Reconciling hell and consent for mortal sins

This seems like the best forum for this question. It occurred to me after reading Fr. Spitzer’s treatment of hell in the third volume of his recent quartet - For God So Loved the World.

The CCC defines hell as the state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed.

Mortal sins seem fairly commonplace: grave matter; full knowledge; full consent. Lord knows I have had my share. But never have I committed a sin (I think) with the intent (consent?) to definitively exclude myself from communion with God, forever.

If that intent is required to fully “consent” to a mortal sin, it would seem as though actual instances of mortal sin would be very rare. On the other hand, if by “consent” we mean mere consent to the act (but not the definitive self-exclusion consequence) it seems as though most mortal sins (with no or imperfect contrition prior to death) would result in eternal punishment when the decedent never intended by their sin to definitively self-exclude themselves from communion with God, forever.

Admittedly, requiring an explicit intent to self-exclude-forever does give one a get-out-of-jail-free card so long as they do not meet that drastic criteria while nonetheless meeting the requirements of grave matter, knowledge, and consent to the act. But it seems somewhat severe to imput to a person a definitive intent to self-exclude from communion with God-for eternity-by way of a fairly commonplace mortal sin such as getting drunk with the boys or looking at porn once, for example.

So tl/dr: Given the Church’s understanding of hell, do mortal sins require consent to definitively self-exclude from communion with God, forever? If not, is it imputed by virtue of consenting to the mortally sinful act itself, with room for God’s mercy or mystery to nevertheless put into purgatory one who dies in a state of what looks like mortal sin but who somewhow still desired communion with Him, even imperfectly, prior to death?

The full consent of the will condition is satisfied if you know a certain action is of grave matter and you nevertheless go ahead. It does not mean consent requires you to sit down and debate with yourself before committing the act.

The problem with that line of thinking is that it’s too black and white. A rational person, given the choice between an eternity with God or an eternity in hell would choose hell. But in real life it isn’t black and white.

Imagine you’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes, or another similar disease. Your doctor says you don’t need insulin injections but tells you how to deal with it by eating right and getting exercise. You think even though you have a strong sweet tooth, the new regimen is doable, and you start out doing really well. Pretty soon though your sweet tooth takes control and you’re starting to sneak sweets. One little cookie once in a while won’t hurt anything, will it? But before you know it you’re sneaking sweets every day and you’re disease is getting out of control. Next time you see your doctor she tells you you’ll need the insulin injections after all if you want to live. You certainly didn’t give consent to that! But it was the natural result of everything else you consented to.

I know a woman who has diabetes who lost her foot to gangrene because she ignored the first warning signs that something was wrong. When she first noticed a black spot she fooled herself into thinking it wasn’t serious. She didn’t think she was consenting to losing her foot even though she knew that was a possibility.

That’s how it is with mortal sin and hell. We don’t choose between God and hell. We choose between God and our own desires, which inevitably lead to hell.

Tigre, I think Father Spitzer (in “God so Loved the World” pp. 307) does a good job explaining how the CCC got it’s treatment of hell.

In the following quotes, he also does a good job of unpacking “self-exclusion”.

"We must choose between two fundamental options: (1) God, others, and love, or (2) self-absorption and self-idolatry. We accomplish this process of self-definition through our decisions and actions during the course of our lives. Eventually those decisions and actions form habits (a second nature), and they become stronger and stronger, gradually forming our essence (our self-definition).
(Spitzer. “God so Loved the World”. pp. 305, 2016)

"The unconditionally loving God (the Father of Jesus) has no interest in punishing anyone, either out of vengeance or a sense of strict justice. He gives people what they really want for their eternal “happiness”. If their decisions and actions consistently manifest (without repentance) a desire for autonomy, self absorption, narcissism, and contempt for and abuse of others as well as a continual rejection (without repentance) of God, the blessed, and love, they come very close to a definitive preference or choice to be “excused” from Heaven and go to a place where unlove and anti-love reign supreme, where they can have what they truly want.

They will join other people who have the very same preference, which has the consequence of creating an atmosphere of abuse, contempt, hatred, emptiness, and darkness, with its attendant deep psychological pain. It seems that people might think that this pain is “worth it” in order to procure the “benefits” of Hell–more enmity, narcissism, contempt, abuse, and hatred. It is as if convinced sadists will embrace masochism in order to obtain greater levels of sadistic pleasure.

Is personal freedom capable of this? Jesus suggests that it is. …"
(Spitzer. “God so Loved the World”. pp. 308, 2016)

There are those who go as far as to affirm that mortal sin, which causes separation from God, only exists in the formal refusal directly opposed to God’s call, or in that selfishness which completely and deliberately closes itself to the love of neighbor. They say that it is only then that there comes into play the fundamental option, that is to say the decision which totally commits the person and which is necessary if mortal sin is to exist; by this option the person, from the depths of the personality, takes up or ratifies a fundamental attitude towards God or people. On the contrary, so-called “peripheral” actions (which, it is said, usually do not involve decisive choice), do not go so far as to change the fundamental option, the less so since they often come, as is observed, from habit. Thus such actions can weaken the fundamental option, but not to such a degree as to change it completely. Now according to these authors, a change of the fundamental option towards God less easily comes about in the field of sexual activity, where a person generally does not transgress the moral order in a fully deliberate and responsible manner but rather under the influence of passion, weakness, immaturity, sometimes even through the illusion of thus showing love for someone else. To these causes there is often added the pressure of the social environment.

In reality, it is precisely the fundamental option which in the last resort defines a person’s moral disposition. But it can be completely changed by particular acts, especially when, as often happens, these have been prepared for by previous more superficial acts. Whatever the case, it is wrong to say that particular acts are not enough to constitute mortal sin.

According to the Church’s teaching, mortal sin, which is opposed to God, does not consist only in formal and direct resistance to the commandment of charity. It is equally to be found in this opposition to authentic love which is included in every deliberate transgression, in serious matter, of each of the moral laws.

I agree. Those passages raised my questions. Does that sound like a description of someone who, for example, was in a state of grace but deliberately skipped Sunday Mass one time because they wanted to sleep in? Even if that person felt guilty afterwards, resolved to confess that sin, but was imperfectly contrite? By that one-time action, is the person saying “what I really want for my eternal happiness is to be definitively separated from God, forever”? Really?

If the answer is yes, fine. Frankly, it seems like that would have to be the answer otherwise hardly anyone would go to hell. I’m just trying to reconcile the quoted language with the corollary that a one-time pedestrian mortal sin is sufficient to constitute a decision to go to a place of anti-love forever.

Advertence is the “the process of being heedful”. With that in mind intention is of two kinds: actual intention, operating with the advertence of the intellect and virtual intention, arising from a prior volition which is accounted as continuing in some result produced by it. Full advertence of the intellect is required for mortal sin.

From the condemnation of the errors of Baius and Jansenius (Denz.-Bann., 1046, 1066, 1094, 1291-2) it is clear that for an actual personal sin a knowledge of the law and a personal voluntary act, free from coercion and necessity, are required. No mortal sin is committed in a state of invincible ignorance or in a half-conscious state. Actual advertence to the sinfulness of the act is not required, virtual advertence suffices. It is not necessary that the explicit intention to offend God and break His law be present, the full and free consent of the will to an evil act suffices.


Venial sin is committed when the matter of the sin is light, even though the advertence of the intellect and consent of the will are full and deliberate, and when, even though the matter of the sin be grave, there is not full advertence on the part of the intellect and full consent on the part of the will.

The true malice of mortal sin consists in a conscious and voluntary transgression of the eternal law, and** implies a contempt of the Divine will, a complete turning away from God**, our true last end, and a preferring of some created thing to which we subject ourselves.

This^ is what the OP’s question is concerned with.

Reconciliation with God and with the Church
5 Since every sin is an offence against God which disrupts our friendship with him, ‘the ultimate purpose of penance is that we should love God deeply and commit ourselves completely to him’.25 Therefore, the sinner who by the grace of a merciful God embraces the way of penance comes back to the Father who ‘first loved us’ (1 John 4: 19), to Christ who gave himself up for us,26 and to the Holy Spirit who has been poured out on us abundantly.27

The language here^, stating, “comes back to the Father” implies mortal, not venial, sin is being referred to.

1855 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.

Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.

1856 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:

The CCC ^ says much the same thing about mortal sin.

I think the matter we are discussing is:
Is it the (mortal) sin that turns us from God, and destroys our charity?
Is it our turning away from, or rejecting, God that makes the sin mortal?

I think this is a very tough question to answer. Where is that line? It seems to lie in a different spot for each person. A good way to cover all the bases is to make fear and/or love the primary motivator for avoiding sin.

A person who falls into such sins like a “pedestrian” has hardly been sincerely cooperating with the grace they have been given (if they have received any healing grace to counteract the effects of original sin and especially if they have received sanctifying grace through the Sacraments) and has certainly not been asking to receive and preparing himself for additional graces to avoid such sins.

So they are already teetering through their own fault.

It must be the former. The only way I can see this coherently is that the mortal sin itself (consent to the act) destroys our charity. Implied in the act is the deliberate turning away from God.

It is what we do afterwards that determines whether we have made a truly “definitive” self-exclusion. If we do not desire to seek formal reconciliation, we have made a definitive choice. If we have that desire, we have contrition. Whether that rises to “perfect contrition” sufficient to avoid hell is the ultimate question. That will have to be left up to God. Ideally, one would at least attempt at a minimum a formal act of perfect contrition combined with a resolution to confess at the soonest possible time. However, I suspect that there is a lot of room for mercy in there. Another one for my “mystery” category.

Thanks all for your responses.

OK. So, consistent with my thinking, right?

The two are bound together… Can you see how? Charity is the habit of friendship with God which is confirmed upon death. God always gives us what we desire most at our death: Himself, or not Himself.

I do. But that description is incomplete. And the talk of “habit” is misleading. True, a habit of friendship is confirmed upon death. If that is the case, we desire Him most.

But a habit of sin is not required to desire not-Him the most. Rather a lifetime of obedience followed by a single mortal sin will suffice. This is where the definition of hell and the talk of habit starts being confusing, to me at least.

All the more reason to hurry to reconciliation I suppose

It is the uncharitable act done willfully which is the destruction of charity and is the turning away. The turning away is another name for mortal sin. This may occur with grave matters.

Whoever wrote that has some explaining to do. The Church does not have a list of acts that it labels as mortal sins, acts are labeled as grave matter by the Church. Also, homosexuality is, according to the CCC, “intrinsically disordered” not necessarily a mortal sin.

Anyway, there is still the matter of habit and fundamental choice that is difficult to explain away.

Homosexual acts are defined as objectively mortal sins as well as masturbation, fornication and adultery. All acts which are of grave matter in their object or their circumstance are objectively mortal sins. The fundamental option addresses only the actor’s intention.

In the abstract, the fundamental theory – to separate oneself from God, to mortally sin, one must will to do so – is true.

However, in the concrete, the moral choices we make over time develop in us virtues or vices, that is our choices determine our character. Sanctifying or habitual grace strengthens our will with virtue, that is the disposition to choose correctly.

While the absence of sanctifying grace does not preclude actual grace operating on one’s will bidding one to choose the real good, in the course of a lifetime, repetitive vicious choices deaden the voice of actual grace and one semi-consciously but not with impunity eventually with grave matter commits the mortal sin which kills charity in one’s soul.

The vicious man who kills the charity in him with a thousand cuts will not be excused because he did not intend in any one sin of grave matter to separate from God but because he did not will otherwise a thousand times.

See Veritas Splendor 65-70 for a much better philosophical, theological, moral and psychological explanation.…-splendor.html

Where do you get this (bolded) from? Please cite a source.

Here’s what the CCC says.

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that **“homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”**142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

And here’s the definition of mortal sin from the CCC

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. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart133 do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

Please not give the impression that you know the culpability of every homosexual act, person who masturbates or commits adultery.

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.278 He becomes guilty:

  • of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
  • of *detraction *who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;279

Please do not cause unjust injury to people with SSA by saying that homosexuality is an objectively mortal sin. There are two other elements involved in making grave matter into a mortal sin.

That was a nice read. I think I know what group of people it was aimed at.
Anyway, it is still insufficient in answering the OP question. The argument of fundamental choice is put forth, in Veritas Splendor 65-70, as if the subtleties of it are ignored in favor of an all or nothing position against the ‘fundamental choice’ argument. While at the same time acknowledging that fundamental choice exists.

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