(Note: If you’re scrupulous, consider not reading this …)
Can venial sin be magnified into mortal sin through knowledge and holiness?
I think the answer is, “Yes.” Note James 3 NABRE:
1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly,
See if you spot some error:
My thinking is that knowledge and grace amplifies the evil of any given act. What did Adam and Eve do? They disobeyed God. “So? We all disobey God from time to time, committing venial sins.” Wasn’t Adam and Eve’s sin mortal? So grave that we call it “Original Sin”, staining all of mankind, except for Mary (and I think Jesus)? Why was it mortal? Wasn’t it because they interacted directly with God, and God spoke to them directly? In other words, they had very much knowledge and grace, and they acted freely. What was their sin? Eating a piece of fruit. This does not appear to be grave matter. What was the grave matter for this mortal sin? It seems to me disobeying God, in itself – it was an egregious, grave act because of the knowledge, grace, freedom that they had. It is the same reason we consider the betrayal of a friend worse than the betrayal of an acquaintance or stranger. (The friend has much more knowledge of what the act means for the victim’s life, and has a deeper relationship with the person being wronged. And we wrong Jesus when we wrong others, He tells us. This reminds me of something I once heard, that Jesus told some mystic that the sins of Christians hurt him more than the sins of non-Christians.)
I don’t want to beg the question; it seems obvious, self-evident: If I know God hates stealing, and I choose to steal a cheap piece of candy, is that not clearly worse than someone who takes it not knowing God hates stealing, who may not even know God exists? So trivial matter is turned into grave matter, and hence venial sin can become mortal sin.
Or is this scrupulosity? I don’t think so. Again, consider holiness: Suppose someone adds a smudge to a grimy or not-very-clean window. Isn’t it much more egregious for the same act to be done to a spotless, immaculately clean window?
I think scrupulosity is worrying that minor faults (usually accidental) might grievously offend God, i.e. having a warped mental image of God. I am talking instead about someone with great knowledge choosing freely to do evil, compared with someone with little knowledge choosing it. Indeed, this is the very mechanism for scandal, about which Jesus says would be better instead to be drowned deep in the sea.
Finally, Jesus doesn’t tell us to “Be good.” He tells us to “Be perfect.” This suggests to me that He recognizes the magnitude and scope of the growth in holiness we can achieve, with the expectation that we act progressively better as our knowledge progresses, such that we will not be willing to commit the slightest transgression, because it will seem so wrong to do it.