According to Catholic theologians, is tempting another person always a sin?

It would seem to be a sin, because tempting someone is to lead him into sin, which is the sin of scandal.

It would seem not a sin, because of

Sirach 6:7: If thou wouldst get a friend, try [or tempt] him before thou takest him (in tentatione posside eum), and do not credit him easily.

and how we sometimes need to test others in order to avoid rash judgment or being deceived (cf. II-II q. 60 a. 4 ad 1); thus,

without rashly judging a person who is somewhat suspect, one may take precautions to avoid being deceived by him in a case in which he would have a bad intention. Thus, without rashly judging his servants, a householder keeps certain precious articles under lock and key; and at times he intentionally leaves money on a table to see if it will be taken.
—Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., Three Ages of the Interior Life pt. 3 ch. 20 § "How to Make Progress in Fraternal Charity", fn. 1666 (EPUB ref:150.172)

  • It seems to me that the meaning of "tempt" in English has drifted away from its Latin root, "tentare". The latter can refer to any sort of testing. But the former usually means to try to get someone to do something bad. Testing in general can be good or bad (or indifferent), but tempting in the current primary English sense is sinful. Jan 18 at 21:05

1 Answer 1


To tempt another isn't necessarily a sin.

St. Thomas Aquinas answers "No." to the question "Whether to tempt is proper to the devil?" (Summa Theologica I q. 114 a. 2 co., Freddoso transl. PDF p. 901):

To test or tempt (tentare) is, properly speaking, to make a trial (experimentum) of a thing.

Now a trial is made of a thing in order to find out something about it. And so knowledge (scientia) is the proximate end of someone who tests.

However, sometimes a further end is sought from this knowledge, and this end may be either good or bad—good, as when one wants to know how someone stands with respect to knowledge or virtue in order to help him advance (promoveat), and bad, as when someone wants to find this out in order to deceive or subvert (subvertat) him.

Given this, we can understand how testing or tempting is attributed to different individuals in different ways:

  • A man is sometimes said to tempt or test someone just in order to find something out, and it is in this sense that tempting God is said to be a sin. For a man who is uncertain, as it were, presumes to test God’s power. On the other hand, a man tests or tempts another man sometimes

    1. in order to help him and


    1. sometimes in order to harm him.
  • Now the devil always tests or tempts in order to do harm by urging a man to sin. And it is in this sense that tempting is called his peculiar role. For even if one man sometimes tempts another man in this way, he does so insofar as he is a servant of the devil.

  • By contrast, God is said to test or tempt someone in order to find something out, in that manner of speaking in which He is said to ‘find out’ what He causes others to know. Hence, Deuteronomy 13:3 says, “The Lord your God tempts (tentat) you, in order that it might be made public whether you love Him.”

  • Now the flesh and the world are said to tempt instrumentally or materially, viz., insofar as it is possible to know what sort of man someone is by the fact that he succumbs to or resists the desires of the flesh or by the fact that he shows disdain for the fortunes and adversities of the world. In addition, the devil uses the world and the flesh in order to tempt men.

Thus, a man can tempt another man without sin if he does so "in order to help him advance", which is an act of fraternal charity. He sins when tempting another "in order to deceive or subvert him".

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