Fr. Henry Brinkmeyer
In creating the world, God necessarily had an end in view. That end was His own glory. The Scriptures accordingly tell us that He made all things for Himself. He was free to create, but, having determined to create, He could not create but to manifest His glory. We exist ultimately for that. His majesty, His love, His wisdom, all require that we serve to that end, and that all our interests, spiritual and temporal, private and public, be subordinate to His honor and glory. His end as Creator is necessarily our end as creatures; hence, we are not to serve God solely with a view to our own salvation, but above all, to promote His interests, His glory. Yet, how it can be truly said that God created the world out of love, and that He made all things for man's sake, would involve long explanations and thus lead too far from our present subject. Only let it be well understood that the glory of God is the end of creation, and that all creatures exist for that end.
Now, what is sin? Sin is a violation of this supreme law of creation that all things must tend to God's greater glory. The sinner breaks through the order that divine wisdom has necessarily established; he virtually makes for himself another end; he relegates God, the supreme Good, to an inferior place, and practically substitutes for God a created thing, by living for it as his end. Sin is likewise an act of disobedience to the highest Lawgiver, an ingratitude to our greatest Benefactor, an impiety to our best Father, a folly because a surrendering of our true peace and happiness. But the quintessence of sin lies in the offense given to God, the wrong done to Him, by making a creature occupy the place that is and must be His. He must be the highest, the first and the last, He must be the end for which all creation exists, lives and moves. To deny it by substituting a creature in His place is a species of idolatry, it is casting Him from His throne, it is necessarily a wrong done Him, an insult offered Him. True, God cannot be deprived of His own infinite peace and happiness; and because supremely wise and powerful, He can draw good out of evil. He can, even in hell, force the sinner to acknowledge His justice and might and holiness. Yet it is also true that sin virtually desires the destruction, the annihilation of God. To reduce the Supreme Being to the order of a creature, to put Him after a creature, is to dethrone Him, to destroy, to annihilate Him. That is precisely what sin does. In effect - that is, in reality - it cannot destroy God, but in desire, as far as possible, it does destroy God. Here we have the very essence of sin.
At this point, the question arises: Is this offense, which constitutes every mortal sin, infinite? Every mortal sin is an insult offered to God, an injury inflicted upon Him. Is this insult, this injury, infinite? To answer this question correctly, we must carefully distinguish between what theologians now call active and passive injury.
Active injury is the act itself which inflicts injury. Sin, taken in this sense, is not infinite. Sin often requires but a moment for its commission, then it becomes a thing of the past. The act is transitory, the act of a creature, and limited and therefore finite. The so-called stain that sin leaves upon the soul is also finite, for that stain is nothing else than the deprivation of grace, and grace is something created, something finite. The turning to a creature as to its end is likewise finite, for that creature is finite. Hence, we say, the offense which constitutes mortal sin is finite in as far as it is an act.
But there is also a passive offense, a passive injury. Passive injury is the wrong which the person who is injured suffers. An illustration may reflect a stronger light upon the truth of this statement. I injure my neighbor by destroying his dwelling. My guilt may be increased or lessened by circumstances. It may have been carelessness on my part, or vindictiveness; the crime may have been committed consciously, with great deliberation, or in a fit of passion, etc., etc. Circumstances of time, place, manner, motive, all affect the measure of my active injury. But there is also the damage inflicted on my neighbor. That damage is independent of my guilt: it may be to the amount of one or five thousand dollars; its magnitude is not influenced by my personal culpability. He suffers an injury; that injury is called a passive injury.
Thus we see the offense of sin, as an act, is not infinite. But, we ask, is the offense, the wrong which God suffers from mortal sin infinite? Sound theology answers, yes. For the magnitude of an offense is measured, first, by the worth, the dignity, the greatness of the one offended. The more elevated the person offended, the greater the insult which is offered him. And since God's dignity and excellence are unlimited, since His rights to the creature's submission are boundless, since His sovereignty, His goodness, His perfections are simply infinite, the insult by which His majesty is outraged, and a creature substituted as last end, must consequently be infinite. Such is the argument of Saint Thomas: He who commits mortal sin loves the creature more than he loves God. Loving the creature more, he prefers it to God. But to prefer the less worthy to the more worthy is to offend the more worthy, and the offense is the greater, the greater the difference between the two. Consequently, mortal sin, in a sense, is an infinite offense because of the infinite majesty of God.
There is an objection urged against this conclusion, the refutation of which will throw light upon the utility of the distinction between active and passive injury. The matter may present some difficulties, but the attempt to solve them will without doubt enable us to understand a long series of practical truths. The objection is as follows: The injury inflicted grows indeed with the dignity of the person offended, but not in arithmetical proportion, that is to say, not altogether in the same degree. For otherwise we might also argue thus: the excellence of an act grows with the excellence of its object; the object of an act of divine love, God, is infinitely excellent; hence an act of divine love is an act of infinite excellence, which would be false. Therefore, it is said, the argument of Saint Thomas is illogical and false. The answer to this objection is plain. An act is not yet infinitely excellent, because its object is infinitely excellent; a great many factors may enter to make that act more or less perfect. If you say, for example, to the farmer: "The more corn you sow, the more you will reap", he will admit it. But say to him: "Sow double the amount of corn, and you will reap double the amount", he will laugh at you, for the success of his act of sowing will depend upon a great many contingent factors, on the quality of soil, weather, labor, etc. But the status of the question is different when you speak, not of an act, but the injury done by an act. When I do another an injury, that injury must not be measured by my personal culpability alone, but by the amount of damage that the other suffers. A man can throw a diamond into the ocean, or a child can do this, but in either case the diamond is lost, the loss inflicted upon the owner is equally great. In like manner, when Saint Thomas argues that the injury of sin is infinite, he speaks of passive injury, of the injury that God suffers, the wrong that is done Him, the insult that is offered Him. The sinner who commits mortal sin, may be more or less guilty. But in every case, the insult offered is infinite, because, to repeat once more, in desire at least, God is annihilated and a creature chosen as His substitute.
As by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin, death, so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.
And we have our own personal sins; how many, God only knows! Who can pay our tremendous debt? What reparation is necessary? How can we make it? That, we shall study in our next conference. May God bless our efforts that the truth make us in more than one sense free!