QUESTION 88: OF THE RETURN OF SINS WHICH HAVE BEEN TAKEN AWAY BY PENANCE
We must now consider the return of sins which have been taken away by
Penance: under which head there are four points of inquiry:
(1) Whether sins which have been taken away by Penance return simply
through a subsequent sin?
(2) Whether more specially as regards certain sins they return, in a
way, on account of ingratitude?
(3) Whether the debt of punishment remains the same for sins thus
(4) Whether this ingratitude, on account of which sins return, is a
Article 1: Whether sins once forgiven return through a subsequent sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that sins once forgiven return through a subsequent
sin. For Augustine says (De Bapt. contra Donat. i, 12): "Our Lord teaches
most explicitly in the Gospel that sins which have been forgiven return,
when fraternal charity ceases, in the example of the servant from whom
his master exacted the payment of the debt already forgiven, because he
had refused to forgive the debt of his fellow-servant." Now fraternal
charity is destroyed through each mortal sin. Therefore sins already
taken away through Penance, return through each subsequent mortal sin.
Objection 2: Further, on Lk. 11:24, "I will return into my house, whence I
came out," Bede says: "This verse should make us tremble, we should not
endeavor to explain it away lest through carelessness we give place to
the sin which we thought to have been taken away, and become its slave
once more." Now this would not be so unless it returned. Therefore a sin
returns after once being taken away by Penance.
Objection 3: Further, the Lord said (Ezech. 18:24): "If the just man turn
himself away from his justice, and do iniquity . . . all his justices
which he hath done, shall not be remembered." Now among the other
"justices" which he had done, is also his previous penance, since it was
said above (Question , Article ) that penance is a part of justice. Therefore
when one who has done penance, sins, his previous penance, whereby he
received forgiveness of his sins, is not imputed to him. Therefore his
Objection 4: Further, past sins are covered by grace, as the Apostle declares
(Rm. 4:7) where he quotes Ps. 31:1: "Blessed are they whose iniquities
are forgiven, and whose sins are covered." But a subsequent mortal sin
takes away grace. Therefore the sins committed previously, become
uncovered: and so, seemingly, they return.
On the contrary, The Apostle says (Rm. 11:29): "The gifts and the
calling of God are without repentance." Now the penitent's sins are taken
away by a gift of God. Therefore the sins which have been taken away do
not return through a subsequent sin, as though God repented His gift of
Moreover, Augustine says (Lib. Resp. Prosperi i [*Cf. Prosper,
Responsiones ad Capitula Gallorum ii]): "When he that turns away from
Christ, comes to the end of this life a stranger to grace, whither does
he go, except to perdition? Yet he does not fall back into that which had
been forgiven, nor will he be condemned for original sin."
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article ), mortal sin contains two
things, aversion from God and adherence to a created good. Now, in mortal
sin, whatever attaches to the aversion, is, considered in itself, common
to all mortal sins, since man turns away from God by every mortal sin, so
that, in consequence, the stain resulting from the privation of grace,
and the debt of everlasting punishment are common to all mortal sins.
This is what is meant by what is written (James 2:10): "Whosoever . . .
shall offend in one point, is become guilty of all." On the other hand,
as regards their adherence they are different from, and sometimes
contrary to one another. Hence it is evident, that on the part of the
adherence, a subsequent mortal sin does not cause the return of mortal
sins previously dispelled, else it would follow that by a sin of
wastefulness a man would be brought back to the habit or disposition of
avarice previously dispelled, so that one contrary would be the cause of
another, which is impossible. But if in mortal sins we consider that
which attaches to the aversion absolutely, then a subsequent mortal sin
[causes the return of that which was comprised in the mortal sins before
they were pardoned, in so far as the subsequent mortal sin] [*The words
in brackets are omitted in the Leonine edition.] deprives man of grace,
and makes him deserving of everlasting punishment, just as he was before.
Nevertheless, since the aversion of mortal sin is [in a way, caused by
the adherence, those things which attach to the aversion are*]
diversified somewhat in relation to various adherences, as it were to
various causes, so that there will be a different aversion, a different
stain, a different debt of punishment, according to the different acts of
mortal sin from which they arise; hence the question is moved whether the
stain and the debt of eternal punishment, as caused by acts of sins
previously pardoned, return through a subsequent mortal sin.
Accordingly some have maintained that they return simply even in this
way. But this is impossible, because what God has done cannot be undone
by the work of man. Now the pardon of the previous sins was a work of
Divine mercy, so that it cannot be undone by man's subsequent sin,
according to Rm. 3:3: "Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without
Wherefore others who maintained the possibility of sins returning, said
that God pardons the sins of a penitent who will afterwards sin again,
not according to His foreknowledge, but only according to His present
justice: since He foresees that He will punish such a man eternally for
his sins, and yet, by His grace, He makes him righteous for the present.
But this cannot stand: because if a cause be placed absolutely, its
effect is placed absolutely; so that if the remission of sins were
effected by grace and the sacraments of grace, not absolutely but under
some condition dependent on some future event, it would follow that
grace and the sacraments of grace are not the sufficient causes of the
remission of sins, which is erroneous, as being derogatory to God's grace.
Consequently it is in no way possible for the stain of past sins and the
debt of punishment incurred thereby, to return, as caused by those acts.
Yet it may happen that a subsequent sinful act virtually contains the
debt of punishment due to the previous sin, in so far as when a man sins
a second time, for this very reason he seems to sin more grievously than
before, as stated in Rm. 2:5: "According to thy hardness and impenitent
heart, thou treasurest up to thyself wrath against the day of wrath,"
from the mere fact, namely, that God's goodness, which waits for us to
repent, is despised. And so much the more is God's goodness despised, if
the first sin is committed a second time after having been forgiven, as
it is a greater favor for the sin to be forgiven than for the sinner to
Accordingly the sin which follows repentance brings back, in a sense,
the debt of punishment due to the sins previously forgiven, not as caused
by those sins already forgiven but as caused by this last sin being
committed, on account of its being aggravated in view of those previous
sins. This means that those sins return, not simply, but in a restricted
sense, viz., in so far as they are virtually contained in the subsequent
Reply to Objection 1: This saying of Augustine seems to refer to the return of
sins as to the debt of eternal punishment considered in itself, namely,
that he who sins after doing penance incurs a debt of eternal punishment,
just as before, but not altogether for the same "reason." Wherefore
Augustine, after saying (Lib. Resp. Prosperi i [*Cf. Prosper,
Responsiones ad Capitula Gallorum ii]) that "he does not fall back into
that which was forgiven, nor will he be condemned for original sin,"
adds: "Nevertheless, for these last sins he will be condemned to the same
death, which he deserved to suffer for the former," because he incurs the
punishment of eternal death which he deserved for his previous sins.
Reply to Objection 2: By these words Bede means that the guilt already forgiven
enslaves man, not by the return of his former debt of punishment, but by
the repetition of his act.
Reply to Objection 3: The effect of a subsequent sin is that the former
"justices" are not remembered, in so far as they were deserving of
eternal life, but not in so far as they were a hindrance to sin.
Consequently if a man sins mortally after making restitution, he does not
become guilty as though he had not paid back what he owed; and much less
is penance previously done forgotten as to the pardon of the guilt, since
this is the work of God rather than of man.
Reply to Objection 4: Grace removes the stain and the debt of eternal punishment simply; but it covers the past sinful acts, lest, on their account, God deprive man of grace, and judge him deserving of eternal punishment; and what grace has once done, endures for ever.
Article 2: Whether sins that have been forgiven, return through ingratitude which is shown especially in four kinds of sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that sins do not return through ingratitude, which
is shown especially in four kinds of sin, viz., hatred of one's neighbor,
apostasy from faith, contempt of confession and regret for past
repentance, and which have been expressed in the following verse:
"Fratres odit, apostata fit, spernitque, fateri,
Poenituisse piget, pristina culpa redit."
For the more grievous the sin committed against God after one has
received the grace of pardon, the greater the ingratitude. But there are
sins more grievous than these, such as blasphemy against God, and the sin
against the Holy Ghost. Therefore it seems that sins already pardoned do
not return through ingratitude as manifested in these sins, any more than
as shown in other sins.
Objection 2: Further, Rabanus says: "God delivered the wicked servant to the
torturers, until he should pay the whole debt, because a man will be
deemed punishable not only for the sins he commits after Baptism, but
also for original sin which was taken away when he was baptized." Now
venial sins are reckoned among our debts, since we pray in their regard:
"Forgive us our trespasses [debita]." Therefore they too return through
ingratitude; and, in like manner seemingly, sins already pardoned return
through venial sins, and not only through those sins mentioned above.
Objection 3: Further, ingratitude is all the greater, according as one sins
after receiving a greater favor. Now innocence whereby one avoids sin is
a Divine favor, for Augustine says (Confess. ii): "Whatever sins I have
avoided committing, I owe it to Thy grace." Now innocence is a greater
gift, than even the forgiveness of all sins. Therefore the first sin
committed after innocence is no less an ingratitude to God, than a sin
committed after repentance, so that seemingly ingratitude in respect of
the aforesaid sins is not the chief cause of sins returning.
On the contrary, Gregory says (Moral. xviii [*Cf. Dial. iv]): "It is
evident from the words of the Gospel that if we do not forgive from our
hearts the offenses committed against us, we become once more accountable
for what we rejoiced in as forgiven through Penance": so that ingratitude
implied in the hatred of one's brother is a special cause of the return
of sins already forgiven: and the same seems to apply to the others.
I answer that, As stated above (Article ), sins pardoned through Penance are
said to return, in so far as their debt of punishment, by reason of
ingratitude, is virtually contained in the subsequent sin. Now one may be
guilty of ingratitude in two ways: first by doing something against the
favor received, and, in this way, man is ungrateful to God in every
mortal sin whereby he offends God Who forgave his sins, so that by every
subsequent mortal sin, the sins previously pardoned return, on account of
the ingratitude. Secondly, one is guilty of ingratitude, by doing
something not only against the favor itself, but also against the form of
the favor received. If this form be considered on the part of the
benefactor, it is the remission of something due to him; wherefore he who
does not forgive his brother when he asks pardon, and persists in his
hatred, acts against this form. If, however, this form be taken in regard
to the penitent who receives this favor, we find on his part a twofold
movement of the free-will. The first is the movement of the free-will
towards God, and is an act of faith quickened by charity; and against
this a man acts by apostatizing from the faith. The second is a movement
of the free-will against sin, and is the act of penance. This act
consists first, as we have stated above (Question , Articles ,5) in man's
detestation of his past sins; and against this a man acts when he regrets
having done penance. Secondly, the act of penance consists in the
penitent purposing to subject himself to the keys of the Church by
confession, according to Ps. 31:5: "I said: I will confess against myself
my injustice to the Lord: and Thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my
sin": and against this a man acts when he scorns to confess as he had
purposed to do.
Accordingly it is said that the ingratitude of sinners is a special
cause of the return of sins previously forgiven.
Reply to Objection 1: This is not said of these sins as though they were more
grievous than others, but because they are more directly opposed to the
favor of the forgiveness of sin.
Reply to Objection 2: Even venial sins and original sin return in the way
explained above, just as mortal sins do, in so far as the favor conferred
by God in forgiving those sins is despised. A man does not, however,
incur ingratitude by committing a venial sin, because by sinning venially
man does not act against God, but apart from Him, wherefore venial sins
nowise cause the return of sins already forgiven.
Reply to Objection 3: A favor can be weighed in two ways. First by the quantity
of the favor itself, and in this way innocence is a greater favor from
God than penance, which is called the second plank after shipwreck (cf.
Question , Article ). Secondly, a favor may be weighed with regard to the
recipient, who is less worthy, wherefore a greater favor is bestowed on
him, so that he is the more ungrateful if he scorns it. In this way the
favor of the pardon of sins is greater when bestowed on one who is
altogether unworthy, so that the ingratitude which follows is all the
Article 3: Whether the debt of punishment that arises through ingratitude in respect of a subsequent sin is as great as that of the sins previously pardoned?
Objection 1: It would seem that the debt of punishment arising through
ingratitude in respect of a subsequent sin is as great as that of the
sins previously pardoned. Because the greatness of the favor of the
pardon of sins is according to the greatness of the sin pardoned, and so
too, in consequence, is the greatness of the ingratitude whereby this
favor is scorned. But the greatness of the consequent debt of punishment
is in accord with the greatness of the ingratitude. Therefore the debt of
punishment arising through ingratitude in respect of a subsequent sin is
as great as the debt of punishment due for all the previous sins.
Objection 2: Further, it is a greater sin to offend God than to offend man.
But a slave who is freed by his master returns to the same state of
slavery from which he was freed, or even to a worse state. Much more
therefore he that sins against God after being freed from sin, returns to
the debt of as great a punishment as he had incurred before.
Objection 3: Further, it is written (Mt. 18:34) that "his lord being angry,
delivered him" (whose sins returned to him on account of his ingratitude)
"to the torturers, until he paid all the debt." But this would not be so
unless the debt of punishment incurred through ingratitude were as great
as that incurred through all previous sins. Therefore an equal debt of
punishment returns through ingratitude.
On the contrary, It is written (Dt. 25:2): "According to the measure of
the sin shall the measure also of the stripes be," whence it is evident
that a great debt of punishment does not arise from a slight sin. But
sometimes a subsequent mortal sin is much less grievous than any one of
those previously pardoned. Therefore the debt of punishment incurred
through subsequent sins is not equal to that of sins previously forgiven.
I answer that, Some have maintained that the debt of punishment incurred
through ingratitude in respect of a subsequent sin is equal to that of
the sins previously pardoned, in addition to the debt proper to this
subsequent sin. But there is no need for this, because, as stated above
(Article ), the debt of punishment incurred by previous sins does not return
on account of a subsequent sin, as resulting from the acts of the
subsequent sin. Wherefore the amount of the debt that returns must be
according to the gravity of the subsequent sin.
It is possible, however, for the gravity of the subsequent sin to equal
the gravity of all previous sins. But it need not always be so, whether
we speak of the gravity which a sin has from its species (since the
subsequent sin may be one of simple fornication, while the previous sins
were adulteries, murders, or sacrileges); or of the gravity which it
incurs through the ingratitude connected with it. For it is not necessary
that the measure of ingratitude should be exactly equal to the measure of
the favor received, which latter is measured according to the greatness
of the sins previously pardoned. Because it may happen that in respect of
the same favor, one man is very ungrateful, either on account of the
intensity of his scorn for the favor received, or on account of the
gravity of the offense committed against the benefactor, while another
man is slightly ungrateful, either because his scorn is less intense, or
because his offense against the benefactor is less grave. But the measure
of ingratitude is proportionately equal to the measure of the favor
received: for supposing an equal contempt of the favor, or an equal
offense against the benefactor, the ingratitude will be so much the
greater, as the favor received is greater.
Hence it is evident that the debt of punishment incurred by a subsequent
sin need not always be equal to that of previous sins; but it must be in
proportion thereto, so that the more numerous or the greater the sins
previously pardoned, the greater must be the debt of punishment incurred
by any subsequent mortal sin whatever.
Reply to Objection 1: The favor of the pardon of sins takes its absolute quantity
from the quantity of the sins previously pardoned: but the sin of
ingratitude does not take its absolute quantity from the measure of the
favor bestowed, but from the measure of the contempt or of the offense,
as stated above: and so the objection does not prove.
Reply to Objection 2: A slave who has been given his freedom is not brought back
to his previous state of slavery for any kind of ingratitude, but only
when this is grave.
Reply to Objection 3: He whose forgiven sins return to him on account of
subsequent ingratitude, incurs the debt for all, in so far as the measure
of his previous sins is contained proportionally in his subsequent
ingratitude, but not absolutely, as stated above.
Article 4: Whether the ingratitude whereby a subsequent sin causes the return of previous sins, is a special sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that the ingratitude, whereby a subsequent sin
causes the return of sins previously forgiven, is a special sin. For the
giving of thanks belongs to counterpassion which is a necessary condition
of justice, as the Philosopher shows (Ethic. v, 5). But justice is a
special virtue. Therefore this ingratitude is a special sin.
Objection 2: Further, Tully says (De Inv. Rhet. ii) that thanksgiving is a
special virtue. But ingratitude is opposed to thanksgiving. Therefore
ingratitude is a special sin.
Objection 3: Further, a special effect proceeds from a special cause. Now
ingratitude has a special effect, viz. the return, after a fashion, of
sins already forgiven. Therefore ingratitude is a special sin.
On the contrary, That which is a sequel to every sin is not a special
sin. Now by any mortal sin whatever, a man becomes ungrateful to God, as
evidenced from what has been said (Article ). Therefore ingratitude is not a
I answer that, The ingratitude of the sinner is sometimes a special sin;
and sometimes it is not, but a circumstance arising from all mortal sins
in common committed against God. For a sin takes its species according to
the sinner's intention, wherefore the Philosopher says (Ethic. v, 2) that
"he who commits adultery in order to steal is a thief rather than an
If, therefore, a sinner commits a sin in contempt of God and of the
favor received from Him, that sin is drawn to the species of ingratitude,
and in this way a sinner's ingratitude is a special sin. If, however, a
man, while intending to commit a sin, e.g. murder or adultery, is not
withheld from it on account of its implying contempt of God, his
ingratitude will not be a special sin, but will be drawn to the species
of the other sin, as a circumstance thereof. And, as Augustine observes
(De Nat. et Grat. xxix), not every sin implies contempt of God in His
commandments. Therefore it is evident that the sinner's ingratitude is
sometimes a special sin, sometimes not.
This suffices for the Replies to the Objections: for the first (three)
objections prove that ingratitude is in itself a special sin; while the
last objection proves that ingratitude, as included in every sin, is not
a special sin.