Whether Despair is the Greatest of Sins
We proceed to the third article thus:
1. It seems that despair is not the greatest of sins. For there can be despair without unbelief, as was said in the preceding article. Unbelief is the greatest of sins, since it corrupts the foundation of the spiritual edifice. Hence despair is not the greatest of sins.
2. Again, as the philosopher explains, the greatest good is opposed to the greatest evil (8 Ethics 10). Now it is said in I Cor., ch.13, that charity is greater than hope. It follows that hatred of God is a greater sin than despair.
3. Again, the sin of despair involves nothing more than inordinately turning away from God. But other sins involve inordinately turning to other things, as well as inordinately turning away from God. Hence despair is not graver than other sins, but less grave.
On the other hand: the sin which is incurable would seem to be the gravest, according to Jer.30:12: |Thy bruise is incurable, and thy wound is grievous.| Now the sin of despair is incurable, according to Jer.15:18: |. . . my wound incurable, which refuseth to be healed.| It follows that despair is the gravest of sins.
I answer: the sins which are opposed to the theological virtues are graver than other sins, owing to their kind. For the theological virtues have God as their object, and the sins opposed to them consequently involve turning away from God, directly and principally. The principal evil and the gravity of every mortal sin consists in turning away from God, since it would not be a mortal sin to turn to changeable good, even inordinately, if this were possible without turning away from God. The gravest of mortal sins is therefore that which primarily and essentially turns away from God.
Unbelief, despair, and hatred of God are all opposed to theological virtues. If we compare them, we find that in themselves, that is, in their own specific nature, hatred and unbelief are graver than despair. Unbelief is due to a man's not believing the very truth of God. Hatred of God is due to his will being opposed to the very goodness of God. Despair, on the other hand, is due to a man's failure to hope that he will share in the goodness of God. Hence it is clear that unbelief and hatred of God are opposed to God as he is in himself, whereas despair is opposed to him by way of being opposed to our participation in his good. In the absolute sense, therefore, to disbelieve the truth of God, or to harbour hatred of God, is a graver sin than not to hope to receive glory from him.
But if we compare despair with the other two sins from our own point of view, it is more dangerous. For by hope we are called back from evils and induced to strive for what is good, and if hope is lost, men fall headlong into vices, and are taken away from good works. Hence the gloss on Prov.24:10, |If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small,| says: |Nothing is more execrable than despair. For he who despairs loses his constancy in the daily labours of this life, and what is worse, loses his constancy in the endeavour of faith.| Further, as Isodorus says in 2 De Summo Bono 14: |To commit a crime is death to the soul; but to despair is to descend into hell.|
From this the answers to the objections are obvious.