What is the “Unforgivable Sin?”

When I was preparing for Confirmation, we only briefly heard about the “unforgivable sin” against the Holy Spirit. No one really explained to us why it was unforgivable, since God, in His mercy, always forgives a repentant sinner who is humble and contrite. We read in Mark 3:28-29, “’Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.’”

Only recently did I discover something more specific about this unpardonable offense:

“The sins against the Holy Ghost are commonly said to be six: despair, presumption, impenitence, obstinacy, resisting truth, and envy of another’s spiritual welfare.” Clearly, all of them are rooted in hardness of heart without any indication that the person desires to amend his or her life.


At first glance, we might assume that despair is simply giving up hope. This is only partially true, however. The full definition of despair includes a “positive act of the will” (as opposed to a passive acceptance or acquiescence), in which a person intentionally concludes that “salvation is impossible.”

A person who has truly giving in to despair does not believe that God wants to pardon us or even cares about what we do or why. There is, as I mentioned before, a definite hardness of heart. One cannot be forgiven if s/he does not desire forgiveness or believe it is possible.


Pertaining to the unforgivable sin, the person committing the sin of presumption believes s/he can attain, without the aid of God, salvation. In addition, s/he lives as if God will always extend mercy without the person ever intending to truly repent of sin. Think of the “bad Catholic” who parties every Friday night and thinks his Saturday afternoon confession will be enough to blot out his offenses.

We can’t live a life of debauchery and faintly hope that one day we still might make it to heaven.


Quite simply, one who is impenitent is unrepentant. S/he has no intention of compensating (which, by justice, we owe to God) for his/her sins. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, impenitence is “the absence of contrition.” The person is not sorry for his/her sins and does not plan to make reparation for them.

This is why praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory is so urgently needed. We beg God to appeal to those who, for whatever reason, have become impenitent, so that they will not die with final impenitence staining their souls and permanently separating them from God.


You might think of stubbornness when you see the word obstinate. This is an accurate, but again incomplete, description. The sin of obstinacy is far graver than the occasional demand that one is right and will not budge on one’s opinion. Obstinacy becomes the unpardonable sin when it is a persistent pattern of behavior, in which a person “closes his heart to the promptings of grace” or “shuts his mind to known truth” and divine authority.

This kind of stubbornness means one must always be right and is not persuaded to change his mind when he has already accepted some error, be it in ethics, morality, or religion. Instead, he stands his ground and will not open himself to the possibility of being wrong and the need to amend his way of thinking. It is yet another form of pride.

Resisting Truth

We know that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (see John 14:6) and also that the Word of God is truth (see John 17:17). In this instance, resisting truth means rejecting Jesus Himself and the inspired Word of God. This worldview is rampant in our culture that embraces tolerance of all world religions, minus Christianity. So many who claim to believe in God select what they accept and ignore the hard truths contained in Scripture.

May we not fall prey to the many forms of lies and deception that are ready to lead us astray from pursuing truth and remaining in Jesus.

Envy of Another’s Spiritual Welfare

In our competitive society, many of us adopt the fallacy that to rejoice in one person’s success automatically means we wallow in our own failure. In this case, envy is not merely sporadic bouts of jealousy. It’s unpardonable in this instance, because the person is deeply distressed, saddened, and even spiteful at another’s spiritual growth.

The envy then becomes malice, a mortal offense against the virtue of charity.

In every case analyzed above, we can determine that the only way any sin is truly unpardonable is if the person remains unrepentant. The reasons, as we have sorted through, vary from envy to despair. Each is caused by a hardness of heart, which is directly opposed to meekness. Meekness is that beatitude that mollifies and softens what has become calloused by deep, unhealed wounds. Our models for meekness, of course, are Jesus and Mary.

If we unite ourselves and consecrate our lives to them, grace will shatter the walls of hardened pride to reveal cracks and crevices where light can, once again shine through.


JEANNIE EWING is a Catholic spirituality writer and national inspirational speaker. Among her eight books, From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph, is her most popular. She is a frequent guest on podcasts, radio shows, and has appeared on EWTN, CatholicTV, and ShalomWorld. Her deepest desire is to accompany those who suffer and are lonely. Visit her website at jeannieewing.com for more information.

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