Page 6, 11th April 1974

11th April 1974
Page 6
Page 6, 11th April 1974 — St Thomas Aquinas on mortal and venial sin

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St Thomas Aquinas on mortal and venial sin


St Thomas Aquinas, Summit Thenlogiae

Vol 27, Prima Sec 86-86-89: Effects of Sin: Stain and Guilt (Eyre and Spottiswoode £2.75).

Vol .36. SEC Sec 47-56: Prudence (Eyre and Spottiswoode £3).

The mighty translation, with English facing Latin, rolls on towards its 60-volume target. Vol 27 is all about mortal and venial sin. St Thomas, writing before Luther and Freud and Graham Greene, perforce had to make do with St Augustine, 1.r T. C. O'Brien, who edits the volume. writes thoughtful introduction, notes and annenJices showing how Aquinas turns Aristotle's rather impersonal "Ethics" into a personal relationship of charity between God and man.

If there is any query anywhere about a probable third degree of sin, in between mortal and venial, this reviewer has missed it, but he gets the firm impression that both St Thomas and his commentator, though too modest to think up such a novel suggestion themselves, would have been the first to vote in favour.

Volume 36 (edited by the general editor himself, Fr Thomas (MK OP) is a momentous one, all on the virtue "Prudence", that quality of mind and character which might better be &ailed practical Wisdom and which, aided by its associated Spirit of "counsel," is the central guiding light for the whole field of human conduct.

"Conscience," as understood in the terminology of Aquinas and the scholastics and theologians and Popes in general, is only a subordinate application of this lofty virtue. a mere immediate judgment about one particular action here and now; in fact the word "con

science" or its equivalent seem not to occur at all in this part of. the Summa.

In the current crisis of the Church the most valuable pages of the present volume are the two which Fr Gilby devotes to an appendix of his own on "Prudence and Conscience." (pp 180-181.) Unobstrusively but definitely he straightens out this misunderstanding creating terminological confusion.

"Nowadays conscience has a wider meaning," he remarks. For all civilised men outside theological schools and curial documents, the word "con

science" now means not just the

here-and-now decision about a paricular action, but a habit. or disposition; nothing less than the highest moral sense available from right reason and

eery other source, about what

is eternally right and wrong in the sight of God. (The

scholastics did invent a word for It. synteresis, which somehow never caueht on.)

When people (even Catholics) say that conscience must always be followed, this

general moral outlook is what they have in mind rather than

the opinion of every Torn, Dick

and Harry which is almost certain to be wrong. That there is

such a supreme moaal sense available, if men can only avail themselves of it, is what this volume of St Thomas assert, and his name for it is "Prudence," plus "Counsel."

Hence this volume contributes towards the Great

Clarification which slowly, but oh so slowly and agonisingly, is being hammered out_

Second novel

by Gerard Noel A Sense of Survival by Kea in Casey (Faber & Faber £2.75) Is it partly because a sense of laith cannot always compete successfully with A Sense of Survival ? The latter is the title of an ambitious second novel by the talented Kevin Casey.

The present one is something like a motor car drive that starts at a cracking pace and promises to be exciting. But the pace soon slackens and there seems to be a lot of bad luck with red lights, drivers. For . the c e novelist is attempting that difficult task of weaving many lives together by virtue of the few days they speed under the same roof — a rather seedy boarding house in Tangier.

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