Injury, Moral

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As understood in moral theology, injury is a violation of right, or an act opposed to the virtue of justice. This was the earliest sense of the term, and in ordinary usage this sense is still discernible, although the word is used often in reference to harm suffered without injustice, such as might be sustained in an accident. The word, in its verbal form, may be used in an active sense to signify the doing of a wrong to another; as a substantive it is more commonly applied in the correlative passive sense to signify the result of such an act, i.e., the harm suffered by the person wronged. If the injustice is intended, the injury is said to be formal; if it is done without advertence or intent, it is merely material and is not sinful unless the lack of advertence is itself culpable. An injury is direct if it is intended as such; it is indirect if it is not intended but is forseen as a consequence of something one does intend. It may be inflicted by a positive act, such as theft, or by the omission of an act one is bound to perform. A further precision is made by moralists who distinguish injustice as injurious, and injustice as injurious and damaging. Any violation of justice is injurious, but it is also damaging if the victim sustains loss (damnum, or damage) on its account. The obligation to restitution in the strict sense of the word arises from injuries of the latter kind.

There are as many kinds of injury as there are species of injustice. Since injustice is ex genere suo gravely sinful, every act that is injurious in the proper sense is a mortal sin unless one or another of the conditions necessary for full subjective responsibility is wanting, or unless the harm done is too small to be taken seriously.

It is a rule of law that no injury is done to one who consents to the transgression of his right: scienti et consentienti non fit iniuria et dolus (Liber Sextus, rule 27). In such a case one cedes his right. However, this rule is applicable only if the party consenting is free to yield his right, which is not the case, for example, in a sin of adultery with a woman whose husband does not object, or in the taking of the life of another who wants to be released from the burden of living. The rule supposes also that the consent of the one whose right is violated is given freely, i.e., that he does not yield his right under the influence of error, fraud, fear, or violence.

The injustices done to those who, following the counsel of Christ (Mt 5.40), offer no resistance to evil, or who long for martyrdom, or rejoice over the injuries done to them (Heb 10.34) are in no way condoned by the willingness of the victims to submit to unjust treatment. The intention of the victims is not precisely to surrender their rights to the unjust, or to approve the wickedness, but to bear the trial patiently for the sake of Christ.

The sinful gravity of an injury is measured not only by the seriousness of the actual injustice that is done, but also by the harm to the social order, for the peace and security of the community may be threatened by an injury done to a private individual who feels little loss at the violation of his right. Nevertheless, the degree of the victim's unwillingness to suffer the injury should in some cases be taken into consideration, because if it can be assumed that he is not seriously unwilling and would not urge his strict right, the act would not be a grave violation of justice, on the principle consentienti non fit iniuria. But, on the other hand, a marked and emphatic unwillingness of a person to have his right disregarded in some trifling matter by which he happens to set great store would not aggravate a petty injustice to the extent of making it a grave sin against justice, for his excessive unwillingness would be unreasonable. Still, though a venial sin from the point of view of justice, such an act could involve a grave transgression of the law of charity.

Bibliography: thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae 2a2ae 72:14. alphonsus liguori, Theologia moralis, ed. l. gaudÉ, 4v. (new ed. Rome 190512; repr. 1953) 3:966, 984990. a. thouvenin, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 7.2:193639. j. a. mchugh and c. j. callan, Moral Theology, 2 v. (New York 1930) 2:4650. h. davis, Moral and Pastoral Theology, rev. and enl. ed. by l. w. geddes (New York 1958) 2:265268.

[p. k. meagher]