QUESTION 5: OF THE EFFECT OF CONTRITION
We must now consider the effect of contrition: under which head there
are three points of inquiry:
(1) Whether the remission of sin is the effect of contrition?
(2) Whether contrition can take away the debt of punishment entirely?
(3) Whether slight contrition suffices to blot out great sins?
Article 1: Whether the forgiveness of sin is the effect of contrition?
Objection 1: It would seem that the forgiveness of sin is not the effect of
contrition. For God alone forgives sins. But we are somewhat the cause of
contrition, since it is an act of our own. Therefore contrition is not
the cause of forgiveness.
Objection 2: Further, contrition is an act of virtue. Now virtue follows the
forgiveness of sin: because virtue and sin are not together in the soul.
Therefore contrition is not the cause of the forgiveness of sin.
Objection 3: Further, nothing but sin is an obstacle to receiving the
Eucharist. But the contrite should not go to Communion before going to
confession. Therefore they have not yet received the forgiveness of their
On the contrary, a gloss on Ps. 50:19, "A sacrifice to God is an
afflicted spirit," says: "A hearty contrition is the sacrifice by which
sins are loosed."
Further, virtue and vice are engendered and corrupted by the same
causes, as stated in Ethic. ii, 1,2. Now sin is committed through the
heart's inordinate love. Therefore it is destroyed by sorrow caused by
the heart's ordinate love; and consequently contrition blots out sin.
I answer that, Contrition can be considered in two ways, either as part
of a sacrament, or as an act of virtue, and in either case it is the
cause of the forgiveness of sin, but not in the same way. Because, as
part of a sacrament, it operates primarily as an instrument for the
forgiveness of sin, as is evident with regard to the other sacraments
(cf. Sent. iv, D, 1, Question , Article : TP, Question , Article ); while, as an act of
virtue, it is the quasi-material cause of sin's forgiveness. For a
disposition is, as it were, a necessary condition for justification, and
a disposition is reduced to a material cause, if it be taken to denote
that which disposes matter to receive something. It is otherwise in the
case of an agent's disposition to act, because this is reduced to the
genus of efficient cause.
Reply to Objection 1: God alone is the principal efficient cause of the
forgiveness of sin: but the dispositive cause can be from us also, and
likewise the sacramental cause, since the sacramental forms are words
uttered by us, having an instrumental power of conferring grace whereby
sins are forgiven.
Reply to Objection 2: The forgiveness of sin precedes virtue and the infusion of
grace, in one way, and, in another, follows: and in so far as it follows,
the act elicited by the virtue can be a cause of the forgiveness of sin.
Reply to Objection 3: The dispensation of the Eucharist belongs to the ministers
of the Church: wherefore a man should not go to Communion until his sin
has been forgiven through the ministers of the Church, although his sin
may be forgiven him before God.
Article 2: Whether contrition can take away the debt of punishment entirely?
Objection 1: It would seem that contrition cannot take away the debt of
punishment entirely. For satisfaction and confession are ordained for
man's deliverance from the debt of punishment. Now no man is so perfectly
contrite as not to be bound to confession and satisfaction. Therefore
contrition is never so great as to blot out the entire debt of punishment.
Objection 2: Further, in Penance the punishment should in some way compensate
for the sin. Now some sins are accomplished by members of the body.
Therefore, since it is for the due compensation for sin that "by what
things a man sinneth, by the same also he is tormented" (Wis. 11:17), it
seems that the punishment for suchlike sins can never be remitted by
Objection 3: Further, the sorrow of contrition is finite. Now an infinite punishment is due for some, viz. mortal, sins. Therefore contrition can never be so great as to remit the whole punishment.
On the contrary, The affections of the heart are more acceptable to God
than external acts. Now man is absolved from both punishment and guilt by
means of external actions; and therefore he is also by means of the
heart's affections, such as contrition is.
Further, we have an example of this in the thief, to whom it was said
(Lk. 23:43): "This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise," on account of
his one act of repentance.
As to whether the whole debt of punishment is always taken away by
contrition, this question has already been considered above (Sent. iv, D,
14, Question , Articles ,2; TP, Question , Article ), where the same question was raised
with regard to Penance.
I answer that, The intensity of contrition may be regarded in two ways.
First, on the part of charity, which causes the displeasure, and in this
way it may happen that the act of charity is so intense that the
contrition resulting therefrom merits not only the removal of guilt, but
also the remission of all punishment. Secondly, on the part of the
sensible sorrow, which the will excites in contrition: and since this
sorrow is also a kind of punishment, it may be so intense as to suffice
for the remission of both guilt and punishment.
Reply to Objection 1: A man cannot be sure that his contrition suffices for the
remission of both punishment and guilt: wherefore he is bound to confess
and to make satisfaction, especially since his contrition would not be
true contrition, unless he had the purpose of confessing united thereto:
which purpose must also be carried into effect, on account of the precept
given concerning confession.
Reply to Objection 2: Just as inward joy redounds into the outward parts of the
body, so does interior sorrow show itself in the exterior members:
wherefore it is written (Prov. 17:22): "A sorrowful spirit drieth up the
Reply to Objection 3: Although the sorrow of contrition is finite in its
intensity, even as the punishment due for mortal sin is finite; yet it
derives infinite power from charity, whereby it is quickened, and so it
avails for the remission of both guilt and punishment.
Article 3: Whether slight contrition suffices to blot out great sins?
Objection 1: It would seem that slight contrition does not suffice to blot out
great sins. For contrition is the remedy for sin. Now a bodily remedy,
that heals a lesser bodily infirmity, does not suffice to heal a greater.
Therefore the least contrition does not suffice to blot out very great
Objection 2: Further, it was stated above (Question , Article ) that for greater sins
one ought to have greater contrition. Now contrition does not blot out
sin, unless it fulfills the requisite conditions. Therefore the least
contrition does not blot out all sins.
On the contrary, Every sanctifying grace blots out every mortal sin,
because it is incompatible therewith. Now every contrition is quickened
by sanctifying grace. Therefore, however slight it be, it blots out all
I answer that, As we have often said (Question , Article , ad 1; Question , Article ; Question , Article ), contrition includes a twofold sorrow. One is in the reason, and
is displeasure at the sin committed. This can be so slight as not to
suffice for real contrition, e.g. if a sin were less displeasing to a
man, than separation from his last end ought to be; just as love can be
so slack as not to suffice for real charity. The other sorrow is in the
senses, and the slightness of this is no hindrance to real contrition,
because it does not, of itself, belong essentially to contrition, but is
connected with it accidentally: nor again is it under our control.
Accordingly we must say that sorrow, however slight it be, provided it
suffice for true contrition, blots out all sin.
Reply to Objection 1: Spiritual remedies derive infinite efficacy from the
infinite power which operates in them: wherefore the remedy which
suffices for healing a slight sin, suffices also to heal a great sin.
This is seen in Baptism which looses great and small: and the same
applies to contrition provided it fulfill the necessary conditions.
Reply to Objection 2: It follows of necessity that a man grieves more for a
greater sin than for a lesser, according as it is more repugnant to the
love which causes his sorrow. But if one has the same degree of sorrow
for a greater sin, as another has for a lesser, this would suffice for
the remission of the sin.