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Mortal sin is sin that, unless forgiven and fully absolved, condemns a person to Hell after death. These sins are considered "mortal" because they constitute a rupture in a person's link to God's saving grace: the person's soul becomes "dead", not merely weakened. The phrase is used in First John 5.16-17:[1] "If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one - to those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin that is mortal; I do not say you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not mortal." (NRSV)


Roman Catholicism

In Roman Catholic moral theology, a mortal sin, as distinct from a venial sin, must meet all of the following conditions at the same time:

  1. Its subject must be a grave (or serious) matter.
  2. It must be committed with full knowledge, both of the sin and of the gravity of the offence (no one is considered ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are inborn as part of human knowledge, but these principles can be misunderstood in a particular context -- for example, a Samurai committing seppuku would probably not have full knowledge, although suicide is grave matter).
  3. It must be committed with deliberate and complete consent, enough for it to have been a personal decision to commit the sin.

The Catechism defines grave matter as: "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.".[2] The Church itself does not provide a precise list of sins, subdivided into the mortal and venial categories. These sins must be specifically confessed and named, giving details about the context of each sin: what sin, why, against what or whom, the number and type of occurrences, and any other factors that may exacerbate or lessen one's responsibility and culpability that the person confessing remembers. Roman Catholic belief holds that mortal sin can vary somewhat in seriousness, and thus canon law only lists some of those that are more serious.

Some acts cause automatic excommunication by the very deed itself e.g. an apostate [3], a person who desecrates the Eucharist [4] and "a person who procures a completed abortion" [5].

The eternal punishment due to the sinner is not the same as that resulting from excommunication or penalties like it, which result when a Catholic commits certain mortal sins that are so serious that the Church through law has made them crimes, like abortion or heresy. Because commission of these offenses are so serious, the Church forbids the excommunicated from receiving any sacrament (not just the Eucharist) and also severely restricts the person's participation in other Church liturgical acts and offices. However, even if excommunicated, a Catholic who has not been juridically absolved is still, due to the irrevocable nature of baptism, a member of the Church in the sense that they are still considered members of Catholic Church, albeit their communion with the Christ and the Church is gravely impaired. Some of these crimes are so serious that they merit not imposed, but automatic, excommunication from the Catholic Church. For this or any related formal penalty to be imposed, one must be aware not only of the seriousness of the offence as a mortal sin,[citation needed] but also know of the penalty that is to be incurred, and been warned, [6] though this is sometimes more apparent in certain contexts. No penalty (including excommunication) imposed may be considered perpetual.[7]

Mortal sins are not to be confused with the deadly sins. The latter are not sins but rather categories of sin or vice, corresponding to weaknesses in human nature. Mortal sins may also be called "grave", "eternal", "grievous" or "serious" sins.

The Roman Catholic teaching on mortal sin was called into question by some within the Church in the late 20th century after the Second Vatican Council. In response to these doubts, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the basic teaching in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor. It is also maintained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states: "Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell."[8]. However, the Catechism does not say that there is actually anyone in Hell, although it does say that "...our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back."[9] Most significantly, the Catechism also proclaims that "There are no limits to the mercy of God...."[10] and that "...although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offence, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God."[11]

Eastern Churches in the Catholic Church

The Eastern Catholic Churches, which derive their theology and spirituality from some of the same sources as the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, use the Latin Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sin, though they are not named mortal and venial. Similarly to the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Catholic Churches do make a distinction between sins that are serious enough to bar one from receiving Communion (and must be confessed before receiving once again) and those not sufficiently serious to do so.

Eastern Orthodox

Although some Christians in the Eastern Orthodox churches do not accept the following, there are devout Orthodox Christians who do accept the teaching about mortal sins, summarized by Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov in his book "A word on death". In this book, the chapter entitled "Mortal sin" starts with the following passage:

It has been said earlier that mortal sin of an Orthodox Christian, not being cured by repentance, submits him to eternal suffering; it has also been said that the unbelievers, Muslims, and other non-orthodox, even here are the possession of hell, and are deprived of any hope of salvation, being deprived of Christ, the only means of salvation. Mortal sins for Christians are the next: heresy, schism, blasphemy, apostasy, witchery, despair, suicide, fornication, adultery, unnatural carnal sins,* incest, drunkenness, sacrilege, murder, theft, robbery, and every cruel and brutal injury. Only one of this sins—suicide—cannot be healed by repentance, and every one of them slays the soul and makes the soul incapable of eternal bliss, until he/she cleans himself/herself with due repentance. If a man falls but once in any of these sins, he dies by soul: For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. (James 2:10,11)

* Under "unnatural carnal sins" the next is implied: sodomy, bestiality, masturbation, and any unnatural intercourse between married people (such as using contraceptives, consummated oral or consummated anal intercourse, etc.) as is explained in the book "Ascetical Trials", also written by Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov.

Another authorotative source is the Exomologetarion of Nicodemus the Hagiorite[1]. He distinguishes 7 classes of sin[12]:

  1. Pardonable
  2. Near the pardonable
  3. Non-mortal
  4. Near the non-mortal
  5. Between the mortal and the non-mortal
  6. Near the mortal
  7. Mortal

Nicodemus gives the following example for the seven classes of sin. "The initial movement of anger is pardonable; near to the pardonable is for someone to say harsh words and get hot-tempered. A non-mortal sin is to swear; near the non-mortal is for someone to strike with the hand. Between the non-mortal and the mortal is to strike with a small stick; near the mortal is to strike with a large stick, or with a knife, but not in the area of the head. A mortal sin is to murder. A similar pattern applies to the other sins. Wherefore, those sins nearer to the pardonable end are penanced lighter, while those nearer to the mortal end are more severely penanced."

He also stipulates 7 conditions of sin[13]:

  1. Who is the doer of the sin
  2. What sin was committed
  3. Why was it committed
  4. In what manner was it committed
  5. At what time/age was it committed
  6. Where was it committed
  7. How many times was it committed

See also

External links


  1. ^ 1 John 5:16-17
  2. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church - IntraText
  3. ^ Canon 1364.1
  4. ^ Canon 1367
  5. ^ Canon 1398
  6. ^ Canon 1347.1
  7. ^ Canon 1342.2
  8. ^ Catechism paragraph 1035
  9. ^ Catechism paragraph 1861
  10. ^ Catechism paragraph 1864
  11. ^ Catechism paragraph 1861
  12. ^ Dokos, G., Exomologetarion - A Manual of Confessions by our Righteous God-bearing Father Nikodemos the Hagiorite, 2006, Thessalonica, Uncut Mountain Press, p. 83
  13. ^ Dokos, G., Exomologetarion, p. 100

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