So even if someone dies in mortal sin, we don't know if they are in hell? I thought the church taught that dying in mortal sin=hell

Okay, for example, a man dies while cheating on his wife with another woman. He’s not a sex addict or forced into the situation, and simply does it because he is a mean and evil person breaking their marriage vows. So this person has a heart attack during the act with the other woman. I always thought since if one died in mortal sin, they were in hell. But now I hear people saying “oh we can’t judge who’s in hell”. I understand in most cases we can’t, but aren’t some cases pretty easy to judge? Lets say a High School student decides to get “smashed” and drives and dies. He does so freely and willing since he’s not an alcoholic and knows the dangers. You can’t tell me he is resting in peace with the lord.
So is my thinking wrong? I was taught in Catholic high school that dying in mortal sin= hell. So therefore, those who die in mortal sin are in hell. And please don’t tell me about god’s mercy. God established his rules and laws through his church. I doubt he lets anyone slide in too easy. You at least have to be sorry, and repent, or are completely ignorant of the seriousness of your sin

No… dying in a state of mortal sin is still held to condemn one lose eternal life with God.

The problem is, we cannot judge a person’s reasons – do we know that the man is committing adultery because he’s a “mean and evil person”? Of course not – there’s no way that we can know that. Do we know that the student who dies in a drunk driving accident meets the criteria for mortal sin? No – we cannot know that: it’s between him and the Lord.

More to the point – it’s always possible that, at the point of death, the person experienced an interior conversion of heart, and contrition for their sins, and a desire to repent. It’s impossible to know whether that happened, or even more significantly, whether God accepted their contrition and forgave them.

So, the issue here isn’t doctrine, it’s the ability to know the heart and soul of a person at their death – only God has that ability. That’s what’s at the heart of Jesus’ admonition to “judge not”: our role as Christians is to offer fraternal correction (where appropriate), not to pass judgment (“oh, he’s definitely going to hell”)…! :wink:

I would assert that there are no cases that are “pretty easy to judge”…!

1 Like

It seems to me that you are juggling a number of issues together. The constant teaching of the Catholic Church has always been that anyone who dies in the state of mortal sin goes to hell–do not collect $200.00. Now, that is the constant official teaching of the Church. However, the Church also wisely recognizes that no one can read the hearts of men except for God. And, no one knows for certain what happens at the moment of death. So, that brings me to your question about claiming someone is in hell. Because we do not know how or if God intervenes at the moment of death, the Church wisely notes that no one can be said to be in hell definitively. The Church even reserves declaring this in the case of Judas. We know for certain that Judas despaired and took his own life–a clear mortal sin. But, the Church cannot say that he or anyone else is in hell because she does not know what happened at the moment of death. That does not mean that the Church is saying that no one goes to hell. The Church is merely saying that she cannot make individual assertions of damnation. The Church is prudent in making judgments that she cannot make. Only God has that right. I hope that makes sense.


Let us hope and even pray for the person – for God is outside of time --and our prayers can accompany the person then in his last moments.

I get it, but it seems lenient. It would be like allowing someone who failed their medical exams to be a doctor because “there heart is in the right place”. If you fail, its over. Besides, are people really being sorry, or are they just scared because they don’t want to end up in hell in spite doing things they knew that would get them there. I worry about this so much, especially in our own western culture that is christian. People know whats right and wrong, but refuse God. I think its junk that someone can slap God in the face their whole lives, but by saying sorry they get it.

Now don’t get me wrong I understand it isn’t clear cut. I think addicts are okay because even if they sinned by taking it the first time, it kind of reduces their ability to think and judge clearly. Same if people are really emotional. I’m not trying to be cruel to people. It just sees dumb that someone can just barely get by just by saying “sorry”

Jesus tells us to “watch” for we do not know the day or our.

Sister is speaking of the reality that we cannot know what transpires in a soul in the last minute – remember also Jesus’s parable of the workers in the field – those who came at the last hour – got paid the same as those of the first :slight_smile:

(such though does not mean that there will not be different experiences and “reward” when we are with God)

And this does not mean of course that person will indeed come to “life” prior to death and thus enter into life (after purified by God). But that we cannot know.

And that while on the one hand we need in our own case – “watch” and pray and “remain” living in Christ–and realize that we do not know the day or the hour.

And Jesus was quite serious that we could choose otherwise…

and on the other hand pray and hope (and work) for the salvation of others – so that they may have true life in Christ. Here and after this pilgrimage. And in the case of those who appear to leave this world not in friendship with God --not in grace --to still hope and know that we do not see what takes place even in the last moments.

Do those who die in mortal sin --choose hell? yes Such is a reality. But we do not know what transpires in the last moments of any particular persons life.

God wills all of us have true life in Christ --and have it abundantly. Let us remain in him and propose the Gospel so others may know him and such life.

This part of your statement made me think of this:

[bibledrb]Matthew 20:1-16[/bibledrb]

This is purely my opinion here, and I’m sure I’ll get slammed for it, but here goes–God’s rules are black and white: Die in mortal sin, go to Hell. HOWEVER, God doesn’t judge in black and white, I don’t think. He can judge in shades if gray. These rules are put in place so bluntly so we’ll be careful and stay in the state of grace. God knows everyone’s heart, struggles, and personal situations better than we can possibly grasp. Only He can decide what a person deserves once they face Him in the afterlife.

There is a story told of the Curé d’Ars who consoled a woman whose husband had committed suicide by jumping from a bridge. The woman was distraught because she was sure he was now in hell(the psychological factors involved in suicide were not known back then). The Curé advised her to have hope and to pray for the repose of his soul as the man had time to repent and to recite an act of contrition before he died. The point of this is that although one who dies in mortal sin goes to hell, we cannot know who dies in mortal sin. The Church is audacious enough to declare when someone is in heaven, but only after a long investigation. She never takes the chance of declaring someone in hell.


1492 Repentance (also called contrition) must be inspired by motives that arise from faith. If repentance arises from love of charity for God, it is called “perfect” contrition; if it is founded on other motives, it is called “imperfect.”

Hi WildCatholic

Personally I pray in hope (but not certainty) for all who have died. If we look at the Orthodox Church we see a simpler view of praying for the dead than is found in the Catholic Church - that we can’t know when God can’t or won’t save someone, so prayers are offered for all, in hope, just as Judas Maccabeus prayed for those soldiers of his who died in sin. The more defined view of the Catholic Church, that destiny is fixed upon death (and so prayers can only be said to shorten a person’s time in purgatory), is a somewhat later doctrinal development - it’s not found in the early traditions of the Church, traditions which Catholic and Orthodox shared.

Perhaps it seems lenient, but the point is for us to avoid judging, because it’s not good for us. :wink: By judging others as ‘bad’, it elevates our ‘goodness’.

I know one woman who had issue with Catholics and she liked to say she was a ‘good person’, because there are awful people in the world. And there are. The problem is, she never compared herself to the saints and said that she could do much better. That’s our human tendency, isn’t it?

It is better to judge ourselves, our actions and attitudes and have a good confession, and not to look at the sins of others and say they deserve hell. Perhaps they do, but without Christ’s mercy, we couldn’t enter heaven either.

If we see people doing bad things, remember that without God’s grace, we could do those things and worse still.

Actually … Yes we do, if they actually did die in mortal sin (if we could judge this truly) then yes they will go to hell. Where people get confused is the nature of ‘grave matter’ as opposed to mortal sin.

Grave matter = sin which is objectively grave

mortal sin = sin which is objectively grave

  1. committed with full knowledge that the sin is grave
  2. and deliberate consent of the will

This is the difference between ‘mortal sin’ and grave sin. We have a tenancy to describe ‘objectively grave sin’ (missing mass, murder, theft, abortion) as being ‘mortal sin’. The problem is in order to describe any sin as mortal we must establish those two points, which is exceedingly difficult (impossible) for us to do.

So one can die having committed grave sin, and it is possible for them not to go to hell. If one dies with unrepentant mortal sin, then they do go to hell and there is no mitigating factor which can change this, because once we use the term ‘mortal sin’ we have established full knowledge and intent.

You raise many valid points in this post.

Many things may be grave matter.

But not all grave matter is a mortal sin.

The whole idea of full consent of the will is highly subjective, known only to God Himself.

Actually such is not the case.

To say one has committed a grave sin means one has committed a mortal sin.

Mortal sin = grave sin = serious sin.

They are interchangable terms in the Church. Synonyms

What one can say though is – such and such is a grave matter – and just cause what a person did was a grave matter does not mean they committed subjectively a grave sin (moral sin/serious sin) --for one needs also full knowledge and deliberate consent.

As posted by others, there is the issue of understanding man’s heart and true culpability of sin, which only God can know. But there is something, in my mind just as important.

God will give us the chance to repent. Bishop Sheen once said, for someone committing suicide,in the time between a bullet leaving the barrel of a gun and entering a the person’s head, God has the power to fill him with grace and let him repent. Consider that and then read Mather 20:1-16.

There is a reason why the Church declares no one condemned to hell, because the Church has always recognized God’s infinite mercy.

Are you saying that someone who truly repents should still go to Hell? How long before death would be the cut-off for the repentance to “count” – a day? a week? a year?

Everyone has such good points so i thought I’d throw this in.

The elder brother of the prodigal son was angry that his brother was so easily forgiven. I think if it were up to him, he’d have the fellow flogged and thrown into dungeon. He even did not want to recognise his brother as having anything to do with him: “This good for nothing son of yours!” The Father has to patiently and kindly explain to him that his brother has returned home from the dead.

And the parable of the Master and servants. Some came in the mornin, some came at noon and others at the eleventh hour. Yet their pay was the same. The ones who came early of course complained. The Master rebuked them saying that was it not his money, were they all not paid?

You know where I’m going with this. We must rejoice when people repent, and not judge them. Is Heaven ours to give them? Are we God? It is indeed a serious sin to presume that we are.

There is a big difference. In the case of the failed medical exam, you have a scorecard that tell you you failed.

There is no scorecard at death. Even a last, fraction of a second, purely mental “Jesus, have mercy on me” with one’s dying breath after a lifetime of evil can still constitute perfect contrition, and therefore result in that person’s salvation. But under all those tubes and medical machines, no outside observer would ever have known.

And yes, saying “sorry” to God with true repentance can and does suffice; such is God’s mercy, which is infinite and not like man’s mercy. However, God is also just. While he will save a lifetime sinner who truly repents, this soul will likely spend a very long “time” in Purgatory. And when he gets to heaven (because he will), he’ll likely be considered the “least” in the Kingdom, that is, his eternal happiness, while such a saved soul will forever enjoy the beatific vision, he will probably not experience it to the degree enjoyed by those who have persevered throughout their lives. Even Jesus talks about degrees of beatification in heaven, so this is entirely consistent with God’s justice and mercy.

Now, however, for the reality check. Such an event, a deathbead repentance after a lifetime of evil would be an extraordinary moment of grace, which God is not obligated to give (because no one can merit sanctifying grace). There is a real danger of dying in mortal sin if one lives a lifetime of intentional evil, as his conscience can become so hardened that he refuses to repent. That’s why we must live virtuous lives all throughout because we have no assurance that God will give us last-minute grace when the time comes.

Ah, these extreme cases. Anyways, to the point: if they taught you that dying in mortal sin = hell, they taught you a very simplistic view that perhaps they found fit for you to keep in mind that yes, even one mortal sin suffices for us to condemn ourselves to hellfire. That being said, you forget the Lord’s ineffable mercy. There are extraordinary ways, mysterious ways, in which a soul can be saved even in the last few instants of their life.

Excuse me, did you truly dare to write “please don’t tell me about God’s mercy”?

Then I should not tell you about the Incarnate Word who died on the Cross, because that is solely the work of mercy.

Remember, sister: God had no reason to suffer for us. In justice He condemned us, in mercy He redeemed us. It is God’s mercy that we see in Christ who forgave the woman caught in adultery and the thief nailed next to him. If you do not understand this, you do not understand the Heart of Christ and have reduced grace to a mere observation of the Law.

Did you not read that Christ pursues sinners, stands knocking at their heart? Did you not read: “a contrite heart I will not despise”? Did you not read that the living God does not rejoice at sending His children to hellfire, but prefers sinners to be saved? Why do you strike God’s mercy through such cunning extreme examples that barely take place in real life? What benefit does it bring to your faith to ponder over these extremes with such unhealthy curiosity? Why not focus on the mercy that is open to all sinners to move them to conversion, and entrust such extreme circumstances - dear brothers that have fallen before temptation and lost tragically their chance to redemption - to the living God who does not judge anyone and who came not to condemn but to save?

Remember: with the weight that you weigh, you shall be weighed. Do not judge, lest you too be judged. You do not know if that sinner tomorrow may be you. You do not want to find yourself before the living God covered in your shame, and hear Him say: “this is the judgment that you have imposed on yourself: you rejected my mercy and you stated that anyone who dies in mortal sin must enter the state of hell. Go, therefore, my child, My heart aches, but the gates of Hades are already open.” Do unto others as they shall do unto you. Remember, this is the only rule, the only law, the only commandment of Grace!

Christ, who does speak to us through the centuries by his holy ones, has told us time and again that nobody goes to hell unless he knows so, and that He grants special graces at the moment of dead to lead unrepentant sinners to conversion. The Church is even allowed to give the Anointing to those who have been dead for a brief period of time, for we do not know if in the still flesh, the soul still awaits her personal judgment and aches in a cry of contrition, longing for the life-giving Sacrament. Even a fraction of a thought of contrition suffices for the living God to turn a cold, rocky heart into a blazing torch of seraphic fire, worthy of sitting at the very front of the Throne of the Lamb. Do not underestimate the love of the living God.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit