1. He who wittingly and willingly transgresses one of God’s commandments is guilty of sin.
Adam and Eve in paradise transgressed the commandment of God; they knew it well, and no one, not even the serpent, compelled them to violate it. Thus they committed a sin. The commandments of God are principally the Ten Commandments, and the precept to do works of mercy, besides all other precepts enjoined upon us in God’s name. The commandments either enjoin or prohibit some act, therefore they are divided into sins of commission and sins of omission. As the divine law is for the safeguarding of the majesty of God, or for our own welfare or the good of our neighbor, we sin in transgressing that law, either against God, our neighbor, or our selves. Sin is nothing else but revolt against and disobedience to God (Rom. iv. 15; 1 John iii. 4). The sinner throws off the yoke of God, saying: “I will not serve” (Jer. ii. 20). He attacks God, he would fain destroy Him, that He might no longer see and punish his transgressions. When we commit sin, we take up arms against God, we crucify again the Son of God (Heb. vi. 6), by making the Redeemer’s blood of no avail. The malice of the sinner pains Our Lord more deeply than all the sufferings of His Passion, just as the loss of his wages is more grievous to the workingman than all the toil he has gone through. How foolish it would be of any one in the world to offend an individual on whom his whole future happiness depended; how much more foolishly then do we act, when we make Him our enemy Whose aid is indispensable to us for all things and at all times, and on Whom our eternal salvation depends. If your life was at another man’s mercy, would you venture to insult that man? Remember your existence depends entirely upon the will of God; it hangs as by a thread, at any moment He could cast you back into the nothingness whence you came, and yet you do not fear to provoke His anger. Miserable mortals that we are, we cannot tolerate the slightest indignity offered us by our fellow-men, who are our equals, and yet we ourselves show the utmost disrespect to the Lord of heaven!
It is not counted as a sin if we commit an evil action, of the sinfulness of which we are ignorant, through no fault of our own, nor if our will does not consent to the evil deed.
Noe’s intoxication was guiltless, because he was not aware of the inebriating qualities of wine. If one eat meat on Friday, forgetting that it is Friday, it is no sin. But it is quite otherwise if it is in consequence of a long-continued habit of sin that one fails to see the guilt of an action, or if one’s ignorance of its sinfulness is due to culpable negligence. “It is one thing,” says St. Gregory, “not to know, another to wish not to know; for he who closes his eyes that he may not see the truth is a despiser of the law.” Those who in the present day avoid hearing sermons will have no excuse before God. We do not commit sin so long as we do not consent to what is evil. The early Christians had incense forcibly thrust into their hands, and were compelled to cast it upon the altar; were they to blame? Evil thoughts are suggested by the devil, but if we do not consent to them, we commit no sin, any more than we are responsible for what we do in our dreams. We should not allow these thoughts to disquiet us, but simply put them out of our minds. But actions done with out our will most certainly are sinful, if we are to blame for the cause of those actions. The misdeeds of a drunken man are unquestionably sins, if in any way he foresees them as a consequence of his intoxication.
2. Sin is in its essence an unlawful turning towards the creature and turning away from God.
St. Bonaventure says that turning towards creatures is the source of all sin. Earthly creatures are only a means for the attainment of everlasting felicity; they are in no wise the final end of man. It is with them as with drugs; used in moderation they are beneficial, but used immoderately they are injurious and a hindrance in the way of our salvation. Therefore God only allows us to use creatures within a certain limit, and in fact only in so far as they are necessary or helpful to our eternal happiness; for instance, He permits us to take such nourishment as is needful for the support of nature, but forbids excess in eating and drinking; He permits us to have possessions of our own, but not to take what belongs to our neighbor. He who uses creatures to a greater extent, or otherwise than God ordains (doing violence to the creature, (Rom. viii. 22), wanders away from God and from his final end; he prefers transient joys to eternal bliss (Wisd. ii. 1-9). Thus a child, if a lump of sugar and a piece of gold be offered him, chooses the sugar. The sinner forsakes God, the fountain of living waters, and digs to himself broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jer. ii. 13). Sin is a species of idolatry; for the sinner worships the creature in the place of the Creator; his sin is his god. By sin man becomes the servant of the creature, he becomes dependent upon creatures; he is like a fish caught upon a hook, and held fast by it. Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin (John viii. 34). He .is worse than a servant, for a servant can run away; but the servant of sin cannot escape from sin; he carries it with him whithersoever he goes.
3. Sin is the one only evil upon earth; it robs man of the supernatural beauty of the soul, it makes him resemble the devil, and brings misery upon him even while he is on earth.
Sin is the one only evil in the world. We mortals are accustomed to regard the sufferings and contradictions of this life as evils, whereas they are graces in reality; since, far from separating us from God, they bring us nearer to Him. Through sin man becomes worthless in God’s sight; through sin, he, who is made of nothing, returns to his original nothingness. St. John Chrysostom says: “Many consider eternal damnation to be the greatest of all evils; but for my part, I always assert that to offend Jesus Christ is a far greater evil.” Sin is a greater evil than the annihilation of the world, nay, of a million worlds, with their countless inhabitants. Sin is the only real disgrace. When it was said to St. Francis Xavier, the apostle of the Indies, who bore the title of Apostolic Legate, that it was a degradation to him to wash his own linen, he replied: “Nothing degrades the Christian except sin.” Through sin the supernatural beauty of the soul is lost. As a white robe is soiled and stained if it comes into contact with the mud of the streets, so the soul loses her supernatural beauty, which consists in sanctifying grace, and contracts a hideous stain, through the inordinate love of creatures. On some one observing to St. Francis Chantal, when she was nursing a leper, that she might easily take the disease, she answered: “I fear no leprosy but the leprosy of sin.” Sin renders man like to the devil. Sinners are imitators and followers of the devil (Wisd. ii. 25). They are made one with him by sin. “He that committeth sin is of the devil” (1 John iii. 8). They even become his children by sin (v. 10). Our Lord said to the Pharisees in the Temple: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you will do” (John viii. 44). Sin makes the misery of man even while he is on earth. If the heavenly bodies forsook their orbits, they would be dashed to pieces; if the train becomes derailed, a catastrophe ensues. So God’s rational creatures, the human race, are overtaken by disaster if they transgress the law God has laid down for them. The sinner rebels against the rules of his own reason, the rules of society, the rules that govern the universe; for this he has to endure the reproaches of conscience, the penalties of the law, and the chastisements of God.
This article, III. SIN is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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