Sin, Occasions of

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An occasion of sin is circumstance of person, place, or thing, extrinsic to the potential sinner involved, that draws him to sin and gives him an opportunity of committing it. Inclinations toward sin found within a man, such as bad habits and passions, because they are intrinsic to himself, are thus not what a moral theologian would call occasions of sin. Nor is an occasion to be confused with a danger of sin. A danger of sinning is more general and includes various internal dispositions, such as temptations, natural weakness, and the like, that can exist independently of any "occasion" as the term is here understood.

An occasion of sin is said to be remote or proximate, according to the degree of influence it exercises on the person whose sin it may occasion. If the attraction it exerts is not strong, or there is only a relatively small probability of its leading to sin, the occasion is remote; if the attraction is powerful, or the probability of sin is serious, the occasion is proximate. Remote occasions abound in the lives of most people, and there is no obligation to try to avoid them. An occasion of sin can be proximate for everyone and in that case is called an absolute proximate occasion. Other occasions are proximate only for certain individuals because of their weaknesses and particular dispositions, and these are said to be relative.

The relative frequency of lapses in the exposure to a certain occasion that requires its classification as proximate is a matter of dispute among theologians. Some are of the opinion that one must fall more frequently than not in a particular type of occasion before it becomes proximate. Others hold that fewer lapses would suffice to make the occasion proximate, agreeing with St. Alphonsus that if an individual sins four out of ten times in a given situation, that situation should be considered a proximate occasion of sin for him. All agree, however, that it is imprudent for a person to place himself in an occasion in which he frequently sins.

A proximate occasion of sin may be freely and voluntarily entered upon, or it may be necessary in the sense that it cannot be avoided, or at least cannot be avoided without serious difficulty. Thus, if they are occasions of sin, reading certain books, frequenting particular places, associating with particular people would, generally speaking, be considered voluntary occasions. Military service, living at home or in prison, on the other hand, may be necessary or unavoidable occasions.

Everyone is under a grave obligation to avoid proximate occasions of grave sin as far as that is possible. To remain without sufficient reason in a proximate occasion of serious sin implies a willingness to commit that sin. As long as a person freely remains in, or will not undertake to avoid such an occasion, he is not properly disposed for absolution, for he lacks the firm purpose of amendment essential to contrition. Just as it is evil to expose oneself needlessly to the risk of grave injury or physical death, so is it seriously sinful to expose oneself needlessly to spiritual death through mortal sin.

As to necessary or unavoidable occasions, it should be noted that the necessity that characterizes them is not a necessity of sinning but a necessity of remaining in the physical situation that has been or could be a proximate occasion of sin. When a person is confronted with such a necessity, he should take steps to reduce the probability of sin by arming himself against the dangers inherent in the situation. This course can so alter the occasion that it ceases to be proximate and becomes remote. Spiritual means of effecting this change include a frequent reception of the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, prayer, mortification, and reflection that tends to activate one's love of God and to increase one's awareness of the evil of sin and of its consequences. In addition to these spiritual countermeasures, ingenuity can often discover physical means of one kind or another, depending on the nature of the occasion, to make the danger of sin more remote.

Bibliography: e. thamiry, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 11.1:905915. b. merkelbach, Questiones de variis poenitentium categoriis (Liège 1928). m. fÁbregas, "De obligatione vitandi probabile periculum peccandi," Periodica de re morali canonica liturgica 30 (1941) 2045. j. c. ford and g. a. kelly, Contemporary Moral Theology, v. 1 (Westminster, MD 1958) 141173.

[f. e. klueg]