Aquinas on sin

This is an outline of the latter half of ST I-II on Sin.  It should also be a warning to the Reformed Thomists that want to accept Thomism uncritically.  Thomas’s views on sin demand Purgatory.  Good luck.

Part 1 of the Second Part, questions 79ff
God is not the cause of sin.

    1. Sin is a tending to disorder.
    2. Yet God brings all things to order.
  1. God’s will is the cause of the act of sin.
  2. God is not the cause of hardening, but the cause of actively witholding grace.


Question 80: Of the cause of sin as regards the Devil.

  1. The devil can move us internally to sin only in the sense of cooperating with the sensitive appetite.


Question 81: Of the cause of the sin on the part of man

  1. Article 1 affirms original sin. All men born of Adam are “one man” as a common nature.
  2. Granted that good is more self-diffusive than evil, and granted that our nearer ancestors merits aren’t transmitted to us, neither is the guilt for their other sins.


Original sin is transmitted through the semen, which is how Jesus wasn’t born with original sin.


Question 84: on one sin being a cause of another

  1. capital vices are those which give rise to others.
    1. man’s good is threefold
      1. certain good of the soul
      2. good of the body
      3. external good, to which covetousness is referred.


Question 85: Of the effects of sin

  1. Death is not natural to man
    1. What is natural cannot be called a punishment.
    2. Matter is proportionate to form, and everything to its End.  Man’s end is happiness in God.


Question 86: On the stain of sin

  1. the stain is a privation in the soul, not a tainting of it.


Question 87: On the debt of punishment

  1. Since sin is temporal, how can it merit an eternal punishment?
    1. (art. 3) Sin incurs a debt by disturbing an order.
    2. Sin is punished in respect to the severity of the fault.  Sin is not punished with respect to the duration.
  2. Once we are punished from the sin, how come we still owe a debt?
    1. We still have the stain of sin on our soul.  This can’t be gotten rid of until we are united to God, which can only happen by accepting his judgment.
    2. Punishment heals the other powers of the soul.
  3. The sins of the fathers can be punished in the children, since the children are more likely to commit those sins, having grown up in that environment.


Question 88: Of venial and mortal sin

  1. A sin can be called mortal if it impairs the end of the spiritual life.
  2. The soul needs to be ordered in order to get to that end, and mortal sin throws the train off of the track, if you will.


But I’m not a Thomist

I’ll try to make clear where I stand on Aquinas and Thomism.  I consider myself in “general conversation” with the Thomist tradition.  I find Thomas remarkably clear on the doctrine of God, quite profound on Christology, and very tantalizing in epistemology.

I commit myself to none of his positions, though.

And it is entertaining to watch Neo-Thomists tell you which Thomisms are the good guys and bad guys.  I lean closer to Kerr and De Lubac.

I am hesitant to commit to Thomas’s view on the soul.  I remain too much of a Augustinian/Platonist/Bonaventurian/Bernadian to commit myself on that point.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones: A Clean Power

The following  is from John Piper’s talk on Martyn Lloyd-Jones, though I had read the works in question long before I had heard the talk.

Martin Lloyd-Jones’ Personal Experiences of Unusual Power

Lloyd-Jones had enough extraordinary experiences of his own to make him know that he had better be open to what the sovereign God might do.
Another illustration comes from his earlier days at Sandfields. A woman who had been a well-known spirit-medium attended his church one evening. She later testified after her conversion:


 The moment I entered your chapel and sat down on a seat amongst the people, I was conscious of a supernatural power. I was conscious of the same sort of supernatural power I was accustomed to in our spiritist meetings, but there was one big difference; I had the feeling that the power in your chapel was a clean power.”
Iain H. Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years (Piper’s website lists the reference as being in volume 2, The Fight of Faith, p. 221, but that is incorrect.  It is in volume 1, page 221.)

So, about that Lent…

I try never to talk about Lent, pro or con.  I think Lent is an example of Christian liberty at the most basic (St Paul: why value one day over another?).  The reactions to Lent, for and against, however, are most interesting.

Practically, I am not celebrating Lent this year in the sense of “giving something up.”  Especially food.  I have several dietary issues, along with other logistic problems that make “fasting from meat/eggs/cheese/milk” problematic.

However, my own reading takes a turn during Lent.  I read a lot more of the medievals than I normally do (slugging through the latter half of Aquinas’s ST at the moment).

But enough about me.  I want to call attention to all of the hipster Reformed/YRR attacking Lent, and attacking Lent by what is basically “food porn.”  Uploading pictures of the latest kegger or six pack and big cigars.

If you want to attack medieval interpretations of Lent that “bind consciences,” go at it.  Have fun.  I fear that many have thrown the baby out with the proverbial bath water.   Spiritual disciplines in the sense of “disciplining the body” is very good and should not be abandoned.  Yet we don’t see this among the Hipster/Bro Reformed.

But someone would say, pointing to Colossians 2 and Galatians 4, that we are no longer under the seasons and stoichea.  True, which is why I don’t believe tying Lenten discipline to a cosmic calendar is necessary.  But…we still live in God’s world and he made seasons and rhythms.

If you haven’t figured it out, yet, I am alluding to the Facebook group Reformed Pub.

A List.

*Fr Seraphim Rose read through Augustine’s Confessions during each Great Lent.  Not a bad idea.

*As noted earlier, I am reading as much of Thomas’s Summa as I can.

*Reread the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of English People.

*Memorize some medieval prayers written in Latin.  Nothing magical about Latin, but this could be a mental training exercise.

Some Good Lenten Resources and Ideas:

Chant Blog.

St Bede Blog.

A Clerk of Oxford.

Audio of BCP Daily Prayer.

St Bede Breviary.

Are there then two Trinities?

I originally wrote this when some Neo-Torrancians were making hit and run attacks against McCormack, so it was initially a defense of McCormack.  My own position has changed much, so I will go ahead and offer the conclusion:

(5) McCormack’s actualism borders on Origenism.

(5*) Notwithstanding, McCormack read Barth correctly.

The Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner now-famous rule–The Immanent Trinity is the Economic Trinity–has created an uneasy tension in Western theology.  The ontological Trinity is usually defined as “God in himself” apart from any God-world relation.  The economic Trinity is God’s deciding and acting to save the world in Jesus Christ (and it doesn’t matter which confessional gloss you put on this).  

I understand the resistance to Rahner’s Rule.  If we identify the two formulations, then it makes the God-world relationship necessary and this is clearly wrong.  On the other hand, if the E/T and I/T aren’t identical, then we have two Trinities–and this, too, is wrong.  Sure, one could salvage the doctrine by saying that the assumption of human nature doesn’t affect the divine nature (though one wonders if it would affect the divine person?)

Q1: Is God in himself different from God-for-us?

Before we answer that question, let’s look at Leibniz’s Law:


For any x, and for any y, if they are identical to each other, then for any property P, P will be true of x iff P is true of y.

To put it negatively, if the two entities have different properties, then they aren’t the same thing.  

Q2:  Is there a Property that I/T has that E/T doesn’t?

There is a way to get around this, I suppose.  One could say that the action of begetting the Son isn’t a property.  I don’t think this works, though.  The early fathers specifically defined the identity of the Father (and the Persons in general) in terms of their specific properties.

But this is a definition of the properties of the Immanent Trinity, not the economical.  True, the Father does not beget the Son in time or with a relation to the world.   Thomas Aquinas came close to solving this problem by saying that the missions contain the processions.  This must be affirmed at the very least.  If we don’t affirm this, then the E/T becomes unhinged from the I/T and we have two trinities (and maybe six gods).

Barth took it a step further and said the missions contain the processions because the processions include the missions.

Q3: Does God pre-exist his act?

This is what bothers people about McCormack’s claim that for Barth (or maybe not for Barth; maybe we can just pretend this is a truth-claim) that election constitutes God’s identity.  It seems, so they read, that there is a hidden premise:

Q3*: If election constitutes God’s being, then did God pre-exist his decision to exist?

Admittedly, if this objection obtains it is a devastating one.  But McCormack said if this objection obtains here, then what happens when we apply it across the board

Q3’ Did the Father pre-exist the Son prior to the act of begetting?

Of course, Q3’ is unacceptable in theology.  People will say it is an eternal and spiritual act.  I agree.  This doesn’t mean that the claim election constitutes God’s being holds, but only that it is logically coherent (if you hold to eternal begetting/procession).

There is a precedence, of course, but it is a logical one, not a temporal or causal one.  Thomas Aquinas joins knowing and willing (and in a different way, so does McCormack, 2009, p. 121).  Both Thomas and McCormack join knowing and willing in the divine processions (though McCormack says that God’s self-knowing takes place in the event of revelation).  The only difference is that McCormack gives the missions a heavier logical role than otherwise, but even then he doesn’t actually identify the two (p.122).

Q4: Are my critics more McCormackian than I am? It would appear so.

Analytical Outline Geisler’s Ethics, pt 1

Begins with a survey of different ethical options, briefly noting their shortcomings (Geisler 17-22).

Christian View of Ethics

  1. Based on God’s Will
  2. Is absolute
  3. Based on God’s revelation
  4. Is prescriptive
  5. Is Deontological


Not simply that there are no norms.  Also includes that norms aren’t real, but just in the mind.

Nominalism is a form of antinomianism.  If applied to ethics, it’s hard to see how there can be a concept of justice independent of the human knower.


The situationist has the one law of love, the many general principles of wisdom, and the moment of decision (Geisler 45).  Fletcher repeatedly asserts that the rule of Christian ethics is “love.”  So what do I do in a specific situation?  The “what and why” are absolute and the how is relative.

Geisler does note a number of legitimate strengths of situationism, but nonetheless there are gaping inadequacies.  

  1. One norm is too general (57).  
    1. Unless there is advanced cognitive content to what “love” is, then one doesn’t really know what I am commanded to do!
  2. There can be many universal norms.
    1. Fletcher hasn’t given any substantial reason on why axioms deduced from other axioms can’t be universal.
  3. A different universal norm is possible.  
    1. Why do we privilege Christian love and not Buddhist compassion?
    2. On what basis do we choose one single norm as binding?



Greatest good for greatest number.

Problems and ambiguities:

  1. who gets to determine what “good” means?
  2. Offers no protection to minority viewpoint, since by definition they will never been in the “greater” number.
  3. The definition of “end” is unclear.  Do we mean a few years? Lifetime? Eternity?  In that case, only God could be a utilitarian and he is not (77).

Unqualified Absolutism

premise:  all moral conflicts are only apparent; they are not real (79).  Held by Augustine, Kant, Charles Hodge, John Murray, and Puritanboard.

hypothetical problem:  Lie to the Nazis at the door?

Augustine: cannot gain eternal life by temporal evil.

John Murray: Sanctity of Truth and Truth is the essence of God. However, he does not believe every intentional deception is a lie (e.g., a general’s movements in war).  

Negative Aspects

Disputed premises:

  1. Are sins of the soul necessarily worse? Perhaps, but the Platonic premise here should at least by acknowledged.  On this view, a “white lie” is worse than rape.
  2. Can the lie to save lives be separated from mercy?  “God blessed the mercy but not the lie.”  But is this really coherent?
  3. Will God always save us from moral dilemmas?   1 Cor. 10:13 only promises victory from temptation, not deliverance from moral dilemmas.  In fact, the very fact of martyrdom means the martyr isn’t delivered from at least one bad consequence.

Fatal qualifications

  1. Even one exception to this rule kills Unqualified Absolutism–and Augustine allows for exceptions in the case of Abraham and Isaac/Jepthath and his daughter.
  2. John Murray doesn’t believe we should be truthful in all circumstances (Murray 145).

“Punting to Providence”

  1. God does not always spare his children from moral dilemmas.  In fact, obedience often puts the believer in dilemmas!

“Third Alternatives are not always available.”

  1. Tubal pregnancies


  1. We leave our lights on when we aren’t home to trick robbers.
  2. The unqualified absolutist often commits unmerciful acts.
  3. Tendency to legalism (e.g., Puritanboard).

Conflicting Absolutism

Premise: (1) Real moral conflicts do occur in this fallen world.

(1.1) Yet when faced with this conflict, man is morally accountable to both principles. In other words, sucks to be you.

(1.2) Yet, sin is conquerable through the cross.

Popularized as “Lesser-evil” approach.  Best seen in Lutheran Two-Kingdoms.  Also, Lutherans will (correctly) praise Bonhoeffer’s attempt to kill Hitler but also say it did violate a norm.  


As Geisler notes, this position is basically saying “we have moral duty to sin,” which is absurd (Geisler 103).  Another problem, whatever God commands is ipso facto good, so it can’t be a “lesser evil.”

Graded Absolutism (This is Geisler’s and my view)


  1. There are higher and lower moral laws.  
  2. There are unavoidable moral conflicts
  3. No guilt is imputed for the unavoidable.


  1. Love for God is more important than love for man.
  2. Obey God over Government
  3. Mercy over veracity (Nazis at the door).