Key quote: “the greatest punishment will be for man to be cut off from happiness”.
1 As we have just seen, since a reward is what is set before the will as an end whereby one is stimulated to good action, punishment, on the contrary, in the guise of some evil that is to be avoided, is set before the will to restrain it from evil. So, just as it is essential to a reward that it be a good that is agreeable to the will, so is it essential to punishment that it be an evil and contrary to will. Now, evil is a privation of the good. Hence, the diversity and order of punishments must depend on the diversity and order of goods.
2 Now, felicity is the highest good for man, for it is his ultimate end, and the nearer anything is to this end, the higher the place that it occupies among man’s goods. But the nearest thing to it is virtue, and any other thing, if there be such, which helps man in good action whereby he attains happiness. Next comes the proper disposition of his reason and of the powers subject to it. After this comes soundness of body, which is needed for ready action. In final place are external things which we use as aids to virtue.
3 So, the greatest punishment will be for man to be cut off from happiness. After this ranks deprivation of virtue and of any perfection of the natural powers of the soul that is related to good action. Next comes the disorder of the natural powers of the soul; then, bodily injury; and finally, the taking away of exterior goods.
Notes It can’t be a surprise that this order is more or less inverted in our current culture—or in all, in a way, as the next argument says.
4 However, because it is essential not only that punishment by a privation of the good, but also that it be contrary to the will, for not every man’s will regards good things as they really are, it happens at times that what deprives one of the greater good is less repugnant to the will and thus seems to be less punishing.
Hence it is that a good many men who think better of and know more about sensible and corporeal things than they do about intellectual and spiritual goods have a greater fear of bodily punishments than of spiritual ones.
In the opinion of these people the order of punishments seems the reverse of the above mentioned ranking. With them, injuries of the body are deemed the greatest punishment, together with the loss of external things; whereas they regard disorder of soul, loss of virtue, and the deprivation of the divine enjoyment, in which man’s ultimate felicity consists, as of slight or no importance.
5 Now, the result of this is that they do not think that men’s sins are punished by God, for they see many sinners enjoying bodily vigor, highly favored by external good fortune, of which goods virtuous men are sometimes deprived.
6 To people who consider the matter rightly this should not seem astonishing. For, since external goods are subordinated to internal goods, and body to soul, external and bodily goods are good for man to the extent that they contribute to the good of reason, but to the extent that they hinder the rational good they turn into evils for man.
Now, God, the disposer of things, knows the measure of human virtue. Hence, He at times provides corporeal and external goods for the virtuous man as an aid to his virtue, and in this He confers a benefit on him. At other times, however, He takes away these things from man, because He considers such things to be for him a hindrance to virtue and divine enjoyment. Indeed, from the fact that external goods may turn into evils for man, as we said, their loss may consequently become, by the same reasoning, a good thing for man.
So, if every punishment is an evil, and if it is not a bad thing for a man to be deprived of external and corporeal goods in accord with what is helpful to progress in virtue, then it will not be a punishment for a virtuous man if he be deprived of external goods as an aid to virtue. On the contrary, however, it will be for the punishment of evil men if external goods are granted them, for by them they are incited to evil. Hence it is said in Wisdom (14:11) that “the creatures of God are turned to an abomination, and a temptation to the souls of men, and a snare to the feet of the unwise.”
However, since it is essential to punishment that it be not only an evil but that it be against the will, the loss of corporeal and external things, even when it helps man toward virtue and not toward evil, is called a punishment, in an improper sense, because it is contrary to will.
Notes This is all so, even to the extent we hunger for a return to simplicity, just so that we can indulge in contemplation in the promise of quiet.
7 Still, as a result of the disorder in man, it happens that a man may not judge things as they are, but may set corporeal things above spiritual ones. Now, such a disorder is either a fault or it stems from some preceding fault. Consequently, it is evident that there is no punishment for man, even in the sense of being contrary to will, without a prior fault.
Notes Thus the harshest punishment might not even be noticed!
8 This is also clear from another fact: these things that are good in themselves would not turn into evils for man, because of their abuse, unless some disorder were present within man.
9 Besides, the fact that the things which the will favors because they are naturally good must be taken away from man for the advancement of virtue arises from a disorder in man which is either a fault or the result of a fault. Indeed, it is obvious that some disorder in the affections of man is caused by a previous sin, and so afterwards he is more easily inclined to sin.
So, man is not without fault, also, in the fact that he must be helped to the good of virtue by what is for him something of a punishment, inasmuch as it is absolutely against his will, even though it be desired sometimes, in a relative way, because reason looks to the end. But, we shall talk later about this disorder in human nature which results from original sin. However, it is now evident to what extent God punishes men for their sins, and that He does not punish unless there be some fault.
Notes That sin leads to more sin is, and always has been, clear to all.