Is it hard to commit a mortal sin? Part 2

If it were true (is it?) that one can only commit a mortal sin with full knowledge of its consequences, it would follow that only Christians are capable of committing mortal sin; because only Christians would know of and believe in the existence of in Heaven and Hell, and the potential for losing the one and being cast into the other as a result of mortal sin. All others either would be ignorant of these things, or would not believe in their existence.

And if only Christians were capable of committing mortal sin, it would follow that, rather than preaching the Gospel, the best way to save souls from Hell would be to SUPPRESS the Gospel!

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9 thoughts on “Is it hard to commit a mortal sin? Part 2

  1. Yes, Mormons have got the same argument from village atheists for some time. Since we believe that infants who die before the age of baptism are automatically saved,* they say ‘so why don’t you just kill kids lefts and right, huh, huh, huh?’ You could ask the same question of Catholics about infants who are just baptised. Why not kill them and guarantee their salvation?

    I think the answer in both cases is that creation is not just a machine for generating people who are non hell-bound. It is a machine for generating Saints. In other words, it is for men and women to freely embrace God in acts of love even in face of great temptations (like, for instance, mortal sins). So a person who avoids mortal sins through ignorance is kinda a waste.

    As it happens, I agree with you that “only Christians can commit mortal sin” is stupid. For one thing, ‘full knowledge of consequences’ is impossible to any mortal creature. But your actual argument here against that stupid doctrine doesn’t work because it ends up proving too much, since it can also be used as an argument for slaughtering infants after baptism, etc.

    *I personally think the truth is going to be a little more complicated than that, but never mind for now.

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  2. “[Y]our actual argument here against that stupid doctrine doesn’t work because it ends up proving too much, since it can also be used as an argument for slaughtering infants after baptism, etc.”

    Good point.

    After re-thinking my argument, I think what I’m really saying is something like this:

    The people who believe it’s hard to commit a mortal sin, are the same ones who believe that non-Christians have just as much chance of being saved from eternal damnation as Christians do. They can know Christ and be saved by him, without knowing who he is, so to speak. The difference between them and Christians, is that Christians can lose their salvation through mortal sin, whereas non-Christians cannot, being ignorant of the consequences of doing so.

    We get the absurd result that people without the Gospel get the benefits of the Gospel without the dangers: People who don’t know the Gospel, or who reject it, can be saved (by which I mean joined to Christ), but once saved can’t be damned through their own fault, i.e. through committing mortal sin. So again it appears, logically, that those who have not the Gospel are better off than those who have. In which case how does it benefit anyone to have the Gospel preached to them?

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  3. People who don’t know the Gospel, or who reject it, can be saved (by which I mean joined to Christ), but once saved can’t be damned through their own fault, i.e. through committing mortal sin. So again it appears, logically, that those who have not the Gospel are better off than those who have. In which case how does it benefit anyone to have the Gospel preached to them?

    Again, I think the same objection attains. You are wandering towards consequentialist thinking where being virtuous and knowledgeable is only worthwhile if it leads to better outcomes. But the Christian might say that the best outcome is a man embracing salvation in full knowledge instead of ending up there because Christ mercifully redeemed his ignorance, even though the end is the same. Still, I admit that the strong missionary impulse in Christianity is hard to explain this way as a practical matter.

    The people who believe it’s hard to commit a mortal sin, are the same ones who believe that non-Christians have just as much chance of being saved from eternal damnation as Christians do. They can know Christ and be saved by him, without knowing who he is, so to speak.
    I like the implied argument here better. Its foolish to say that you can know Christ and accept salvation without full conscious knowledge but that you can’t reject him without full conscious knowledge. The possibility of unknowingly accepting entails the possibility of unknowingly rejecting.

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  4. I agree there are other benefits to having the Gospel preached to you besides “merely” being saved; for example enlightenment and sanctification, which are benefits in their own right. But I was arguing on the assumption that the Gospel’s *primary* purpose is the salvation of souls; by which I mean that knowing and believing the Gospel (and as a result, living it) is a means to salvation, and only secondarily a means of “self-improvement”, so to speak. However I would also contend that the two are intertwined such that becoming holy and being saved are really the same thing (and I don’t believe you would argue with that).

    But my point is that according to my imaginary opponents, those who don’t have the Gospel can still live it, be sanctified and enlightened by it, etc. — not “merely” saved by it — by God’s special graces given to them, despite not having heard the Gospel preached; that actually being informed of the factual content of the Gospel is well nigh irrelevant to its actual good effects on people. So they would argue, at least implicitly, that we who possess the factual content of the Gospel enjoy no advantage whatsoever, over those who have no religion, and even over those who have a religion that is at odds with the factual content of the Gospel. Again my position is that this is absurd and would make missionary activity superfluous.

    You write, “Its foolish to say that you can know Christ and accept salvation without full conscious knowledge but that you can’t reject him without full conscious knowledge. The possibility of unknowingly accepting entails the possibility of unknowingly rejecting.”

    Well put.

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  5. OK, I understand better now. You are arguing that, as advanced, the notion of “special grace”, i.e., unconsciously receiving the gospel and living it, must be comprehensive enough to include all of the benefits that could be asserted for consciously recieving the gospel and living it. So there would be no point to sharing the gospel or even to God revealing it.

    Good argument. I agree.

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  6. Yeah, I realize I am going beyond my original premises at this point, but this position is most often held by the same people who would argue that it’s “hard to commit a mortal sin”. Basically they don’t want to believe that anyone is bad enough to be deprived of heaven, and if they are bad it’s not their fault; and how dare we be arrogant enough to consider what we believe superior to what others believe, or that our beliefs are capable of giving us benefits that others don’t have. Yet when it comes to mortal sin, all of a sudden explicit knowledge is necessary.

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  7. The only thing that is requisite for the commission of a mortal sin is clear advertence on the part of the intellect that the act that one intends to do is gravely sinful (as in the case of willful murder or adultery or any other grave sin) and deliberate consent on the part of the will. It is not necessary to contemplate all the evil consequences of ones sin, all that is necessary is that one fully conscious that the sin is grave and commits it anyway.

    It is a divinely revealed truth (John 1:9) that God enlightens every man that comes into the world. In other words, all men who are capable of reason have a conscience on which the natural moral law is written. If is also divinely revealed that God gives sufficient grace to all men to enable them to be saved. Even a pagan who has never heard the Gospel is capable of discerning right from wrong, of choosing to do good and avoiding evil. Now even though a pagan is invincibly ignorant of the truths of the faith, that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of committing mortal sins. All he need do is violate his conscience he’s guilty of mortal sin. In fact, someone who has never had the Gospel preached to them is in far greater danger of losing eternal life for the simple reason that he doesn’t have recourse to the sacraments. How blessed we are who have received the teachings of the true faith and have access to the tribunal of God’s mercy in the sacrament of penance whereby we can be restored to God’s friendship after we’ve had the grievous misfortune of committing a mortal sin. That is why it’s absolutely imperative that those who sit in darkness have the light of the Gospel preached to them.

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  8. I’m personally of the opinion that it’s a lot easier to commit mortal sins than some would have us believe. Especially for those who are indifferent and don’t practice the faith. In such cases I think it’s kinda easy and once they’ve committed mortal sins it becomes easier and easier. For those who habitually fall into grave sins, after a while their conscience becomes so dull they are virtually blind. On the other hand, I do think that for a person who is genuinely striving hard to lead a good moral life it is harder. I know from my own experience that on occasions I’ve been guilty of committing sins that are objectively grave matter, when examining myself, I have to honestly admit that all three conditions that constitute mortal sin were not simultaneously present.

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  9. irmatvep:

    I could not have explained it better.

    I think you make a very good point about it being easier to commit a mortal sin for those who are lax or indifferent. I hadn’t thought of that in particular, but it would help explain why preaching the Gospel (even to Catholics!) is so vital, even if you do acknowledge that it’s not impossible for those without the Gospel to be saved.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share your ideas.

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