Continuing his exposition of religion, which is a virtue associated with justice, Father Pegues enumerates the sins opposed to religion. These are of two kinds: sins of excess, which are called superstition, and sins of defect, which are called irreligion.
Superstition is “that complexity of sins which consists in paying worship to God such as cannot be pleasing to Him; or to pay to things other than God the worship that belongs to Him alone.” An example of superstition is “the inordinate desire to learn the future or to bring to light things that are hidden, which effects the giving up of oneself to the manifold kinds of divination, or to what are called superstitious practices.”
Irreligion consists in either “not treating with due respect things that belong to the service and worship of God” or “abstaining altogether from acts of religion.” The latter is particularly grave because “it implies contempt or the scornful disregard of Him whom we are bound in the strictest sense to honour and to serve.” An example of the latter is secularism, which is “that system in which God is put out of one’s life completely: whether in a positive manner, in getting rid of Him in every way and in persecuting both Him and everything that has to do with Him; or in a negative way, in taking no account of Him at all in our life, individual, domestic, or social. In its positive form it arises from hatred or from some fanatic sectarianism; in its negative form it arises from a sort of intellectual and moral obtuseness, particularly with regard to the supernatural order.”
Other forms of irreligion are tempting God and committing perjury, “which are committed against God Himself and His Holy Name,” and sacrilege and simony, “which are committed against things holy.” Tempting God is “that sin against the virtue of religion which consists in want of respect towards God in making appeal to His intervention; or to make appeal to Him in circumstances that forbid His intervention.” An example of tempting God is “to count upon some special help from Him when one does not do oneself all that is possible to be done.” Perjury consists in “calling on God to witness a thing that is false, or calling on God as witness to a promise which we do not fulfil.” Sacrilege is “the violation of person, thing, or place consecrated to God, which are dedicated to His service and worship. It is a great sin; for to touch things that belong to God is in some sort to touch God Himself.” Simony consists in “imitating the impiousness of Simon the Magician [Acts 8:9-24] by offering insult to things holy in treating them as ordinary material things, of which men dispose as though they belonged to them, and which they buy or sell for a sum of money.”
Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).