Recently went to confession at a parish near my new job. I hadn’t been there ever before. I mentioned the phrase “mortal sin”. The priest said, “I don’t think there was any mortal sin. Mortal sin requires three things: serious matter, knowing that it’s serious matter and desire to completely destroy your relationship with God. [?!? – This sounds like a variation of the “fundamental option” error.] Did you desire to completely destroy your relationship with God when you [omitted]?”
Of course I answered honestly that I didn’t desire to completely destroy my relationship with God. I thought that arguing moral theology with the priest might raise questions about the sincerity of my repentance for my sins involving pride and anger, so I held my tongue. [In that moment, probably for the best.]
I would have expected any Catholic to have a better grasp on such a basic topic, let alone a priest who is a member of an order famous for its academic achievements. [I’ll get you a popsicle it was a Jesuit.] Makes me very glad that the efficacy of the sacrament is independent of the lunacy of the minister of the sacrament. [Good call.]
I suspect that that priest is infected, willingly or not, with the deeply harmful errors of the likes of Richard McCormick SJ and Charles Curran. Many priests of a certain age are. Many of certain religious orders are.
First, let’s clarify what the Church teaches.
For a sin to be a mortal sin, it must meet three conditions. It must be:
- of grave matter
- committed with full knowledge of the sinner
- committed with deliberate consent of the sinner
The third condition is NOT: “desire to completely destroy your relationship with God” – FAIL. That could be a result, but the desire to do so is not a condition.
The third condition (deliberate consent) means that you must not only know that what you are going to do is a sin, you also will to do it. If your will is not engaged, you are not guilty of a mortal sin. If you are being forced, you are under duress, you are impaired in some way, etc., your will is not wholly involved. Mortal sins are not accidents. Mind you, objectively the act itself might be serious enough to be grave matter, but subjectively you are not guilty of a mortal sin if your will isn’t wholly involved. Again, you have to know it is a mortal sin and then you commit that sin anyway, willingly. This means that mortal sins are intended by the sinner. They are a willing rejection of God’s law and love. That does NOT mean that you want thereby “completely to destroy your relationship with God”. Example: “I am going to do X. I know X is wrong. I am going to do it anyway. I want to do X in order completely to destroy my relationship with God.” NO. That is not how 99.99999% of sinners wind up committing mortal sins. As a matter of fact, that would be something so rare as to be unfathomable: that someone sets out to deliberately to do exactly that. There is a difference between knowing that you are harming your relationship with God by sinning and “desiring to completely destroy your relationship with God”.
However, some moral theologians in decades past – thanks be to God this is fading as the Biological Solution takes them out – advanced erroneous ideas about mortal sin. This bad theology infected myriad seminary and university professors, to the untold damage to countless people. I tremble for their souls of those who spread it.
One of the bad ideas advanced by these aberrant moral theologians was that of the “fundamental option”. See if this doesn’t sound a bit like what that confessor asked.
According to this false theory, a person makes a “fundamental” choice for or against God. If the acts you commit do not change your basic orientation for God, then you do not lose the state of grace. Only when your acts change your default position to be against God do you lose the state of grace. Consequently, according to this false idea, you could commit particular sins (which otherwise fit the classic definition of mortal sins) without losing the state of grace. Say you do X. Say you choose to do X, knowing that it is a sin, and say X is grave matter, and you then do X anyway. But … say that, well, you did X but you didn’t really shift your “fundamental option” in favor of God. According to the “fundamental option” angle, yah, okay, you did something wrong, but… your sin wasn’t mortal after all.
See how dangerous this is?
Those who embrace this false understanding of mortal sin, claim that you could commit adultery, homosexual acts, masturbation, and all other manner of sins which the Church has always held are mortal, without changing your default position on God, your “fundamental option”. (And it’s almost always about sex with these fundamental option types… it is the way they excuse all manner of behavior and then, once they are on the slippery slope and sliding, they rationalize all manner of moral turpitude and deviant acts.)
Moreover, these wrong-headed types say that no single sin can change your “fundamental option”. Nice, huh? Your default changes only you develop a lasting pattern of sinful behavior. Do X once… pffft. Do X twice… thrice… heck, a bunch of times, pffft. But, 365 times? Maybe we will need to talk about that some day.
We got this rubbish in seminary back in the 80’s. I got in serious trouble with our ultra-liberal overloads by asking how many times I could commit suicide in a calculated way before my “fundamental option” changed.
So, be wary of the sort of rubbish you heard from this priest confessor, may God have mercy on him. John Paul II corrected the error of the “fundamental option” in his encyclical Veritatis splendor (cf. esp. 65-70). He ought to know that.
In point of fact, man does not suffer perdition only by being unfaithful to that fundamental option whereby he has made “a free self-commitment to God”. With every freely committed mortal sin, he offends God as the giver of the law and as a result becomes guilty with regard to the entire law (cf. Jas 2:8-11); even if he perseveres in faith, he loses “sanctifying grace”, “charity” and “eternal happiness”. As the Council of Trent teaches, “the grace of justification once received is lost not only by apostasy, by which faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin”.
The statement of the Council of Trent does not only consider the “grave matter” of mortal sin; it also recalls that its necessary condition is “full awareness and deliberate consent”. In any event, both in moral theology and in pastoral practice one is familiar with cases in which an act which is grave by reason of its matter does not constitute a mortal sin because of a lack of full awareness or deliberate consent on the part of the person performing it. Even so, “care will have to be taken not to reduce mortal sin to an act of ‘fundamental option’ — as is commonly said today — against God”, seen either as an explicit and formal rejection of God and neighbour or as an implicit and unconscious rejection of love. “For mortal sin exists also when a person knowingly and willingly, for whatever reason, chooses something gravely disordered. In fact, such a choice already includes contempt for the divine law, a rejection of God’s love for humanity and the whole of creation: the person turns away from God and loses charity. Consequently, the fundamental orientation can be radically changed by particular acts.Clearly, situations can occur which are very complex and obscure from a psychological viewpoint, and which influence the sinner’s subjective imputability. But from a consideration of the psychological sphere one cannot proceed to create a theological category, which is precisely what the ‘fundamental option’ is, understanding it in such a way that it objectively changes or casts doubt upon the traditional concept of mortal sin”.
Be clear and cut through the rubbish. To coopt their terms: sins which do not change our true fundamental option are what we call venial sins, they do not kill the life of grace in the soul. Sins which kill the life of grace in the soul are mortal sins. When we commit mortal sins, we lose the state of grace; we lose the friendship of God. In that sense our fundamental option has indeed changed, for we have gone against what we know is God’s will and have deliberately set aside his love and gifts: we have lost the state of grace, which is pretty fundamental. However, an individual mortal might not entirely change our “fundamental option” in the sense that we still hope for forgiveness and God’s love, we still have faith in God, even though we have lost supernatural charity.
Mortal sin is complicated because we are complicated. But it isn’t as complicated as these dreamy egg-heads made it out to be. Mind you, I suspect that most of the people who grasped onto this “fundamental option” thing thought they were doing the right thing, thought they were drilling down to the roots of sin, and forgiveness and God’s love, and reconciliation and conversion. But … they got it wrong, and in spreading their error, have done serious damage to countless souls.
The fundamental option theory, erodes people’s awareness of what sin is. It undermines the sense of danger sin creates for the soul. And, apparently, it is still confusing some people in the confessional.
GO TO CONFESSION!
Confess all your mortal sins in kind and in number, omitting nothing.
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