Sins to be Avoided by Catholic Writers
Sins of contention and discord are common among Traditionalists and other sects and all should be anxious to avoid them, especially when engaged in trying to defend the faith. Charity in these matters should always be observed. The following is taken from Moral Theology: A Complete Course Based on St. Thomas Aquinas and the Best Modern Authorities by John A. McHugh and Charles J. Callan, 1958:
Art. 8: THE SINS AGAINST PEACE (Summa Theologica, II-II, qq. 37-42.)
1347. The following sins are opposed to the peace of charity:
(a) discord, which is opposed to peace in wills;
(b) contention or quarreling, which is opposed to peace in words;
(c) schism, war, fights and sedition, which are opposed to peace in works.
1348. Discord — As here understood, discord is a disagreement in the wills of two or more persons in matters pertaining to the divine good, or the good of the neighbor, and concerning which charity requires that they be in agreement.
(a) Discord is a disagreement in wills, that is, in wishes and desires. Hence, it is not the same as difference of opinion (see 1197), which is a disagreement in judgments.
(b) It is about matters in which agreement is necessary, that is, in which the law of God requires that all wish the same things, and have but one heart and soul. Thus, discord differs from disagreement about matters of supererogation. Examples: Titus and his wife are at variance, because Titus is unwilling to give any alms. Balbus and his wife are at variance, because she wishes him to give away in alms more than is strictly necessary. In the first husband there is discord, but not in the second.
(c) Discord is opposed to the divine good, or the good of the neighbor. Thus, it differs from a disagreement with another who is attacking the divine good or the good of the neighbor. The standard of concord is the divine will, and he only of the persons at variance is discordant who is not in harmony with the divine will.
(d) Discord is confined to those matters in which charity calls for agreement. If it be some other virtue that demands unanimity (e.g., justice), the disagreement is not discord in the special sense now employed, Thus, he whose will refuses consent to the command of a superior is disobedient; he whose will refuses to pay the debt due a creditor is dishonest.
1349. There are two kinds of discord:
(a) intentional discord, which is the act of one who knowingly and purposely contradicts in a matter about which charity requires that he agree;
(b) unintentional discord, which is a disagreement between persons, who both intend the divine good or the good of the neighbor, but who are divided in opinion as to what that good here and now requires.
1350. Sinfulness of Intentional Discord
(a) From its nature, this species of discord is a mortal sin, since it directly excludes charity. Hence, those who are guilty of discord shall not obtain the kingdom of heaven (Gal, v. 21).
(b) From the lack of sufficient reflection or consent, the first impulses towards discord are not mortal sins.
1351. Sinfulness of Unintentional Discord
(a) From its nature, this kind of discord is not opposed to charity, nor is it sinful; for the concord of charity consists in a union of wills, not in a union of opinions. Thus, the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas about John Mark (Acts, xv. 39) was not sinful, although the difference of judgment indicated their human limitations.
(b) From its circumstances, this kind of discord may be sinful, as when it is caused by culpable ignorance in matters of faith, or is carried on with obstinacy.
1352. By whom is the sin of discord committed?
(a) It is committed sometimes by one party only, as when one knowingly resists the will of another who wishes to perform a necessary act of charity.
(b) It is committed at other times by both parties, as when each in defending his own good infringes knowingly on the charity due the other.
1353. Is it lawful to promote divisions, when one’s purpose and the result will be good?
(a) To promote division that takes away the concord of charity is never lawful, but a mortal sin: “There are six things the Lord hates, and a seventh which His soul detests, a sower of discord among brethren” (Prov., vi. 16, 19).
(b) To promote division that takes away a concord of malice is lawful and praiseworthy. Thus, St. Paul introduced a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who had been in agreement against him (Acts, xxiii. 6, 7). But the intention of the Apostle was to win the Pharisees to the defense of the Resurrection and of himself, not to incite the Sadducees to a denial of the Resurrection, and so there was no question of his using evil means for a good end.
1354. The Origin of Discord
(a) The disagreement with the will of a neighbor arises from envy. For he who considers the excellence of his neighbor as a lessening of his own excellence, is inclined to contradict the wishes of the neighbor, even if he recognizes them as good.
(b) The preference of one’s own will and persistence in it are due to pride and vainglory. For he who unduly desires his own excellence or fame does not wish to yield to others or change his purposes. He feels that, even though he is in the wrong, he must not take what he regards as a position of inferiority.
1355. Contention — Contention is discord carried into words or equivalent signs, (i.e., a dispute or altercation), in which one denies what the other affirms. It is divided as follows:
(a) by reason of the intention, it is either an investigation of the truth, a defense of the truth, or an attack on the truth;
(b) by reason of the manner in which it is conducted, it is either suitable or unsuitable to the persons and the matter in question.
1356. Contention whose aim is the discovery of the truth is lawful as follows.
(a) Such contention is lawful and useful in itself, for it is a means of acquiring useful knowledge, of seeing both sides of a question, and of sharpening the mind for the refutation of error. Hence, a contest in a court of justice, a controversy in a scientific journal, a public debate on some important matter, and a theological disputation are according to their nature lawful, and may be necessary. Even to argue against the truth, for the sake of practice in discussion or to bring out the truth more clearly and forcibly, is, apart from danger, scandal, or prohibition, not unuseful.
(b) Debate is unlawful in its manner when a disputant does not argue according to the rules, appeals to prejudice or ignorance, uses an insulting tone or unparliamentary language, etc.
1357. The Sin of Contention — Contention is a sin when its aim is the concealment or discomfiture of the truth.
(a) From its nature this kind of contention is a mortal sin, for it is the external expression of internal discord in matters about which charity requires concord and the same speech. Hence, the Apostle numbers contention among the works of the flesh that exclude from the kingdom of God (Gal, v. 20).
(b) From the lightness of the matter or the imperfection of the consent, this kind of contention is very often, if not usually, only a venial sin, or no sin at all. Examples: A person argues against what he knows is true, but the matter is trivial (e.g., his weight); or he is distracted by the heat of dispute or the tactics of the other party.
1358. Mortal sin is not committed by contention, therefore, unless the truths against which one contends are of a serious kind. Such truths are:
(a) truths of a religious or moral character, such as the doctrines of faith and the commandments of God;
(b) natural truths of a universal character, the knowledge of which pertains to the perfection of the intellect, such as first principles;
(c) natural truths of a particular character in which important rights are involved. Example: An historian who writes against some deservedly revered person of the past, or a lawyer who attempts to prove against an accused what he knows is not a fact, are guilty of the sin of contention.
1359. Hence, one may be defending one kind of truth and contending against another kind of truth at the same time. St. Paul, accordingly, makes the distinction between announcement of the truth out of charity and announcement of the truth out of contention (Philip, i, 15 sqq.).
(a) The truth is defended out of charity when one does not use truth as a means for the defense of error;
(b) it is defended out of contention when one makes use of it as a means for the propagation of error. Thus, while St. Paul was imprisoned at Rome in 61, certain personal enemies preached Christ, but at the same time spoke or hinted falsehoods against St. Paul in order to undermine his authority or add to the bitterness of his captivity. Similarly, if one defends the truth to make oneself appear different or better than one is, one speaks from contention.
1360. Ways in which one is guilty of the mortal sin of contention:
(a) when one contends formally against the truth, that is, when one knows the truth and intends to overcome it or suppress it;
(b) when one contends virtually against the truth, that is, when one is so bent on carrying one’s point that one does not care whether it is true or false. Thus, the Sophists aimed to win, right or wrong.
1361. When the aim of contention is the overthrow of error:
(a) in itself, such contention is good and praiseworthy, and at times necessary;
(b) by reason of circumstances, it may be a venial or a mortal sin. Examples: A dispute on a matter that is unbecoming, such as which of the disputants is greater (Luke, xxii. 24); dispute with greater warmth than the case requires; a dispute that leads to scandal or other evil consequences, as in religious controversies (I Tim., ii. 14).
1362. The Causes of Sinful Contention
(a) The cause of that which is principal in contention – namely, the departure from the truth held by another and the stand made for error ¬– is envy, pride and vainglory, as said above (see 1854) concerning discord.
(b) The cause of that which is secondary in contention – namely, the wrangling or bawling manner and the shouts or screams of the contenders – is anger.