The essence of mortal sin consists in turning aside from God, our last end, and virtually placing our supreme happiness in some created good. But our last end is the vital and guiding principle of moral conduct, and to throw that aside is to make complete shipwreck of the moral life. It is not merely to wander out of the direct path, as is done by committing venial sin ; however much this is done, if the ship be kept moving toward the port, it will come to harbour at last; but if the ship be steered altogether away from the port, it will never get there. By committing mortal sin, then, we turn away from God, our last end ; we rob our souls of the sanctifying grace of God which is their life, and we incur liability to eternal separation from God and punishment in hell.  

Venial sin is indeed an offence against God, but it does not turn the soul away from him, nor rob it of his sanctifying grace ; and it is more easily pardoned than mortal sin.    

2. Mortal sin is sin in the fullest and most complete sense; it is an act of consummate wickedness. A bad act must have three conditions in order to be mortally sinful :    

(a) There must be full advertence to the grave malice of the act. A child that has not yet attained the full use of reason, a person half asleep, or half drunk, or half-witted, cannot know and appreciate sufficiently the malice of mortal sin, and so cannot commit it. It is not, however, necessary to reflect explicitly on God; or on the grave wickedness contained in the act in order to sin mortally. It will be sufficient if one who has the full use of reason consciously does what he knows to be seriously wrong, although there is no actual weighing of motives for doing or avoiding the act, no actual thought of God, no explicit calling to mind of the terrible consequences of mortal sin. Men who never think of God from morning till night, men who do not believe in hell, certainly commit mortal sins when they do what their consciences tell them is seriously wrong. Their conscience, as we saw above, is the voice of God. 

Besides advertence of the mind to the malice of the act, there must be full and free consent of the will to do it. If a man does not give full consent, but only dallies with the temptation, there is venial but not mortal sin; if, through being only half conscious or partially deranged, he has not full control over his will, he cannot be guilty of mortal sin.   After a temptation to sin is over, the conscience is sometimes uncertain and troubled as to whether full consent was given to sin. Often one may form one's conscience on the point by reflecting whether he was fully awake or conscious of what he was doing, whether the sinful act to which temptation impelled him was executed if there was the opportunity of doing so. If doubt remains, it should be settled by presumptions drawn from what usually happens. If he usually yields to such temptations, the presumption is that he did so on this doubtful occasion ; the presumption is in his favour if he does not usually yield consent.

(c) The object or the matter to which consent is given must be seriously against the moral law in order that a sin may be mortal.   The matter is serious as a rule when the sin committed is directly against our duty to God, as blasphemy, heresy, hatred of God, idolatry, despair of God's mercy.   The matter is also serious when the sin causes great harm to our neighbour, as do sins against justice, charity, and obedience.   When sins cause great harm to the sinner himself the matter will also be serious and the sins mortal. This is the case with sins of intemperance and lust.    

3. Some grievous sins are always mortal if there be full advertence and consent in the act. They do not admit parvity of matter, as theologians say. On the other hand, some sins, which if the matter be serious are mortal, become venial when the matter is light; sins against justice and charity are of this kind. It is a mortal sin to steal ten pounds, it is a venial sin to steal a penny.  

Some sins are of their nature venial, and only become mortal when they contract some special malice from the circumstances. Fidelity to a simple promise binds under pain of venial sin, but when the promise is bilateral and the matter serious, as in espousals, it binds under grave sin and in justice.    

4. From what has been said about mortal sin, it will be clear that a sin will be venial if anyone of the three conditions required for mortal sin be wanting.    

5. Mortal sin may in certain circumstances become venial, and, on the contrary, venial sin may become mortal. The following paragraphs will make this clear :  

(a) Mortal sin may become venial on account of an erroneous conscience which wrongly judges a grave sin to be only venial.    

(6) The same may happen on account of imperfect advertence or imperfect consent to an act which in itself is gravely sinful. '    

On the other hand, a venial sin may become mortal :    

(a) On account of an erroneous conscience which falsely judges a venial sin to be mortal.    

(b) On account of a gravely sinful intention with which a venial sin is committed, as when a lie is told in order to commit adultery.    

(c) On account of the proximate danger to which one is exposed of committing grave sin, as when one reads a slightly indecent book, but foreseeing that it will be the proximate occasion of grave sin.    

(d) On account of grave scandal caused by venial sin.    

(e) When light matter coalesces and becomes grave by additions, as when one who is bound to fast frequently in the day takes small quantities of food, which are notable in the aggregate  when a considerable amount of money is stolen in small thefts.   Although no mere multiplication of venial sins can ever amount to a mortal sin, yet venial sin frequently committed disposes the soul to commit mortal sin both directly and indirectly. Directly, by forming a habit which becomes stronger and stronger, continually requiring greater indulgence for its satisfaction, and finally leads to mortal sin. This is often seen in such sins as theft and lust. Indirectly, because venial sin familiarizes the soul with wrongdoing, lessens the fear of God in the soul, diminishes the fervour of charity, and causes God to withhold those more abundant graces which he would otherwise give, and which would preserve the soul from sin, but without which the soul falls grievously.  

To deliberate whether we shall commit mortal sin or not, weighing the reasons on either side, is itself a grievous sin. It is against the precept of charity, by which we are obliged ever to cling unswervingly to God; it is a grievous injury to God, as if a subject were seriously to deliberate whether he should or should not be faithful to his king and country.    

7. In this chapter we have for the most part kept in view the objective malice of sin. As a rule, the confessor should judge of sins confessed according to the objective malice, but he will, of course, bear in mind that the subjective malice of sin may be very different from the objective. The subjective malice of sin will depend upon the degree of instruction and knowledge, the graces which the sinner had received, the violence of the temptation to which he was subjected, whether he was influenced by habit, perhaps unconsciously formed, or whether he was the subject of hereditary tendency, and many other considerations. It is obvious that the question of subjective malice must be generally left to the infinite knowledge of God, who alone sees and penetrates the inmost recesses of the heart. 

COMMENTS: Here mortal sin is defined as not putting God first. The serious harm done to a person is really only a symptom and not the sin itself.  This does not fit the view that for morality to be useful and true it needs to consider what the most harmful course is and avoid it.  Catholicism claims to believe in objective morality.  Here we have something like, "This is only bad for God says so."  A non-sin or a venial sin becomes a hell-deserving mortal sin if you think it is one.  This does not fit our justice.  You do not send the man to jail for stabbing the sofa thinking it is his wife.


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