Other possible understandings of Mortal Sin?


#1

That there are “mortal sins” — certain acts that can forfeit one’s salvation — is clear from Scripture and Tradition, and of course from Catholic teaching.

However, I wonder if we too readily equate this with the common understanding proposed by the Catechism, e.g., certain acts are grave in themselves, and committing these acts lend themselves to an automatic loss of the state of grace.

I may be wrong, but wasn’t today’s common Catholic description of mortal sin formulated by Aquinas — or at least made official theology at the Council of Trent?

I know that Eastern traditions will sometimes say they do no accept the distinction between mortal vs. venial sin, for example. (But usually what this means is the specific formulation by Roman Catholics, since Eastern Christians at least believe you can walk away from salvation).

At least in my personal life, one result I see from the typical Catholic formulation of mortal sin is that I’m always worrying that I’m in the state of grace one week, in the state of mortal sin the next week, and back and forth and back and forth. While I believe this might be possible, this mentality just doesn’t seem quite right. I’m not blaming the teaching on mortal sin. But I wonder if we have the best formulation of it now.

However, it doesn’t take much research to see how older Catholics remember mortal sin back in the day (“eating meat on Friday meant going to hell,” etc.). At the very least, it is possible to have an unhealthy understanding of mortal sin, even when taking the current teaching at face value.

Basic question: ARE there any other possible descriptions of mortal sin in Catholic theology? What about in Eastern theology? Or in the first 1,000 years of the Faith?


Is it "lucky" to die in a state of grace
#2

I didn’t want to get to lengthy, so let me put this on a separate post.

I believe in my book Catholicism (sorry, can’t remember author), the author brings up some problems with how mortal sin has been understood, and this led him to distinguishing mortal sin that are just deemed so by the grave acts and then mortal sin that involves the entire person, as if that particular grave act was the manner by which the person is saying “THIS is the kind of person I want to be.”

The author was suggesting that in many mortal sins, the person is not actually defining themselves away from God.


#3

Something serious

You knew it was sin and you did it anyway.

Those three things. One does not accidently slip into mortal sin, it is a choice we each make each time.

Each night before you close your eyes, go over the day.

Did I do something that I know is sinful, that is serious, and I chose to do it anyway? If so, I ask forgiveness and do my act of contrition and make sure I get to Confession ASAP.


#4

This is known as the “fundamental option” and it is not compatible with the Church’s doctrine. See passages 69 to 70 here:

http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor.html

Is the book you reference the one by Fr. Richard McBrien? Just an FYI, that one was not given a Nihil Obstat or Imprimatur and has various problems, some of which were noted in a critique by the US Bishops’ conference committee on doctrine.


#5

Could you explain this a little more please? I struggle sometimes.
I have no reply but I am interested in this idea, I think.


#6

If you’re worrying about being in a state of mortal sin, as in, you are unsure, then chances are you’re not (or you are, and you’re just lying to yourself).

In order to commit a mortal sin, knowledge and will must be involved. In other words, in order to commit a mortal sin, you have to know you are committing a mortal sin. There should be no indecision about it.

There are two potential sources of mortal sins:

  1. Things which are inherently evil (pornography, abortion, masturbation, murder, etc.)
  2. A rejection of things which the Church has mandated

The things in category 1 are mortally grave in an of-themselves. Their object is gravely immoral, and therefore always and everywhere sinful.

The things in category 2, such as eating meat on Fridays, are not in and of themselves sinful, but obtain the category of sin due to the Church’s authority to lose and bind. Catholics have an obligation to be faithful to the Church, including disciplines which are put in place by her. Refusing to adhere to those disciplines shows a disregard for God’s will, in that we are choosing our own wants over the institution He put in charge of our salvation.


#7

I know what fundamental option is. The theory that is rejected is any theory that says specific acts themselves have no bearing on our salvation.

That is NOT what the book was saying. It was distinguishing mortal sin between merely objectively grave acts and then formally choosing that act in definitive way.

As for the book, I’m not sure if it is the book. But it’s a long book, and resourceful in many ways. Just because it doesn’t have official church approval doesn’t really bother me, because I know enough to discern when something is in fishy territory.


#8

Here it is! Found it.


#9

This seems like the fundamental option understanding directly rejected by the Church (it specifically addresses the “entire person” approach and the objection to people going in and out of the state of grace, etc.). Compare with Veritatis Splendor:

  1. Here an important pastoral consideration must be added. According to the logic of the positions mentioned above, an individual could, by virtue of a fundamental option, remain faithful to God independently of whether or not certain of his choices and his acts are in conformity with specific moral norms or rules. By virtue of a primordial option for charity, that individual could continue to be morally good, persevere in God’s grace and attain salvation, even if certain of his specific kinds of behaviour were deliberately and gravely contrary to God’s commandments as set forth by the Church.

In point of fact, man does not suffer perdition only by being unfaithful to that fundamental option whereby he has made “a free self-commitment to God”.113 With every freely committed mortal sin, he offends God as the giver of the law and as a result becomes guilty with regard to the entire law (cf. Jas 2:8-11); even if he perseveres in faith, he loses “sanctifying grace”, “charity” and “eternal happiness”.114 As the Council of Trent teaches, “the grace of justification once received is lost not only by apostasy, by which faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin”.115

  1. As we have just seen, reflection on the fundamental option has also led some theologians to undertake a basic revision of the traditional distinction between mortal sins and venial sins. They insist that the opposition to God’s law which causes the loss of sanctifying grace — and eternal damnation, when one dies in such a state of sin — could only be the result of an act which engages the person in his totality: in other words, an act of fundamental option. According to these theologians, mortal sin, which separates man from God, only exists in the rejection of God, carried out at a level of freedom which is neither to be identified with an act of choice nor capable of becoming the object of conscious awareness. Consequently, they go on to say, it is difficult, at least psychologically, to accept the fact that a Christian, who wishes to remain united to Jesus Christ and to his Church, could so easily and repeatedly commit mortal sins, as the “matter” itself of his actions would sometimes indicate. Likewise, it would be hard to accept that man is able, in a brief lapse of time, to sever radically the bond of communion with God and afterwards be converted to him by sincere repentance. The gravity of sin, they maintain, ought to be measured by the degree of engagement of the freedom of the person performing an act, rather than by the matter of that act.

#10

Actually, in the last section of this text the author is saying how people changing from religious to non religious by choosing to say miss Sunday mass is to cheapen people. But surely that’s exactly what people do!

I think some people do this from time to time, possibly because they have a tenuous grip on belief? That may be true for some I think. I have done this in the not too distant past I must admit. And it can feel like turning a switch on and off.

Personally, I have done this but I know that God knows why I’m missing the day of obligation for example, so presumably that’s what others do too.

Interesting, thank you.


#11

I do not think that is what the author is implying, since he addresses Veritatis Splendor elsewhere by saying that JPII is addressing those who do not accept that specific acts can change one’s fundamental option. The author is saying they can do just that.

JPII goes on in para. 70:

Consequently, the fundamental orientation can be radically changed by particular acts. Clearly, situations can occur which are very complex and obscure from a psychological viewpoint, and which influence the sinner’s subjective imputability. But from a consideration of the psychological sphere one cannot proceed to create a theological category, which is precisely what the ‘fundamental option’ is, understanding it in such a way that it objectively changes or casts doubt upon the traditional concept of mortal sin".

JPII is worried about those theories that separate acts, in themselves immoral, from the person’s self-determination.

But I’m talking about something a bit more specific, already within the framework of traditional Catholic teaching.

For there are unhealthy and (I think) incorrect ways of explaining mortal sin which suggest that people are constantly going in and out and in and out of grace — even every other week. JPII mentions this in your quote above, not as rejecting it, but by paraphrasing the reasoning of some fundamental option theorists.

But one orthodox way of solving the dilemma is suggested when JPII goes on to say that:

In any event, both in moral theology and in pastoral practice one is familiar with cases in which an act which is grave by reason of its matter does not constitute a mortal sin because of a lack of full awareness or deliberate consent on the part of the person performing it.

So I think the crux of the issue might be re-hashed as this: HOW often do people, who otherwise go in and out of grace (objectively, by appearances), ACTUALLY and FORMALLY do so, through actual full consent of the will?

I think that a conception of mortal sin that has people falling out of grace every other week is neither plausible nor reasonable. I think it does “cheapen us as persons” as the author of Catholicism says above.


#12

Not to mention that that flies in the face of the pastoral practice of the early Church. They did NOT have confession like we do. In fact, Penance was sometimes only allowed once for the gravest offenses – well until the 3rd century, I believe.

Again, there seems to be other ways of understanding mortal sin in the church’s history.

And I’m patiently awaiting for fellow Eastern Catholics or other Eastern Christians to explain their tradition’s understanding of mortal sin.


#13

Uh…

“69. As we have just seen, reflection on the fundamental option has also led some theologians to undertake a basic revision of the traditional distinction between mortal sins and venial sins. They insist that the opposition to God’s law which causes the loss of sanctifying grace — and eternal damnation, when one dies in such a state of sin — could only be the result of an act which engages the person in his totality: in other words, an act of fundamental option. According to these theologians, mortal sin, which separates man from God, only exists in the rejection of God, carried out at a level of freedom which is neither to be identified with an act of choice nor capable of becoming the object of conscious awareness. Consequently, they go on to say, it is difficult, at least psychologically, to accept the fact that a Christian, who wishes to remain united to Jesus Christ and to his Church, could so easily and repeatedly commit mortal sins, as the “matter” itself of his actions would sometimes indicate. Likewise, it would be hard to accept that man is able, in brief lapse of time, to sever radically the bond of communion with God and afterwards be converted to him by sincere repentance. The gravity of sin, they maintain, ought to be measured by the degree of engagement of the freedom of the person performing an act, rather than by the matter of that act.”


#14

And, uh…

" 70. **The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia reaffirmed the importance and permanent validity of the distinction between mortal and venial sins, in accordance with the Church’s tradition. And the 1983 Synod of Bishops, from which that Exhortation emerged, “not only reaffirmed the teaching of the Council of Trent concerning the existence and nature of mortal and venial sins, but it also recalled that mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent”.

The statement of the Council of Trent does not only consider the “grave matter” of mortal sin; it also recalls that its necessary condition is “full awareness and deliberate consent”. In any event, both in moral theology and in pastoral practice one is familiar with cases in which an act which is grave by reason of its matter does not constitute a mortal sin because of a lack of full awareness or deliberate consent on the part of the person performing it. Even so, “care will have to be taken not to reduce mortal sin to an act of ‘fundamental option’ — as is commonly said today — against God”, seen either as an explicit and formal rejection of God and neighbour or as an implicit and unconscious rejection of love. "For mortal sin exists also when a person knowingly and willingly, for whatever reason, chooses something gravely disordered. In fact, such a choice already includes contempt for the divine law, a rejection of God’s love for humanity and the whole of creation: the person turns away from God and loses charity. Consequently, the fundamental orientation can be radically changed by particular acts. Clearly, situations can occur which are very complex and obscure from a psychological viewpoint, and which influence the sinner’s subjective imputability. But from a consideration of the psychological sphere one cannot proceed to create a theological category, which is precisely what the ‘fundamental option’ is, understanding it in such a way that it objectively changes or casts doubt upon the traditional concept of mortal sin"."


#15

@Jerzy what are you “uhh”-ing about?

Please don’t make a straw man.

This isn’t about THAT version of the fundamental option.

Please re-read my posts – and quotes – from VS.

To say it’s either Fundamental Option VS. traditional Roman understanding of Mortal Sin is very simplistic. Again, I’d ask for Eastern Christian understandings — which, too, are ancient and based on their own spiritual understanding. Not to mention how the early Church practiced Penance, and we can’t forget how the Church’s theology has developed, especially thanks to Aquinas and the legal tradition, too.


#16

The problem is the author you cite rejects the understanding that every serious sin committed with knowledge and consent is a mortal sin. He adds an additional condition–a choice to maintain or change one’s orientation toward God–he adds the “fundamental option” on top of those conditions. He says one sin under the traditional conditions does not necessarily affect one’s fundamental orientation toward God unless there is a deliberate choice to have it affect his orientation toward God (he gives the deliberate choice to blow off Mass as an example that does not change one’s orientation). Veritatis Spendor says the opposite–each act meeting those conditions does necessarily affect that fundamental orientation by its very nature.

(I only cited paragraph 69 above to save space, the paragraphs after it show why the understanding summarized there is wrong).


#17

I’m certainly not trying to make a strong man out of your argument, but rather this is the meaning that I gather from what you’ve had to say. And it would appear that there’s at least one other poster on this thread who thinks that what you’re proposing contradicts these parts of the same document that you referenced yourself.

Here’s one example:

And here’s part of the relevant piece from VS:


#18

From an old EO Catechism (approved by the big four patriarchates in synod to be used everywhere to teach the faith):

Question 18.

What is mortal Sin ?

Answer.

Mortal Sin is, when the perverse Will of Man doeth a thing manifestly forbidden by the divine Law ; or, on the other hand, omitted to do, with the whole Heart and Desire, that which is commanded of God, whereby Charity towards God and our Neighbour is broken.

This Will of Man excludeth from the Grace of God, and killeth him who fulfilleth it in his Works. For which Reason their Degree of Sin is said to be mortal ; according to the Apostle {Rom. vi. 23), The Wages of Sin is Death.

after discussing original sin, it continues:

Question 21.
What is voluntary mortal Sin ?

Answer.

Voluntary mortal Sin is that which, after having received Baptism, and being arrived in Years of Discretion, laying aside the Love of God and of our Neighbour, and of our own free Will we commit against the manifest Command of God. By which Sin we are deprived of the divine Grace that we received in holy Baptism, and of the Kingdom of Heaven, and become Captives to eternal Death : As saith the Apostle {Rom. vi. 16), Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves Servants to obey., his Servants ye are to whom ye obey ; whether of Sin unto Death, or of Obedience unto Righteousness ? This Sin is taken away by Repentance and the Mercy of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, when his Priest absolveth the Penitent at Confession from his Sins.

In St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite’s Exomologetarion (one of the most important Orthodox books on confession), he defines mortal sins as “those voluntary sins which either corrupt the love for God alone, or the love for neighbor and for God, and which render again the one committing them an enemy of God and liable to the eternal death of hell.”

He even shows how they often describe more degrees than just mortal and venial (aka “pardonable”) with an example:

The initial movement of anger is pardonable; near to the pardonable is for someone to say harsh words and get hot-tempered. A non-mortal sin is to swear; near the non-mortal is for someone to strike with the hand. Between the non-mortal and the mortal is to strike with a small stick; near the mortal is to strike with a large stick, or with a knife, but not in the area of the head. A mortal sin is to murder. A similar pattern applies to the other sins.

He also cites elsewhere a saint from the 6th century:

St. Anastasios of Antioch confirms this:

“If we fall into some small, pardonable sins on account of our being human, either with our tongue, our ears, our eyes, and we fall as victims of deceit into vainglory, or sorrow, or anger, or some other like sin, let us condemn ourselves and confess to God. Thus let us partake of the Holy Mysteries, believing that the reception of the divine Mysteries is unto the purification of these small sins (though not the grave and evil and impure sins which we may have committed, regarding which we should seek the Mystery of Confession).”


#19

In the East we do not categorize sin as in the Latin West, sin is sin. The Greek word, amartia, translates in English to miss the mark. We are called, to the best of our ability, to live a Christ-like life. When we “miss the mark,” whether we cheated on a test or stole a car, we fall short of the teachings, precepts and the commandments of God.

ZP


#20

The Eastern sources I cited above (ranging from the 6th century to the 18th) seemed to say otherwise. It seems there is (or at least was) a distinction between mortal and “pardonable” sins in the East. The Exomologetarion of St. Nikodemos goes so far as to make even finer distinctions. Is the more vague approach a newer development?


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