Anthony T. Flood
North Dakota State University
St. Thomas Aquinas treats penance as both a sacrament and a virtue. In either form, penance’s principal human act is contrition—a willed sorrow for one’s sins and an intention to avoid future sins. A look at Aquinas’s understanding of penitential contrition reveals a complex interplay of the different objects of love, the gift of fear, and finally friendship with God. This article offers an analysis of Aquinas’s accounts of penance and contrition with respect to these key elements. I argue that contrition performs a fundamental role in countering, restoring, and safeguarding a proper ordering of love and attainment of the ultimate good of union with God. In short, contrition is the act that directly counters the interior disorder wrought by sin and provides an ongoing counter to the threat of additional disorder. Sin’s disorder is the aversion to God and conversion to self, while contrition involves the aversion to self and a conversion to God.
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DOI 10.5840/acpq202142221
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