QUESTION 86: OF THE EFFECT OF PENANCE, AS REGARDS THE PARDON OF MORTAL SIN
We must now consider the effect of Penance; and (1) as regards the
pardon of mortal sins; (2) as regards the pardon of venial sins; (3) as
regards the return of sins which have been pardoned; (4) as regards the
recovery of the virtues.
Under the first head there are six points of inquiry:
(1) Whether all mortal sins are taken away by Penance?
(2) Whether they can be taken away without Penance?
(3) Whether one can be taken away without the other?
(4) Whether Penance takes away the guilt while the debt remains?
(5) Whether any remnants of sin remain?
(6) Whether the removal of sin is the effect of Penance as a virtue, or as a sacrament?
Article 1: Whether all sins are taken away by Penance?
Objection 1: It would seem that not all sins are taken away by Penance. For
the Apostle says (Heb. 12:17) that Esau "found no place of repentance,
although with tears he had sought it," which a gloss explains as meaning
that "he found no place of pardon and blessing through Penance": and it
is related (2 Macc. 9:13) of Antiochus, that "this wicked man prayed to
the Lord, of Whom he was not to obtain mercy." Therefore it does not seem
that all sins are taken away by Penance.
Objection 2: Further, Augustine says (De Serm. Dom. in Monte i) that "so great
is the stain of that sin (namely, when a man, after coming to the
knowledge of God through the grace of Christ, resists fraternal charity,
and by the brands of envy combats grace itself) that he is unable to
humble himself in prayer, although he is forced by his wicked conscience
to acknowledge and confess his sin." Therefore not every sin can be taken
away by Penance.
Objection 3: Further, our Lord said (Mt. 12:32): "He that shall speak against
the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world nor
in the world to come." Therefore not every sin can be pardoned through
On the contrary, It is written (Ezech. 18:22): "I will not remember" any
more "all his iniquities that he hath done."
I answer that, The fact that a sin cannot be taken away by Penance may
happen in two ways: first, because of the impossibility of repenting of
sin; secondly, because of Penance being unable to blot out a sin. In the
first way the sins of the demons and of men who are lost, cannot be
blotted out by Penance, because their will is confirmed in evil, so that
sin cannot displease them as to its guilt, but only as to the punishment
which they suffer, by reason of which they have a kind of repentance,
which yet is fruitless, according to Wis. 5:3: "Repenting, and groaning
for anguish of spirit." Consequently such Penance brings no hope of
pardon, but only despair. Nevertheless no sin of a wayfarer can be such
as that, because his will is flexible to good and evil. Wherefore to say
that in this life there is any sin of which one cannot repent, is
erroneous, first, because this would destroy free-will, secondly, because
this would be derogatory to the power of grace, whereby the heart of any
sinner whatsoever can be moved to repent, according to Prov. 21:1: "The
heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord: whithersoever He will He
shall turn it."
It is also erroneous to say that any sin cannot be pardoned through true
Penance. First, because this is contrary to Divine mercy, of which it is
written (Joel 2:13) that God is "gracious and merciful, patient, and rich
in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil"; for, in a manner, God would
be overcome by man, if man wished a sin to be blotted out, which God were
unwilling to blot out. Secondly, because this would be derogatory to the
power of Christ's Passion, through which Penance produces its effect, as
do the other sacraments, since it is written (1 Jn. 2:2): "He is the
propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of
the whole world."
Therefore we must say simply that, in this life, every sin can be
blotted out by true Penance.
Reply to Objection 1: Esau did not truly repent. This is evident from his saying
(Gn. 27:41): "The days will come of the mourning of my father, and I will
kill my brother Jacob." Likewise neither did Antiochus repent truly;
since he grieved for his past sin, not because he had offended God
thereby, but on account of the sickness which he suffered in his body.
Reply to Objection 2: These words of Augustine should be understood thus: "So
great is the stain of that sin, that man is unable to humble himself in
prayer," i.e. it is not easy for him to do so; in which sense we say that
a man cannot be healed, when it is difficult to heal him. Yet this is
possible by the power of God's grace, which sometimes turns men even
"into the depths of the sea" (Ps. 67:23).
Reply to Objection 3: The word or blasphemy spoken against the Holy Ghost is
final impenitence, as Augustine states (De Verb. Dom. xi), which is
altogether unpardonable, because after this life is ended, there is no
pardon of sins. or, if by the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, we
understand sin committed through certain malice, this means either that
the blasphemy itself against the Holy Ghost is unpardonable, i.e. not
easily pardonable, or that such a sin does not contain in itself any
motive for pardon, or that for such a sin a man is punished both in this
and in the next world, as we explained in the SS, Question , Article .
Article 2: Whether sin can be pardoned without Penance?
Objection 1: It would seem that sin can be pardoned without Penance. For the
power of God is no less with regard to adults than with regard to
children. But He pardons the sins of children without Penance. Therefore
He also pardons adults without penance.
Objection 2: Further, God did not bind His power to the sacraments. But
Penance is a sacrament. Therefore by God's power sin can be pardoned
Objection 3: Further, God's mercy is greater than man's. Now man sometimes
forgives another for offending him, without his repenting: wherefore our
Lord commanded us (Mt. 5:44): "Love your enemies, do good to them that
hate you." Much more, therefore, does God pardon men for offending him,
without their repenting.
On the contrary, The Lord said (Jer. 18:8): "If that nation . . . shall
repent of their evil" which they have done, "I also will repent of the
evil that I have thought to do them," so that, on the other hand, if man
"do not penance," it seems that God will not pardon him his sin.
I answer that, It is impossible for a mortal actual sin to be pardoned
without penance, if we speak of penance as a virtue. For, as sin is an
offense against God, He pardons sin in the same way as he pardons an
offense committed against Him. Now an offense is directly opposed to
grace, since one man is said to be offended with another, because he
excludes him from his grace. Now, as stated in the FS, Question , Article , the
difference between the grace of God and the grace of man, is that the
latter does not cause, but presupposes true or apparent goodness in him
who is graced, whereas the grace of God causes goodness in the man who is
graced, because the good-will of God, which is denoted by the word
"grace," is the cause of all created good. Hence it is possible for a man
to pardon an offense, for which he is offended with someone, without any
change in the latter's will; but it is impossible that God pardon a man
for an offense, without his will being changed. Now the offense of mortal
sin is due to man's will being turned away from God, through being turned
to some mutable good. Consequently, for the pardon of this offense
against God, it is necessary for man's will to be so changed as to turn
to God and to renounce having turned to something else in the aforesaid
manner, together with a purpose of amendment; all of which belongs to the
nature of penance as a virtue. Therefore it is impossible for a sin to be
pardoned anyone without penance as a virtue.
But the sacrament of Penance, as stated above (Question , Article ), is
perfected by the priestly office of binding and loosing, without which
God can forgive sins, even as Christ pardoned the adulterous woman, as
related in Jn. 8, and the woman that was a sinner, as related in Luke
vii, whose sins, however, He did not forgive without the virtue of
penance: for as Gregory states (Hom. xxxiii in Evang.), "He drew inwardly
by grace," i.e. by penance, "her whom He received outwardly by His mercy."
Reply to Objection 1: In children there is none but original sin, which consists,
not in an actual disorder of the will, but in a habitual disorder of
nature, as explained in the FS, Question , Article , and so in them the
forgiveness of sin is accompanied by a habitual change resulting from the
infusion of grace and virtues, but not by an actual change. On the other
hand, in the case of an adult, in whom there are actual sins, which
consist in an actual disorder of the will, there is no remission of sins,
even in Baptism, without an actual change of the will, which is the
effect of Penance.
Reply to Objection 2: This argument takes Penance as a sacrament.
Reply to Objection 3: God's mercy is more powerful than man's, in that it moves
man's will to repent, which man's mercy cannot do.
Article 3: Whether by Penance one sin can be pardoned without another?
Objection 1: It would seem that by Penance one sin can be pardoned without
another. For it is written (Amos 4:7): "I caused it to rain upon one
city, and caused it not to rain upon another city; one piece was rained
upon: and the piece whereupon I rained not, withered." These words are
expounded by Gregory, who says (Hom. x super Ezech.): "When a man who
hates his neighbor, breaks himself of other vices, rain falls on one part
of the city, leaving the other part withered, for there are some men who,
when they prune some vices, become much more rooted in others." Therefore
one sin can be forgiven by Penance, without another.
Objection 2: Further, Ambrose in commenting on Ps. 118, "Blessed are the
undefiled in the way," after expounding verse 136 ("My eyes have sent
forth springs of water"), says that "the first consolation is that God is
mindful to have mercy; and the second, that He punishes, for although
faith be wanting, punishment makes satisfaction and raises us up."
Therefore a man can be raised up from one sin, while the sin of unbelief
Objection 3: Further, when several things are not necessarily together, one
can be removed without the other. Now it was stated in the FS, Question ,
Article  that sins are not connected together, so that one sin can be without
another. Therefore also one sin can be taken away by Penance without
another being taken away.
Objection 4: Further, sins are the debts, for which we pray for pardon when we
say in the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our trespasses," etc. Now man
sometimes forgives one debt without forgiving another. Therefore God
also, by Penance, forgives one sin without another.
Objection 5: Further, man's sins are forgiven him through the love of God,
according to Jer. 31:3: "I have loved thee with an everlasting love,
therefore have I drawn thee, taking pity on thee." Now there is nothing
to hinder God from loving a man in one respect, while being offended with
him in another, even as He loves the sinner as regards his nature, while
hating him for his sin. Therefore it seems possible for God, by Penance,
to pardon one sin without another.
On the contrary, Augustine says in De Poenitentia [*De vera et falsa
Poenitentia, the authorship of which is unknown]: "There are many who
repent having sinned, but not completely; for they except certain things
which give them pleasure, forgetting that our Lord delivered from the
devil the man who was both dumb and deaf, whereby He shows us that we are
never healed unless it be from all sins."
I answer that, It is impossible for Penance to take one sin away without
another. First because sin is taken away by grace removing the offense
against God. Wherefore it was stated in the FS, Question , Article ; FS, Question ,
Article  that without grace no sin can be forgiven. Now every mortal sin is
opposed to grace and excludes it. Therefore it is impossible for one sin
to be pardoned without another. Secondly, because, as shown above (Article )
mortal sin cannot be forgiven without true Penance, to which it belongs
to renounce sin, by reason of its being against God, which is common to
all mortal sins: and where the same reason applies, the result will be
the same. Consequently a man cannot be truly penitent, if he repent of
one sin and not of another. For if one particular sin were displeasing to
him, because it is against the love of God above all things (which motive
is necessary for true repentance), it follows that he would repent of
all. Whence it follows that it is impossible for one sin to be pardoned
through Penance, without another. Thirdly, because this would be contrary
to the perfection of God's mercy, since His works are perfect, as stated
in Dt. 32:4; wherefore whomsoever He pardons, He pardons altogether.
Hence Augustine says [*De vera et falsa Poenitentia, the authorship of
which is unknown], that "it is irreverent and heretical to expect half a
pardon from Him Who is just and justice itself."
Reply to Objection 1: These words of Gregory do not refer to the forgiveness of
the guilt, but to the cessation from act, because sometimes a man who has
been wont to commit several kinds of sin, renounces one and not the
other; which is indeed due to God's assistance, but does not reach to the
pardon of the sin.
Reply to Objection 2: In this saying of Ambrose "faith" cannot denote the faith
whereby we believe in Christ, because, as Augustine says on Jn. 15:22,
"If I had not come, and spoken to them, they would not have sin" (viz.
unbelief): "for this is the sin which contains all others": but it stands
for consciousness, because sometimes a man receives pardon for a sin of
which he is not conscious, through the punishment which he bears
Reply to Objection 3: Although sins are not connected in so far as they turn
towards a mutable good, yet they are connected in so far as they turn
away from the immutable Good, which applies to all mortal sins in common.
and it is thus that they have the character of an offense which needs to
be removed by Penance.
Reply to Objection 4: Debt as regards external things, e.g. money, is not opposed
to friendship through which the debt is pardoned. hence one debt can be
condoned without another. On the other hand, the debt of sin is opposed
to friendship, and so one sin or offense is not pardoned without another;
for it would seem absurd for anyone to ask even a man to forgive him one
offense and not another.
Reply to Objection 5: The love whereby God loves man's nature, does not ordain
man to the good of glory from which man is excluded by any mortal sin.
but the love of grace, whereby mortal sin is forgiven, ordains man to
eternal life, according to Rm. 6:23: "The grace of God (is) life
everlasting." Hence there is no comparison.
Article 4: Whether the debt of punishment remains after the guilt has been forgiven through Penance?
Objection 1: It would seem that no debt of punishment remains after the guilt
has been forgiven through Penance. For when the cause is removed, the
effect is removed. But the guilt is the cause of the debt of punishment:
since a man deserves to be punished because he has been guilty of a sin.
Therefore when the sin has been forgiven, no debt of punishment can
Objection 2: Further, according to the Apostle (Rm. 5) the gift of Christ is
more effective than the sin of Adam. Now, by sinning, man incurs at the
same time guilt and the debt of punishment. Much more therefore, by the
gift of grace, is the guilt forgiven and at the same time the debt of
Objection 3: Further, the forgiveness of sins is effected in Penance through
the power of Christ's Passion, according to Rm. 3:25: "Whom God hath
proposed to be a propitiation, through faith in His Blood . . . for the
remission of former sins." Now Christ's Passion made satisfaction
sufficient for all sins, as stated above (Questions ,49,79, Article ). Therefore
after the guilt has been pardoned, no debt of punishment remains.
On the contrary, It is related (2 Kgs. 12:13) that when David penitent
had said to Nathan: "I have sinned against the Lord," Nathan said to him:
"The Lord also hath taken away thy sin, thou shalt not die. Nevertheless
. . . the child that is born to thee shall surely die," which was to
punish him for the sin he had committed, as stated in the same place.
Therefore a debt of some punishment remains after the guilt has been
I answer that, As stated in the FS, Question , Article , in mortal sin there are
two things, namely, a turning from the immutable Good, and an inordinate
turning to mutable good. Accordingly, in so far as mortal sin turns away
from the immutable Good, it induces a debt of eternal punishment, so that
whosoever sins against the eternal Good should be punished eternally.
Again, in so far as mortal sin turns inordinately to a mutable good, it
gives rise to a debt of some punishment, because the disorder of guilt is
not brought back to the order of justice, except by punishment: since it
is just that he who has been too indulgent to his will, should suffer
something against his will, for thus will equality be restored. Hence it
is written (Apoc. 18:7): "As much as she hath glorified herself, and
lived in delicacies, so much torment and sorrow give ye to her."
Since, however, the turning to mutable good is finite, sin does not, in this respect, induce a debt of eternal punishment. Wherefore, if man turns inordinately to a mutable good, without turning from God, as happens in venial sins, he incurs a debt, not of eternal but of temporal punishment. Consequently when guilt is pardoned through grace, the soul ceases to be turned away from God, through being united to God by grace: so that at the same time, the debt of punishment is taken away, albeit a debt of some temporal punishment may yet remain.
Reply to Objection 1: Mortal sin both turns away from God and turns to a created
good. But, as stated in the FS, Question , Article , the turning away from God is
as its form while the turning to created good is as its matter. Now if
the formal element of anything be removed, the species is taken away:
thus, if you take away rational, you take away the human species.
Consequently mortal sin is said to be pardoned from the very fact that,
by means of grace, the aversion of the mind from God is taken away
together with the debt of eternal punishment: and yet the material
element remains, viz. the inordinate turning to a created good, for which
a debt of temporal punishment is due.
Reply to Objection 2: As stated in the FS, Question , Articles ,8; FS, Question , Article , it
belongs to grace to operate in man by justifying him from sin, and to
co-operate with man that his work may be rightly done. Consequently the
forgiveness of guilt and of the debt of eternal punishment belongs to
operating grace, while the remission of the debt of temporal punishment
belongs to co-operating grace, in so far as man, by bearing punishment
patiently with the help of Divine grace, is released also from the debt
of temporal punishment. Consequently just as the effect of operating
grace precedes the effect of co-operating grace, so too, the remission of
guilt and of eternal punishment precedes the complete release from
temporal punishment, since both are from grace, but the former, from
grace alone, the latter, from grace and free-will.
Reply to Objection 3: Christ's Passion is of itself sufficient to remove all debt
of punishment, not only eternal, but also temporal; and man is released
from the debt of punishment according to the measure of his share in the
power of Christ's Passion. Now in Baptism man shares the Power of
Christ's Passion fully, since by water and the Spirit of Christ, he dies
with Him to sin, and is born again in Him to a new life, so that, in
Baptism, man receives the remission of all debt of punishment. In
Penance, on the other hand, man shares in the power of Christ's Passion
according to the measure of his own acts, which are the matter of
Penance, as water is of Baptism, as stated above (Question , Articles ,3).
Wherefore the entire debt of punishment is not remitted at once after the
first act of Penance, by which act the guilt is remitted, but only when
all the acts of Penance have been completed.
Article 5: Whether the remnants of sin are removed when a mortal sin is forgiven?
Objection 1: It would seem that all the remnants of sin are removed when a
mortal sin is forgiven. For Augustine says in De Poenitentia [*De vera et
falsa Poenitentia, the authorship of which is unknown]: "Our Lord never
healed anyone without delivering him wholly; for He wholly healed the man
on the Sabbath, since He delivered his body from all disease, and his
soul from all taint." Now the remnants of sin belong to the disease of
sin. Therefore it does not seem possible for any remnants of sin to
remain when the guilt has been pardoned.
Objection 2: Further, according to Dionysius (Div. Nom. iv), "good is more
efficacious than evil, since evil does not act save in virtue of some
good." Now, by sinning, man incurs the taint of sin all at once. Much
more, therefore, by repenting, is he delivered also from all remnants of
Objection 3: Further, God's work is more efficacious than man's. Now by the
exercise of good human works the remnants of contrary sins are removed.
Much more, therefore, are they taken away by the remission of guilt,
which is a work of God.
On the contrary, We read (Mk. 8) that the blind man whom our Lord
enlightened, was restored first of all to imperfect sight, wherefore he
said (Mk. 8:24): "I see men, as it were trees, walking"; and afterwards
he was restored perfectly, "so that he saw all things clearly." Now the
enlightenment of the blind man signifies the delivery of the sinner.
Therefore after the first remission of sin, whereby the sinner is
restored to spiritual sight, there still remain in him some remnants of
his past sin.
I answer that, Mortal sin, in so far as it turns inordinately to a
mutable good, produces in the soul a certain disposition, or even a
habit, if the acts be repeated frequently. Now it has been said above
(Article ) that the guilt of mortal sin is pardoned through grace removing
the aversion of the mind from God. Nevertheless when that which is on the
part of the aversion has been taken away by grace, that which is on the
part of the inordinate turning to a mutable good can remain, since this
may happen to be without the other, as stated above (Article ). Consequently,
there is no reason why, after the guilt has been forgiven, the
dispositions caused by preceding acts should not remain, which are called
the remnants of sin. Yet they remain weakened and diminished, so as not
to domineer over man, and they are after the manner of dispositions
rather than of habits, like the "fomes" which remains after Baptism.
Reply to Objection 1: God heals the whole man perfectly; but sometimes suddenly,
as Peter's mother-in-law was restored at once to perfect health, so that
"rising she ministered to them" (Lk. 4:39), and sometimes by degrees, as
we said above (Question , Article , ad 2) about the blind man who was restored to
sight (Mt. 8). And so too, He sometimes turns the heart of man with such
power, that it receives at once perfect spiritual health, not only the
guilt being pardoned, but all remnants of sin being removed as was the
case with Magdalen (Lk. 7); whereas at other times He sometimes first
pardons the guilt by operating grace, and afterwards, by co-operating
grace, removes the remnants of sin by degrees.
Reply to Objection 2: Sin too, sometimes induces at once a weak disposition, such
as is the result of one act, and sometimes a stronger disposition, the
result of many acts.
Reply to Objection 3: One human act does not remove all the remnants of sin,
because, as stated in the Predicaments (Categor. viii) "a vicious man by
doing good works will make but little progress so as to be any better,
but if he continue in good practice, he will end in being good as to
acquired virtue." But God's grace does this much more effectively,
whether by one or by several acts.
Article 6: Whether the forgiveness of guilt is an effect of Penance?
Objection 1: It would seem that the forgiveness of guilt is not an effect of
penance as a virtue. For penance is said to be a virtue, in so far as it
is a principle of a human action. But human action does nothing towards
the remission of guilt, since this is an effect of operating grace.
Therefore the forgiveness of guilt is not an effect of penance as a
Objection 2: Further, certain other virtues are more excellent than penance.
But the forgiveness of sin is not said to be the effect of any other
virtue. Neither, therefore, is it the effect of penance as a virtue.
Objection 3: Further, there is no forgiveness of sin except through the power
of Christ's Passion, according to Heb. 9:22: "Without shedding of blood
there is no remission." Now Penance, as a sacrament, produces its effect
through the power of Christ's Passion, even as the other sacraments do,
as was shown above (Question , Articles ,5). Therefore the forgiveness of sin is
the effect of Penance, not as a virtue, but as a sacrament.
On the contrary, Properly speaking, the cause of a thing is that without
which it cannot be, since every defect depends on its cause. Now
forgiveness of sin can come from God without the sacrament of Penance,
but not without the virtue of penance, as stated above (Question , Article , ad 3; Question , Article ); so that, even before the sacraments of the New Law were
instituted, God pardoned the sins of the penitent. Therefore the
forgiveness of sin is chiefly the effect of penance as a virtue.
I answer that, Penance is a virtue in so far as it is a principle of
certain human acts. Now the human acts, which are performed by the
sinner, are the material element in the sacrament of Penance. Moreover
every sacrament produces its effect, in virtue not only of its form, but
also of its matter. because both these together make the one sacrament,
as stated above (Question , Article , ad 2, Article ). Hence in Baptism forgiveness
of sin is effected, in virtue not only of the form (but also of the
matter, viz. water, albeit chiefly in virtue of the form) [*The words in
brackets are omitted in the Leonine edition] from which the water
receives its power---and, similarly, the forgiveness of sin is the effect
of Penance, chiefly by the power of the keys, which is vested in the
ministers, who furnish the formal part of the sacrament, as stated above
(Question , Article ), and secondarily by the instrumentality of those acts of
the penitent which pertain to the virtue of penance, but only in so far
as such acts are, in some way, subordinate to the keys of the Church.
Accordingly it is evident that the forgiveness of sin is the effect of
penance as a virtue, but still more of Penance as a sacrament.
Reply to Objection 1: The effect of operating grace is the justification of the
ungodly (as stated in the FS, Question ), wherein there is, as was there
stated (Articles ,2,3), not only infusion of grace and forgiveness of sin,
but also a movement of the free-will towards God, which is an act of
faith quickened by charity, and a movement of the free-will against sin,
which is the act of penance. Yet these human acts are there as the
effects of operating grace, and are produced at the same time as the
forgiveness of sin. Consequently the forgiveness of sin does not take
place without an act of the virtue of penance, although it is the effect
of operating grace.
Reply to Objection 2: In the justification of the ungodly there is not only an
act of penance, but also an act of faith, as stated above (ad 1: FS,
Question , Article ). Wherefore the forgiveness of sin is accounted the effect
not only of the virtue of penance, but also, and that chiefly, of faith
Reply to Objection 3: The act of the virtue of penance is subordinate to Christ's
Passion both by faith, and by its relation to the keys of the Church; and
so, in both ways, it causes the forgiveness of sin, by the power of
To the argument advanced in the contrary sense we reply that the act of
the virtue of penance is necessary for the forgiveness of sin, through
being an inseparable effect of grace, whereby chiefly is sin pardoned,
and which produces its effect in all the sacraments. Consequently it only
follows that grace is a higher cause of the forgiveness of sin than the
sacrament of Penance. Moreover, it must be observed that, under the Old
Law and the law of nature, there was a sacrament of Penance after a
fashion, as stated above (Question , Article , ad 2).