Stumped by a 9th grader

In pre-confirmation we were in small groups and we got on culpability, invincible ignorance, and a lot of what ifs as it relates to damnation. One kid in the group had a very sincere concern I couldn’t respond to. He said that things like the ten commandments made sense because God tells us exactly what’s right and wrong, but all the stuff about what qualifies as mortal sin is just men’s thinking so how can we be sure that’s really right with God. I explained through things we already know for certain we can deduce other truths using logic. He said how do we know our logic isn’t wrong. I want to go to class with an answer next week. Help me!

But what does each commandment mean?
For example ask the student what does it mean Thou shall have no other gods before Me.

“ but all the stuff about what qualifies as mortal sin is just men’s thinking so how can we be sure that’s really right with God”

Strictly speaking it comes down to faith, doesn’t it? When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to be the constant advocate to the Apostles or to the Church…it assures us that there will be that person of the Blessed Trinity always present within the line of authority when it comes down to teaching the statutes and ordinances that will come down through magisterial teaching whether through bishop conferences, synods or ecumenical councils or in those rare instances in a solemn proclamation by the pope regarding faith or morals (the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary being the latest one to date). The Council of Trent is one such council in which definitions were pronounced for various attributes of our faith…what is considered venial and mortal sin, for example. Yes, these are designated church men “thinking” and “discussing” among themselves about what is going to be determined to be the “truth” regarding these matters and this is where faith and trust come in to the picture. You either believe what Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would be and do or you don’t. That’s the reason for your confirmation…affirmation to believing what the Church teaches and accepting what it teaches in line with trust and faith.

You are fortunate to have students like him.

You could tell him that we learn the truth by means of three different resources:
*]Sacred Scripture, in other words, the Bible
*]Apostolic Tradition, passed down from the Apostles, through the Church, to this day
*]The Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church
This is described in CCC 74-100, though that reference may be too scholarly for your class, and if I had a copy of YOUCAT, I would check whether it contains a more teenage-appropriate presentation of it.

The Ten Commandments are in the Bible, of course, but to my knowledge the Church’s teaching on mortal sin is not… or at least it’s not spelled out as clearly. The Church (the Magisterium), with the help of the Holy Spirit, interprets Scripture and Tradition to obtain our present understanding of mortal sin, and many other teachings as well.

Does the ten commandments cultivate virtue within a person? Virtue is more desirable than ignorance. If you can explain virtue as leading to the greatest good then I think you have it for this student. Logical truth is not oppressive to human nature. If we can see the logic in virtue then we can see an enlightened perspective on the human condition. Think of the bad things found in the ignorance of such logic, namely sin, is it oppressive to the human condition? If yes, then we can contrast sin with virtue. We can see virtue as the only light above ignorance.

I hope I can make this short. There are God’s laws and Church laws. Read definition of mortal and veniel sins. Give examples of Church laws. In Old testament, if a husband came home and found wife w another man and killed both=a spontaneous crime of passion, he ran to a certain city and had protection there. Now, if said scenario occurred and husband left the scene and went to get a sword to kill man, who was gone. He found him and killed him, that was pre meditation and wronged husband will be punished.
So, revenge is mine sayeth the Lord.
Sins are measured on no thought action or deep thought action.
In private w boy, explain Masterbation is a mortal sin. I feel this is wrong. It’s bad enough he will go blind! CHUCKLE. These are normal hormone surges that come and go at inconvenient and convenient times. I’m not for it but it should be downgraded to veniel. But, he gets the urge. He tries not to. Give him prayer for chasity from St. James. Tell him about cold showers, ice in zip lock baggy.
If unsuccessful, go to confession.
Hope this helps.
Jeremiah 29 / 11. “I have a plan for you. It is a good plan without evil. It has a future and a purpose.”
in Christ’s love,

The point at which this kid is at in his faith journey is equivalent to the point in which God’s people were at when Jesus came.

This kid understands the Decalogue, but he needs to move on to adult understanding of the Decalogue in which Jesus boils the Decalogue down to:

1823 Jesus makes charity the new commandment.96 By loving his own "to the end,"97 he makes manifest the Father’s love which he receives. By loving one another, the disciples imitate the love of Jesus which they themselves receive. Whence Jesus says: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.” And again: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."98

1824 Fruit of the Spirit and fullness of the Law, charity keeps the commandments of God and his Christ: "Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love."99

1826 "If I . . . have not charity," says the Apostle, “I am nothing.” Whatever my privilege, service, or even virtue, "if I . . . have not charity, I gain nothing."103 Charity is superior to all the virtues. It is the first of the theological virtues: "So faith, hope, charity abide, these three. But the greatest of these is charity."104

This does not get rid of the Decalogue, but puts charity above it. This is a chronology going from Mosaic understanding to Christian understanding. Or metaphorically, an immature understanding to a mature understanding. As referenced by Jesus:

Mt 19

  • d They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?”
    He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.

So, now comes the question, “How do we know that this charity (Magisterial guidance by the holy Spirit, or as this kid calls it, logic) isn’t flawed?” Well the answer was given the the Apostles:

Mt 16
k 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.
l I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.* Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”


Jn 20

  • [Jesus] said to them again,l “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
  • And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,m “Receive the holy Spirit.
  • n Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

And then:

Acts 6
The Need for Assistants
Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task,
whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism.
b They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them.*

I think the important thing to remember when answering this kids question is charity. Show it to him/her when giving your answer just as Jesus did when He was questioned about such things by people who wanted to understand.

Also, it’s important that, as adults, they (your students) will be called to use their well-formed conscience to take part in making decisions (this kid is called to take part in “man’s logic”) that further God’s goodness in the world:

307 To human beings God even gives the power of freely sharing in his providence by entrusting them with the responsibility of “subduing” the earth and having dominion over it.168 God thus enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for their own good and that of their neighbors. Though often unconscious collaborators with God’s will, they can also enter deliberately into the divine plan by their actions, their prayers and their sufferings.169 They then fully become “God’s fellow workers” and co-workers for his kingdom.170

But this is exactly the problem. Is there a “fourth source,” which is human reason?

Yes. We can learn the truth of things through reason. To start questioning this ends in bad places, if modern philosophy has any lessons to teach us. We simply ought to apply ourselves as best as we can… Becoming obsessed with “perfect certainty,” meaning certainty about our certainty about our certainty etc. spirals into some pretty crazy stuff.

The Commandments are about charity. Contradict one, and you exclude yourself from the greater covenant into which we enter with God at baptism, which is friendship, because the Commandments tell us the most basic principles of how we are to live a rightly ordered life - which is a life ordered ultimately toward the love of God and neighbor for God’s sake. If we contradict a Commandment with sufficient freedom and knowledge of what we are doing, the “ordering principle” of our soul “the intellect” has become set on something other than God. So the habit of charity - which is the sufficient cause of the state of grace - is lost.

When Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom he also conferred on him the power to bind and loose.

Matthew 16:18-19 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

The verse about binding and loosing is repeated in Matthew 18:18.

Binding and loosing comes from the rabbinic tradition, where rabbis had the authority to bind (forbid) something, or loose (permit) something. Jesus is telling Peter (and by extension his successors) that whatever he as leader of the church forbids or permits God will ratify. This authority has been passed down through the ages, so that anything the church, under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, has declared to be sinful, God also recognizes as sinful.

Hope this helps somewhat.

Indeed, great theologians and philosophers over the ages (Augustine, Aquinas, and John Paul II, to name only a few) have advanced our understanding of the truth, and even you and I participate in this ongoing process. That’s actually in the Catechism section I cited:
The supernatural sense of faith

91 All the faithful share in understanding and handing on revealed truth. They have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, who instructs them and guides them into all truth.

92 “The whole body of the faithful . . . cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful,’ they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals.”

93 “By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority (Magisterium), . . . receives . . . the faith, once for all delivered to the saints. . . . The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life.”

Growth in understanding the faith

94 Thanks to the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the understanding of both the realities and the words of the heritage of faith is able to grow in the life of the Church:
[INDENT]— “through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts”; it is in particular “theological research [which] deepens knowledge of revealed truth.”

— “from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which [believers] experience,” the sacred Scriptures “grow with the one who reads them.”

—“from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth.”
95 “It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.”[/INDENT]

Because Jesus gave us a Church - with teaching authority from him…

As other posters have brought up, the Church was given authority by Christ to teach the faithful though Tradition and the constant Magisterium of the Church. I’d also say that a boy smart enough to be asking that question should absolutely be directed to the Catechism, and probably to St Thomas’ Summa as well.

We know our ability to reason is sound because it’s God-given (and ultimately if our reason isn’t sound the universe is unintelligible, science is impossible, and we are on the road to extreme skepticism of all things). God also provided us with the Church to be an authority on scripture and tradition and on faith and morals.

For me its very simple. The Catholic Church is the true (and only) church established by Christ (God) who entrusted it with the deposit of faith giving it authority to teach in matters of faith and morals.
This means that we can be sure that anything the church teaches is correct because it has the authority of God behind it.

Matt 18:18 “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”

Ask him to explain why such willful ignorance is in itself a sin against the fourth commandment.

Then tell him to learn what he is rejecting before he rejects it.

By the Magisterium we mean the teaching office of the Church. It consists of the Pope and Bishops. **Christ promised to protect the teaching of the Church : “He who hears you, hears me; he who rejects you rejects me, he who rejects me, rejects Him who sent me” (Luke 10. 16). **Now of course the promise of Christ cannot fail: hence when the Church presents some doctrine as definitive or final, it comes under this protection, it cannot be in error; in other words, it is infallible. This is true even if the Church does not use the solemn ceremony of definition. The day to day teaching of the Church throughout the world, when the Bishops are in union with each other and with the Pope, and present something as definitive, this is infallible. (Vatican II, Lumen gentium # 25). It was precisely by the use of that authority that Vatican I was able to define that the Pope alone, when speaking as such and making things definitive, is also infallible. Of course this infallibility covers also teaching on what morality requires, for that is needed for salvation

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