QUESTION 89: OF VENIAL SIN IN ITSELF
We must now consider venial sin in itself, and under this head there are
six points of inquiry:
(1) Whether venial sin causes a stain in the soul?
(3) Whether man could sin venially in the state of innocence?
(4) Whether a good or a wicked angel can sin venially?
(5) Whether the movements of unbelievers are venial sins?
(6) Whether venial sin can be in a man with original sin alone?
Article 1: Whether venial sin causes a stain on the soul?
Objection 1: It would seem that venial sin causes a stain in the soul. For
Augustine says (De Poenit.) [*Hom. 50, inter. L., 2], that if venial sins
be multiplied, they destroy the beauty of our souls so as to deprive us
of the embraces of our heavenly spouse. But the stain of sin is nothing
else but the loss of the soul's beauty. Therefore venial sins cause a
stain in the soul.
Objection 2: Further, mortal sin causes a stain in the soul, on account of the
inordinateness of the act and of the sinner's affections. But, in venial
sin, there is an inordinateness of the act and of the affections.
Therefore venial sin causes a stain in the soul.
Objection 3: Further, the stain on the soul is caused by contact with a temporal thing, through love thereof as stated above (Question , Article ). But, in venial sin, the soul is in contact with a temporal thing through inordinate love. therefore, venial sin brings a stain on the soul.
On the contrary, it is written, (Eph. 5:27): "That He might present it
to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle," on which the
gloss says: "i.e., some grievous sin." Therefore it seems proper to
mortal sin to cause a stain on the soul.
I answer that as stated above (Question , Article ), a stain denotes a loss of
comeliness due to contact with something, as may be seen in corporeal
matters, from which the term has been transferred to the soul, by way of
similitude. 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 (SS, Question , Article ; Question , Article , 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.
Reply to Objection 1: Augustine is speaking of the case in which many venial sins
lead to mortal sin dispositively: because otherwise they would not sever
the soul from its heavenly spouse.
Reply to Objection 2: In mortal sin the inordinateness of the act destroys the
habit of virtue, but not in venial sin.
Reply to Objection 3: In mortal sin the soul comes into contact with a temporal
thing as its end, so that the shedding of the light of grace, which
accrues to those who, by charity, cleave to God as their last end, is
entirely cut off. On the contrary, in venial sin, man does not cleave to
a creature as his last end: hence there is no comparison.
Article 2: Whether venial sins are suitably designated as "wood, hay, and stubble"?
Objection 1: It would seem that venial sins are unsuitably designated as
"wood," "hay," and "stubble." Because wood hay and stubble are said (1
Cor. 3:12) to be built on a spiritual foundation. Now venial sins are
something outside a spiritual foundation, even as false opinions are
outside the pale of science. Therefore, venial sins are not suitably
designated as wood, hay and stubble.
Objection 2: Further, he who builds wood, hay and stubble, "shall be saved
yet so as by fire" (1 Cor. 3:15). But sometimes the man who commits a
venial sin, will not be saved, even by fire, e.g. when a man dies in
mortal sin to which venial sins are attached. Therefore, venial sins are
unsuitably designated by wood, hay, and stubble.
Objection 3: Further, according to the Apostle (1 Cor. 3:12) those who build
"gold, silver, precious stones," i.e. love of God and our neighbor, and
good works, are others from those who build wood, hay, and stubble. But
those even who love God and their neighbor, and do good works, commit
venial sins: for it is written (1 Jn. 1:8): "If we say that we have no
sin, we deceive ourselves." Therefore venial sins are not suitably
designated by these three.
Objection 4: Further, there are many more than three differences and degrees
of venial sins. Therefore they are unsuitably comprised under these three.
On the contrary, The Apostle says (1 Cor. 3:15) that the man who builds
up wood, hay and stubble, "shall be saved yet so as by fire," so that he
will suffer punishment, but not everlasting. Now the debt of temporal
punishment belongs properly to venial sin, as stated above (Question , Article ).
Therefore these three signify venial sins.
I answer that, Some have understood the "foundation" to be dead faith,
upon which some build good works, signified by gold, silver, and precious
stones, while others build mortal sins, which according to them are
designated by wood, hay and stubble. But Augustine disapproves of this
explanation (De Fide et Oper. xv), because, as the Apostle says (Gal. 5:21), he who does the works of the flesh, "shall not obtain the kingdom
of God," which signifies to be saved; whereas the Apostle says that he
who builds wood, hay, and stubble "shall be saved yet so as by fire."
Consequently wood, hay, stubble cannot be understood to denote mortal
Others say that wood, hay, stubble designate good works, which are
indeed built upon the spiritual edifice, but are mixed with venial sins:
as, when a man is charged with the care of a family, which is a good
thing, excessive love of his wife or of his children or of his
possessions insinuates itself into his life, under God however, so that,
to wit, for the sake of these things he would be unwilling to do anything
in opposition to God. But neither does this seem to be reasonable. For it
is evident that all good works are referred to the love of God, and one's
neighbor, wherefore they are designated by "gold," "silver," and
"precious stones," and consequently not by "wood," "hay," and "stubble."
We must therefore say that the very venial sins that insinuate
themselves into those who have a care for earthly things, are designated
by wood, hay, and stubble. For just as these are stored in a house,
without belonging to the substance of the house, and can be burnt, while
the house is saved, so also venial sins are multiplied in a man, while
the spiritual edifice remains, and for them, man suffers fire, either of
temporal trials in this life, or of purgatory after this life, and yet
he is saved for ever.
Reply to Objection 1: Venial sins are not said to be built upon the spiritual
foundation, as though they were laid directly upon it, but because they
are laid beside it; in the same sense as it is written (Ps. 136:1): "Upon
the waters of Babylon," i.e. "beside the waters": because venial sins do
not destroy the edifice.
Reply to Objection 2: It is not said that everyone who builds wood, hay and
stubble, shall be saved as by fire, but only those who build "upon" the
"foundation." And this foundation is not dead faith, as some have
esteemed, but faith quickened by charity, according to Eph. 3:17: "Rooted
and founded in charity." Accordingly, he that dies in mortal sin with
venial sins, has indeed wood, hay, and stubble, but not built upon the
spiritual edifice; and consequently he will not be saved so as by fire.
Reply to Objection 3: Although those who are withdrawn from the care of temporal
things, sin venially sometimes, yet they commit but slight venial sins,
and in most cases they are cleansed by the fervor of charity: wherefore
they do not build up venial sins, because these do not remain long in
them. But the venial sins of those who are busy about earthly remain
longer, because they are unable to have such frequent recourse to the
fervor of charity in order to remove them.
Reply to Objection 4: As the Philosopher says (De Coelo i, text. 2), "all things
are comprised under three, the beginning, the middle, the end."
Accordingly all degrees of venial sins are reduced to three, viz. to
"wood," which remains longer in the fire; "stubble," which is burnt up at
once; and "hay," which is between these two: because venial sins are
removed by fire, quickly or slowly, according as man is more or less
attached to them.
Article 3: Whether man could commit a venial sin in the state of innocence?
Objection 1: It would seem that man could commit a venial sin in the state of
innocence. Because on 1 Tim. 2:14, "Adam was not seduced," a gloss says:
"Having had no experience of God's severity, it was possible for him to
be so mistaken as to think that what he had done was a venial sin." But
he would not have thought this unless he could have committed a venial
sin. Therefore he could commit a venial sin without sinning mortally.
Objection 2: Further Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. xi, 5): "We must not suppose
that the tempter would have overcome man, unless first of all there had
arisen in man's soul a movement of vainglory which should have been
checked." Now the vainglory which preceded man's defeat, which was
accomplished through his falling into mortal sin, could be nothing more
than a venial sin. In like manner, Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. xi, 5)
that "man was allured by a certain desire of making the experiment, when
he saw that the woman did not die when she had taken the forbidden
fruit." Again there seems to have been a certain movement of unbelief in
Eve, since she doubted what the Lord had said, as appears from her saying
(Gn. 3:3): "Lest perhaps we die." Now these apparently were venial sins.
Therefore man could commit a venial sin before he committed a mortal sin.
Objection 3: Further, mortal sin is more opposed to the integrity of the
original state, than venial sin is. Now man could sin mortally
notwithstanding the integrity of the original state. Therefore he could
also sin venially.
On the contrary, Every sin deserves some punishment. But nothing penal
was possible in the state of innocence, as Augustine declares (De Civ.
Dei xiv, 10). Therefore he could commit a sin that would not deprive him
of that state of integrity. But venial sin does not change man's state.
Therefore he could not sin venially.
I answer that, It is generally admitted that man could not commit a
venial sin in the state of innocence. This, however, is not to be
understood as though on account of the perfection of his state, the sin
which is venial for us would have been mortal for him, if he had
committed it. Because the dignity of a person is circumstance that
aggravates a sin, but it does not transfer it to another species, unless
there be an additional deformity by reason of disobedience, or vow or the
like, which does not apply to the question in point. Consequently what is
venial in itself could not be changed into mortal by reason of the
excellence of the original state. We must therefore understand this to
mean that he could not sin venially, because it was impossible for him to
commit a sin which was venial in itself, before losing the integrity of
the original state by sinning mortally.
The reason for this is because venial sin occurs in us, either through
the imperfection of the act, as in the case of sudden movements, in a
genus of mortal sin or through some inordinateness in respect of things
referred to the end, the due order of the end being safeguarded. Now each
of these happens on account of some defect of order, by reason of the
lower powers not being checked by the higher. Because the sudden rising
of a movement of the sensuality in us is due to the sensuality not being
perfectly subject to reason: and the sudden rising of a movement of
reason itself is due, in us, to the fact that the execution of the act of
reason is not subject to the act of deliberation which proceeds from a
higher good, as stated above (Question , Article ); and that the human mind be
out of order as regards things directed to the end, the due order of the
end being safeguarded, is due to the fact that the things referred to the
end are not infallibly directed under the end, which holds the highest
place, being the beginning, as it were, in matters concerning the
appetite, as stated above (Question , Articles ,2, ad 3; Question , Article ). Now, in
the state of innocence, as stated in the FP, Question , Article , there was an
unerring stability of order, so that the lower powers were always
subjected to the higher, so long as man remained subject to God, as
Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xiv, 13). Hence there can be no
inordinateness in man, unless first of all the highest part of man were
not subject to God, which constitutes a mortal sin. From this it is
evident that, in the state of innocence, man could not commit a venial
sin, before committing a mortal sin.
Reply to Objection 1: In the passage quoted, venial is not taken in the same
sense as we take it now; but by venial sin we mean that which is easily
Reply to Objection 2: This vainglory which preceded man's downfall, was his first
mortal sin, for it is stated to have preceded his downfall into the
outward act of sin. This vainglory was followed, in the man, by the
desire to make and experiment, and in the woman, by doubt, for she gave
way to vainglory, merely through hearing the serpent mention the precept,
as though she refused to be held in check by the precept.
Reply to Objection 3: Mortal sin is opposed to the integrity of the original
state in the fact of its destroying that state: this a venial sin cannot
do. And because the integrity of the primitive state is incompatible with
any inordinateness whatever, the result is that the first man could not
sin venially, before committing a mortal sin.
Article 4: Whether a good or a wicked angel can sin venially?
Objection 1: It seems that a good or wicked angel can sin venially. Because
man agrees with the angels in the higher part of his soul which is called
the mind, according to Gregory, who says (Hom. xxix in Evang.) that "man
understands in common with the angels." But man can commit a venial sin
in the higher part of his soul. Therefore an angel can commit a venial
Objection 2: Further, He that can do more can do less. But an angel could love
a created good more than God, and he did, by sinning mortally. Therefore
he could also love a creature less than God inordinately, by sinning
Objection 3: Further, wicked angels seem to do things which are venial sins
generically, by provoking men to laughter, and other like frivolities.
Now the circumstance of the person does not make a mortal sin to be
venial as stated above (Article ), unless there is a special prohibition,
which is not the case in point. Therefore an angel can sin venially.
On the contrary, The perfection of an angel is greater than that of man
in the primitive state. But man could not sin venially in the primitive
state, and much less, therefore, can an angel.
I answer that, An angel's intellect, as stated above in the FP, Question , Article ; FP, Question , Article , is not discursive, i.e. it does not proceed from principles to conclusions, so as to understand both separately, as we do. Consequently, whenever the angelic intellect considers a conclusion, it must, of necessity, consider it in its principles. Now in matters of appetite, as we have often stated (Question , Article ; Question , Article ; Question , Article ), ends are like principles, while the means are like conclusions. Wherefore, an angel's mind is not directed to the means, except as they stand under the order to the end. Consequently, from their very nature, they can have no inordinateness in respect of the means, unless at the same time they have an inordinateness in respect of the end, and this is a mortal sin. Now good angels are not moved to the means, except in subordination to the due end which is God: wherefore all their acts are acts of charity, so that no venial sin can be in them. On the other hand, wicked angels are moved to nothing except in subordination to the end which is their sin of pride. Therefore they sin mortally in everything that they do of their own will. This does not apply to the appetite for the natural good, which appetite we have stated to be in them (FP, Question , Article ; Question , Article , ad 5).
Reply to Objection 1: Man does indeed agree with the angels in the mind or
intellect, but he differs in his mode of understanding, as stated above.
Reply to Objection 2: An angel could not love a creature less than God, without,
at the same time, either referring it to God, as the last end, or to some
inordinate end, for the reason given above.
Reply to Objection 3: The demons incite man to all such things which seem venial,
that he may become used to them, so as to lead him on to mortal sin.
Consequently in all such things they sin mortally, on account of the end
they have in view.
Article 5: Whether the first movements of the sensuality in unbelievers are mortal sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that the first movements of the sensuality in
unbelievers are mortal sins. For the Apostle says (Rm. 8:1) that "there
is . . . no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not
according to the flesh": and he is speaking there of the concupiscence of
the sensuality, as appears from the context (Rm. 7). Therefore the reason
why concupiscence is not a matter of condemnation to those who walk not
according to the flesh, i.e. by consenting to concupiscence, is because
they are in Christ Jesus. But unbelievers are not in Christ Jesus.
Therefore in unbelievers this is a matter of condemnation. Therefore the
first movements of unbelievers are mortal sins.
Objection 2: Further Anselm says (De Gratia et Lib. Arb. vii): "Those who are
not in Christ, when they feel the sting of the flesh, follow the road of
damnation, even if they walk not according to the flesh." But damnation
is not due save to mortal sin. Therefore, since man feels the sting of
the flesh in the first movements of the concupiscence, it seems that the
first movements of concupiscence in unbelievers are mortal sins.
Objection 3: Further, Anselm says (De Gratia et Lib. Arb. vii): "Man was so
made that he was not liable to feel concupiscence." Now this liability
seems to be remitted to man by the grace of Baptism, which the unbeliever
has not. Therefore every act of concupiscence in an unbeliever, even
without his consent, is a mortal sin, because he acts against his duty.
On the contrary, It is stated in Acts 10:34 that "God is not a respecter
of persons." Therefore he does not impute to one unto condemnation, what
He does not impute to another. But he does not impute first movements to
believers, unto condemnation. Neither therefore does He impute them to
I answer that, It is unreasonable to say that the first movements of
unbelievers are mortal sins, when they do not consent to them. This is
evident for two reasons. First, because the sensuality itself could not
be the subject of mortal sin, as stated above (Question , Article ). Now the
sensuality has the same nature in unbelievers as in believers. Therefore
it is not possible for the mere movements of the sensuality in
unbelievers, to be mortal sins. Secondly, from the state of the sinner.
Because excellence of the person of the person never diminishes sin, but,
on the contrary, increases it, as stated above (Question , Article ). Therefore
a sin is not less grievous in a believer than in an unbeliever, but much
more so. For the sins of an unbeliever are more deserving of forgiveness,
on account of their ignorance, according to 1 Tim. 1:13: "I obtained the
mercy of God, because I did it ignorantly in my unbelief": whereas the
sins of believers are more grievous on account of the sacraments of
grace, according to Heb. 10:29: "How much more, do you think, he
deserveth worse punishments . . . who hath esteemed the blood of the
testament unclean, by which he was sanctified?"
Reply to Objection 1: The Apostle is speaking of the condemnation due to original
sin, which condemnation is remitted by the grace of Jesus Christ,
although the "fomes" of concupiscence remain. Wherefore the fact that
believers are subject to concupiscence is not in them a sign of the
condemnation due to original sin, as it is in unbelievers.
In this way also is to be understood the saying of Anselm, wherefore the
Reply to the Second Objection is evident.
Reply to Objection 3: This freedom from liability to concupiscence was a result
of original justice. Wherefore that which is opposed to such liability
pertains, not to actual but to original sin.
Article 6: Whether venial sin can be in anyone with original sin alone?
Objection 1: It would seem that venial sin can be in a man with original sin
alone. For disposition precedes habit. Now venial sin is a disposition to
mortal sin, as stated above (Question , Article ). Therefore in an unbeliever, in
whom original sin is not remitted, venial sin exists before mortal sin:
and so sometimes unbelievers have venial together with original sin, and
without mortal sins.
Objection 2: Further, venial sin has less in common, and less connection with
mortal sin, than one mortal sin has with another. But an unbeliever in
the state of original sin, can commit one mortal sin without committing
another. Therefore he can also commit a venial sin without committing a
Objection 3: Further, it is possible to fix the time at which a child is first
able to commit an actual sin: and when the child comes to that time, it
can stay a short time at least, without committing a mortal sin, because
this happens in the worst criminals. Now it is possible for the child to
sin venially during that space of time, however short it may be.
Therefore venial sin can be in anyone with original sin alone and without
On the contrary, Man is punished for original sin in the children's
limbo, where there is no pain of sense as we shall state further on (SS,
Question , Article ): whereas men are punished in hell for no other than mortal
sin. Therefore there will be no place where a man can be punished for
venial sin with no other than original sin.
I answer that, It is impossible for venial sin to be in anyone with
original sin alone, and without mortal sin. The reason for this is
because before a man comes to the age of discretion, the lack of years
hinders the use of reason and excuses him from mortal sin, wherefore,
much more does it excuse him from venial sin, if he does anything which
is such generically. But when he begins to have the use of reason, he is
not entirely excused from the guilt of venial or mortal sin. Now the
first thing that occurs to a man to think about then, is to deliberate
about himself. And if he then direct himself to the due end, he will, by
means of grace, receive the remission of original sin: whereas if he does
not then direct himself to the due end, and as far as he is capable of
discretion at that particular age, he will sin mortally, for through not
doing that which is in his power to do. Accordingly thenceforward there
cannot be venial sin in him without mortal, until afterwards all sin
shall have been remitted to him through grace.
Reply to Objection 1: Venial sin always precedes mortal sin not as a necessary,
but as a contingent disposition, just as work sometimes disposes to
fever, but not as heat disposes to the form of fire.
Reply to Objection 2: Venial sin is prevented from being with original sin alone,
not on account of its want of connection or likeness, but on account of
the lack of use of reason, as stated above.
Reply to Objection 3: The child that is beginning to have the use of reason can
refrain from other mortal sins for a time, but it is not free from the
aforesaid sin of omission, unless it turns to God as soon as possible.
For the first thing that occurs to a man who has discretion, is to think
of himself, and to direct other things to himself as to their end, since
the end is the first thing in the intention. Therefore this is the time
when man is bound by God's affirmative precept, which the Lord expressed
by saying (Zach. 1:3): "Turn ye to Me . . . and I will turn to you."