Impeccability is more than freedom from sin. It is the impossibility of sinning. It can be considered as intrinsic, springing from a being's nature, or extrinsic, resulting from special help. It can be absolute, without any conditions, or relative and conditioned. Both angels and men are, by nature, capable of sin [2 Pt 2.4; H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer (32d ed. Freiburg 1963) 800; Rom 5.12; H. Denzinger, ibid., 1511–12]. It is of faith that Christ, as man, was without sin (Jn 8.46; 14.30; H. Denzinger, ibid., 434). Because of His fullness of grace, the beatific vision, and, especially, the hypostatic union, He could not sin. Faith teaches that Mary had the unique privilege of an immaculate conception and was free from all actual sin (H. Denzinger, ibid., 2803). Some hold that St. Joseph also, at least after marriage, was free from all sin. The Apostles are considered to have been confirmed in grace after Pentecost (St. Thomas Aquinas, De verit. 24.9). Even the holy, however, do sin venially (Jas 3.2; 1 Jn 1.8). The blessed, being in eternal possession of their final end, will not and cannot sin (Jn 10.28; 1 Thes 4.17; H. Denzinger, ibid., 1000). They are immediately united to the fullness of truth, goodness, and beauty. Theologians agree that beings could be created with the beatific vision and thus be impeccable, or they could be preserved by special grace. It is disputed, however, whether a creature could be impeccable by nature (intrinsically) either absolutely, and so be incapable of sin against natural or supernatural law, or relatively, and so be impeccable with respect only to natural law. It is commonly held that absolute impeccability is impossible. All creatures "are changeable because they were made from nothing" (H. Denzinger, ibid., 1333). The created will has rectitude of action only when "regulated according to the divine will" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 63.1, C. gent. 3.109). Most Thomists hold that it is possible for a creature to be relatively impeccable by nature and that the angels were in fact so created.
Bibliography: Commentaries on Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologicae, 1, esp. q. 63, by cajetan, salmanticenses, john of st. thomas, d. bÁÑez. j. capreolus, In Sent. 22. ferrariensis, In C. gent. 3.109. duns scotus, In 2 sent. 5.1. f. de suÁrez, De angelis (Lyons 1620), bk. 3, ch. 7. e. hugon, Tractatus dogmaticus, v.1 (11th ed. Paris 1933). p. richard, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 7.1:1265–80.
[p. j. kelly]