Full Consent of the Will and Lust

I am given to understand that entertaining lustful thoughts is grave matter. I struggle with this but have been making a serious effort to stop. However, there are now cases I am worried about where I thoughtlessly entertain a thought that pops into my mind or stare or even lust after an image I see for a few seconds before I realize what I am doing and stop. Sometimes I worry I do even “choose” to do this, not in the sense of deciding to lust but in looking for something to lust after. But at the same time, this feels more like the force of habit than a deliberate decision to break my relationship with God. Usually as soon as I see what I am doing I try to break free of it by removing the stimulus, thinking about/doing something else, or praying. But I still feel like I’ve mortally sinned afterwards, and feel very distraught over whether or not I actually lusted. Would cases like the sort I’ve described be mortal sins of lust? Or is the force of habit/not realizing what you are doing enough to not have full consent of the will?

One does not need to “deliberately choose to break ones relationship with God” - that is one does not need to think in those terms to commit a mortal sin. One does not have to think “I want to break my relationship with God”. Sins of lust for example might not even involve adverting to God per se…

More to be said in a moment. Just wanted to note that.

Compendium issued by Pope Benedict XVI

  1. When does one commit a mortal sin?


One commits a mortal sin when there are simultaneously present: grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent. This sin destroys charity in us, deprives us of sanctifying grace, and, if unrepented, leads us to the eternal death of hell. It can be forgiven in the ordinary way by means of the sacraments of Baptism and of Penance or Reconciliation.

  1. When does one commit a venial sin?


One commits a venial sin, which is essentially different from a mortal sin, when the matter involved is less serious or, even if it is grave, when full knowledge or complete consent are absent. Venial sin does not break the covenant with God but it weakens charity and manifests a disordered affection for created goods. It impedes the progress of a soul in the exercise of the virtues and in the practice of moral good. It merits temporal punishment which purifies.


Note that first part: One commits a mortal sin when there are simultaneously present: grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent.

So it not just a question “complete consent”. One needs the knowledge as well.

For example - a thought may begin and one may not realize yet what is happening - and then one realizes and as soon as one realizes sets that thought aside and turns to something else that is good…has one committed a mortal sin?

One need not only complete consent - to commit a mortal sin - but one needs that full knowledge to…so all sorts of thoughts might “happen to me” or other temptations (I am caught off guard by some image via surprise)- but I do not realize at first what is happening and as soon as I do - I reject them -that is turning in a good direction -not towards mortal sin.

All sorts of thoughts can “happen” to me out of the blue - without any sin even. What to do? Turn to something good.

Discuss this with your confessor - he can assist you.

Don’t forget that there is a difference between temptation and sin. If you catch yourself and turn away, then you’ve avoided sin. Here’s a nice article- the second paragraph is relevant angelicwarfareconfraternity.org/2012/09/how-to-deal-with-impure-thoughts/
‘‘Such involuntary thoughts are not yet sinful. Only free choices are sinful. If one suddenly becomes aware of having sexual thoughts without first choosing to have them, then one has not yet sinned.’’
Mary, Queen of Virgins, pray for us! St Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!

Hi all, thanks for your comments. I am going to ask another question using this thread, if y’all don’t mind. Sometimes I have lustful thoughts but quickly dismiss them once I realize what is going on, but I worry that I choose to bring up the thought to begin with - that it didn’t just pop up. Is this mortal sin? Or is it not because I still don’t entertain them once I realize what’s going on?

how did you make the choice to have these thoughts? Really I can’t think how one chooses to have a thought.
Say,I see something that inspires a thought.
Now I can choose to disregard that thought or entertain it. But I still did not choose to have that thought.

Hi there

You have phrased a very important question.

I too have this problem. Sometimes thoughts are intrusive in nature possibly due to ocd. In other cases I would voluntarily think the thought but it would be based on associations in the mind. Say you associate something with an impure thought that triggers the thought. About 3 different associations happen in the brain where the thought gets worse and it may take a few moments to fight the thought. However the thoughts are voluntary to various degrees

It is impossible for someone who does not experience intrusive thoughts to provide advice or assistance in this area as these thoughts and the level of consent behind them can be very difficult to determine.

I’m not sure if your thoughts are of this nature but I think your question is very interesting.

A couple seconds… maybe. A few seconds… Danger! Danger! Get out… Run for your life! :slight_smile:

But seriously, I think you’re simply on the right path towards conquering sinful habits. Knowledge of your limitations is a grace. If you choose, confession can only bring more graces.
If you think you’ve sinned venially, confess it at Mass. If it’s a habit discuss it with the priest. It can be confusing since ‘full knowledge or complete consent are absent’. Then how does one know if they’ve sinned venially if knowledge is absent??

I think some Catholics worry too much. Maybe they have too much time on their hands. Maybe their imaginations are out of control. Maybe they should get up, go pray, assist at Mass, serve the poor, or ‘do’ something.

Sorry… I’m just a little grouchy this morning.

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