The First Effect of Mortal Sin

Commenting on the first effect of mortal sin, namely, the death of the soul, Cardinal Manning says of Adam, who is the father of the human race: “By one sin of disobedience, with his eyes open, with the consent of his will and with full deliberation—and that in a matter light in itself, as I have said, but grave because the prohibition of God under the penalty of eternal death was laid upon it—in that slight trial, without temptation save only the listening to the tempter, who awakened a spirit of curiosity and disobedience, where all around him was permitted and one only thing forbidden, man sinned against God, and by that one sin was struck dead. The Holy Ghost departed from him, and all his perfections were wrecked. The supernatural perfection was lost, the preternatural perfection was forfeited, the soul fell from God, the body was struck by death. He became from that time disinherited, shorn of sanctity and life: one sin unto death separated him and all his posterity from God.”

“As it was in the case of Adam, so it is also in the case of the regenerate; so it is in our own. We who are born, into the world, spiritually dead have once more, by regeneration in baptism, the life of the Spirit. If we sin mortally with our eyes open, and with consent of our will, we forfeit the presence of the Holy Ghost in the soul, the charity of God which unites us to Him, the sanctifying grace whereby we are made children of God, the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost which are always inseparably united to His presence.”

“There is left in us, indeed, the grace of hope and the grace of faith. These two remain like the beating of the pulse and the breathing of the lungs: there is just so much left of the life of grace with the light of faith and the aspiration of hope after God; but our union with God is broken: we are separated from Him, and at variance with Him. This is the first effect of mortal sin; for habitual grace and the presence of God are the life of the soul; and the loss of that grace, which is the loss of the presence of God, is the death of the soul.”

Quotations from Henry Edward Manning, Sin and Its Consequences, 2d ed. (London: Burns and Oates, 1874).

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Deadly Effects of Mortal Sin

Cardinal Manning lists the seven capital sins: “First of all there is pride, which separates the soul from God; secondly, there is envy, or jealousy, which separates a man from his neighbour; thirdly, there is sloth, which is a burden pressing down the powers of man, so that he becomes weary of his duty towards God, and forsakes Him; fourthly, there is avarice, which plunges a man deep into the mire of this world, so that he makes it to be his god; fifthly, there is gluttony, which makes a sensual fool; sixthly, there is anger, which makes a man a slave to himself; and lastly, there is impurity, which makes a man a slave of the devil. In those seven kinds there are seven ways of eternal death; and all those who, with their eyes open, with the knowledge of the intellect, and the full consent of the will, commit sin in any of those seven kinds, are walking in the way towards sin unto death.”

“God, when He created man, constituted him, as I said before, with three perfections—the perfection of nature, that is, of body and soul; the supernatural perfection or the indwelling of the Holy Ghost and of sanctification; and the preternatural perfection or the perfect harmony of the soul in itself and with God, and the immortality of the body. These three perfections, natural, supernatural, and preternatural, make up what is called original justice; and in that state man was constituted when he was created.”

He mentions five effects of mortal sin. As for the first, he states: “The first effect of one mortal sin is to strike the soul dead. The grace of God is the life of the soul as the soul is the life of the body. . . . One single sin unto death strikes the soul dead at once, and that for this reason: the grace of God is the life of the soul, and one mortal sin separates the soul from God.”

Quotations from Henry Edward Manning, Sin and Its Consequences, 2d ed. (London: Burns and Oates, 1874).

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Gravity in the Matter of Sin

Cardinal Manning explains that for a sin to be mortal, and not merely venial, “it is necessary that there should be a gravity in the matter of the sin; and the gravity of that matter will be constituted in one of two ways—it is either the material gravity, that is, the extent, or amount, or quantity of the sin committed; or it is the moral gravity derived from the circumstances of the case.” He offers this illustration:

“If I were to rob a man of a very large amount of his property, no one would doubt for an instant that I had committed a sin unto death, or a mortal sin. The common sense of mankind, the instincts of justice, would at once pronounce against me. If I were to take a needle from some rich person, the instincts of justice would acquit me of a sin unto death.  I have taken that which did not belong to me, but no one would say that, in taking that needle from the rich man, who could obtain an abundant supply of needles, I had committed a sin unto death.”

“But suppose that needle belonged to a poor seamstress, who gained her daily bread by the industrious use of that one needle, and that she had not the means to buy another; and that if she were robbed of it, her industry must cease, and she could no longer gain her bread; and that I knew all those facts; and that, with my eyes open, knowing the extent of the injury I was doing, in violation of the law of charity, as well as of the law of justice, I should take that needle with a perfect consciousness that I was destroying the means of industry and reducing her to hunger. You see at once that there is a moral guilt which arises from these circumstances. Suppose, still further, that I myself were jealous of her prosperity, being of the same trade or calling, and that I take the needle in order to ruin her for my own advantage. You see, therefore, that in so small a theft as the stealing of a needle there may be an enormity of moral guilt.”

“It is not enough then that there should be the knowledge of the intellect, and the consent of the will to the action, unless the matter in which that action is committed shall be of a grave kind, either materially or morally, before God.”

Quotations from Henry Edward Manning, Sin and Its Consequences, 2d ed. (London: Burns and Oates, 1874).

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Elements of Mortal Sin

Cardinal Manning, commenting on St. John’s statement that “all iniquity is sin” (1 Jn 5:17), explains that “iniquity means all departure from the rectitude of God and of the law of God. Iniquity is inequality, or crookedness. Everything that is not conformed to the rectitude of God, to His perfections, to His law, and to His will, is sin.”

Then, following upon St. John’s distinction between “a sin unto death” and “a sin which is not unto death” (1 Jn 5:16), Cardinal Manning defines the elements that constitute mortal sin, thereby distinguishing it from venial sin. He explains: “To constitute a mortal sin it is necessary that the man who commits it should know what he does—there must be a knowledge of the intellect; if not, the sin is only, as I then said, a material sin, and not a formal sin, unless his ignorance be a culpable and guilty ignorance. Next, he must not only know that he is doing wrong, but his will must consent to the wrong-doing. Thirdly, he must know and consent deliberately, with such an advertence or attention to what he is about as to make him conscious of his action.”

He observes: “A man who should transgress the law of God in the least possible way would fulfil these three conditions. It would be a transgression of the law of God if I should take an apple off the tree of my neighbour without his leave. It was his: I had not a right to take it, and I thereby broke the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not steal’; but that certainly would not be a sin unto death. It became a sin unto death when a divine prohibition was laid upon such an act under pain of death, and that the pain of eternal death; but where there is no such command laid under pain of death, it is quite clear that the taking of an apple would not constitute a sin unto death. Therefore it is necessary that there should be a gravity in the matter of the sin.”

Quotations from Henry Edward Manning, Sin and Its Consequences, 2d ed. (London: Burns and Oates, 1874).

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Mortal Sin

Cardinal Manning gives examples of mortal sin: “The sin of Judas was a sin unto death. With his eyes open, with a knowledge of his Master,—though perhaps he did not know of the mystery of the Incarnation as we know it now; nevertheless he knew enough,—he sold his Master, and yet perhaps not knowing that he sold Him to be crucified. This, then, was a sin unto death. The sin of Simon Magus was a blasphemy and a sin unto death. The sin of those that blaspheme the Holy Ghost, which shall never be forgiven, is a sin unto death.”

As for “the sin of apostates from the faith, who, having known the truth, and having had the full light and illumination to know God, afterwards fall from Him, . . . ‘It is impossible for those who have been once enlightened, and have tasted of the Heavenly Gift, and of the good Word of God, and of the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to be renewed again unto repentance’ (Heb 6:4-6). In one word, all who are impenitent sin unto death. . . . Saint John says, ‘They went out from us because they were not of us; for if they had been of us, without doubt they would have continued with us’ (1 Jn 2:19)—all these who so sin, sin unto death, and are left to the judgment of God.”

St. John distinguishes mortal sin (a sin unto death) from venial sin (a sin not unto death) when he writes: “If any man shall see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and life shall be given unto him that sinneth not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say for that any man shall ask.” (1 Jn 5:16) Cardinal Manning comments: “Saint John in these words does not forbid us to pray [for the forgiveness of another person’s mortal sin]; he says, ‘I do not say’—that is, ‘I do not enjoin it.’ He leaves it to the conscience of every man. He says of those who sin not unto death, that ‘we have all confidence we may obtain pardon and grace for them;’ but for those who do sin unto death as I have described, ‘we have no such confidence, and therefore, though I do not enjoin it, I do not forbid it.'”

Quotations from Henry Edward Manning, Sin and Its Consequences, 2d ed. (London: Burns and Oates, 1874).

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How To Distinguish Mortal Sin From Venial Sin

Cardinal Manning elaborates on the distinction between mortal and venial sin. He states: “From the written Word of God it is clear, beyond controversy, that some sins are unto death, and some sins are not unto death. That is to say, that some sins are mortal, and some sins are not mortal.”

He explains that “God made man for Himself; that He made him to His own likeness; that He made him capable of knowing, loving, and serving Him, and of being like to God; and that in the knowledge, the love, and the service, and the likeness of God, is the bliss of man. Therefore conformity to God is our perfection, and union with God is eternal life; but deformity, or departure from the likeness of God, is sin, and separation from God is eternal death.”

“The nature of sin is, as we have defined it, the transgression of the law of God; or, in other words, any thought, word, or deed deliberately committed with the knowledge of the intellect, and the consent of the will, contrary to the will of God. . . . The essential malice of sin, then, consists in the variance of the will, the hostility of the will of the creature against the will of his Maker.”

St. John writes: “If any man shall see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and life shall be given unto him that sinneth not unto death” (1 Jn 5:16). Cardinal Manning gives examples of sins that are not unto death: “Sins of infirmity; sins of impetuosity; sins of strong temptation; sins which by the subtlety of Satan lead men astray; sins of passion, in which human nature, being weak and tempestuous and liable to disorder, is drawn aside: if in all these there be no malice, either against God, or against our neighbour.”

He adds: “These are sins not unto death, as we may trust, because if there be no malice against God or our neighbour, then the essential sinfulness of sin is wanting; and in that case, Saint John says, ‘Let him pray for him, and God will give life unto those that sin not unto death’; that is to say, He will give grace, sorrow, pardon, help, protection, and perseverance. He will watch over those souls if in humility and in sorrow they persevere; and the prayer of those who are faithful and steadfast will obtain grace for those that sin not unto death.”

Quotations from Henry Edward Manning, Sin and Its Consequences, 2d ed. (London: Burns and Oates, 1874).

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Cultivating Meekness

St. Francis de Sales counseled his spiritual children to cultivate in themselves the virtue of meekness. This is in line with what Jesus Christ said: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Mt 11:29). Here are some words of advice on the subject from St. Francis:

“The meek Saviour would have us meek, so that, though surrounded by the world and the flesh, we may live by the Spirit; that, amidst the vanities of earth, we may live in heaven; that, living among men, we may praise Him with the angels.”

“God, who calls us to Him, sees how we are approaching, and will never permit anything to happen but what is for our greater good.”

“God knows what we are, and will hold out his paternal hand to us in a difficult step, in order that nothing may arrest us.”

“If, then, it ever happen that some grief come upon you, assure your soul that if she love God all things will turn to her good. And though you may not see the means by which this good shall be effected, be all the more convinced of it.”

“Since the Heart of our Lord has no more loving law than meekness, humility, and charity we must firmly maintain these dear virtues in us.”

“Cultivate not only a solid love, but a tender, gentle, meek love for those about you; I have learned from experience that infirmities destroy, not our charity, but our meekness towards our neighbour, if we are not strongly on our guard.”

He explains why meekness is better than severity: “Away from me those who love severity, for I will have none of it! It is better to be obliged to account to God for too much gentleness than too much severity. Is not God all love? God the Father is the father of the wretched; God the Son is called a lamb; God the Holy Ghost manifests Himself under the form of a dove. If there were anything better than benignity Jesus Christ would have told us, and yet He gives us but two lessons to learn of Him—meekness and humility.”

Quotations from Maxims and Counsels of St. Francis de Sales, translated by Ella McMahon (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son, 1884).

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