The editorial of the month
Jubilee Year of Mercy: Mercy and Conversio ad Creaturam by Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P
Not long ago, I was having a conversation with the Senior Editor of Magnificat, Father Romanus Cessario, O.P., who is also a professor of moral theology. We were talking about the Year of Mercy and the phenomenon of sin, and he reminded me of something I had not thought about in a long time. Every act of sin is an aversio a Deo—a turning away from God. But sin at the same time is a turning towards some created good—conversio ad creaturam.
Conversio ad creaturam and its effects
Father Cessario, in one of his books, explains it this way:
Sin constitutes both an aversio a Deo and a conversio ad creaturam. The “conversion” or clinging in a disordered way to some created good produces in the sinner certain effects immediately related with having embraced a good wrongly. We call this vice.
Saint John Paul II had written about this in his apostolic exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, noting that, when someone is caught up in sin, he finds himself “preferring to turn in on himself or to some created and finite reality, something contrary to the divine will (conversio ad creaturam)” (17).
This conversion to the false self can take hold even through the committing of venial sins. In the 1957 Handbook of Moral Theology, Father Dominic M. Prümmer, O.P., lists some of the deleterious—and overlooked—effects of venial sin: “some loss of beauty of soul; difficulty in practicing the virtues; withdrawal of many graces; an inclination to mortal sin; right to temporal punishment.”
Father Adolphe Tanquerey, S.S., fleshes this out in his classic The Spiritual Life:
Nothing so lowers our ideal as attachment to sin: instead of being ever ready to serve God in all things and to aspire to the highest, we purposely halt half-way along the road to relish some forbidden pleasure. We feel then the weariness of the way and heights of perfection that God wants us to reach seem far too remote and too forbidding. We say to ourselves that it is not necessary to aim so high; that we can obtain our salvation on more reasonable terms; and the ideal which once shone before our eyes no longer moves us. Hence, there ensues a cooling of charity that becomes alarming.
Conversion to corruption
Pope Francis, in the bull of indiction for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, goes so far as to identify conversio ad creaturam with corruption: “Corruption is a sinful hardening of the heart that replaces God with…illusion” (Misericordiae Vultus #19).
The pope elaborates on this in his book The Name of God is Mercy:
Sin, especially if repeated, can lead to corruption, not quantitatively—in the sense that a certain number of sins makes a person corrupt—but rather qualitatively: habits are formed that limit one’s capacity for love and create a false sense of self-sufficiency. The corrupt man tires of asking for forgiveness and ends up believing that he doesn’t need to ask anymore…. The corrupt man is the one who sins but does not repent, who sins and pretends to be Christian, and it is this double life that is scandalous. The corrupt man does not know humility, he does not consider himself in need of help, he leads a double life…. When a sinner recognizes himself as such, he admits in some way that what he was attached to, or clings to, is false. The corrupt man hides what he considers his true treasure, but which really makes him a slave and masks his vice with good manners, always managing to keep up appearances…. The corrupt man is so closed off and contented in the complacency of his self-sufficiency that he does not allow himself to be called into question by anything or anyone.
How to convert from conversio ad creaturam
And then Pope Francis adds this: “The corrupt man often doesn’t realize his own condition, much as a person with bad breath does not know he has it.”
So what is the way out of conversio ad creaturam? Get close to someone you trust, and let that person correct you. As Pope Benedict XVI once said, “Fraternal correction is a work of mercy. None of us can see himself well, see his shortcomings well. So it is an act of love to be a complement to one another, to help each other see one another better, and to correct each other.”