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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