QUESTION 105: OF DISOBEDIENCE
We must now consider disobedience, under which head there are two points
(1) Whether it is a mortal sin?
(2) Whether it is the most grievous of sins?
Article 1: Whether disobedience is a mortal sin?
Objection 1: It seems that disobedience is not a mortal sin. For every sin is
a disobedience, as appears from Ambrose's definition given above (Question , Article , Objection ). Therefore if disobedience were a mortal sin, every sin
would be mortal.
Objection 2: Further, Gregory says (Moral. xxxi) that disobedience is born of
vainglory. But vainglory is not a mortal sin. Neither therefore is
Objection 3: Further, a person is said to be disobedient when he does not
fulfil a superior's command. But superiors often issue so many commands
that it is seldom, if ever, possible to fulfil them. Therefore if
disobedience were a mortal sin, it would follow that man cannot avoid
mortal sin, which is absurd. Wherefore disobedience is not a mortal sin.
On the contrary, The sin of disobedience to parents is reckoned (Rm. 1:30; 2 Tim. 3:2) among other mortal sins.
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article ; FS, Question , Article ; FS,
Question , Article ), a mortal sin is one that is contrary to charity which is
the cause of spiritual life. Now by charity we love God and our neighbor.
The charity of God requires that we obey His commandments, as stated
above (Question , Article ). Therefore to be disobedient to the commandments of
God is a mortal sin, because it is contrary to the love of God.
Again, the commandments of God contain the precept of obedience to
superiors. Wherefore also disobedience to the commands of a superior is a
mortal sin, as being contrary to the love of God, according to Rm. 13:2,
"He that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God." It is also
contrary to the love of our neighbor, as it withdraws from the superior
who is our neighbor the obedience that is his due.
Reply to Objection 1: The definition given by Ambrose refers to mortal sin, which
has the character of perfect sin. Venial sin is not disobedience, because
it is not contrary to a precept, but beside it. Nor again is every mortal
sin disobedience, properly and essentially, but only when one contemns a
precept, since moral acts take their species from the end. And when a
thing is done contrary to a precept, not in contempt of the precept, but
with some other purpose, it is not a sin of disobedience except
materially, and belongs formally to another species of sin.
Reply to Objection 2: Vainglory desires display of excellence. And since it seems
to point to a certain excellence that one be not subject to another's
command, it follows that disobedience arises from vainglory. But there is
nothing to hinder mortal sin from arising out of venial sin, since venial
sin is a disposition to mortal.
Reply to Objection 3: No one is bound to do the impossible: wherefore if a
superior makes a heap of precepts and lays them upon his subjects, so
that they are unable to fulfil them, they are excused from sin. Wherefore
superiors should refrain from making a multitude of precepts.
Article 2: Whether disobedience is the most grievous of sins?
Objection 1: It seems that disobedience is the most grievous of sins. For it
is written (1 Kgs. 15:23): "It is like the sin of witchcraft to rebel,
and like the crime of idolatry to refuse to obey." But idolatry is the
most grievous of sins, as stated above (Question , Article ). Therefore
disobedience is the most grievous of sins.
Objection 2: Further, the sin against the Holy Ghost is one that removes the
obstacles of sin, as stated above (Question , Article ). Now disobedience makes a
man contemn a precept which, more than anything, prevents a man from
sinning. Therefore disobedience is a sin against the Holy Ghost, and
consequently is the most grievous of sins.
Objection 3: Further, the Apostle says (Rm. 5:19) that "by the disobedience of
one man, many were made sinners." Now the cause is seemingly greater than
its effect. Therefore disobedience seems to be a more grievous sin than
the others that are caused thereby.
On the contrary, Contempt of the commander is a more grievous sin than
contempt of his command. Now some sins are against the very person of the
commander, such as blasphemy and murder. Therefore disobedience is not
the most grievous of sins.
I answer that, Not every disobedience is equally a sin: for one
disobedience may be greater than another, in two ways. First, on the part
of the superior commanding, since, although a man should take every care
to obey each superior, yet it is a greater duty to obey a higher than a
lower authority, in sign of which the command of a lower authority is set
aside if it be contrary to the command of a higher authority.
Consequently the higher the person who commands, the more grievous is it
to disobey him: so that it is more grievous to disobey God than man.
Secondly, on the part of the things commanded. For the person commanding
does not equally desire the fulfilment of all his commands: since every
such person desires above all the end, and that which is nearest to the
end. Wherefore disobedience is the more grievous, according as the
unfulfilled commandment is more in the intention of the person
commanding. As to the commandments of God, it is evident that the greater
the good commanded, the more grievous the disobedience of that
commandment, because since God's will is essentially directed to the
good, the greater the good the more does God wish it to be fulfilled.
Consequently he that disobeys the commandment of the love of God sins
more grievously than one who disobeys the commandment of the love of our
neighbor. On the other hand, man's will is not always directed to the
greater good: hence, when we are bound by a mere precept of man, a sin is
more grievous, not through setting aside a greater good, but through
setting aside that which is more in the intention of the person
Accordingly the various degrees of disobedience must correspond with the
various degrees of precepts: because the disobedience in which there is
contempt of God's precept, from the very nature of disobedience is more
grievous than a sin committed against a man, apart from the latter being
a disobedience to God. And I say this because whoever sins against his
neighbor acts also against God's commandment. And if the divine precept
be contemned in a yet graver matter, the sin is still more grievous. The
disobedience that contains contempt of a man's precept is less grievous
than the sin which contemns the man who made the precept, because
reverence for the person commanding should give rise to reverence for his
command. In like manner a sin that directly involves contempt of God,
such as blasphemy, or the like, is more grievous (even if we mentally
separate the disobedience from the sin) than would be a sin involving
contempt of God's commandment alone.
Reply to Objection 1: This comparison of Samuel is one, not of equality but of
likeness, because disobedience redounds to the contempt of God just as
idolatry does, though the latter does so more.
Reply to Objection 2: Not every disobedience is sin against the Holy Ghost, but
only that which obstinacy is added: for it is not the contempt of any
obstacle to sin that constitutes sin against the Holy Ghost, else the
contempt of any good would be a sin against the Holy Ghost, since any
good may hinder a man from committing sin. The sin against the Holy Ghost
consists in the contempt of those goods which lead directly to repentance
and the remission of sins.
Reply to Objection 3: The first sin of our first parent, from which sin was
transmitted to a men, was not disobedience considered as a special sin,
but pride, from which then man proceeded to disobey. Hence the Apostle in
these words seems to take disobedience in its relation to every sin.