Wikipedia Errors on Mortal Sin
A series of articles on Wikipedia errors on Catholicism
by Ronald L. Conte Jr.

[Wikipedia Errors:   Papal Infallibility | Immaculate Conception | Original Sin | Venial Sin | Mortal Sin | Sanctifying Grace | Roman Catholic Dogma]

Mortal Sin
(June 29, 2009)

Wikipedia: "Mortal sin, according to the beliefs of the Catholic Church (and some Protestant denominations) is a sin that, unless confessed and absolved (or at least sacramental confession is willed if not available), condemns a person's soul to Hell after death."

This definition is merely a statement of the punishment for mortal sin; it does not actually define mortal sin. Also, Protestant denominations do not have the Sacrament of Confession. The explanation that says that sacramental confession must at least be will, if not available, is not a full or correct explanation of forgiveness apart from confession for mortal sins. Forgiveness for actual mortal sin, other than by confession, must include not merely the willingness to go to confession, but also perfect contrition (contrition out of love for God and neighbor); and persons who are non-Catholic can be forgiven for actual mortal sin by perfect contrition without an explicit willingness to go to confession.

The distinction between actual mortal sin and objective mortal sin is entirely lacking in this article. The distinction between perfect contrition and imperfect contrition is entirely lacking in this article. The distinction between the three fonts of morality, which determines whether an act is a mortal sin, a venial sin, or not a sin at all, is entirely lacking in this article. And as far as I can tell, the three fonts of morality are not mentioned anywhere in the English language version of Wikipedia.

Wikipedia: "These sins are considered "mortal" because they constitute a rupture in a person's link to God's saving grace: the person's soul becomes "dead", not merely weakened."

This is a very poor explanation. First, only actual mortal sin causes a loss of sanctifying grace. Second, this is a complete loss of sanctifying grace, not merely a rupture in a link to sanctifying grace. Third, as so often happens in Wikipedia articles on Catholicism, colloquial expression are used in place of proper theological terminology (e.g. rupture in a person's link), resulting in a statement that fails to express doctrine correctly.

"The phrase is used in I John 5.16 -17…."

The Wikipedia article on venial sin makes the exact opposite claim, that the same verses do not refer to mortal and venial sin.

"In Roman Catholic moral theology, a mortal sin, as distinct from a venial sin, must meet all of the following conditions:

"1. its subject must be a grave (or serious) matter;
"2. it must be committed with full knowledge, both of the sin and of the gravity of the offense (though nobody is deemed to be ignorant of the moral law, embedded into the conscience of every human being);
"3. it must be committed with deliberate and complete consent, enough for it to have been a personal decision to commit the sin."

Although the quote above uses the term 'as distinct from,' it actually does not explain the difference between mortal and venial sins. The above quote sounds scholarly, but it is so only in form, not in content. The term subject is used in moral theology to refer to the person who chooses the moral or immoral act, not to the matter of the act. Again, use of colloquial language and ignorance of proper terminology result in an incorrect statement. The term 'grave (or serious) matter' is not properly defined in this article, making the first numbered point useless.

The phrase "both of the sin and of the gravity of the offense" might be correct, if it was properly explained; but no such explanation is given. This appears to be a paraphrase of some unstated Catholic source by someone ignorant of the doctrine. So often in Wikipedia an editor seems to be quoting a phrase or paraphrasing a source without understanding the meaning.

The statement that "nobody is deemed to be ignorant of the moral law" is not entirely correct, since the doctrine of invincible ignorance allows that some persons might mistakenly think that a mortal sin is not a sin at all. The statement that the moral law is "embedded into the conscience" is not a correct explanation. Yet again this is a very inaccurate explanation by an editor who is most probably either not a practicing Catholic, or a very ill informed Catholic.

The phrase "deliberate and complete consent" is not accurate, since full deliberation (i.e. full consent) need not be entirely complete in actual mortal sin. Also, the phrasing "enough for it to have been a personal decision" is absurd; it contradicts the prior phrase "complete consent," since adding the word "enough" implies that it is not entirely full or complete. The claim that an actual mortal sin must be a "personal decision" does not make any sense in terms of moral theology.

Wikipedia: "The Catechism defines grave matter as "violations of what Jesus told to the man who asked him what the most important commandments were, namely, "do not kill", "do not steal", "do not commit adultery", "do not bear false witness", "do not defraud" and "honour your father and your mother"."

There should not be a quote mark before 'violations'. The Catechism does not define grave matter merely by listing the summary of the ten commandments given by Jesus.

Wikipedia: "All of these, however, are subject both to the conditions above and to mitigating circumstances…."

This quote does not make sense in combination with the list of three criteria for mortal sins given earlier in the same article. Also, this phrasing hints at the difference between objective mortal sin and actual mortal sin, a distinction that is never actually explained explicitly. Also, the term circumstances has a specialized meaning in moral theology, but the article uses the term in the colloquial sense.

Wikipedia: "These sins must be specifically confessed and named, giving details about the context of each sin: what sin, why, against what or whom, the number and type of occurrences, and any other factors that may exacerbate or lessen one's responsibility and culpability that the person confessing remembers. It also should not be said that certain of these mortal sins, like purposely missing Mass on Sunday, is considered equal in gravity to more grave ones, like first-degree murder: Roman Catholic belief holds that mortal sins can vary somewhat in their seriousness, and thus canon law only criminalizes some of the more serious mortal sins."

It is not true that, in confession, the penitent (a term lacking in this article) must give "details about the context of each sin;" the only 'details' that are required are those that would affect the degree of seriousness of the sin. It is not true that the penitent must say why he committed the sin, nor that he must say against whom, nor that he must give the "type of occurrences" (whatever that means). It is not true that the person must state "any other factors" that may increase or decrease culpability. The penitent only need confess actual mortal sins (another term lacking in the article), and the number of times (as best one can remember), and only those 'factors' that would make the act substantially more serious. The penitent need not confess factors that lessen culpability, nor the 'context', nor 'details' in general, nor who was involved, nor any factors that only slightly increase culpability.

Also, missing Mass on Sunday is not necessarily a sin, and when it is a sin, it is not necessarily mortal. The term 'first-degree murder' is a legal term, not a term in moral theology. Canon law does not 'criminalize' anything. Canon law does not forbid act based on their seriousness; some lesser sins, and some acts that are not sinful, are prohibited by Canon law; other sins that are very serious are not mentioned by Canon law. The purpose of Canon law is not to list sins, nor to teach on sin, nor to 'criminalize' sin.

Wikipedia: "Some mortal sins cause automatic excommunication by the very act itself, i.e., a politician who votes to pass a pro-abortion law, a priest who divulges what someone confessed to him, or a Catholic who apostasises, are all excommunicated from the Catholic Church under canon law."

This one sentence contains numerous errors. The only sins that cause automatic excommunication by the very act itself are apostasy, heresy, and schism. Other acts that result in automatic excommunication only do so if stated in Canon Law. There is no provision of Canon Law that explicitly states that "a politician who votes to pass a pro-abortion law" is automatically excommunicated; it is currently a matter of discussion among Bishops as to what penalty should be given to Catholic politicians who are pro-abortion.

The next paragraph is so poorly written and so inaccurate that a very long explanation would be needed to point out and correct all the errors. There are a number of other errors in this article, but the above should be sufficient to show that this article is not a reliable source of information on Catholic teaching.

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