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St. Thomas Aquinas
Summa Theologica

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  • SECOND PART
    • Aquin.: SMT SS Q[1] Out. Para. 1/4 - SECOND PART OF THE SECOND PART (SS) (QQ[1]-189)
      • Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] Out. Para. 1/1 - OF INCONTINENCE (FOUR ARTICLES)
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Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] Out. Para. 1/1 - OF INCONTINENCE (FOUR ARTICLES)

We must now consider incontinence: and under this head there are four
points of inquiry:

(1) Whether incontinence pertains to the soul or to the body?

(2) Whether incontinence is a sin?

(3) The comparison between incontinence and intemperance;

(4) Which is the worse, incontinence in anger, or incontinence in desire?


Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[1] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether incontinence pertains to the soul or to the body?

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[1] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It would seem that incontinence pertains not to the soul but to
the body. For sexual diversity comes not from the soul but from the body.
Now sexual diversity causes diversity of incontinence: for the
Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 5) that women are not described either as
continent or as incontinent. Therefore incontinence pertains not to the
soul but to the body.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[1] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, that which pertains to the soul does not result from
the temperament of the body. But incontinence results from the bodily
temperament: for the Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 7) that "it is
especially people of a quick or choleric and atrabilious temper whose
incontinence is one of unbridled desire." Therefore incontinence regards
the body.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[1] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, victory concerns the victor rather than the vanquished.
Now a man is said to be incontinent, because "the flesh lusteth against
the spirit," and overcomes it. Therefore incontinence pertains to the
flesh rather than to the soul.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[1] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, Man differs from beast chiefly as regards the soul. Now
they differ in respect of continence and incontinence, for we ascribe
neither continence nor incontinence to the beasts, as the Philosopher
states (Ethic. vii, 3). Therefore incontinence is chiefly on the part of
the soul.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[1] Body Para. 1/1

I answer that, Things are ascribed to their direct causes rather than to
those which merely occasion them. Now that which is on the part of the
body is merely an occasional cause of incontinence; since it is owing to
a bodily disposition that vehement passions can arise in the sensitive
appetite which is a power of the organic body. Yet these passions,
however vehement they be, are not the sufficient cause of incontinence,
but are merely the occasion thereof, since, so long as the use of reason
remains, man is always able to resist his passions. If, however, the
passions gain such strength as to take away the use of reason
altogether - as in the case of those who become insane through the
vehemence of their passions - the essential conditions of continence or
incontinence cease, because such people do not retain the judgment of
reason, which the continent man follows and the incontinent forsakes.
From this it follows that the direct cause of incontinence is on the part
of the soul, which fails to resist a passion by the reason. This happens
in two ways, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. vii, 7): first, when
the soul yields to the passions, before the reason has given its counsel;
and this is called "unbridled incontinence" or "impetuosity": secondly,
when a man does not stand to what has been counselled, through holding
weakly to reason's judgment; wherefore this kind of incontinence is
called "weakness." Hence it is manifest that incontinence pertains
chiefly to the soul.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[1] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: The human soul is the form of the body, and has certain
powers which make use of bodily organs. The operations of these organs
conduce somewhat to those operations of the soul which are accomplished
without bodily instruments, namely to the acts of the intellect and of
the will, in so far as the intellect receives from the senses, and the
will is urged by passions of the sensitive appetite. Accordingly, since
woman, as regards the body, has a weak temperament, the result is that
for the most part, whatever she holds to, she holds to it weakly;
although in /rare cases the opposite occurs, according to Prov. 31:10,
"Who shall find a valiant woman?" And since small and weak things "are
accounted as though they were not" [*Aristotle, Phys. ii, 5] the
Philosopher speaks of women as though they had not the firm judgment of
reason, although the contrary happens in some women. Hence he states that
"we do not describe women as being continent, because they are
vacillating" through being unstable of reason, and "are easily led" so
that they follow their passions readily.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[1] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: It is owing to the impulse of passion that a man at once
follows his passion before his reason counsels him. Now the impulse of
passion may arise either from its quickness, as in bilious persons [*Cf.
FS, Q[46], A[5]], or from its vehemence, as in the melancholic, who on
account of their earthy temperament are most vehemently aroused. Even so,
on the other hand, a man fails to stand to that which is counselled,
because he holds to it in weakly fashion by reason of the softness of his
temperament, as we have stated with regard to woman (ad 1). This is also
the case with phlegmatic temperaments, for the same reason as in women.
And these results are due to the fact that the bodily temperament is an
occasional but not a sufficient cause of incontinence, as stated above.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[1] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: In the incontinent man concupiscence of the flesh overcomes
the spirit, not necessarily, but through a certain negligence of the
spirit in not resisting strongly.


Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[2] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether incontinence is a sin?

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[2] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It would seem that incontinence is not a sin. For as Augustine
says (De Lib. Arb. iii, 18): "No man sins in what he cannot avoid." Now
no man can by himself avoid incontinence, according to Wis. 8:21, "I know
[Vulg.: 'knew'] that I could not . . . be continent, except God gave it."
Therefore incontinence is not a sin.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[2] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, apparently every sin originates in the reason. But the
judgment of reason is overcome in the incontinent man. Therefore
incontinence is not a sin.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[2] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, no one sins in loving God vehemently. Now a man becomes
incontinent through the vehemence of divine love: for Dionysius says
(Div. Nom. iv) that "Paul, through incontinence of divine love,
exclaimed: I live, now not I" (Gal. 2:20). Therefore incontinence is not
a sin.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[2] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, It is numbered together with other sins (2 Tim. 3:3)
where it is written: "Slanderers, incontinent, unmerciful," etc.
Therefore incontinence is a sin.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[2] Body Para. 1/2

I answer that, Incontinence about a matter may be considered in two
ways. First it may be considered properly and simply: and thus
incontinence is about concupiscences of pleasures of touch, even as
intemperance is, as we have said in reference to continence (Q[155], A[2]
). In this way incontinence is a sin for two reasons: first, because the
incontinent man goes astray from that which is in accord with reason;
secondly, because he plunges into shameful pleasures. Hence the
Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 4) that "incontinence is censurable not
only because it is wrong" - that is, by straying from reason - "but also
because it is wicked" - that is, by following evil desires. Secondly,
incontinence about a matter is considered, properly - inasmuch as it is a
straying from reason - but not simply; for instance when a man does not
observe the mode of reason in his desire for honor, riches, and so forth,
which seem to be good in themselves. About such things there is
incontinence, not simply but relatively, even as we have said above in
reference to continence (Q[155], A[2], ad 3). In this way incontinence is
a sin, not from the fact that one gives way to wicked desires, but
because one fails to observe the mode of reason even in the desire for
things that are of themselves desirable.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[2] Body Para. 2/2

Thirdly, incontinence is said to be about a matter, not properly, but
metaphorically. for instance about the desires for things of which one
cannot make an evil use, such as the desire for virtue. A man may be said
to be incontinent in these matters metaphorically, because just as the
incontinent man is entirely led by his evil desire, even so is a man
entirely led by his good desire which is in accord with reason. Such like
incontinence is no sin, but pertains to the perfection of virtue.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[2] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: Man can avoid sin and do good, yet not without God's help,
according to Jn. 15:5: "Without Me you can do nothing." Wherefore the
fact that man needs God's help in order to be continent, does not show
incontinence to be no sin, for, as stated in Ethic. iii, 3, "what we can
do by means of a friend we do, in a way, ourselves."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[2] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: The judgment of reason is overcome in the incontinent man,
not necessarily, for then he would commit no sin, but through a certain
negligence on account of his not standing firm in resisting the passion
by holding to the judgment formed by his reason.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[2] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: This argument takes incontinence metaphorically and not
properly.


Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[3] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether the incontinent man sins more gravely than the intemperate?

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[3] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It would seem that the incontinent man sins more gravely than the
intemperate. For, seemingly, the more a man acts against his conscience,
the more gravely he sins, according to Lk. 12:47, "That servant who knew
the will of his lord . . . and did not . . . shall be beaten with many
stripes." Now the incontinent man would seem to act against his
conscience more than the intemperate because, according to Ethic. vii, 3,
the incontinent man, though knowing how wicked are the things he desires,
nevertheless acts through passion, whereas the intemperate man judges
what he desires to be good. Therefore the incontinent man sins more
gravely than the intemperate.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[3] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, apparently, the graver a sin is, the more incurable it
is: wherefore the sins against the Holy Ghost, being most grave, are
declared to be unpardonable. Now the sin of incontinence would appear to
be more incurable than the sin of intemperance. For a person's sin is
cured by admonishment and correction, which seemingly are no good to the
incontinent man, since he knows he is doing wrong, and does wrong
notwithstanding: whereas it seems to the intemperate man that he is doing
well, so that it were good for him to be admonished. Therefore it would
appear that the incontinent man sins more gravely than the intemperate.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[3] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, the more eagerly man sins, the more grievous his sin.
Now the incontinent sins more eagerly than the intemperate, since the
incontinent man has vehement passions and desires, which the intemperate
man does not always have. Therefore the incontinent man sins more gravely
than the intemperate.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[3] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, Impenitence aggravates every sin: wherefore Augustine
says (De Verb. Dom. serm. xi, 12,13) that "impenitence is a sin against
the Holy Ghost." Now according to the Philosopher (Ethic. vii, 8) "the
intemperate man is not inclined to be penitent, for he holds on to his
choice: but every incontinent man is inclined to repentance." Therefore
the intemperate man sins more gravely than the incontinent.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[3] Body Para. 1/1

I answer that, According to Augustine [*De Duab. Anim. x, xi] sin is
chiefly an act of the will, because "by the will we sin and live aright"
[*Retract. i, 9]. Consequently where there is a greater inclination of
the will to sin, there is a graver sin. Now in the intemperate man, the
will is inclined to sin in virtue of its own choice, which proceeds from
a habit acquired through custom: whereas in the incontinent man, the will
is inclined to sin through a passion. And since passion soon passes,
whereas a habit is "a disposition difficult to remove," the result is
that the incontinent man repents at once, as soon as the passion has
passed; but not so the intemperate man; in fact he rejoices in having
sinned, because the sinful act has become connatural to him by reason of
his habit. Wherefore in reference to such persons it is written (Prov.
2:14) that "they are glad when they have done evil, and rejoice in most
wicked things." Hence it follows that "the intemperate man is much worse
than the incontinent," as also the Philosopher declares (Ethic. vii, 7).

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[3] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: Ignorance in the intellect sometimes precedes the
inclination of the appetite and causes it, and then the greater the
ignorance, the more does it diminish or entirely excuse the sin, in so
far as it renders it involuntary. On the other hand, ignorance in the
reason sometimes follows the inclination of the appetite, and then such
like ignorance, the greater it is, the graver the sin, because the
inclination of the appetite is shown thereby to be greater. Now in both
the incontinent and the intemperate man, ignorance arises from the
appetite being inclined to something, either by passion, as in the
incontinent, or by habit, as in the intemperate. Nevertheless greater
ignorance results thus in the intemperate than in the incontinent. In one
respect as regards duration, since in the incontinent man this ignorance
lasts only while the passion endures, just as an attack of intermittent
fever lasts as long as the humor is disturbed: whereas the ignorance of
the intemperate man endures without ceasing, on account of the endurance
of the habit, wherefore it is likened to phthisis or any chronic disease,
as the Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 8). In another respect the ignorance
of the intemperate man is greater as regards the thing ignored. For the
ignorance of the incontinent man regards some particular detail of choice
(in so far as he deems that he must choose this particular thing now):
whereas the intemperate man's ignorance is about the end itself, inasmuch
as he judges this thing good, in order that he may follow his desires
without being curbed. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 7,8) that
"the incontinent man is better than the intemperate, because he retains
the best principle [*{To beltiston, e arche}, 'the best thing, i.e. the
principle']," to wit, the right estimate of the end.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[3] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: Mere knowledge does not suffice to cure the incontinent
man, for he needs the inward assistance of grace which quenches
concupiscence, besides the application of the external remedy of
admonishment and correction, which induce him to begin to resist his
desires, so that concupiscence is weakened, as stated above (Q[142], A[2]
). By these same means the intemperate man can be cured. But his curing
is more difficult, for two reasons. The first is on the part of reason,
which is corrupt as regards the estimate of the last end, which holds the
same position as the principle in demonstrations. Now it is more
difficult to bring back to the truth one who errs as to the principle;
and it is the same in practical matters with one who errs in regard to
the end. The other reason is on the part of the inclination of the
appetite: for in the intemperate man this proceeds from a habit, which is
difficult to remove, whereas the inclination of the incontinent man
proceeds from a passion, which is more easily suppressed.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[3] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: The eagerness of the will, which increases a sin, is
greater in the intemperate man than in the incontinent, as explained
above. But the eagerness of concupiscence in the sensitive appetite is
sometimes greater in the incontinent man, because he does not sin except
through vehement concupiscence, whereas the intemperate man sins even
through slight concupiscence and sometimes forestalls it. Hence the
Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 7) that we blame more the intemperate man,
"because he pursues pleasure without desiring it or with calm," i.e.
slight desire. "For what would he have done if he had desired it with
passion?"


Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[4] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether the incontinent in anger is worse than the incontinent in desire?

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[4] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It would seem that the incontinent in anger is worse than the
incontinent in desire. For the more difficult it is to resist the
passion, the less grievous, apparently is incontinence: wherefore the
Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 7): "It is not wonderful, indeed it is
pardonable if a person is overcome by strong and overwhelming pleasures
or pains." Now, "as Heraclitus says, it is more difficult to resist
desire than anger" [*Ethic. ii. 3]. Therefore incontinence of desire is
less grievous than incontinence of anger.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[4] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, one is altogether excused from sin if the passion be so
vehement as to deprive one of the judgment of reason, as in the case of
one who becomes demented through passion. Now he that is incontinent in
anger retains more of the judgment of reason, than one who is incontinent
in desire: since "anger listens to reason somewhat, but desire does not"
as the Philosopher states (Ethic. vii, 6). Therefore the incontinent in
anger is worse than the incontinent in desire.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[4] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, the more dangerous a sin the more grievous it is. Now
incontinence of anger would seem to be more dangerous, since it leads a
man to a greater sin, namely murder, for this is a more grievous sin than
adultery, to which incontinence of desire leads. Therefore incontinence
of anger is graver than incontinence of desire.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[4] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, The Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 6) that "incontinence
of anger is less disgraceful than incontinence of desire."

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[4] Body Para. 1/2

I answer that, The sin of incontinence may be considered in two ways.
First, on the part of the passion which occasions the downfall of reason.
In this way incontinence of desire is worse than incontinence of anger,
because the movement of desire is more inordinate than the movement of
anger. There are four reasons for this, and the Philosopher indicates
them, Ethic. vii, 6: First, because the movement of anger partakes
somewhat of reason, since the angry man tends to avenge the injury done
to him, and reason dictates this in a certain degree. Yet he does not
tend thereto perfectly, because he does not intend the due mode of
vengeance. on the other hand, the movement of desire is altogether in
accord with sense and nowise in accord with reason. Secondly, because the
movement of anger results more from the bodily temperament owing to the
quickness of the movement of the bile which tends to anger. Hence one who
by bodily temperament is disposed to anger is more readily angry than one
who is disposed to concupiscence is liable to be concupiscent: wherefore
also it happens more often that the children of those who are disposed to
anger are themselves disposed to anger, than that the children of those
who are disposed to concupiscence are also disposed to concupiscence. Now
that which results from the natural disposition of the body is deemed
more deserving of pardon. Thirdly, because anger seeks to work openly,
whereas concupiscence is fain to disguise itself and creeps in by
stealth. Fourthly, because he who is subject to concupiscence works with
pleasure, whereas the angry man works as though forced by a certain
previous displeasure.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[4] Body Para. 2/2

Secondly, the sin of incontinence may be considered with regard to the
evil into which one falls through forsaking reason; and thus incontinence
of anger is, for the most part, more grievous, because it leads to things
that are harmful to one's neighbor.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[4] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: It is more difficult to resist pleasure perseveringly than
anger, because concupiscence is enduring. But for the moment it is more
difficult to resist anger, on account of its impetuousness.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[4] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: Concupiscence is stated to be without reason, not as though
it destroyed altogether the judgment of reason, but because nowise does
it follow the judgment of reason: and for this reason it is more
disgraceful.

Aquin.: SMT SS Q[156] A[4] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: This argument considers incontinence with regard to its
result.





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