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Nature And Grace by Aquinas

Article Two Whether there can be Despair without Unbelief

Whether there can be Despair without Unbelief

We proceed to the second article thus:

1. It seems that there cannot be despair without unbelief. For the certainty of hope is founded on faith, and the effect cannot be removed so long as the cause remains. One cannot lose the certainty of hope through despair, therefore, unless one loses one's faith.

2. Again, to put one's own guilt before the goodness and mercy of God is to deny the infinite goodness or mercy of God, and this is unbelief. Now one who despairs puts his guilt before the mercy or goodness of God, in accordance with Gen.4:13: |My punishment is greater than I can bear.| Anyone who despairs is therefore an unbeliever.

3. Again, anyone who falls into a condemned heresy is an unbeliever. Now one who despairs seems to fall into a condemned heresy, namely that of the Novatians, who say that sins cannot be forgiven after baptism. It seems, therefore, that anyone who despairs is an unbeliever.

On the other hand: the removal of a consequent does not imply the removal of what is prior to it. Now hope is a consequence of faith, as was said in Q.17, Art.7. Hence faith can remain when hope is removed. It does not then follow that whosoever despairs is an unbeliever.

I answer: unbelief belongs to the intellect, whereas despair belongs to the appetitive power. Further, the intellect is concerned with universals, whereas the appetitive power is moved in relation to particulars, since appetitive movement is of the soul towards things which are in themselves particular. Now one who rightly appreciates something in its universal aspect may yet be wrong in his appetitive movement, owing to a faulty estimation of a particular instance of it. For one must pass from appreciation of the universal to desire for the particular through the medium of one's estimate of the particular, as is said in 3 De Anima, text 58; just as one can infer a particular conclusion from a universal proposition only through an assumption about the particular. It is due to this circumstance that one who rightly believes something in universal terms may yet be wrong in his appetitive movement towards a particular thing, if his estimate of the particular has been corrupted by habit, or by passion. Thus the fornicator, who chooses fornication as something good for himself, has at the time a false estimate of the particular, even though he may retain an appreciation of the universal which is true as a belief, namely, that fornication is a mortal sin. Similarly, one who continues to believe truly, in universal terms, that the Church can remit sins, may still undergo the movement of despair through having a false estimate of the particular, namely, that he is in such a state that he cannot hope for pardon. In this way there can be despair without unbelief, just as there can be other mortal sins without unbelief.

On the first point: an effect is removed not only if the first cause is removed, but also if a secondary cause is removed. Hence the movement of hope can be taken away not only by the removal of the universal estimate of faith, which is as it were the first cause of the certainty of faith, but also by the removal of the particular estimate, which is as it were a secondary cause.

On the second point: it would be unbelief to think, in universal terms, that the mercy of God was not infinite. But he who despairs does not think thus. He supposes that there is no hope of divine mercy for himself, owing to some particular disposition.

The answer to the third point is similar. The Novatians deny in universal terms that there is remission of sins in the Church.

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