Summary Against Modern Thought: Not All Rewards & Punishments Are Equal

Summary Against Modern Thought: Not All Rewards & Punishments Are Equal

Previous post.

My stripes are many and deep.


1 Since divine justice requires, for the preservation of equality in things, that punishments be assigned for faults and rewards for good acts, then, if there are degrees in virtuous acts and in sins, as we showed, there must also be degrees among rewards and punishments. Otherwise, equality would not be preserved, that is, if a greater punishment were not given to one who sins more, or a greater reward to one who acts better. Indeed, the same reasoning seems to require different retribution on the basis of the diversity of good and evil, and on the basis of the difference between the good and the better, or between the bad and the worse.

Notes It is amusing to ponder how different our good saint’s use of equality and diversity are.

2 Again, the equality proper to distributive justice is such that unequal things are assigned to unequal persons. Therefore, there would not be a just compensation by punishments and rewards if all rewards and all punishments were equal.

3 Besides, rewards and punishments are set up by a lawmaker so that men may be drawn away from evil things and toward good things, as is evident from what was said above. But it is not only necessary for men to be attracted to goods and drawn away from evils, but also good men must be encouraged to better things and evil men discouraged from worse things. This could not be done if rewards and punishments were equal. Therefore, punishments and rewards must be unequal.

4 Moreover, just as a thing is disposed toward a form by natural dispositions, so is a man disposed toward punishments and rewards by good and bad works. But the order which divine providence has established in things has this feature: things that are better disposed obtain a more perfect form. Therefore, depending on the diversity of good or bad works, there must be a diversity of punishments and rewards.

5 Furthermore, it is possible for variations of degree to apply to good and bad works in two ways: in one way, numerically, in the sense that one man has more good or bad works than another; in a second way, qualitatively, in the sense that one man accomplishes a better or worse work than another.

Now, to the increase which depends on the number of works there must be a corresponding increase in rewards and punishments; otherwise, there would not be a compensation under divine justice for all the things that a person does, if some evils remained unpunished and some goods unrewarded. So, by equivalent reasoning, for the increase which depends on the different quality of the works there must be a corresponding inequality of rewards and punishments.

6 Hence, it is said in Deuteronomy (25:7): “According to the measure of the sin shall the measure also of the stripes be.” And in Isaiah (27:8): “In measure against measure, when it shall be cast off, I shall judge it.”

7 By this we dispose of the error of those who say that in the future all rewards and punishments will be equal.


  1. Stephen J.

    This makes sense so far as it goes, but I have to admit I am balked by the idea that if Heaven is the ultimate reward of divine mercy and Hell the ultimate punishment of divine justice, does it make sense to speak of “greater” or “lesser” shares in them? If Heaven is perfect joy in communion with God and Hell is anything else, then it seems nonsensical to speak of “degrees” of punishment or reward; if you’re in Heaven you’re in Heaven, and if you’re not you’re in Hell — I don’t see where the “degrees” come in when it’s either infinite and eternal joy or infinite and eternal misery. Further explication would be welcomed.

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