Certainty (or uncertainty) in salvation

When I was younger, the concept of reconciliation seemed very simple. You commit a sin. You receive absolution during confession. You are in a state of grace. If you die, you will attain salvation.

It was like getting dirty. You take a bath when you get dirty. You get clean and after, you can go to bed. However, as I grow in my walk, I feel that the situation might actually be more complicated and I wonder if I remain in a state of grace long enough for it to matter.

Let’s say I confess on Saturday. By Tuesday, if I’m honest with myself, I would say that my soul has already been stained by sin. Most people say not to worry because most of those sins are PROBABLY venial, but can one really accurately assess if they’ve committed a mortal or venial sin? I know that the requirements for mortal sin are full knowledge, full intent, and highly serious sin, but since we can easily deceive ourselves, can we accurately assess for ourselves the extent of knowledge, intent, and gravity?

As for gravity, I wouldn’t think that looking lustfully at a woman would be considered adultery, but Jesus apparently did, so other trivial sins from a human standpoint may actually be more serious. As for knowledge, I don’t really think that we can say, “I didn’t know a particular action was grave and so that’s way I did it.” If this were true, then mortal sin would pretty much be non-existent. I would think that the majority of people, in their right mind and who have any sort of concern for their relationship with God, wouldn’t do something that they knew was going to be grave. As for intent and being in the right mind, I feel that we can definitely deceive ourselves and say that we weren’t thinking at the time, but I don’t know if that reasoning would hold up with God.

Anyway, from a salvation standpoint, does the confession on Saturday really matter (considering that if I died in a car accident on Tuesday, my soul would already have been stained)? Should I be viewing the situation differently?

Just to be clear, it’s not like I’m sinning rampantly. In fact, I can ALMOST say that I don’t violate any of the ten commandments like the man in Luke 18, who said the same thing to Jesus, but left sad, when Jesus told him to sell his stuff. The man actually violated the first commandment by idolizing wealth over God. I’m not saying that wealth is bad or that I’m sinning by not selling my stuff, but I do have to admit that there are things in my life that I put above God every day, causing me to violate the first commandment.

You are overthinking this whole thing, my friend. God doesn’t want to obsess over our sins–he wants us to be in a committed relationship with him. That’s what reconciliation is all about–being honest with ourselves not scrupulously worrying about which sins we’ve committed. If we love God we cannot gravely sin just by having a lustful thought. Jesus was trying to tell us that we need to have our minds, hearts, and wills at one with God, not that we should fret about every minor infraction. Stop thinking about what sins you might commit and begin thinking of how you can love God and others more and I guarantee you’ll stop worrying about such things.

Not that I don’t want to go to confession, but with what you’re saying, it almost seems as if confession is not necessary (from a salvation standpoint). I do see the value in confessing as far as having someone point out things and sins in your life that you may be blind to. Ideally, if there was a priest that I developed a rapport with and who had time to listen, I would definitely appreciate having him listen to my struggles and have him give me advice on how to better cultivate my relationship with God. However, this isn’t what usually happens. Typically, confession simply becomes “a bathing of my soul,” but my soul quickly gets dirty anyway as I mentioned above in my previous post.

As for what you mentioned above regarding love for God (which I highlighted in red), if it were true, don’t you think that true love for God would cover any sin? What point would there be for confession (from a salvation standpoint)?

You have touched on a topic which has been of interest to Catholic theologians for many centuries, but has received more intense interest in the past half-century. Is it “likely” or “unlikely” for a person of good will to fall into mortal sin? (I’m not talking about gangsters or pimps, but everyday people)

In the late Middle Ages, there was a consensus among theologians that everyday people easily fell into mortal sin. The Scholastics (notably St.Thomas Aquinas) were among the first theologians to really think about the differences between mortal and venial sin, and began to ask if the consensus was accurate. Some modern Catholic theologians believe that it is practically impossible for a person of good will to commit mortal sin. While this belief cannot be strictly called “heresy,” those same theologians often hold opinions on other topics which could be called heresy (same-sex marriage, for example).

The Church has never said, one way or another (and I doubt the Church will ever say). As you point out, the Church says only that we can never know if a sin is truly venial. We can deceive even ourselves, but God alone is not deceived, and God alone knows “for sure.”

But we can be “pretty darned sure” that a sin is mortal.

However, you cite Our Lord’s teaching about lust and adultery. This is an often-misunderstood passage which has given people (especially men) a lot of unnecessary anxiety.

It is not lustful for a man to see a woman and recognize that she is attractive, even sexually attractive. It’s what happens after this recognition that may constitute lust. Does the man then fantasize about having sex with that woman? That’s lust (but not necessarily mortally sinful - as you point out, other conditions must also be met). To what extent does he indulge in these fantasy thoughts? Does he then go home with those thoughts and, um, satisfy himself? Does he think of that woman while he is with his wife? That’s lust, and is getting into the “more probable” area of mortal sin. Does he escalate, having ongoing lustful thoughts, maybe even peeking into her windows? Or worse? Now we are definitely in the “pretty darned sure” territory.

As humans, we cannot know at which point we crossed over into mortal sin (if, indeed, we did). It was not sinful to recognize the woman’s attractiveness. If we had a passing and fleeting thought of fantasy, it probably would not rise to the criteria of mortal sin (after all, that essentially leaves no room for the possibility of venial sin). Different people will cross the line in different places (depending on our individual knowledge and consent).

It’s not uncommon for someone to visit this Forum and ask, “is so-and-so a mortal sin?” And the answer is always the same (no matter what so-and-so is). The answer is: maybe.

IMO, these so-called theologians are worthless as well as dangerous.

This uncertainty is what I’m talking about. You have someone confess on Saturday. Because of imperfection, I’m sure that sins have piled up by Tuesday. These sins are potentially mortal (and it sounds like from your response, that you have a high chance of knowing, but ultimately only God knows). The person is killed in a car accident on Tuesday. Was there really a point to the confession on Saturday from a salvation standpoint? Again, confession can be valuable for other reasons, but just from a salvation standpoint, was there a point?

One of the problems is that, especially in our digital world, the opinions of these theologians are easily disseminated to ordinary laypeople (whether Catholic or not) who may lack the necessary background to examine these opinions critically.

I think it is good for theologians to put out ideas, even wacky ones, so that the issues can be examined and discussed. At one time, theologians took a very dim view of victims of suicide. Suicide is the sin of murder (with the unusual circumstance that the perpetrator and victim are the same person). If theologians think it is easy to fall into mortal sin, it’s easy to assume that a suicide victim died in this state, having just committed murder at the time of his death. Suicide victims thus were categorically denied Catholic burial (in Catholic cemeteries).

Theologians who were probably considered “wacky” during the early 1900’s put out the idea that suicide victims may lack sufficient knowledge and intent to be culpable of mortal sin. After all, even if premeditated, suicide is a highly unnatural act. Medical professionals consider it an automatic indication of mental illness.

The Church has accepted those “wacky” ideas about suicide vicitms, and no longer denies Catholic burial to them. We can gain indulgences for victims of suicide (which would be impossible if they died outside a State of Grace).

Sometimes, even wacky ideas have merit. A free-flow of ideas is a good thing. But theologians are gonna have to think about how to have those discussions without leading others astray.

Maybe I shouldn’t have used the word stained. Let me use the word damaged instead. Between the confession on Saturday and the car accident causing physical death on Tuesday, I’m pretty sure that sins will be committed due to this imperfect world. These sins damage the soul. What I’m trying to point out is that you really can’t be sure if the damage is just a “stain” or “death.” If it happened to be “death,” does the confession on Saturday really matter? On Saturday, the soul was damage-free, but by Tuesday, it could either be stained or dead because of the sins accumulated.

Yes, there was a point. If this person actually committed a mortal sin, then his sin would have been forgiven.

I think you’re misunderstanding what I’m saying. Yes, on Saturday, whatever sins were committed prior to Saturday would all be forgiven, but between Saturday to Tuesday, more sins will have accumulated and you don’t know if these sins are venial or mortal. If the person physically dies on Tuesday, was there really a point to the confession done on Saturday?

Venial sins won’t condemn you, no matter how many you commit. A billion venial sins do not add up to one mortal sin, and only mortal sin (and just one mortal sin) can condemn you.

One could argue that, by receiving Confession on Saturday (and, presumably, a good Eucharist on Sunday) that you were “fortified” against willful sin. But those Sacraments did not remove your free will.

If you die outside of a State of Grace (by knowingly and willfully committing mortal sin) then it does not matter when your last confession was.

If we die in a State of Grace, we are 100% assured salvation (though we may cool our jets in purgatory beforehand). I don’t think that the Church has ever taught the reverse - that if we die outside of a State of Grace, we are 100% assured of condemnation. Indeed, the Church teaches that salvation is possible for people who never attained a State of Grace in the first place (invincible ignorance).

The Church teaches about salvation, not damnation. The Church can enable our salvation, but only we can enable our damnation.

We go to confession after we have examined our consciences; determined that, through our well-formed consciences, the matter was grave, that we had full knowledge that the matter was grave when the sin was committed, and that we gave full consent to the sin (this one is the trickiest); and stir our souls to repentance. We can then be reasonable certain that we have committed a mortal sin, and go to have that sin absolved by the priest through the Blood of the Lamb. And what if we’re wrong, that the sin was actually venial? Then we have done an act pleasing to God, grow in humility, receive advice from the priest, and obtain extra graces not to commit the sin again. A win-win situation.

I don’t disagree with what you’ve said above, but this isn’t what I was asking about. I don’t know if you saw my reply to you above, so let me repost it here.

This uncertainty is what I’m talking about. You have someone confess on Saturday. Because of imperfection, I’m sure that sins have piled up by Tuesday. These sins are potentially mortal (and it sounds like from your response, that you have a high chance of knowing, but ultimately only God knows). The person is killed in a car accident on Tuesday. Was there really a point to the confession on Saturday from a salvation standpoint? Again, confession can be valuable for other reasons, but just from a salvation standpoint, was there a point?

I apologize, I’ve got to run to the store.

Maybe I should illustrate what I’m talking about.

prior to Saturday:
sin (maybe mortal, maybe venial)
possibly NO LONGER in state of grace
sin (maybe mortal, maybe venial)
possibly NO LONGER in state of grace

Saturday:
confess
forgiveness
state of grace

Sunday:
sin (maybe mortal, maybe venial)
possibly NO LONGER in a state of grace

Monday:
sin (maybe mortal, maybe venial)
possibly NO LONGER in state of grace
sin (maybe mortal, maybe venial)
possibly NO LONGER in state of grace
sin (maybe mortal, maybe venial)
possibly NO LONGER in a state of grace

Tuesday:
sin (maybe mortal, maybe venial)
possibly NO LONGER in a state of grace
death during car accident

From a salvation standpoint, was there a point to the confession on Saturday?

That’s certainly part of it. :slight_smile:

Most people say not to worry because most of those sins are PROBABLY venial, but can one really accurately assess if they’ve committed a mortal or venial sin? I know that the requirements for mortal sin are full knowledge, full intent, and highly serious sin, but since we can easily deceive ourselves, can we accurately assess for ourselves the extent of knowledge, intent, and gravity?

It’s not as complicated as all that, although certainly, one must develop the gift and the humility of self-awareness.

As for gravity, I wouldn’t think that looking lustfully at a woman would be considered adultery, but Jesus apparently did, so other trivial sins from a human standpoint may actually be more serious.

When I was a young woman, I was often on the receiving end of these lustful looks, together with the hooting and cat-calling, and believe me, it’s not “trivial”.

I always tried to dress modestly and to try to become invisible to these men, and then I would get endless advice from them about how I needed to dress sexier and put on make-up, so that they could enjoy looking at me. It was a relief to get older and fatter, to be honest. To this day, I don’t use make-up, and there’s no way I’ll ever wear anything that shows my arms or my legs, or anything in between. I felt very threatened in that environment, and it certainly tainted my opinion of men for many years afterwards - I tended to think that most men were buffoons.

As for knowledge, I don’t really think that we can say, “I didn’t know a particular action was grave and so that’s way I did it.” If this were true, then mortal sin would pretty much be non-existent.

There’s a difference between trying your best, and doing what you can to improve every day, and thinking of God as a kind of addled Grandpa who’s going to let everyone get into Heaven anyway, no matter what.

Despair and presumption are two sides of the same thing - “So what? God doesn’t care/ God’s going to get me, anyway.”

But I would say, if you are lusting after women, then please stop. It’s extremely uncomfortable for them, and not very good for the other men in their lives. :slight_smile:

Let’s make a “model”. First, with confession: Saturday evening - P(going to hell) = 0; Tueseday - P(going to hell) = about 0.5; Saturday morning - P(going to hell) = 1; etc. Then, without confession: P(going to hell) = 1. Death is equally likely on all days. The model ignores all graces that make sin less likely and many other things, but that’s why it is a model.

The “total” probability of going to hell with confession would be about 0.5. Without confession it would be 1. Gaining so much more chances to end up in heaven is certainly a good idea, isn’t it?

On the other hand, asking questions “Was there a point to do X, when Y happened later?”, as if Y was certain before X, is not a good idea. That’s why probabilities were invented. :slight_smile:

FINALLY, someone who understood what I was getting at!

I agree that there are graces and other things that would make sin less likely, but do these things ENSURE without a doubt that a sin committed isn’t mortal? We’re talking about eternity here. We need to ensure that the probability of going to hell is zero. Do we need to go to confession everyday? I know that this isn’t practical, so there must be another way of ensuring that probability is zero OR a different way of looking at the situation. This is what I’m trying to determine.

Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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