From a reader:
I greatly appreciate your time and work you do with this blog, it has inspired me at various times to strive for fortitude and perseverance, especially in the sacrament of penance.
I have been studying the sins against the Holy Ghost in the various writings and St. Ambrose, St. Thomas, and St. Bonaventure. In reading their works, it seems that the sin of presumption, as being a sin against the Holy Ghost, is unforgivable. Is this true? Am I misinterpreting some aspect of these writings? This is particularly important because I have on many occasions committed this sin, which led to further mortal sins.
Yes, the sin of presumption is a mortal sin which separates you from God and usually leads to other serious sins. Presumption is a bad habit we call a vice. Presumption is a serious, and I mean really serious sin that leads to the loss of heaven.
Let’s have some basic catechism which every Catholic needs to know.
All Christians, all of us poor sinners, live in hope. Hope, along with faith and charity, are gifts from God infused into us with baptism. They are called the theological virtues. Since they are virtues, they are habits. They are habits because, as the Latin word “habitus” (think of English “habitat”) suggests, they “dwell” in us in a stable way. Hope, along with faith and charity, are part of us unless we drive them out with acts and intentions against them.
Because all virtues are balance points between extremes, the virtue hope also has its extremes, which are vices, sins. The extremes most opposed to the virtue of hope are despair and presumption.
By hope we mean the theological or supernatural virtue which disposes us to aspire to God as our best end and, therefore, towards all the means we need to pursue to attain that end, because we know that we cannot do it or merit it on our own without God’s help. Hope is necessary for our salvation because it is, in itself, one of those necessary means for that salvation. God Himself is the object of our hope. Rejection of object of hope results in the rejection of heaven.
By despair we do not live in hope, we reject hope. Despair, the vice, is a willful rejection of hope because we think the things we need to do to obtain eternal life are impossible. It is a venial sin when it comes from melancholy or from timidity or fear of one’s own weakness. It is a mortal sin when it involves distrust or disbelief in God’s goodness or His revealed promises. As a result we stop praying to God for mercy and graces, and we do not ask for forgiveness for our sins. The result is the loss of the virtue of charity and the state of grace and, as a consequence God’s friendship and a share in the kingdom of heaven.
By presumption we do not live in hope, we live in a sense of false certitude. Presumption is the vice whereby we expect to gain eternal life by our own merits or that pardon is given without your repentance. It is a mortal sin in most every circumstance. As a result we stop praying to God for mercy and graces, and we do not ask for forgiveness for our sins. The result is the loss of the virtue of charity and the state of grace and, as a consequence God’s friendship and a share in the kingdom of heaven.
Presumption and despair each have as a consequence a turning away from God such that we do not ask for graces and forgiveness, which means that we will not be forgiven. This is why presumption and its flip-side despair, the enemies of hope, are called the unpardonable or unforgivable sins: they are so because we don’t ask. They are sins against the Holy Spirit and because they do not result in asking forgiveness, they are unpardonable.
There is nothing that we little finite mortals can do that is so bad that God will not forgive, provided we ask for forgiveness. It is there for the asking, always, until the time we die and can therefore ask no more.