Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 17: Mortal and Venial Sins, Part 1

Pope John Paul II spends nearly two-thousand words in one of the longer sections to look at the seriousness of sin, traditionally classified as Mortal and Venial. This topic was reportedly much-discussed at the synod which preceded this document.

17. But here we come to a further dimension in the mystery of sin, one on which the human mind has never ceased to ponder: the question of its gravity. It is a question which cannot be overlooked and one which the Christian conscience has never refused to answer. Why and to what degree is sin a serious matter in the offense it commits against God and in its effects on man? The church has a teaching on this matter which she reaffirms in its essential elements, while recognizing that it is not always easy in concrete situations to define clear and exact limits.

The question that often comes to mind: are two categories enough? We can speak of life and death impact. Sometimes, through dumb luck, small and casual sins have a way of exacting great cost. A distracted driver misses a key moment and causes a fatality. Sometimes a mortal sin, like killing another human being, is excused in just war. But section 16 of Reconciliatio et Paenitentia would suggest each soldier’s actions must be judged as personal sin or not. Was it a human error? Was it vengeance for a fallen friend?

Tomorrow we’ll look at the Scriptural basis of judging the gravity of sin. The whole topic will cover about a week, as we are in the thick of the catechesis on this now.

This document is Copyright © 1984 – Libreria Editrice Vatican. The link on the Vatican site is here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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