How Often is "Complete Consent" Given?

I was thinking about one of the qualifiers for mortal sin–the “complete consent” clause.

How often do we truly give complete consent to commit a grave action? Many grave acts–lustful ones, physical attacks, etc., are performed in a state of overwhelming emotion. Either we are presented with a beautiful woman and our control is lost or we shout and rage at something someone has said because we are so furious.

Even if we know in our hearts that an action is grave, often, in the moment, we are not really in control of ourselves. How can we be sure that such actions are truly mortal sins?

Sorry for the lack of specifics, it’s rather difficult to describe. But I think most people will understand what I mean.

I suggest speaking with a priest.


For mortal sin you need three things:

  1. Grave Matter - You are doing something which is objectively wrong
  2. Full Freedom - Emotion, Habit, Psychological disposition can all reduce freedom
  3. Knowledge - You need to know that what you are doing is seriously wrong.

If you lack freedom then what you are doing is still wrong, but it may be less sinful. I said less sinful, I did not say NOT sinful.

Another phrase to remember is “Today’s knowledge does not make for yesterday’s sin” So while you will feel guilty when you discover what you did is wrong, it may not be sinful, or may be much less sinful than you think today.

My advice to anyone seeking to make progress in their spiritual life is to focus on increasing their freedom.

No one can answer the question “how often is complete consent given” because it will vary from person to person.

The Catechism describes “complete consent” to be…
1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law.** It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.**

So - one must determine what constitutes “sufficiently deliberate”. If one is surprised by some action and responds poorly - that would certainly not provide room for deliberation. However - I suggest that these would be few and far between. And even in such “surprise” circumstances, the surprise only lasts a brief period…and soon your the “reaction” shifts to more to purposeful action - that is - action by choice - or deliberate action.

My suggestion is that if one commits an act that is serious…confess it.


I worry that someone, maybe you, maybe someone else, might use this thread to say "Oh. I didn’t have complete consent here so it must not be a sin; or I did have complete consent so it must be a sin. A conscience is a precious thing to tamper with. Talk this over with a GOOD, Catholic, orthodox confessor. Most of the confessors of this ilk are very clear, objective, and helpful for your own peace and discernment.

My understanding is that we often don’t know for sure, and many things (immaturity, etc.) could conceivable reduce culpability, but that as a rule, the “consent” standard is a relatively low standard. It is not hard to meet. Especially when it comes to judging your own actions, you should assume consent unless you have a very compelling reason to think otherwise.

The knowledge and consent requirements for mortal sin don’t mean that you must really have thoroughly internalized and completely understand the evil you’re about to commit, and have deliberated on it at length and totally given yourself over to evil rather than good. No, they mean, pretty simply, that if you knew it was wrong, and you chose to do it anyway, you’re culpable.

They’re meant to exclude situations in which someone genuinely had no idea an act was wrong, or someone was truly out of their mind or asleep when they did it. Things like being sexually aroused before committing a sexual sin do not, as a rule, mean someone didn’t really consent.

I suspect, though I’m certainly no expert, that this was the original intent of the full knowledge and consent thing.

Cardinal Arinze discusses mortal sin, its mitigating factors, and some of the errors of thought that have manifested. I found this to be quite helpful.

Peace of Christ,

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.



The way I learned the three things necessary to commit a mortal sin which seems clearer but in essence the same thing:

  1. A griveous matter.

  2. Full consent of the will.

  3. Sufficent reflection.

As I understand it all are necessary at the same time.


This video does a nice job of breaking down the basics.

Catechism defines “full consent” as “a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice.”

Therefore if you choose to, say, masturbate, it wouldn’t seem to matter if you are convulsed with lustful feelings. You still chose to masturbate. Therefore you are responsible for masturbation.

What I found interesting in the video from Cardinal Arinze is that you are in a state of mortal sin at the point at which the decision is made, before the act is carried out. That was the first time I had heard it articulated in that fashion.



Though not to be confused with being tempted …

One can be involuntarily beset with temptations repeatedly without any sin while running away from such …

Right, as sin (just as virtue) begins with interior disposition. The elderly woman who put donated her two copper pieces to the Church did far better than the wealthy pharisees conspicuously dumping sacks of coin on the temple floor as a show of charity.

Now of course there may be circumstances that mitigate culpability. But we can’t judge them effectively, whereas we can judge effectively whether or not we chose to do the sinful thing. Therefore, whether or not we chose to do the sinful thing should be the basis for our evaluation of whether or not we are guilty of sin.

It seems to me that it can only be the moment of consent that is the mortal sin, since afterwards, one does not have any more full consent of the will. That consent has already been given, and the only thing remaining is the actual carrying out of the sin. It seems impossible to resist once one has made up one’s mind to consent. In my experience there is the wish to change one’s mind but the inability to do so.

One can give complete consent in the decision with the needful knowledge and commit a mortal sin. Then later before say robing the bank or pulling the trigger --one can repent and not carry out the intended act.

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