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it is always unlawful
to give money for the sacraments?
By St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
THEOLOGICA, from which this article is taken is composed of
questions sub-divided in articles. How are these articles
to be read? Each is made according to a uniform plan divided
- The objections. There can be two, three, four or more, putting
forward the opinions contrary to the author.
- One finds St. Thomas’ own teaching. This is in two parts:
first he refers to an authority, usually Sacred Scripture
or Catholic Tradition (this is called the argument ‘sed contra’).
This is followed by a lengthier and more logical exposition
of his teaching (this part is called the ‘Respondeo’ (I answer)
or the ‘Corpus’ of the article).
- St. Thomas answers the various objections put forward at
the beginning. Each numbered answer corresponds to the previously
either read the article from the beginning to end or, a simpler
way, read first the argument ‘Sed contra’ and the ‘Corpus’,
the main body or the article, then look at the objections
and their answers, one by one.
the Summa Theologica
Part of the Second Part
100, on Simony, article 2
1. It would seem that it is not always unlawful to give money
for the sacraments. Baptism is the door of the sacraments, as we
shall state in the III, 68, 6; III, 73, 3. But seemingly it is
lawful in certain cases to give money for Baptism, for instance
if a priest were unwilling to baptize a dying child without being
paid. Therefore it is not always unlawful to buy or sell the sacraments.
2. Further, the greatest of the sacraments is the Eucharist,
which is consecrated in the Mass. But some priests receive a prebend
or money for singing masses. Much more therefore is it lawful to
buy or sell the other sacraments.
3. Further, the sacrament of Penance is a necessary sacrament
consisting chiefly in the absolution. But some persons demand money
when absolving from excommunication. Therefore it is not always
unlawful to buy or sell a sacrament.
4. Further, custom makes that which otherwise were sinful to
be not sinful; thus Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 47) that
"it was no crime to have several wives, so long as it was the
custom." Now it is the custom in some places to give something
in the consecration of bishops, blessings of abbots, ordinations
of the clergy, in exchange for the chrism, holy oil, and so forth.
Therefore it would seem that it is not unlawful.
5. Further, it happens sometimes that someone maliciously hinders
a person from obtaining a bishopric or some like dignity. But it
is lawful for a man to make good his grievance. Therefore it is
lawful, seemingly, in such a case to give money for a bishopric
or a like ecclesiastical dignity.
6. Further, marriage is a sacrament. But sometimes money is
given for marriage. Therefore it is lawful to sell a sacrament.
contra - On the contrary, It is written: “Whosoever shall consecrate
anyone for money, let him be cut off from the priesthood.”
- I answer that, The sacraments of the New Law are of all things
most spiritual, inasmuch as they are the cause of spiritual grace,
on which no price can be set, and which is essentially incompatible
with a non-gratuitous giving. Now the sacraments are dispensed
through the ministers of the Church, whom the people are bound to
support, according to the words of the Apostle (I Cor. 9:13), "Know
you not, that they who work in the holy place, eat the things that
are of the holy place; and they that serve the altar, partake with
we must answer that to receive money for the spiritual grace of
the sacraments, is the sin of simony, which cannot be excused by
any custom whatever, since "custom does not prevail over natural
or divine law". Now by money we are to understand anything
that has a pecuniary value, as the Philosopher states (Ethic. iv,
1). On the other hand, to receive anything for the support of those
who administer the sacraments, in accordance with the statutes of
the Church and approved customs, is not simony, nor is it a sin.
For it is received not as a price of goods, but as a payment for
their need. Hence a gloss of Augustine on I Tim. 5:17, "Let
the priests that rule well," says: "They should look to
the people for a supply to their need, but to the Lord for the reward
of their ministry."
to Objection 1. In a case of necessity anyone may baptize.
And since nowise ought one to sin, if the priest be unwilling to
baptize without being paid, one must act as though there were no
priest available for the baptism. Hence the person who is in charge
of the child can, in such a case, lawfully baptize it, or cause
it to be baptized by anyone else. He could, however, lawfully buy
the water from the priest, because it is merely a bodily element.
But if it were an adult in danger of death that wished to be baptized,
and the priest were unwilling to baptize him without being paid,
he ought, if possible, to be baptized by someone else. And if he
is unable to have recourse to another, he must by no means pay a
price for Baptism, and should rather die without being baptized,
because for him the baptism of desire would supply the lack of the
to Objection 2. The priest receives money, not as the price
for consecrating the Eucharist, or for singing the Mass (for this
would be simoniacal), but as payment for his livelihood, as stated
to Objection 3. The money exacted of the person absolved is
not the price of his absolution (for this would be simoniacal),
but a punishment of a past crime for which he was excommunicated.
to Objection 4. As stated above, "custom does not prevail
over natural or divine law" whereby simony is forbidden. Wherefore
the custom, if such there be, of demanding anything as the price
of a spiritual thing, with the intention of buying or selling it,
is manifestly simoniacal, especially when the demand is made of
a person unwilling to pay. But if the demand be made in payment
of a stipend recognized by custom it is not simoniacal, provided
there be no intention of buying or selling, but only of doing what
is customary, and especially if the demand be acceded to voluntarily.
On all these cases, however, one must beware of anything having
an appearance of simony or avarice, according to the saying of the
Apostle (1 Thess. 5:22), "From all appearance of evil restrain
to Objection 5. It would be simoniacal to buy off the opposition
of one's rivals, before acquiring the right to a bishopric or any
dignity or prebend, by election, appointment or presentation, since
this would be to use money as a means of obtaining a spiritual thing.
But it is lawful to use money as a means of removing unjust opposition,
after one has already acquired that right.
to Objection 6. Some say that it is lawful to give money for
Matrimony because no grace is conferred thereby. But this is not
altogether true, as we shall state in the Third Part of the work.
Wherefore we must reply that Matrimony is not only a sacrament of
the Church, but also an office of nature. Consequently it is lawful
to give money for Matrimony considered as an office of nature, but
unlawful if it be considered as a sacrament of the Church. Hence,
according to the law it is forbidden to demand anything for the