Expert Answer Forum
Research on Damnation QUESTION from Luke Black November 7, 2000 Dear Mr. Ignatius,
I am doing research on damnation, but I am not very well versed in the Bible and Catholic tradtions. I would be most appreciative if you could cite a few passages I could read that may give me a better understanding of the sins that result in damnation. Thank you.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, O.L.S.M. on March 2, 2001 Dear Mr. Black:
The Catholic Church teaches that if a person dies with unrepentent MORTAL sin on their soul, then they will be damned (that is, will go to hell). 1 John 5:16 specifically tells us that there are some sins that lead to death and others do not.
The Bible and the Church teach that sin may be of greater of lesser offense. This is similar to the difference between a mistomeaner and a felony -- the mistomeaner is Venial Sin, and the Felony is Mortal sin. In fact the idea of a lessor crime of mistomneaer and a greater crime of felony comes from God's economy. It is a reflection of how God classifies sin.
Venial sins are minor sins that harm one's relationship with God but does not sever it. We may not totally turn our backs on God in venial sin, but we do offend Him. Mortal Sins are sins that are serious that sever one's relationship with God, we turn our backs on God. But just like in criminal law a person who commits a felony may have mitigating circumstances that lesson the offense (such as mental illness), the Church also teaches that mitigating circumstances can lesson one's culpability for a mortal sin. There are three criteria required for a sin to be mortal. The best way to discuss the differences between Venial and Mortal Sin is to quote the catechism:
IV. THE GRAVITY OF SIN: MORTAL AND VENIAL SIN 1854 Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture, became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience.
1855 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.
1856 Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us - that is, charity - necessitates a new initiative of God's mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation:
When the will sets itself upon something that is of its nature incompatible with the charity that orients man toward his ultimate end, then the sin is mortal by its very object . . . whether it contradicts the love of God, such as blasphemy or perjury, or the love of neighbor, such as homicide or adultery.... But when the sinner's will is set upon something that of its nature involves a disorder, but is not opposed to the love of God and neighbor, such as thoughtless chatter or immoderate laughter and the like, such sins are venial.
1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. 1858 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. 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.
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 133 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.
1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.
1862 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. 1863 Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul's progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. 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.
While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call light: if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession. 1864 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.
No what is the grave matter, the grave sin, that qualifies for possible mortal sin which could damn us to hell if left unrepentent upon death?
Well, first are the Ten Commandments. Another list of sins that qualify as Grave are listed in Galatians 5:19-21
19 Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Keep in mind that there are gradations of sin. Stealing a pen from work is a Venial Sin, stealing the company payroll would be a Grave Sin.
Also keep in mind that even if the sin if objectively Grave, it will not count as Mortal to the person unless the three conditions listed in the catechism quote above are all present. Thus, just like in criminal court where a felony may be reduced from 1st degree to 3rd degree due to circumstances, or even reduced to a mistomeanor, or even finding the person innocent (be reason of insanity for example), so may a Grave sin be reduced to even a venial sin depending on the level of culpability the sinner has.
Since we can never absolutely be sure of a persons state of mind and heart, no one can charge another with MORTAL SIN. We can certainly say a person has committed a Grave Sin, but we can't know the mortalness of it because only God knows for sure whether the person has acted with full freedom of will. Thus the Church NEVER says anyone is in hell. We cannot know who goes to hell. And we cannot know who goes to heaven either, except when the Holy Spirit reveals to the Church that a person is a Saint. Only those declared Saints are we sure about. And we are know the Saints are in heaven.
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