The Ways to Wisdom

The Ways to Wisdom

Aquinas Day by Day: Original Sin


Aquinas’ Topic: Original Sin

Scripture: Genesis 3:5-7

“The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.”

Aquinas’ text:  De malo 4.2c

Church Calendar: 1st Sunday in Lent

Here Br. Thomas explains the nature of original sin.

Aquinas’s question: “Is original sin concupiscence?”

Aquinas’s response:

Original sin is attributed to this or that person as considered part of a multitude descended from Adam, as though if he were a particular limb of one human. It was said above that of one human sinner there is one sin, because it is referred to the whole human race and to the first cause of sinning, although the sin is executed by different members. Therefore, original sin in this or that human is nothing other than what comes to him by way of origin from the sin of the first parent. Just as sin in a hand or in an eye is nothing other than what comes to the hand or to the eye from the movement of the first cause of sinning, which is the will, even though in the one case the motion comes about by way of natural origin and in the other case from command of the will. Now what comes to the hand from the sin of one individual human is a certain effect or impression coming from the first inordinate motion that was in the will. Consequently, it is necessary that it produce its likeness.

Now inordinate motion in the will is a conversion to some temporal good, but lacking proper order to the obligatory end. This lack of order is an aversion from immutable good. The aversion is, as it were, the formal element, while the conversion is, as it were, the material element. For the formal nature of a moral act is taken from its relation to the end. Consequently, what involves the hand in the sin of one human is nothing other than applying it to some effect that lacks the order of justice. To be sure, if the motion of the will arrives at something not able to sin, for example, a lance or a sword, we do not say sin is there except virtually and in the manner an effect, namely, to the extent that the lance or sword is moved through the act of sin and produces the effect of the sin. Not that the lance or the sword themselves sin, because they are not some part of the sinning human, such as the hand or the eye.

Therefore, in the sin of the first parent there was something formal, namely, an aversion away from immutable good, and something material, namely, a conversion to mutable good. Since he turned away from immutable good, he lost the gift of original justice, and since he turned in a disordered way to mutable good, the lesser powers that ought to be elevated to reason were depressed to inferior things. 

Therefore, in those who descend from him the higher part of the soul lacks the proper ordering to God which it had by virtue of original justice, and the lower powers are not subject to reason but are turned to lower things in accord with their own impulses, and the body itself also tends to corrupt into the contraries from which it is composed. But the higher part of the soul, and even some of the lower powers that are under the will and by nature should obey it, receive this result of the first sin as a fault. For these parts are susceptible to fault. But the lower powers that are not subject to the will, namely, the powers of the vegetative soul, and also the body itself, receive this result as a penalty, not as a fault except perhaps virtually, namely, as a penalty of this sort resulting from sin is productive of sin, because the power of generation, through detachment of bodily seed, produces the transmission of original sin along with human nature.

Now among the higher powers that receive the defect of guilt transmitted by way of origin, there is one that moves all the others, namely, the will, while all the others are moved by it to their acts. Now it is always true that what falls on the side of agent and mover is, as it were, formal. What falls on the side of the movable and receptive is, as it were, material. Therefore, since the absence of original justice falls on the side of the will, but on the side of the inferior powers moved by the will falls a proneness to disordered desire, which may be called “concupiscence,” it follows that original sin in this or in that human is nothing other than concupiscence along with the absence of original justice, in such a way, however, that the absence of original justice is, as it were, formal in original sin, while concupiscence is, as it were, material. Therefore, just as in actual sin, aversion from immutable good is, as it were, formal, while conversion to mutable good is, as it were, material, likewise, as in original sin, the soul is understood to be averted and converted, in actual sin the action, as I might call it, is averted and converted.

Dicendum quod veritas huius quaestionis accipi potest ex his quae supra dicta sunt. Dictum est enim supra, quod peccatum originale est huius personae vel illius, prout consideratur ut pars quaedam multitudinis ab Adam derivatae, ac si esset quoddam membrum unius hominis. Dictum est etiam quod unius hominis peccantis est unum peccatum, secundum quod ad totum refertur et ad primum peccandi principium, licet executio peccati fiat per diversa membra. Sic ergo peccatum originale in isto homine vel in illo nihil est aliud quam id quod ad ipsum pervenit per originem ex peccato primi parentis. Sicut peccatum in manu aut in oculo nihil aliud est quam id quod pervenit ad manum vel ad oculum ex motione primi principii peccantis, quod est voluntas; licet ex una parte fiat motio per naturalem originem, ex alia vero parte per imperium voluntatis. Id vero quod pervenit ad manum de peccato unius hominis singularis, est quidam effectus et impressio motus primi inordinati, qui erat in voluntate: unde oportet quod eius similitudinem gerat. Motus autem voluntatis inordinatus est conversio ad bonum aliquod temporale absque ordine convenienti ad debitum finem. Quae quidem inordinatio est aversio ab incommutabili bono; et hoc est quasi formale, illud autem quasi materiale, nam formalis ratio moralis actus accipitur per comparationem ad finem. Unde et id quod ad manum pertinet de peccato unius hominis, nihil aliud est quam applicatio eius ad aliquem effectum sine aliquo ordine iustitiae. Iam vero si motus voluntatis pervenit ad aliquod quod non est susceptivum peccati, puta ad lanceam vel gladium, non dicimus ibi esse peccatum nisi virtualiter et per modum effectus, in quantum scilicet lancea vel gladius movetur per actum peccati et perficit peccati effectum, non quod ipsa lancea vel gladius peccet quia non sunt aliquid hominis peccantis, sicut manus vel oculus.

Sic ergo in peccato primi parentis fuit aliquid formale, scilicet aversio ab incommutabili bono, et aliquid materiale, scilicet conversio ad bonum commutabile. Ex hoc autem quod aversus fuit ab incommutabili bono, donum originalis iustitiae amisit; ex hoc vero quod conversus est inordinate ad commutabile bonum, inferiores vires quae erigi debebant ad rationem, depressae sunt ad inferiora. Sic ergo et in his quae ex eius stirpe oriuntur, et superior pars animae caret debito ordine ad Deum, qui erat per originalem iustitiam, et inferiores vires non subduntur rationi, sed ad inferiora convertuntur secundum proprium impetum; et ipsum etiam corpus in corruptione tendit secundum inclinationem contrariorum ex quibus componitur. Sed superior pars animae, et etiam quaedam inferiorum virium, quae sunt sub voluntate, et ei natae sunt obedire, recipiunt huiusmodi sequelam primi peccati secundum rationem culpae: sunt enim culpae susceptivae huiusmodi partes. Sed inferiores vires quae non subduntur voluntati, scilicet potentiae animae vegetabilis, et etiam ipsum corpus, suscipit huiusmodi sequelam secundum rationem poenae, non secundum rationem culpae; nisi forte virtualiter, prout scilicet huiusmodi poena peccatum consequens, peccati est productiva, secundum quod vis generativa per decisionem corporalis seminis operatur ad traductionem peccati originalis simul cum humana natura.

Sed inter superiores vires quae suscipiunt defectum per originem traductum secundum rationem culpae, una est quae omnes alias movet, scilicet voluntas; omnes autem aliae moventur ab ea ad suos actus. Semper autem quod est ex parte agentis et moventis, est sicut formale: quod autem est ex parte mobilis et patientis, est sicut materiale. Et ideo cum carentia originalis iustitiae se habeat ex parte voluntatis, ex parte autem inferiorum virium a voluntate motarum sit pronitas ad inordinate appetendum, quae concupiscentia dici potest; sequitur quod peccatum originale in hoc homine vel in illo nihil est aliud quam concupiscentia cum carentia originalis iustitiae, ita tamen quod carentia originalis iustitiae est quasi formale in peccato originali, concupiscentia autem est quasi materiale; sicut et in peccato actuali aversio ab incommutabili bono est quasi formale, conversio autem ad commutabile bonum est quasi materiale; ut sic intelligatur in peccato originali aversa anima et conversa, sicut in peccato actuali actus, ut ita dicam, aversus et converses.

[Introductions and translations © R.E. Houser]

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