Summa Th. III EN Qu.84 a.5
Objection: 1. It would seem that this sacrament is not necessary for salvation. Because on Ps 125,5, "They that sow in tears," etc., the gloss says: "Be not sorrowful, if thou hast a good will, of which peace is the meed." But sorrow is essential to Penance, according to 2Co 7,10: "The sorrow that is according to God worketh penance steadfast unto salvation." Therefore a good will without Penance suffices for salvation.
2. Further, it is written (Pr 10,12): "Charity covereth all sins," and further on (Pr 15,27): "By mercy and faith sins are purged away." But this sacrament is for nothing else but the purging of sins. Therefore if one has charity, faith, and mercy, one can obtain salvation, without the sacrament of Penance.
3. Further, the sacraments of the Church take their origin from the institution of Christ. But according to Jn 8 Christ absolved the adulterous woman without Penance. Therefore it seems that Penance is not necessary for salvation.
On the contrary our Lord said (Lc 13,3): "Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish."
I answer that A thing is necessary for salvation in two ways: first, absolutely; secondly, on a supposition. A thing is absolutely necessary for salvation, if no one can obtain salvation without it, as, for example, the grace of Christ, and the sacrament of Baptism, whereby a man is born again in Christ. The sacrament of Penance is necessary on a supposition, for it is necessary, not for all, but for those who are in sin. For it is written (2Ch 37 [*The prayer of Manasses, among the Apocrypha]), "Thou, Lord, God of the righteous, hast not appointed repentance to the righteous, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, nor to those who sinned not against Thee." But "sin, when it is completed, begetteth death" (Jc 1,15). Consequently it is necessary for the sinner's salvation that sin be taken away from him; which cannot be done without the sacrament of Penance, wherein the power of Christ's Passion operates through the priest's absolution and the acts of the penitent, who co-operates with grace unto the destruction of his sin. For as Augustine says (Tract. lxxii in Joan. [*Implicitly in the passage referred to, but explicitly Serm. xv de verb Apost.]), "He Who created thee without thee, will not justify thee without thee." Therefore it is evident that after sin the sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation, even as bodily medicine after man has contracted a dangerous disease.
Reply to Objection: 1. This gloss should apparently be understood as referring to the man who has a good will unimpaired by sin, for such a man has no cause for sorrow: but as soon as the good will is forfeited through sin, it cannot be restored without that sorrow whereby a man sorrows for his past sin, and which belongs to Penance.
2. As soon as a man falls into sin, charity, faith, and mercy do not deliver him from sin, without Penance. Because charity demands that a man should grieve for the offense committed against his friend, and that he should be anxious to make satisfaction to his friend; faith requires that he should seek to be justified from his sins through the power of Christ's Passion which operates in the sacraments of the Church; and well-ordered pity necessitates that man should succor himself by repenting of the pitiful condition into which sin has brought him, according to Pr 14,34: "Sin maketh nations miserable"; wherefore it is written (Si 30,24): "Have pity on thy own soul, pleasing God."
3. It was due to His power of "excellence," which He alone had, as stated above (Question , Article ), that Christ bestowed on the adulterous woman the effect of the sacrament of Penance, viz. the forgiveness of sins, without the sacrament of Penance, although not without internal repentance, which He operated in her by grace.
Objection: 1. It would seem that Penance is not a second plank after shipwreck. Because on Is 3,9, "They have proclaimed abroad their sin as Sodom," a gloss says: "The second plank after shipwreck is to hide one's sins." Now Penance does not hide sins, but reveals them. Therefore Penance is not a second plank.
2. Further, in a building the foundation takes the first, not the second place. Now in the spiritual edifice, Penance is the foundation, according to He 6,1: "Not laying again the foundation of Penance from dead works"; wherefore it precedes even Baptism, according to Ac 2,38: "Do penance, and be baptized every one of you." Therefore Penance should not be called a second plank.
3. Further, all the sacraments are planks, i.e. helps against sin. Now Penance holds, not the second but the fourth, place among the sacraments, as is clear from what has been said above (Question , Articles ,2). Therefore Penance should not be called a second plank after shipwreck.
On the contrary Jerome says (Ep. cxxx) that "Penance is a second plank after shipwreck."
I answer that That which is of itself precedes naturally that which is accidental, as substance precedes accident. Now some sacraments are, of themselves, ordained to man's salvation, e.g. Baptism, which is the spiritual birth, Confirmation which is the spiritual growth, the Eucharist which is the spiritual food; whereas Penance is ordained to man's salvation accidentally as it were, and on something being supposed, viz. sin: for unless man were to sin actually, he would not stand in need of Penance and yet he would need Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist; even as in the life of the body, man would need no medical treatment, unless he were ill, and yet life, birth, growth, and food are, of themselves, necessary to man.Consequently Penance holds the second place with regard to the state of integrity which is bestowed and safeguarded by the aforesaid sacraments, so that it is called metaphorically "a second plank after shipwreck." For just as the first help for those who cross the sea is to be safeguarded in a whole ship, while the second help when the ship is wrecked, is to cling to a plank; so too the first help in this life's ocean is that man safeguard his integrity, while the second help is, if he lose his integrity through sin, that he regain it by means of Penance.
Reply to Objection: 1. To hide one's sins may happen in two ways: first, in the very act of sinning. Now it is worse to sin in public than in private, both because a public sinner seems to sin more from contempt, and because by sinning he gives scandal to others. Consequently in sin it is a kind of remedy to sin secretly, and it is in this sense that the gloss says that "to hide one's sins is a second plank after shipwreck"; not that it takes away sin, as Penance does, but because it makes the sin less grievous. Secondly, one hides one's sin previously committed, by neglecting to confess it: this is opposed to Penance, and to hide one's sins thus is not a second plank, but is the reverse, since it is written (Pr 28,13): "He that hideth his sins shall not prosper."
2. Penance cannot be called the foundation of the spiritual edifice simply, i.e. in the first building thereof; but it is the foundation in the second building which is accomplished by destroying sin, because man, on his return to God, needs Penance first. However, the Apostle is speaking there of the foundation of spiritual doctrine. Moreover, the penance which precedes Baptism is not the sacrament of Penance.
3. The three sacraments which precede Penance refer to the ship in its integrity, i.e. to man's state of integrity, with regard to which Penance is called a second plank.
Objection: 1. It would seem that this sacrament was unsuitably instituted in the New Law. Because those things which belong to the natural law need not to be instituted. Now it belongs to the natural law that one should repent of the evil one has done: for it is impossible to love good without grieving for its contrary. Therefore Penance was unsuitably instituted in the New Law.
2. Further, that which existed in the Old Law had not to be instituted in the New. Now there was Penance in the old Law wherefore the Lord complains (Jr 8,6) saying: "There is none that doth penance for his sin, saying: What have I done?" Therefore Penance should not have been instituted in the New Law.
3. Further, Penance comes after Baptism, since it is a second plank, as stated above (Article ). Now it seems that our Lord instituted Penance before Baptism, because we read that at the beginning of His preaching He said (Mt 4,17): "Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Therefore this sacrament was not suitably instituted in the New Law.
4. Further, the sacraments of the New Law were instituted by Christ, by Whose power they work, as stated above (Question , Article ; Question , Article ). But Christ does not seem to have instituted this sacrament, since He made no use of it, as of the other sacraments which He instituted. Therefore this sacrament was unsuitably instituted in the New Law.
On the contrary our Lord said (Lc 24,46-47): "It behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day: and that penance and remission of sins should be preached in His name unto all nations."
I answer that As stated above (Article , ad 1, ad 2), in this sacrament the acts of the penitent are as matter, while the part taken by the priest, who works as Christ's minister, is the formal and completive element of the sacrament. Now in the other sacraments the matter pre-exists, being provided by nature, as water, or by art, as bread: but that such and such a matter be employed for a sacrament requires to be decided by the institution; while the sacrament derives its form and power entirely from the institution of Christ, from Whose Passion the power of the sacraments proceeds.Accordingly the matter of this sacrament pre-exists, being provided by nature; since it is by a natural principle of reason that man is moved to repent of the evil he has done: yet it is due to Divine institution that man does penance in this or that way. Wherefore at the outset of His preaching, our Lord admonished men, not only to repent, but also to "do penance," thus pointing to the particular manner of actions required for this sacrament. As to the part to be taken by the ministers, this was fixed by our Lord when He said to Peter (Mt 16,19): "To thee will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven," etc.; but it was after His resurrection that He made known the efficacy of this sacrament and the source of its power, when He said (Lc 24,47) that "penance and remission of sins should be preached in His name unto all nations," after speaking of His Passion and resurrection. Because it is from the power of the name of Jesus Christ suffering and rising again that this sacrament is efficacious unto the remission of sins.It is therefore evident that this sacrament was suitably instituted in the New Law.
Reply to Objection: 1. It is a natural law that one should repent of the evil one has done, by grieving for having done it, and by seeking a remedy for one's grief in some way or other, and also that one should show some signs of grief, even as the Ninevites did, as we read in Jn 3. And yet even in their case there was also something of faith which they had received through Jonas' preaching, inasmuch as they did these things in the hope that they would receive pardon from God, according as we read (Jn 3,9): "Who can tell if God will turn and forgive, and will turn away from His fierce anger, and we shall not perish?" But just as other matters which are of the natural law were fixed in detail by the institution of the Divine law, as we have stated in the FS, Question , Article ; FS, Question , Article ; FS, Question , so was it with Penance.
2. Things which are of the natural law were determined in various ways in the old and in the New Law, in keeping with the imperfection of the old, and the perfection of the New. Wherefore Penance was fixed in a certain way in the Old Law---with regard to sorrow, that it should be in the heart rather than in external signs, according to Joel 2:13: "Rend your hearts and not your garments"; and with regard to seeking a remedy for sorrow, that they should in some way confess their sins, at least in general, to God's ministers. Wherefore the Lord said (Lv 5,17-18): "If anyone sin through ignorance . . . he shall offer of the flocks a ram without blemish to the priest, according to the measure and estimation of the sin, and the priest shall pray for him, because he did it ignorantly, and it shall be forgiven him"; since by the very fact of making an offering for his sin, a man, in a fashion, confessed his sin to the priest. And accordingly it is written (Pr 28,13): "He that hideth his sins, shall not prosper: but he that shall confess, and forsake them, shall obtain mercy." Not yet, however, was the power of the keys instituted, which is derived from Christ's Passion, and consequently it was not yet ordained that a man should grieve for his sin, with the purpose of submitting himself by confession and satisfaction to the keys of the Church, in the hope of receiving forgiveness through the power of Christ's Passion.
3. If we note carefully what our Lord said about the necessity of Baptism (Jn 3,3, seqq.), we shall see that this was said before His words about the necessity of Penance (Mt 4,17); because He spoke to Nicodemus about Baptism before the imprisonment of John, of whom it is related afterwards (Jn 3,23-24) that he baptized, whereas His words about Penance were said after John was cast into prison.If, however, He had admonished men to do penance before admonishing them to be baptized, this would be because also before Baptism some kind of penance is required, according to the words of Peter (Ac 2,38): "Do penance, and be baptized, every one of you."
4. Christ did not use the Baptism which He instituted, but was baptized with the baptism of John, as stated above (Question , Articles ,2). Nor did He use it actively by administering it Himself, because He "did not baptize" as a rule, "but His disciples" did, as related in Jn 4,2, although it is to be believed that He baptized His disciples, as Augustine asserts (Ep. cclxv, ad Seleuc.). But with regard to His institution of this sacrament it was nowise fitting that He should use it, neither by repenting Himself, in Whom there was no sin, nor by administering the sacrament to others, since, in order to show His mercy and power, He was wont to confer the effect of this sacrament without the sacrament itself, as stated above (Article , ad 3). On the other hand, He both received and gave to others the sacrament of the Eucharist, both in order to commend the excellence of that sacrament, and because that sacrament is a memorial of His Passion, in which Christ is both priest and victim.
Objection: 1. It would seem that Penance should not last till the end of life. Because Penance is ordained for the blotting out of sin. Now the penitent receives forgiveness of his sins at once, according to Ez 18,21: "If the wicked do penance for all his sins which he hath committed . . . he shall live and shall not die." Therefore there is no need for Penance to be further prolonged.
2. Further, Penance belongs to the state of beginners. But man ought to advance from that state to the state of the proficient, and, from this, on to the state of the perfect. Therefore man need not do Penance till the end of his life.
3. Further, man is bound to observe the laws of the Church in this as in the other sacraments. But the duration of repentance is fixed by the canons, so that, to wit, for such and such a sin one is bound to do penance for so many years. Therefore it seems that Penance should not be prolonged till the end of life.
On the contrary Augustine says in his book, De Poenitentia [*De vera et falsa Poenitentia, the authorship of which is unknown]: "What remains for us to do, save to sorrow ever in this life? For when sorrow ceases, repentance fails; and if repentance fails, what becomes of pardon?"
I answer that Penance is twofold, internal and external. Internal penance is that whereby one grieves for a sin one has committed, and this penance should last until the end of life. Because man should always be displeased at having sinned, for if he were to be pleased thereat, he would for this very reason fall into sin and lose the fruit of pardon. Now displeasure causes sorrow in one who is susceptible to sorrow, as man is in this life; but after this life the saints are not susceptible to sorrow, wherefore they will be displeased at, without sorrowing for, their past sins, according to Is 65,16. "The former distresses are forgotten."External penance is that whereby a man shows external signs of sorrow, confesses his sins verbally to the priest who absolves him, and makes satisfaction for his sins according to the judgment of the priest. Such penance need not last until the end of life, but only for a fixed time according to the measure of the sin.
Reply to Objection: 1. True penance not only removes past sins, but also preserves man from future sins. Consequently, although a man receives forgiveness of past sins in the first instant of his true penance, nevertheless he must persevere in his penance, lest he fall again into sin.
2. To do penance both internal and external belongs to the state of beginners, of those, to wit, who are making a fresh start from the state of sin. But there is room for internal penance even in the proficient and the perfect, according to Ps 83,7: "In his heart he hath disposed to ascend by steps, in the vale of tears." Wherefore Paul says (1Co 15,9): "I . . . am not worthy to be called an apostle because I persecuted the Church of God."
3. These durations of time are fixed for penitents as regards the exercise of external penance.
Objection: 1. It would seem that penance cannot be continuous. For it is written (Jr 31,16): "Let thy voice cease from weeping, and thy eyes from tears." But this would be impossible if penance were continuous, for it consists in weeping and tears. Therefore penance cannot be continuous.
2. Further, man ought to rejoice at every good work, according to Ps 99,1: "Serve ye the Lord with gladness." Now to do penance is a good work. Therefore man should rejoice at it. But man cannot rejoice and grieve at the same time, as the Philosopher declares (Ethic. ix, 4). Therefore a penitent cannot grieve continually for his past sins, which is essential to penance. Therefore penance cannot be continuous.
3. Further, the Apostle says (2Co 2,7): "Comfort him," viz. the penitent, "lest perhaps such an one be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow." But comfort dispels grief, which is essential to penance. Therefore penance need not be continuous.
On the contrary Augustine says in his book on Penance [*De vera et falsa Poenitentia, the authorship of which is unknown]: "In doing penance grief should be continual."
I answer that One is said to repent in two ways, actually and habitually. It is impossible for a man continually to repent actually. for the acts, whether internal or external, of a penitent must needs be interrupted by sleep and other things which the body needs. Secondly, a man is said to repent habitually. and thus he should repent continually, both by never doing anything contrary to penance, so as to destroy the habitual disposition of the penitent, and by being resolved that his past sins should always be displeasing to him.
Reply to Objection: 1. Weeping and tears belong to the act of external penance, and this act needs neither to be continuous, nor to last until the end of life, as stated above (Article ): wherefore it is significantly added: "For there is a reward for thy work." Now the reward of the penitent's work is the full remission of sin both as to guilt and as to punishment; and after receiving this reward there is no need for man to proceed to acts of external penance. This, however, does not prevent penance being continual, as explained above.
2. Of sorrow and joy we may speak in two ways: first, as being passions of the sensitive appetite; and thus they can no. wise be together, since they are altogether contrary to one another, either on the part of the object (as when they have the same object), or at least on the part of the movement, for joy is with expansion [*Cf. FS, Question , Article ] of the heart, whereas sorrow is with contraction; and it is in this sense that the Philosopher speaks in Ethic. ix. Secondly, we may speak of joy and sorrow as being simple acts of the will, to which something is pleasing or displeasing. Accordingly, they cannot be contrary to one another, except on the part of the object, as when they concern the same object in the same respect, in which way joy and sorrow cannot be simultaneous, because the same thing in the same respect cannot be pleasing and displeasing. If, on the other hand, joy and sorrow, understood thus, be not of the same object in the same respect, but either of different objects, or of the same object in different respects, in that case joy and sorrow are not contrary to one another, so that nothing hinders a man from being joyful and sorrowful at the same time---for instance, if we see a good man suffer, we both rejoice at his goodness and at the same time grieve for his suffering. In this way a man may be displeased at having sinned, and be pleased at his displeasure together with his hope for pardon, so that his very sorrow is a matter of joy. Hence Augustine says [*De vera et falsa Poenitentia, the authorship of which is unknown]: "The penitent should ever grieve and rejoice at his grief."If, however, sorrow were altogether incompatible with joy, this would prevent the continuance, not of habitual penance, but only of actual penance.
3. According to the Philosopher (Ethic. ii, 3,6,7,9) it belongs to virtue to establish the mean in the passions. Now the sorrow which, in the sensitive appetite of the penitent, arises from the displeasure of his will, is a passion; wherefore it should be moderated according to virtue, and if it be excessive it is sinful, because it leads to despair, as the Apostle teaches (2Co 2,7), saying: "Lest such an one be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow." Accordingly comfort, of which the Apostle speaks, moderates sorrow but does not destroy it altogether.
Objection: 1. It would seem that the sacrament of Penance should not be repeated. For the Apostle says (He 6,4, seqq.): "It is impossible for those, who were once illuminated, have tasted also the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost . . . and are fallen away, to be renewed again to penance." Now whosoever have done penance, have been illuminated, and have received the gift of the Holy Ghost. Therefore whosoever sin after doing penance, cannot do penance again.
2. Further, Ambrose says (De Poenit. ii): "Some are to be found who think they ought often to do penance, who take liberties with Christ: for if they were truly penitent, they would not think of doing penance over again, since there is but one Penance even as there is but one Baptism." Now Baptism is not repeated. Neither, therefore, is Penance to be repeated.
3. Further, the miracles whereby our Lord healed bodily diseases, signify the healing of spiritual diseases, whereby men are delivered from sins. Now we do not read that our Lord restored the sight to any blind man twice, or that He cleansed any leper twice, or twice raised any dead man to life. Therefore it seems that He does not twice grant pardon to any sinner.
4. Further, Gregory says (Hom. xxxiv in Evang.): "Penance consists in deploring past sins, and in not committing again those we have deplored": and Isidore says (De Summo Bono ii): "He is a mocker and no penitent who still does what he has repented of." If, therefore, a man is truly penitent, he will not sin again. Therefore Penance cannot be repeated.
5. Further, just as Baptism derives its efficacy from the Passion of Christ, so does Penance. Now Baptism is not repeated, on account of the unity of Christ's Passion and death. Therefore in like manner Penance is not repeated.
6. Further, Ambrose says on Ps 118,58, "I entreated Thy face," etc., that "facility of obtaining pardon is an incentive to sin." If, therefore, God frequently grants pardon through Penance, it seems that He affords man an incentive to sin, and thus He seems to take pleasure in sin, which is contrary to His goodness. Therefore Penance cannot be repeated.
On the contrary Man is induced to be merciful by the example of Divine mercy, according to Lc 6,36: "Be ye . . . merciful, as your Father also is merciful." Now our Lord commanded His disciples to be merciful by frequently pardoning their brethren who had sinned against them; wherefore, as related in Mt 18,21, when Peter asked: "How often shall my brother off end against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" Jesus answered: "I say not to thee, till seven times, but till seventy times seven times." Therefore also God over and over again, through Penance, grants pardon to sinners, especially as He teaches us to pray (Mt 6,12): "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us."
I answer that As regards Penance, some have erred, saying that a man cannot obtain pardon of his sins through Penance a second time. Some of these, viz. the Novatians, went so far as to say that he who sins after the first Penance which is done in Baptism, cannot be restored again through Penance. There were also other heretics who, as Augustine relates in De Poenitentia [*De vera et falsa Poenitentia, the authorship of which is unknown], said that, after Baptism, Penance is useful, not many times, but only once.These errors seem to have arisen from a twofold source: first from not knowing the nature of true Penance. For since true Penance requires charity, without which sins are not taken away, they thought that charity once possessed could not be lost, and that, consequently, Penance, if true, could never be removed by sin, so that it should be necessary to repeat it. But this was refuted in the SS, Question , Article , where it was shown that on account of free-will charity, once possessed, can be lost, and that, consequently, after true Penance, a man can sin mortally. Secondly, they erred in their estimation of the gravity of sin. For they deemed a sin committed by a man after he had received pardon, to be so grave that it could not be forgiven. In this they erred not only with regard to sin which, even after a sin has been forgiven, can be either more or less grievous than the first, which was forgiven, but much more did they err against the infinity of Divine mercy, which surpasses any number and magnitude of sins, according to Ps 50,1-2: "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy: and according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies, blot out my iniquity." Wherefore the words of Cain were reprehensible, when he said (Gn 4,13): "My iniquity is greater than that I may deserve pardon." And so God's mercy, through Penance, grants pardon to sinners without any end, wherefore it is written (2Ch 37 [*Prayer of Manasses, among the Apocrypha. St. Thomas is evidently quoting from memory, and omits the words in brackets.]): "Thy merciful promise is unmeasurable and unsearchable . . . (and Thou repentest) for the evil brought upon man." It is therefore evident that Penance can be repeated many times.
Reply to Objection: 1. Some of the Jews thought that a man could be washed several times in the laver of Baptism, because among them the Law prescribed certain washing-places where they were wont to cleanse themselves repeatedly from their uncleannesses. In order to disprove this the Apostle wrote to the Hebrews that "it is impossible for those who were once illuminated," viz. through Baptism, "to be renewed again to penance," viz. through Baptism, which is "the laver of regeneration, and renovation of the Holy Ghost," as stated in Titus 3:5: and he declares the reason to be that by Baptism man dies with Christ, wherefore he adds (He 6,6): "Crucifying again to themselves the Son of God."
2. Ambrose is speaking of solemn Penance, which is not repeated in the Church, as we shall state further on (XP, Question , Article ).
3. As Augustine says [*De vera et falsa Poenitentia the authorship of which is unknown], "Our Lord gave sight to many blind men at various times, and strength to many infirm, thereby showing, in these different men, that the same sins are repeatedly forgiven, at one time healing a man from leprosy and afterwards from blindness. For this reason He healed so many stricken with fever, so many feeble in body, so many lame, blind, and withered, that the sinner might not despair; for this reason He is not described as healing anyone but once, that every one might fear to link himself with sin; for this reason He declares Himself to be the physician welcomed not of the hale, but of the unhealthy. What sort of a physician is he who knows not how to heal a recurring disease? For if a man ail a hundred times it is for the physician to heal him a hundred times: and if he failed where others succeed, he would be a poor physician in comparison with them."
4. Penance is to deplore past sins, and, "while deploring them," not to commit again, either by act or by intention, those which we have to deplore. Because a man is a mocker and not a penitent, who, "while doing penance," does what he repents having done, or intends to do again what he did before, or even commits actually the same or another kind of sin. But if a man sin afterwards either by act or intention, this does not destroy the fact that his former penance was real, because the reality of a former act is never destroyed by a subsequent contrary act: for even as he truly ran who afterwards sits, so he truly repented who subsequently sins.
5. Baptism derives its power from Christ's Passion, as a spiritual regeneration, with a spiritual death, of a previous life. Now "it is appointed unto man once to die" (He 9,27), and to be born once, wherefore man should be baptized but once. On the other hand, Penance derives its power from Christ's Passion, as a spiritual medicine, which can be repeated frequently.
6. According to Augustine (De vera et falsa Poenitentia, the authorship of which is unknown), "it is evident that sins displease God exceedingly, for He is always ready to destroy them, lest what He created should perish, and what He loved be lost," viz. by despair.
We must now consider penance as a virtue, under which head there are six points of inquiry:
(1) Whether penance is a virtue?
(2) Whether it is a special virtue?
(3) To what species of virtue does it belong?
(4) Of its subject;
(5) Of its cause;
(6) Of its relation to the other virtues.
Objection: 1. It would seem that penance is not a virtue. For penance is a sacrament numbered among the other sacraments, as was shown above (Question , Article ; Question , Article ). Now no other sacrament is a virtue. Therefore neither is penance a virtue.
2. Further, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. iv, 9), "shame is not a virtue," both because it is a passion accompanied by a bodily alteration, and because it is not the disposition of a perfect thing, since it is about an evil act, so that it has no place in a virtuous man. Now, in like manner, penance is a passion accompanied by a bodily alteration, viz. tears, according to Gregory, who says (Hom. xxxiv in Evang.) that "penance consists in deploring past sins": moreover it is about evil deeds, viz. sins, which have no place in a virtuous man. Therefore penance is not a virtue.
3. Further, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. iv, 3), "no virtuous man is foolish." But it seems foolish to deplore what has been done in the past, since it cannot be otherwise, and yet this is what we understand by penance. Therefore penance is not a virtue.
On the contrary The precepts of the Law are about acts of virtue, because "a lawgiver intends to make the citizens virtuous" (Ethic. ii, 1). But there is a precept about penance in the Divine law, according to Mt 4,17: "Do penance," etc. Therefore penance is a virtue.
I answer that As stated above (Objection ; Question , Article , ad 4), to repent is to deplore something one has done. Now it has been stated above (Question , Article ) that sorrow or sadness is twofold. First, it denotes a passion of the sensitive appetite, and in this sense penance is not a virtue, but a passion. Secondly, it denotes an act of the will, and in this way it implies choice, and if this be right, it must, of necessity, be an act of virtue. For it is stated in Ethic. ii, 6 that virtue is a habit of choosing according to right reason. Now it belongs to right reason than one should grieve for a proper object of grief as one ought to grieve, and for an end for which one ought to grieve. And this is observed in the penance of which we are speaking now; since the penitent assumes a moderated grief for his past sins, with the intention of removing them. Hence it is evident that the penance of which we are speaking now, is either a virtue or the act of a virtue.
Reply to Objection: 1. As stated above (Question , Article , ad 1; Articles ,3), in the sacrament of Penance, human acts take the place of matter, which is not the case in Baptism and Confirmation. Wherefore, since virtue is a principle of an act, penance is either a virtue or accompanies a virtue, rather than Baptism or Confirmation.
2. Penance, considered as a passion, is not a virtue, as stated above, and it is thus that it is accompanied by a bodily alteration. On the other hand, it is a virtue, according as it includes a right choice on the part of the will; which, however, applies to penance rather than to shame. Because shame regards the evil deed as present, whereas penance regards the evil deed as past. Now it is contrary to the perfection of virtue that one should have an evil deed actually present, of which one ought to be ashamed; whereas it is not contrary to the perfection of virtue that we should have previously committed evil deeds, of which it behooves us to repent, since a man from being wicked becomes virtuous.
3. It would indeed be foolish to grieve for what has already been done, with the intention of trying to make it not done. But the penitent does not intend this: for his sorrow is displeasure or disapproval with regard to the past deed, with the intention of removing its result, viz. the anger of God and the debt of punishment: and this is not foolish.
Summa Th. III EN Qu.84 a.5