Christian Children Dying Without Baptism

One of the disputed questions Aquinas deals with is: whether a child who is born in the desert where no water is available, and dies without baptism, can be saved in virtue of its mother's faith:

It seems that a child born in the desert can be saved without baptism in virtue of its parents' faith.

1.For faith in the time of grace is no less efficacious than in the time of natural law. But in the time of natural law children were saved in virtue of their parents' faith, as Gregory says. Therefore they also are so saved now in the time of grace.

2. Further, Christ did not constrict the way of salvation for men, since he says in John 10:10: "I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly." But before the coming of Christ some children were saved in virtue of their parents' faith. Therefore much more are some thus saved after the coming of Christ.

But against this is what the Lord says in John 3:5, "Unless one is born of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven."

I respond, it should be said that no one can be freed from the damnation that the human race incurred on account of the sin of its first parent except through Christ, who alone is found immune from that damnation, that is, by being incorporated into him as a member to its head. Now this can take place in three ways.
First, by receiving baptism, according to Gal 3:27, "all you who have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ." Secondly, by shedding one's blood for Christ, since by this someone is conformed to Christ's passion, from which baptism receives its efficacy; hence it is said about the martyrs in Rev 7:14, that "they have washed their robes etc… in the blood of the lamb." Thirdly, by faith and love, according to Prov 15:27, "by mercy and faith sins are cleansed," and Acts 15:9, "purifying their hearts by faith"; and by faith Christ dwells in our hearts, as is seen from Eph 3; hence also baptism itself is called the sacrament of faith.

Accordingly, there is said to be three kinds of baptism, namely of water, spirit, and blood; for the other two take the place of baptism of water, so long as there is the intention of receiving that baptism of water, so that it is a case of necessity, rather than religious contempt that excludes the sacrament.

Now it is manifest that there cannot be a motion of faith and love in children who do not yet have the use of reason, nor can there be the intention of receiving baptism; and therefore they cannot be saved except by the baptism of water, or by the baptism of blood if they are killed because of Christ, through which they not only are made Christians, but also martyrs, as Augustine says about the innocents.

Thus it is evident that the child who dies in the desert without baptism does not attain salvation.

To the first, therefore, it should be said according to some persons, in the time of natural law the parents motion of faith alone was not sufficient, but some external protestation of faith by some sensible sign was required. And on this view the only difference between what was then required and what is now required for salvation, is that now the sensible sign is determinate, while then it was indeterminate, and was up to the choice of the individual.

The opinion of others is that just the interior motion of faith in reference to the child's salvation sufficed for childrens' salvation. Yet the power of faith has not now been diminished, but the degree of salvation has been increased; for now those who are saved by Christ are immediately introduced into the kingdom of heaven, which before was not the case; hence it is not unfitting if something further is required for this, namely baptism, as is said in John 3:5.

To the second it should be said that Christ enlarged the way of salvation for men in that he opened to them the gates of eternal life, which before were closed by the sin of the first parent.

Whose Idea was Limbo

There is a narrative commonly accepted both by theologians and by popular authors, according to which limbo is a hypothesis first invented by medieval theologians to reconcile the necessity of baptism for infants to attain grace and salvation with God's justice that does not punish people with the pains of hell except for their actual sins.

This narrative, however, seems to have a very strong Western bias and to inaccurately reflect the history. In the West, under the influence of Augustine, up until Abelard it was commonly held that unbaptized infants are punished in hell through with a milder punishment than those who committed actual sin.

But before Augustine (Tertullian being an exception), the view that unbaptized were punished with pain in hell on account of Adam's sin which passed down to them was not the common view. St. Ambrose says that the hereditary sin of Adam "cannot be a terror to me, since in the day of judgment we are not punished for another's sins, but for our own," and that whereas baptism takes away personal sins, the rite of washing the feet [a local custom] takes away hereditary sins.

When the question comes up, the Eastern Fathers do not generally allow that unbaptized infants will be positively punished in hell for original sin:

[Those who are not able to receive baptism], perhaps on account of infancy, or some perfectly involuntary circumstance through which they are prevented from receiving it, even if they wish… will be neither glorified nor punished by the righteous Judge, as unsealed [by baptism] and yet not wicked, but persons who have suffered rather than done wrong. For not every one who is not bad enough to be punished is good enough to be honored; just as not every one who is not good enough to be honored is bad enough to be punished. (St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 40)

The innocent babe has no such plague [of ignorance] before its soul’s eyes obscuring its measure of light, and so it continues to exist in that natural life; it does not need the soundness which comes from purgation, because it never admitted the plague into its soul at all… But the soul that has never felt the taste of virtue, while it may indeed remain perfectly free from the sufferings which flow from wickedness having never caught the disease of evil at all, does nevertheless in the first instances partake only so far in that life beyond (which consists, according to our previous definition, in the knowing and being in God) as this nursling can receive (Gregory of Nyssa, On Infants' Early Deaths).

Where do children of Jews or the unbaptized go who die lacking wickedness, five years old, or four years old? To damnation, or to Paradise?

Response: Since God has himself pronounced that the sins the of the fathers do not pass to the sons, and said through the prophets that children shall not perish for the sins of their fathers, it seems to me that they do not go into Gehenna. But it is not fitting to probe the judgments of God with one's hands. (Anastasius of Sinai, Quaestiones, q. 81, PG 90:709c)

What St. Gregory of Nazianzen says is, in fact, exactly what is later expressed by the term "limbo."

(Quaestiones, q. 81, PG 90:709c)

An Argument Against Limbo

Though it's not used in the International Theological Commission's document The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized, I think the following argument is one of the stronger single arguments against a state of limbo:

Ezekiel and Jeremiah report the Lord's word against what has become a current proverb in Israel, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge" (Jer 31:29; Ezek 18:2). This saying shall no longer be valid. Particularly in Jeremiah it is clear that the time when "every one shall die for his own sin" pertains to the new covenant which God shall make, when "no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, `Know the LORD.' "

This prophecy begins to be fulfilled with the coming of Christ, and is absolutely fulfilled in the eschaton. Therefore, at the end of time, no one will die (be definitively separated from participation in God's life) except on account of their own sin. In God's plan, therefore, original sin is something that is relevant only in this life in time, and does not determine anyone's definitive destination.

This argument does not, of course, attempt to give any account of how salvation in Christ is applied to an infant who dies without baptism, but only argues for the fact of its being offered.

Aquinas, Sin and Fundamental Option

In the previous post I summarized various evidence pertaining to a fundamental option in the sense of an orientation that changes through a series of acts. This post attempts a sketch that does justice to all of the evidence, as far as that is possible.

(1) A person who is strongly committed to the love of God and neighbor, to following the commandments, does not generally turn away from that path by a single choice and act taken in isolation, but by a gradual process of neglecting that love. This process may indeed culminate in a habitual state or act that is gravely contrary to charity, but the voluntariness of that habit or act must be referred to the persistent previous neglect of charity. An act objectively contrary to charity performed by a person strongly committed to the love of charity, if it is not the culmination of previous acts, is probably not fully voluntary. Conversely, if an objectively disordered act truly is fully voluntary, it is probably the culmination of a long process of neglect of relationships to other human beings, to God, to oneself, and only as a culmination of this voluntary process is the evil of the act fully voluntary.

This position harmonizes with the qualification made by Persona Humana: "[The fundamental option] can be completely changed by particular acts, especially when, as often happens, these have been prepared for by previous more superficial acts" (Persona Humana, n. 10).

The flip side: just as an anomalous bad action performed by a virtuous person is probably not fully voluntary, so an occasional repentance of a person set upon vice could be a superficial repentance, that does not really involve full voluntary acceptance of God's love and full willingness to turn from sin.

(2) On the other hand, if a person is not strongly set on any particular goal, it does not seem impossible to frequently, and in a short period of time, change the goal that he does have, including changing from a life directed toward God to a life directed toward himself, by mortal sin, especially inasmuch as supernatural grace and charity, by a which a person is in the highest manner directed toward God, transcend human experience.

This view of moral life has practical consequences. It means, for example, that greater weight should be given to patterns of behavior than to individual acts–not that individual acts are unimportant, but that they are important inasmuch as they express the interior of a person, one's will, which is more surely expressed in the way one lives one's commitments and furthers one's relationships than in individual acts taken in isolation.

Summary of Evidence on Rapidity of Sin or Conversion

In this post and the next I will try to wrap up the considerations of sin, fundamental option, etc., which I have been considering in recent posts.

If we somewhat generalize the theory that mortal sin and conversion consist in the exercise of a single, fundamental option that lies at a deeper level than the freedom of choice involved in individual acts, we are left with the following position: mortal sin (turning away from God) normally occurs over a fairly long period of time, and is expressed in many concrete acts, none of which taken in isolation would constitute mortal sin; the will to perform a gravely disordered act normally has the character of full consent only when it is the summing up of a voluntary pattern of behavior, the term of a series of disordered acts. Similarly according to this view, and leaving aside miraculous conversions, the openness for grace and intention to avoid sin normally comes to be over a longish period of time, is only fully willed when it is the summing up of a series of acceptance of actual graces.

The opposite position would say that mortal sin always consists in the performance of a single act, which taken on its own would constitute a mortal sin. A middle position would say that mortal sin frequently consists in a single willed act,  but also frequently consists in a wickedness of will that is voluntary only in reference to a whole series of willed acts.

Below follows an attempt to sum up the evidence for the two positions:

In support of the possibility of sin or conversion taking place gradually (as experienced psychologically)

1. The existence of mortal sins arising from or consisting in the neglect to form one's conscience. (There is usually not one extra special moment when a person is particularly aware and conscious of neglect.)
2. Aquinas's affirmation that a person receives grace as soon as they are capable of acting morally, and being responsible for their choice of good or evil (this affirmation is implied, in, for example, ST I-II 89:6, which I haven't since the transition from immaturity to responsibility is psycholoigcally a gradual one.)

In support of changes in man's final goal actually being rare or generally occurring over longer periods of time
1. The affirmation that "it is not easy for the person who has grace to commit a mortal sin."
2. The early Church practice where penance was rare, and for grave sins could only be given once.
3. The psychological difficulty or unusualness of rapidly changing one's orientation and commitment, going from being strongly and totally committed to one goal to giving up that goal as the supreme guiding principle of one's life, to taking it up again etc.

In support of the possibility of sin or conversion being located in a single act

1. The Church's teaching on mortal sin, that a single mortal sin committed with full knowledge and consent is sufficient to deprive one of charity.
2. The fact that grace and charity depend on God's gift, and transcend experience, mean that a single act by which one draws toward God or away from him may suffice to gain or lose the habit of charity, even though psychologically one act just on its own cannot normally generate or destroy a habit.

In support of sin and conversion actually being frequently or normally located in a single act

1. The practice of lay Christians and confessors of treating every objectively disordered act that proceeded from an act of choice as a mortal sin depriving the doer of charity.
2. Similarly, the practice of not treating patterns of behavior as involving mortal sin unless they include individual concrete acts that are considered to be mortal sins.
3. The fact that for mortal sin a person need not orient himself toward a totally new end, but only fail to take God as the rule for an end they were seeking all along (e.g., a person formerly seeking honor in subordination to God on one occasion seeks honor without subordinating to God, and in a manner incompatible with a life lived for God).

Permanence of Grace

In discussing what grace is, Aquinas raises an objection that it cannot be a habit, because it is easily lost: "if grace is something in the soul, it seems that it must be a habit… but it is not a habit, for a habit is a quality that is not easily altered, as the Philosopher says in the Categories, while grace is removed with the greatest ease, since it is lost by one act of mortal sin. Therefore grace is not something in the soul" (De Veritate, q. 27, a. 1, obj 9).

In response, Aquinas denies the premise of the objection, that grace is easily lost. "Although grace is lost through a single act of mortal sin, grace is not easily lost; for it is not easy for the person who has grace to do such an act, on account of his contrary inclination, as Aristotle says in Ethics V, that it is difficult for the just man to do unjust deeds."

Mortal Sins and Ignorance II – Where and When is the Mortal Sin?

When a person commits a mortal sin out of ignorance, when does he commit a mortal sin, and in what does it consist? Take the case of a married person believes that contraception is not intrinsically wrong, and consequently judges in a particular case that he or she is obliged to use artificial contraception in order to ensure that the married couple can educate well the children they already have. According to Aquinas's account, the choice and act of contraception in this case is either no sin at all, or it is a mortal sin (from the analogy of contraception, he seems likely he would consider this  generally to be a mortal sin). Let's suppose that the ignorance is not invincible ignorance, and the choice and use of contraception is a mortal sin.

There are two ways we might interpret the case: (1) the mortal sin might be found in the grave and voluntary neglect to acquire the knowledge that would have kept him from sin, or (2) the mortal sin might be in the act that proceeds from ignorance, even if the ignorance itself was not a mortal sin; in this case one would have to say that the actual disorder arises due to the ignorance, yet the voluntariness of the disordered act (which is necessary in order for it to be sinful) is on account of the prior neglect to acquire knowledge. A similar pair of accounts could also be made of sins committed out of passion, though it is not as evident as in the case of ignorance: (1) the sin could be attributed to the neglect to resist the passion, or (2) to the act that follows upon the passion, inasmuch as this disordered act is voluntary by reason of the lack of resisting the passion, (even if the failure to resist the passion in itself was not a mortal sin).

Let us first assume the second interpretation of the case at hand. Now, in the period of time when the choice for contraception is made, it is not in fact possible to rectify the ignorance. Therefore the voluntariness of the ignorance and the disorder of the choice consequent upon the ignorance must be related to a prior neglect over a longer period of time. In this case and according to this interpretation we indeed have an individual mortal sin chosen and committed at a particular time, yet at least one of the elements necessary in order for that sin to be mortal, namely the voluntary neglect to form his or her conscience, is not to be found simply in the short period of time leading directly up to that choice, but over a relatively long period of time.

What if we take the first interpretation? Then we understand the very neglect of forming the conscience to be the mortal sin, and would probably understood there to be formally no additional wickedness in the act that follows from the ignorance. (That is, when someone acts according to a malformed conscience, and does an objectively disordered act that he believes to good and perhaps morally obligatory, this act does not have any new wickedness. If it is called an additional sin, it is called so because it is materially a new act that shares in the prior wickedness of the neglect to form the conscience, of which it is the expression and manifestation.) According to this interpretation, when is the person guilty of grave sin for neglecting to form his conscience? We would have great difficulty in pinpointing an exact time. More importantly, even if we were able to pinpoint an exact time when the person became guilty of grave sin of neglect to learn what is truly good and evil, there would in many cases be nothing particularly special about that time. (Similarly, if someone steals $20 from a coworker every day, there would come a point where he is guilty of grave wrong against his coworker, and a mortal sin, without there necessarily being any special new decision "to be a thief" or "to be unconcerned for others' property.") A grave sin of neglect to form one's conscience is committed at a particular moment only insofar as that moment morally carries along with it a long previous chain of neglect of which it is, so to speak, a finishing link. According to this interpretation, too, then, the mortal sin of neglect of conscience, is sinful only on accord of a long period of neglectful behavior.

According to either interpretation it seems necessary to admit that there are mortal sins whose sinfulness cannot be analyzed in terms of a brief deliberation and choice, or even a series of choices over a few hours, but whose sinfulness and voluntariness has to be related to a relatively long period of time, measured possibly in months or years. I am not aware of Aquinas explicitly recognizing such a dependence of sin upon previous voluntary acts, but he does speak about something similar in regard to conversion to God. Having spoken of how God can move someone immediately to a complete conversion of heart and to charity, Aquinas goes on to say "Sometimes, however, one act disposes someone to the infusion of grace only by a remote disposition, and the following act disposes him still more, and so on, so that the last disposition is attained out of many good acts, insofar as a subsequent act always acts in virtue of all the preceding ones" He compares the completeness of conversion to the gradual disposition of a chip of stone to be broken off from it: "as is evident in drops of water hollowing out a stone, where it is not each and every drop that takes away something from the stone, but rather, all the preceding ones are disposing the stone to be hollowed out, and one last agent, in virtue of all the preceding ones (insofar, that is, as it finds a matter disposed through the preceding drops), completes the hollowing out.

Aquinas on Mortal Sins and Ignorance

When speaking about the influence of passions on the will, Aquinas takes the position that so long as people retain the use of reason and free will, if they are moved by passion to do a gravely disordered act, then they sin mortally. Only if they are so overcome by passion that they no longer have the ability to judge and to act freely are they excused from mortal sin, as they are excused from sin altogether.

St. Thomas takes a similar hard-line position regarding ignorance of universal principles of law, such as the prohibition of fornication, at least in his later writings. (In De Malo q. 3, a. 8 Aquinas says that if an act is done in ignorance in one respect, and knowingly in another, then it is voluntary in the respect it which it is done knowingly, and involuntary in the respect in which it is done in ignorance, as when someone does not know that fornication is a sin, he voluntarily commits fornication, but does not voluntarily commit a sin–and Aquinas does not add anything about the fornication being indirectly voluntary, because of neglect in acquiring knowledge about its sinfulness.)

But in the Summa Theologiae and in the later part of the De Malo Aquinas considers the case of a person who believes that fornication is a venial sin, and is of such a mindset that he would definitely refrain from fornication, if he knew it were a mortal sin. He puts forth the argument in an objection: the difference between mortal and venial sin is that the person who sins venially loves some creature more than he ought, yet loves it less than God, while the person who sins mortally loves some creature (at least himself or his own will) more than he loves God. But a person with such a mindset seems obviously to love the good he is seeking less than he loves God, since he would be willing to forego it if he knew it was contrary to the love of God. In the Summa he responds to this by saying that if the ignorance entirely excuses from sin, the person would of course not commit a mortal sin, since they would not sin at all. But if the ignorance is not invincible, and does not entirely excuse from sin, then the ignorance itself is a sin, and contains in it a lack of divine love, inasmuch as a man neglects to learn those things through which he can preserve himself in divine love. (ST I-II 88:6 ad 2; see also ST III 80:4 ad 5; De Malo q. 7, a. 1, obj 18 and response).

Similarly in a Quodlibetal question he says, "sometimes an erroneous conscience does not absolve or excuse from sin, namely when the error itself is a sin, proceeding from ignorance of that which someone is able to and obliged to know, as for example, if someone believed fornication to be simply a venial sin, and then, [if he committed fornication], although he would believe that he was sinning venially, he would not be sinning venially, but mortally" (Quodlibetal 8, q. 6, a. 5)

St. Augustine, Penance, and the Forgiveness of Sins

In the early Church, the practice of the sacrament of confession was not a very common affair. While there is certainly testimony to the confession of light sins in the sacrament of confession, it was most associated with severe sins that demanded a canonical and public penance. St. Augustine frequently connects the forgiveness of light sins to the prayer "forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us":

Therefore baptism is sealed with the seal of Christ, that is, when you are dipped in the water, and as it were passed through the red sea. Your sins are your enemies; they follow, but only unto the sea. When you enter it, you will escape them, they will be destroyed, as the water covered the Egyptians while the Israelites escaped through dry land. And what does the Scripture say? Not one of them remained. You have sinned many sins, you have sinned few sins; you have sinned great sins, you have sinned small sins. What of it, when not one of them remained? But since you are going to live in this world, where no one lives without sin, therefore the forgiveness of sins is not only in the washing of holy baptism, but also in the Lord's prayer, a daily prayer, which you will receive after eight days. In it you will find your daily baptism, as it were, so that you give thanks to God, who gave this gift to his Church, which we confess in the creed, so that when we say “holy Church,” we add “forgiveness of sins.” (Sermon 213)

When ye have been baptized, hold fast a good life in the commandments of God, that ye may guard your Baptism even unto the end. I do not tell you that ye will live here without sin; but they are venial, without which this life is not. For the sake of all sins was Baptism provided; for the sake of light sins, without which we cannot be, was prayer provided. What hath the Prayer? “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” Once for all we have washing in Baptism, every day we have washing in prayer. Only, do not commit those things for which ye must needs be separated from Christ’s body: which be far from you! For those whom ye have seen doing penance, have committed heinous things, either adulteries or some enormous crimes: for these they do penance. Because if theirs had been light sins, to blot out these daily prayer would suffice. (The creed: A Sermon To The Cathechumens)

The canonical penance, like baptism, could only be made once. This did not necessarily imply despair over the salvation of the salvation of those men who fell back into sin while undergoing penance or afterward, though it might suggest some doubt about the certainty of the genuineness of repentance:

There are some men whose wickedness goes so far that, after having undergone penance, and been reconciled to the altar, commit the same sins again, or even worse sins. And yet God, who makes his sun rise even over such persons, does not grant any less than before the gift of life and salvation. And although they are given no opportunity for penance in the Church, God does not forget his patience toward them.

If one of them says to us: “either give me again an opportunity for penance or proclaim as beyond hope, so that I may do whatever I want, so far as my resources and human laws allow me, having intercourse with prostitutes and abandoning myself to all kinds of lust that are condemned in the eyes of God though praised by most men. Or if you call me away from this iniquity, tell me if for the future life it is of any value for me to despise the blandishments of illicit pleasure, for me to deny the incitements of lust, if in order to chastise my body I deny myself even many things licit and granted to me, if I torment myself even more than before in penance, if I groan with greater sorrow, if I weep more abundantly, if I live better, if I give more bountifully to the poor, if I burn more ardently with the charity that covers a multitude of sins?” who of us is so foolish as to say to that man, “none of that will benefit you in the future; go, enjoy at least the sweetness of this life”? May God keep us from such a monstrous sacrilege and madness!

Although, therefore, for reasons of prudence and for the sake of the salvation of souls the Church's discipline provides opportunity for humbling oneself in penance only once, lest the medicine be seen as cheap, and thus less useful for the sick, seeing as the less it is despised, the more salvific it will be, who will dare to say to God: “Why do you again forgive this man who after having once embraced penance again bound himself in the snares of sin?” (Epistle 153)

Although Augustine generally distinguishes grave sins, for which one must be separated from the Body of Christ, and undergo a period of penance, from light sins, forgiven through the Lord's Prayer–"Forgive us, as we forgive others"–this distinction does not consistently line up with the distinction mortal-venial.

17. … Whenever that carnal or animal sense introduces into this purpose of the mind which is conversant about things temporal and corporeal, with a view to the offices of a man’s actions, by the living force of reason, some inducement to enjoy itself, that is, to enjoy itself as if it were some private good of its own, not as the public and common, which is the unchangeable, good; then, as it were, the serpent discourses with the woman. And to consent to this allurement, is to eat of the forbidden tree. But if that consent is satisfied by the pleasure of thought alone, but the members are so restrained by the authority of higher counsel that they are not yielded as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; this, I think, is to be considered as if the woman alone should have eaten the forbidden food.

But if, in this consent to use wickedly the things which are perceived through the senses of the body, any sin at all is so determined upon, so that if possible it is also fulfilled by the body, then that woman must be understood to have given the unlawful food to her husband to eat it together with her. For it is not possible for the mind to determine that a sin is not only to be thought of with pleasure, but also to be effectually committed, unless also that intention of the mind yields, and serves the bad action, with which rests the chief power of applying the members to an outward act, or of restraining them from one.

18. And yet, certainly, when the mind is pleased in thought alone with unlawful things, while not indeed determining that they are to be done, but yet holding and pondering gladly things which ought to have been rejected the very moment they touched the mind, it cannot be denied to be a sin, but far less than if it were also determined to accomplished it in outward act. And therefore pardon must be sought for such thoughts too, and the breast must be smitten, and it must be said, “Forgive us our debts;” and what follows must be done, and must be joined in our prayer, “As we also forgive our debtors.” For it is not as it was with those two first human beings–in that case, each one bore his own person, and so, if the woman alone had eaten the forbidden food, she indeed alone would have been smitten with the punishment of death; we cannot say this in the case of a single human being now, that if the thought, remaining alone, be gladly fed with unlawful pleasures, from which it ought to turn away directly, while yet there is no determination that the bad actions are to be done, but only that they are retained with pleasure in remembrance, the woman as it were can be condemned without the man. Far be it from us to believe this. For here is one person, one human being, and he as a whole will be condemned, unless those things which, as lacking the will to do, and yet having the will to please the mind with them, are perceived to be sins of thought alone, are pardoned through the grace of the Mediator. (On the Trinity XII, ch. 12, emphasis added.)

Inasmuch as the Church's belief is manifested in her practice, the discipline of penance in the Church may support one or another interpretation of the common courses of a Christian's life.

While not having a strictly logical connection with it, the practice of having penance after baptism be a one-time only affair would harmonize with the idea that the fundamental orientation of people's lives cannot be expected to rapidly and frequently change, and in this sense the early practice of the Church would support with a certain interpretation of a fundamental option.

Aquinas on Mortal Sins of Passion

Though Aquinas clearly affirms that the influence of passions on the will can decrease the degree of voluntariness, and thus the merit or demerit of good actions or sins, when it comes to gravely disordered acts, such as fornication, masturbation, or theft, he still sees the issue as basically black or white: either the act is voluntary, and then it is a mortal sin; or it is not voluntary, and then it is not properly a sin at all. He affirms this position both in the De Malo, and in the Summa Theologiae.

De Malo, question 3, article 10

Whether sins committed out of passion are imputed to man as mortal fault

It should be said that since men sometimes commit adultery out of weakness or passion, and do many crimes or shameful things, as Peter did when he denied Christ out of fear, no one should have any doubt that sins perpetrated out of passion are sometimes mortal.

To understand this we should consider that the necessity based on something one's will has power over does not keep an act from being a mortal sin, just as, if someone stabs a dagger in someone's vital members it is necessary that that man die, but stabbing him is voluntary. Hence the death of the man who is stabbed is imputed to the one who struck him as a mortal fault.

And it is similar in the case we are considering; for given that reason is bound by passion, it is necessary that a disordered choice follow, but the will has the power to repel this bond of reason. For it was said that reason is bound due to the soul's intention being vehemently drawn to the act of the sensitive appetite; hence it is turned away from considering in particular that which it knows universally. But the will has the power to turn the intention to something or not. Hence it has the power to keep reason from being bound. Therefore the act committed on account of reason's being bound is voluntary; hence it is not excused from fault, even mortal fault. But if the bond of reason by passion goes so far that it is not in the will's power to remove such a bond, as if someone becomes insane through some passion of the soul, whatever he commits would not be imputed to him as fault, as neither would it be imputed to any insane person—unless perhaps such a passion was voluntary from its very beginning; for then the will could from the beginning prevent the passion for going so far; thus murder committed through drunkenness is imputed to man as fault, since the beginning of drunkenness was voluntary.

Summa Theologiae I-II, Question 77, Article 8

Whether a sin committed out of passion can be mortal

It should be said that mortal sin, as was said above, consists in turning away from the last end, which is God; this turning away pertains to the reason in its deliberation, since it is reason that orders things to the end. Therefore the only way in which the soul’s inclination to something which is contrary to the last end can be not a mortal sin, is because reason is unable to resist this inclination by its deliberation, as is the case in sudden movements of the passions. But when someone out of passion goes on to do a sinful act, or to deliberate consent, this does not happen suddenly. Hence reason by deliberating can resist this further act; for it can get rid of, or at least prevent it [from leading to action], as was said above. Hence if it does not resist it, it is a mortal sin. Thus we see that many murders and adulteries are committed out of passion.

In response to the third objection, which argues that mortal sin consists in turning away from God, and only man's spiritual faculty of reason can do this, while passion cannot strictly speaking turn toward or away from God, Aquinas argues:

It should be said that passion does not always impede reason totally from its act; hence it retains free judgment, so that it can turn away from or toward God. If, however, the use of reason were totally taken away, there would be neither a mortal nor a venial sin.

This response of Aquinas seems to indicate that his position is in fact quite a bit stronger than that “sin committed out of passion can be mortal”–that in his mind, every act that is objectively gravely disordered, if it is at all voluntary, though committed under the influence of passion, is a mortal sin.