Can venial sin be magnified into mortal sin through knowledge and holiness?


(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.


I think you already know the answer to that question. What do you want me to say? I know there is a quote about if those who always with God throughout their life happen to commit a mortal sin before they die they will still go to hell. Seems unfair. I honestly try to avoid thinking of such things. Things like this do not help me want to grow in holiness. “For much is given, much is expected.” I would rather just focus on avoiding sin and trying to be a good person. This sort of thinking ANNOYS ME. Perhaps I have not fully detached myself from this world. My standard of behavior is not the same as God’s. I probably should not have answered. This may make me a bad Catholic there are parts of the bible I am not ready to read. There are spiritual books or saint stories I would rather not know about.


The answer should be ‘No’ - ‘knowledge’ should correct such an error of thinking.


I think this quote from James means that, once someone is set up as an example, there is a lot more possibility for causing scandal. Say, for example, a child is in a convenience store and sees…

A. Some anonymous person he/she doesn’t know stuff a candy bar into his/her pocket and walk out of the store

B. A priest in his clericals stuff a candy bar into his pocket and walk out of the store

Whose behavior is the child more likely to model later in life?

I know that this is a ridiculous example, but I think that most people would agree that taking a candy bar from a convenience store would not be a mortal sin. However, the priest’s sin can be compounded since he is supposed to be an example of virtue and therefore the child would be more likely to look to him as an example for how to act. Therefore, the actual sin of stealing a candy bar might not be mortal, but the gravity of it could be compounded since the priest in example B is someone who is supposed to be an example for other people.

I’m sorry- I have to admit I didn’t read all the way through. For a sin to be mortal, you have to know that it’s grave matter, you have to commit it entirely freely, and with sufficient contemplation. Even if you’re in an entirely clear state of mind and you freely choose to do something you know not to be grave (and stealing a cheap piece of candy wouldn’t be, unless it was the only thing a poor person had to eat or something like that), one of the criteria for mortal sin is missing. So, no, even if you freely and entirely willingly commit a venial sin, it is not a mortal sin. You may want to talk to a priest if you are having difficulty discerning these matters.


To begin with, your analysis of the situation of Adam and Eve, IMO is incorrect, or does not go far enough. Yes, they sinned by disobedience, but the really mortal part of it was that they wanted to be like God, in their knowledge of things. That is what the Serpent tempted them with. The fruit is of little consequence, it was the pride of thinking they could be on the same level as God if they disobeyed God and ate of it. The deadly sin here is Pride, and we all know Pride as one of the seven deadly sins.


Your examination of Original Sin is deeply flawed. Any sin in the state of Original Innocence is mortal because of the constitution of the soul.

Knowledge can elevate culpability, but unless it actually changes the species of the act (ex. petty theft but not knowing you are stealing from a church) as can state of life (a kid says a bad word and it’s indecent, a bishop says the same thing and it’s a scandal) and the indwelling of grace (think “talents”).


This post addresses the crux of the argument. The question is whether the gravity of an act is intrinsic to the act itself (“grave matter”), or whether “matter” includes circumstances (state of knowledge) that modify the act itself.* (I actually disagree with e_c’s example: Causing a scandal is a separate sin; it is not a condition that modifies the seriousness of the prior sin. Example: Adult chooses to steal candy while a child watches rather than when the child is not looking. He a) stole candy and b) chose to do it when being watched.)

I have been under the impression that knowledge of God “increases culpability”, as e_c says, but that this is also synonymous with elevating venial sin into mortal sin, for the reason e_c suggests (but does not directly state):

Any sin in the state of Original Innocence is mortal because of the constitution of the soul.

If you are walking with God, having sure and certain knowledge, and you choose to commit any sort of sin, how is it not necessarily mortal? It requires a greater degree of disregarding God than if one has very little knowledge.

… Hm. I’m starting to think I’m wrong on this issue, that gravity really is limited to the act itself regardless of culpability or degree of knowledge, because I’m finding I can’t quite articulate my reasoning clearly.

  • Perhaps I have thought of an example: Zechariah is punished with muteness for doubting Gabriel’s revelation about John the Baptist. God presumably did not strike other people mute in general for doubting divine revelation (e.g. what was being read at Synagogue), but Zechariah was punished in this more severe way because in his case he received private revelation directly from an angel (hence making his doubt worse because of his greater knowledge from personal experience).

Does it not work in reverse, as well? Jesus says “Blessed are those who have not seen yet have believed”: Does this mean that the reward for those who have not seen yet believed will be greater than those who did see and believed? This makes sense, because I think it is more difficult to believe without seeing.


Sin, like grace, is a mystery.

Working from the act forward, one may define mortal sin by examination of the gravity of the act.

Working in reverse, one may also say that if the effect of the act “destroy[ed] charity in the heart of man” then the act is a mortal sin.

In Catholic thinking, the two methods of determining the spiritual mortality of the act are equivalent. The mystery remains: if the act is objectively not grave but the sinner think his act has destroyed charity in his heart, is his sin mortal?


To answer you directly, yes, through knowledge, but not holiness.

An act which is grave matter can be a venial sin for one person, yet mortal for another depending upon:

1 - It’s grave matter (in this case we assume it is).
2 - The person knows that it is grave matter.
3 - The person had full consent of the will.

That’s what sets “venial” apart from “mortal”. “…Judged more strictly…” does not automatically translate to “…be charged with mortal sin instead of venial sin…”.


Repeated venial sin over the fact of two years, allows you to commit it.


I’m not sure I understand what you wrote here, but
If you intended to say that “sinning habitually makes it no longer a sin”, you are wrong.

If you intended to say that “sinning habitually is still a sin, but you are allowed to do it because of habit”, you are still wrong.

If you intended to say, “having formed a habit of a sin can reduce culpability (but NOT remove all guilt for it); and you still are NOT “allowed” to sin, and it is still a sin, and you must still work hard to NOT sin anymore”, then you are correct.


Sin a cause of divine and true ignorance.


This is not correct.




This will help clear the difficulty.


Edit: …species of the act, it remains venial.



Venial Sin only becomes mortal if the matter becomes Grave/Serious. If the matter is trivial/non-serious, then it remains Venial regardless of your knowledge or holiness.

God is not trying to beat us; he WANTS us to get into Heaven.


Pre knowledge not post…

There was a story we read in school, “The Lottery” in which a society took and stoned a random person to death.

If you are 4 and go to the event with your oarents and teachers and partake you know not.

If you become knowledgeable and catholic at 15 the 4 yrold paeticipation DOES not become a mortal sin.

However if you become a Catholic knowing it is wrong at 15 and go do it against all you know, then it is a mortal sin.


If this is the case then I think almost every 15 year old young man is committing mortal sins daily as much as possible, and looking forward to it.


Assuming they already actually “know”.

I would say the bulk are in lapse catholic or half butted catholic families or similarly uninterested protestant version…

Also, different people know different things at different times, but I would say 15 is a fair age for knowing murder is wrong lol.

As to your implied sin? Meh, much more confusing. Plus, errr when it comes to those kinds of sins, even adults are often not so great unless we are already married off lol…

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