Is following the rules enough?

Is it enough that one avoids sinful actions because they are taught by the Church to be sinful? Or, must one also agree that the actions are in fact sinful?
An example (and it is just that–an example) may help clear up my question.

A person reads appropriate materials and concludes in good, well-formed conscience that skipping mass on Sundays is not sinful. Yet, he understands that the Church teaches it is sinful to do so. In light of this teaching, he consistently attends Sunday mass. Has this person avoided all sin? Is there anything “wrong” with his conclusion given that he still “follows the rules” even though he may not agree with them?

Please focus on the underlying question and not the details of the example (I am not intending this thread to discuss whether it is or isn’t sinful to miss mass). The details can be changed but the question is the same–e.g., he doesn’t think murder is a sin but realizes the Church teaches it is so he does not kill, he doesn’t think theft is a sin but realizes the Church teaches it is so he does not steal, he doesn’t think adultery is a sin but realizes the Church teaches it is so he does not commit adultery, or he doesn’t think contraception is a sin but realizes the Church teaches it is so he does not contracept. I think you get the idea.

A follow up, what if there is a good faith error on his part regarding Church teaching believing something that is not sinful to be sinful, does that change anything? For example, he doesn’t think reading a newspaper is a sin but realizes (incorrectly) the Church teaches it is so he does not read the newspaper. Does this possibility change anything in your answer?

No.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind: and thy neighbour as thyself.” (Luke 10:27)

“Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

These are not only commandments, but also promises:

“Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

And I say to you, Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened." (Luke 11:9-10)

Interesting question you got here CuriousIL.

The rules are the bare minimum to live a moral life. The ‘ethics’ are the rules and ‘ethos’ is our disposition regarding the ethics. Our ethos need to mature to the point that we are free from the ethics. For example let’s use the Sunday Mass. As a Catholic we are to keep the Lord’s day. One can keep the ethics, but another guy may have a deep appreciation and love for Christ, then missing Sunday Mass is an impossibility as far as he’s concerned because with or without the rule, he’ll be there. Going further, he might be also going to weekday Masses as well.

In heaven there are many mansions. Let’s just say we have these two guys above, all other factors taken equal. In heaven they’ll both be spilling over with happiness. But, the guy who had the deeper love for the Mass will also have a deeper unity with God in heaven.

This is over simplistic but it can be expanded. I also apologize for using the Mass despite of your request. It was just an easy one to use.

in XT.

Hmmm.

Well, any one person is just that–one person. One limited human person, of limited human intelligence, limited human ability, limited time allotment on earth, limited language, limited culture, limited physical and mental capacity, etc.

So… .

The Catholic Church is the body of Christ. It is made up of all baptized Christians, living and dead. It comprises limited human beings from over a 2000 year period of history, of varying degrees of physical and mental capacity, of all known human languages, cultures, etc.

AND IN ADDITION. . .

The Church has within it to guide it the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son and who was sent to reveal all necessary knowledge.

Therefore:

While I might be Stephen Hawking (but I’m not), or Albert Einstein, or Ken Jennings in “brain capacity”. . .

While I might be Mother Teresa, St. Theresa, St. Peter or St. Paul in “spiritual capacity”. . .

While I might be AH-nold or Charles Atlas or Babe Didriksen Zaharis in “physical capacity”. . .

Any, or all, of the above, while “gifted” in a given area, are, even in the “spiritual” capacity, still limited human beings. (Ask St. Peter especially).

So, your example of an individual with a “well formed conscience”–is limited by his own personal finite human capacity. This person is likely to be Joe or Jane Average far more than the above examples, so even less likely to have a “gift” in one way or another, especially a spiritual gift. . .

The Church, OTOH, has 2000 years of Holy Spirit guidance, Scripture, Tradition, and teaching.

What IT teaches, despite what might be politically correct or just seem “not a sin” to John, Jane, or anyone in between, is not just “one person’s opinion”.

You’re not just talking about things like communion in the hand or whether to sing Haugen or Palestrina. . . one can in the U.S. receive communion in the hand OR on the tongue, and one can choose either of the above composers legitimately depending on individual taste.

The examples that you give are quite specific moral teachings that the Church has held since the beginning, and always will. Unlike women wearing hats in church, to give an example of an excellent idea that lasted for centuries and could still be done quite legitimately today, but equally legitimately need NOT be done, adultery, murder, and contraception are moral wrongs that can NEVER be engaged in.

Any person whose “well informed conscience” informed him or her that those were NOT sins, but if the Church says they are, will go with the church, is doing the right thing for the right reason but is still begging the question. Consciences do not “spring into being” overnight and at any time, not just this era, one must take particular care not just to “go along with the teaching” but to ACCEPT it wholeheartedly.

People learn things every day, and in many cases, in order to learn something new, they have to reject something “old”. A child looks at a short, fat glass and a tall, thin glass and will tell you that there is more water in one because it is taller, even if there is exactly the same amount in both glasses, because to her it LOOKS as though there should be more water. As she grows older she learns that looks are deceptive. Should she have held to her “conscience” because she really THOUGHT she was RIGHT? Should she have held to her opinion rather than the teachers because teachers are not cool, because of the teachers’ sex, or race, or religious beliefs?

Mr. X and Ms. Y may really THINK that adultery is OK. That does not make them correct. They need to LEARN that adultery is NOT OK, not to engage in the relativistic babble that, well adultery seems OK to THEM, and probably society, or at least the intelligensia thought so TOO, at one time, or do NOW, so really, isn’t it more IMPORTANT to stick to one’s moral principles, however flawed, rather than to “kowtow” and actually reject those principles, in favor of some ABSOLUTE?

Honestly, more people have fallen victim to the sin of pride and hubris in considering that what they “believe” somehow trumps something that is “taught” to them. . .

No. Because his intentions are not right. As far as I can tell. I guess I’d have to know why he insisted on following the Church? But without knowing that, I’d still lean on the side of no as my answer. Because for one thing, he is obviously not following his conscience, so his conscience is not right, and for another it’s not clear that he even has a love for God. Or even a fear of hell. I guess for my final answer so to speak, i’d have to know why he was doing what he was doing.

I think the answer is that yes it’s enough but the fellow would spend an awful long time in Purgatory.

They are not sinning because he has not violated any grave matters, but they aren’t objectively living up to the fullest possible spiritual level.

For the hearers of the law are not righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be declared righteous.

The major problem with this hypothetical person is that he thinks that “the Church teaches x is sinful” and “x is sinful” are actually different things.

They aren’t! If says to himself, “I don’t what the Church teaches about x, I believe it’s not a sin, but for a mysterious reason I won’t do it” then he’s hardly a Christian!

If he says to himself, “I don’t understand why the Church teaches this, but I’ll be obedient out of the love to the Church, and somehow I must be wrong even if I don’t understand how” then he’s a perfectly good Christian. We don’t have to understand everything, as long as we make a reasonable effort. If we were supposed to figure it all out, we wouldn’t need a Church.

This all applies to things that are intrinsically evil.

For things that are not, like missing Mass on Sunday, it is actually true that those things are sins only because the Church asks our obedience in those situations. In that case it is actually true that there is no natural reason that missing Sunday Mass is sinful. There is a supernatural reason that we are bound to go under pain of mortal sin.

This is actually a great philosophical question, not least because it recognizes the reality that “a sin” is “an action.” Not a concept, not a mood, but something I do or am obligated to do but do not. “Sins” are actually pretty carefully parsed; on these forums we sometimes spend many threads talking about perceived “sins of omission” that actually have no positive duty attached and therefore cannot be “sins,” for all that they might be otherwise bad. Not everything bad is a sin.

There is a hierarchy of truths roughly contiguous with the Ten Commandments, the traditional definers of “mortal sin.” The further you get from the Ten, the less “heinous” the sin becomes.

HOWEVER, you introduced the concept of “good, well-formed conscience,” and I personally am a great skeptic regarding these kinds of consciences. The typical “good, well-formed conscience” in opposition to a basic teaching of the Church is I fear spiritually obese, bloated and “forming” itself with every self-serving message of the culture that it swallows. I’m willing to accept that people are invincibly ignorant due to cultural retardation, but I cannot accept that this is a “good, well-formed conscience.”

Good points all. Thanks for the spirited discussion. Let me see if I can clarify and add to this a bit.

[quote=Tantum ergo]Honestly, more people have fallen victim to the sin of pride and hubris in considering that what they “believe” somehow trumps something that is “taught” to them. . .
[/quote]

Very true, but the point of this question is that the teaching trumps the belief, not the other way around. They act in accordance with the teaching.

[quote=Oren]No. Because his intentions are not right. As far as I can tell. I guess I’d have to know why he insisted on following the Church? But without knowing that, I’d still lean on the side of no as my answer. Because for one thing, he is obviously not following his conscience, so his conscience is not right, and for another it’s not clear that he even has a love for God. Or even a fear of hell. I guess for my final answer so to speak, i’d have to know why he was doing what he was doing.
[/quote]

And, he is following the Church teaching because it is the Church teaching and he wants to follow it even though he disagrees with it. To quote, let’s say its he follows Church teaching even though he disagrees because he dreads “the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell; but most of all because [such acts are taught to] offend … God, Who are all good and deserving of all [his] love.”

To sum it up, his feelings are not quite this:

[quote=Thomas More]If he says to himself, “I don’t understand why the Church teaches this, but I’ll be obedient out of the love to the Church, and somehow I must be wrong even if I don’t understand how” then he’s a perfectly good Christian. We don’t have to understand everything, as long as we make a reasonable effort. If we were supposed to figure it all out, we wouldn’t need a Church.
[/quote]

But rather it is more like “I don’t understand why the Church teaches this, but I’ll be obedient to her teaching out of the love of God and fear of hell even though I do not think I am wrong.”

Curious:

There’s a great distance in between following because of blind obedience and doing the noble because of charity.

This is where we need ample scriptural, theological and devotional understanding. Without these we cannot survive long with blind obedience because fear of hell and loss of heaven will only become abstractions.

The beauty of this is WHEN one does study the Catholic faith, it becomes more and more reasonable. Through the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no original ideas in my head that can can even come close to trumping what the church has been teaching all along. All of my liberal ideas in youth do not even compete with the brilliance and the soundness of Catholic dogma and doctrine. I’ve fought many of the teachings in youth for I did not understand them. This is why too many complaints are charged against the teaching-lack of vision and understanding. The more I dig, the more treasures I find. The deeper I go, the greater treasures I discover.

The devil uses all sorts of tools to prevent this discovery. Read Screwtape Letters and Snakebite Letters. Ignorance, apathy, distractions, false doctrine, false prophets, temptations are all thrown at us to prevent knowing Christ.

This is why St. Paul urges us to keep up the fight and finish the race.

in XT.

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