Saint Thomas Aquinas
theologica, 2, 2, Q. 43
article: What is Scandal?
Dictum vel factum
minus rectum praebens alteri occasionem ruinae spiritualis. Scandal
is fittingly defined as being something less rightly said or done that
occasions spiritual downfall (sin).
‘Less rightly’ here
means something that has some lack of rectitude, either through being
evil in itself, such as sin, or through having an appearance of sin. Thus,
for instance, if a man were to sit at meat in the idol’s temple, though
this may not be sinful in itself, provided it be done with no evil intention
(Saint Paul explains this at length: I Cor. 8:2-13. See below), yet, since
it has a certain appearance of evil, and a semblance of worshipping the
idol, it might occasion another man’s spiritual downfall. Hence the Apostle
says (1 Thessal. 5: 22): From all appearance of evil refrain yourselves.
In replying to the
fourth objection, Saint Thomas gives the division of the different kinds
of scandals. Another’s word or deed may be the cause of another’s sin
in two ways: “per se” (by itself or directly) and by accident.
There is scandal
“per se”, or directly, when a man either intends, by his evil word
or deed, to lead another man into sin, or, if he does not so intend, when
his deed is of such nature as to lead another into sin (and when he can
forsee this): for instance, when a man publicly commits a sin or does
something that has an appearance of sin. In these cases he that does such
an act does, properly speaking, afford an occasion of another’s spiritual
downfall, wherefore his act is called active scandal.
man’s word or deed is the cause of another’s sin, when he neither intends
to lead him into sin, nor does what is of a nature to lead him into sin,
and yet this other one, through being ill-disposed, is led into sin, for
instance, into envy because of another’s good action. In this case he
who does the righteous act, does not, so far as he is concerned, afford
an occasion of the other’s downfall, but it is this other one who takes
occasion to sin. (This can happen either through his own ignorance or
weakness, in which case we call it scandal of the weak (Matth.
18: 6), or through his own malice, in which case we call it pharisaic
scandal (Matth. 13: 57; 15: 12)). Wherefore this is passive, without
active scandal. (...)
Sometimes it happens
that there is active scandal in the one together with passive scandal
in the other, as when one commits a sin being induced thereto by another.
Sometimes there is active without passive scandal, for instance when one,
by word or deed, provokes another to sin, and the latter does not consent.
Article: Whether Scandal is a Sin?
(...) Active scandal
is always a sin in the person who gives scandal, since either what he
does is a sin, or if it only have the appearance of sin, it should always
be left undone out of that love for our neighbour which binds each one
to be solicitous for his neighbour’s spiritual welfare; so that if he
persists in doing it he acts against charity.
Article: Whether Scandal is a Mortal Sin?
Active scandal, if
it be accidental, may sometimes be a venial sin; for instance, when, through
a slight indiscretion (even without having the intention to induce into
sin), a person either commits a venial sin, or does something that is
not a sin in itself, but has some appearance of evil, with a slight indiscretion.
On the other hand,
it is sometimes a mortal sin, either because a person commits a mortal
sin (with only a slight indiscretion, otherwise it would be a direct (“per
se”) active scandal), or because he has such contempt for his neighbour’s
spiritual welfare that he declines, for the sake of procuring it, to forego
doing what he wishes to do.
But in the case of
active direct (“per se”) scandal, as when a person intends to lead another
into sin (or, even if he does not intend such, if the action is by its
very nature able to induce another into sin and if he can forsee it),
if he intends to lead him into mortal sin, his own sin will be mortal;
and in like manner if he intends by committing a mortal sin himself, to
lead another into venial sin; whereas if he intends, by committing a venial
sin, to lead another into venial sin, there will be a venial sin of scandal.