Mortal sin and follow-through (edited subject)

I see this thread often but I don’t think I’ve seen this variation of it. So I’ll put this out there.

Have I committed a mortal sin if I begin to commit it, but then before following through with it, I back out?

For example: I find my coworker’s purse laying on her desk, and I see some 20 dollar bills in it. I reach in to steal it in a moment of weakness, and then holding the bill in my hand, and suddenly filled with disgust and put it back.

Or; I begin reading some unchaste story, but then filled with instant regret, put it away.

Or; I make an appointment for a sterilization but when I am in the clinic office, decide against it and leave.

Best thing would be for you to talk to your priest/confessor


Sure, but in this case its a hypothetical problem.


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I don’t think this is an appropriate thread.

Making fun of mortal sin, and making fun of those who struggle with scrupulosity, is not funny.


Yes, for theft, if the amount was enough to be grave matter, but that is estimated to be the amount of, say, $400 US.

For sterilization, if you knew was immoral grave matter, and your will was formed such that you took steps to complete it, then the mortal sin occurred.

For an unchaste story, there may not be delectation in the story, it could be a rape for instance, and is it not enjoyed.

Baltimore Catechism No 3 (1941) Lesson 20:

274. Are mere thoughts about impure things always sinful in themselves?

Mere thoughts about impure things are not always sinful in themselves, but such thoughts are dangerous.

275. When do thoughts about impure things become sinful?

Thoughts about impure things become sinful when a person thinks of an unchaste act and deliberately takes pleasure in so thinking, or when unchaste desire or passion is aroused and consent is given to it.

276. What is forbidden by the ninth commandment?

The ninth commandment forbids all thoughts and desires contrary to chastity.

I take your point, but if I’m making light of anything it’s the frequency with which I see threads asking whether something or not is a mortal sin. But my question itself is serious enough.

Lets not, because those on here who might have scruples are likely to have some harm done if they engage seriously with this thread.


In my example (which is a hypothetical and not something I did), “I” didn’t complete the procedure, but took steps to initiate it. I’m not sure if that affects your reply.

I’m not sure what you mean. The hypothetical is “I opened up the naughty magazine, saw something unchaste and felt instantly icky about it, and put the magazine away”.

That’s weird to me. I didn’t think a specific amount could be assigned in that way. Seems like a high number. But again, in the hypothetical I did not follow through with the theft; I put the money back.

How about I edit it.

New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia - Sin
Some extracts:-
" The intellect must perceive and judge of the morality of the act, and the will must freely elect. For a deliberate mortal sin there must be full advertence on the part of the intellect and full consent on the part of the will in a grave matter."

“it is clear that for an actual personal sin a knowledge of the law and a personal voluntary act, free from coercion and necessity, are required. No mortal sin is committed in a state of invincible ignorance or in a half-conscious state. Actual advertence to the sinfulness of the act is not required, virtual advertence suffices. It is not necessary that the explicit intention to offend God and break His law be present, the full and free consent of the will to an evil act suffices.”

" It is the right of reason to rule the lower faculties, and when the disturbance arises in the sensual part the reason may do one of two things: it may either consent to the sensible delectation or it may repress and reject it. If it consents, the sin is no longer one of the sensual part of man, but of the intellect and will, and consequently, if the matter is grave, mortal."


I say no sin committed in the examples given. In fact, extra credit may be awarded for finding the strength to abort the mission.

I don’t know about extra credit, because at that point the will has failed. But grace appears to intervene at the last minute.

Non nobis, Domine.

No. The will never fails if the right thing is done in the end. I say, most definitely, it is a strong case for the award of extra credit. To be tempted so severely and still come out doing the right thing (ultimately) takes much more will than if one just ignores a temptation from the get-go.

Mortal sin occurs first in the mind, as soon as the will to do it is formed, meeting the three conditions. For example, adultery (sixth commandment) is preceded by thoughts of it - envy (ninth commandment), and vengeance, anger (fifth commandment) is preceded by envy (tenth commandment), and theft (eighth commandment) is preceded by envy (tenth commandment). In general the first and second commandments are sins against faith, hope, and charity – and these are formed in the mind first.

Baltimore Catechism No 4:

52 Q. What is actual sin?
A. Actual sin is any willful thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the law of God.

Three ways we may sin, by “thought”–allowing our minds to dwell on sinful things; “word”–by cursing, telling lies, etc.; “deed”–by any kind of bad action. But to be sins, these thoughts, words and deeds must be willful; that is, we must fully know what we are doing, and be free in doing it. Then they must be “contrary to the law of God”; that is, violate some law He commands us to obey, whether it be a law He gave directly Himself, or through His Church. We can also violate God’s law by neglecting to observe it, and thus sin, provided the neglect be willful, and the thing neglected commanded by God or by His Church.

56 Q. How many things are necessary to make a sin mortal?
A. To make a sin mortal three things are necessary: a grievous matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent of the will.

“Grievous matter.” To steal is a sin. Now, if you steal only a pin the act of stealing in that case could not be a mortal sin, because the “matter,” namely, the stealing of an ordinary pin, is not grievous. But suppose it was a diamond pin of great value, then it would surely be “grievous matter.”

“Sufficient reflection,” that is, you must know what you are doing at the time you do it. For example, suppose while you stole the diamond pin you thought you were stealing a pin with a small piece of glass, of little value, you would not have sufficient reflection and would not commit a mortal sin till you found out that what you had stolen was a valuable diamond; if you continued to keep it after learning your mistake, you would surely commit a mortal sin.

“Full consent.” Suppose you were shooting at a target and accidentally killed a man: you would not have the sin of murder, because you did not will or wish to kill a man.

Therefore three things are necessary that your act may be a mortal sin:
(1) The act you do must be bad, and sufficiently important;
(2) You must reflect that you are doing it, and know that it is wrong;
(3) You must do it freely, deliberately, and willfully.


Oh. Hypothetical.

But, that’s the whole point the OP is making – steps were taken to complete the sterilization, but it WASN’T COMPLETED, also by the formation of the will. The act wasn’t actually DONE.

As for the theft, while the money did wind up in the hand, the act was deliberately REVERSED by putting it back. The theft was UNDONE.

In the first case, the act wasn’t actually done, and in the second case, the lady whose purse was temporarily raided never actually lost a cent of her money.

I don’t see how these things could be mortal sins in this context.

I was taught differently in the early Catechism classes I attended, about what it takes to actually commit a sin. I was taught that four, not just three elements have to be present:

It has to be grave matter;

one has to know it’s grave matter;

one has to actually decide (intend) to do it,

and, finally, one has to ACTUALLY DO it.

If any one of those elements is missing, it’s not truly a sin. I was taught that completion of the act is essential for the sin to have actually been committed.

I still hold this to be true.

You folks can disagree all you want, but that is what I was taught by the sisters in the Catechism classes I regularly attended.

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Doing, includes the categories mentioned in the Catechism: thought, word, deed, omission.

52 Q. What is actual sin?
A. Actual sin is any willful thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the law of God.

Bishop of Krishnagar Louis LaRavoire Marrow, My Catholic Faith - A Manual of Religion pp. 50-51, Copyright, 1949, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963 by Louis LaRavoire Morrow

  1. Sin is not committed without temptation. First an evil thought comes into the mind. This in itself is not sinful; it is only a temptation.
  • A man may be in a jewelry store looking at some jewels. The salesman turns away to talk to someone else, leaving a precious diamond ring on the counter. The thought enters the man’s mind that it would be easy for him to take the ring and walk away unnoticed. This is temptation, not sin.
  1. If we do not immediately reject the thought, it awakens in the mind an affection or liking for it.
  • If the man in the above example does not resist and reject the thought, but plays with it, and becomes pleased with the idea, he thereby gives partial consent, and commits a slight sin.
  1. Next the thought is followed by an evil desire in which we take pleasure.
  • If, still playing with the thought, the man wishes that he could take the diamond ring without being noticed, the consent is complete, and he commits a sin in his heart (interiorly).
  1. The resolution to commit the sin when occasion presents itself follows. Then the exterior act is committed.
  • Finally, the man glances to see if the salesman is still busy. Then he takes the ring and walks away with it. Thus the wish or desire has been translated into an exterior act. Even should the man be prevented from stealing, he is guilty of grave sin.

An exterior sin is more evil than an interior sin, because it is attended by worse consequences.

  1. An exterior sin often causes scandal, and is therefore more severely punished by God here on earth as well as after death.
  • Drunkenness reduces the drunkard and his family to poverty and sickness. Impurity destroys the body, sometimes producing insanity. Murder often leads the culprit to the electric chair.
  1. And worse, an exterior sin increases the malice of the will, and destroys the sense of shame. The repetition of exterior sins forms the habit of sinning, and vice is formed. The conscience goes to sleep, and the sinner becomes so hardened that he no longer sees the evil and wickedness of his sin.
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Using the example above, just wishing to take the diamond ring without being noticed does NOT complete the consent. Wishing to do something and actually consenting to do it are two different things. A wish is a desire; consenting involves the will.

One may wish to murder one’s neighbor, without actually consenting to doing it. It then follows that without actually consenting to it, but only wishing it, the act of murdering the neighbor isn’t going to be done. A wish, or desire, isn’t the same as resolutely determining, “I am GOING to do this.”

It seems to me that the four simple elements I was taught have been made much more complicated by confusing the issue with such statements that “the consent is complete” when the person only WISHES he could do it. Wishing, alone, doesn’t complete consent. I’m not sure, at that point, if it’s even a sin in his heart, because he still hasn’t given his full will to it. Desire, alone, isn’t enough. It would have to be followed with a deliberate determination to actually commit the act. Once that willful determination is made, i.e., “I’m GOING to do this”, THEN I would say the consent is complete.

I think it’s important to distinguish between these separate and distinct elements.

That’s why the sisters in my Catechism classes stressed that if any one of the four elements is missing, a true sin hasn’t been committed. This was simple enough for even kids to understand, and provided a basic guideline that everyone can follow. I would think that keeping it simple like that would help a lot in preventing scrupulosity. Just remember the four elements needed to commit a sin, and ask if all four have been actualized. If not, then maybe only a venial sin, at most.

I am not referring to a vague wish, rather consent of the will, which occurs in thought. This is uncharitable.

Per the Oxford Dictionary:

wish, verb: feel or express a strong desire or hope for something that is not easily attainable; want something that cannot or probably will not happen.
desire, verb: strongly wish for or want (something)
consent, verb: 1. give permission for something to happen.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

2303 Deliberate hatred is contrary to charity. Hatred of the neighbor is a sin when one deliberately wishes him evil. Hatred of the neighbor is a grave sin when one deliberately desires him grave harm. …

Vices and sins differ in species according to the matter or object, not according to other differences like being sins of thought, word, deed, or omission. See St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae. I-II, Question 72. The distinction of sins.
Article 7. Whether sins are fittingly divided into sins of thought, word, and deed?

Reply to Objection 1. All sins of thought have the common note of secrecy, in respect of which they form one degree, which is, however, divided into three stages, viz. of cogitation, pleasure, and consent.

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