In many television shows and movies even remotely related to Catholicism, there typically is the ubiquitous scene where somebody attends confession. The character tells the priest of wrongs committed and receives forgiveness. Catholics, and other religious groups, refer to these wrong deeds as sins. Not all faiths define sin in a similar manner, however. Catholics have some unique views on sin. To Catholics, there are three degrees of sins. In addition, individuals can escape the penalties associated with sin. Last, many Catholics believe there are conscious steps a person follows in the process of committing sin.
Degrees of Sin
In the Catholic view, not all sins are of the same degree or magnitude. Some sins are a greater offense to God than others. The punishment for sin depends on the degree of harm committed. Mortal sin, the worst kind, results from a serious violation of Christian principles. The perpetrator is no longer a recipient of God’s mercy and grace of salvation. Most sins are venial sins, the lesser type, and the offending party remains within God’s good graces. Along with these two forms of sin that people commit, Catholics also view humans as inherently sinful because of original sin. This sin, ingrained in all people from birth, comes from the actions of Adam and Eve, the first to live on earth.
Catholics view sin as something they can absolve, or remove, from their spiritual record. Sin is not a permanent stain on a Catholic. Confession to a priest of the nature of any known sin, in a ceremony known as the Sacrament of Penance, is the means to absolution. Although sin is not permanent, without a proper confession to a priest, the condition of sin can remain even into the afterlife.
Even a dead Catholic still has hope for removing the blight of sin, the faith teaches. Catholics unable to enter heaven, the home of God, because of their sins go to Purgatory. In Purgatory, the soul of the dead receives purification. To help the deceased, living Catholics pray that God releases the soul from Purgatory.
St. Augustine's three stages of sin
Perhaps the greatest theological discussion of sin from a Catholic perspective is that of St. Augustine. Born Aurelius Augustinus, the philosopher lived from 340 to 430, receiving the title of doctor of the Roman Catholic Church for his intellectual writings. According to Augustine, the commission of sin is a three-step process. Initially, the mind of the individual focuses on the object of the sin. Then, the person receives satisfaction through the thought. Last, rather than rejecting the thought, the offender commits the act.
- The Vatican: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1854-1856
- Catholic News Agency: Original Sin
- U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: Celebrating the Sacrament of Penance: Questions and Answers
- USCCB Publishing: Compendium Catechism of the Catholic Church
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Saint Augustine
- Montclair State University: The “Three Stages of Sin” According to St. Augustine
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