One of the deceptions of our time is the notion that serious sin is only a remote possibility for most people and that such sins are only committed by truly wicked people. Too many people assess their moral standing with unhelpful platitudes such as these: “I’m basically a good person,” or “Well, I haven’t murdered anybody.”
We must be more serious and mature in our discernment. While it is true, as we have noted in previous articles (HERE and HERE) that there are conditions necessary for mortal sin, we ought not simply presume they are hard to meet. It is true that, even when there is grave matter, that our freedom or knowledge can be limited in such a way that our blameworthiness is reduced below the level of mortal sin. But, as noted, deep down we usually know what we are doing in most matters. Further, our freedom, though seldom a perfect freedom is more free that we like to admit when we get in trouble of some sort.
Further, God does not leave us in such a fog of uncertainty. His Word is quite clear in specifying some of the more serious sins so that we can humbly recognize our tendency to do these very things. It is also expected of us, who have reason and free will that these are not just theoretical powers seldom observed, but that they are fundamental endowments for which we are responsible and in which are expected to grow. It is offensive to our human dignity to assert, in effect, that most people are too stupid to go to hell or too enslaved to their passions to really be responsible for what they do. The Holy Scriptures presuppose that we are moral agents and engage our intellect and will. They warn of serious sin and and its consequences neither of which are relevant if we do not possess the requisite intellect and will.
In this third post on the topic mortal sin is to advance a kind of listing of sins that are more commonly mortal. But note, simply listing mortal sins is not sufficient because, as noted, there are important factors affecting culpability. For example, some of the sins listed below (e.g., lying) can admit of lighter matter (one might tell a lie to avoid hurting someone’s feeling). Lies can also be devastating, robbing people of their good name or depriving people of necessary information. Also, as noted and despite the cautions I have noted, compulsions or addictions can erode the freedom necessary to be guilty of mortal sin. Hence, a sin could be venial if the person were acting under some compulsion. This does not mean that it is not a sin at all, just that it may not be fully mortal in its effects.
We begin with biblical “lists” of the more serious sins from the New Testament. Note in these lists that saying a particular sin excludes one from the Kingdom of Heaven is a biblical way of saying that it is a mortal sin. These five lists are not exhaustive and there are other passages in the Bible that include sins not mentioned below (e.g., refusal to forgive, cf Matt 6:15).
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were (1 Cor 6:9-10).
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21).
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No sexually immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore, do not be partners with them (Eph 5:3-6).
“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star” (Rev. 22:12-16).
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Matt 25:41-46).
Finally, here is a general warning from the Lord:
Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me (John 5:28-29).
What follows is a list of sins that are mortal or can commonly become mortal due to the harm caused.
First Commandment: I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me. Polytheism and idolatry, divination, magic, sorcery and spiritism. Atheism, Agnosticism, Irreligion, sacrilege, simony. Apostacy, Heresy, schism, stubborn refusal to obey God. See CCC 2110-2128; 2138-2140
Second Commandment: You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain. Blasphemy, curses, unfaithfulness to promises, false oaths, perjury. See CCC 2142-2149; 2160-2162
Third Commandment: Remember to keep holy the LORD’S day. Not attending Holy Mass on Sundays and Holy days of Obligation without a just motive (e.g. sickness); See Catechism 1389
Fourth Commandment: Honor your father and your mother. Serious Negligence, of the obligations/responsibilities towards one’s children, parents and siblings; hatred; ingratitude; disrespect; disobedience in matters concerning the material and spiritual well-being; negligence and indifference toward virtue and in faith of one’s children. Serious insubordination or lack of due respect to lawful authority. Undermining of authority by sedition or inciting public unrest. See Catechism 2114-2118;2221-2229
5th Commandment: You shall not kill. Direct and intentional murder and cooperation in it; direct abortion and cooperation in it. Direct euthanasia,
suicide. Hatred, extreme anger, terrorism, seduction into serious sin, See Compendium 470; Catechism 2268-2283; 2321-2326
6th Commandment: You shall not commit adultery. Adultery, masturbation, fornication before or outside of marriage, incest, sexual abuse and harassment, pornography, prostitution, rape, and homosexual actions. Direct sterilization, contraception, artificial or in vitro fertilization, divorce and remarriage, polygamy, incest, cohabitation. See Catechism 2351-2359; 2396; 2370-2372; 2380-2391, 2400
7th Commandment: You shall not steal. Theft, borrowing without permission, business fraud; paying unjust wages; forcing up prices, taking advantage of the ignorance or hardship of another; appropriation and use for private purposes of the common goods of an enterprise; work poorly done; tax evasion; forgery of checks and invoices; excessive expenses and waste. Willfully damaging private or public property, vandalism, refusing reparations when property is damaged, slavery, greed, withholding wages.
Eighth Commandment: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Lying, especially about serious matters that harm reputations, seriously misleading or depriving others of important information, false witness and perjury, rash judgment, detraction, calumny, adulation, violation of the sacramental seal, divulging professional secrets. Catechism 2475-2487; 2507-2509;
10th Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods. Jealousy, envy, ingratitude, disrespect or misuse of the property of others, greed, and envy, immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself. Catechism 2534-2540; 2551-2554
No list of mortal sins can be perfect, either due to excess or defect. We must recall that small sins can cause great harm in certain circumstances, such as when children are involved or merely unkind words are uttered in a very sensitive moment. Further, what are often mortal sins can admit of light matter such as telling a lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or taking a small item like a cookie versus a highly expensive one.
Mortal sins happen. Frequent confession is a salutary and proper remedy that takes such sin seriously but does not despair of God’s mercy. Further, it refers judgment to the proper tribunal of God working through the Church and the priest. It “errs” on the side of caution beseeching mercy.