Mortal sins, venial sins and working out our salvation with fear and trembling


#1

Greetings to the forum! Well, here’s another topic. It seems like the “one thing at a time approach” is working the best for me. All of the “weird” Catholic doctrines about Transubstantiation, the Immaculate Conception, Papal Infallibility and the like have been explained very well to me. The issue here for this post is Salvation. In my mind, Salvation is the key issue because what’s at stake is the everlasting condition of the human soul.

So, I have a few questions about this very important topic. First, though, I’ll outline my personal view of salvation:

We must confess with our mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead. In my mind, confessing that Jesus is Lord is not just saying the words, but rather literally accepting Him as Lord of our lives. As Jesus is the Lord of our lives, we should do what He commands. Additionally, we should do good out of a desire to please God and to see others saved as well. When we sin (as all people do), it hurts Christ and hurts our effectiveness for Him. However, it by itself does not somehow cut us off from our relationship with Him.

Of course, I’m already seeing problems with this view. Can someone who sincerely prays the above prayer, but then after a time, falls away and lives a completely sinful lifestyle really be considered saved? I’m starting to think the answer is no. However, I still struggle with the idea that one sin can move a person from a state of “if I die now I’ll to Heaven,” to “if I die now, I’ll go to Hell.” I don’t believe in eternal security, but it seems that losing one’s salvation would require not just a single act, but rather a complete change.

So, this brings up the subject of mortal sins and venial sins. According to my understanding of Catholic theology, if a person commits a mortal sin and then dies without first going to Confession (or at least *intending * to go to Confession), they will go to Hell. This will be true regardless of their previous life of service and good deeds. On the other hand, if a person commits a venial sin and then dies without first going to Confession, they’ll just have to spend a little extra time in Purgatory to have themselves be purified and cleansed so as to be fit for Heaven.

That being said, what is the difference between a mortal sin and a venial sin, and how can the one send us to Hell and the other not?

To continue on, I have read posts on this board that said a Catholic can never be certain of salvation. This is upsetting to me, though I think perhaps I misunderstand it. Does this mean that we can’t know our current state with God, or does this mean we can’t predict what we may do in the future? It just seems odd that a person could truthfully say, “I have accepted Christ’s sacrifice for my sin, I serve God with all my heart, I keep all the sacraments, I faithfully go to Mass, I care for the needy, I lead others to Christ, I have an earnest love for Christ,” and yet still not know where they would be spending eternity if they were to die immediately after saying that.

And then of course there’s the common Protestant view that Catholics think the sacrifice of Christ wasn’t quite enough to get us to Heaven, and we have to do a certain amount of good works to get us the rest of the way there. Well, I’m not saying this is what you believe, but could someone explain how works fit into salvation? Even a link to another post or site would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! :slight_smile:

Anyway, I thank you for your answers and especially for your patience! My time on this board has been extremely rewarding. May God richly bless you all!


#2

And then of course there’s the common Protestant view that Catholics think the sacrifice of Christ wasn’t quite enough to get us to Heaven, and we have to do a certain amount of good works to get us the rest of the way there. Well, I’m not saying this is what you believe, but could someone explain how works fit into salvation? Even a link to another post or site would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! :slight_smile:

Anyway, I thank you for your answers and especially for your patience! My time on this board has been extremely rewarding. May God richly bless you all!

I believe you need to do good works, but it is the grace that God gives you to do the works, but they need to be done.

You need to stay in a “state of grace”. Venial sins lower your grace which needs to be replenished via the sacraments, especially communion.

Mortal sin destroys Grace. At this point you NEED to confess to a priest before you die to get back to a state of grace or you lose your salvation.

You need to stay in a state of grace until you die, even so you cannot know if you will go to heaven.

I believe this is correct from the 12 years of Catholic school I recieved.


#3

Catholics have moral assurance that we will be saved. That is, Christ desires our salvation, and has promised it to those who hear and obey, therefore we will be saved based on His promise.

What we don’t have is absolute assurance. No one (Catholic, Protestant or otherwise) has this because it does not allow for possibilities like final impenitent rejection of God, self-delusion, etc.

Scott


#4

[quote=Scott Waddell]Catholics have moral assurance that we will be saved. That is, Christ desires our salvation, and has promised it to those who hear and obey, therefore we will be saved based on His promise.

What we don’t have is absolute assurance. No one (Catholic, Protestant or otherwise) has this because it does not allow for possibilities like final impenitent rejection of God, self-delusion, etc.

Scott
[/quote]

Hear, Hear!
Yes, we cannot predict what we will do in the future. A mortal sin separates us from God, COMPLETELY cutting us off from him (ie. destroying our state of grace). Confession and Eucharist will restore that.
A mortal sin must fit three categories.

  1. It must be of GRAVE MATTER (eg. murder, immoral sexual acts, etc)
  2. You must KNOW it is of grave matter
  3. Your choice to make the sin MUST NOT BE IMPEDED (eg. you may have killed someone out of fear of being killed yourself - out of self defence - that is not a mortal sin. However, if you kill someone out of cold-blooded anger, you have cut yourself off from god).

#5

1 John Chapter 5

"16 If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly."
Here we can see that there are two classes of sins deadly (mortal) and not deadly (venial). For not deadly(venial) Paul assures that by praying their sins will be forgiven and “give him life”.

However if the sin is deadly(mortal) praying for him will have no effect hence John’s words “There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray”. Hence something else is required for that sin to be forgiven and “give him life”.

Also see CCC 1855, 1856, 1857 for what constitutes mortal sin.

Your brother in Christ

Alex


#6

[quote=The Iambic Pen]That being said, what is the difference between a mortal sin and a venial sin, and how can the one send us to Hell and the other not?
[/quote]

Here’s how I like to think of it: being in a state of sanctifying grace is like being tied to God with a rope. When we commit mortal sin, that rope is totally severed. When we commit venial sin, the rope is only frayed. Venieal sins do weaken our relationship with God and they do make us weaker and more likely to commit mortal sin (the more fraying you get, the easier it becomes to sever that rope). This is why I like to go Confession even if I don’t have mortal sins on my conscience.:thumbsup:


#7

[quote=The Iambic Pen]To continue on, I have read posts on this board that said a Catholic can never be certain of salvation. This is upsetting to me, though I think perhaps I misunderstand it. Does this mean that we can’t know our current state with God, or does this mean we can’t predict what we may do in the future?
[/quote]

A Catholic can be certain that they are in a state of grace (will end up in heaven if they die right now). However, there is certain and there is CERTAIN. You can be certain in an ordinary sense, like you can be certain your dog is in the backyard right now (you are in the front yard and can’t see the dog). You can be certain and act upon it. You can be certain and not worry about it. You cannot know for certain with the same certainty as faith, however. Faith is more certain. With being certain about your state of grace, there could always be some doubt raised on account of self-deception or human defect. Certainty about salvation is not immune from such a type of doubt.

However, I suppose God himself could reveal to a person that they are in a state of grace currently. This would be more certain, clearly, because God vouches for it.

A Catholic, btw, does not have to be super certain of their current state of grace. After all, if they are what you might know as “back-sliding”, they would be right to wonder about what they are doing.


#8

Good questions!

Truth be told, I still struggle with the “line” between mortal and venial sin. I know the definition the Church has given, and I trust it, but it is still pretty subjective in most cases.

The idea of mortal sin is that there are certian actions that are so grave they constitute a rejection of the one true God. If we reject Him, we also reject the Grace He offers for our salvation. If we do not repent and seek sacramental forgiveness, we stand to spend eternity separated from God.

Personally, it sounds to me like the Chruch’s definition of mortal sin makes it difficult for any person who really seeks God’s will to actually commit one. It has to be of serious matter, you need to know it is gravely sinful, and you need to do it completely of your own free will. It is pretty easy in almost any situation to find a mitigating circumstance that lessens one’s culpability based on one of those three criteria.

Yet there are certianly people who stray so far from God that they are no longer in fellowship with His Son and the grace that will save them. The “easy” things to see are the catastrophic sins; what is much harder to know about is the “drifter” who slowly allows the world to chip away at his/her faith until, if he/she still believes in God, do they believe in the true God or a construct of their own sinfully distorted view of the world? When do they “cross the line”? How can any person know?

And that is the real problem – we simply don’t know (most of the time). For people who strive to do God’s will by acting in obedience to His Word and His Church and truly loving Him with all the Grace they’ve been given, they can have confidence that they will be in the Lord’s Grace forever. It is about as close to “assurance” as you can get.

The reason the Church teaches we cannot have absolute assurance is that our salvation is not from us in any way – it is a free and total gift from God that we receive after our passing from this world. To believe we are assured our salvation is to obligate God – “I had faith in You, Jesus, so you must grant me everlasting life.” The Church does not see it that way. Rather, the Church says “I have faith in you and do my best to obey You, Jesus, and so I place my hope in your promise of everlasting life.” See, our only real reason to hope for salvation in the first place is because of God’s promises to us for obeying the New Covenant. And we know He keeps His promises. Yet to ever not acknowledge that the gift of salvation is a completely unmerited gift that God has every right to withold from us is to presume ourselves in His grace and to presume we have a place in Heaven. Such presumption does not befit us.

And so we wait in joyful, hopeful anticipation.

As for mortal/venial sins, I try not to concern myself trying to figure out if something I may have done wrong was one or the other. I just ask God’s forgiveness and go to confession, and really try to focus on the positives for God, rather than the negatives. That helps me stay joyful and look ahead rather than live in problems of the past.

Sorry this got so long and meandering… :o

Peace on your journey,
javelin


#9

Is not believing everything that the Magisterium teaches a mortal sin?


#10

[quote=kaycee]Is not believing everything that the Magisterium teaches a mortal sin?
[/quote]

For a member of the Catholic faithful, yes. For anyone else…well…we’d have to talk about it. Also, there’s no real difference between full intellectual acceptance and obedience to the Magisterium without full intellectual acceptance. It’s like saying “I fully understand and believe” vs. “I don’t get it, but I believe it because the Church says so”. Dr. Hahn had to use the second WRT the Blessed Virgin when coming to the Church - he said, “The Church is right about 99 out of 100 things…I’ll give it to 'em on credit about the 100th thing.” Later, of course, he come to fully understand and believe (and wrote a book about her - “Hail, Holy Queen”). It is only in saying, “The Church is absolutely wrong about ____ and I will not believe,” that the Faithful Catholic commits a mortal sin.

Hope this helps.

God bless,
RyanL


#11

[quote=kaycee]Is not believing everything that the Magisterium teaches a mortal sin?
[/quote]

On issues of faith and morals, yes it can be. Remember the pillar and foundation of truth is the Church. When we reject the teaches of the Church we are rejecting the truth. What is truth? Jesus is the truth. To reject the teaches of the Church / truth is the same as rejecting Jesus, because the two are the same. Does this help?


#12

[quote=kaycee]Is not believing everything that the Magisterium teaches a mortal sin?
[/quote]

It depends on what you mean by not believing and what you mean personally by the word Magisterium and which level of everything you mean.

For example, some people do assent to, say, the teaching that they ought not use a condom for contraception, but they have no real clue why and don’t really get it. By “not believing” they more mean not understanding, but they accept it.

Or, a person could disbelieve some item his bishop has said in a statement in the paper. It could be that the person doing the disbelieving is a canon lawyer and knows more than the bishop.

Also, it could be that the person is objecting to a theological opinion of sorts and not doctrine.

I’m going to assume your question was directed at the word “heresy”. That is considered to be grave matter and hence can be a mortal sin if the usual conditions apply. Heresy is more like if you know it is proposed for belief by the full Church as a divinely revealed truth and you deny it anyway. (it is usually considered that you have to be a Catholic before you can qualify to do heresy)


#13

[quote=RyanL]For a member of the Catholic faithful, yes. For anyone else…well…we’d have to talk about it. Also, there’s no real difference between full intellectual acceptance and obedience to the Magisterium without full intellectual acceptance. It’s like saying “I fully understand and believe” vs. “I don’t get it, but I believe it because the Church says so”. Dr. Hahn had to use the second WRT the Blessed Virgin when coming to the Church - he said, “The Church is right about 99 out of 100 things…I’ll give it to 'em on credit about the 100th thing.” Later, of course, he come to fully understand and believe (and wrote a book about her - “Hail, Holy Queen”). It is only in saying, “The Church is absolutely wrong about ____ and I will not believe,” that the Faithful Catholic commits a mortal sin.
Hope this helps.
God bless,
RyanL
[/quote]

Yes it helps.
So, I must believe in the Assumption of Mary?
I must believe she was ever a virgin?
I must believe in indulgences?
I must believe that “Living Tradition” is equal to Scripture in authority?
I must believe Peter was the first pope with an unbroken line to today?
I must believe that only an RC priest can absolve and forgive a mortal sin?

Peace<><


#14

[quote=kaycee]Yes it helps.
So, I must believe in the Assumption of Mary?
I must believe she was ever a virgin?
I must believe in indulgences?
I must believe that “Living Tradition” is equal to Scripture in authority?
I must believe Peter was the first pope with an unbroken line to today?
I must believe that only an RC priest can absolve and forgive a mortal sin?
[/quote]

As a Faithful Catholic - pretty much. I didn’t really understand these things myself until I started reading the tracts on this site and the official statements from the Church on them (of course, I didn’t dis-believe them either). Have you read the Papal Declarations on most of these?

Oh, and as for the last question, I would restate it that “You must believe that only God on His own, or working through a RC Priest can absolve and forgive mortal (and venial) sins.”

If you need links to the documents, just ask and we will provide.

God bless you and keep you,
RyanL


#15

As others have said, Catholics believe that we can be relatively certain, although not 100% metaphysically certain, that we are in a state of grace because there is always a possibility that we have deceived ourselves. It’s kind of like what St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:4: “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” James 1:22 warns us that it is possible for us to deceive ourselves about our salvation: "But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.

As far as a mortal sin cutting one off from God in spite of a lifetime of good works, Ezekiel 18:24 says, “But when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live? None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which they are guilty and the sin they have committed, they shall die.” I know that this verse was written before Christ, but I think when viewed in light of New Testament passages that warn us of the possibility of losing our salvation, we can see that the same penalty still applies for the one who turns away from righteousness and does not repent.


#16

If we look at scripture [font=Arial]1st John 5:16-17 we see there are two types of sin. One that leads to (spiritural) death that sin the Catholic Church calls Mortal sin, from the Latin ‘mort’ to die. [/font]
[font=Trebuchet MS][font=Arial]The other sin which does not lead to (spiritural) death, is called venial[/font][/font]

[font=Arial]Mortal sin is actual sin that destroys sanctifying grace and causes the supernatural death of the soul. Objectively speaking, a sinner who passes into eternity in a state of mortal sin sends himself to hell. For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met. [/font]
[font=Arial]Catholic Catechism 1857 “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.” [/font]
[font=Arial]CC 1858 “Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments…[/font]
[font=Arial]CC 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…
[/font][font=Arial][/font]
[font=Arial][/font]
[font=Arial]The other sin which does not lead to (spiritural) death, called venial, is an offense against God which does not deprive the sinner of sanctifing grace. It is an illness of the soul.[/font]
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[font=Arial]You ask “*the common Protestant view that Catholics think the sacrifice of Christ wasn’t quite enough to get us to Heaven,” *[/font]

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[font=Arial]Look at Matthew 25:33-46. it is the last judgemnt one that we all have to face, we are judged on what we have done with our lives how much we have loved the hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or one who was naked, or sick, or in prison, not on how much faith we have.[/font]
[font=Arial]The sacrifice of Christ which earns us our salvation and which through the gift of Faith we take hold of, is best compared with the Parable of the three servants Matthew 25:14-26 who received from their master money to safeguard while he was away. Two invested and gained an increase. One hid his and did nothing with it. The Master on return castigated this one saying “cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. [/font]
[font=Arial]Faith is given to us as a gift, the fruits of which was gained for all of us by Christ perfect sacrfice. It is for all of us to increase in faith and to show a return on it. How we invest is shown in Matthew 25.[/font]
[font=Arial]The currency of this investment is Love[/font]
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[font=Arial]Pax [/font]
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[font=Arial]Brian[/font]
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#17

[quote=kaycee]Yes it helps.
So, I must believe in the Assumption of Mary?
I must believe she was ever a virgin?
I must believe in indulgences?
I must believe that “Living Tradition” is equal to Scripture in authority?
I must believe Peter was the first pope with an unbroken line to today?
I must believe that only an RC priest can absolve and forgive a mortal sin?

Peace<><
[/quote]

I’m going to set aside some minor misconceptions in this list to address the heart of your question:

Keeping in mind the requirements for mortal sin from the Catechism, if a Catholic comes to believe the Church is in error in some essential, officially defined doctrine, it is a mortal sin against conscience, a sin of hypocrisy, for him to remain in the Church and call himself a Catholic, but only a venial sin against knowledge for him to leave the Church in honest but partly culpable error. However, you must take pains to inform your conscience. As other have mentioned, 10,000 difficulties do not amount to one doubt.

On the flip side, if someone recognizes the voice of divinely-instituted authority in the Church, it would be gravely sinful to disregard that voice as it teaches officially matter of faith or morals out of pride or convenience (for example), because you’d be rejecting the source of that authority.

As an analogy, imagine you lived during the time of Jesus. It would be sinful to disregard Jesus’ teachings if you knew that Jesus was God incarnate. It would be sinful to be a follower of Jesus, however, if you honestly believed that he was a fraud. We must do the best we can with what we know.


#18

[quote=kaycee]Yes it helps.
So, I must believe in the Assumption of Mary?
I must believe she was ever a virgin?
I must believe in indulgences?
I must believe that “Living Tradition” is equal to Scripture in authority?
I must believe Peter was the first pope with an unbroken line to today?
I must believe that only an RC priest can absolve and forgive a mortal sin?

Peace<><
[/quote]

I’m going to set aside some minor misconceptions in this list to address the heart of your question:

Keeping in mind the requirements for mortal sin from the Catechism, if a Catholic comes to believe the Church is in error in some essential, officially defined doctrine, it is a mortal sin against conscience, a sin of hypocrisy, for him to remain in the Church and call himself a Catholic, but only a venial sin against knowledge for him to leave the Church in honest but partly culpable error. However, you must take pains to inform your conscience. As other have mentioned, 10,000 difficulties do not amount to one doubt.

On the flip side, if someone recognizes the voice of divinely-instituted authority in the Church, it would be gravely sinful to disregard that voice as it teaches officially matter of faith or morals out of pride or convenience (for example), because you’d be rejecting the source of that authority.

As an analogy, imagine you lived during the time of Jesus. It would be sinful to disregard Jesus’ teachings if you knew that Jesus was God incarnate. It would be sinful to be a follower of Jesus, however, if you honestly believed that he was a fraud. We must do the best we can with what we know.


#19

[quote=The Iambic Pen]I have read posts on this board that said a Catholic can never be certain of salvation. This is upsetting to me, though I think perhaps I misunderstand it. Does this mean that we can’t know our current state with God, or does this mean we can’t predict what we may do in the future? It just seems odd that a person could truthfully say, “I have accepted Christ’s sacrifice for my sin, I serve God with all my heart, I keep all the sacraments, I faithfully go to Mass, I care for the needy, I lead others to Christ, I have an earnest love for Christ,” and yet still not know where they would be spending eternity if they were to die immediately after saying that.
[/quote]

Hi Iambic Pen,

You’ve gotten some good responses so far. I’ll add my :twocents: The scriptures indicate that we can have assurance of our present state of grace. John wrote in 1 John 5:13 that we can know that we have eternal life. This knowledge is not based on the fact that we have prayed a one-time prayer that fixes our salvation regardless of what we do. That assurance is based on the fruit in our life–what we do with the unmerited grace that God gives us.

When I was a Protestant, I used to think that 1 John was contrasting people who were saved with people who had never been saved in the first place. Depending upon the Bible version you are using, you may see the word “abide” used throughout 1 John. That word is a little obscure. It actually means “remain.” When I read 1 John with this definition in mind, it became clear that John was warning Christians about the deadly potential of not remaining in God. “Remaining” implies that one was in God in the first place.

God desires that we have confidence in our salvation and that we do not live in fear. But we can have peace and confidence, while knowing that there is always the potential for us to fall. 1 John 4:15-21 is particularly revealing:

“Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him, and he in God. And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”

This is powerful stuff. We can have moral assurance and confidence in our salvation by looking at our fruit.

I’ve been reading some early Church History, and it is interesting to note that it was universally believed that Christians facing martyrdom would lose their salvation if they denied Christ. Those are pretty harsh conditions! We have much less excuse to deny Christ by committing serious sin.


#20

Thanks for the responses, everyone! Sorry I’m a little late in getting back to the thread. A combination of a busy schedule on my end and apparent forum problems on this end has kept me from posting.

Scott Waddell:

Catholics have moral assurance that we will be saved. That is, Christ desires our salvation, and has promised it to those who hear and obey, therefore we will be saved based on His promise.

What we don’t have is absolute assurance. No one (Catholic, Protestant or otherwise) has this because it does not allow for possibilities like final impenitent rejection of God, self-delusion, etc.

That makes sense. I’m in the midst of reading Answer Me This, by Patrick Madrid, and I believe he explained it in a similar manner. The belief seems to be then that we can be certain that if we die now we will go to Heaven (assuming we are in the state of Grace). However, we cannot predict what we will do tomorrow or the next day or thirty years from now.

The explanations offered seem pretty simple. The idea seems to be that we must do just what Jesus said. Namely, love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself. Now, I have no problem with this whatsoever. The problem comes when people start adding things like, “Oh yeah, and you need to be Catholic. And, you need to believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. And you need to believe everything in the Catechism.” I worry that perhaps apologists try to make everything look prettier than it actually is. I have to admit, I’ll be reading some apologetics source, and I’ll be getting all excited and sure about Catholicism. Then, I’ll read the writings from some council (complete with all the anathemas) and I think, “Oh, they never mentioned all that.” I think sometimes apologists try to emphasize the similarities between Catholicism and Protestantism, while avoiding discussion of the differences. The thing is, Catholicism and Protestantism are very different. For me to leave my church and go to the Catholic Church is a *very * different decision than leaving my church to go to, say, the Nazarene Church or the Assembly of God Church.

continued…


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