What is Sin in Roman Catholicism?

February 19, 2018

The RCC believes that all humans, except Mary, are born with the affects of original sin.  However, baptism removes the affects of original sin and leaves the person with a wounded nature or weakness toward sin.  The RCC clearly believes that man’s will is completely free to choose good or evil; God or sin.  The RCC also differentiates between mortal sins (willful acts of deliberate disobedience of a grave nature) and venial sin (willful acts of a lesser nature).


A failure to understand God’s purpose in creation causes the RCC to have a wrong view of sin.  God’s purpose for all of creation was for His glory.  However, the RCC believes that “God created everything for man” (358).  Therefore, they end up seeing sin from a man-centered view.  They see sin as “an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity” (1849). 

Although they do state that it is an offense against God they immediately follow it up by stating, “Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it” (1850).  In other words, sin is an offense against God because it set us against the love that God so much wants to show us, because we are such good people and everything was created for man.  This view causes them to believe that no man can forget or reject God (29-30).  They do not see men as enemies of God.

But this intimate and vital bond of man to God can be forgotten, overlooked, or even explicitly rejected by man. (29)

Although man can forget God or reject him, He never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find life and happiness. But this search for God demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, “an upright heart”, as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God. (30)

Sin is an act contrary to reason. It wounds man’s nature and injures human solidarity.  (1872)

Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
– by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
– by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
– by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
– by protecting evil-doers. (1868)

The RCC sees sin as solely controllable by man’s actions therefore habitual sin continues.  Where Christianity would see the Holy Spirit involved in working in the heart to change man’s thinking about personal sins. 

Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. (1865)

The repetition of sins – even venial ones – engenders vices, among which are the capital sins. (1876)

The RCC believes that a child of God has one united nature, spiritual and sinful, not two natures in one body.

The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature. (365)

The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not “produced” by the parents – and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection. (366)

The follow passages are some descriptions of the RCC distinction and description of mortal sins verses venial sins.  Christianity sees sin as sin.  All and any sin is an offense against God.  The consequences may differ; however, all sins are forgivable by God through the finished work of Christ on the cross, not by the confession or works of repentance. 

Sins can be distinguished according to their objects, as can every human act … they can be divided into spiritual and carnal sins, or again as sins in thought, word, deed, or omission. (1853)

Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture,  became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience. (1854)

Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it. (1855)

Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us – that is, charity – necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation. (1856)

For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. (1857)

The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger. (1858)

Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. (1859)

Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. (1860)

Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God. (1861)

One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent. (1862)

Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not set us in direct opposition to the will and friendship of God; it does not break the covenant with God. (1863)

The root of all sins lies in man’s heart. The kinds and the gravity of sins are determined principally by their objects. (1873)

To choose deliberately – that is, both knowing it and willing it – something gravely contrary to the divine law and to the ultimate end of man is to commit a mortal sin. This destroys in us the charity without which eternal beatitude is impossible. Unrepented, it brings eternal death. (1874)

Venial sin constitutes a moral disorder that is reparable by charity, which it allows to subsist in us. (1875)

The RCC view of man and sin affects their view of morality.  They start trying to define sins of disobedience by determining willful acts versus ignorant acts.  Willful acts of sin are counted against the man and needing some kind of work of repentance, where ignorant acts are not really sin (1859-1860, 1862, 1874).

Every act directly willed is imputable to its author. (1736)

An effect can be tolerated without being willed by its agent … A bad effect is not imputable if it was not willed either as an end or as a means of an action … For a bad effect to be imputable it must be foreseeable and the agent must have the possibility of avoiding it. (1737)

Freedom is the power to act or not to act, and so to perform deliberate acts of one’s own. Freedom attains perfection in its acts when directed toward God, the sovereign Good. (1744)

Freedom characterizes properly human acts. It makes the human being responsible for acts of which he is the voluntary agent. His deliberate acts properly belong to him. (1745)

The imputability or responsibility for an action can be diminished or nullified by ignorance, duress, fear, and other psychological or social factors. (1746)

The morality of human acts depends on:
– the object chosen;
– the end in view or the intention;
– the circumstances of the action.
The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the “sources,” or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts. (1750)

The object chosen is a good toward which the will deliberately directs itself. It is the matter of a human act. The object chosen morally specifies the act of the will, insofar as reason recognizes and judges it to be or not to be in conformity with the true good. Objective norms of morality express the rational order of good and evil, attested to by conscience. (1751)

In contrast to the object, the intention resides in the acting subject. Because it lies at the voluntary source of an action and determines it by its end, intention is an element essential to the moral evaluation of an action. The end is the first goal of the intention and indicates the purpose pursued in the action. The intention is a movement of the will toward the end: it is concerned with the goal of the activity. (1752)

The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving). (1753)

The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent’s responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil. (1754)

A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself (such as praying and fasting “in order to be seen by men”).
The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts – such as fornication – that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil. (1755)

It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it. (1756)

An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention.  The end does not justify the means. (1759)

A morally good act requires the goodness of its object, of its end, and of its circumstances together. (1760)

There are concrete acts that it is always wrong to choose, because their choice entails a disorder of the will, i.e., a moral evil. One may not do evil so that good may result from it. (1761)

Original Sin

The RCC believes in original sin, meaning that the sin nature is transmitted from Adam to every human, except Mary (402, 404, 417-418).


The RCC view is for the most part the Biblical as far defined above, with the exception that Mary did have a sin nature.  Christianity believes that the sin of Adam was pride not “yielding to tempter”.  However, the sin of Adam is transmitted to everyone as a state of man, called a sin nature. 

All men are implicated in Adam’s sin. (402)

Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” – a state and not an act. (404)

Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called “original sin”.  (417)

As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin (this inclination is called “concupiscence”). (418)

Wounded Nature (Weakness toward Sin)

The RCC does not believe that the human nature has been totally corrupted by sin but only wounded and in a weakened state.

“It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded” (405).

They believe that baptism washes away the affects of original sin and leaves the baptized person with a wounded nature that is inclined to sin but not in bondage to sin (405).


The RCC does not understand the extent of sin’s affect in the being of man.  Their view is that sin is more then just a bad example (Pelagius’ view in the fifth century) but not much more.  It is viewed for the most part as a bad influence.  However, they clearly do not believe that sin has affected the human will to freely choose God (as the next section will discuss). 

The RCC’s view is that of a reaction to the protestant reformers.  The RCC states, “The first Protestant reformers, on the contrary, taught that original sin has radically perverted man and destroyed his freedom; they identified the sin inherited by each man with the tendency to evil” (406).  The Reformers taught that the depravity of man means that man’s whole being including his will has been affected by original sin and cannot choose God apart from a work of God in the heart of man. The RCC reacts to this by expressing the complete freedom of the will of man. 

Below are more paragraphs to support the RCC view of the wounded nature. 

In the historical conditions in which he finds himself, however, man experiences many difficulties in coming to know God by the light of reason alone: Though human reason is, strictly speaking, truly capable by its own natural power and light of attaining to a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, who watches over and controls the world by his providence, and of the natural law written in our hearts by the Creator; yet there are many obstacles which prevent reason from the effective and fruitful use of this inborn faculty. … The human mind, in its turn, is hampered in the attaining of such truths, not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin. So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful. (37)

 [T]he overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil . (403)

It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence”. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.  (405)

By our first parents’ sin, the devil has acquired a certain domination over man, even though man remains free. Original sin entails captivity under the power of him who thenceforth had the power of death, that is, the devil. Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action and morals. (407)

This expression can also refer to the negative influence exerted on people by communal situations and social structures that are the fruit of men’s sins. (408)

When we made our first profession of faith while receiving the holy Baptism that cleansed us, the forgiveness we received then was so full and complete that there remained in us absolutely nothing left to efface, neither original sin nor offenses committed by our own will, nor was there left any penalty to suffer in order to expiate them…. Yet the grace of Baptism delivers no one from all the weakness of nature. On the contrary, we must still combat the movements of concupiscence that never cease leading us into evil. (978)

Our inclination towards evil … (979)

The term “flesh” refers to man in his state of weakness and mortality. (990)

Such frailties inherent in life as weakness of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin … (1264)

Conversion to Christ, the new birth of Baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Body and Blood of Christ received as food have made us “holy and without blemish, just as the Church herself, the Bride of Christ, is “holy and without blemish. Nevertheless the new life received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin that tradition calls concupiscence, which remains in the baptized such that with the help of the grace of Christ they may prove themselves in the struggle of Christian life. This is the struggle of conversion directed toward holiness and eternal life to which the Lord never ceases to call us. (1426)

[S]in also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. (1459)

[Man] still desires the good, but his nature bears the wound of original sin.  He is now inclined to evil and subject to error. (1707)

The beatitudes … invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts. (1723)

Free Will

The RCC teaches that man’s will must be completely free to choose God in order respond to God’s call to man (27, 33, 160, 180, 311, 364).  The human will was not affected by Adam’s act of sin in the garden.  The human will is free to make godly choices without the influence of sin.

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