Article 4. Whether the punishment of Christians is brought to an end by the mercy of God?
Objection 1. It would seem that at least the punishment of Christians is brought to an end by the mercy of God. "For he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). Now this applies to every Christian. Therefore all Christians will at length be saved. Objection 2. Further, it is written (John 6:55): "He that eateth My body and drinketh My blood hath eternal life." Now this is the meat and drink whereof Christians partake in common. Therefore all Christians will be saved at length. Objection 3. Further, "If any man's work burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire" (1 Corinthians 3:15), where it is a question of those who have the foundation of the Christianfaith. Therefore all such persons will be saved in the end. On the contrary, It is written (1 Corinthians 6:9): "The unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God." Now some Christians are unjust. Therefore Christians will not all come to the kingdom of God, and consequently they will be punished for ever.
Further, it is written (2 Peter 2:21): "It had been better for them not to have known the way of justice, than after they have known it, to turn back from that holy commandment which was delivered to them." Now those who know not the way of truth will be punished for ever. Therefore Christians who have turned back after knowing it will also be punished for ever. I answer that, According to Augustine (De Civ. Dei xxi, 20,21), there have been some who predicted a delivery from eternal punishment not for all men, but only for Christians, although they stated the matter in different ways. For some said that whoever received the sacraments of faith would be immune from eternal punishment. But this is contrary to the truth, since some receive the sacraments of faith, and yet have not faith, without which "it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6). Wherefore others said that those alone will be exempt from eternal punishment who have received the sacraments of faith, and professed the Catholicfaith. But against this it would seem to be that at one time some people profess the Catholicfaith, and afterwards abandon it, and these are deserving not of a lesser but of a greater punishment, since according to 2 Peter 2:21, "it had been better for them not to have known the way of justice than, after they have known it, to turn back." Moreover it is clear that heresiarchs who renounce the Catholicfaith and invent new heresiessin more grievously than those who have conformed to some heresy from the first. And therefore some have maintained that those alone are exempt from eternal punishment, to the end in the Catholicfaith, however guilty they may have been of other crimes. But this is clearly contrary to Holy Writ, for it is written (James 2:20): "Faith without works is dead," and (Matthew 7:21) "Not every one that saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of My Father Who is in heaven": and in many other passages Holy Scripture threatens sinners with eternal punishment. Consequently those who persevere in the faith unto the end will not all be exempt from eternal punishment, unless in the end they prove to be free from other crimes. Reply to Objection 1.Our Lord speaks there of formed faith [Cf. II-II, 4, 3] "that worketh by love [Vulgate: 'charity'; Galatians 5:6]": wherein whosoever dieth shall be saved. But to this faith not only is the error of unbelief opposed, but also any mortal sinwhatsoever. Reply to Objection 2. The saying of our Lord refers not to those who partake only sacramentally, and who sometimes by receiving unworthily "eat and drink judgment" to themselves (1 Corinthians 11:29), but to those who eat spiritually and are incorporated with Him by charity, which incorporation is the effect of the sacramental eating, in those who approach worthily [Cf.III, 80, 1,2,3]. Wherefore, so far as the power of the sacrament is concerned, it brings us to eternal life, although sin may deprive us of that fruit, even after we have received worthily. Reply to Objection 3. In this passage of the Apostle the foundation denotes formed faith, upon which whosoever shall build venial sins [Cf. I-II, 89, 2] "shall suffer loss," because he will be punished for them by God; yet "he himself shall be saved" in the end "by fire," either of temporal tribulation, or of the punishment of purgatory which will be after death.
Article 5. Whether all those who perform works of mercy will be punished eternally?
Objection 1. It would seem that all who perform works of mercy will not be punished eternally, but only those who neglect those works. For it is written (James 2:13): "Judgment without mercy to him that hath not done mercy"; and (Matthew 5:7): "Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy." Objection 2. Further, (Matthew 25:35-46) we find a description of our Lord's discussion with the damned and the elect. But this discussion is only about works of mercy. Therefore eternal punishment will be awarded only to such as have omitted to practiceworks of mercy: and consequently the same conclusion follows as before. Objection 3. Further, it is written (Matthew 6:12): "Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors," and further on (Matthew 6:14): "For if you will forgive men their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offenses." Therefore it would seem that the merciful, who forgive others their offenses, will themselves obtain the forgiveness of their sins, and consequently will not be punished eternally. Objection 4. Further, a gloss of Ambrose on 1 Timothy 4:8, "Godliness is profitable to all things," says: "The sum total of aChristian's rule of life consists in mercy and godliness. Let a man follow this, and though he should suffer from the inconstancy of the flesh, without doubt he will be scourged, but he will not perish: whereas he who can boast of no other exercise but that of the body will suffer everlasting punishment." Therefore those who persevere in works of mercy, though they be shackled with fleshly sins, will not be punished eternally: and thus the same conclusion follows as before. On the contrary, It is written (1 Corinthians 6:9-10): "Neither fornicators . . . nor adulterers," etc. "shall possess the kingdom of God." Yet many are such who practice works of mercy. Therefore the merciful will not all come to the eternal kingdom: and consequently some of them will be punished eternally.
Further, it is written (James 2:10): "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, but offend in one point, is become guilty of all." Therefore whoever keeps the law as regards the works of mercy and omits other works, is guilty of transgressing the law, and consequently will be punished eternally. I answer that, As Augustine says in the book quoted above (De Civ. Dei xxi, 22), some have maintained that not all who have professed the Catholicfaith will be freed from eternal punishment, but only those who persevere in works of mercy, although they be guilty of other crimes. But this cannot stand, because without charity nothing can be acceptable to God, nor does anything profit unto eternal life in the absence of charity. Now it happens that certain persons persevere in works of mercy without having charity. Wherefore nothing profits them to the meriting of eternal life, or to exemption from eternal punishment, as may be gathered from 1 Corinthians 13:3. Most evident is this in the case of those who lay hands on other people's property, for after seizing on many things, they nevertheless spend something in works of mercy. We must therefore conclude that all whosoever die in mortal sin, neither faith nor works of mercy will free them from eternal punishment, not even after any length of time whatever. Reply to Objection 1. Those will obtain mercy who show mercy in an ordinate manner. But those who while merciful to others are neglectful of themselves do not show mercy ordinately, rather do they strike at themselves by their evil actions. Wherefore such persons will not obtain the mercy that sets free altogether, even if they obtain that mercy which rebates somewhat their due punishment. Reply to Objection 2. The reason why the discussion refers only to the works of mercy is not because eternal punishment will be inflicted on none but those who omit those works, but because eternal punishment will be remitted to those who after sinning have obtained forgiveness by their works of mercy, making unto themselves "friends of the mammon of iniquity" (Luke 16:9). Reply to Objection 3.Our Lord said this to those who ask that their debt be forgiven, but not to those who persist in sin. Wherefore the repentant alone will obtain by their works of mercy the forgiveness that sets them free altogether. Reply to Objection 4. The gloss of Ambrose speaks of the inconstancy that consists in venial sin, from which a man will be freed through the works of mercy after the punishment of purgatory, which he calls a scourging. Or, if he speaks of the inconstancy of mortal sin, the sense is that those who while yet in this life fall into sins of the flesh through frailty are disposed to repentance by works of mercy. Wherefore such a one will not perish, that is to say, he will be disposed by those works not to perish, through grace bestowed on him by our Lord, Who is blessed for evermore. Amen.