Mortal and Venial
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Simplified
Distinguishing Mortal and Venial Sins (1854-1855)
The distinction between mortal and venial sins is evident from Scripture, part of the Church's Tradition, and corroborated by experience.
By mortal sin (a grave violation of God's law) man destroys charity, turns away from God, and chooses an inferior good. Venial sin offends charity but allows it to continue in the soul.
Explaining Mortal Sin (1856)
Mortal sin, because it attacks charity, requires God's mercy and a conversion of heart. This is normally accomplished in the sacrament of Reconciliation. When the will chooses something which is incompatible with love for God (such as blasphemy) or against love for neighbor (homicide or adultery) the sin is mortal.
"When the will is set upon a disorder not totally opposed to charity (as thoughtlessness) such sins are venial" (St. Thomas Aquinas).
Three Conditions (1857)
A mortal sin requires three conditions:
- The object is grave matter
- It is committed with full knowledge
- It is done with deliberate consent
Grave Matter (1858)
Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments. Jesus said, "Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not defraud. Honor your father and your mother" (Mk 10:19). Some sins are more grave than others. Murder is greater than thefts. Violence against parents is greater than against a stranger.
Knowledge and Consent (1859-1860)
Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes that the person knows that the act is sinful and is opposed to God's law. It also requires a deliberate consent which is a personal choice. Feigned ignorance or hardness of heart increase the voluntariness.
Unintentional ignorance can diminish or remove grave imputability. However, no one is ignorant of the moral law written on the heart. Many factors (feelings, passions, external pressure, emotional disorders) can also diminish personal freedom. Sins of malice (a deliberate choice of evil) are the greatest.
Need for Repentance (1861)
Being free, man is capable of committing mortal sin which deprives him of sanctifying grace. This can exclude him from God's kingdom forever if he does not repent and seek God's forgiveness. When a person chooses mortal sin and refuses to turn back, he will suffer eternal death in hell.
Venial Sins (1862-1863)
A person commits a venial sin in two cases:
- When he does not observe God's law in a less serious matter
- When he did not have full knowledge or give full consent in a grave matter
Venial sins show disordered affections and impede the person's progress in virtue. If deliberate and unrepented, they dispose the person to mortal sins. However "Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace or friendship with God" (Pope John Paul II). "When he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. However, a number of light objects makes a great mass. What then is our hope? Above all, confession" (St. Augustine).
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (1864)
Jesus said that "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness" (Mk 3:29). This deliberate refusal to repent and receive God's mercy, rejects the Spirit's forgiveness. Such hardness can lead to final impenitence and to eternal loss.