, in which is prudence; the will, in which is justice; the irascible power, in which is fortitude; and the desiring power, in which is temperance. Therefore insofar as reason is deprived of its order to the truth, there is the wound of ignorance; insofar as the will is deprived of its order to the good, there is the wound of malice; insofar as the irascible power is deprived of its order to the difficult good, there is the wound of weakness; and insofar as the desiring power is deprived of its order to the pleasurable good moderated by reason, there is the wound of concupiscence.

Thus there are four wounds inflicted on all human nature by the sin of our first parent. But since the inclination to the good of virtue in each of us is lessened by actual sin, as is evident from what was said, these are also the four wounds resulting from other sins, insofar as these sins darken the reason, especially in regard to matters of action, harden the heart [voluntas] towards the good, increase the difficulty of acting well, and make concupiscence more ardent.

Question 87

Question 87

On the debt of punishment

Article 3

Whether any sin incurs a debt of eternal punishment


It seems that no sin incurs a debt of eternal punishment.

1. For a just punishment is equal to the fault, since justice is equality: wherefore it is written (Is. 27:8): “In measure against measure, when it shall be cast off, thou shalt judge it.” Now sin is temporal. Therefore it does not incur a debt of eternal punishment.

2. Further, “punishments are a kind of medicine” (Ethics II, 3). But no medicine should be infinite, because it is directed to an end, and “what is directed to an end, is not infinite,” as the Philosopher states (Politics I, 6). Therefore no punishment should be infinite.

3. Further, no one does a thing always unless he delights in it for its own sake. But “God hath not pleasure in the destruction of men” [Vulg.: ‘of the living’]. Therefore he will not inflict eternal punishment on man.

On the contrary:

It is written (Mt. 25:46): “These shall go into everlasting punishment”; and (Mk. 3:29): “He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, shall never have forgiveness, but shall be guilty of an everlasting sin.”


It should be said that as stated above (a. 1), sin incurs a debt of punishment through disturbing an order. But the effect remains so long as the cause remains. Wherefore so long as the disturbance of the order remains the debt of punishment must needs remain also. Now disturbance of an order is sometimes reparable, sometimes irreparable: because a defect which destroys the principle is irreparable, whereas if the principle be saved, defects can be repaired by virtue of that principle. For instance, if the principle of sight be destroyed, sight cannot be restored except by divine power; whereas, if the principle of sight be preserved, while there arise certain impediments to the use of sight, these can be remedied by nature or by art. Now in every order there is a principle whereby one takes part in that order. Consequently if a sin destroys the principle of the order whereby man’s will is subject to God, the disorder will be such as to be considered in itself, irreparable, although it is possible to repair it by the power of God. Now the principle of this order is the last end, to which man adheres by charity. Therefore whatever sins turn man away from God, so as to destroy charity, considered in themselves, incur a debt of eternal punishment.

Replies to objections:

1. To the first, therefore, it should be said that punishment is proportionate to sin in point of severity, both in divine and in human judgments. In no judgment, however, as Augustine says (City of God xxi, 11) is it requisite for punishment to equal fault in point of duration. For the fact that adultery or murder is committed in a moment does not call for a momentary punishment: in fact they are punished sometimes by imprisonment or banishment for life---sometimes even by death; wherein account is not taken of the time occupied in killing, but rather of the expediency of removing the murderer from the fellowship of the living, so that this punishment, in its own way, represents the eternity of punishment inflicted by God. Now according to Gregory (Dialogues IV, 44) it is just that he who has sinned against God in his own eternity should be punished in God’s eternity. A man is said to have sinned in his own eternity, not only as regards continual sinning throughout his whole life, but also because, from the very fact that he fixes his end in sin, he has the will to sin, everlastingly. Wherefore Gregory says (Dialogues IV, 44) that the “wicked would wish to live without end, that they might abide in their sins for ever.”

2. To the second it should be said that even the punishment that is inflicted according to human laws, is not always intended as a medicine for the one who is punished, but sometimes only for others: thus when a thief is hanged, this is not for his own amendment, but for the sake of others, that at least they may be deterred from crime through fear of the punishment, according to Prov. 19:25: “The wicked man being scourged, the fool shall be wiser.” Accordingly the eternal punishments inflicted by God on the reprobate, are medicinal punishments for those who refrain from sin through the thought of those punishments, according to Ps. 59:6: “Thou hast given a warning to them that fear Thee, that they may flee from before the bow, that Thy beloved may be delivered.”

3. To the third it should be said that God does not delight in punishments for their own sake; but he does delight in the order of his justice, which requires them.

Article 4

Whether sin incurs a debt of punishment infinite in quantity


It seems that sin incurs a debt of punishment infinite in quantity...

3. For a thing may be infinite in two ways, in duration, and in quantity. Now the punishment is infinite in duration. Therefore it is infinite in quantity also.


It should be said that 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, insofar 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 insofar as sin turns inordinately to something, its corresponding punishment is the “pain of sense,” which is also finite.

Replies to objections:

3. To the third it should be said that duration of punishment corresponds to duration of fault, not indeed as regards the act, but on the part of the stain, for as long as this remains, the debt of punishment remains. But punishment corresponds to fault in the point of severity. And a fault which is irreparable, is such that, of itself, it lasts for ever; wherefore it incurs an everlasting punishment. But it is not infinite as regards the thing it turns to; wherefore, in this respect, it does not incur punishment of infinite quantity.

Article 5

Whether every sin incurs a debt of eternal punishment


It seems that every sin incurs a debt of eternal punishment...

2. For original sin is the least of all sins, wherefore Augustine says (Enchiridion xciii) that “the lightest punishment is incurred by those who are punished for original sin alone.” But original sin incurs everlasting punishment, since children who have died in original sin through not being baptized, will never see the kingdom of God, as shown by our Lord’s words (Jn. 3:3): “ Unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Much more, therefore, will the punishments of all other sins be everlasting.

3. Further, a sin does not deserve greater punishment through being united to another sin; for divine justice has allotted its punishment to each sin. Now a venial sin deserves eternal punishment if it be united to a mortal sin in a lost soul, because in hell there is no remission of sins. Therefore venial sin by itself deserves eternal punishment. Therefore temporal punishment is not due for any sin.


It should be said that as stated above (a. 3), a sin incurs a debt of eternal punishment, insofar as it causes an irreparable disorder in the order of divine justice, through being contrary to the very principle of that order, viz. the last end. Now it is evident that in some sins there is disorder indeed, but such as not to involve contrariety in respect of the last end, but only in respect of things referable to the end, insofar as one is too much or too little intent on them without prejudicing the order to the last end: as, for instance, when a man is too fond of some temporal thing, yet would not offend God for its sake, by breaking one of his commandments. Consequently such sins do not incur everlasting, but only temporal punishment.

Replies to objections:

2. To the second it should be said that original sin incurs everlasting punishment, not on account of its gravity, but by reason of the condition of the subject, viz. a human being deprived of grace, without which there is no remission of sin.

3. The same answer applies to the third objection about venial sin. Because eternity of punishment does not correspond to the quantity of the sin, but to its irremissibility, as stated above (a. 3).

Article 6

Whether the debt of punishment remains after sin


It seems that there remains no debt of punishment after sin.

2. For sin is removed by man returning to virtue. Now a virtuous man deserves, not punishment, but reward. Therefore, when sin is removed, the debt of punishment no longer remains.

3. Further, “Punishments are a kind of medicine” (Ethics II, 3). But a man is not given medicine after being cured of his disease. Therefore, when sin is removed the debt of punishment does not remain.


It should be said that two things may be considered in sin: the guilty act, and the consequent stain. Now it is evident that in all actual sins, when the act of sin has ceased, the guilt remains; because the act of sin makes man deserving of punishment, insofar as he transgresses the order of divine justice, to which he cannot return except he pay some sort of penal compensation, which restores him to the equality of justice; so that, according to the order of divine justice, he who has been too indulgent to his will, by transgressing God’s commandments, suffers, either willingly or unwillingly, something contrary to what he would wish. This restoration of the equality of justice by penal compensation is also to be observed in injuries done to one’s fellow men. Consequently it is evident that when the sinful or injurious act has ceased there still remains the debt of punishment.

But if we speak of the removal of sin as to the stain, it is evident that the stain of sin cannot be removed from the soul, without the soul being united to God, since it was through being separated from him that it suffered the loss of its brightness, in which the stain consists, as stated above (q. 86, a. 1). Now man is united to God by his will. Wherefore the stain of sin cannot be removed from man, unless his will accept the order of divine justice, that is to say, unless either of his own accord he take upon himself the punishment of his past sin, or bear patiently the punishment which God inflicts on him; and in both ways punishment avails for satisfaction. Now when punishment is satisfactory, it loses somewhat of the nature of punishment: for the nature of punishment is to be against the will; and although satisfactory punishment, absolutely speaking, is against the will, nevertheless in this particular case and for this particular purpose, it is voluntary. Consequently it is voluntary simply, but involuntary in a certain respect, as we have explained when speaking of the voluntary and the involuntary (q. 6, a. 6). We must, therefore, say that, when the stain of sin has been removed, there may remain a debt of punishment, not indeed of punishment simply, but of satisfactory punishment.

Replies to objections:

2. To the second it should be said that the virtuous man does not deserve punishment simply, but he may deserve it as satisfactory: because his very virtue demands that he should do satisfaction for his offenses against God or man.

3. To the third it should be said that when the stain is removed, the wound of sin is healed as regards the will. But punishment is still requisite in order that the other powers of the soul be healed, since they were so disordered by the sin committed, so that, to wit, the disorder may be remedied by the contrary of that which caused it. Moreover punishment is requisite in order to restore the equality of justice, and to remove the scandal given to others, so that those who were scandalized at the sin many be edified by the punishment, as may be seen in the example of David quoted above.

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