Are the guidelines for a mortal sin legitimate?

St. Faustina in writing of her vision of hell says, “But I noticed one thing: That most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell.” (Diary 741).

It seems that this would directly violate the requirement of "full knowledge," because according to St. Faustina, those hell-bound sinners had little or no knowledge of the ramifications of sin and the existence of hell, yet they were still damned.

I suppose that not having full knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean that one *isn’t *going to hell for certain, just that those sins committed without full knowledge will not be the sole cause of one’s damnation.

Which makes me wonder, is a mortal sin even possible? The Bible says so, but according to the Catholic Church’s requirements, one must willingly consent to a direct denial and rejection of God, with full knowledge. We are made in the image and likeness of God, in which the desire to join with our maker is rooted deep in every human instinctively and naturally, so how is it possible for anyone to reject God, when it seems by definition, that one can *never *reject God if they have full knowledge of Him?

So to sum it up,

  1. Why does St. Faustina’s vision seem to contradict the necessity of full knowledge for a mortal sin, and
  2. How is a mortal sin possible, when no human, it seems, can ever reject God if they truly have full knowledge of Him?

also, it doesn’t seem that the Devil would apply, seeing that he was never human, thus never explicitly made in the image and likeness of God.

Dear M,

You are assuming that “full knowledge” includes the knowledge of and belief in hell. It does not. Number 1859 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that full knowledge “presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law…” Here “full knowledge” means that the person committing the sin has full knowledge that the act is morally wrong and proceeds to act on it anyway. A person with no knowledge of any religion can still know from the natural law (that we all have) that to murder someone is wrong. This natural law is the “God’s law” the Catechism is referring to in this instance. See #1954 and #1955 in the Catechism.

So one does not have to believe in hell to go there.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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