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Nature And Grace by Aquinas

Article Two Whether Presumption is a Sin

Whether Presumption is a Sin

We proceed to the second article thus:

1. It seems that presumption is not a sin. No sin is a reason why a man should be heard by God. Yet some are heard by God on account of presumption, since it is said in Judith 9:17 (Vulgate): |Hear me, a miserable supplicant who presumes upon thy mercy.| Hence presumption on the divine mercy is not a sin.

2. Again, presumption implies excessive hope. But the hope whereby we hope in God cannot be excessive, since his power and his mercy are infinite. Hence it seems that presumption is not a sin.

3. Again, a sin does not excuse sin. But presumption excuses sin, since the Master says (2 Sent., Dist.22): |Adam sinned the less, because he sinned in the hope of pardon,| which would seem to be presumptuous. Hence presumption is not a sin.

On the other hand: presumption is said to be a kind of sin against the Holy Spirit.

I answer: as we said in the first article of the preceding question, every appetitive movement which corresponds to a falsity in the intellect is bad in itself, and a sin. Now presumption is an appetitive movement, since it involves inordinate hope. It also corresponds to a falsity in the intellect, as does despair. For just as it is false that God does not pardon the penitent, or that he does not turn sinners to penitence, so also is it false that he extends pardon to those who persevere in their sins, or that he gives glory to those who cease from good works. The movement of presumption corresponds to this opinion. Hence presumption is a sin. But it is a lesser sin than despair, since to have mercy and to spare is more becoming to God than to punish, on account of his infinite goodness. To have mercy and to spare is in itself becoming to God, whereas to punish becomes him by reason of our sins.

On the first point: presumption is sometimes used to denote hope, since even the hope in God which is justifiable seems presumptuous if measured by reference to the condition of man, although it is not presumptuous if we bear in mind the immensity of the divine goodness.

On the second point: the hope which presumption implies is not excessive in the sense that it expects too much from God, but in the sense that it expects something from God which is unbecoming to him. This is to expect too little from God, since it is a way of deprecating his power, as we said in the first article.

On the third point: to sin with the intention of persevering in sin, and in the hope of pardon, is presumptuous. Sin is thereby increased, not diminished. But to sin with the intention of refraining from sin, and in the hope that one will sometime be pardoned, is not presumptuous. This diminishes sin, since it seems to show that the will is less confirmed in sin.

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