From the Theology Q and A post:
Jonathan: Aquinas argues that once an individual has reached the age of reason he is either in a state of sanctifying grace or mortal sin. There isn’t a single second that passes by where he is in original sin alone.
He either directs his will/reason towards God, or he commits a mortal sin.
(1) Do you hold to this position? If not, explain your reasons for not holding to it.
(2) Aquinas’s position contradicts your view regarding the decree of the council of Florence which states: “But the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.”
Since the souls that reach the age of reason cannot be in original sin alone, that means that this passage refers to unbaptized infants.
1. No, absolutely not. It is a clear error in St. Thomas’ work.
2. Right. Glad you brought that up. I’ve worked with children for many years, physically and/or mentally handicapped kids, as well as emotionally disturbed kids. I’ve taken courses in human development and psychology. It is not tenable, given modern knowledge in medicine and psychology, to say that the age of reason is reached in a single instant. Children experience a gradual increase in their ability to exercise reason and free will, in their ability to understand transcendent truths, such as good, evil, love, sin, etc.
The result is that they gradually increase in moral understanding and possible culpability. At first, they can only commit the slightest venial sins, then this possible culpability increases within venial sin. It may be some considerable time after the age of seven that youths become merely capable of actual mortal sin.
Moreover, there is no reason to think, given this gradual increase in moral responsibility, that the person ever reaches a point where they realize, by natural law alone in many cases, that God exists and they must decide whether or not to worship Him — thereby resulting in the opinion that everyone beyond a certain age is in a state of actual mortal sin or the state of grace. And the Church does not teach that persons beyond the age of seven, who are baptized, are all either in a state of actual mortal sin or already in the state of grace.