In the overall formation of our conscience, not only must we know the diverse definitions of sin, but also the various categories in which sin can fall into. As followers of Christ we should maintain a perpetual state of optimism, better yet, the theological virtue of hope. By hope we mean a limitless trust in the goodness of God and His ultimate victory. Saint Paul expresses it best in these words: “Where sin abounds, the mercy of God abounds all the more” (Romans 5:20). The great sinner become a greater saint, Saint Augustine, asserted that God allows evil so that He can bring greater good from that evil. The best case scenario is the catastrophe of the sin of Adam and Eve, Original Sin, which unleashed a moral tsunami that extends itself with repercussions until the end of the world. However, due to this, God sent His Son, Jesus in the Incarnation to save the world and to give us life and life in abundance.
Therefore, let us list the different categories of sin so as to attain a greater understanding of sin, and thereby utilize the means at our disposal to conquer this moral evil, mortal enemy number one!
First Sin: the sin of the angels. Actually the first sin was committed even before the creation of the natural world. This we call the sin of the angels. Put to the test, Lucifer, the beautiful Star of the Morning, lifted up his voice in a clarion call of rebellion: non serviam! I will not serve. Transformation! The splendid beauty of the angels was transformed into the hideous ugliness of the devils (Read Revelation 12).
Second, the sin of our first parents. The first sin in the created world was perpetrated by our first parents—Adam and Eve. This sin we know as original sin. It was the first of all sins committed by the human race and it unleashed a catastrophic snow-ball effect of sin that will have its repercussions until the end of time. Even now, we are the way we are, with our strong proclivities toward sin and evil, due to the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve (Read Genesis 3).
Sin is simply a desire to be autonomous—to live our lives without God, without moral laws, subjecting ourselves to nobody except our own base and perverse desires.
Actual Sin. Differentiated from Original Sin is that of actual sin—self-explanatory, it is the sin that we actually commit. We act upon a disordered desire and exclude God from the action.
Venial Sin. With respect to the gravity of sin, some are more serious than others. As some sicknesses are minor and others are extremely grave, leading to death, the same can be said with reference to the reality of sin. Venial sin is less serious and does not deprive the person of a relationship of friendship with God. It would be a cut to the soul and not cancer to the soul.
Mortal Sin. By mortal sin, we mean deadly. If not repented before death, mortal sin will eventually pave the way to eternal separation from God for all eternity. This we call Hell!
MORTAL SIN AND ITS CONSTITUTIVE ELEMENTS—To commit a mortal sin there must be present three specific elements; if lacking one of the three, the act will be attenuated in gravity. What then are the three components or elements that constitute the commission of a mortal sin?
1. GRAVE MATTER. This means that the action is something very serious in its very nature—murder, adultery, purposely missing Holy Mass on Sunday.
2. FULL KNOWLEDGE. The intellect perceives this action as very serious—there is no ignorance, but rather total and full knowledge.
3. FULL CONSENT OF THE WILL. The actions is not done inadvertently or by some freak accident. Quite the contrary, the will of the person (the decision-making faculty) gives full and total consent to the action.
If these three conditions are met, the person thereby commits a mortal sin. Consequently, he loses sanctifying grace and forfeits friendship with God. A perfect Act of Contrition and then a good Sacramental Confession will restore his soul to grace.
In the classical Confiteor or Act of Contrition that is commonly prayed in Holy Mass (taken basically from Saint Augustine), there are mentioned four ways that we can offend God through sin. They are: thought, word, deed, and omission. Let us go through and explain these four classic categories of ways that we usually sin against God.
Thought. If we purposely allow and give consent to a sinful thought then this would be considered a sin of thought. A priest once asked a man this question: “Did you entertain bad thoughts?” The man responded wryly: “No, Father: they entertained me!” This was a Yes to sin! He gave consent and willfully entertained bad thoughts!
Word. One can sin by word and in many ways. Falsifying the truth by lying, as well as insulting another and leaving a deep wound in their soul—these are two ways among many that we can sin by means of word. (Read James 3—the best Bible chapter on the sins of the tongue!)
Deed. This form of sin is carried out when we hurt a person by some physical action. The forms are many, to say the least. Here are a few: hitting another, punching them, or worse yet killing them. Sin by deed can also extend to sins against the virtue of chastity—such as fornication and adultery.
Omission. More common than you might think, the sin of omission is quite simply failing to do what is our duty and obligation to carry out. Being negligent, remiss, or down-right lazy are pathways to the sin of omission. As parents, we have most likely committed many sins of omission but due to a lack of formation, we may not be aware of these sins of the past. A typical sin of omission would be parents failing to attend Mass on Sunday and neglecting to bring their children to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Sins of the Flesh. This terminology usually refers to sins committed against the sixth and the ninth Commandments. Examples are many: fornication, masturbation, adultery.
Sin of Malice. This is a more serious sin because it is carried out with full knowledge as well as the intention of doing real harm to another. Actually, the sin of the Angels can be considered a Sin of malice.
Sin of Fragility. The opposite of the sin of malice, the sin of fragility is a sin committed due to human weakness and often ignorance. Jesus expressed it most clearly in these words: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”
Vice. By the word vice is simply meant a morally bad habit that has been cultivated and formed due to the repetition of a bad action. The opposite of vice is that of VIRTUE—the repetition of good actions. Thus, the vice becomes second-nature.
Capital Sins. These are the sins that flow out of the human person as a result of Original Sin. Related to the words of St. Thomas Aquinas: CONCUPISCENCE/ FOMI PECACTI, the Capital sins are bad tendencies within our fallen human nature. If these tendencies are not tamed and controlled, we become slaves of these sins. We no longer control them, rather they control us. Traditionally they are seven: Gluttony, Lust, Greed, Sloth, Anger, Envy, and Pride. The following are concise and easy to memorize definitions of the Capital Sins.
Gluttony: A disordered desire to eat and to drink.
Lust: A disordered desire for sexual pleasure.
Greed: A disordered desire for material things.
Sloth: “A disordered desire for ease and comfort.”
Envy. “A feeling of sadness because somebody has something that I do not have.”
Anger. “An impatience and bitterness towards somebody whom I perceive has done me wrong.”
Pride. “A disordered love for self and my own self-aggrandizement.”
Pope Saint John Paul II in his document Reconciliation and Penance points out five of the basic effects that sin causes. Yes, indeed, sin does leave negative consequences. What are these five negative effects of sin?
1. Theological Event: Sin first and foremost damages our relationship with God. Contemplate Jesus on the cross and you will understand the theological effect of sin.
2. Social: How true the poet’s saying: “No man is an island unto himself.” Our sins affect and hurt others. Just think of adultery!
3. Personal: Sin can explode in our face and we only hurt ourselves. Pope Saint John Paul II calls it moral-suicide.
4. Ecclesial: There is no doubt that by sinning we actually hurt and damage the Church, who is both Teacher and Mother to us.
5. Cosmic Event: Sin also ends up wreaking havoc in the natural habitat in which we live. For this reason, Pope Francis insists on watching over and protecting nature as God’s gift to us.
Structuralization of Sin: Once again, Pope Saint John Paul II makes reference to this form of sin. This is the type of sin that has imbued and encrusted itself into the very institution of society. Abortion laws, euthanasia laws, contraceptive laws—all are laws that have immersed themselves into the very structure of society.
Sin of Scandal: This is a sin that is seen in the public eye and causes others—often the very innocent ones—to be contaminated by it. Jesus strongly denounces this sin as being worthy of the Millstone-award. By scandalizing, by giving bad example to the innocent, such a person deserves to have a millstone tied around their neck and to be cast into the very depths of the sea.
Sin of Sacrilege: This is a sin that is committed against a sacred person, object, place or Sacrament. One of the most common examples would be that of receiving Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin.
Sin Against the Holy Spirit. This is the sin of the person who fully and completely rejects the Holy Spirit and His invitations with total and unreserved obstinacy. Example: Pharoah rejecting the many visits and invitations of God through his holy servant Moses.
Sin of Impenitence. This is the sin of the person who rejects God and all of His movements of grace even to the very end of their life.
My friends, we have concluded our catechesis on the explanation of the various types, forms or categories of sin. Hopefully, a knowledge of this catechesis can foster within us a greater knowledge and love for God and the desire to run from sin and find our refuge in the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus—our true havens and refuges in time and eternity.