Mortal sin vs. Venial sin


#1

I’m trying to sort something out here. As we know,

1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”

My problem lies in this. My understanding is that for something to be a sin at all it requires full knowledge and deliberate consent. Now I’ve had this pointed out to me by some pretty knowledgable folks, and I’ve also chekced it out in the Summa.

Why then, do we list three conditions? Isn’t the fact that a sin is grave sufficient?


#2

MORTAL sin requires all three. But sins is sin. God is absolute truth. Whether or not something is sinful or not is not changed by consent. What changes is whether it is mortal or venial.

Although no one can truly say that they don’t “know” because it is written on the hearts of every man, there are circumstances that can make it a less than completely voluntary act, still sinful because it is written on every man’s heart, but not deliberately so.

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.


#3

Let me clarify.

All sin, mortal or venial, must be something to which is known to be evil and done with full consent of the will.

Why then isn’t it simply said that grave sin is mortal? If a grave act is a sin at all, then it already is done with knowledge and consent.


#4

It is certainly false, and directly contrary to Catholic teaching on morality, to say that all sin requires full knowledge and full consent. A sin can be venial by a lack of full understanding about the seriousness of the sin, as when someone thinks an act is less serious when it is more serious, or when someone thinks that an act is moral when it is immoral. A sin can be venial by a lack of full consent, such as a semi-deliberate sin committed in the mind or heart. A sin can be venial if the matter is not grave. Grave matter does not imply full knowledge and full consent.


#5

That’s what I used to say, until I was proven incorrect.

If someone doesn’t know that something is immoral, and does it anyways, it’s not a sin at all. Technically, it qualifies as a material sin, but that’s not the same thing as a venial sin. In other words, its something that’s objectively immoral, but in a strict sense that action taken by that individual is not a venial sin.

Let me provide St. Thomas to try to explain. He says, “sin is nothing else than a bad human act.” (Summa, I-II, 71, 6). He defines a human action elsewhere:

Wherefore those actions alone are properly called human, of which man is master. Now man is master of his actions through his reason and will; whence, too, the free-will is defined as “the faculty and will of reason.” Therefore those actions are properly called human which proceed from a deliberate will.)Summa, I-II, 1, 1

Now to clarify, as the Catholic Encyclopedia says, “Ignorance, as far as it goes, renders an act involuntary, since what is unknown cannot be willed…” (newadvent.org/cathen/01115a.htm) Or, as St. Thomas says, “ignorance which is the cause of the act, since it makes it to be involuntary, of its very nature excuses from sin, because voluntariness is essential to sin.” )Summa, I-II. 76, 3

Of course, the encyclopedia also states “The human act admits of increment and decrement. Its voluntariness can be diminished or increased.”(newadvent.org/cathen/01115a.htm)). Now I am uncertain as to how to understand this particular point.

As you can see, I am dealing with this on a somewhat deeper level than it may first have appeared. I’m into the gnitty gritty here, and I am hoping someone that has a better understanding of the gnitty-gritty than I will come along! (That’s not to say that it may not be you, Ron. I’m merely clarifying what I’m looking for).


#6

A sin is objectively venial or objectively grave. The grave act only becomes mortal with full knowledge and consent. Without full knowledge and consent the act is still grave but the culpability is reduced meaning the grave act does not become mortal.


#7

Right, that’s the understanding most people have, but the problem is that according to St. Thomas and the Catholic Encyclopedia, without the knowledge and consent an act is not even a sin at all. I’m looking for someone to either show me my flaw in understanding St. Thomas and the Encyclopedia, or explain to me why we list those three qualifications when the reality is that “deliberate consent” and “full knowledge” are assumed if the thing is a sin at all.


#8

Have you read Reconciliatio et Paenitentia by John Paul II? That might shed some light.


#9

I don’t think anyone can truly claim not to have knowledge. It is written on every man’s heart.

So while we may say “full knowledge” that would seem to be a misnomer since everyone does in fact have full knowledge, written on our hearts by God.

There is an absolute standard for whether something is sin or not, and we all have it written on our hearts. I don’t understand why the sources would make the distinction of “full knowledge” since we should all have it.

It would seem to me that things hinge on deliberate consent.


#10

Thistle: Yes, I’ve looked at it several times. I don’t recall anything that would be helpful to my particular question (because I believe one of the times I looked at it was to answer this very question), but I’ll take another look.

MariaG: We all have a certain type of knowledge. We have the basic moral principles written on our hearts, which is why the Catechism entry about full knowledge says that nobody will be judged ignorant of the principles of morality (or something like that). However, we don’t have all the applications of it. We know it’s wrong to kill, but we don’t necessarily know that Euthanasia is killing. We know it is wrong to steal, but we don’t always know what that means in every given context. This is why we have a Church that teaches us about morality.

So far as deliberation is concerned, as I tried to show in my quotations from Aquinas, deliberate consent is required for all sins. Read the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on sin; it also asserts this unless my memory is badly mistaken.


#11

CCC#1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offence. …

This ignorance may just be not realizing the severity of the sin. One may know it is sin, but not realize Scripture and Church teach it is a mortal sin.
I taught high school CCD - and was appalled to discover that they (11th & 12th graders) had never been taught that there was such a thing as mortal/serious/grave sin. They didn’t have a clue - and this was after 8 years of Catholic grade school. :frowning: All they knew was that there was sin - which was at least something, I guess.

#1860 cont. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense as can external pressures or pathological disorders. …

Habits or addictions also fall in this category. They affect the full freedom of the will in the process of choosing. Even considering that the original actions may have been mortal sins, once those sins have become habitual or addictive, it affects the ability to freely choose and carry out a decision not to commit the sin. This would especially apply to those who did not realize the seriousness of the act when the addicting behavior was first initiated.


#12

My problem lies in this. My understanding is that for something to be a sin at all it **requires **full knowledge and deliberate consent. Now I’ve had this pointed out to me by some pretty knowledgable folks, and I’ve also chekced it out in the Summa.

CCC 1862–"One commits venial sin…in a grave matter…without full knowledge or without complete consent."

Or, as St. Thomas says, “ignorance which is the cause of the act, since it makes it to be involuntary, of its very nature excuses from sin, because voluntariness is essential to sin.” (Summa, I-II. 76, 3)

From the Summa, I-II. 76, 3:
Reply to Objection 1. Not every ignorance causes involuntariness, as stated above (6, 8). Hence **not **every ignorance excuses from sin altogether.

CCC 1857 – “committed with **full **knowledge and **deliberate **consent.” These qualifiers are needed because not all knowledge is full and not all consent is deliberate. There are increments and decrements of full knowledge and deliberate consent and, therefore, increments and decrements of culpability.


#13

Please see post #5, in which I demonstrate that St. Thomas taught that deliberate consent was required for any action to be a sin.


#14

Please see post #5, in which I demonstrate that St. Thomas taught that deliberate consent was required for any action to be a sin.

Again, from St Thomas himself:

Summa, I-II. 76, 3:
“Reply to Objection 1. Not every ignorance causes involuntariness, as stated above (6, 8). Hence not every ignorance excuses from sin altogether.

Again, from the Catechism itself:

CCC 1862–“One commits venial sin…in a grave matter…without full knowledge or without complete consent.”

The CCC and St Thomas do ***not ***contradict each other.

Let’s let them both speak for themselves.


#15

You misunderstand me. I’m not trying to come up with a contradiction, I’m trying to come to a more full understanding.

That being said, the problem with what you are doing is quoting one sentence from St. Thomas and failing to address the rest of what he said. In this case, it is important to look at the place which St. Thomas indicates explains the means by which not every ignorance causes involuntariness:

I answer that, If ignorance causes involuntariness, it is in so far as it deprives one of knowledge, which is a necessary condition of voluntariness, as was declared above (1). But it is not every ignorance that deprives one of this knowledge. Accordingly, we must take note that ignorance has a threefold relationship to the act of the will: in one way, “concomitantly”; in another, “consequently”; in a third way, “antecedently.” “Concomitantly,” when there is ignorance of what is done; but, so that even if it were known, it would be done. For then, ignorance does not induce one to wish this to be done, but it just happens that a thing is at the same time done, and not known: thus in the example given (Objection 3) a man did indeed wish to kill his foe, but killed him in ignorance, thinking to kill a stag. And ignorance of this kind, as the Philosopher states (Ethic. iii, 1), does not cause involuntariness, since it is not the cause of anything that is repugnant to the will: but it causes “non-voluntariness,” since that which is unknown cannot be actually willed. Ignorance is “consequent” to the act of the will, in so far as ignorance itself is voluntary: and this happens in two ways, in accordance with the two aforesaid modes of voluntary (3). First, because the act of the will is brought to bear on the ignorance: as when a man wishes not to know, that he may have an excuse for sin, or that he may not be withheld from sin; according to Job 21:14: “We desire not the knowledge of Thy ways.” And this is called “affected ignorance.” Secondly, ignorance is said to be voluntary, when it regards that which one can and ought to know: for in this sense “not to act” and “not to will” are said to be voluntary, as stated above (3). And ignorance of this kind happens, either when one does not actually consider what one can and ought to consider; this is called “ignorance of evil choice,” and arises from some passion or habit: or when one does not take the trouble to acquire the knowledge which one ought to have; in which sense, ignorance of the general principles of law, which one to know, is voluntary, as being due to negligence. Accordingly, if in either of these ways, ignorance is voluntary, it cannot cause involuntariness simply. Nevertheless it causes involuntariness in a certain respect, inasmuch as it precedes the movement of the will towards the act, which movement would not be, if there were knowledge. Ignorance is “antecedent” to the act of the will, when it is not voluntary, and yet is the cause of man’s willing what he would not will otherwise. Thus a man may be ignorant of some circumstance of his act, which he was not bound to know, the result being that he does that which he would not do, if he knew of that circumstance; for instance, a man, after taking proper precaution, may not know that someone is coming along the road, so that he shoots an arrow and slays a passer-by. Such ignorance causes involuntariness simply.

According to St. Thomas, then, the ignorance which does not excuse from sin altogether is only that ignorance which is the fault of the sinner, or ignorance in cases wherein even knowing the truth would not change the sinner’s action. Ignorance where a person does not know something through no fault of his own and where such knowledge would change his actions does cause an act to be involuntary and does excuse from sin altogether.

Second, I have also shown Thomas pointing out that an act can only be voluntary, and thus a sin, with a deliberate will.


#16

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