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87. The Debt of Punishment for Sin

1. What offends against an order is punished by thatorder. If a man offends against the order of reason (as he offendsin sinning), he is punished by reason through remorse ofconscience. If a man offends against human law he is fined orimprisoned by human law. If a man rebels against the divine law, hedeserves punishment by that same law. Hence, sin incurs punishment;it lays the debt of punishment upon the sinner. Sin by its verynature incurs the debt of due punishment.

2. Sin can be (not essentially, but accidentally) thepunishment for sin. For by sin man loses grace, and so leaveshimself open to further sins; these, if they occur, may be regardedin the light of punishment for the first offense. For these sinsplunge the sinner more deeply into his weakness and they lay uponhim an increasing debt of punishment due. Sometimes the effect ofsin is actual pain or even disease; here the punishment is not onlyfor preceding sins, but for the sin which causes the pain. In thissense a sin can sometimes be called its own punishment.

3. Sins which destroy charity by turning man entirely awayfromGod cause a complete disruption of the order which alignsa man with his true good. This destruction of charity is, initself, irreparable; it is as irreparable as the destruction ofhuman life by murder is irreparable. Yet God's power can repairthe total destruction of charity, even as God's power canrestore a murdered man to life. But unless and until God'spower restores the soul to its true order of charity, the soulremains disrupted forever. Hence, serious sin merits eternalpunishment.

4. But sin does not incur infinite punishment. It inflictsinfinite loss, since it causes the loss of the infinite God. But itcannot incur infinite pain, for the senses are finite.

5. Not all sins are completely destructive of charity.Some sins are only a partial turning from God. These sins deservepunishment, but not eternal punishment. Such sins are called venialsins. They deserve temporal punishment.

6. When the act of sin is over, guilt remains in thesinner's soul, and the debt of due punishment remains. And whenthe stain of serious sin is removed by repentance and grace, theremay still be need of some punishment as satisfaction, but not assimple penalty. To this extent, the debt of punishment canremain after forgiven sin.

7. Punishment taken simply as penalty always has referenceto sin, original or actual. But we must not suppose that all thetrials and hardships of life are punishments. Many of these aretonics for the soul, and remedies for its deficiencies. Thephysician who requires his patient to swallow bitter medicine or toundertake painful exercise, is not punishing the patient, butassisting him to health. The physician is not inflicting penalty,but conferring benefit. So it is with many of the pains anddistresses which we endure in life; these are medicines prescribedby God for our eternal welfare.

8. Punishment as penalty for sin is never imposed onanyone but the sinner. Except in the medicinal sense explained inthe preceding paragraph, the sins of parents are not visited on thechildren who are in no sense partakers of their parents' sins.In spiritual matters, no one suffers loss without some fault of hisown. Therefore, penalties, whether material or spiritual, are notinflicted on one person for another's sin.

"Though the path is plain and smooth for people of good will, those who walk it will not travel far, and will do so only with difficulty if they do not have good feet, courage, and tenacity of spirit. "
St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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"Let persons in the world sanctify themselves in their own houses, for neither the court, professions, or labour, are any hindrance to the service of God."
St Philip Neri

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"The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you."
Thomas á Kempis

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