Why are there sin designations in Catholicism?

I am a protestant who was brought up to believe that all sin separates us from God and that we are all sinners, except for Jesus Christ, of course.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – Romans 3:23

I understand there is a differentiation in Catholicism between ‘Venial’ and ‘Mortal’ sins, with venial being more minor sin while mortal sins are more serious.

  1. Why is there a distinction made between types of sin?

  2. Can you give some biblical examples that support this venial and mortal distinction of sins?

  3. How can the average Catholic know if he is committing a venial sin or a mortal one?

I will assume that breaking any of the Ten Commandments would be a mortal sin, correct?

I realize this is probably Catholicism 101 to many of you but I don’t have a background in it so I appreciate your patience and understanding as I strive to grow in my understanding of Catholicism.

For example, for a Catholic, are these venial or mortal sins and how can you tell?

– Yelling at your wife or kids in an uncharitable way
– Getting drunk
– Gossiping
– Using Profanity
– Premarital sex
– Taking illegal drugs (marijuana, etc)
– Speeding on the highway or city street
– Seeing someone stranded on the side of the road and not doing anything to help.
– Stealing a candy bar from a convenience store
– Stealing a car left running in a convenience store parking lot
– Watching ‘Breakfast at Wimbledon’ on TV instead of attending church one Sunday.
– Playing on the computer for a bit instead of working during working hours at your job.

Thanks for your help in understanding the concept or venial versus mortal sins.:tiphat:

Hi Tommy…

I think you are approaching the time to obtain a Catholic Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Prologue focuses on the first basis, ‘The Life of Man – To Know and Love God’ and then the purpose of the Catechism and how to use it.

The first part covers our Profession of Faith, first, “We believe”…and in this part, it explains as well how Catholics approach Sacred Scripture, the teaching Magesterium of the Church and the Interpreter of Faith. It breaks down the Nicene Creed, point by point.

The second part covers the liturgy and the sacraments.

Part three covers Life in Christ, that takes off from man made in the image of God, to our vocation to the Beatitude, our freedom, the morality of human acts…of passions, our moral conscience, to the virtues and sin.

CCC1852 speaks of the different kinds of sins…and CCC1853, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.”

It goes on to state that ‘sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity.’

CCC1855: 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.’

CCC1856: Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principal within us – that is, charity – necessitates a new initiative in God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished in the sacrament of penance.’

In times past a priest would have a guide in providing penance to the penitent…and if someone killed someone, he would have to do an entire Lent, meaning fasting and prayer and penance.

It is stated that St. Francis of Assisi, the one who is represented in flower gardens and little sparrows on his shoulder, had to do 3 or 4 Lents referring back to his involvement as a soldier in the battles between Orthodox Perugia and Catholic Assisi, meaning Francis may have killed 3 or 4 people prior to his conversion.

The catechism further lays out the 10 commandments and defines what are mortal and venial sin.

I might add one of the problems in the modern church is the eroding away of the sense of sin and thus the confessional lines have been pretty small. Then you go into a more traditional parish and see long lines, some going to confession several times a week…causing one priest to exclaim, ‘There must be alot of sin in this parish!’…implying scrupulosity as well.

Thanks, KathleenGee. I’ll do as you suggest and take a closer look at the CCC. I found an online copy and have perused some of it, but definitely not all of it.

Hi Tommy,

Here are three responses to your question from two of the priests at Catholic Answers. I hope they help.

[LIST]
*]What is the difference between a mortal sin and a venial sin?
*]How does a venial sin escalate to a mortal sin?
*]How can laughter be a sin?
[/LIST]
As to why there is a differences, that is because there is a difference in the New Testament.

See, 1st John 5:16-17 for example.
***[16] If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. [17] All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal. ***

That is good advice. There are a few good links I can give you, one of which you have probably already found, but these are some that I use pretty frequently along with my own hard copies. :slight_smile:

[LIST]
*] USCCB Catechism
*]Catechism of the Catholic Church
*]Searchable Catechism of the Catholic Church
*]Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
*]The Baltimore Catechism
[/LIST]

The clearest Scriptural evidence as to the degrees of sin comes from 1 John 5:16-17,

If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that.  All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.

Tommy did you get the link I sent you in a message.

Perhaps an analogy would help.

Consider a man, or really any type of living organism. It can suffer many kinds of damage: some of it is light enough that, however much it hurts, it does not cause any overall harm. If I stub my toe, for example, it hurts, but it does not permanently damage my health.

On the other hand, some kinds of damage are fatal: for example, if a piano were to fall on top of me, or if I were to fall off a cliff, then … well, let’s hope that I was right with God, because in that case I would be shortly coming to visit Him.

Well, the spiritual organism is somewhat similar. What fundamentally damages the spiritual organism (what we call sanctifying grace, which consists of the indwelling of the Holy Trinity in the soul of the believer) is sin. Some kinds of sin are painful, because they lead us into bad habits and so dull our ability to love God and neighbor, but they do nothing that fundamentally changes our friendship with God. These are the sins that we call venial. (The term comes the Latin venia, which roughly means “leniency” or “mercy.”)

On the other hand, some sins are so serious they render any supernatural love for God impossible. They kill our supernatural organism (that indwelling of the Holy Trinity in the soul), so to speak. (Obviously our actions can never cause any harm to God, but such serious sins cause most grievous harm to us.) These are the sins that we call mortal. (The very name suggests that they cause the death of the soul.)

(Let us leave aside for the moment that in the case of a physical organism, there are certain kinds of damage that are intermediate between the two. Material beings necessarily have a wide “grey” area between those things that are basically harmless to them, and those that are fatal. Spiritual realities are more cut-and-dry, so to speak, because they don’t depend on our materialness.)

So that is the idea: if someone sins so gravely that he cuts himself off from the grace of God, he has sinned mortally. Otherwise, merely venially.

How can you know if you have sinned mortally or venially? It is generally rather easy, because mortal sins require a certain amount of malice. If you are not sure, the sin was probably venial.

However, there are some guidelines for helping us to know, if there is a doubt. Basically, they are as follows:

[LIST=1]
*]There has to be grave matter. That is, whatever the person has done must be a serious transgression. For example, murder, rape, lying under oath, procuring an abortion, using contraception, homosexual acts, and so on.
*]The person has to know that the action is wrong. Moreover, he must know that what he is doing is one of those transgressions. (For example, if it is adultery, he has to know that adultery is wrong; and he must know that what he is doing is adultery.)
*]He must choose to commit the transgression freely.
[/LIST]

If any of these conditions is missing or somehow compromised, then that mitigates the person’s culpability. Therefore, it is entirely possible for someone to commit an objectively grave act, but not be guilty of a mortal sin. (For example, a teenage girl who procures an abortion may be acting out of fear. In that case, what she has done is a grave wrong; but she may not be subjectively guilty, at least not mortally. It will still, unfortunately, have lasting psychological effects, but that has nothing to do with the moral guiltiness.)

More on Scriptures regarding this question in another post.

Thanks for the good links, Church Militant. Those help a lot. I’ve looked at a couple already and will look at some more later today after church.

Regarding the Scriptures:

The Scriptures admit of different degrees of sinfulness. For example, the Ten Commandments outline the fundamental precepts that man must obey in order to be right with God. Things that follow outside the direct scope of the Commandments are generally less serious: for example, we have a grave obligation not to kill other human beings (killing is only permitted, practically, to prevent an assailant from killing even more people); causing them non-fatal bodily harm is clearly less serious (although some kinds could still be mortally sinful). Although the Law of Talion is still crude, it still clearly shows that the proper punishment is “an eye for an eye,” not “a head for an eye.”

The Old Testament also qualifies certain sins: some sins are an “abomination;” some “cry out to God.” On the other hand, some merely have to do with strictly ceremonial requirements. (One of the problems that Jesus had with the Pharisees was getting them to see that many of the precepts in Leviticus were simply ceremonial.)

Then there is the passage from the 1 John 5:16-17:

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.

It is actually difficult to interpret exactly what John means by “sin that leads to death” and why we should not “pray for that.” John may be thinking of the so-called “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” that is unforgivable (because it entails a rejection of the very means for receiving forgiveness). But it is clear that some sins are less serious (for the do not lead to death) than others (which do lead to death).

Moreover, Jesus makes it clear that the subjective disposition of the person who commits a sin is taken into account:

And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more (Luke 12:47-48).

There may be other passages, but I think that these constitute solid support for that distinction.

Thanks for the scriptural reference regarding mortal and venial sin, Duane.

Yes, I got your link that you sent regarding Dale Ahlquist and the communion of the Saints in The Journey Home series and listened to it earlier today. That helped a lot.

I think I have a much more accurate perspective on it now and am no longer spooked by the communion of the saints. When I look at the saints as our role models in the faith as well as being available in heaven to pray for us to God instead of being objects of worship themselves who replace Christ (like I previously thought was the case) , I am ok with it and see spiritual benefits from it.

Thank you, Duane. You reached out with the equivalent of a spiritual ‘hand up’ to me in overcoming another obstacle along my faith journey and I appreciate it a lot. :thumbsup:

Thanks for taking the time to explain it in more depth, lmelahn, and especially for the scriptural references.

Sin that is Mortal Proved from Scripture

1 John 5:16-17
16If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. 17All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

Common sense tells us that there is a big difference between stealing a paperclip from a colleague’s desk and committing genocide. Yet the Protestant pretends that they are equally heinous and equally deserving of eternal damnation. This creates a false piety. Instead of making all sins more serious, it actually trivializes the most grievous sins. After all “In for a penny, in for a pound.” If I am damned anyway for trivia, I might as well be damned for something really juicy. That’s human nature!

Protestants also do not realize how unbiblical their idea that all sin is equally heinous is. We have the quotation from St. John given above which should have been proof enough, but there is more. If all sins are equally bad then in the OT the penalty for every sin would have been the same: DEATH. Instead, the Old Testament describes several ways of atoning for sins and making things right that demonstrate there are different degrees of sin. Only the most heinous sins such as murder or apostasy require the death penalty.

So once again, by using purely man-made standards, the Protestant makes void the word of God.

John 19:11
11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”

If there is a “greater” sin, then there must be a “lesser” sin, also.

Thanks, Randy.

I don’t think all protestants believe that all sin is equal, but they may believe that all sin separates us from God. I have always admired and respected Billy Graham. After all, it was in one of his crusades where my faith journey got kick-started after I accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Here is his reply to a similar question. I just found it during a website search. I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of looking there earlier. I’d like to get the Catholic perspective on what he had to say on the subject if someone would take the time to view and comment on the following link.

billygraham.org/answer/whats-the-most-serious-sin-we-can-commit/

I realize that I did not answer your question about these examples in particular. Naturally, we can only make a judgment of the objective gravity of each of these actions, not the interior culpability of the persons who commit them.

The first thing to notice is that some of these offenses admit of degrees, whereas others do not. Profanity, for example, may range all the way from not sinful at all to grievously sinful. (If I use scatological words, for example, it is distasteful, but not really sinful, unless some circumstance makes it so; if I use it to show disrespect to my parents, for example. On the other hand, solemnly condemning someone in the name of God would would be gravely sinful.) So, for these kinds of transgression, the answer will be “it depends.”

Stealing very small amounts does not constitute a grave offense. (Stealing it from a convenience store is, however, extremely risky, because there are security cameras. That circumstance could render it more serious.) Playing on your computer at work (if done for substantial periods of time) is really a kind of stealing, at least if you are being paid by the hour. Notice that stealing a car is almost guaranteed to be gravely sinful, because it is very expensive item, and stealing it would cause a lot of harm to the owner.

The seriousness of not helping someone on the side of the road depends a lot on how serious is the stranding and how realistic it is to help him. (E.g., is he simply out of gas on a sunny day, or is it 40 below zero?)

Gossiping, yelling at your wife or children, and speeding are to be judged similarly. (Speeding 10 miles an hour over the limit is one thing; 50 miles an hour is another. The key question is: is your driving endangering lives or seriously endangering property? If yes, then it is gravely sinful.)

On the other hand, there are other actions that do not really admit of degrees. Using some substances (e.g., marijuana, large amounts of alcohol) impairs your ability to control your reason and your actions. If you deliberately try to get intoxicated, you are also accepting the danger to your your life and others’.

Similarly with premarital sex (or adultery or similar things): performing a sexual act with someone you are not married to is always gravely sinful.

Missing church on Sunday is a slightly more complicated issue, because going to church is not part of the Divine Law. We are directed to keep the Sabbath holy (and for us Christians, that basically applies to the Lord’s Day, Sunday), but we are not told exactly how to apply that. It depends, therefore, on the laws made by the Church. For Catholics, that entails a grave obligation to attend Mass each Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. (They are required to attend Mass, not necessarily receive Communion, by the way.)

Hence, for a Catholic, watching tennis instead would be gravely sinful, not because watching tennis is somehow sinful, but because he is omitting something that the Church has asked him to do.

Although the requirement to attend Mass is it itself a Church-made precept, it is based a divine precept: we, creatures of God, have a solemn duty to give our Lord due honor and worship. And (according to the Catholic Church’s teaching) there is no higher way to worship God than in the Mass.

(We should never look at the Sunday-Mass obligation as a burden: it is simply that the Mass is so beneficial for the faithful, that the Church does not want them to go without. It obliges us the same way we are obliged to eat food and drink water every day: we cannot live without them.)

Thanks for taking the time to address the examples I gave. Much appreciated. I think I understand your reasoning and it seems pretty logical when I come to think about it.
There are some gray areas, but I assume if there is any doubt, a Catholic would ask his priest for clarification, I would think. Thanks again, lmelahn. :slight_smile:

I have always liked Billy Graham; however, I will take exception to this part of the post:

But in God’s eyes, all sin is serious, and even one sin — just one — will cut us off from God and make us subject to His judgment. I realize this may be hard to understand, since it’s very different from the way we normally look at sin. But God is pure and holy, and even one sin is an offense to Him. The Bible says, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).

I am not convinced that “one sin will cut us off from God” UNLESS that one sin is mortal.

:thumbsup: AMEN :thumbsup:
All sin does indeed “separate us from God”, yet just as all disobedience “separates” us from our parents, the degree of separation will vary.

I understand there is a differentiation in Catholicism between ‘Venial’ and ‘Mortal’ sins, with venial being more minor sin while mortal sins are more serious.

I think here you only have a portion of the matter.
Many great links have been provided - but allow me to offer mu thoughts.
While a sin can be objectively more or less grave, in order for a sin to be “Mortal” two other conditions must be met. 1) You must know it is a sin (that is against the will of God which is Love) and 2) you must willfully choose to do it.

So - the thing that truly makes a sin Mortal is this willful rejection of God’s Love. It is a deliberate choosing of evil over choosing good. This stems more or less directly from the idea of the deadly sin that Jesus spoke of…blaspheming the Holy Spirit. It is a deliberate choice to turn away from God - to leave His house and His protection.
In short - it is choosing mortality (death) over immortality (life).

Thankfully - God is merciful and, should we choose to turn away from him for a time He will welcome us back should we repent and “reconvert”. Thank Our Lord for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

  1. Why is there a distinction made between types of sin?

Largely to help the faithful to better understand what we are called to and to aid us on our journey into holiness. The faithful can struggle between despair (I sin therefore I am condemned) and presumption (no sin can separate me from God). The Church’s teachings on sin help us to steer a correct path between these extremes.

  1. Can you give some biblical examples that support this venial and mortal distinction of sins?

Provided by others.

  1. How can the average Catholic know if he is committing a venial sin or a mortal one?
  1. Listen to your conscience.
  2. Try not to act impulsively - but with thought
  3. Daily examination of conscience.
  4. Weigh all acts against the great commands of Love.

I will assume that breaking any of the Ten Commandments would be a mortal sin, correct?

The catechism does indeed say that the ten commandments form the foundation of what is considered “grave matter”.
But -
Whether it is mortal sin or not requires more discernment. Read the Catechism prayerfully and it will become more clear.

I realize this is probably Catholicism 101 to many of you but I don’t have a background in it so I appreciate your patience and understanding as I strive to grow in my understanding of Catholicism.

You are welcom.

For example, for a Catholic, are these venial or mortal sins and how can you tell?

– Yelling at your wife or kids in an uncharitable way
– Getting drunk
– Gossiping
– Using Profanity
– Premarital sex
– Taking illegal drugs (marijuana, etc)
– Speeding on the highway or city street
– Seeing someone stranded on the side of the road and not doing anything to help.
– Stealing a candy bar from a convenience store
– Stealing a car left running in a convenience store parking lot
– Watching ‘Breakfast at Wimbledon’ on TV instead of attending church one Sunday.
– Playing on the computer for a bit instead of working during working hours at your job.

Thanks for your help in understanding the concept or venial versus mortal sins.:tiphat:
Each of the above requires more than just the act. As I pointed out earlier, knowledge and choice are the other two components. The best we can do with you list above is to say that one thing is more grave than another. Yet (IMHO) the gravity of even a minor sin is increased if one deliberately chooses to do it - while an more serious sin is mitigated if done without thinking…
It can all get quite complicated…Thank God for a good confessor.

Just some thoughts.

Peace
James

It is true that ALL sins separate us from God. The protestant in your background would believe likely, that God covers our sin through Christ on the cross. That is often held as once saved always saved, and repentance does not play a role in sins being forgiven, simply believing in Jesus is all that matters.

Catholics, and many protestants, believe that Sins committed require repentance. God will always forgive us, Jesus paid the price for us and covers us, but we have to ask him to do so in our repentance. We have to “finish the race” according to St Paul. We have to “work out our salvation in fear and trembling” in other words of St Paul.

  1. Why is there a distinction made between types of sin?

There is a distinction between sins that require reconciliation with the church and sins that do not. So, all sins need to be repented of and asked for forgiveness. Venial sins, are sins that do not involve “grave matter” but are sins nonetheless and do break the relationship with Christ in some way. We are forgiven of these venial sins whenever we ask in prayer or go to mass and say the Confiteor “I confess to almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault through my fault through my most grievous fault. Therefore I ask Blessed Mary Ever Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you my brothers and sisters to pray for me to the Lord our God.” The priest then prays something along the lines of “May Almighty God, forgive us our sins and bring us into everlasting life” to which the people respond “Amen” (Ok Liturgy Police…I know its paraphrased)

Other sins are seen as “grave matter” They are sins that we obstinately turn our back on God and say I am sinning anyway. They are serious breaks in the faith. The church teaches that such sins are so serious that one must show proper repentance and reconcile not just with God, but also the church by going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the early Church this was actually done publicly in front of all of the people. It is a reflection that our sins affect more than just us, they affect the community and one needs to truly be repentant and go to Confession as a sign of that repentance and to receive the proper guidance from the church on how to avoid this sin and do penance to rectify the earthly consequence of our sin (like return stolen merchandise for example).

In a nut shell- Mortal sins require confession to return to a state of grace, Venial sins require a contrite heart and internal repentance but do not completely break us from a state of grace. So if I fail to do my daily prayers, that is probably sinful but it does not fracture the bond with God and the Church the way it would if I murdered someone.

  1. Can you give some biblical examples that support this venial and mortal distinction of sins?

1 John 5 is probably the big verse, but read this entire tract from Catholic Answers and I think it will be convincing.

catholic.com/blog/tim-staples/mortal-and-venial-sin

  1. How can the average Catholic know if he is committing a venial sin or a mortal one?

For a sin to be mortal three conditions need to exist.

First it must be grave matter
Second it must be done willfully
Third it must be done knowingly.

So it must be grave, you must know it is grave, and you then choose to do it anyway. If in doubt it is best to be healed in the sacrament of reconciliation. It is a powerful sacrament, the one that really convinced me of Catholicism, by experiencing the immense grace of that sacrament.

I will assume that breaking any of the Ten Commandments would be a mortal sin, correct?

see above…yes if done willfully and knowingly

I realize this is probably Catholicism 101 to many of you but I don’t have a background in it so I appreciate your patience and understanding as I strive to grow in my understanding of Catholicism.

It is refreshing and outstanding that you are such a seeker of the truth.

See below for grave matter or not grave matter…Remember that in addition to grave matter one must know it is grave and then choose to do it anyway. Also, these are things that are sometimes gray areas, as such they should be considered in the exact situation with the help of your confessor, but I will leave my opinion.

– Yelling at your wife or kids in an uncharitable way Possibly Grave…I confess sins like this personally
– Getting drunk Grave matter
– Gossiping Likely Venial but it depends on if it is malicious or damages someones reputation
– Using Profanity Venial unless you are attacking someone with vulgar words
– Premarital sex Grave Matter
– Taking illegal drugs (marijuana, etc) Grave matter
– Speeding on the highway or city street Venial at best…may not be a sin
– Seeing someone stranded on the side of the road and not doing anything to help. Venial
– Stealing a candy bar from a convenience store Grave matter
– Stealing a car left running in a convenience store parking lot Grave matter
– Watching ‘Breakfast at Wimbledon’ on TV instead of attending church one Sunday. Grave matter
– Playing on the computer for a bit instead of working during working hours at your job. Likely Venial

What Billy Graham means by this is that Sin is opposite God. God cannot be involved in sin as it is contrary to his nature.

So a single sin separates us from God. We need a savior to rectify the situation. This is why Jesus was sent to open the gates of heaven for us.

Before Christ no one was in heaven, because the mechanism for freeing us from sin was not yet in place. We needed Jesus for that.

So in this sense, one sin separates us from God.

Where Catholics and Evangelicals differ is in how to receive and maintain this great gift God gives us.

For evangelicals it is generally by just believing it to be so.

For Catholics it is by being baptized, and walking forward in a living faith that involves repentance and confession when we fail. The distinction between mortal and venial involves maintaining the path of salvation that we entered into, demonstrating our faith and pursuing Christ in a real way. It is in this context that sins have differing consequence.

Man - I need to spell check my stuff better…:yup::blushing:

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