QUESTION 90: OF THE PARTS OF PENANCE, IN GENERAL
We must now consider the parts of Penance: (1) in general. (2) each one
Under the first head there are four points of inquiry:
(1) Whether Penance has any parts?
(2) Of the number of its parts;
(3) What kind of parts are they?
(4) Of its division into subjective parts.
Article 1: Whether Penance should be assigned any parts?
Objection 1: It would seem that parts should not be assigned to Penance. For
it is the Divine power that works our salvation most secretly in the
sacraments. Now the Divine power is one and simple. Therefore Penance,
being a sacrament, should have no parts assigned to it.
Objection 2: Further, Penance is both a virtue and a sacrament. Now no parts
are assigned to it as a virtue, since virtue is a habit, which is a
simple quality of the mind. In like manner, it seems that parts should
not be assigned to Penance as a sacrament, because no parts are assigned
to Baptism and the other sacraments. Therefore no parts at all should be
assigned to Penance.
On the contrary, The parts of a thing are those out of which the whole
is composed. Now the perfection of Penance is composed of several things,
viz. contrition, confession, and satisfaction. Therefore Penance has
I answer that, The parts of a thing are those into which the whole is divided materially, for the parts of a thing are to the whole, what matter is to the form; wherefore the parts are reckoned as a kind of material cause, and the whole as a kind of formal cause (Phys. ii). Accordingly wherever, on the part of matter, we find a kind of plurality, there we shall find a reason for assigning parts.
Now it has been stated above (Question , Articles ,3), that, in the sacrament of
Penance, human actions stand as matter: and so, since several actions are
requisite for the perfection of Penance, viz., contrition, confession,
and satisfaction, as we shall show further on (Article ), it follows that the
sacrament of Penance has parts.
Reply to Objection 1: Every sacrament is something simple by reason of the Divine
power, which operates therein: but the Divine power is so great that it
can operate both through one and through many, and by reason of these
many, parts may be assigned to a particular sacrament.
Reply to Objection 2: Parts are not assigned to penance as a virtue: because the
human acts of which there are several in penance, are related to the
habit of virtue, not as its parts, but as its effects. It follows,
therefore, that parts are assigned to Penance as a sacrament, to which
the human acts are related as matter: whereas in the other sacraments the
matter does not consist of human acts, but of some one external thing,
either simple, as water or oil, or compound, as chrism, and so parts are
not assigned to the other sacraments.
Reply to Objection 3: Sins are the remote matter of Penance, inasmuch, to wit, as
they are the matter or object of the human acts, which are the proper
matter of Penance as a sacrament.
Article 2: Whether contrition, confession, and satisfaction are fittingly assigned as parts of Penance?
Objection 1: It would seem that contrition, confession, and satisfaction are
not fittingly assigned as parts of Penance. For contrition is in the
heart, and so belongs to interior penance; while confession consists of
words, and satisfaction in deeds; so that the two latter belong to
interior penance. Now interior penance is not a sacrament, but only
exterior penance which is perceptible by the senses. Therefore these
three parts are not fittingly assigned to the sacrament of Penance.
Objection 2: Further, grace is conferred in the sacraments of the New Law, as
stated above (Question , Articles ,3). But no grace is conferred in satisfaction.
Therefore satisfaction is not part of a sacrament.
Objection 3: Further, the fruit of a thing is not the same as its part. But
satisfaction is a fruit of penance, according to Lk. 3:8: "Bring forth .
. . fruits worthy of penance." Therefore it is not a part of Penance.
Objection 4: Further, Penance is ordained against sin. But sin can be completed merely in the thought by consent, as stated in the FS, Question , Article : therefore Penance can also. Therefore confession in word and satisfaction in deed should not be reckoned as parts of Penance.
On the contrary, It seems that yet more parts should be assigned to
Penance. For not only is the body assigned as a part of man, as being the
matter, but also the soul, which is his form. But the aforesaid three,
being the acts of the penitent, stand as matter, while the priestly
absolution stands as form. Therefore the priestly absolution should be
assigned as a fourth part of Penance.
I answer that, A part is twofold, essential and quantitative. The
essential parts are naturally the form and the matter, and logically the
genus and the difference. In this way, each sacrament is divided into
matter and form as its essential parts. Hence it has been said above
(Question , Articles ,6) that sacraments consist of things and words. But since
quantity is on the part of matter, quantitative parts are parts of
matter: and, in this way, as stated above (Article ), parts are assigned
specially to the sacrament of Penance, as regards the acts of the
penitent, which are the matter of this sacrament.
Now it has been said above (Question , Article , ad 3) that an offense is atoned
otherwise in Penance than in vindictive justice. Because, in vindictive
justice the atonement is made according to the judge's decision, and not
according to the discretion of the offender or of the person offended;
whereas, in Penance, the offense is atoned according to the will of the
sinner, and the judgment of God against Whom the sin was committed,
because in the latter case we seek not only the restoration of the
equality of justice, as in vindictive justice, but also and still more
the reconciliation of friendship, which is accomplished by the offender
making atonement according to the will of the person offended.
Accordingly the first requisite on the part of the penitent is the will
to atone, and this is done by contrition; the second is that he submit to
the judgment of the priest standing in God's place, and this is done in
confession; and the third is that he atone according to the decision of
God's minister, and this is done in satisfaction: and so contrition,
confession, and satisfaction are assigned as parts of Penance.
Reply to Objection 1: Contrition, as to its essence, is in the heart, and belongs
to interior penance; yet, virtually, it belongs to exterior penance,
inasmuch as it implies the purpose of confessing and making satisfaction.
Reply to Objection 2: Satisfaction confers grace, in so far as it is in man's
purpose, and it increases grace, according as it is accomplished, just as
Baptism does in adults, as stated above (Question , Article ; Question , Article ).
Reply to Objection 3: Satisfaction is a part of Penance as a sacrament, and a
fruit of penance as a virtue.
Reply to Objection 4: More things are required for good, "which proceeds from a
cause that is entire," than for evil, "which results from each single
defect," as Dionysius states (Div. Nom. iv). And thus, although sin is
completed in the consent of the heart, yet the perfection of Penance
requires contrition of the heart, together with confession in word and
satisfaction in deed.
The Reply to the Fifth Objection is clear from what has been said.
Article 3: Whether these three are integral parts of Penance?
Objection 1: It would seem that these three are not integral parts of Penance.
For, as stated above (Question , Article ), Penance is ordained against sin. But
sins of thought, word, and deed are the subjective and not integral parts
of sin, because sin is predicated of each one of them. Therefore in
Penance also, contrition in thought, confession in word, and satisfaction
in deed are not integral parts.
Objection 2: Further, no integral part includes within itself another that is
condivided with it. But contrition includes both confession and
satisfaction in the purpose of amendment. Therefore they are not integral
Objection 3: Further, a whole is composed of its integral parts, taken at the
same time and equally, just as a line is made up of its parts. But such
is not the case here. Therefore these are not integral parts of Penance.
On the contrary, Integral parts are those by which the perfection of the
whole is integrated. But the perfection of Penance is integrated by these
three. Therefore they are integral parts of Penance.
I answer that, Some have said that these three are subjective parts of
Penance. But this is impossible, because the entire power of the whole is
present in each subjective part at the same time and equally, just as the
entire power of an animal, as such, is assured to each animal species,
all of which species divide the animal genus at the same time and
equally: which does not apply to the point in question. Wherefore others
have said that these are potential parts: yet neither can this be true,
since the whole is present, as to the entire essence, in each potential
part, just as the entire essence of the soul is present in each of its
powers: which does not apply to the case in point. Therefore it follows
that these three are integral parts of Penance, the nature of which is
that the whole is not present in each of the parts, either as to its
entire power, or as to its entire essence, but that it is present to all
of them together at the same time.
Reply to Objection 1: Sin forasmuch as it is an evil, can be completed in one
single point, as stated above (Article , ad 4); and so the sin which is
completed in thought alone, is a special kind of sin. Another species is
the sin that is completed in thought and word: and yet a third species is
the sin that is completed in thought, word, and deed; and the
quasi-integral parts of this last sin, are that which is in thought, that
which is in word, and that which is in deed. Wherefore these three are
the integral parts of Penance, which is completed in them.
Reply to Objection 2: One integral part can include the whole, though not as to
its essence: because the foundation, in a way, contains virtually the
whole building. In this way contrition includes virtually the whole of
Reply to Objection 3: All integral parts have a certain relation of order to one
another: but some are only related as to position, whether in sequence as
the parts of an army, or by contact, as the parts of a heap, or by being
fitted together, as the parts of a house, or by continuation, as the
parts of a line; while some are related, in addition, as to power, as the
parts of an animal, the first of which is the heart, the others in a
certain order being dependent on one another: and thirdly some are
related in the order of time: as the parts of time and movement.
Accordingly the parts of Penance are related to one another in the order
of power and time, since they are actions, but not in the order of
position, since they do not occupy a place.
Article 4: Whether Penance is fittingly divided into penance before Baptism, penance for mortal sins, and penance for venial sins?
Objection 1: It would seem that penance is unfittingly divided into penance
before Baptism, penance for mortal, and penance for venial sins. For
Penance is the second plank after shipwreck, as stated above (Question , Article ), while Baptism is the first. Therefore that which precedes Baptism
should not be called a species of penance.
Objection 2: Further, that which can destroy the greater, can destroy the
lesser. Now mortal sin is greater than venial; and penance which regards
mortal sins regards also venial sins. Therefore they should not be
considered as different species of penance.
Objection 3: Further, just as after Baptism man commits venial and mortal
sins, so does he before Baptism. If therefore penance for venial sins is
distinct from penance for mortal sins after Baptism, in like manner they
should be distinguished before Baptism. Therefore penance is not
fittingly divided into these species.
On the contrary, Augustine says in De Poenitentia [*Cf. Hom. 30 inter 1]
that these three are species of Penance.
I answer that, This is a division of penance as a virtue. Now it must be
observed that every virtue acts in accordance with the time being, as
also in keeping with other due circumstances, wherefore the virtue of
penance has its act at this time, according to the requirements of the
Now it belongs to penance to detest one's past sins, and to purpose, at
the same time, to change one's life for the better, which is the end, so
to speak, of penance. And since moral matters take their species from the
end, as stated in the FS, Question , Article ; FS, 18, Articles ,6, it is reasonable
to distinguish various species of penance, according to the various
changes intended by the penitent.
Accordingly there is a threefold change intended by the penitent. The
first is by regeneration unto a new life, and this belongs to that
penance which precedes Baptism. The second is by reforming one's past
life after it has been already destroyed, and this belongs to penance for
mortal sins committed after Baptism. The third is by changing to a more
perfect operation of life, and this belongs to penance for venial sins,
which are remitted through a fervent act of charity, as stated above
(Question , Articles ,3).
Reply to Objection 1: The penance which precedes Baptism is not a sacrament, but
an act of virtue disposing one to that sacrament.
Reply to Objection 2: The penance which washes away mortal sins, washes away
venial sins also, but the converse does not hold. Wherefore these two
species of penance are related to one another as perfect and imperfect.
Reply to Objection 3: Before Baptism there are no venial sins without mortal
sins. And since a venial sin cannot be remitted without mortal sin, as
stated above (Question , Article ), before Baptism, penance for mortal sins is
not distinct from penance for venial sins.