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It is sometimes said that St. Thomas Aquinas taught that rape is a lesser sin than masturbation. Is this actually the case?

Here are two examples:

[In Aquinas's view], Because sins against nature were sins against God, they were considered more serious than sins against other people, such as adultery, seduction, and rape (John F. Schumaker, Religion and Mental Health [Oxford University Press US], 1992), 76). To make his point perfectly clear, Aquinas poses a question: are not rape and adultery worse than unnatural acts, since they harm other persons, while consensual sins against nature do not? The answer is unequivocal: the four non-procreative forms of sex are worse, since–though not harmful to others–they are sins directly against God himself as the creator of nature. According to this logic, rape, which may at least lead to pregnancy, becomes a less serious sin than masturbation (Louis Crompton, Homosexuality and Civilisation, [Harvard University Press, 2006], 188).

"A practice opposed to the pattern set for us by nature" exceeds in wickedness the seduction of an innocent of the opposite sex, adultery, and rape (II-II 154:12) (Sex from Plato to Paglia, by Alan Soble [Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006], 1053).

What is the source of this notion, and is the statement true in context? If it is, what led Aquinas to this conclusion?

  • I'm trying to find this in the Summa, but OK. That's something I can work with. I do think it's based on a misunderstanding, but I can work with it. – Matt Gutting Dec 16 '14 at 17:42
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    They are thumbing down because a) They doubt Aquinas really said that, and you haven't provided a reference; b) even if Aquinas said that, they have no idea how you infer your second point from it; c) even if Aquinas did think suicide was worse than robbery, that doesn't automatically make it true d) your third point isn't really a question, except to ask if people agree with it. This isn't a site for discussing Christianity, it's for asking factual questions about it. – DJClayworth Dec 16 '14 at 17:42
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    I read "Is this actually the case?" in the question as meaning "Is that what Aquinas actually taught?" If so, the question is looking for a factual answer, not opinion. To me, the question seems to provide references that @user8547 wants confirmed. – Dick Harfield Dec 16 '14 at 20:06
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    @DickHarfield I think the majority of downvotes came before some good editing. – Affable Geek Dec 16 '14 at 21:11
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Here is what Aquinas actually wrote:

In each kind of thing the worst corruption is the corruption of the principle on which other things depend. Now the principles of reason are the things in accord in nature… and therefore, to act against what is determined by nature, is most serious and base. Therefore since in the sins against nature man transgress what is determined by nature in regard to sex, the sin in this matter is the gravest kind of sin. After this is incest… while by the other species of lust one transgresses only that which is determined according to right reason, but presupposing the natural principles. But it is more contrary to reason to have sex not only contrary to the good of the offspring to be born, but also with injury to another. And therefore simple fornication, which is committed without injury to another person, is the least kind of lust.

Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 154, a. 12

It's from a passage where Aquinas is talking about different kinds of sin. There are, for example, sexual sins; sins against justice; sins against charity; sins directly against God. Any sinful act can fall under one or more categories.

Aquinas' point is that, considering only the sexual element, an unnatural act is worse than a natural one, and that's why he says masturbation is a worse sexual sin than rape. However masturbation is essentially only a sexual act, and rape has other sinful elements - it is also a sin against justice and a sin against charity.

It's like we are grading sins on many scales. Masturbation scores worse than rape on the sex scale, but it doesn't score at all on the charity or justice scales. Rape on the other hand scores moderately on the sex scale, but very badly on the justice and charity scales. Overall, rape is worse than masturbation. The church has never taught anything different.

Most of this answer is taken from: Aquinas on Sexual Sins

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    This doesn't add anything to what I thought. Rape is a lesser sexual sin than masturbation. So is robbing God of something he created (one's own life) greater than robbing people of money? – user8547 Dec 16 '14 at 18:23
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    You can try asking that question. You'll need to be clear about the category of sin you are talking about. And remember to make it clear that you are asking for Aquinas' view on the matter, not the general view. – DJClayworth Dec 16 '14 at 18:42
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    @user8547 As stated, go ahead and ask that question - and keep in mind, greater on what scale? – Matt Gutting Dec 16 '14 at 18:54
  • Ah yes! the seductive sound of scholasticism's legalistic rationalism. Good answer @DJClayworth...thanks for helping me make sense of this question. – user5286 Dec 18 '14 at 19:28
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    "Overall, rape is worse than masturbation" Could you quote a single passage from Aquinas that implies that? Or even that Aquinas thought in terms of "scales" ? (say, another example,in which he said something like "x is worse than y in the scale A, but y is worse in scale B?) – leonbloy Nov 19 '17 at 20:19

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