Non-Catholics and Mortal Sin...

The Catholic Church in Her Catechism teaches the following about mortal sin:

"Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him…Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us—that is, charity—necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation…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…Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments…”

Now, since protestants have full knowledge of the Ten Commandments (which constitute grave matter), and since they presumably [with free will and deliberate consent] break the ten commandments (or have at least done so once), are protestants in a perpetual state of mortal sin?

Essentially, the reason that I ask this questions is that unlike the situation of Catholics who commit mortal sins, conversion of heart and God’s newly initiated mercy is not able to occur through the normal form of sacramental confession for protestants (because they don’t believe in or practice sacramental confession like Catholics do).

This said, there is one extra ordinary method of converting one’s heart and attaining God’s newly initiated mercy (after baptism).

Essentially, it is to ask God for forgiveness through prayer in one’s heart, but the Catholic Church teaches that the stipulation in this situation is that the sinner is doing so in a state of perfect contrition. Perfect contrition is sorrow for one’s sins (and a resolve to repent and turn from them) purely out of love for God. This is a hard state to be in, though, and it is very rare. Most people (even Catholics) don’t ever attain perfect contrition. Instead, they attain imperfect contrition (or attrition), which is sorrow for sins (and a resolve to repent and turn from them) out of love of God AND any combination of the following – fear of God and His eternal wrath (aka: hell) AND/OR the realization of the ugliness of the sin that one has committed. On a side note, some people never have sorrow for their sins due to the motivation of love of God, but instead only have sorrow for their sins via either or both of the other two motivations – of fear of God or repulse at their evil and sinfulness. This said, even these people have achieved imperfect contrition (or attrition), because in God’s infinite mercy, he accepts any form of sorrow for sins, but for mortal sins to be forgiven/absolved (and the sinner to be taken out of the state of mortal sin and put back into the state of grace), He does require perfect contrition or sacramental confession from the sinner.

So since most people don’t attain perfect contrition (and instead only attain imperfect contrition/attrition), most people actually need sacramental confession to be forgiven of their mortal sins, but as mentioned before, protestants don’t practice or believe in sacramental confession.

So if they have knowingly and free-willingly broken one of the Ten Commandments and have thereby committed mortal sin, do protestants (absent from such perfect contrition) remain in that spiritually dead state perpetually?

I understand your argument, and incidentally support sacramental confession, yet I have never been given an satisfactory explanation as to why one must confess one’s sins to a priest to be forgiven. It seems to be this thing we do and nobody knows why.

“It’s because it’s so hard to repent of one’s sins in a state of perfect contrition,” one might argue, but it still never really answers the burning question. :shrug:

Jesus gave the apostles the authority to bind or loose sins. The sacaraments are reminders of God’s promie of grace and that salvation is at work in our lives. On top of that its been my experience people who claim to prefer to confess their sins directly to God are no more likely to do that then they are to confess to a priest.

OK, I follow. So then why would one be in error to confess directly to God?

And, I’m not trying to trick you into anything; I’m really just trying to understand.

Because of John 20:23.

How would you be certain your sins are absolved. If God intended direct forgivenss why give the apostles authority to forgive sins. again sacarments are evidence of salvation at work in our lives. They are how God dispenses grace as he promised to forever to be present to us.

I got the following from this website:

What it comes down to is that Christ is the one true mediator between God and man. But how he accomplishes the mediation is his choice. Upon ascending into heaven Christ instituted a church that would be his earthly guide for all nations. A church that would be protected and guided by the Holy Spirit, to preserve his Christian truths and guide all men to Jesus for their salvation. Essentially, this is where the Catholic Church came from. It was founded on Peter, the first of the popes. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells Simon after his confession of faith:

“Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” --Matthew 16:17-19

Basically, in this passage Jesus does a curious thing. He changes Simon’s name to Peter. Peter translated into Aramaic (the language of Jesus and his apostles) is Kepha, or rock. So what Jesus did was say that Peter is the rock. Not just any rock, but the rock on which he will build his church. Jesus also says that the church would be infallible and would preserve his truths when he says “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it…” (knowing the truth of Christianity certainly is necessary to be saved). He also gives Peter binding and loosing powers as well as the keys of heaven (strong symbols of authority) thus giving Peter ultimate teaching authority over the church. In order to preserve this authority and give the gift of teaching to the church, it had to be preserved from error in the future. This is why the successors of Peter have always been the leaders of the Church.



True ability to interpret scripture and preserve the teachings of Christ are only fully possible within the Catholic Church. This is evidenced by the wide array of Protestantism, which hold a large amount of conflicting teachings (an example is the necessity of Baptism) even though all claim to be interpreting the Bible correctly. Although much truth exists in other Christian religions, the only infallible truth lies within the Bible and the Traditions of the Catholic Church. If Christ had not established a teaching, living, apostolic church then how could we properly understand the doctrines of the Bible? Note that 2 Peter 1:20 says “know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation”. And even the Ethiopian eunuch on his way to Damascus while trying to interpret scripture asks for Philip’s help (who is ordained as a priest in Acts 6:5). "Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied “How can I unless someone instructs me?” (Acts 8:30-31) Thus the church has the authority to properly teach the doctrines of faith for our salvation. This is why I am Catholic. Because without the Church I can’t be sure that Christ’s teachings are being properly preserved. If you read the Father’s of the Church their writings correlate with Catholic views on a ministerial priesthood, the sacraments and many other Catholic doctrines. The first Christians themselves were Catholics. Acts 6:1-6 shows the establishment of the priesthood under the apostles of the Church.

In the end, it is the divinely ordained teaching authority of the Church that assures me of the validity and necessity of the Christian Sacraments; especially that of Confession. The sacrament of reconciliation (confession), the Church teaches, is the normative, necessary means by which a Christian receives the forgiveness of God. The efficacy of confession is derived from Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, where he served as the divine substitute for our transgressions. Not only does the Church teach the need of regular confession, but the Bible also records Christ’s institution of the sacrament following his resurrection from the dead when he first appeared to the assembly of apostles (John 20:19-23):

*On the evening of the first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” *

*][On a side note, the Church (which has apostolic succession) has used its Christ-given authority of loosing and binding powers and the keys of heaven in order to choose how sins are forgiven. As such, the Church has decided that unless a person has perfect contrition, he/she cannot be forgiven and receive absolution from mortal sin unless he/she confesses his/her sins to a priest]. This is a valid and legitimate authority of the Church, and it is well within the Church’s purview (as per Christ).

Continuing on, though, this moment, when Jesus breathed on his apostles, constituted both the institution of the Catholic ministerial priesthood and the sacrament of confession. Christ gave his first priests, the apostles, the authority to forgive and retain sins. It was his intention that all sin be forgiven through the Church by aural confession of sins to the priests. We should realize that in Holy Scripture God breathed on man only twice: once when he breathed life into the clay of earth to create man (Genesis 2:7) and the second time when he breathed the life of grace into his Church. Both instances were that of an intimate, riveting moment between God and man. It is clear that the ability to forgive and retain sin given to the apostles, requires that each of us (even to this day) confess our sins to the priests of the Church so that our sins can be forgiven or retained.

And simply put, the Church (with Christ-given right and authority) chooses to retain sins that are not confessed to a priest in the sacrament of confession (unless the sinner has perfect contrition).


I truly appreciate you trying to explain, ignatius, but this is sort of argument that I always find confusing, and is perhaps why I always fail to quite grasp the concept of the necessity of confession.

It’s like arguing one could never be certain that God has answered his prayers for his cancer to go into remission unless he sought out extreme unction. Does that make sense? Perhaps it will at least give you a better understanding of my thought process.

tmyers: that does help. I think the key point you make is this: “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Unless, I am misunderstanding, anyone who has received the Holy Spirit can forgive sins, which doesn’t necessarily constitute a priest. Right?

Incorrect. Only the priest is ordained to act in the person of Christ to administer the sacraments already laid out in John 20. Jesus was speaking to his disciples…

side note: I find this interesting because most of my life I always imagined Jesus speaking only to the 12 apostles. The truth is that he spoke to his disciples. If you notice the painting of the last supper only includes the 12, but in fact it was for close to 100. On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down, he came down upon the disciples, not just the 12 apostles. Just a thought on this to add to the mix.

Conor7, I respect your logic here, and it is valid, but it is not sound.

Basically, your argument takes on the following syllogistic form of two premises and a conclusion:

*]Christ told his apostles/disciples to “Receive the Spirit.”
*]Directly after, Christ also tells His apostles/disciples that "whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
*]Therefore, whoever receives the Holy Spirit also receives the power to forgive/retain sins.

Now, notice that the conclusion does not necessarily follow. You can soundly argue that anyone who has the power to forgive/retain sins must have received the Holy Spirit first, but you cannot soundly argue that anyone who has received the Holy Spirit definitely receives (as a bonus) the power to forgive/retain sins, too.

But with this in mind, the question is still begged: Why can’t anyone who has received the Holy Spirit practice the power of forgiving/retaining sins?

Well the answer is that when Jesus told His apostles/disciples to receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and then gave them the power to forgive/retain sins, He was instituting the Sacrament of Confirmation; not the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Jesus did not institute the Sacrament of Holy Orders until the Last Supper.

The Sacrament of Holy Orders began with the Last Supper, when Christ Jesus commissioned his Apostles to continue the Eucharistic celebration. He also commissioned his Apostles following the Resurrection to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8). Thomas Aquinas makes the point that only Christ is the true priest, the others serving as his ministers (Hebrews 8:4). St. Ignatius, Bishop of Syria around 100 AD, in his Letter to the Magnesians (6), established the hierarchy of bishop, priest, and deacon for the early Churches, the pattern which still exists today. Bishops are the successors of the Apostles, and priests and deacons are his assistants in rendering service. Men are ordained to the priesthood in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, as the sacrament confers upon the priest the character to act in the person of Christ - in persona Christi.

Essential and key here are the facts that Christ is the True Priest and that the Sacrament of Holy Orders confers on the common priest the character to act in the person of Christ (or in Christ’s true priesthood). Now this is where apostolic succession comes into play, which serves to imply that the apostles/disciples did not receive the power to pass on the Holy Spirit to other persons until Christ instituted and conferred on them the Sacrament of Holy Orders. This will make more sense later, though.

To begin in this explanation, it should be noted that only Christ (being the true priest) has the power to forgive sins, but He shared that power with the apostles/disciples at Pentecost. Equally true, though, is the fact that only Christ (being the true priest) has the power to ordain or confer His true priesthood on any person. But whoever Christ does this to will inherently also receive this same power, because that person will then share in Christ’s true priesthood, as well as in the powers/faculties (which are the same as Christ’s) that come with that office. Well, the apostles/disciples were the first to receive the powers/faculties of Christ’s true priesthood. When this happened, they did in fact receive the power to pass on the true priesthood to successive generations, and with their true priesthood (and therefore full power of Christ), they also received the power to pass on the authority of forgiving/retaining sins to successive generations.

Now, it is a matter of fact, historically, that the apostles/disciples chose to only pass on the authority of forgiving/retaining sins to those persons that have been ordained in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and who therefore share in the true priesthood of Christ. This is the reason that only ordained persons can forgive sins, and not all confirmed persons who have received the Holy Spirit.

But as said before, anyone who has received the authority to forgive/retain sins must have already received the Holy Spirit first. This is the reason that the sacrament of confirmation came (and continues to come) before the sacrament of Holy Orders. Anyone who receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders is required to have already received the Sacrament of Confirmation (which is the Sacrament of the Holy Spirit).

Hopefully this all makes more sense, and kind of helps.

I understand your thought process just fine. What you need to ask yourself is why would Jesus give the apostles the authority to forgive sins if “confessing” directly to God was acceptable? You cant deny this truth of scripture. You need to resovle that question for yourself.

Thanks tmyers, that’s a better explanation than I have ever heard. Yet, if I’m being honest, it puts my faith on pretty shaky ground. It doesn’t account for those who are mute, not to mention, it would prove very perilous indeed to ever leave the proximity of a priest.

It’s troubling.

LOL So if someone says well a mute could write out their sins you’d say well that would account for those with no hands. And what of those that cant hear how do they ever hear the dictates God has put forward? But when someone says they could use sign language you’d say what of those who are also blind. You dont need to go that far to tell us you dont believe in the practice of reconciliation.

With all due respect it doesnt appear as though you are genuinely seeking an answer. Just my observation. Please forgive me if I am wrong

Here is how I was taught. I believe we both agree that when we are in a state of mortal sin we have pretty much broke our bond with God for the moment. We have separated ourself from him.

Now this is something that always helped me. Remember Job, when his friends were in a state of mortal sin, Remember God told Jobs friends to have Job pray for them.

God says while Job my servant offers prayers for you I shall show him favour. In a way I thi nk it still works like that. When we confess mortal sin to a Priest, we are like Jobs friends we have angered God, and the Priest is the servant of God and prays for us also.

But here is another thing, that I really believe to be true. When you go to a Priest and admit that sin out loud isn’t it much harder then to just pray to God? See there is something different between holding sin in, and confessing in outward. When you let it out, its like you can truly let go of it. It no longer has a hold on you.

ITs like when you say it outward you got rid of it. How many people pay millions of dollars to Doctors and are not truly healed until they admit out loud what is truly bothering them. Once its out, its like you can truly let Go.

I think that is why God made it that way.

When do Catholics Believe that the Apostles recieved the Holy spirit?

If you read the scripture you will see that the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost.:thumbsup:

Well, then can you explain this scripture to me?

Jhn 20:22 And when he had said this, he breathed on [them], and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:

When Jesus Breathed on them, did they recieve the Holy Ghost?

Yep you found it.

Also after Jesus came back he breathed on the Apostles and said receive the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit entered into them.

On the day of Pentecost it is said the Holy Spirit came upon them.

I am not real sure if it is exactly the same thing, But I will find out for you for sure. I am on my way out, if it is not answered before I get back I will get you the Church teaching.

Good question though, I never really through about it that way.

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