A house does not fall all at once; at first a few drops of rain that are scarcely noticed soak into the walls, soften the mortar and loosen the stones; presently the whole building collapses. The devil sets to work in a similar way to destroy the soul. We learn from Eve’s example how sin begins.
Sin arises generally in the following manner:
1. First of all an evil thought comes into the mind, which in itself is not sinful. (Temptation.)
Within the heart there are two masters, whose characters are diametrically opposed; what one praises, the other blames. One of these is concupiscence, the other conscience. Hence when an evil thought comes into the mind, a struggle immediately arises: conscience admonishes and holds us back, concupiscence incites and urges us to evil. We can no more prevent bad thoughts from coming into the mind, than an island in mid-ocean can prevent the waves from dash ing on its shores; but as the island resists the force of the breakers, so we can withstand the assaults of temptation. We must instantly turn our thoughts elsewhere; by means of prayer, or the remembrance of death or of judgment. “In all things remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin” (Ecclus. vii. 40). Or we may recall to mind the terrible consequences of sin. What is of the greatest importance is to turn one’s thoughts at once; a fire just lighted is easily extinguished, a disease may be arrested in its first stage. Slay your enemy while he is young and feeble. Stifle evil thoughts at their birth; banish them the moment they present themselves.
2. If evil thoughts are not instantly expelled, they awaken in the mind complacency in what is evil, and that is already a venial sin.
Complacency or satisfaction in what is evil, may also be a mortal sin if we willingly take pleasure in something which is forbidden under pain of mortal sin. The evil thoughts which the devil puts into our mind may be compared to eggs; as after a period of incubation the young bird is produced from the egg, so sin is produced from evil thoughts if they are cherished in the breast and regarded with complacency. “When concupiscence hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin” (Jas. i. 15). “Evil thoughts are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. xv. 26). Forget not that God is omniscient; He sees all your thoughts. He knows them better than you do yourself, and at the judgment they will every one be disclosed.
3. The evil desire next arises; this has a turpitude corresponding to that of the sinful action towards which it is directed.
An evil desire is an act of the will, or deliberate consent. That which proceeds from the heart (i.e., the will), that is sin (Matt. xv. 19). Before God the will to sin counts as the deed of sin. He who entertains an evil desire has committed the sin already in his heart (Matt. v. 28). He who has consented to a mortal sin is like a stag, fatally wounded by the huntsman, which, if it escapes capture, cannot escape death. Evil desires may be compared to the little worms which perforate the keel of a vessel and render it unseaworthy, if they do not cause it to sink. So evil desires arrest the course of the good and pious on their voyage to the celestial haven, or even cause them to sink into the nethermost abyss. Many evil desires are mortal sins (Council of Trent, 14, c. 5). He who knows not how to tame his evil lusts, is like a rider whose horse takes fright and bolts, dragging him through bogs and morasses, for he will be drawn into mortal sin and finally cast into hell. How unhappy are you, if you cherish sinful desires in your heart!
4. Finally comes the resolution to commit the sin.
The evil concupiscence was merely a wish or longing for the sinful object. The resolution is a final decision to adopt the means necessary to the attainment of that object. Up to this point the sin is still an interior sin.
5. If occasion then presents itself for the sin, the exterior act is committed.
An exterior sin is attended by worse consequences than an interior sin; it augments the malice of the will, destroys the sense of shame, often gives scandal, brings misery on the sinner, and is more severely punished by God. A king has entrusted the defence of a fortress to his general. A messenger is sent in disguise to this general, bearing a letter, in which a large sum of money is offered him if he will surrender the fortress. Three courses of action are open to the general; either he will reject the offer and have the messenger hanged for a spy; or he may enter into negotiations with him at first, and presently break them off; or he may open the gates to the enemy. Our soul is that fortress; we are its commandant and our adversary is the devil. He sends out envoys seeking by all manner of promises and representations to estrange us from God. If we indignantly reject his advances, our loyalty to God is thereby confirmed; if we take pleasure in his suggestions, we begin to fail in fidelity to God and deserve punishment; but if we commit the sin, we surrender our soul to the devil, who enters in with all his satellites. After mortal sin, the soul is in a state of sin. When water is once frozen, it remains a block of ice, until it is melted by heat. Thus it is with this man who falls into mortal sin; he continues in a state of sin until he is brought to repentance. Hence we say: That man lives in sin, or, he died in his sins, etc.
6. By the repetition of exterior sins the habit of sin, or vice, is contracted.
If mortal sin be repeated many times the habit of sin is formed; that is to say the sinner acquires a certain proficiency in wickedness, and the will is permanently inclined to evil. The Fathers point to the three instances in which Christ raised the dead as exemplifying mortal sin in its three stages: interior sin, exterior sin, and the habit of vice. Whoso only sins in his heart, is like the daughter of Jairus, who lay dead within the house; he who commits sin outwardly, is like the young man at Nairn, who was carried out of the city gates; while he who is given up to vice is like Lazarus, who had lain several days in the grave. In the first two instances Our Lord merely bade the dead arise, in the last He was troubled in spirit, He wept, He caused the stone to be removed and called loudly into the interior of the sepulchre. This He did to signify the great difficulty of reawakening one who is sunk in vice to the life of the Spirit.
7. Every outward sin and every vice brings, as its own punishment, other sins and vices of a different nature in its train.
The grace of God departs from every man who has fallen into mortal sin. Not so temptation. In fact the evil enemy bestirs himself the more to bind his captive more tightly. Now since temptation cannot be overcome without God’s grace, the sinner falls lower and lower, from one sin to another. The sins which follow upon _ a sin may therefore be called the chastisement of sin. Holy Scripture expresses the withdrawal of grace in words such as these: “God blinded the eyes, or hardened the heart of the sinner” (e.g., Pharao). “God delivered him up to a reprobate sense” (Rom. i. 28).
8. If any vice is firmly rooted in the soul, it oftentimes brings after it sins of the worst type, and those that are said to cry to Heaven for vengeance; finally it produces complete obduracy in the sinner.
He who has for a lengthened period been given over to a life of sin, does not shrink from the greatest excesses. And just as perfection in virtue procures for mortal man upon earth happiness which is almost that of heaven, and exalts him to union with God, so there are different grades in vice, by which the soul descends to the condition of the reprobate and her complete separation from God is consummated. Finally he who is the slave of vice is often inspired by a bitter hatred against God, and willfully and of set purpose resists the influence and action of the Holy Spirit; and at last by final impenitence commits the sin against the Holy Ghost which cannot be forgiven.
This article, THE DEVELOPMENT OF SIN is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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