QUESTION 153: OF LUST
We must next consider the vice of lust which is opposed to chastity: (1)
Lust in general; (2) its species. Under the first head there are five
points of inquiry:
(1) What is the matter of lust?
(2) Whether all copulation is unlawful?
(3) Whether lust is a mortal sin?
(4) Whether lust is a capital vice?
(5) Concerning its daughters.
Article 1: Whether the matter of lust is only venereal desires and pleasures?
Objection 1: It would seem that the matter of lust is not only venereal
desires and pleasures. For Augustine says (Confess. ii, 6) that "lust
affects to be called surfeit and abundance." But surfeit regards meat and
drink, while abundance refers to riches. Therefore lust is not properly
about venereal desires and pleasures.
Objection 2: Further, it is written (Prov. 20:1): "Wine is a lustful [Douay:
'luxurious'] thing." Now wine is connected with pleasure of meat and
drink. Therefore these would seem to be the matter of lust.
Objection 3: Further, lust is defined "as the desire of wanton pleasure"
[*Alexander of Hales, Summ. Theol. ii, cxvli]. But wanton pleasure
regards not only venereal matters but also many others. Therefore lust is
not only about venereal desires and pleasures.
On the contrary, To the lustful it is said (De Vera Relig. iii [*Written
by St. Augustine]): "He that soweth in the flesh, of the flesh shall reap
corruption." Now the sowing of the flesh refers to venereal pleasures.
Therefore these belong to lust.
I answer that, As Isidore says (Etym. x), "a lustful man is one who is
debauched with pleasures." Now venereal pleasures above all debauch a
man's mind. Therefore lust is especially concerned with such like
Reply to Objection 1: Even as temperance chiefly and properly applies to
pleasures of touch, yet consequently and by a kind of likeness is
referred to other matters, so too, lust applies chiefly to venereal
pleasures, which more than anything else work the greatest havoc in a
man's mind, yet secondarily it applies to any other matters pertaining to
excess. Hence a gloss on Gal. 5:19 says "lust is any kind of surfeit."
Reply to Objection 2: Wine is said to be a lustful thing, either in the sense in
which surfeit in any matter is ascribed to lust, or because the use of
too much wine affords an incentive to venereal pleasure.
Reply to Objection 3: Although wanton pleasure applies to other matters, the name
of lust has a special application to venereal pleasures, to which also
wantonness is specially applicable, as Augustine remarks (De Civ. xiv,
Article 2: Whether no venereal act can be without sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that no venereal act can be without sin. For
nothing but sin would seem to hinder virtue. Now every venereal act is a
great hindrance to virtue. For Augustine says (Soliloq. i, 10): "I
consider that nothing so casts down the manly mind from its height as the
fondling of a woman, and those bodily contacts." Therefore, seemingly, no
venereal act is without sin.
Objection 2: Further, any excess that makes one forsake the good of reason is
sinful, because virtue is corrupted by "excess" and "deficiency" as
stated in Ethic. ii, 2. Now in every venereal act there is excess of
pleasure, since it so absorbs the mind, that "it is incompatible with the
act of understanding," as the Philosopher observes (Ethic. vii, 11); and
as Jerome [*Origen, Hom. vi in Num.; Cf. Jerome, Ep. cxxiii ad Ageruch.]
states, rendered the hearts of the prophets, for the moment, insensible
to the spirit of prophecy. Therefore no venereal act can be without sin.
Objection 3: Further, the cause is more powerful than its effect. Now original
sin is transmitted to children by concupiscence, without which no
venereal act is possible, as Augustine declares (De Nup. et Concup. i,
24). Therefore no venereal act can be without sin.
On the contrary, Augustine says (De Bono Conjug. xxv): "This is a
sufficient answer to heretics, if only they will understand that no sin
is committed in that which is against neither nature, nor morals, nor a
commandment": and he refers to the act of sexual intercourse between the
patriarchs of old and their several wives. Therefore not every venereal
act is a sin.
I answer that, A sin, in human acts, is that which is against the order
of reason. Now the order of reason consists in its ordering everything to
its end in a fitting manner. Wherefore it is no sin if one, by the
dictate of reason, makes use of certain things in a fitting manner and
order for the end to which they are adapted, provided this end be
something truly good. Now just as the preservation of the bodily nature
of one individual is a true good, so, too, is the preservation of the
nature of the human species a very great good. And just as the use of
food is directed to the preservation of life in the individual, so is the
use of venereal acts directed to the preservation of the whole human
race. Hence Augustine says (De Bono Conjug. xvi): "What food is to a
man's well being, such is sexual intercourse to the welfare of the whole
human race." Wherefore just as the use of food can be without sin, if it
be taken in due manner and order, as required for the welfare of the
body, so also the use of venereal acts can be without sin, provided they
be performed in due manner and order, in keeping with the end of human
Reply to Objection 1: A thing may be a hindrance to virtue in two ways. First, as
regards the ordinary degree of virtue, and as to this nothing but sin is
an obstacle to virtue. Secondly, as regards the perfect degree of virtue,
and as to this virtue may be hindered by that which is not a sin, but a
lesser good. In this way sexual intercourse casts down the mind not from
virtue, but from the height, i.e. the perfection of virtue. Hence
Augustine says (De Bono Conjug. viii): "Just as that was good which
Martha did when busy about serving holy men, yet better still that which
Mary did in hearing the word of God: so, too, we praise the good of
Susanna's conjugal chastity, yet we prefer the good of the widow Anna,
and much more that of the Virgin Mary."
Reply to Objection 2: As stated above (Question , Article , ad 2; FS, Question , Article ), the
mean of virtue depends not on quantity but on conformity with right
reason: and consequently the exceeding pleasure attaching to a venereal
act directed according to reason, is not opposed to the mean of virtue.
Moreover, virtue is not concerned with the amount of pleasure experienced
by the external sense, as this depends on the disposition of the body;
what matters is how much the interior appetite is affected by that
pleasure. Nor does it follow that the act in question is contrary to
virtue, from the fact that the free act of reason in considering
spiritual things is incompatible with the aforesaid pleasure. For it is
not contrary to virtue, if the act of reason be sometimes interrupted for
something that is done in accordance with reason, else it would be
against virtue for a person to set himself to sleep. That venereal
concupiscence and pleasure are not subject to the command and moderation
of reason, is due to the punishment of the first sin, inasmuch as the
reason, for rebelling against God, deserved that its body should rebel
against it, as Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xiii, 13).
Reply to Objection 3: As Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xiii, 13), "the child,
shackled with original sin, is born of fleshly concupiscence (which is
not imputed as sin to the regenerate) as of a daughter of sin." Hence it
does not follow that the act in question is a sin, but that it contains
something penal resulting from the first sin.
Article 3: Whether the lust that is about venereal acts can be a sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that lust about venereal acts cannot be a sin. For
the venereal act consists in the emission of semen which is the surplus
from food, according to the Philosopher (De Gener. Anim. i, 18). But
there is no sin attaching to the emission of other superfluities.
Therefore neither can there be any sin in venereal acts.
Objection 2: Further, everyone can lawfully make what use he pleases of what
is his. But in the venereal act a man uses only what is his own, except
perhaps in adultery or rape. Therefore there can be no sin in venereal
acts, and consequently lust is no sin.
Objection 3: Further, every sin has an opposite vice. But, seemingly, no vice
is opposed to lust. Therefore lust is not a sin.
On the contrary, The cause is more powerful than its effect. Now wine is
forbidden on account of lust, according to the saying of the Apostle
(Eph. 5:18), "Be not drunk with wine wherein is lust [Douay: 'luxury']."
Therefore lust is forbidden.
Further, it is numbered among the works of the flesh: Gal. 5:19 [Douay:
I answer that, The more necessary a thing is, the more it behooves one
to observe the order of reason in its regard; wherefore the more sinful
it becomes if the order of reason be forsaken. Now the use of venereal
acts, as stated in the foregoing Article, is most necessary for the
common good, namely the preservation of the human race. Wherefore there
is the greatest necessity for observing the order of reason in this
matter: so that if anything be done in this connection against the
dictate of reason's ordering, it will be a sin. Now lust consists
essentially in exceeding the order and mode of reason in the matter of
venereal acts. Wherefore without any doubt lust is a sin.
Reply to Objection 1: As the Philosopher says in the same book (De Gener. Anim.
i, 18), "the semen is a surplus that is needed." For it is said to be
superfluous, because it is the residue from the action of the nutritive
power, yet it is needed for the work of the generative power. But the
other superfluities of the human body are such as not to be needed, so
that it matters not how they are emitted, provided one observe the
decencies of social life. It is different with the emission of semen,
which should be accomplished in a manner befitting the end for which it
Reply to Objection 2: As the Apostle says (1 Cor. 6:20) in speaking against lust,
"You are bought with a great price: glorify and bear God in your body."
Wherefore by inordinately using the body through lust a man wrongs God
Who is the Supreme Lord of our body. Hence Augustine says (De Decem.
Chord. 10 [*Serm. ix (xcvi de Temp.)]): "God Who thus governs His
servants for their good, not for His, made this order and commandment,
lest unlawful pleasures should destroy His temple which thou hast begun
Reply to Objection 3: The opposite of lust is not found in many, since men are
more inclined to pleasure. Yet the contrary vice is comprised under
insensibility, and occurs in one who has such a dislike for sexual
intercourse as not to pay the marriage debt.
Article 4: Whether lust is a capital vice?
Objection 1: It seems that lust is not a capital vice. For lust is apparently
the same as "uncleanness," according to a gloss on Eph. 5:3 (Cf. 2 Cor.
12:21). But uncleanness is a daughter of gluttony, according to Gregory
(Moral. xxxi, 45). Therefore lust is not a capital vice.
Objection 2: Further, Isidore says (De Summo Bono ii, 39) that "as pride of
mind leads to the depravity of lust, so does humility of mind safeguard
the chastity of the flesh." Now it is seemingly contrary to the nature of
a capital vice to arise from another vice. Therefore lust is not a
Objection 3: Further, lust is caused by despair, according to Eph. 4:19, "Who
despairing, have given themselves up to lasciviousness." But despair is
not a capital vice; indeed, it is accounted a daughter of sloth, as
stated above (Question , Article , ad 2). Much less, therefore, is lust a capital
On the contrary, Gregory (Moral. xxxi, 45) places lust among the capital
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article ; FS, Question , Articles ,4), a
capital vice is one that has a very desirable end, so that through desire
for that end, a man proceeds to commit many sins, all of which are said
to arise from that vice as from a principal vice. Now the end of lust is
venereal pleasure, which is very great. Wherefore this pleasure is very
desirable as regards the sensitive appetite, both on account of the
intensity of the pleasure, and because such like concupiscence is
connatural to man. Therefore it is evident that lust is a capital vice.
Reply to Objection 1: As stated above (Question , Article ), according to some, the
uncleanness which is reckoned a daughter of gluttony is a certain
uncleanness of the body, and thus the objection is not to the point. If,
however, it denote the uncleanness of lust, we must reply that it is
caused by gluttony materially---in so far as gluttony provides the bodily
matter of lust---and not under the aspect of final cause, in which
respect chiefly the capital vices are said to be the cause of others.
Reply to Objection 2: As stated above (Question , Article , ad 1), when we were treating
of vainglory, pride is accounted the common mother of all sins, so that
even the capital vices originate therefrom.
Reply to Objection 3: Certain persons refrain from lustful pleasures chiefly
through hope of the glory to come, which hope is removed by despair, so
that the latter is a cause of lust, as removing an obstacle thereto, not
as its direct cause; whereas this is seemingly necessary for a capital
Article 5: Whether the daughters of lust are fittingly described?
Objection 1: It would seem that the daughters of lust are unfittingly reckoned
to be "blindness of mind, thoughtlessness, inconstancy, rashness,
self-love, hatred of God, love of this world and abhorrence or despair of
a future world." For mental blindness, thoughtlessness and rashness
pertain to imprudence, which is to be found in every sin, even as
prudence is in every virtue. Therefore they should not be reckoned
especially as daughters of lust.
Objection 2: Further, constancy is reckoned a part of fortitude, as stated
above (Question , ad 6; Question , Article ). But lust is contrary, not to
fortitude but to temperance. Therefore inconstancy is not a daughter of
Objection 3: Further, "Self-love extending to the contempt of God" is the
origin of every sin, as Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xiv, 28). Therefore
it should not be accounted a daughter of lust.
Objection 4: Further, Isidore [*Questions. in Deut., qu. xvi] mentions four, namely,
"obscene," "scurrilous," "wanton" and "foolish talking." There the
aforesaid enumeration would seem to be superfluous.
On the contrary, stands the authority of Gregory (Moral. xxxi, 45).
I answer that, When the lower powers are strongly moved towards their
objects, the result is that the higher powers are hindered and disordered
in their acts. Now the effect of the vice of lust is that the lower
appetite, namely the concupiscible, is most vehemently intent on its
object, to wit, the object of pleasure, on account of the vehemence of
the pleasure. Consequently the higher powers, namely the reason and the
will, are most grievously disordered by lust.
Now the reason has four acts in matters of action. First there is simple
understanding, which apprehends some end as good, and this act is
hindered by lust, according to Dan. 13:56, "Beauty hath deceived thee,
and lust hath perverted thy heart." In this respect we have "blindness of
mind." The second act is counsel about what is to be done for the sake of
the end: and this is also hindered by the concupiscence of lust. Hence
Terence says (Eunuch., act 1, sc. 1), speaking of lecherous love: "This
thing admits of neither counsel nor moderation, thou canst not control it
by counseling." In this respect there is "rashness," which denotes
absence of counsel, as stated above (Question , Article ). The third act is
judgment about the things to be done, and this again is hindered by lust.
For it is said of the lustful old men (Dan. 13:9): "They perverted their
own mind . . . that they might not . . . remember just judgments." In
this respect there is "thoughtlessness." The fourth act is the reason's
command about the thing to be done, and this also is impeded by lust, in
so far as through being carried away by concupiscence, a man is hindered
from doing what his reason ordered to be done. [To this "inconstancy"
must be referred.] [*The sentence in brackets is omitted in the Leonine
edition.] Hence Terence says (Eunuch., act 1, sc. 1) of a man who
declared that he would leave his mistress: "One little false tear will
undo those words."
On the part of the will there results a twofold inordinate act. One is
the desire for the end, to which we refer "self-love," which regards the
pleasure which a man desires inordinately, while on the other hand there
is "hatred of God," by reason of His forbidding the desired pleasure. The
other act is the desire for the things directed to the end. With regard
to this there is "love of this world," whose pleasures a man desires to
enjoy, while on the other hand there is "despair of a future world,"
because through being held back by carnal pleasures he cares not to
obtain spiritual pleasures, since they are distasteful to him.
Reply to Objection 1: According to the Philosopher (Ethic. vi, 5), intemperance
is the chief corruptive of prudence: wherefore the vices opposed to
prudence arise chiefly from lust, which is the principal species of
Reply to Objection 2: The constancy which is a part of fortitude regards
hardships and objects of fear; but constancy in refraining from pleasures
pertains to continence which is a part of temperance, as stated above
(Question ). Hence the inconstancy which is opposed thereto is to be
reckoned a daughter of lust. Nevertheless even the first named
inconstancy arises from lust, inasmuch as the latter enfeebles a man's
heart and renders it effeminate, according to Osee 4:11, "Fornication and
wine and drunkenness take away the heart [Douay: 'understanding']."
Vegetius, too, says (De Re Milit. iii) that "the less a man knows of the
pleasures of life, the less he fears death." Nor is there any need, as we
have repeatedly stated, for the daughters of a capital vice to agree with
it in matter (cf. Question , Article , ad 2; Question , Article , ad 1; Question , Article ).
Reply to Objection 3: Self-love in respect of any goods that a man desires for
himself is the common origin of all sins; but in the special point of
desiring carnal pleasures for oneself, it is reckoned a daughter of lust.
Reply to Objection 4: The sins mentioned by Isidore are inordinate external acts,
pertaining in the main to speech; wherein there is a fourfold
inordinateness. First, on account of the matter, and to this we refer
"obscene words": for since "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth
speaketh" (Mt. 12:34), the lustful man, whose heart is full of lewd
concupiscences, readily breaks out into lewd words. Secondly, on account
of the cause: for, since lust causes thoughtlessness and rashness, the
result is that it makes a man speak without weighing or giving a thought
to his words. which are described as "scurrilous." Thirdly, on account
of the end: for since the lustful man seeks pleasure, he directs his
speech thereto, and so gives utterance to "wanton words." Fourthly, on
account of the sentiments expressed by his words, for through causing
blindness of mind, lust perverts a man's sentiments, and so he gives way
"to foolish talking," for instance, by expressing a preference for the
pleasures he desires to anything else.