Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mortal Sin vs Venial Sin

Before we get into Calvin's discussion of the degrees of sin, we must wrap up something Calvin started yesterday.  Calvin tossed out the notion that Christ's commands to us were just "ecclesiastical counsels" but were earnest commands that coincided with the law.  Calvin looks at a specific example today: loving your enemies.  Jesus commanded, "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:44-45 NKJV).  According to the logic of those who believe that Christ's commands are optional, only monks will be considered "sons of your Father in heaven."  Calvin tells us that "Every one of the church fathers declares as a fact that these are actual commandments."  He also quotes Augustine, "When the Lord forbids us to commit adultery, he prohibits us from touching the wife of an enemy just as much as that of a friend.  When he forbids theft, he allows us to steal nothing at all, whether from a friend or from an enemy."  Calvin accuses those who argue against Christ's commands being legitimate commands of arguing "stupidly."  "This would, they say, be a burden too heavy for Christians! As if we could think of anything more difficult than to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength!  Compared with this law, everything ought to be considered easy - whether the requirement to love our enemy or to banish all desire for revenge from our hearts."  Really, if we do love God with all our heart, soul, and strength, then we will necessarily love our enemies because that is God's command to us.  Also, knowing that our enemies are made in the image of God would also be reason enough to love them if we truly love God.  Just because we are Christian it does not mean that we are not outside of the law.  Instead, Christ has freed us from the curse of the law and the Holy Spirit has written the law upon our hearts.

So what is the difference between mortal sins and venial sins?  According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "Venial sin is essentially different from mortal sin. It does not avert us from our true last end, it does not destroy charity, the principle of union with God, nor deprive the soul of sanctifying grace, and it is intrinsically reparable" (  In other words, a venial sin is a sin which requires only temporal punishment, not eternal punishment.  A mortal sin is "something said, done or desired contrary to the eternal law, or a thought, word, or deed contrary to the eternal law," and it "averts us from our true ultimate end" (  Calvin says that this is a false dichotomy.  All sin is mortal sin.  What did Paul tell us?  Did he say "the wages of SOME sin is death"?  Absolutely not.  He said "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).  All sin is against divine will and is subject to eternal punishment.  It is human invention and rationalization which led to some sin being thought of as more serious than other.  Augustine (who is quoted extensively in the Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on mortal sin) said about weighing sins, "let us not bring forward false balances to weigh what we please and as we please, according to our own opinion, saying, 'This is heavy; 'This is light.'  But let us bring forward the divine balance of the Holy Scriptures, as from the Lord's treasury, and in that balance let us weigh what is heavier.  No-not weigh; rather, let us recognize what the Lord has already weighed."

Every sin is a deadly sin, not just "mortal" sin.  All sin is against God.  Every time we sin, we are expressly going against God's law, therefore, "God's authority is set aside."  God clearly stated his will in the law, and whenever his law is broken he is displeased.  Calvin concludes the chapter by saying, "Let the children of God hold that all sin is mortal.  For it is rebellion against the will of God, which of necessity provokes God's wrath, and it is a violation of the law, upon which God's judgment is pronounced without exception.  The sins of the saints are pardonable, not because of their nature as saints, but because they obtain pardon from God's mercy."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.9.1-2.9.5

1 comment:

  1. St. John makes the distinction between mortal and non mortal sin. It IS Biblical!


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