Knowledge of a sin's seriousness


#1

Hi -

I know that you can not sin if you do not know that the action is wrong. But, suppose I do something evil that I know is wrong, but I truly believe it is a venial sin and not a mortal sin. Am I still committing a mortal sin?

For example, say I mistakenly believe that premarital sex is only a venial sin. If I commit this act, is it mortal or venial?

thanks.


#2

That… depends. If you truly believe it is not grave matter, then no it is not mortal. However, this is where it gets really dicey. If you truly, in good conscience believe something is not grave, well that is one thing and it will not be mortal. However, if you believe that something is not grave but you should because you have seen enough evidence that it is, or because it is one of the basic things of the natural then it would still be mortal.

That may sound confusing, and may not even be worded right. What I am trying to say is that it is very possible that a person wants to believe something is not grave when they know it is, so they lie to themselves and to God. In this case the sin would be mortal, because the person really knows it is grave. You can’t just say that you believe something is not grave. You have to really believe it for good reason, either because you have never heard that it is grave or because you have researched it prayerfully and really think it is not grave.

A lot of people would be tempted here to simply stop learning about Christ and about what is right and wrong so that he can’t know grave sins and so he can’t sin mortally. You can’t do that though, because that is mortal sin itself, because you are trying to get around the rules and to commit sin without “getting caught.”

For instance, one time my friend was doing something pretty bad. I told her it was, and she didn’t believe me. I told her where it was in the Bible and that she should read it, but she refused. She refused because she didn’t want to know it was bad so she could keep doing it. This would be a mortal sin, because she was trying to find a way to sin without getting caught. Fortunately, she has repented of this!


#3

[quote=glennw]For example, say I mistakenly believe that premarital sex is only a venial sin. If I commit this act, is it mortal or venial?

thanks.
[/quote]

If you truly, truly mistakenly believe, then it is venial. But this would very difficult because it would be very hard to get to be 15 or 16 without having been told premarital sex is wrong. If you are told this, you probably have a responsibility to determine if its true or not, so you would be more culpable.

But I always tell people this one, very important thing:

         If you don't know something is mortal, it probably isn't... but DON'T count on it!  :nope:  Don't take that risk!

#4

thank you!


#5

[quote=glennw]Hi -

I know that you can not sin if you do not know that the action is wrong. But, suppose I do something evil that I know is wrong, but I truly believe it is a venial sin and not a mortal sin. Am I still committing a mortal sin?

For example, say I mistakenly believe that premarital sex is only a venial sin. If I commit this act, is it mortal or venial?

thanks.
[/quote]

What do you mean you can’t sin without knowledge? Of course you can sin.

Objectively taken, premarital sex is a mortal sin. Period.

Subjectively, a person’s culpability may be mitigated by lack of knowledge that it is sinful but the act itself is still a sinful act.

A Christian is accountable for forming his conscience according to divine law – and this comes under the heading of divine law: the Sixth Commandment. A Catholic is further accountable for forming his conscience according to the teaching of the Church (which interprets divine law).

So for a Catholic to say “I didn’t know it was a sin” is no excuse.


#6

Q. 292. Can slight offenses ever become mortal sins?

A. Slight offenses can become mortal sins if we commit them through defiant contempt for God or His law; and also when they are followed by very evil consequences, which we foresee in committing them.


#7

I don’t dispute the answers in this thread. However there is a reality to the belief that many sins we catagorize as *mortal *sins are committed by, and go unrepented, by (I believe it is safe to say) considerably more then 90 (i’d guess much more) percent of our society, incuding the vast majority of Catholics.

To put it in more personal terms it pretty much states virutally all of our friends and loved ones are going to burn in hell for eternity. (excluding of course those in these threads who are fortunate enough to have all thier loved ones Orthodox Catholics).

Yes, strongly put but why not? If this is in fact true we shouldn’t sugar coat it by saying “not going to Heaven” or “not saved” etc . We should say “floating in a bed of molten lava for eternity”, if this is what we believe believe to be true. If we were about to see someone walk in front of a car we wouldn’t worry about be being polite, we’d scream bloody murder. . Why would we wish to lessen the impact; so as not to offend?

I have had, and still have, so much difficulty with this it oftens put me on the threshold of walking away from my faith.

I’ve noticed a trend in these threads. When people write of salvation issues in these threads more often then not they either speak of themselves as the subject, or they generalize. Whenever I contimplate salvation issues I pain deeply inside because my thoughts always turn to loved ones.

There are so many things we state that simply do not add up.
i.e. “Anyone who is in hell chose it for themselves” - however this does not make sense. IMO it is a cop-out of a statement. It is exactly the same as saying that if one misses Mass, masturbates, has premarital sex, uses contraception… he/she has asked for eternal horrendous punishment. When one says things like this they should conceptually attach a loved one to it.

Our faith may have the truth. Yet if it does there is much to be constantly anxious and never at peace over. In Mass we say “the peace of the Lord be with us”, we also ask to not be in anxiety. This is a contradiction. How can one possibly not be anxious and/or at peace when one witnesses loved ones commiting (what would appear by our definitions to be) mortal sin?

From my perspective most Catholics do not take the teachings seriously. I am not certain as to why. I have a few thoughts though. Either they are unaware that as Catholics we are called to obey the Magisterium. Either that or they know they are to believe but somehow justify thinking it is overstated or somehow not a reality. Possibly because it does not make sense to them in terms of being grave matter, they think God could never hold them accountable. Does this make the sins not mortal? Does this qualify as not having full knowledge? I hope and pray it does. If not we should all be in a state of deep and constant mourning. Not peace.

This is pondered over and over again yet never to any resonable degree of satisfaction. I apologize for being depressing. I just can’t find peace when I think of my loved ones. And I think of them constantly. Before becoming Catholic (again), my life was in disarray and sinful but I was more at peace. I recall I used to joke and say “at least I have death to look forward to”. Something just ain’t right.


#8

Not necessarily.

For example, when a man wishes not to know that which he is bound to know. This is called “affected ignorance” and does not dimish the voluntary character of the act of will. It can actually increase culpability because it adds the element of malice to the act of will.

But, suppose I do something evil that I know is wrong, but I truly believe it is a venial sin and not a mortal sin. Am I still committing a mortal sin?

It depends. Ignorance itself is a sin when it pertains to something we are bound to know.

Thus, there are three kinds of ignorance:

  1. Affected. You voluntarily remain ignorant as if this would give you an excuse or permit your sinfulness. This does not diminish, but may actually increase culpability.

  2. Vincible. This ignorance can be overcome given sufficient capability and opportunity. This ignorance is a sin only when it is regarding something we are bound to know. You can be ignorant of calculus. But you cannot be ignorant of your moral obligations as a human being. This ignorance may diminish culpability depending upon the impediments to intellect and will that are present.

  3. Invincible. This ignorance cannot be overcome given sufficient capability and opportunity due to impediments to the intellect and/or will. This ignorance lack culpability.

Only God knows if you are fully culpable for an objectively grave sin, because only God knows what impediments of intellect and will are present. To the degree that voluntariness is dimished, culpability is diminished.

However, for a Christian to say to himself “This is just a venial sin, so I’m safe in committing it” then I’d say they may have increased culpability due to a manifest contempt for God’s will. The distinction between venial and mortal sins is not a “free pass” to commit venial sins. All sins are an offense to God and the Christian should be on their knees every night begging for God’s mercy for even the slightest of sins.


#9

I think it is also important to consider that some men’s hearts are “hardened” by God as punishment for prior sin. Thus, ignorance can be a consequence of prior sinfulness, and would not diminish moral culpability of further sinfulness.


#10

Mijoy, I experience the same distress that you do over loved ones, including my Protestant family and friends. This concern has resulted in a desire to write something quite formal on the topic of salvation–perhaps even a book. I feel compelled to communicate the truth about the fullness of the gospel in Catholicism to them in a way that they will be most receptive. I figure if their family member or friend (me) writes a book, they will at least read the book out of courtesy!

My concern for others’ eternal destination is a constant worry—especially for my father who is a self-avowed atheist and who is in his mid-70s. While I see no theological loopholes for him if he stays on his present course, my worries for Christians are somewhat minimized for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, even with objective grave matter present in a loved one’s life, I realize that it is presumption to assume anything definitely about their relationship with God and state of grace. I rest knowing that God is fair and He is loving. Also, I think that actually falling from a state of grace is a bit more difficult than appears to be the case. Given that parent/child relationships are a model and metaphor of our relationship with God, it doesn’t make sense that people who love God might toggle between salvation and damnation on a weekly basis. I see the Church’s teaching as diagnostic and prescriptive to keep us well within safe measures, but I think the actual point at which God cuts someone off from spiritual life would have to be severe in a sin’s seriousness or severe in its duration.

I also wonder if what is meant by the fact that the gates of hell wil not prevail against the Church is that the Chuch will always have orthodoxy of doctrine to effectively save people and, conversely, to never lead someone to hell. It could be suggested that Christ’s promise does not guarantee that the Church will not assert its authority too much and err in ways that do not actually affect salvation, like mortal sins against canon laws, for example. These are sins that are grave matter only because the Church says they are (by virtue of the keys) and which only apply to Catholics. They are not sins of morality or natural law.

I’m not suggesting that the road to heaven is broad. We know that it is not. But I don’t think anyone who loves God and is trying hard to serve Him is going to slip through His fingers.

Peace


#11

[quote=mercygate]What do you mean you can’t sin without knowledge? Of course you can sin.

Objectively taken, premarital sex is a mortal sin. Period.

Subjectively, a person’s culpability may be mitigated by lack of knowledge that it is sinful but the act itself is still a sinful act.

So for a Catholic to say “I didn’t know it was a sin” is no excuse.
[/quote]

One cannot sin without knowledge of the sinfulness of the act because then it would place the action outside of the genus of human acts. Additionally, whatever may lessen culpibility may excuse altogether. It is the reason that a baby can never be guilty of murder. So when Maggie (the baby) shot Mr Burns on the Simpsons, she could not be guilty of an evil.

Pre-marital sex, for example, is objectively grave. But it cannot be sinful unless a person is aware of that fact.

You are right in saying that we have a moral duty to know the Divine Positive Law and that natural law prevents absolute ignorance, but if we absolutely lack the knowledge that theft is wrong while we, for example, rob a bank, we cannot be guilty of the sin of theft/stealing/robbery though we will be guilty of being ignorant of what we have a duty to know. Ignorance itself can be a sin.


#12

[quote=KBarn]One cannot sin without knowledge of the sinfulness of the act because then it would place the action outside of the genus of human acts. Additionally, whatever may lessen culpibility may excuse altogether. It is the reason that a baby can never be guilty of murder. So when Maggie (the baby) shot Mr Burns on the Simpsons, she could not be guilty of an evil.

Pre-marital sex, for example, is objectively grave. But it cannot be sinful unless a person is aware of that fact.

You are right in saying that we have a moral duty to know the Divine Positive Law and that natural law prevents absolute ignorance, but if we absolutely lack the knowledge that theft is wrong while we, for example, rob a bank, we cannot be guilty of the sin of theft/stealing/robbery though we will be guilty of being ignorant of what we have a duty to know. Ignorance itself can be a sin.
[/quote]

Nice. But utterly useless in helping someone understand that the Mr. Burns has been shot, and that is an objective evil, no matter if it was committed by a child.

Subjective and objective evil and culpability are distinct.


#13

[quote=itsjustdave1988]I think it is also important to consider that some men’s hearts are “hardened” by God as punishment for prior sin. Thus, ignorance can be a consequence of prior sinfulness, and would not diminish moral culpability of further sinfulness.
[/quote]

I agree with you, Dave. I was just going to suggest that there are some sins to which invicible ignorance cannot be appealed because natural law has been written on the hearts of all men. We don’t need to be taught, for example, that murder is seriously sinful. We have been given that knowledge naturally. Any lack of a sense of wrong-doing would be a result of the conscience being seared and hardened by previous sin.


#14

[quote=mercygate]Nice. But utterly useless in helping someone understand that the Mr. Burns has been shot, and that is an objective evil, no matter if it was committed by a child.

Subjective and objective evil and culpability are distinct.
[/quote]

Correct. They are distinct, and they are distinct because of knowledge. A total lack of knowledge can remove something from the genus of sin. How, you ask? Animals can’t sin. Humans can sin because of intellect and free will. The intellect presents an action to the will under some aspect of good and places the action in the perview of what can be chosen by the will. If a person lacks knowledge, his intellect can never present the action as something good to be chosen or as evil to be avoided. Thus, it’s character as a distinctly human act is removed. When someone acts through complete ignorance (leaving aside for the moment the question about whether that ignorance is itself sinful) he is acting in a way that is shared with animals. For example, is it sinful for a person who forgets it is Good Friday to eat meat? No. Because the sensual appetite can also present something under the aspect of good to the will. Without knowledge, an action based purely on the sensual appetite is not a human act.

Now, that does not mean that concupiscence mitigates culpibility. Rather, concupiscence make something that would be involuntary voluntary. What sensuality can do is alter the preceptes from which a person may reason. Sensuality may, for example, cause someone to reason from the principle that pleasure is desirable instead of from the principle that the Law of God is to be upheld. Provided a person knows the Law of God and knows the precept that the Law of God should be upheld, he sins in following the conclusion of the act of reason because the act of reason is at variance with right reason. However, if the person does not know the Law of God should be upheld at all, he is absolutely ignorant and under the total control of his passions. If a person’s reason is truly overwhelmed by his passions, an objectively grave action that he commits is not sinful because it is not in the genus of human acts but rather falls under the genus of “animal acts” because knowledge (the intellect) specifies the will.

Now, this is an exceedingly rare case because of the Natural Law and the teaching of the Church. Mankind also has the duty of knowing the precepts of the Divine Positive Law. A man, as a result, has a responsibility to know right from wrong, and inasmuch as this is lacking, he is committing the sin of ignorance. Mankind has a quasi-instinctual capacity to know right from wrong so that a claim of absolute ignorance is hardly to be taken seriously. Nonetheless, a person cannot sin without knowledge that the action is wrong. This is the position of St. Thomas Aquinas. I had to write a 15-page paper about it not that long ago.


#15

Thanks Petra, I appreciate your kind effort.
There just seems to be something missing in the equation. “As we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior”; joyful hope?

Troubling and without answer, I am afraid.


#16

Mijoy2, I feel the same way as you do. I often get very depressed about the world and where things are going. That being said, we have to remember that knowledge is the one component that may often be very lacking in society. Whether Catholic or not, a lot of people just don’t know that certain things are sins. Some of them are written in our hearts, yes, and we will more or less always be culpable for. However, so many sins of grave matter, like skipping Mass on Sunday, or fornicating, are just things that the world has taught so many people are not bad. Now I don’t know to what extent people’s culpability is lessened because of this, but I do know that not everyone doing these things is comitting mortal sin.

There are so many things we state that simply do not add up.
i.e. “Anyone who is in hell chose it for themselves” - however this does not make sense. IMO it is a cop-out of a statement. It is exactly the same as saying that if one misses Mass, masturbates, has premarital sex, uses contraception… he/she has asked for eternal horrendous punishment. When one says things like this they should conceptually attach a loved one to it.

Believe me, I have plenty of loved ones who do these things. Here’s something I think may help. If the idea that doing these things is choosing hell for oneself doesn’t make sense to you, I can understand that. It’s not a perfect way of saying it. What it comes down to is really this, and I think it may help you see it a little differently.

See, what God wants of us is for us to be turned toward Him. He knows we are gonna have weakness, and He knows we are gonna fall now and then. What He is not is a legalist. He is not sitting there waiting to get us, just waiting until we commit some sin to say, “Aha! Now I’ve got you!” This is an attitude that a lot of us have picked up due to Protestant influence, because Protestants do almsot veiw God as a legalist. (They say it doesn’t matter because He forgives every sin through faith alone, but their concept is still one of sin is sin, that’s that, no ifs ands or buts.) This is not really how God works, though, and sometimes we have to look past this attitude we have picked up from our largely Protestant society. When it comes to mortal sin, it comes to a person turning their back on God. Not so much choosing hell, but turning their back on God. So God knows we’ll be weak, and fall here and there. He’s forgiven us that through baptism and our faith. Now sins that are grave though aren’t just stumbling. Sins that are grave are things that are just sooo far from God’s intentions, that are just soooo disgusting in God’s eyes that you’d have tp be against them to deliberately commit them. See, when you know God, and you know what His plan is for you and the world, you start to see things from His eyes, in a certain way. So you see how disgusting fornication is to God. You understand it, in a certain way. There’s a difference between that and slipping a lie here or there. THose things you see as apart from God’s plan, but they don’t seem that terrible. Other things, like masturbation just seem so horrible that if you had the knowledge of how horrible it was to God, you couldn’t possibly masturbate intentionally without rejecting God, because you know just how disgusting it is to Him.


#17

[quote=Lazerlike42] See, when you know God, and you know what His plan is for you and the world, you start to see things from His eyes, in a certain way. So you see how disgusting fornication is to God. You understand it, in a certain way. There’s a difference between that and slipping a lie here or there. THose things you see as apart from God’s plan, but they don’t seem that terrible. Other things, like masturbation just seem so horrible that if you had the knowledge of how horrible it was to God, you couldn’t possibly masturbate intentionally without rejecting God, because you know just how disgusting it is to Him.
[/quote]

Excellent point Lazerlike42. These sins you mention I at one time for the life of me couldn’t see as sinful. However now I wonder how others can not.

Maybe this is in fact the point. Once someone comes to terms as to the sinfullness of certain things, that is full knowledge. For example, I used missing mass as an example. I’d never miss mass any more without good reason. Not because of a fear of hell but because I simply desire to go to mass above anything else. Missing mass, to me, would be my turning my back on God. Missing mass for many of my loved ones, is simply missing mass, no-big-deal. Possibly because of this ambivelient attitude, this is what the church means by not having full knowledge.

hope to see ya the Catholic Mens conference in Boston :wink:


#18

Well if you are going then you may, because I certainly am.


closed #19

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