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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.

"Spiritual persons ought to be equally ready to experience sweetness and consolation in the things of God, or to suffer and keep their ground in drynesses of spirit and devotion, and for as long as God pleases, without their making any complaint about it."
St Philip Neri

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"The essence of perfection is to embrace the will of God in all things, prosperous or adverse. In prosperity, even sinners find it easy to unite themselves to the divine will; but it takes saints to unite themselves to God's will when things go wrong and are painful to self-love. Our conduct in such instances is the measure of our love of God."
St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"Men should often renew their good resolutions, and not lose heart because they are tempted against them."
St Philip Neri

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