"full knowledge"?


Defining mortal vs. venial sin seems to always open a can of worms. For me the ambiguous part is in the “full knowledge” and “full consent” definitions. “Grave matter” seems less likely to produce differing opinions.

Do we define full knowledge as being aware the sin you committed is a sin? I think this is how most people interrupt this.

I’d like to propose a deeper (or more complicated) definition. I’ll attempt a popular example; missing Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.

Many, probably most catholics are aware that the church states that missing Mass is a sin. We also know that many (in fact the vast majority) of catholics are not regular attendees of Sunday Mass. Therefore most catholics know they are in sin. Further more most catholics who miss Sunday Mass have very little fear, if any, that thier soul is in jeopardy. Virtually everybody speaks of Heaven as a place they will end up following thier earthly death.

This is clearly illogical. It’s illogical unless you consider that the catholics who know they are in sin and regard it with little concern do not either believe, or understand, that the church’s teaching is infallible. I propose that the reason people sin (in a manner we define as mortally) is because they do not believe it is mortal. Which brings me to my question.

Are catholics who; contracept; fornicate, miss Mass, abort children…and more, not in full knowledge, NOT because they do not know it is sin, but because they do not believe or have never been appropriately taught, that the church believes these sins to be mortal? And if so, are they less culpable?

Full knowledge does not soley mean - knowledge that the behavior is sinful.

Full knowledge may mean – knowledge the behavior is sinful but not fully awware of the ramification.


The problem is, it really doesn’t matter how “we” define a mortal sin, it matters how He defines a mortal sin. He’s pretty specific in Scripture, and He doesn’t pull punches when it comes to people like you describe.

[quote=www.drbo.org] Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity. 24 Every one therefore that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock, 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock. 26 And every one that heareth these my words, and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man that built his house upon the sand, 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof.

Simply being a member of His Church doesn’t guarantee your salvation. Pray for us all.


For years, I understood that the Church taught that certain behaviors were considered ‘mortal’ sin. What I didn’t understand, was that the Church (the Catholic Church) is Christ’s presence on earth and that rejecting the teachings of His Church is rejecting Christ Himself.

I would have to say I certainly sinned, but I’m not sure I was in full knowledge since I really didn’t understand the Church’s authority as God given.

I’m just glad I understand it differently now. Makes life a lot easier for me to be able to look to the Church for truth and guidance.


I think I posed this question possibly looking for consolation for my fears of loved ones who are in (by defintion) mortal sin. I suffer greatly worrying about the salvation of others who, by what appears to be the general attitude of those on these forums, are in grave danger indeed.

But, the general concensus of those on these forums differ greatly from the population (even the catholic population) at large.

I seldom ( I do see it but, seldom) notice the same deep concerns I have from the people on these forums (generally speaking) that I have fearing for those loved ones not in full conformace with the church. I often wonder if it is because (possibly) most of the devout catholics on these forums also enjoy loved ones (particulariy children) who are also devout.

In my case I came to faith quite late (late 40’s) and am surrounded by catholics quite weak in thier faith. I find I am in a constant state of depression over the state of others that I love dearly.

It wouldn’t seem Christ desired this turmoil. Isn’t the walk with Christ supposed to be an awakening, joyous? Not an experience of fear and turmoil?


The question is, does “full knowledge” mean that you are ignorant of specific teaching, or do not agree? The emphasis on knowledge, suggests this has to do with our acceptance of it within the intellect, not how we personally feel about it. If the latter were the case, we would all be off the hook regarding at least one of the teachings, for we all struggle with our emotions. For example, St. Paul was well aware of such struggle within the soul, from the effect of original sin:

Romans 7:18-25 [RSV]
“For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” * emphasis mine

If our emotions decide the question of “full knowledge”, then according to the Apostle, it depends on the flesh, not the intellect or as he puts it “the law of God with my mind”. Therefore, knowledge = intellect! That being said and to avoid unecessary misunderstandings, we do not serve Christ with this alone, although we do use it to love Him "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. "*emphasis mine (Matthew 22:37) This is why the Sacrament is so necessary - it’s a gift from God, not a burden. Rather, it lifts the burden of mortal sins especially.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way: 1862 “One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent.” *emphasis mine

Pax Christi.


Full knowledge does not soley mean - knowledge that the behavior is sinful.

Full knowledge may mean – knowledge the behavior is sinful but not fully awware of the ramification.

It seems to me, that if you know the behavor is sinful, you will know the ramification, for it is obvious. What does mortal sin lead to? Ultimately, death! If a Catholic is unaware of this, he has the responsibility to be educated in the Faith, for as one priest told me: “being a Catholic is a full time vocation”. Amen.


I appreciate this reply. I also agree that according to scripture (certainly the scripture you site) this is reasonable. Although it forces me to further emphasize my previous (directly previous to your post) post.

I find a contradiction in Christianity. I say this with a heavy heart. We talk often of how Christianity enhances our life. If we “give up our life we will find it”, so forth and so on. The emphasis seems always on us (“our” us being me, us being ourselves). What this emphasis seems to dismiss is those around us.

I guess this boils down to an issue often contimplated.
I’ll state it this way; how in the Body of Christ, can I possibly be in any state other then deep depression and anguish, when all I have to feel joyous about is my (possible) salvation when those of who I love deeply and dearly, are by our (the rightous people who post frequently on these forums) are in grave danger of losing thier soul? If you disagree please do not reply. The vast majority of the catholics I know care little about thier faith, I don’t wish to debate this at this time.

Is this the Body of Christ? Is this of what I should feel joyous about? I do not.


Striking a cord here for me. I battle this as well. If I may offer a thought on it.

I love this particular passage: the adulterous woman. John 8:1-11

Something that always struck me about it is how nonchalant Jesus seems when they bring this woman to Him. He writes casually on the ground ignoring them. If anyone had justification in condemning her, it was Christ, but He didn’t.

What He did do was turn the table onto the hypocrites. Without meaning to offend anyone here, your highlighted statement above similarly refers to the scribes and the Pharisees related in the pasasge, imo.

The reason Christ seemed indifferent to them was the point of the story- we are all guilty of sin no matter what we think of ourselves or of others.

Some might point to the last part of that story as key:

10Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”

11She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either Go From now on sin no more.”

He forgave her and admonished her to sin no more. But it doesn’t stop there then, as it doesn’t now. Did that woman never sin again? I don’t know, but if I were to bet I’d say she is at least like most of us today and did. Did she find her soul that day only and lose it the next when she sinned again?

Obviously I don’t know the answer, but I’m not sure anyone esle does either. The major problem I have is that same contradiction you feel. Somehow it should be reconcilable, because it doesn’t feel quite right.

It’s like; You love riding roller coasters, but if your family isn’t allowed on to share the joy with you- and riding with strangers isn’t the same. If in the washing away of our old life menas we forget those we love in this life feels like a betrayal in itself, it is hard to feel that joy.


There does not need to be a documented definition of full knowledge.
If a person knows the Church teaches something is a grave sin then that is full knowledge. They do not have to understand why the Church teaches something is a grave sin for it to be full knowledge (albeit they should make an effort to do so).


I agree…amen! See my post above. These comments, are from someone else…I quoted him, and then gave an explanation the best I could. God bless.


This may be accurate. If it is, according the Catecthism of the Catholic Church 1035, Heaven will be a pretty lonely place indeed and people attending funerals all over the world are being duped.

1035* The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire."617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.*

I’m aware that we as catholics are not to pass judgement on the eternal destiny of the souls of others. I am also aware of God’s mercy. However what troubles me a great deal is that so few catholics (let alone others) live up the standards of the church in regard to thier salvation. Meaning most are in mortal sin. Missing Mass with full knowledge according to Thistles definition alone qualifies my statement I believe.

What follows is that most people have to resort to plan B, the pardon of God through His mercy.

This is why I hope that ignorance of what I said above, qualifies as the invincible ignorance spoken of by the Church.

I know this sounds like a legalistic discussion. But it’s the Church and the Catechism that is (or reads like) a legalistic document or approach. Therefore where my loved ones who do not follow the “rules” of the Church are concerned, how can I help but think in legalistic terms? I almost feel as though I have to hire Johnny Cocoran for the people I love. Distressing.


Yes, I can see why you would be concerned. But remember, our Lord said that only a “few” would be saved. That was spoken by God Himself who knows what He is talking about.

I am going to recommend something for you to read. It is a sermon given by a great saint of the Church - Saint Leonard of Port Maurice. It was one of his favorite sermons, and the one he used to bring souls back into the Church.

I think this is a great sermon for us to read on this day before Divine Mercy Sunday. Let us reflect on the words written by this great saint, and make a firm purpose to amend our own lives. And let us all do the good deed of passing this sermon along to as many people as we can.

Here’s the link: olrl.org/snt_docs/fewness.shtml


I have thought about this very subject a great deal myself. If it helps, you aren’t the only one. My brothers, while still in the Church, ignore some of her teachings. This scares me a little, but I hope that God will have mercy on all of us.

The answer is no one really knows for sure. I like the parable of the workmen who all get paid the same. As Catholics, we are asked to work harder than many other denominations. Will we receive the same reward? I really hope so because the thought of dear friends not making it to heaven deeply saddens me. All I really know for sure is that I have to put in my best performance on this world and trust in God’s mercy.

Think of another parable, the one where the servants are given the master’s money (talents). Of whom much is given, much is expected. As Catholics with the fullness of the faith, we have a great gift, as well as a burden. I believe we have been given more of the truth and we are expected to do more.


Before I respond, I have a few opening comments. First of all you are on a Catholic forum, and the purpose of the forum is open dialogue. If you do not wish to debate, then you shouldn’t post, especially red-herrings such as “the vast majority of the catholics I know care little about their faith.” Such a judgement belongs to God, who sees the human heart perfectly the way it is. Perhaps these Catholics, care very much about their faith, but struggle to live it in the world. To get back on topic, this is why we have the Sacrament of Confession, because the fact of the matter is, we are all sinners in need of a Savior.

“I find a contradiction in Christianity. I say this with a heavy heart. We talk often of how Christianity enhances our life. If we “give up our life we will find it”, so forth and so on. The emphasis seems always on us (“our” us being me, us being ourselves). What this emphasis seems to dismiss is those around us.”

Here is the passage in context:

Matthew 10:38-42
"…he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me. He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward, and he who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward."

Jesus is saying that taking up your cross means self-denial, not being self centered as you have implied. Fulton J Sheen expounds on this idea on sacrificial love beautifully in his message “The Law of Love”. This is a message that changed my outlook on the Christian Message. I recommend you listen to it, here is the link -http://www.americancatholictruthsociety.com/sheen/43TheLawofLove.mp3

Anyways, this is getting off topic! The discussion is supposed to be on the Church’s teaching on full knowledge in the context of Sacramental Confession. That being said, when red-herrings are put out there, we have the responsibility to set things straight. God bless.


I’m not sure where you got the impression I was not willing to debate. If you are referring to my statement “the vast majority of the catholics I know care little about their faith.” This is not a red herring but a personal observation. I welcome all discussion and thank you for yours. Also, thank you for the link (as well as the previous posters link) I will be listening/reading both.


I read something by St. Robert Bellarmine where he basically says almost no one actually has the “full knowledge” part, but that is due to voluntary ignorance which is just as damning. Here’s how he puts it:

“Similarly those who sin in the malice of their hearts may always plead their ignorance, which is nevertheless not an excuse for their sin since it does not precede it but accompanies it. Wherefore the Wise Man says, " They err who work iniquity.”[16] The Philosopher likewise with truth proclaims every evil-doer to be ignorant of what he does, and consequently it may ingeniously be said of sinners in general, “They know not what they do.” For no one can desire that which is wicked on the ground of its wickedness, because the will of man does not tend to what is bad as well as what is good, but solely to what is good, and for this reason those who make choice of what is bad do so because the object is presented to them under the aspect of something good, and may thus be chosen. This results from the disquietude of the inferior part of the soul which blinds the reason and renders it incapable of distinguishing anything but what is good in the object it seeks. Thus the man who commits adultery or is guilty of a theft perpetrates these crimes because he looks only to the pleasure or the gain which may result, and he would not perpetrate them if his passions had not blinded him to the shameful infamy of the one and the injustice of the other. Hence a sinner is like to a man who wishes to throw himself from an eminence into a river; he first shuts his eyes and then casts himself headlong; so he who does an evil act hates the light, and labours under a voluntary ignorance which does not exculpate him, because it is voluntary."


St. Paul says to work out your salvation in fear and trembling. And yes, we need to be concerned about the salvation of all people, including ourselves. But we should never despair. Entrust those you know to the prayers of the Blessed Virgin and pray the chaplet of Divine Mercy for their benefit.

Yes, being a Christian is very sorrowful in this life, this valley of tears. As St. Faustina’s vision of the two paths demonstrates:

"One day, I saw two roads. One was broad, covered with sand and flowers, full of joy, music and all sorts of pleasures. People walked along it, dancing and enjoying themselves. They reached the end without realizing it. And at the end of the road there was a horrible precipice; that is the abyss of hell. The souls fell blindly into it; as they walked, so they fell. And their number was so great that it was impossible to count them. And I saw the other road, or rather a path, for it was narrow and strewn with thorns and rocks; and the people who walked along it had tears in their eyes, and all kinds of suffering befell them. Some fell down upon the rocks, but stood up immediately and went on. At the end of the road there was a magnificent garden filled with all sorts of happiness, and all these souls entered there. At the very first instant they forgot all their sufferings. "

But our joy as Christians comes not from the consolations of this world, but rather in the hope that Christ will conquer these things and that if we cleave to Him we shall be saved.


You are concentrating on the damage to their souls, which you can’t see, and which ultimately you can’t do anything about.

Concentrate rather on the problems that lax observance causes in the here and now - the marriages wrecked by contraception and abortion, the reduction of the church community to a hollow sham by poor attendance, the stupidity of claiming not to be in need of confession at least once a year, to give the three most common failings of the Westerner.


Fair enough on this being your personal observation. I don’t know the circumstances of these Catholics. Perhaps they oppose openly to some of the Doctrine of the Faith. As for your not wanting to debate I got the impression from this comment: “I don’t wish to debate this at this time.” Anyways, nevermind. I too am thankful for your openess and honesty, as these are issue that need to be discussed among the faithful. I hope you enjoy “The Law of Love” by the Venerable Fulton J Sheen. This is a sermon that has changed my life in a very challenging way. Pax Christi


Well cam-Masta, I agree with you in most parts.
But this man is just asking a valid question. You cannot tell me no great catholic has ever asked this very question adn wanted this same reply. Why exactly is full knowledge of Sin?
Maybe he doesnt want to debate, but you cant chastise him for that, he just wants to know peoples opinions maybe. Or maybe i am wrong.

But i think you arent exactly right in attacking him .
the end.

What is full knowledge of Sin though?
I was told having sin on your HEART is also a reason not to accept the Eucharist.
I think you can know the different sins and their textbook deepness and effects on your soul, but i think what they really might mean is the effect on your heart. If you are concious of a mortal sin you may not accept the Eucharist until you have been cleaned. I think that there might be a difference in FULL KNOWLEDGE of the sin and Concious of it and knowing the TEXT book version of it.
WE all learn waht is bad and what is good because people tell us.

But thats not the point, i dont think?
You guys pulled bible verses, but how do you know they dont mean you feel guilty of it.
I dontk now i am just babbling.
I think once you understand the Eucharist you understand Mortal Sin and its effect. (And Love, and The Trinity, and everything!)

Quote me on that, because thats my 2 cents.

Sorry if i am causing a ruckus.
Love you all anyway :smiley:


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.