Debate, debate, I love debates!
Over at Locdog, Locdog invites me to debate my last post on mortal sin. Well, I happen to think that debate is one of the best things that one can do with a blog, since it is public and the audience can make sure we the debators don't pull any tricks. So I invite you to follow allong and see who has the best justification for his (or her) position. I am in normal text, he or she: I was unable to determine his or her sex from the blog) is in italics.
Locdog makes three objections, which I will answer in turn:
1. God's standard is perfection. we do not need to have "mortal" sins to warrant eternal damnation if we are not saved. for an
unconverted sinner, all sin is mortal since any flaw, no matter how
minor, fails to satisfy God's requirements.
I have no objections here, although we may not agree in details. Before baptism, one is in a state of mortal sin as a result of the fall of Adam. This is a constant teaching in Christian churches, and although we may differ on what makes one an "unconverted sinner," whether it be someone who is unbaptised or one who has not been "born again," we are agreed that human beings are in deep doo-doo before that event occurs.
2. for a Christian, how could any sin be so bad as to revoke his salvation? karl argues that mortal sins are actually a compliment to humanity but the flip-side is that they are an insult to Christ: didn't He suffer enough on the cross? perhaps a few more lashes would have been enough to cover that sunday i slept in? Jesus paid it all.
Yes, Christ's sacrifice on the cross is sufficient to pay for the debt of all. But this doesn't mean that payment is accepted. Look at it this way: your rich grandfather may give you enough money to cover all the needs of your life. But before you can spend that money, you have to accept it. You can get mad at Grandpa and throw the money back in his face. This doesn't mean that his fortune is not sufficient for you. Likewise, the Catholic doctrine on mortal sin doesn't deny that Christ's grace is sufficient for all of us.
3. even if such a thing as a mortal sin were possible for a believer,
the sin itself could not be the rejection of Christ. first, i do believe that while it is not possible for a person to lose their salvation, they may willingly reject it as a conscious act of will if they so choose. i also believe that committing sins that karl considers "mortal" could be evidence of such a rejection and often is, particularly if the person in question is living a life of open defiance towards God's law. but if you should fall into temptation and then "miss Mass on Sunday, contracept, use pornography, tell malicious lies, or dishonor your father and mother" does this mean that you have made a willful rejection of Christ as your savior, or merely that you have fallen in a moment of weakness. does the following repentance re-save your soul, or does it merely restore your relationship with God?
Well, for Catholics there is such a thing as mortal sin, and what these sins do is destroy the sanctifying grace in the soul. God is all-loving, and the grace of love that he gives us cannot coexist with sins directly opposed to that love. So, yes, when we commit mortal sins, we "have made a willful rejection of Christ" as our savior. The following repentance re-sanctifies our souls, even though Christ has already paid the debt. It is like being reconciled to the rich grandfather and accepting his money again. He never retracted the offer, we just retracted our acceptance of it. Thanks be to God, he keeps giving.
Locdog takes me to task for a bit of moral equivalency. He gives an example of a man who shoots his wife in a fit of passion. [D]oes this mean that he hates society and all of its laws and mores? No, of course not. Locdog then compares this situation to the sinner, admitting that there is the possibility for a Christian to reject his salvation. Does the fact that one misses Mass mean that one has consciously rejected God's law and love? Aren't there degrees of guilt, says Locdog, and aren't I (Karl) being a bit unreasonable? a christian who consciously rejects his faith and severs his ties to God and the Church is quite different from a Christian who temporarily backslides in a moment's weakness.
Yes, there are degrees of sin, and there are three conditions that go into making something a mortal sin: the act itself has to be gravely evil (that is, directly contradictory to faith, hope, or charity), and the sinner has to know that it is gravely evil, and finally, the sinner has to choose it consciously. So how about missing Mass? For a Catholic (Protestants are not under Catholic obligations), missing Mass is gravely evil, since it directly contradicts God's commandment to keep the Lord's day holy. If you had never heard of this requirement, missing Mass is not a mortal sin for you. If you slept in by accident, you might be guilty of the venial or lesser sin of carelessness, but not of the mortal sin, since you need to commit it on purpose.
Perhaps Catholics view our salvation as a bit more fragile than others. Of course, Christ's sacrifice on the cross is sufficient, but
our response to this sacrifice is changeable and easily damaged. Think
of the example of the vase: do we need to use a pile-driver to smash
the vase? No. We can just drop it a few feet and it will shatter. Things get broken easily. Similarly, we can destroy our salvation quite easily. We don't have to stand on a hilltop in the darkness lighting sacrifices to Ba'al to do so. All we have to do is to choose self over God.
Some scriptural quotes on the doctrine of mortal sin might be helpful. Look at Gal 5:19-21: "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." These actions are gravely evil, and if done with full knowledge and consent are mortal sins. This is on the authority of St. Paul. Look also at 1 John 5:16-17:"If anyone sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal." So we have it on the authority of St. John that there is such a thing as mortal sin.
Finally, if we cannot lose our salvation, why is it that Christ said to the Apostles in John 20:22-23: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." Why would he give them this command if there were not sins that needed apostolic ministry in order to be forgiven? Catholics, of course, believe that this is the basis for the sacrament of Confession.