There are different kinds of sin.
Circumstances which alter the nature of a sin must be specified in confession (Council of Trent, 14, 5).
All those sins which violate different commandments, or which are opposed to different virtues, are distinct in their nature one from the other; as also are those sins by which one and the same commandment is transgressed, or which are opposed to one and the same virtue, in different ways.
For instance, theft and lying are two different kinds of sins, because by theft the Seventh, by lying the Eighth Commandment, is broken. Pride and avarice are sins of a different kind, because they are opposed to two different virtues, humility and liberality. Theft and cheating are two sins of a different nature because they violate the Seventh Commandment in two several ways. Presumption of God’s mercy and despair are two sins of a different nature, because they are opposed to the virtue of hope in two different ways.
1. Sins are generally divided into sins of word, of thought, and of deed.
Hatred and murder are two different kinds of sin, because the Fifth Commandment is transgressed by them in two different ways, by thought and by deed. Boasting in speech and ostentation in dress are two different kinds of sin, because they offend against the virtue of humility in two different ways, by word and by deed.
2. A distinction also exists between our own sins, and the sins in which we co-operate.
Our own sins are those which we ourselves commit.
The sins in which we co-operate are those which we do not indeed commit ourselves, but for which we are to blame. We may be accessory to another’s sin by command, counsel, consent, praise, assistance, defence; by provocation or by silence, or by abstaining from punishing the ill done, although we might and ought to have prevented it.
The sinner is like a man with the leprosy; he leads others into sin as the leper infects others with his loathsome disease. In that case the guilt of their sin lies at his door. If a man sets fire to a house, he is to blame for the conflagration; if he gives his neighbor poison, he is answerable for his neighbor’s death. The same is true of us if we lead any one into sin, or even if we do not endeavor to prevent the sin. To leave a crime unpunished is to teach others to commit it. If the bodyguard of an emperor were to hear that an attempt had been made on the person of their imperial master, they would be sorely alarmed, for they would know that to allege that they had no part in it would be of no avail as an excuse; in like manner we shall have good cause for apprehension, if through our cowardice or negligence an affront has been offered to the divine majesty. He who might prevent an evil deed and does not do so, is to blame for that deed. In illustration of this remember how Herod commanded the murder of the holy innocents. Aaron consented to the Israelites demand and made the golden calf. The Jews were pleased because Herod had put the Apostle James to death; this induced him to apprehend St. Peter, with the intention of executing him also (Acts xii.). Saul assisted the men who stoned Stephen, by taking care of their garments. Job’s wife provoked her husband to anger and impatience; Tobias wife did the same. Heli, the high priest, did not rebuke his sons for their misdeeds nor correct them; for this God reprimanded him by Samuel’s mouth (1 Kings in.). Those, too, who, being members of a council, through human respect do not protest against the passing of unjust decrees, are guilty of sin; the prophet compares such persons to dumb dogs, not able to bark (Is. Ivi. 10).
Earthly potentates, legislative bodies, parents and superiors, employers of labor, editors of periodicals, and publishers, may easily render themselves guilty of the sin of others.
If the ruler of a nation enters upon an unjust war, is he not answerable for all the crimes which are perpetrated in that war? Who is to blame when laws are passed antagonistic to religion, where by the salvation of many is imperiled? Who is to blame when the daily papers are the means of stirring up national and religious animosities and rousing the spirit of persecution? Whose in such cases is the greater sin?
He who is to blame for another man’s sin deserves punishment quite as much as if he had committed the sin himself.
He who tempts another to sin is perhaps the more blameworthy of the two. Remember that God punished Eve more severely than Adam, because she led him into sin. Even to this day the consequences of original sin weigh more heavily upon the weaker than upon the sterner sex. To tempt others to sin is also a sin against charity. It is like the devil who, not content with being evil himself, seeks to make others evil. For this reason Our Lord exclaims: “Woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh. It were better for him that a millstone should be banged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. xviii. 6).
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THE COMPARATIVE MAGNITUDE OF SIN
This article, THE KINDS OF SIN is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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