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The Theology of Sin


We are all too conscious of our shattered world in which so many moral evils, both personal and social, afflict the human race. All too
easily we can recognize St. Paul’s descriptions of the “works” of the flesh: “lewd conduct, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities,
bickering, jealousy, outbursts of rage, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envy, drinking bouts, orgies and the like” (Gal 5:19-21). “The mystery of
evil is already at work” (2 Thes 2:7). So we must face the reality of SIN which obstructs the coming of Christ’s Kingdom. CFC 760

But beyond the stark factual reality of sin, we must recognize that sin is not simply “doing something wrong,” or “making a mistake”
which we can easily rectify at will. John Paul II describes it as follows: Clearly sin is a product of man’s freedom. But deep within its human reality
there are factors at work which place it beyond the merely human, in the border-area where human conscience, will, and sensitivity are in contact
with the dark forces which, according to St. Paul, are active in the world, almost to the point of ruling it (RP 14). The mystery of sin “hates the light”
(cf. Jn 3:19; 1 Jn 2: 9f), and we, sinners all, are often ashamed to take it seriously. But we need to reflect deeply on sin: 1) to truly appreciate God’s
everlasting merciful love, and 2) to correct common distorted ideas of God, the Church, conscience, law and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. CFC

I. The Definition of Sin

Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse
attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire
contrary to the eternal law , CCC 1849.

Sin is an offense against God: "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight." Sin sets itself against God's
love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become "like gods,
knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus "love of oneself even to contempt of God. In this proud self-exaltation, sin is diametrically
opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation, CCC #1850.

We can sketch the essence of sin in a few broad strokes as: • refusing to follow our own conscience’s call towards the good; • rejecting
God, our Creator and Lord, and our own true selves and others, by turning away from God, our true end; and • breaking God’s loving Covenant
with us, shown forth in Jesus Christ, dying and rising for our sake. What must be stressed these days is the inner link between rejecting God and
rejecting ourselves. In refusing God and wishing to make a god of ourselves, we deceive and destroy ourselves. We become alienated from the
truth of our being. Hence, to acknowledge oneself a sinner, is to know oneself guilty — not only before conscience, but before God our Creator,
Lawgiver, and Savior, CFC #762

The Old Testament presents three basic notions for what we call sin. a) “Missing the mark” focuses on the offense inflicted on another by
failing to meet one’s covenant obligations. Since the first law of the Covenant is worship of Yahweh, idolatry is its clearest expression. “The worship
of infamous idols is the reason and source and extremity of all evil” (cf. Wis 14:27). b) Depravity and perversity refer to the defect of character or
disorder that weighs the sinner down. “For my iniquities . . . are like a heavy burden, beyond my strength” (Ps 38:5). c) Rebellion and transgression
picture sin as a conscious choice which destroys positive relationships. “See what rebellious Israel has done! She has . . . played the harlot” (Jer 3:6)
CFC #766.

More importantly, the Old Testament manifests certain shifts of emphasis in its conception of sin. A more primitive, less morally
developed idea of sin pictures it as defilement or “stain,” the sense of being unclean before the face of God, the All-Holy. “You shall warn the
Israelites of their uncleanness, lest by defiling my Dwelling, their uncleanness be the cause of their death” (Lv 15:31). Strong in its sense of God’s
holiness, this “stain” image manifests a rather primitive ethical sense by: 1) missing the inner evil of sin in not seeing the difference between
responsible free acts and involuntary evils; 2) fixing on sexual taboos and ritual cleanliness, but ignoring interpersonal and societal justice; and 3)
being motivated by a self-centered fear that shuts out authentic faith in the transforming merciful forgiveness of God CFC #767.

A more ethical view of sin is presented in the Old Testament prophets and “covenant” narratives. Sin is seen as a crime, an internal,
willful violation of Yahweh’s covenant relationship. Isaiah warns: “It is your sins that make Him [Yahweh] hide His face,” and lists their sins: their
works are evil, their lips speak falsehood, their hands are stained with innocent blood, their feet run to evil, and their thoughts to destruction,
plunder and ruin on their highways. Crooked have they made their paths, and the way of peace they know not (cf. Is 59:2-8). Viewing sin as crime
emphasizes its juridical aspect, with its concern for determining the nature of the crime, the culpability of the sinner, and the appropriate
punishment CFC #768.

A third model of sin is personal rejection of a love relationship. It draws on the Bible’s covenantal language of personal vocation,
discipleship and conversion, to reduce the fire and brimstone emphasis of the more juridical “crime” image. The evil of sin in this basically
personalist model is located not in the violation of an extrinsic law, but rather in the free, responsible malice of the sinner and the harm inflicted on
other persons. Sin is seen as truly interpersonal: the personal malice of the sinner offending the persons of God and neighbor. By sin, sinners
alienate themselves from their neighbors, all creation, God, and from their own true selves, CFC #769
II. The Different Kinds of Sins

There are a great many kinds of sins. Scripture provides several lists of them. The Letter to the Galatians contrasts the works of the flesh
with the fruit of the Spirit: "Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy,
anger, selfishness, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such
things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God CCC #1852.

Sins can be distinguished according to their objects, as can every human act; or according to the virtues they oppose, by excess or
defect; or according to the commandments they violate. They can also be classed according to whether they concern God, neighbor, or oneself;
they can be divided into spiritual and carnal sins, or again as sins in thought, word, deed, or omission. The root of sin is in the heart of man, in his
free will, according to the teaching of the Lord: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.
These are what defile a man." But in the heart also resides charity, the source of the good and pure works, which sin wounds CCC #1853.

“Social sin,” stresses complicity in evil by showing how members of the same group are mutually involved. It can refer to: • sin’s power
to affect others by reason of human solidarity; • sins that directly attack human rights and basic freedoms, human dignity, justice, and the common
good; • sins infecting relationships between various human communities such as class struggle, or obstinate confrontations between blocs of
nations; and • situations of sin, or sinful structures that are the consequences of sinful choices and acts, e.g., racial discrimination, and economic
systems of exploitation (cf. RP 16). Regarding the last meaning, PCP II urges Filipinos “to reject and move against sinful social structures, and set up
in their stead those that allow and promote the flowering of fuller life” (PCP II 288), CFC #775.

III. The Gravity of Sin: Mortal and Venial Sin

Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in
Scripture,129 became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience CCC#1854.

Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and
his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it CCC#1855.

Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us - that is, charity - necessitates a new initiative of God's mercy and a conversion of
heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation CCC#1856:

When the will sets itself upon something that is of its nature incompatible with the charity that orients man toward his ultimate end, then
the sin is mortal by its very object . . . whether it contradicts the love of God, such as blasphemy or perjury, or the love of neighbor, such
as homicide or adultery.... But when the sinner's will is set upon something that of its nature involves a disorder, but is not opposed to
the love of God and neighbor, such as thoughtless chatter or immoderate laughter and the like, such sins are venial

For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed
with full knowledge and deliberate consent CCC 1857.

Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: "Do not kill, Do not
commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother. "The gravity of sins is more or less
great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against
a stranger CCC 1858.

Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition
to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but
rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin, CCC#1859.

Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the
principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the
voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice
of evil, is the gravest CCC 1860.

Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace,
that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal
death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself
a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God CCC 1861.

One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he
disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent CCC 1862.
Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul's progress in the exercise of the
virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to
commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not set us in direct opposition to the will and friendship of God; it does not break the covenant with
God. With God's grace it is humanly reparable. "Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and
consequently eternal happiness, CCC #1863

While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call "light": if you take
them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops
fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession.

"Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin. "There are no limits to the mercy of
God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy
Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss CCC #1864.

IV. The Proliferation of Sin

Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience
and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at
its root #1865.

Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has
distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called "capital" because they engender other sins, other vices. They are
pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia #1866.

The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are "sins that cry to heaven": the blood of Abel, The sin of the Sodomites, The cry of the
people oppressed in Egypt, The cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan, injustice to the wage earner CCC #1867

Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
- by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
- by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
- by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
- by protecting evil-doers CCC #1868.

Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to
social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. "Structures of sin" are the expression and effect of personal sins. They
lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a "social sin #CCC1868

V. The “Sense of Sin.

” Our Christian faith alerts us to the basic fact that we are “not well,” that all of us have an urgent need for a physician to “cure us.” If we
say, “We are free of the guilt of sin,” we deceive ourselves; the truth is not to be found in us. But if we acknowledge our sins, he who is just can be
trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word finds no place
in us (1 Jn 1:8-10) CFC #763.

Moral life, then, requires that we recognize in ourselves the tendency to sin and acknowledge ourselves as sinners when we have done
evil. PCP II presents Jesus’ mission to “liberate from sinfulness” (cf. PCP II 53-54), as well as his call to us for “overcoming the reality of personal sin
and sinful structures (cf. PCP II 81-86, 266-70). Today this sense of sin seems to have been radically weakened by secularism: we are caught up in
the flagrant consumerism that surrounds us. We are unconsciously influenced by the modern behaviorist psychologies that identify sin with morbid
guilt feelings or with mere transgressions of legal norms (cf. RP 18). And through radio, TV and the cinema, we continually face so many examples
of bribery and corruption in business and government, cheating in family life and lying in personal relationships, that we often end up rationalizing
for our own misdeeds: “Anyway, everybody does it,” or “I had to do it because. . . . CFC 764”

Today, perhaps more important than the different models of sin, is the loss of the sense of sin and its link with conscience. John Paul II
quotes Pius XII: “the sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin.” He explains how this sense of sin is rooted in our in our moral conscience, and
is, as it were, its thermometer. . . Nevertheless it happens not infrequently in history, for more or less lengthy periods and under the influence of
many different factors, that the moral conscience of many people becomes seriously clouded. . . . It is inevitable in this situation that there is an
obscuring also of the sense of sin which is closely connected with moral conscience, the search for truth, and the desire to make a responsible use
of freedom. . . . [This] helps us to understand the progressive weakening of the sense of sin, precisely because of the crisis of conscience and the
crisis of the sense of God (RP 18) #770.
Certain trends contribute to the decline of this basic sense of sin. Exaggerated attitudes of the past are replaced by opposite
exaggerations: from seeing sin everywhere to not recognizing it anywhere; from stressing the fear of hell to preaching a love of God that excludes
any punishment due to sin; from severe correction of erroneous consciences to a respect for individual conscience that excludes the duty of telling
the truth... Despite the “natural piety” of the Filipino, an authentic Christian “sense of sin” is gradually being eroded due mainly to religious
ignorance and the consequent secularistic set of attitudes and values. A true sense of sin is a grace as we perceive in the saints, who (paradoxically)
manifested, without exception, a far keener sense of sin than the “ordinary sinner.” CFC 765

VI. Mercy and Sin

The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God's mercy to sinners. The angel announced to Joseph: "You shall call his name Jesus, for
he will save his people from their sins." The same is true of the Eucharist, the sacrament of redemption: "This is my blood of the covenant, which is
poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins, CCC 1846."

"God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us. To receive his mercy, we must admit our faults. "If we say we have
no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all
unrighteousness CCC 1847.

As St. Paul affirms, "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. But to do its work grace must uncover sin so as to convert our
hearts and bestow on us "righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Like a physician who probes the wound before treating it,
God, by his Word and by his Spirit, casts a living light on sin CCC 1848:

Conversion requires convincing of sin; it includes the interior judgment of conscience, and this, being a proof of the action of the Spirit of
truth in man's inmost being, becomes at the same time the start of a new grant of grace and love: "Receive the Holy Spirit." Thus in this
"convincing concerning sin" we discover a double gift: the gift of the truth of conscience and the gift of the certainty of redemption. The
Spirit of truth is the Consoler.