It is a fact that, by Divine
permission, many innocent people suffer loss and are punished by the
aforesaid plagues, not for their own sins, but for those of witches.
And lest this should seem to any a paradox, S. Thomas shows in the
Second of the Second, quest. 8, that this is just in God. For
he divides the punishments of this life into three classes. First,
one man belongs to another; therefore, if a man be punished in his
possessions, it may be that another man suffers for this punishment.
For, bodily speaking, sons are a property of the father, and slaves
and animals are the property of their masters; and so the sons are
sometimes punished for their parents. Thus the son born to David from
adultery quickly died; and the animals of the Amalekites were bidden
to be killed. Yet the reason for these things remains a mystery.
Secondly, the sin of one may be passed on to another; and this in two ways. By imitation, as children imitate the sins of their parents, and slaves and dependents the sins of their masters, that they may sin more boldly. In this way the sons inherit ill-gotten gain, and slaves share in robberies and unjust feuds, in which they are often killed. And they who are subject to Governors sin the more boldly when they see them sin, even if they do not commit the same sins; wherefore they are justly punished.
Also the sin of one is passed on to another in the way of desert, as when the sins of wicked subjects are passed on to a bad Governor, because the sins of the subjects deserve a bad Governor. See Job: He makes Hypocrites to reign on account of the sins of the people.
Sin, and consequently punishment, can also be passed on through some consent or dissimulation. For when those in authority neglect to reprove sin, then very often the good are punished with the wicked, as S. Augustine says in the first book de Ciuitate Dei. An example was brought to our notice as Inquisitors. A town was once rendered almost destitute by the death of its citizens; and there was a rumour that a certain buried woman was gradually eating the shroud in which she had been buried, and that the plague could not cease until she had eaten the whole shroud and absorbed it into her stomach. A council was held, and the Podesta with the Governor of the city dug up the grave, and found half the shroud absorbed through the mouth and throat into the stomach, and consumed. In horror at this sight, the Podesta drew his sword and cut off her head and threw it out of the grave, and at once the plague ceased. Now the sins of that old woman were, by Divine permission, visited upon the innocent on account of the dissimulation of what had happened before. For when an Inquisition was held it was found that during a long time of her life she had been a Sorceress and Enchantress. Another example is the punishment of a pestilence because David numbered the people.
Thirdly, sin is passed on by Divine permission in commendation of the unity of human society, that one man should take care for another by refraining from sin; and also to make sin appear the more detestable, in that the sin of one redounds upon all, as though all were one body. An example is the sin of Achan in Joshua vii.
We can add to these two other methods: that the wicked are punished sometimes by the good, and sometimes by other wicked men. For as Gratianus says (XXIII, 5), sometimes God punishes the wicked through those who are exercising their legitimate power at His command; and this in two ways: sometimes with merit on the part of the punishers, as when He punished the sins of the Canaanites through His people; sometimes with no merit on the part of the punishers, but even to their own punishment, as when He punished the tribe of Benjamin and destroyed it except for a few men. And sometimes He punishes by His nations being aroused, either by command or permission, but with no intention of obeying God, but rather greedy for their own gain, and therefore to their own damnation; as He now punished His people by the Turks, and did so more often by strange nations in the Old Law.
But it must be noted that for whatever cause a man be punished, if he does not bear his pains patiently, then it becomes a scourge, not a correction, but only of vengeance, that is, of punishment. See Deuteronomy xxxii: A fire is kindled in min anger (that is, my punishment; for there is no other anger in God), and shall burn unto the lowest hell (that is, vengeance shall begin here and burn unto the last damnation, as S. Augustine explains), And there is further authority concerning punishment in his Fourth Distinction. But if men patiently bear their scourges, and are patient in the state of grace, they take the place of a correction, as S. Thomas says in his Fourth Book. And this is true even of one punished for committing witchcraft, or of a witch, to a greater or less degree according to the devotion of the sufferer and the quality of his crime.
But the natural death of the body, being the last terror, is not a correction, since of its nature it partakes in the punishment for original sin. Nevertheless, according to Scotus, when it is awaited with resignation and devotion, and offered in its bitterness to God, it can in some way become a correction. But violent death, whether a man deserves it or not, is always a correction, if it is borne patiently and in grace. So much for punishments inflicted on account of the sins of others.
But God also punishes men in this life for their own sins, especially in the matter of bewitchment. For see Tobias vii: The devil has power over those who follow their lusts. And this is clear from what we have already said concerning the member and the genital powers, which God chiefly allows to be bewitched.
However, for the purpose of preaching to the public it is to be noted that, notwithstanding the aforesaid punishments which God inflicts on men for their own and others' sins, the preacher should keep as his basic principle and to the people this ruling of the law; which says, No one must be punished without guilt, unless there is some cause for doing so. And this ruling holds good in the Court of Heaven, that is, of God, just as it does in the human Courts of Justice, whether secular or ecclesiastic.
The preacher may predicate this of the Court of Heaven. For the punishment of God is of two kinds, spiritual and temporal. In the former, punishment is never found without guilt. In the latter it is sometimes found quite without guilt, but not without cause. The first, or spiritual punishment, is of three kinds; the first being forfeiture of grace and a consequent hardening in sin, which is never inflicted except for the sufferer's own guilt. The second is the punishment of loss, that is, deprivation of glory, which is never inflicted without personal guilt in adults, or contracted guilt in children born from their parents' sin. The third is the punishment of pain, that is, the torture of hell fire, and is plainly due to guilt. Wherefore when it is said in Exodus xx: I am a jealous God, visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation: it is understood as speaking of the imitators of their fathers' crimes, as Gratian has explained, Book I, quest. 4; where he also gives other expositions.
Now with regard to God's second, or temporal punishment: first, it may be, as has been said before, for the sin of another (but not without cause), or for personal guilt only, without any other's sin. But if you wish to know the causes for which God punishes, and even without any guilt of the sufferer or of another man, you may refer to the five methods which the Master expounds in Book IV, dist. 15, cap. 2. And you must take the three first causes, for the other two refer to personal guilt.
For he says that for five causes God scourges man in this life, or inflicts punishment. First, that God may be glorified; and this is when some punishment or affliction is miraculously removed, as in the case of the man born blind (S. John ix), or of the raising of Lazarus (S. John xi).
Secondly, if the first cause is absent, it is sent that merit may be acquired through the exercise of patience, and also that inner hidden virtue may be made manifest to others. Examples are Job i and Tobias ii.
Thirdly that virtue may be preserved through the humiliation of castigation. S. Paul is an example, who says of himself in II. Corinthians xii: There was given unto me a thorn in my flesh, the messenger of Satan. And according to Remigius this thorn was the infirmity of carnal desire. These are the cause that are without guilt in the sufferer.
Fourthly, that eternal damnation should begin in this life, that it might be in some way shown what will be suffered in hell. Examples are Herod (Acts xii) and Antiochus (II. Maccabees ix).
Fifthly, that man may be purified, by the expulsion and obliteration of his guilt through scourges. Examples may be taken from Miriam, Aaron's sister, who was stricken with leprosy, and from the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, according to S. Jerome, XXIII, 4. Or it may be for the correction of sin, as is exemplified by the case of David, who, after being pardoned for his adultery, was driven from his kingdom, as is shown in II. Kings, and is commented on by S. Gregory in his discourse on sin. It may, in fact, be said that every punishment that we suffer proceeds from our own sin, or at least from the original sin in which we were born, which is itself the cause of all causes.
But as to the punishment of loss, meaning by that eternal damnation which they will suffer in the future, no one doubts that all the damned will be tortured with grevious pains. For just as grace is followed by the blessed vision of the Kingdom of Heaven, so is mortal sin followed by punishment in hell. And just as the degrees of blessedness in Heaven are measured in accordance with the degrees of charity and grace in life, so the degrees of punishment in hell are measured according to the degree of crime in this life. See Deuteronomy xxv: The measure of punishment will be according to the measure of sin. And this is so with all other sins, but applies especially to witches. See Hebrews x: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing?
And such are the sins of witches, who deny the Faith, and work many evil bewitchments through the most Holy Sacrament, as will be shown in the Second Part.