Mortal Sin---What is "Full Knowledge"?


#1

CCC 1857 says

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

What does the term “full knowledge” mean? Also, for example, since pornography is said to be a “grave sin”, how could the viewer of pornography not commit a mortal sin? Is there some way that he might not have “full knowledge”?


#2

as unlikely as this may be, if the viewer of pornography is unaware that viewing pronography is grave matter, than he is not commiting a mortal sin… he lacks the full knowledge of the gravity of his actions.

A more likely instance of lack of full knowledge would be with contraception. Many Catholics (myself included until recently) are unaware that contraception is grave matter. Since they lack the “full knowledge” that using contraception is grave matter, than they are not commiting a mortal sin.


#3

[quote=Journeyman]CCC 1857 says

What does the term “full knowledge” mean? Also, for example, since pornography is said to be a “grave sin”, how could the viewer of pornography not commit a mortal sin? Is there some way that he might not have “full knowledge”?
[/quote]

People can be lead to believe that something is not sinful under this or that situation by someone else. If someone is upset about something for instance they may not know that what they are doing is wrong.


#4

[quote=Journeyman]CCC 1857 says

What does the term “full knowledge” mean? Also, for example, since pornography is said to be a “grave sin”, how could the viewer of pornography not commit a mortal sin? Is there some way that he might not have “full knowledge”?
[/quote]

I would think if one is a Catholic full knowledge is knowing that the Church teaches something should not be done is full knowledge. A prime example is ABC. Many claim that most Catholics who use it are not sinning because they do not have full knowledge. I disagree. They know the Church teaches against it. That is full knowledge.

Also, Catholics are under a serious obligation to learn the faith. That means they cannot just slide along and do very little to form their conscience and claim they did not know things like ABC were sinful.


#5

[quote=RichSpidizzy]as unlikely as this may be, if the viewer of pornography is unaware that viewing pronography is grave matter, than he is not commiting a mortal sin… he lacks the full knowledge of the gravity of his actions.

A more likely instance of lack of full knowledge would be with contraception. Many Catholics (myself included until recently) are unaware that contraception is grave matter. Since they lack the “full knowledge” that using contraception is grave matter, than they are not commiting a mortal sin.
[/quote]

Thanks rich—
But this is where it gets confusing. Does the individual have to be aware that it is a sin regarding grave matter? The CCC in 1859 states:

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 uses the term “sinful character of the act”. It does not say that the individual has to be aware that the sin is of grave matter. Most people who view pornograhy must know it is sinful. If they hide it from their spouse, etc… they know that something is wrong with it. What is the responsibility of the individual regarding an informed conscience?

ABC may indeed be another matter. I think that most Catholics are completely unaware that it is sinful. This might be a bit cynical, but perhaps Catholics do not want to learn about what is sinful etc, therefore they don’t feel as though they are committing sins, at least not mortal sins :mad:

Actually, I think many Catholics think that the Church doesn’t even teach about mortal sins anymore. I heard a deacon, just recently, say that there are three mortal sins: Murder, adultery, and missing Sunday Mass! He is right as those are mortal sins, but the list of possible mortal sins is not quite that short :confused:


#6

[quote=fix]I would think if one is a Catholic full knowledge is knowing that the Church teaches something should not be done is full knowledge. A prime example is ABC. Many claim that most Catholics who use it are not sinning because they do not have full knowledge. I disagree. They know the Church teaches against it. That is full knowledge.

Also, Catholics are under a serious obligation to learn the faith. That means they cannot just slide along and do very little to form their conscience and claim they did not know things like ABC were sinful.
[/quote]

The problem, especially with ABC is that many Catholics who tried to learn were given false information. I am a good example. During pre-cana class, the priest told us that there were valid reasons for Catholics to use ABC and that each couple must make that decision based on their own conscience. There were no homilies in any church I attended for the decades of the 70s, 80s or until the late 90s which said that ABC was gravely sinful. The CCC didn’t even come out in English until 1997. So unless you were blessed with a really good priest and confessor, what were you to do. Those of us who were brought up in the 60s believed that the priest was the best source of Catholic teaching. We weren’t taught to do our own research and you heard about conscience in terms of following, not forming.

I have had the same experience with other sins. In Confession, the priest rationalizes the sin or gives me a bunch of psychobabble (especially where morality or sexuality is involved). So many people become confused as to what is truly grave matter.


#7

[quote=kmktexas]The problem, especially with ABC is that many Catholics who tried to learn were given false information. I am a good example. During pre-cana class, the priest told us that there were valid reasons for Catholics to use ABC and that each couple must make that decision based on their own conscience. There were no homilies in any church I attended for the decades of the 70s, 80s or until the late 90s which said that ABC was gravely sinful. The CCC didn’t even come out in English until 1997. So unless you were blessed with a really good priest and confessor, what were you to do. Those of us who were brought up in the 60s believed that the priest was the best source of Catholic teaching. We weren’t taught to do our own research and you heard about conscience in terms of following, not forming.

I have had the same experience with other sins. In Confession, the priest rationalizes the sin or gives me a bunch of psychobabble (especially where morality or sexuality is involved). So many people become confused as to what is truly grave matter.
[/quote]

Your points are well founded and I agree. My point is that in this modern society with so many educated folks it would seem to me disingenuous for some to claim that mortal sin is rare because of lack of knowledge.

Now, if one is intentionally mislead by a priest, that may lessen culpability, but can we say it is completely diminished? I mean, almost the entire country knows that the Church says ABC is wrong, it is even the butt of many jokes. If a priest says it is ok, that should trigger an alarm to search out the truth. We all spend plenty of time doing secular things, the Church asks us to learn the basics of the faith.

I am not judging anyone’s culpability in particular, only making a general comment about evading the truth as a means to claim unintentional ignorance. I am arguing that ignorance, or lack of full knowledge, is much less common than some would assert.


#8

[quote=Journeyman]Thanks rich—
But this is where it gets confusing. Does the individual have to be aware that it is a sin regarding grave matter? The CCC in 1859 states:

It uses the term “sinful character of the act”. It does not say that the individual has to be aware that the sin is of grave matter. Most people who view pornograhy must know it is sinful. If they hide it from their spouse, etc… they know that something is wrong with it. What is the responsibility of the individual regarding an informed conscience?

ABC may indeed be another matter. I think that most Catholics are completely unaware that it is sinful. This might be a bit cynical, but perhaps Catholics do not want to learn about what is sinful etc, therefore they don’t feel as though they are committing sins, at least not mortal sins :mad:

Actually, I think many Catholics think that the Church doesn’t even teach about mortal sins anymore. I heard a deacon, just recently, say that there are three mortal sins: Murder, adultery, and missing Sunday Mass! He is right as those are mortal sins, but the list of possible mortal sins is not quite that short :confused:
[/quote]

An act that is a Mortal sin is always a Mortal sin. The degree to which a person is held personally responsible varies with different factors like the degree to which they knew it was wrong. The degree that they were forced or coerced.


#9

[quote=Br. Rich SFO]An act that is a Mortal sin is always a Mortal sin. The degree to which a person is held personally responsible varies with different factors like the degree to which they knew it was wrong. The degree that they were forced or coerced.
[/quote]

Subject to correction, I would disagree with that. A sin is always a sin. But whether it is mortal or venial depends on the three conditions being met.


#10

[quote=Journeyman]CCC 1857 says

What does the term “full knowledge” mean? Also, for example, since pornography is said to be a “grave sin”, how could the viewer of pornography not commit a mortal sin? Is there some way that he might not have “full knowledge”?
[/quote]

You have to know or really suspect that the matter in question is grave. If you truly do not think the matter is grave, and then you go and do whatever it is, you have not met the conditions for a mortal sin. If you truly suspect it is grave and are willing to do it anyway, then you are willing to accept having done it if it turns out to be grave, so you are in trouble. If you suspect a matter is grave, you should discharge your duty to find out.

The pornography guy could know it is wrong to look at the pictures, but he could think it is a venial sin for sure. Then he does not have full knowledge. If the guy knows it is wrong, truly suspects that it could be gravely wrong, doesn’t really care to find out, is willing to do it without bothering to find out, then this guy probably has full knowledge.

You don’t have to understand why it is grave. You can know the Church says it is grave but not “get” it. Such a person is still in for full knowledge.

Aside: For all you scrupulous folks, the kind of suspicions I’m talking about here are not the scrupulous kind. I don’t mean that in your wildest imagination the matter could be grave. That’s why I say you have to “really or truly” suspect it is grave.


#11

[quote=Pug]You have to know or really suspect that the matter in question is grave. If you truly do not think the matter is grave, and then you go and do whatever it is, you have not met the conditions for a mortal sin. If you truly suspect it is grave and are willing to do it anyway, then you are willing to accept having done it if it turns out to be grave, so you are in trouble. If you suspect a matter is grave, you should discharge your duty to find out.

The pornography guy could know it is wrong to look at the pictures, but he could think it is a venial sin for sure. Then he does not have full knowledge. If the guy knows it is wrong, truly suspects that it could be gravely wrong, doesn’t really care to find out, is willing to do it without bothering to find out, then this guy probably has full knowledge.

You don’t have to understand why it is grave. You can know the Church says it is grave but not “get” it. Such a person is still in for full knowledge.

Aside: For all you scrupulous folks, the kind of suspicions I’m talking about here are not the scrupulous kind. I don’t mean that in your wildest imagination the matter could be grave. That’s why I say you have to “really or truly” suspect it is grave.
[/quote]

As someone pointed out it is not only what one knows, but, also, what one should know. A Catholic, of age, should know pornography is grave matter.


#12

[quote=fix]As someone pointed out it is not only what one knows, but, also, what one should know. A Catholic, of age, should know pornography is grave matter.
[/quote]

I didn’t take original question to just mean a Catholic. The question didn’t seem to specify. You are right, formation of conscience is also part of the story (I was assuming OP had no questions about formation, perhaps a bad idea).

However, you are not responsible for what you legitimately have not yet suspected. Some people are brought up being told porn and self-abuse are okay. As they continue to study the faith, they will eventually suspect, investigate, and figure out it is grave. I personally doubt that you could “use” the porn more than a few times and not be responsible for suspecting its grave nature. It probably reveals itself as what it is.

You are in big trouble if you bury your head in the sand and refuse to try to improve your moral reasoning. Then if you go around with no idea that things are grave, you bear a different type of overall responsibility than if you had been trying to study all along. You are responsible for the wrong you do if your conscience was in error because you just didn’t care to form it. I suspect these types are the “hard of heart”, the total blind person through their own fault. Who knows, the world could be full of them.

I still go with my affirmative answer that yes, there is some way that the porn guy could fail to have full knowledge.


#13

[quote=John_Henry]Subject to correction, I would disagree with that. A sin is always a sin. But whether it is mortal or venial depends on the three conditions being met.
[/quote]

What I wanted to say is. What the Church defines as a “Mortal Sin” or “Gravely Sinful” is a Mortal Sin by the fact that it was done.


#14

Sounds like someone is trying to find a loophole :tsktsk: Just do what I did…just stop looking at it.

[quote=Journeyman]CCC 1857 says

What does the term “full knowledge” mean? Also, for example, since pornography is said to be a “grave sin”, how could the viewer of pornography not commit a mortal sin? Is there some way that he might not have “full knowledge”?
[/quote]


#15

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. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Does this mean that it is assumed that we already have full knowledge of the sinfulness of things such as pornography because these are “written in the conscience of every man”?


#16

[quote=Hermione]Does this mean that it is assumed that we already have full knowledge of the sinfulness of things such as pornography because these are “written in the conscience of every man”?
[/quote]

It depends on what they mean by the “principles” of moral law. Do they mean things like the ends don’t justify the means and the golden rule, or do they mean that self-abuse is bad? I suspect the former is more likely. But I am not qualified to determine what they intended by that passage. You could look at CCC 1780 and 1789.


#17

[quote=Pug] The pornography guy could know it is wrong to look at the pictures, but he could think it is a venial sin for sure. Then he does not have full knowledge. If the guy knows it is wrong, truly suspects that it could be gravely wrong, doesn’t really care to find out, is willing to do it without bothering to find out, then this guy probably has full knowledge.
[/quote]

CCC 1859 and 1860 seem to be key here. 1859 says that mortal sin “presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law”. 1860 says “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.”

So go back to the pornography guy. If he is keeping his porn magazines hidden from his wife, he must know that his behavior is wrong. He might not think it is “grave” because he might not even understand the meaning of the word “grave”. But he knows it is wrong and his actions would seem to show what is in his heart. Contrast that to the guy who buys the porn openly, keeps it in the open in his house. His wife doesn’t care and his father did the same thing. Guy #2 doesn’t know it is wrong. This can’t be mortal sin, imo. But guy #1, this seems to be a grave sin, since he seems to have “knowledge of the sinful character of the act”. The CCC does not say that one must have knowledge that the sin is grave, but have knowledge of the sinful character of the act.

The CCC does seem to point out that grave sin may have degrees of seriousness. 1860 says “Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.” So if there is another porn guy that knows the CCC and doesn’t care what it says about sin and knows that porn is wrong and tells his wife he doesn’t care if she doesn’t like it and tells God that he doesn’t care if it offends God is committing a sin that would appear to be more serious than porn guy #1, but both are still in a state of mortal sin, imo.

Thoughts?


#18

[quote=Journeyman]CCC 1859 and 1860 seem to be key here.
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Thoughts?
[/quote]

I wanted to get a quote so it took some time to answer:

   [font=Arial]Hiding it from the wife, does this imply knowing it is wrong?  To me, this may only imply knowing that it is going to make his wife yell at him.  This is not enough to know that it is wrong.  I also want to consider the guy who would not do porn if he knew that it was a grave thing.  Then I find it hard to accuse him of mortal sin, since his will is such that if it were a grave sin, he would not do it, and he is only willing to do it on account of it being venial.  Such a man does not want to rupture his relationship with  God, and it seems unfair to for him to be able to rupture it against his will, unknowingly.[/font]

[font=Arial]My moral theology text is more precise in terminology than the CCC:[/font]

[font=Arial]“sufficient reflection for mortal sin exists only if two conditions are met: (1) one acts in violation of one’s conscience, and (2) one’s conscience is that the matter either is grave or might be grave” Germain Grisez pg 266 Christian Moral Principles (he’s quite an orthodox moral theologian).[/font]

[font=Arial]On guy #2, I agree, he doesn’t know it is wrong. But, if he does know the Church teaches it is grave and he does know that he should obey the Church and he does know that his obligation to follow the teachings of the Church is serious, then he doesn’t quite get off the hook. I mean that even if he doesn’t otherwise see anything objectionable with porn.

I also agree that there is some degree among grave sins. Malice is bad stuff.[/font]

[font=Arial]Because of CCC1859-1860, it must be possible to be ignorant enough to get off the hook from a grave sin. So, the stuff about not deemed ignorant of moral principles can’t mean that you are always on the hook for grave sin. I think it means that you are on the hook for knowing about morality and basic concepts in it, like some stuff is wrong, don’t hurt other people, actions should have reasons, be fair, it is good to have friends, etc.[/font]

[font=Arial]I doubt the use of the word “deemed” instead of “is” matters (considered to be rather than actually is), but maybe it does.[/font]

[font=Arial]Remember with guy #2 that I wonder if it is likely to do grave sins for a long time without realizing their awfulness. After all, God calls them grave because of the harm they cause, not because of some whim of his. So the porn guys are suffering a lot of harm and not noticing or something. Actually I think not noticing is the most possible when your life is filled with so many sins that just one more doesn’t make the radar.
[/font]


#19

What about sins that exist in a person’s life due to addiction?

For example, the person who gets hooked on cigarrettes and/or alcohol or some other drug if I am not mistaken is obligated to seek treatment for it just like any other disease.

But if the person doesn’t think they have a problem or denies it, then does it become a mortal sin if they don’t think they are doing anything wrong?.

Just goes to show that no matter what it seems that some things will always have a “gray area” and it would depend on his/her relationship with God.

-Maranajewell


#20

I think that the term “full knowledge” implies a bit more than merely knowing something is sinful. You have to truly believe that it is sinful. If you read it as being mere knowledge, then a Protestant who knows a bit about Catholic teachings, including the status of various sins, but does not believe in the authority of the Church, would none-the-less go to hell. But that is not the Church’s teaching in regard to our separated brethren. So “full knowledge” pre-supposes a full acceptance of the Church’s authority.

I am considered a fairly reliable source of information by my friends, so when I tell them that something is a mortal sin, they can’t really claim that they were not reliably informed. But one is a Protestant that doesn’t actually believe the Church has that authority, and the other is a Catholic, who at this point of her life, is unable to fully understand the nature and scope of the Church’s authority. Neither of them truly believes that what they might do is mortally sinful. So I find it difficult to argue that what they do is done in “full knowledge”.

Sometimes when we see others sin in a ‘fun’ way, we want to find some way that they will be punished for what they do but we can’t. But I guess that, as informed Catholic’s that accept and truly believe in the God-given authority of the Church, we are held up to a higher standard of conduct. Once you discover the truth, you cannot unlearn it.

I guess, though, that the knowledge of the mortal status of a sin also has earthly benefits. Pornography hurts the poor girl’s that are the fuel for that industry. Casual sex hurts our capacity to love. Masturbation is an abuse of our bodies and prevents us from giving our love to another. By becoming aware of them we are knowing how much God loves us, not encountering a set of arbitrary and oppressive set of rules which we only comply with for some heavenly gain.


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