A PECULIAR feature attaches to the sins we have recently treated,

against the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth commandments. These

offenses differ from others in that they involve an injury, an

injustice to our fellow-man. Now, the condition of pardon for sin is

contrition; this contrition contains essentially a firm purpose that

looks to the future, and removes in a measure, the liability to fall

again. But with the
ins here in question that firm purpose not only

looks forward, but backward as well, not only guarantees against future

ill-doing, but also repairs the wrong criminally effected in the past.

This is called restitution, the undoing of wrong suffered by our

neighbor through our own fault. The firm purpose to make restitution is

just as essential to contrition as the firm purpose to sin no more; in

fact, the former is only a form of the latter. It means that we will

not sin any more by prolonging a culpable injustice. And the person who

overlooks this feature when he seeks pardon has a moral constitution

and make-up that is sadly in need of repairs; and of such persons there

are not a few.

Justice that has failed to protect a man's right becomes restitution

when the deed of wrong is done. Restitution therefore that is based on

the natural right every man has to have and to hold what is his, to

recover it, its value or equivalent, when unduly dispossessed, supposes

an act of injustice, that is, the violation of a strict right. This

injustice, in turn, implies a moral fault, a moral responsibility,

direct or indirect; and the fault must be grievous in order to induce a

grave obligation. Now, it matters not in the least what we do, or how

we do it, if the neighbor suffer through a fault of ours. If any human

creature sustains a loss to life or limb, damage to his or her social

or financial standing, and such injury can be traced to a moral

delinquency on our part, we are in conscience bound to make good the

loss and repair the damage done. To do evil is bad; to perpetuate it is

immeasurably worse. To refuse to remove the evil is to refuse to remove

one's guilt; and as long as one persists in such a refusal, that one

remains under the wrath of God.

Restitution concerns itself with things done or left undone, things

said or left unsaid; it does not enter the domain of thought.

Consequently, just as an accident does not entail the necessity of

repairing the injury that another sustains, neither does the deliberate

thought or desire to perpetrate an injustice entail such a consequence.

Even if a person does all in his power to effect an evil purpose, and

fails, he is not held to reparation, for there is nothing to repair. As

we have said more than once, the will is the source of all malice in

the sight of God; but injustice to man requires material as well as

formal malice; sin must have its complement of exterior deed before it

can be called human injustice.

We deem it unnecessary to dwell upon the gravity of the obligation to

make restitution. The balance of justice must be maintained exact and

impartial in this world, or the Almighty will see that it is done in

the next. The idea that God does not stand for justice destroys the

idea that God exists. And if the precept not to commit injustice leaves

the guilty one free to repair or not to repair, that precept is

self-contradictory and has no meaning at all. If a right is a right, it

is not extinguished by being violated and if justice, is something more

than a mere sound, it must protect all rights whether sinned against or


It might be convenient for some people to force upon their conscience

the lie that restitution is of counsel rather than of precept, under

the plea that it is enough to shoulder the responsibility of sin

without being burdened with the obligation of repairing it, but it is

only a soul well steeped in malice that will take seriously such a

contention. Neither is restitution a penance imposed upon us in order

to atone for our faults; it is no more penitential in its nature than

are the efforts we make to avoid the faults we have fallen into in the

past. It atones for nothing; it is simply a desisting from evil. When

this is done and forgiveness obtained, then, and not till then, is it

time to think of satisfying for the temporal punishment due to sin.

Naturally it is much more easy to abstain from committing injustice

than to repair it after it is done. It is often very difficult and very

painful to face the consequences of our evil ways, especially when all

satisfaction is gone and nothing remains but the hard exigencies of

duty. And duty is a thing that it costs very little to shirk when one

is already hardened by a habit of injustice. That is why restitution is

so little heard of in the world. It is a fact to be noted that the

Catholic Church is the only religious body that dares to enforce

strictly the law of reparation. Others vaguely hold it, but rarely

teach it, and then only in flagrant cases of fraud. But she allows none

of her children to approach the sacraments who has not already

repaired, or who does not promise in all sincerity to repair, whatever

wrong he may have done to the neighbor. Employers of Catholic help

sometimes feel the effects of this uncompromising attitude of the

Church; they are astonished, edified and grateful.

We recall with pleasure an incident of an apostate going about warning

people against the turpitudes of Rome and especially against the

extortions of her priests through the confessional. He explained how

the benighted papist was obliged under pain of eternal damnation to

confess his sins to the priest, and then was charged so much for each

fault he had been guilty of. An incredulous listener wanted to know if

he, the speaker, while in the toils of Rome had ever been obliged thus

to disgorge in the confessional, and was answered with a triumphant

affirmation. At which the wag hinted that it would be a good thing not

to be too outspoken in announcing the fact as his reputation for

honesty would be likely to suffer thereby, for he knew, and all

Catholics knew, who were those whose purse the confessor pries open.