St. Edmund Campion Catechism Group - Series 2 Lesson 6

Sin's effect on men


Podcast: Sin's effect on men
Podcast: Notes
Catechism: Q110-127
My Catholic Faith: Chapters 21, 22, 23, 43
Bible: Rom 7
Catholic Encyclopedia: Sin
Aquinas 101: Freedom, HabitsVice & Sin, Virtue, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance
Summa Theologica: Prima Secundae Q71-89, Q85ff
Companion to the Summa: Vol II


To understand the following:

1. Recap

Man has faculties (powers) of the soul: the intellect which has truth as it object, and the will which has good as its object.

Man has faculties of the body: the concupiscible appetite which has good as its object, and the irrascible appetite which has a difficult good as its object. Passions are the motions (feelings) of the concupiscible and irrascible appetites.

In a correctly ordered man (a virtuous man):

  • the passions are submitted to the will,
  • the will is submitted to the intellect,
  • the intellect is submitted to God,
  • intellectual and moral virtues grow with repeated acts of understanding and moral good.

2. Sin brings disorder to man: natural order

Definition of sin: Sin is an offence against God by any thought, word, deed, or omission against the law of God.

Here we are looking at the the effect of sin in the natural order. While man retains the the powers of the soul (intellect and will) in tact, sin diminishes his natural inclination to good acts (i.e. his virtue) and begets habits to evil acts (vice). Sin diminishes virtue and increases vice. The order within man is therefore hampered with the following effect (see Summa Prima Secundae Question 85 Article 3 IaIIaeQ85a3):

  • the intellect is prone to ignorance as the virtue of prudence is diminished
  • the will is prone to malice (deliberately breaking the law) as the virtue of justice is diminished
  • the irrascible appetite is unchecked due to weakness as the virtue of fortitude is diminished
  • the concupiscible appetite is unchecked due to concupiscence as the virtue of temperance is diminished

The result is that

  • the passions and the intellect fight for control of the will
  • the judgement of the intellect is prone to error
  • vices increase, virtue diminish

3. Why we say that sin enslaves man

Freedom in the theological sense is the perfection of being uninhibited in one's attainment of good (n.b. this is a different definition to the colloquial sense, where freedom means being uninhibited in making a choice between opposites). Sin places obstacles on the path to goodness (including the ultimate Goodness which is God) which means that it limits freedom. Or we can say it takes away freedom. Sin therefore enslaves. This is why St. Paul says: "For the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do." (Rom 7:19)

4. Sin brings disorder to man: supernatural order

When Adam committed Original Sin, he lost the state of Original Justice which was the state of grace and the supernatural gifts & virtues that he was created with. He also lost the praternatural gifts of knowledge, integrity, impassibility and immortality.

We can commit sin in two ways: we can commit a mortal sin or a venial sin.

  1. A mortal sin is an act against the law of God which is (a) grave, and is committed with full (b) avertence and (c) consent. It is a rebellion against God's will which makes the state of grace incongruous in the soul.  Mortal sin, therefore, causes us to lose the life of grace in the soul together with the supernatural gifts and virtues. We can say that the mortal sinner rips God from his soul. It occurs when a man pursues a temporal good (e.g. another man's wife) which does not lead to God.
  2. A venial sin is an offence against the law of God which is not a radical rebellion against God's will. It does not cause a loss or even a diminishing of grace, but it does erect obstacles (vices) on the path to God. It disposes a soul to mortal sin.

5. Becoming good again and staying good

Just like a boy who smashes a window by imprudence must (a) apologise and (b) pay something for the window, a sinner must (a) repent of his sin and (b) make reparation for the injustice done. In the natural order, an apology and some act of reparation will most often restore the sinner to favour again; in the supernatural order, confession and penance will have the same effect.

Now, while a man who is freshly pardoned/confessed is made good again, he is still fragile if he has the habit of evil acts (vices). He needs to acquire the virtues that he lacks by repeated good acts. As he acquires virtue, vice diminishes.

A man may be aided in the virtuous life by fear (within limits): fear of hell, fear of punishment, fear of shame.

6. Moral virtues

Moral virtues are dispositions or habits to act well. There are four cardinal virtues about which all other moral virtues turn:

  • Prudence: the habit of right reasoning about things to be done (an intellectual virtue)
  • Justice: the habit of rendering to another that which is his due (a virtue of the will)
  • Fortitude: the habit of overcoming obstacles to goodness (a virtue of the irascible appetite)
  • Temperance: the habit of moderating the concupiscible passions (a virtue of the cocupiscible appetite)