new categories of sin

Don’t put any weight on this, because God doesn’t take advice from me, but here’s how I categorize sins.

  • sins of defiance (open rejection of God, His Law, the Church, or other authority)
  • sins of malice (motivated by the desire to do another harm)
  • sins of weakness (driven by lack of will power–often fear or sensuality motivated)

If we are to be leaning more heavily on this idea of lack of knowledge/lack of consent mitigating the severity of sins from the mortal to the venial category, I think it’s useful to state that this must be limited to the third category.  It doesn’t even make any sense applied to the other two.  Most people feel that way, right?  We all think it’s understandable (even if not acceptable) when someone sins because of fear.  We all feel that this lessens culpability.  In fact, appeal to fear is usually what we mean by “coercion”.  (Direct physical compulsion–e.g. making someone go somewhere by dragging them–is less practical, and less interesting from a moral point of view, because it completely removes guilt.)  The question is, what would happen if one were to make the person bolder and stronger-willed?  Sins of weakness would be overcome, whereas defiance and malice would be intensified.

I can believe that two adulterers, separated from their real spouses, having sex is a sin of weakness.  Sexual sins are practically the quintessential sins of weakness (although I think sins motivated by cowardice deserve even more sympathy, because self preservation is the most powerful instinct).  On the other hand, demanding that their friends, the Church, and the world recognize the adulterers as in fact husband and wife is straight-up defiance.  One can’t say that they act in ignorance.  It’s their vexation at the Church’s refusal to recognize their adulterous union that is, after all, the “pastoral” problem in question.  Promoting a lie like this is worse, less pitiable, less ambiguous in severity, than quietly satisfying their lust together.

What’s more, if degree of temptation, psychological “need”, is what reduces the sin from mortal to venial, then adulterers are still obliged to commit adultery as infrequently as “possible”.  (Of course, they don’t actually need it, and never is possible, which is what makes the sin at least venial.  If people really couldn’t help themselves, it wouldn’t be a sin at all.)  If you hold out as long as you “can”, it might be a good enough effort to make the sin venial.  (Then again, you yourself won’t know when this threshold has been crossed, so you should go to confession more, go to communion less.)  But you don’t get to say, “Well, now that I’ve already given into this sin, and I just don’t have the strength to give it up for good, I might as well indulge it as often as I want.  It doesn’t make my spiritual state any worse at this point.”  (I’m not constructing a straw man here.  This is the sort of rationalization I myself have fallen into many times.)  If you have sex with your mistress the next day, when the urgency is gone, it may be that this second time is the one that actually damns you.  You didn’t “need” it, even in the quotation-mark sense, which makes you arguably defiant in your sin.  The result:  even if adulterers can at least hypothetically get away with their occasional adultery in this way, they still have to spend most of their time sexually frustrated, just like people playing by the rules.

It’s reasonable to ask whether adulterers can make a valid confession without rectifying their situation.  Let’s assume it’s true, as the pope says, that they often have compelling reasons to remain together, i.e. for the sake of their illegitimate children.  They must certainly resolve to live celibately in order to be absolved from their adultery.  Of course, it is possible and even common for someone to resolve to give up a sin while knowing that it is very likely that they will end up giving into the same temptation in the future.  After all, when you confess minor things, like arguing with your siblings or swearing, do you really have to be convinced that you will never allow this to happen again?  You must not be planning to let it happen.  You must be resolved to fight the temptation to let it happen.  You must be resolved to take any practical steps to lessen the near occasion of that sin.  It’s just like anything else.

A last point.  See how quickly the corruption of the Catholic mind has spread.  I wrote this whole post without mentioning, without even once thinking about, the abandoned spouse!

8 Responses

  1. […] new categories of sin […]

  2. It would seem that the adulterous couple should have a plan to ween themselves of the habit of sexual intercourse, even if it were only an intention to give the business up once their libidos settle down in their golden years. There’s always the risk of premature death without confession, but this may be the loophole that most people see when it comes to sexual sins generally. Even weak men are equal to mastering their lust as they get into their sixties or seventies. With longer life expectancy, the risk of heading to Judgment Day with a red hot sexual sin on your hands gets smaller and smaller. This means we should worry more about sins to which the elderly are prone–sins like greed and wrath.

    We had a long and confusing homily this past Sunday about the difference between doctrine and pastoral needs. I kept thinking that some welcome clarity would have been added if the priest had told us how this related to Hell. After all, that’s what’s at issue here, isn’t it?

  3. I’ve thought along these lines myself for many years, though not half as clearly as you have, and I’m encouraged by the fact that your superior intellect and purer heart (relative to me) have reached the same tentative conclusions as I have.
    Why can’t my priest or bishop say these things in his sermons? Why do I have to search them out on my own?
    Almost all V2 priests are, apart from their faculties, nearly useless, IMHO.
    Perhaps I will reduce my weekly tithe to more accurately reflect the Vicar’s productivity.

  4. Aristotle distinguishes between the Incontinent (άκρατης, akratēs) man and the Intemperate or Licentious (ακόλαστης, akolastēs) man. (In Aristotle’s usage, someone who is carried away by sudden passions is incontinent, whereas someone with ingrained, unresisted, bad habits is intemperate or licentious.)

    Since passion soon passes, whereas a habit is “a disposition difficult to remove,” the incontinent man repents at once, as soon as the passion has passed; but not so the intemperate man. In fact, he rejoices in having sinned, because the sinful act has become second nature to him; for custom and habit are a second nature.

    This puts me in mind of Proverbs 2:14, “Who are glad when they have done evil, and rejoice in most wicked things.”

  5. I really don’t get it. The weening thing seems stupid, or simply bad advice, or perhaps even an unnecessary temptation?

    You don’t tell an alcoholic or heroin addict to wean themselves. Or a prostitute to wean themselves. You tell them “you are forgiven, sin no more”.

  6. JMSmith,
    The old man has NOT mastered his lust. He has merely lost his libido and is no longer tempted by lust. Even this may be saying a lot.

    A person that has lost the libido may still be mastered by thoughts of lust.

  7. vishmehr24,
    The old man might very well by a lecherous old goat, lusting in his heart, but lacking energy and opportunity for carnal sin. Or he might have lost all interest in sex. But I think that sex in the head tends to tail off along with sex in the bed, but it takes quite a few years for the two of them to sink to zero. I would guess that many men who have felt guilty over sexual sins they could not resist when their libido was strong do, in fact, master their libido when it is more manageable.

    Many men who learn to control their temper are helped by the fact that, with advancing years, they don’t care as much and so meet with fewer things that rouse their wrath.

  8. […] (related pair) The scandal of the idea of mortal sin III: Amoris laetitia and New categories of sin. A thoroughgoing takedown of liberal Catholic “pieties” regarding sexual sin, and a […]

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