QUESTION 38: OF CONTENTION
We must now consider contention, in respect of which there are two
points of inquiry:
(1) Whether contention is a mortal sin?
(2) Whether it is a daughter of vainglory?
Article 1: Whether contention is a mortal sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that contention is not a mortal sin. For there is
no mortal sin in spiritual men: and yet contention is to be found in
them, according to Lk. 22:24: "And there was also a strife amongst" the
disciples of Jesus, "which of them should . . . be the greatest."
Therefore contention is not a mortal sin.
Objection 2: Further, no well disposed man should be pleased that his neighbor
commit a mortal sin. But the Apostle says (Phil. 1:17): "Some out of
contention preach Christ," and afterwards he says (Phil. 1:18): "In this
also I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice." Therefore contention is not a
Objection 3: Further, it happens that people contend either in the courts or
in disputations, without any spiteful purpose, and with a good intention,
as, for example, those who contend by disputing with heretics. Hence a
gloss on 1 Kgs. 14:1, "It came to pass one day," etc. says: "Catholics do
not raise contentions with heretics, unless they are first challenged to
dispute." Therefore contention is not a mortal sin.
Objection 4: Further, Job seems to have contended with God, according to Job
39:32: "Shall he that contendeth with God be so easily silenced?" And yet
Job was not guilty of mortal sin, since the Lord said of him (Job 42:7):
"You have not spoken the thing that is right before me, as my servant Job
hath." Therefore contention is not always a mortal sin.
On the contrary, It is against the precept of the Apostle who says (2
Tim. 2:14): "Contend not in words." Moreover (Gal. 5:20) contention is
included among the works of the flesh, and as stated there (Gal. 5:21)
"they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God." Now
whatever excludes a man from the kingdom of God and is against a precept,
is a mortal sin. Therefore contention is a mortal sin.
I answer that, To contend is to tend against some one. Wherefore just as
discord denotes a contrariety of wills, so contention signifies
contrariety of speech. For this reason when a man contrasts various
contrary things in a speech, this is called "contentio," which Tully
calls one of the rhetorical colors (De Rhet. ad Heren. iv), where he says
that "it consists in developing a speech from contrary things," for
instance: "Adulation has a pleasant beginning, and a most bitter end."
Now contrariety of speech may be looked at in two ways: first with
regard to the intention of the contentious party, secondly, with regard
to the manner of contending. As to the intention, we must consider
whether he contends against the truth, and then he is to be blamed, or
against falsehood, and then he should be praised. As to the manner, we
must consider whether his manner of contending is in keeping with the
persons and the matter in dispute, for then it would be praiseworthy,
hence Tully says (De Rhet. ad Heren. iii) that "contention is a sharp
speech suitable for proof and refutation"---or whether it exceeds the
demands of the persons and matter in dispute, in which case it is
Accordingly if we take contention as denoting a disclaimer of the truth
and an inordinate manner, it is a mortal sin. Thus Ambrose [*Cf. Gloss.
Ord. in Rom. i, 29] defines contention: "Contention is a disclaimer of
the truth with clamorous confidence." If, however, contention denote a
disavowal of what is false, with the proper measure of acrimony, it is
praiseworthy: whereas, if it denote a disavowal of falsehood, together
with an inordinate manner, it can be a venial sin, unless the contention
be conducted so inordinately, as to give scandal to others. Hence the
Apostle after saying (2 Tim. 2:14): "Contend not in words," adds, "for it
is to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers."
Reply to Objection 1: The disciples of Christ contended together, not with the
intention of disclaiming the truth, since each one stood up for what he
thought was true. Yet there was inordinateness in their contention,
because they contended about a matter which they ought not to have
contended about, viz. the primacy of honor; for they were not spiritual
men as yet, as a gloss says on the same passage; and for this reason Our
Lord checked them.
Reply to Objection 2: Those who preached Christ "out of contention," were to be
blamed, because, although they did not gainsay the truth of faith, but
preached it, yet they did gainsay the truth, by the fact that they
thought they would "raise affliction" to the Apostle who was preaching
the truth of faith. Hence the Apostle rejoiced not in their contention,
but in the fruit that would result therefrom, namely that Christ would be
made known---since evil is sometimes the occasion of good results.
Reply to Objection 3: Contention is complete and is a mortal sin when, in
contending before a judge, a man gainsays the truth of justice, or in a
disputation, intends to impugn the true doctrine. In this sense Catholics
do not contend against heretics, but the reverse. But when, whether in
court or in a disputation, it is incomplete, i.e. in respect of the
acrimony of speech, it is not always a mortal sin.
Reply to Objection 4: Contention here denotes an ordinary dispute. For Job had
said (13:3): "I will speak to the Almighty, and I desire to reason with
God": yet he intended not to impugn the truth, but to defend it, and in
seeking the truth thus, he had no wish to be inordinate in mind or in
Article 2: Whether contention is a daughter of vainglory?
Objection 1: It would seem that contention is not a daughter of vainglory. For
contention is akin to zeal, wherefore it is written (1 Cor. 3:3):
"Whereas there is among you zeal [Douay: 'envying'] and contention, are
you not carnal, and walk according to men?" Now zeal pertains to envy.
Therefore contention arises rather from envy.
Objection 2: Further, contention is accompanied by raising of the voice. But
the voice is raised on account of anger, as Gregory declares (Moral.
xxxi, 14). Therefore contention too arises from anger.
Objection 3: Further, among other things knowledge seems to be the matter of
pride and vainglory, according to 1 Cor. 8:1: "Knowledge puffeth up." Now
contention is often due to lack of knowledge, and by knowledge we do not
impugn the truth, we know it. Therefore contention is not a daughter of
On the contrary stands the authority of Gregory (Moral. xxxi, 14).
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article ), discord is a daughter of
vainglory, because each of the disaccording parties clings to his own
opinion, rather than acquiesce with the other. Now it is proper to pride
and vainglory to seek one's own glory. And just as people are discordant
when they hold to their own opinion in their hearts, so are they
contentious when each defends his own opinion by words. Consequently
contention is reckoned a daughter of vainglory for the same reason as
Reply to Objection 1: Contention, like discord, is akin to envy in so far as a
man severs himself from the one with whom he is discordant, or with whom
he contends, but in so far as a contentious man holds to something, it is
akin to pride and vainglory, because, to wit, he clings to his own
opinion, as stated above (Question , Article , ad 1).
Reply to Objection 2: The contention of which we are speaking puts on a loud
voice, for the purpose of impugning the truth, so that it is not the
chief part of contention. Hence it does not follow that contention arises
from the same source as the raising of the voice.
Reply to Objection 3: Pride and vainglory are occasioned chiefly by goods even
those that are contrary to them, for instance, when a man is proud of his
humility: for when a thing arises in this way, it does so not directly
but accidentally, in which way nothing hinders one contrary from arising
out of another. Hence there is no reason why the "per se" and direct
effects of pride or vainglory, should not result from the contraries of
those things which are the occasion of pride.