Sin – Mortal vs. Venial

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We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But, are all sins classified as the same or is there a difference? Some folks who hold to the “once saved, always saved” theology might say, “There is no difference in the magnitude of certain sins. There is no venial or mortal sins. All sins are serious. The wages of sin is death! And the smallest of sins is still heinous and immense in the eyes of God because in essence every sin is a rebellion against the God of the Universe. Thank God, we know that it is not by our merit that we are saved, but by the blood of Jesus Christ. Because of Him, we can be sure that our sins are forgiven and that we have eternal life. We will escape hell not because our sins are venial and small, but because we have a powerful and merciful Savior. We know that our sins were not trivial; our Savior had to die on the cross to free us from our sins!” While he may think all sin is serious, this person sees no reason to look at sin as an obstacle to entering heaven because there is no sin that he commits that can keep him out. In his view, after he has accepted the Lord in his heart and said the sinners prayer, he has already been forgiven for any sin he commits until he dies.

It seems that some may view the Catholic Church as “downplaying” the seriousness of sin because the Church speaks of some sin as more serious than other sins. Some may say that it downplays the seriousness of all sin. The reality of what the Church teaches is that mortal and venial sin are serious, but that venial sins are not as serious as mortal sins. The Church takes the division to mean serious unto death vs. serious but not unto death. There is a big difference. Salvation is not a one time event, but it is a life long journey. And because of that, sin plays a very important role. All sin is an offense against God! As such, all sin is a serious matter. But, not all sin causes the death of the divine life within the soul.

What is sin? Well, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states; “Sin is an offense against God: ‘Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight [Rom 5:21].‘ Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become ‘like gods,’ knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus ‘love of oneself even to contempt of God [St. Augustine, De civ. Dei 14,28:PL 41,436].’ In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.” (CCC#1850)

thCAVT3MN9In the first letter of St. John, he says: “If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin [a sin “unto death” in the King James Version], he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal [unto death]. There is sin which is mortal [unto death]; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal [unto death].” (1 John 5:16-17) In the very plain words of Scripture, we see that there are two types of sin. “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 (CCC#1855).”

With regards to mortal sin, there are three conditions that have to be met. The sin must be of grave matter, you must commit it with full knowledge and must have deliberate consent.

“Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: “Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother [Mark 10:19].” The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger (CCC#1858).”

“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 (CCC#1859).”

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 (CCC#1860).”

“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…Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace it is humanly reparable. ‘Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness’ [John Paul II, RP 17 § 9].” (CCC#’s1862-1863)

Until next time, God bless.

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