What Is the Unforgivable Sin against the Holy Spirit?



Eric Stoutz

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Dear Catholic Exchange:

 

I recently read a passage about the “unpardonable sin.” No sooner did I finish reading the passage, did I become worried about committing it — so enough blasphemous thoughts that I didn't believe came into my head. I have been struggling with these thoughts for weeks. Often new thoughts would soon enter my head. I prayed for forgiveness — I never believed these thoughts, but I'm still worried. Please help me.

Thank you for your concern,

Christopher

Dear Christopher,

Peace in Christ!

In Matthew 12:31 Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”

Jesus called not all blasphemy unpardonable, but only that against the Holy Spirit. But what you describe does not resemble the “unpardonable sin.”

Looking at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the “deliberate refusal” to accept God’s mercy and forgiveness (no. 1864). Six species of this sin have been identified over time as (1) Despair; (2) Presumption; (3) Impenitence or a firm determination not to repent; (4) Obstinacy; (5) Resisting divine truth known to be such; and (6) Envy of another’s spiritual welfare.

The one who despairs “ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God” (no. 2091). Despair is directly contrary to the theological virtue of hope, which is, in part, a reliance on the grace of the Holy Spirit (Catechism, no. 1817).

Presumption is a sin against the Holy Spirit inasmuch as one presumes he can save himself apart from the grace of the Holy Spirit or that God will save him without conversion (cf. Catechism, no. 2092).

Impenitence clearly resists the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to conversion and repentance (cf. Catechism, nos. 1430-33).

Obstinacy is akin to impenitence, because one not only resists the grace of the Holy Spirit, but willfully persists in what he knows to be grave sin.

Resisting divine truth is to resist that which one knows to have been revealed by the Holy Spirit as necessary to “divine and catholic faith.” One is guilty of heresy, thereby cutting themselves off from God (cf. Catechism, no. 2089).

Finally, envy is a sin against the Holy Spirit because it was through Satan’s envy that death entered the world (cf. Catechism, no. 2538; Wis. 2:24). When one is envious of the spiritual good of another, he places himself on the level of Satan who wanted God’s glory for Himself rather than humbly accepting the gifts God had given him (Ezek. 28:11-19). One must accept the blessings God has given him rather than look at how God has blessed another and desire that for himself. Envy of another’s spiritual good is a sin against the Holy Spirit inasmuch as it is the Holy Spirit who pours out spiritual gifts to the faithful.

More on why blasphemy is unforgivable:

Matthew 12:32 teaches, “but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” How do we reconcile this passage with our reliance on the Father’s infinite love and mercy for our salvation, such that, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

The short answer is from definition. The following is from a commentary by John Paul II on the Scriptural prohibition of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit:

“According to such an exegesis, 'blasphemy' does not properly consist in offending against the Holy Spirit in words; it consists rather in the refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to man through the Holy Spirit, working through the power of the Cross” (Dominum et Vivificantem, Encyclical Letter on the Holy Spirit, no. 46).

Thus, while it is usually defined as speaking against God (see Catechism, no. 2148), in this case blasphemy is “the refusal to accept salvation.”

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