Let's talk about 'fundamental option'


OK. I am aware that in the 1980’s or 1990’s, the RCC eschewed many aspects of the theory of ‘fundamental option.’ This is a soteriological opinion that says that one is ‘saved’ or not saved based upon how one is ‘fundamentally’ oriented towards God. One whose life and will and desire are fundamentally oriented towards serving and loving God can be said to be in a state of grace. One who changes ones orientation away from God in some fundamental way–who opts to reject God on some fundamental level–is in mortal sin and therefore in danger of damnation. But for most Christians, most sinful acts would NOT alter one’s ‘fundamental option’ and therefore most sinful acts would be venial sins. Venial sins can of course gradually undermine one’s fundamental option to the point where one has ultimately rejected God by degrees. But in most cases, according to this perspective, one could rarely reject God in such a decidedly radical way by the mere commission of a single act.

The beauty of the doctrine of ‘fundamental option’ as I have just described it is that it eliminates the ‘daisy-chain’ orientation of so much of Catholic spirituality: “God loves me; He loves me not; He loves me; he loves me not . . .”. The fundamental option would help a scrupulous Catholic to have real assurance that they are not falling in-and-out of grace multiple times a day. This in fact was one of the theological issues that put a wedge between me and Roman Catholicism so many long years ago. Although I left Catholic soteriology for Arminianism, I left because even in Arminianism there is a tremendous degree of assurance that it is God who preserves us in grace, and that we therefore do not have to trouble ourselves daily and even hourly with questions about “Oh my God . . .have I just committed a mortal sin? If I die before I can get to confession, will I go to Hell”? It is really true, in my opinion, that a devout and diligent Catholic can spend their lives in a paroxysm of anxiety about the state of their soul, because the Magisterium have insisted upon an understanding of mortal sin that makes almost everyone vulnerable to being in danger of hellfire almost every minute they are not actually inside a confessional and being absolved.

Now that I have moved from Arminian to a moderate Calvinistic/Augustinian perspective on salvation, the theology of fundamental option is even more appealing to me. I am aware that it’s chief proponents were people whose theology was much more liberal in many other respects than my own. But fundamental option, as I have described it above, certainly grants a greater degree of basic assurance in God’s mercy and grace than the sort of soteriology I remember learning from the New St. Joseph’s Baltimore Catechism, or even from ***The Teaching of Christ: A Catholic Catechism for Adults. ***

Those sorts of books almost always encouraged one to think of mortal and venial sin as something to be evaluated from a list: if you were ‘mildly angry’ you had committed a venial sin and did not necessarily need to go to Confession, but if you were ‘very angry’ you were in mortal sin and needed to confess ASAP lest you perish in your sinfulness. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church seems more oriented towards this ‘now-I’m-saved/now-I’m-damned’ attitude. Where is the ‘perfect love that casts out fear’ in such an understanding? Hw can Catholics say that God not only saves us but preserves us in His mercy and grace?



I do not think that committing a sin of fornication, murder, adultery, or serious theft, for example, would have been a venial sin under the idea of the “fundamental option.” The fundamental option assumes a general love of and orientation to God. That would mean that one committing a mortal sin would be more likely to be perfectly repentant and likely to seek the sacrament of penance as soon as reasonably possible. A mortal sin is a slap in God’s face. A man may truly love his wife and in a moment of weakness commit adultery, but that does little to soothe his wife’s sense of being repudiated. Mortal sin by its nature is a radical repudiation of ones love for God, fundamental option or not.

God’s love, even for sinners, is constant. He does not repudiate his love for us ever, but rather we love and love him not as we sin and repent. God does not condemn us, we condemn ourselves by our own actions and omissions. It is we who say, “I love him, I love him not, I love him…”. In the moment of mortal sin, we love him not.

I was a scrupulous Catholic at one period in my life and I understand what you are trying to say, but the fundamental option is not the way out of this bag. It merely pastes wall paper over the problem and does not heal this spiritual illness. Only learning to trust in God’s love and to respond in kind offers a path out of this pit. That path is neither easy nor much fun but it is the only true solution. One’s conscience must be retrained to distingush between mortal sin, venial sin, and no sin. It takes time and a lot of healing.

Sounds to me like a scrupulous person who, lacking a good, regular confessor, left the true Church for a more “comfortable” place. While it “takes off the pressure” how can you be sure that it is not merely a palliative? Having once been scrupulous myself I can certainly empathize. Being in this situation is very painful and scary. It can lead to despair and even suicide.

It was not a problem with the Catechisms. It was a problem with how, we who were or are scrupulous chose to interpret them while at the same moment being doubtful that God could really love us and was just waiting to zap us with a bolt of lightening and hurl us into hell. We also had some teachers, parents, etc. who themselves were scrupulous and were like the blind leading the blind. Been there, done that and I am sorry that you felt compelled to leave.
:slight_smile: :slight_smile:


“Fundamental option” is a catholicized fancy footwork version of OSAS.

The opposite of “fundamental option” is NOT an immature daisy-chain scrupulosity but the moment-by-moment loving embrace of God’s will.




It almost sounds like you never really understood the proper catholic definition of ‘mortal sin.’ No list can tell you if you have committed a mortal sin because a list can never discern if you gave consent.

The basic problem with fundamental option is that it subtly states that WHAT you do is irrelevant to your salvation. Scripture and Tradition simply defy that notion.

Furthermore, God never stops loving anyone whether or not they are in a state of mortal sin. Careful not to slip into strawman mode.

It sounds like you struggle with scrupulosity. That’s a tough situation and I pray you experience relief and a greater understanding of God’s Mercy.

Also be aware that even in Catholic teaching confession is not the exclusive and only escape from hell and damnation. Confession is the ordinary means by which God grants the Grace of forgiveness, but He never put Himself in a box. Even the scrupulous ought to be able to survive on monthly confession!


The so-called “fundemantal option” idea is not a doctrine. It’s a heresy. How can there be any “beauty” in a heretical teaching?


Thanks for the replies, especially rwoehmke, who took a considerable amount of time with his response.

CapaxDei: one of the other posters has provided a link which suggests that only certain interpretations of ‘fundamental option’ are in error.


Have you ever read this?

Some authors, however, have proposed an even more radical revision of the *relationship between person and acts. *They speak of a “fundamental freedom”, deeper than and different from freedom of choice, which needs to be considered if human actions are to be correctly understood and evaluated. According to these authors, the *key role in the moral life *is to be attributed to a “fundamental option”, brought about by that fundamental freedom whereby the person makes an overall self-determination, not through a specific and conscious decision on the level of reflection, but in a “transcendental” and “athematic” way…

To separate the fundamental option from concrete kinds of behaviour means to contradict the substantial integrity or personal unity of the moral agent in his body and in his soul…

Veritatis splendor


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