Subjectivity of Mortal Sin


#1

If the requirements for a sin to be mortal are entirely subjective (i.e. full knowledge, consent), are there any mortal sins that are objectively mortal irregardless of the sinner’s disposition and knowledge?


#2

No.

That’s like asking if a rock(if it had an eternal soul) can be culpible of murder if someone uses it to stone someone else. It had no knowledge or control of the situation.

A sin is mortal because it is a conscious rejection of God in our lives. We can’t consciously reject God if we’re not consciously doing it.

Josh


#3

[quote=threej_lc]No.

That’s like asking if a rock(if it had an eternal soul) can be culpible of murder if someone uses it to stone someone else. It had no knowledge or control of the situation.

A sin is mortal because it is a conscious rejection of God in our lives. We can’t consciously reject God if we’re not consciously doing it.

Josh
[/quote]

Now, nobody can know what is in a person’s mind or heart, however, given the definition of a mortal sin, is a mortal sin possible? Can anyone truly reject God, if they indeed know and understand Him?

I cannot possibly comprehend someone rejecting God, if they truly know Him. That would almost be an untenable contradiction. The devil and other fallen angels obviously did, but I can not recall a single human, who truly understands God, and continues to reject Him and paradise in Heaven.

Did Hitler, Stalin, or other notorious and great sinners ever commit a mortal sin? According to the definition of a mortal sin, I would argue they never truly had full knowledge of God’s will. If they truly thought their actions were compromising their chances of heaven, they probably would have stopped their atrocities. It seems like this would apply to every other situation of potential mortal sin. Does this makes sense at all?


#4

We all have God’s will written on our hearts. Hitler obviously didn’t follow that law. It doesn’t matter what we believe about the afterlife, they know murder is wrong. I don’t know if their mines were so twisted and abused that they may have an exscuse, but I imagine they did commit a mortal sin.


#5

Mortal sin – this is a difficult teaching.

Practically, I find myself agreeing with michaelgazin. I even postulated here earlier that “If a person does not believe that something is a mortal sin, it is not for them”. The reason is that if they do not think it is mortal, then they obviously do not have “full knowledge” of the gravity of the sin.

And yet the Church seems to throw around mortal sin like it’s relatively easy to fall into. Missing Mass and disbelieving a single Catholic teaching (like birth control) are good examples. Just because someone tells you something is wrong doesn’t make you instantly fully culpable, does it?

Or does it?

This teaching is hard…

Peace,
javelin


#6

[quote=michaelgazin]If the requirements for a sin to be mortal are entirely subjective (i.e. full knowledge, consent), are there any mortal sins that are objectively mortal irregardless of the sinner’s disposition and knowledge?
[/quote]

I’ve struggled with this too. You worded it so much better than I could have. It seems very subjective. It almost sounds like as long as I don’t understand it to be wrong and the Church doesn’t specifically spell out that it is (missing Mass), then I’m not responsible. If this is what could cause us to lose our salvation, why isn’t it more objectively defined? I know that would be very hard to do, but I have a hard time explaining ‘mortal sin’ to my Protestant friends without it coming out sounding like some form of ‘relativism’ in certain instances. ’ ("It doesn’t seem like grave matter to me, but maybe to someone else it does…") I need help understanding this better too.


#7

When reading 1 John 5:16, he says “If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin…” so apparently there are sins that we can know are mortal, or at least that is the implication. How can this be if no one can know the heart of another? Furthermore, I cannot think of a sin so grave that I would refrain from praying, should I see another commit it. There must be some objectivity to it, right?

The Catechism in Par. 1862 says “One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent.”

So therefore, a sin which may be mortal to one person, may be deemed venial to someone else soley because lack of knowledge or consent.


#8

Well, grave or serious matter is a pretty objective thing. So it must be the full consent of the will, and full knowledge that might mitigate the sin.

Human beings can commit mortal sin. Adam and Eve did, and with full knowledge and consent of the will. Note that “full knowledge” doesn’t mean that they can forsee all the consequences of their actions. No one can do that but God. It only means that they know that something is wrong and do it anyway.

Even a 4-year old can do that, even though they don’t commonly do it with respect to grave matter. (OK, I realize the age of reason is commonly given as 7, but one of the first words that a child learns is the word “No.” As in, ‘no, I don’t want to do it your way, I’ll do it my way.’) It is the urge to self-will over outside authority–parents or God.

And “full consent of the will” doesn’t mean a conscious decision to reject God permanently and forever once and for all. It does mean that, being aware of the wrongness of an action, and the fact that God’s law forbids it, we choose to do it anyway.

One might say, “well, I didn’t have full consent of the will because there was passion involved; my emotions carried me away.” Yet, look at this objectively. Would your passions, however strong, have carried you away if others were looking on, if there was a chance of getting caught, at murder or adultery or fornication or grand theft? Probably not. If one has the will power to wait for the proper moment to avoid detection, one has the will power to not do the deed.

And one doesn’t need a degree in moral theology to know when something is wrong. Although I will admit that our sense of sin has been weakened over the past few decades.


#9

[quote=michaelgazin]If the requirements for a sin to be mortal are entirely subjective (i.e. full knowledge, consent), are there any mortal sins that are objectively mortal irregardless of the sinner’s disposition and knowledge?
[/quote]

the first requirement is that the act be objectively immoral, gravely so. All mortal sins are therefore objectively immoral. Whether or not the person is aware that the act is immoral, or the extent of the gravity of the matter does not affect its objective evil. Whether or not the person’s state of knowledge, or absence of consent, reduces or eliminates his personal guilt for the action, the evil effects still accrue.

For instance: a teen has never been taught that premarital sex and contraception are wrong, and indulges in those practices. He or she may not be subjectively guilty of a mortal sin, but nonetheless the evil effects of fornication and contraception will affect their life, and those involved in their actions. A woman who is raped has by no means given consent to the sex act, and is entirely guiltless of sin, yet no one can deny she will suffer evil effects of the gravely sinful action.


#10

[quote=puzzleannie]the first requirement is that the act be objectively immoral, gravely so. All mortal sins are therefore objectively immoral. Whether or not the person is aware that the act is immoral, or the extent of the gravity of the matter does not affect its objective evil. Whether or not the person’s state of knowledge, or absence of consent, reduces or eliminates his personal guilt for the action, the evil effects still accrue.

For instance: a teen has never been taught that premarital sex and contraception are wrong, and indulges in those practices. He or she may not be subjectively guilty of a mortal sin, but nonetheless the evil effects of fornication and contraception will affect their life, and those involved in their actions. A woman who is raped has by no means given consent to the sex act, and is entirely guiltless of sin, yet no one can deny she will suffer evil effects of the gravely sinful action.
[/quote]

So considering that such sins are objectively immoral, that should drastically reduce the complication of the teaching of mortal sins. There should then be a list of grave sins that everyone needs to study, so as to remove at least the lack of knowledge. We do have a list in a sense, the Ten Commandments, which is objective, though to the degree that the sin becomes mortal is again subjective.

Thou shalt not steal. A sin of grave matter…in certain cases. At what point does the sin of stealing become mortal, considering full knowledge and consent are present? Is stealing a car a mortal sin (considering again that knowledge and consent are present)? Probably. What about stealing just a car engine? Or what about one bolt in the engine of the car? Even while full knowledge and consent are present in all cases, and theft is occurring in all cases, I’m sure many would hesitate to classify all of the instances as mortal sins. Why? Because it is entirely subjective, and dependent upon the viewer. Exactly how much theft must occur for a sin to be grave? No one can know for sure, which then means that no one can know exactly when the gravity of a sin elevates it to the status of “mortal.” This can’t be however, considering John’s writing. According to John, we should be able to recognize when we or anyone else commit a mortal sin, which means we must know exactly at what point a sin becomes mortal. Is it after stealing one bolt? two? 15 or 30? The whole engine?

Oh I don’t know if I will ever have clarity on this topic. I agree we can all know generally what is grave matter, but when getting into specifics and details, agreement on the topic begins to dissappear.

Again, any insight is welcome!


#11

I’ve given some thought to this subject, too.

Another example of this ambiguity of severity within the ten commandments is the sin of coveting. If someone is so coveteous that he or she pursues fortune above God and other relationships and doesn’t give any money to charity, it’s probable that is a grave matter. But what about seeing someone walk down the street in very expensive and stylish clothes and thinking, “I wish I could afford to buy clothes like that!” Is that venial or mortal?

As you pointed out there is also a huge continuum of the severity of stealing. Stealing a car is much different than using your employer’s Xerox machine to make personal photocopies. Both are sin, but I don’t think the latter is grave matter even objectively.


#12

[quote=michaelgazin]So considering that such sins are objectively immoral, that should drastically reduce the complication of the teaching of mortal sins. There should then be a list of grave sins that everyone needs to study, so as to remove at least the lack of knowledge. We do have a list in a sense, the Ten Commandments, which is objective, though to the degree that the sin becomes mortal is again subjective.e!
[/quote]

Yes the church has an entire branch of study called moral theology, which priest take during their formation, as they are the ones designated to guide us on these matters, both from their teaching and in the confessional. For a start, if one conducts one’s moral life by trying to tread the fine line between mortal and venial sin one is sadly lacking in the dispostion toward true conversion and growth in holiness.


#13

[quote=puzzleannie]For a start, if one conducts one’s moral life by trying to tread the fine line between mortal and venial sin one is sadly lacking in the dispostion toward true conversion and growth in holiness.
[/quote]

This I do agree with :smiley: Just to clarify, I am not trying to do that tightrope walking myself, just simply trying to intellectually grasp this concept.


#14

Well, even the law recognizes the difference between felonies and misdemeanors. The moral theology of the Church is not so detailed as civil and criminal law; still the differences are not hard to recognize. Stealing a hubcap is different from stealing a car.

With respect to the matter (grave or not grave) of mortal sin, it’s not dependent on a person’s internal perception, but it is dependent on circumstances. Stealing $50 from Bill Gates is likely not grave matter because it doesn’t affect his living ability. But stealing $50 from an orphanage in a small African village could easily be grave matter, because it means that some children will be deprived of meals for several days or weeks.

So it’s not the subjectivity. It’s the circumstances. But that’s the same way with criminal law.

You can’t make a definitive list of all mortal sins, because you can’t itemize every circumstance. But I must say, from 2nd grade first communion preparation all through college and into the present, I was never in doubt about what constituted a mortal sin.


#15

[quote=michaelgazin]If the requirements for a sin to be mortal are entirely subjective (i.e. full knowledge, consent), are there any mortal sins that are objectively mortal irregardless of the sinner’s disposition and knowledge?
[/quote]

Like with President Clinton, it depends on what “is” is.

Statement: “A sin is objectively mortal.”

This statement is a trap, because it depends on how you define “A sin,” “is,” and “objectively mortal.”

If you define “A sin” as a particular outwardly observable behavior symptom, then the statement is false because this behavior is at most a pointer to a mortal sin, which is in the heart and not in the behavior itself.

If you define “A sin” as behavior that is outwardly observable in conjuctions with the motives thereof, then yes, the sin might be objectively mortal. Bad news is that no human being can objectively know that the sin is mortal because they can only observe the outward symptoms, where the sin is not known to be mortal. This is even true for the sinner, because any knowledge the human has of the situation is indirect compared to the absolute truth in the heart that only God knows with no possible deception. Essentially I’m saying that a person is not an infallible judge or even infallible observer of his/her own motives.

If by “objectively mortal,” as I alluded to above, it might be objectively mortal in the sense that God knows the truth, and it did indeed meet the requirements of the mortal sin, which are unobservable at best and subjective at worst when evaluated by humans, but are known to God.

My final answer (at this time) is that certain behavior symptoms in themselves cannot constitute a mortal sin. When considered with intent according to the criteria, the sin may be objectively mortal, but only God knows for sure; humans can never know with certainty if a sin committed by themselves or others is mortal.

That doesn’t stop them from speculating, of course, or we’d have nothing to bash each other about. :banghead:

Alan


#16

[quote=JimG]from 2nd grade first communion preparation all through college and into the present, I was never in doubt about what constituted a mortal sin.
[/quote]

So then, please answer my question…which of the following constitutes a mortal sin:

Is stealing a car a mortal sin (considering again that knowledge and consent are present)? What about stealing just a car engine? Or what about one bolt in the engine of the car?

exactly at what point a sin becomes mortal. Is it after stealing one bolt? two? 15 or 30? The whole engine?

You sound confident in your understanding of what does and does not constitute a mortal sin. This is the confidence, if attainable, that I seek, so if you could please explain to me your reasoning for the above question, and if your answers are indeed infallible.

Again, you provide blatantly exaggerated circumstances when comparing Bill Gates to an African orphanage. In anticipation of such an example, I wrote:

I agree we can all know generally what is grave matter, but when getting into specifics and details, agreement on the topic begins to dissappear.

I believe your example would fall under the “general” understanding we all have. This is not the issue. The issue is in the specifics. So to go there…is it a mortal sin stealing $50 from an African orphanage like in your example? What about if the orphanage collects $5 a month for expenses? What about if it collects $5 a week for expenses? What if it collects $5 a day for expenses? How about every minute they receive $5? In which case would theft be a mortal sin? When is it not a mortal sin? When does it change from “grave” matter to “not grave?” If this could be easily determined by yourself as a second grader, and entirely objectively…please enlighten me because I remain uncertain.

[quote=Alan]When considered with intent according to the criteria, the sin may be objectively mortal, but only God knows for sure; humans can never know with certainty if a sin committed by themselves or others is mortal.
[/quote]

This is precisely how I understand it :wink:


#17

I’m glad you agree, but certainly do not take my word as an authority of the Catholic Church, because I speak with no particular authority other than what you make of it. (My pride nagged me to warn you of that, because then I can act like I’m actually humble and seek exultation. :stuck_out_tongue: ) I’m not a theologian or an apologetic, but I have read the Bible a lot and talked a lot to people who know their Catholic theology, and I don’t mind being wrong too much because I love being corrected and the growth it brings.

Actually, given all that “touchy feely” formation, I proceed to make stuff up as I go – based on what little I do know. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “I may not always be right by nature, but am so sometimes by chance.”

Alan


#18

Well, let me clarify. I’m never in doubt as to what constitutes a mortal sin for me. When I go into the confessional, I’m not in doubt about what to confess. I don’t judge other people’s hearts. I can only know what is in my own.

Grand theft auto is serious enough of a theft to qualify as mortal.
Engine theft? That’s a pretty big item as well. I wouldn’t advise anyone to leave it out of their confession on the grounds that it might be venial.

Bolts from the car engine? If it’s an operable car, I’m probably putting someone’s life or limb in danger. Bolts from the bin at the auto repair shop? Probably venial, but if the manager catches me it’ll be a lot worse than the penance I would get from the priest.

I blatantly exaggerated in the Bill Gates example to make the difference in circumstances clear. I don’t think it’s useful to nickel and dime our way up the venial sin chain and then argue about whether we crossed the line to mortal.

Maybe I’m way out of line here. Maybe we do need more courses in moral theology. But I don’t see where moral theology is all that more complicated than criminal law, and prosecutors have to make these decisions all the time.

I don’t recall, growing up, that my parents had a detailed list of rules. But I knew when I was doing wrong, and so did they.


#19

[quote=AlanFromWichita]Like with President Clinton, it depends on what “is” is.


My final answer (at this time) is that certain behavior symptoms in themselves cannot constitute a mortal sin. When considered with intent according to the criteria, the sin may be objectively mortal, but only God knows for sure; humans can never know with certainty if a sin committed by themselves or others is mortal.

[/quote]

Well, that sounds pretty nuanced, but I wouldn’t advise using either one of those paragraphs in the confessional.


#20

[quote=michaelgazin][font=Arial]Now, nobody can know what is in a person’s mind or heart, however, given the definition of a mortal sin, is a mortal sin possible? Can anyone truly reject God, if they indeed know and understand Him?

Did Hitler, Stalin, or other notorious and great sinners ever commit a mortal sin? According to the definition of a mortal sin, I would argue they never truly had full knowledge of God’s will. If they truly thought their actions were compromising their chances of heaven, they probably would have stopped their atrocities. It seems like this would apply to every other situation of potential mortal sin. Does this makes sense at all?
[/quote]

I apologize in advance if you have already seen some of the thoughts below in another thread, but it fits here. [/font]You can find the definitive discussion on our mortal and venial sins in the Catechism of the Catholic Church at [/font]

Mortal sin does not require full knowledge of God’s will. No one on this side of heaven is capable of that standard.

For a sin to be Mortal, three elements are required. It must be of grave matter, it must be committed with full knowledge, and you must give complete consent. Grave matter is detailed below. The list of sins considered grave by the Catholic Church is rather broad. Full knowledge and complete consent are defined and explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

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 heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.
1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.

So, you see, the test of whether we are guilty of mortal sin is not the sweetness of the temptation, nor the amount of stress in our lives, nor even whether the act has become habitual, but rather whether we simply understand that an act is gravely sinful and make a personal choice to commit it anyway.

The excuse of personal stress may only diminish our culpability for mortal sin, it does not eliminate it. Culpability for habitual acts might only be mitigated if the habit has descended to compulsion, that is, if the element of choice has been completely removed.

INDIVIDUAL GRAVE SINS (from the CCC, compiled through the Subject Index and referenced paragraphs)

  • Sins specified by the Ten Commandments, particularly murder, sexual sins, theft, false witness, fraud, and refusal to honor one’s parents
  • Voluntary doubt, i.e., intentional disregard of church dogma
  • Incredulity, i.e., neglect or willful refusal of church dogma
  • Heresy
  • Apostasy
  • Schism
  • Presumption upon your own power to save yourself, or upon God’s power and mercy
  • Despair, i.e., ceasing to hope for salvation
  • Indifference
  • Ingratitude
  • Lukewarmness in responding to God
  • Acedia, i.e. apathy or spiritual sloth
  • Deliberate hatred of God or neighbor
  • Anger that desires death or serious injury of a neighbor
  • Blasphemy
  • Envy that wishes grave harm to a neighbor
  • Malice
  • Murder
  • Deliberate neglect of the requirement to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation

THE ETERNAL SIN

  • Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, i.e., the deliberate refusal to repent and accept God’s mercy

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