Mortal Sin and Habituation

This is a more technical question regarding habitual sin and its status as Mortal.

The three conditions which make a sin mortal are:

  1. The sin must be of a grave and serious nature
  2. There must be full knowledge (that it is a grave sin)
  3. There must be full consent of the will (in committing the sin)

This kind of sin is called mortal because it destroys the life of the Holy Spirit within our souls, and leaves us disconnected from God in a broken relationship with Him. It is therefore necessary that these three things be present in the act. It must be deeply offensive to Him, we must be aware that what we are doing is deeply offensive to Him, and we must act in full disregard that what we are doing deeply offends Him, or in deliberate defiance of and hatred toward Him.

My question concerns the third condition and its presence in habitual sins. I am wondering if, in habitual sin, full consent of the will is present? It seems to me that it cannot be.

I consider this to be an extremely relevant question in today’s world. Often, especially in men, sexual sins like the viewing of pornography and masturbation, which are both very grave sins, begin to become habitual during early adolescence. Such habits may remain with them for their entire lives, despite giving serious and prolonged effort to overcome them.

Can people in such circumstances, who have had such grievous sins become daily or weekly habit, be thought to be committing mortal sin when they, despite working hard to avoid the sin, fall into it anyway? Might we argue that they have not desired to cut themselves off from God, to hate Him, nor have they meant to disregard the fact that the sin offends Him?

I do not mean to make excuses for indulging a habit. Rather, I call to question whether such people ought to avoid Communion, wherein they may receive the greatest strengths and graces to overcome such sins. I would continue to encourage regular confession, and continue to fight the urge to indulge, but could the case be made that, if having fallen to the sin, and being unable to go to confession prior to Sunday Mass, due to whatever circumstances, such people might be able to receive in good conscience?

It’s a question that has been on my mind for some time now, and I appreciate whatever thoughts are offered.

One cannot simply make a blanket statement here.

One can note however in terms of the one of the sins from the Catechism:

2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. "Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action."138 “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved."139

To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.

So in some cases a confessor can take such into account in judging culpability and pastoral action.

Such as you note is not an “excuse” - and one is to be firmly resolved to not do this sin.

As to this part - one need not in any way “hate God” or “desire to cut oneself off from him” -in order to commit a mortal sin. Such is not required for mortal sin. That would of course be a worse mortal sin -but mortal sin can exist without any such intention or desire. And many mortal sins -at least those of weakness- do not involve such.

And likewise here. It is NOT true that “we must act in full disregard that what we are doing deeply offends Him, or in deliberate defiance of and hatred toward Him.” in order to commit a mortal sin.

One need only give deliberate consent.

Mortal sin does not need to be done with such …venom.

Many mortal sins are “sins of weakness”. Not “malice”.

To avoid misunderstanding here…

“grave” and “serious” there is redundant.

Here is a brief summary of mortal and venial sin from the 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.

Bad habits probably in most if not all cases lessen the culpability of sin.

I would say that a person would need to discuss with their spiritual director or confessor what in their case would constitute a mortal sin.

Also, I would say that that immaturity of adolescence also may lessen one’s culpability. I would encourage teenagers who struggle with that to talk to a priest or spiritual director about any concerns they may have about that. :thumbsup: And to quote one of my CCD teachers “Don’t worry about (confessing) it, because there probably isn’t a sin that Father hasn’t heard about before”.

Hi Bookcat, thank you for the clarification.

Please note, I offered alternatives to malice. Disregard doesn’t have to be malicious. One simply ignores the fact that the act is gravely sinful. Also, as to the term “hatred” I do not mean malice, but rather the act of “turning one’s back on,” which is the Biblical usage of the term.

However, these were obviously not clear in my OP, so I appreciate this post.

Thank you for this response. I appreciate direct sourcing.

Again, I appreciate the clarity. And yes, I realize grave and serious are redundant. It’s good you pointed that out to avoid confusion in the mind of other readers.

I think seeking the counsel of a good spiritual director is excellent advice. Perhaps this is a ministry that ought to be talked about more. Each person’s circumstance and culpability is different, and while the Church’s teaching is clear on these matters, perhaps we aren’t always the best judges of our own culpability.

I really appreciate both yours and Bookcat’s responses.

BookCat your other stuff is good but you know I will disagree with this statement because its internally contradictory.
Here you are using the phrase “mortal sin” in a sense different from the rest of this discussion.

Surely “weakness” is equatable with “one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors…”

If this is the case then …

"the three conditions which make a sin mortal are:

  1. The sin must be of a grave and serious nature
  2. There must be full knowledge (that it is a grave sin)
  3. There must be full consent of the will (in committing the sin)"

… are not fulfilled (by reason of attenuation in 2 or 3 above).
Therefore an act of frottage would then not be mortal but venial.

However even though culpability is not fully imputable the objective gravity of the disordered act itself (1) above] is not lessened by weakness.

And it is for this reason that such disordered acts are well confessed on a regular basis regardless of whether or not we believe they were done through weakness.

Hence I believe your above self-contradictory statement is better communicated as "Many grave acts are “sins of weakness.” "

Such can fall under sins of weakness. Sure.

“Sins of weakness” are not though “equatable” with such.

The term “sin of weakness” has and continues to be used to denote * mortal sins of weakness. * Usually sins of sexual nature. Where in a moment of weakness under say strong temptation one does commit mortal sin.

So I noted above: “many mortal sins are “sins of weakness”.”

As opposed to “sins of malice” where one is directly doing them say out of hatred of God such as Satanic actions etc.

Now can there also be a “sin of weakness” where one does not have the needed complete consent and knowledge? Sure.

But it the fact that the person thus commits a venial sin and not a mortal sin at that moment - is not simply from it being a “sin of weakness” - but is due to the lack of full knowledge/complete consent.

I especially wanted to clarify this for some have thought that one had to have that sort of thing for mortal sin. Where as Bl. Pope John Paul II reminded them that one does not need such -that the mortal sin can be done* for any reason*. One need not have such a motive. Hence in committing a mortal sin —one need not hate God or want to turn ones back on him per se…

This was a question I was also going to raise. I think it bears exploring what is meant by “sin of weakness.” It could be argued that the vast majority of sins are sins of weakness, due to the reality of our wounded natures. You may categorize ignorance a kind of weakness. You might also say that concupiscence is also a kind of weakness. These together would envelope most sins.

This raises a question: do ignorance and concupiscence by themselves relegate sins to venial? Are mortal sins actually rather rare events in a person’s life which cannot be accounted for by ignorance and/or concupiscence?

The bottom line, I suppose, is how far our wounded natures account for lack of knowledge and lack of full consent. Can a “sin of weakness” really be mortal?

I will add here a comment if I may.

Yes most certainly “sin of weakness” can be mortal. Many mortal sins are “sins of weakness” as opposed to sins of malice.

As to ignorance - such can yes mean the “full knowledge” is not present -thus not mortal sin --such as in “invincible ignorance”. Feigned ignorance it is a different story --such can rather increase the guilt! (see Catechism).

Also note that one need not know the term mortal sin or theology to commit a mortal sin…much is known via natural moral law (ie murder is very very bad…etc).

As to rare events. I would not say they are “rare events”…alas.

As to concupiscence -that is the tender box for personal sins. One though can be tempted- temptation can happen -without the person consenting to sin.

I’m still not sure what you mean by “sin of weakness.” To me, I would agree with Blue Horizon that “weakness” implies a deficiency of will, meaning that full will, or full consent is not properly given.

I use the term the way it gets used in Theology. Sins that are not out of malice --but due to weakness.

Weakness in the face of temptation-- not any temptation but - say a strong emotion towards sexual sin…

Such is not per se about “lack of full consent”.

A sin can be a “sin of weakness” - while being mortal.

And yes a sin can be a “sin of weakness” and not be mortal (not meeting the criteria of such).

Where as a sin of malice would be - one say does Y out of hatred of God…

BookCat that would have to be the funniest sexual double entendre I have seen for a very long time :thumbsup:.

I believe you mean “tinder box”.

Theology – not speelllling :wink:
Hee hee

“On the subject of masturbation modern psychology provides much valid and useful information for formulating a more equitable judgment on moral responsibility and for orienting pastoral action. Psychology helps one to see how the immaturity of adolescence (which can sometimes persist after that age), psychological imbalance or habit can influence behavior, diminishing the deliberate character of the act and bringing about a situation whereby subjectively there may not always be serious fault. But in general, the absence of serious responsibility must not be presumed; this would be to misunderstand people’s moral capacity.” Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Persona Humana 1975

Be sure to note that last part: “But in general, the absence of serious responsibility must not be presumed; this would be to misunderstand people’s moral capacity.”

I haven’t got timeto get into this but the following CCC articles support you:

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.

1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.

The problem is that BookCat is not good at recognising when he uses words equivocally (ie the same word means different things). This quickly confuses the hell out of any given topic :blush:.

“Weakness” refers to different aspects of a sinful act.
The way BookCat is using it suggests that “passion” is prominently involved in the sinful act.

Sins of passion/emotion are interesting - passion can either weaken deliberation/freedom in the sinning OR increase the overall malice of the disordered act.
It depends on how the two are related and which controls what in any given act or habit.

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