Thought-Sins Seem Unreasonable

I have recently heard from many, both on this forum and elsewhere, that thoughts can be sinful. Worse yet, thoughts can be mortally sinful, meaning someone can go to Hell for bad thoughts even if he or she has otherwise lived a godly life.

Why is this? Why in the world is it sinful to think about a sin if you have not taken physical action, do not take physical action, and are not planning to take physical action?

And why the heck would that sin be mortal? I couldn’t think of a less-serious matter if I tried to.

My problem with this is not that that it limits the ability to indulge; my problem is that the concept of thoughts being sinful is absolute scruple-fuel because it is unavoidable. Every other sin can be prevented by avoiding near-occasions, but the for thought-sins the near occasion is always there as you have memories and thoughts. Even if you tried to constantly keep your mind guarded against sinful thoughts, you would fail and probably go mad as well.

You see an attractive person on the street and briefly think “this is interesting” instead of “sinful! sinful!”? Eternal Damnation! An evil person gets away with a heinous crime and you briefly fantasized about doing violence to them or about harm befalling them? Eternal Damnation! You think about staying home on Sunday because it’s raining and only go to Church that day because your spouse insists? Eternal Damnation! You’d better hope you have a heart attack immediately after confession, because otherwise you’re out of luck.

If I am mistaken please explain how I am mistaken. If I am not, please explain why anybody would consider this unreasonable.

Thoughts which enter our imagination are not willed and are not moral matter. Only thoughts deliberately willed become moral matter. In the presence of its proper or improper object, our emotions move us. If the object is improper to our emotion and we move the thought (temptation) to our intellect and willfully dwell on it then we sin. Original Sin caused our emotions to be antecedent to our reason. In the course of our lives we work to order our emotions to our reason (detachment) so that our emotions only move us when its proper object presents itself. Mortification, prayer and penance are required to receive the grace of detachment.

To stop sinning is not the end goal but only the first step of our spiritual development. We are called to displace all creatures with our Creator as the sole object of our desire. Example: “* see an attractive person on the street and briefly think ‘this is interesting’ instead of ‘sinful! sinful!’?” One who is detached would think, “I see an attractive person on the street and think the beauty of that person reflects Beauty Itself.” The attractive person becomes sacramental leading us to dwell on the beauty of God rather than an object of our desire tempting us to thoughts against the sixth commandment.*

In most of t he thrrwds I have read on this topic, it has been made clear that the thoughts which are sinful are those which are engaged in willingly, not those which simply float across our minds.

As I said in a recent thread in this topic, consider a man who uses porn to stimulate his imagination sexually. He does this intentionally: he goes to the site, he picks out pictures to look at, etc.

And if one thinks this is not serious, read about what wives have to say about this type of behavior. There have been many divorces over men’s porn addiction.

Quickly as I don’t have much time presently. Jesus said ‘he who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart.’ And adultery is a mortal sin. Jesus also said, I’m paraphrasing, ‘evil thoughts come from the heart, adultery, murder, fornication, theft, etc.’ Recall that Jesus said the pharisees were white washed sepulcres, but inside are full of dead men bones. Real spirituality is conversion of the heart, of the soul, of the mind and heart or will, this is where it starts. External actions are the result of what is within one’s soul.

Two of the ten commandments deal with coveting thy neighbor’s wife and his goods. These are wrong or inordinate desires within oneself. The two great commandments of love of God and love of thy neighbor begins within one’s soul.

The fallen angels sinned mortally in their intellect and will. They don’t have a body to sin with in external actions like humans do.

Sinful actions that are done with the body such as murder begin in the soul, i.e., it begins in the intellect and will and then proceeds outwardly with the body to external actions. A person has the thought of killing somebody, consents with the will, and then the will commands the external members of the body to strike somebody with a baseball bat for example and kill them. The subject primarily of sin is in the person’s will, for it is the will by which we choose good or evil. The intellect and its thoughts are also involved too however. For the will chooses that which the intellect presents to it as either good or evil, for example, either a good deed or an evil deed.

A murder that the hand commits we do not ascribe solely to the hand as if the hand in and by itself knows and understands what is good or bad. The body is animated and moved by the soul. A murder that the hand commits is moved by the will which is a spiritual faculty of the soul and so the hand participates in the evil act as moved by the will and as the hand is a part of man and the murder is ascribed to the whole man but principally to the soul as the mover of the members of the body.

Merry Christmas to all!

Ending up in heaven or hell is not a matter of the amount of good in the life “if he or she has otherwise lived a godly life.” rather it results from a final state of grace. To willfully indulge in a thought that is gravely sinful, knowing it to be such, is mortal sin.

A repost.

I think it also pertains to the thought in particular.

For example, I’d agree that thinking about screaming at your mother would be sinful. But not because you were thinking about doing something sinful, but because thinking that means you probably already had hatred towards your mother.

And with theft for example, thinking about stealing someone’s gold necklace even if you don’t intend to may be sinful due to envy, not thinking about theft.

And thinking evil thoughts towards God would again be something where thought could be sin.

But let’s take another situation. A man’s sitting a chair when they realize they need to get something from across the room. Not wanting to get up they wish they could just use magic to levitate it over to them before getting up to get the item. They thought about using magic and delighted in the thought. Magic is grave matter. Is that mortal?

Or the store employee who after a hectic day sees the store is a mess. Dreading how long it’ll take to clean the thought of just burning down the store pops up. This is followed by a mental image of laughing as it burns which amuses them so they give a chuckle before cleaning up the store. They found the idea of arson amusing so did they sin?

Or the secret service agent who looks at a location and starts thinking of way someone could try killing the president, granted so that they prevent those attempts. One cannot commit evil with the intent of doing good so if thinking about how to kill an innocent (in this case the president) is a sinful act, doesn’t that mean the agent has mortally sinned in doing that if all willed thoughts concerning grave matter are mortal?

So I do think some thoughts about sinful things are sinful, but I don’t think necesarily applies across the board.

You’re missing my question. My question is WHY? WHY is indulging in a thought a mortal sin, as opposed to a venial sin? What makes it a grave matter.

Saying “It is.” isn’t enough of an answer. I want to know why.

I guess that makes sense.

Ah, ok. This is a bit more reasonable.

Sins may be by thought, or external act or omission. So not all sins are grave matter, but is not because it is a thought that makes it grave matter, it is because of the matter itself that is thought of. For example, a person plans, out of envy or vengeance, to ruin the neighbors car by scratching it severely at night, and is really going to do it. Say the value of the damage is enough to be grave matter. So the thoughts of doing and the doing are both grave matter. So it either are done with full reflection (full knowledge) and will, it is mortal. It comes down to the heart, the malice or passion that can be in either the mind with or without the external act.

Ok, I think I understand.

Also we have this from the Baltimore Catechism No. 4:

52 Q. What is actual sin?
A. Actual sin is any willful thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the law of God.

Three ways we may sin, by “thought”–allowing our minds to dwell on sinful things; “word”–by cursing, telling lies, etc.; “deed”–by any kind of bad action. But to be sins, these thoughts, words and deeds must be willful; that is, we must fully know what we are doing, and be free in doing it. Then they must be “contrary to the law of God”; that is, violate some law He commands us to obey, whether it be a law He gave directly Himself, or through His Church. We can also violate God’s law by neglecting to observe it, and thus sin, provided the neglect be willful, and the thing neglected commanded by God or by His Church.

Because what you engage in thinking changes your soul, too. I used to think angry resentful thoughts a *lot. *(before I was Catholic) I was a miserable angry resentful person. Then I learned to forgive those little slights and the idiotic things that people, including me, do.

When I stopped indulging myself with resentment, there was space in my heart for God to enter in. But when I will to think sinful thoughts, it’s like I am taking space away from God and putting something nasty there. Why would God want to be there at all?

And if I shape my soul into something ugly, instead of allowing God to shape it into something beautiful, why would God want ke in Heaven?

Yes thoughts can be mortal sins. Sure.


1853 Sins can be distinguished according to their objects, as can every human act; or according to the virtues they oppose, by excess or defect; or according to the commandments they violate. They can also be classed according to whether they concern God, neighbor, or oneself; they can be divided into spiritual and carnal sins, or again as sins in thought, word, deed, or omission. The root of sin is in the heart of man, in his free will, according to the teaching of the Lord: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man."128 But in the heart also resides charity, the source of the good and pure works, which sin wounds.

It is important to distinguish between what is sinful - and what is not sin. That is where the confusing enters into things.

(similar to it is important to distinguish attraction -finding someone beautiful – from say lust or lustful thoughts…or thoughts about a movie about a bank robbery - finding it interesting how they did it …- from sinful thoughts of wanting to rob a bank… etc)

But just because a thought “happened” to one out of the blue does not mean there was ANY sin at all.

(I will re-post a post I posted before about general aspects)


All sorts of thoughts can happen to us out of the blue…(not sought etc)

Be they impure etc

The fact that a thought happened to one- does not mean per se there was any sin.

And for mortal sin one needs not only grave matter, full knowledge and deliberate (complete) consent…

Just cause a thought happened to you does not mean there was any sin. Let alone mortal sin.

Just calmly turn to something good…


For the next few moments --try real hard NOT to think of an Apple.

then scroll down.

What did you think of?

An apple.

Even though your will was against it (you did not want to think of an apple!)

Now back to unwanted thoughts…

The more you fear and try hard not to have them…the more they will likely come and bother you.

The best thing to do with such thoughts is not to fight them directly --not fear that they will come—simply do not consent and simply and calmly turn to something else…(or it may be best to keep doing the good thing one is doing…like they come out of the blue when your at work …keep working…keep praying …etc)

It is an age old trouble that can happen - as one can find in spiritual works down through the ages.

There is a story from the desert of the early Centuries of the Church where a younger hermit when to an older one with the problems of thoughts happening to him all the time…the older hermit told him to go outside open his cloak and catch the wind.

The younger hermit said such is not possible…

the older hermit replied --neither is it possible to stop all the thoughts that can come to you…(then basically he said his task was not to consent…if they should happen…hence I would add one would turn to something else that is good…).

Ignore such unwanted thoughts like one would ignore a hissing goose or a barking dog. One does not stop to argue with a hissing goose or a barking dog does one? No one keeps on walking…

(as noted above the image there comes from a Carthusian Monk from centuries ago…)

Ignore such unwanted thoughts and do not fear them…just calmly turn to something good.

I will note for some - they may struggle with OCD - in which case they ought to seek out medical assistance (site I heard on Cath. Answers and saved for those it would be helpful for

Thank you. This was genuinely helpful advice, and it puts my mind at ease.

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