Can murder ever be a venial sin?

Status
Not open for further replies.
E

Eagleduck

Guest
As I recall, ALL of three conditions must be present in order for one to have committed a mortal sin: 1) Grave matter; 2) Sufficient reflection; and 3) Full consent of the will. An impediment in any of these conditions could render a sin venial rather than mortal.

It would therefore seem that when we refer to an act as being objectively a mortal sin, we actually mean that the act is serious enough to be a mortal sin when the other conditions are present.

Consequently, it would also seem that it is possible to commit murder under circumstances in which it would be only a venial sin rather than a moral sin.

One example of such a situation might be the circumstances of a soldier in a war, where life and death decisions might have to be made without time available for sufficient reflection.

If anyone can find anything erroneous in the reasoning above, I welcome responses.
 
The only thing that I would add is there needs to be a distinction between killing and murder, which I am sure you already knew. Thus, your combat soldier example would not fall under the murder category unless, in one example, he was deliberately killing innocent non-combatants.

Scott
 
Just to clarify…

The Church teaches that “killing an innocent human being” is murder and is intrinsically evil. The act of killing in self-defense or war is not an act of “killing an innocent human being” and as such it is not intrinsically evil.

It would indeed be possible for one to murder without committing a mortal sin.

A person could not have full knowledge that murder is seriously wrong (pretty far fetched). More likely, the person could not have consented fully to the act. If a person is aroused in anger, it limits his ability to consent freely. Indeed, it is even theoretically possible (although highly unlikely) that a person’s passions could be so aroused externally that they act without consent and actually bear no culpability for the act. So, definitely it is possible for culpability to be limited to the extent that the sin is only venial.
 
No…

Murder and kiling are not the same,

Murder requires forethought and premeditation.

If someone dies as an unintended consequence of another action, then it is not murder.
 
A person could not have full knowledge that murder is seriously wrong (pretty far fetched).
Very far fetched. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, in the CCC the wrongness of murder falls into those natural laws that no one can claim to be ignorant of.

Scott
 
Scott Waddell:
Very far fetched. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, in the CCC the wrongness of murder falls into those natural laws that no one can claim to be ignorant of.

Scott
When you are justified in taking a human life is actually a question fraught with complexity and nuanced distinctions. Since murder is, by definition, an unjustifiable homocide, saying that no one can claim to be ignorant of its wrongness merely begs the question.

For example, if an assailant is pointing a knife at you and will not put it down, do you have a categorical right to use lethal force against him in order to remove the threat? I think most of us would say no, not a categorical right; whether and at what point you would be justified in using lethal force would depend upon any number of circumstances, some of which may be subject to doubt or disagreement.

Of course, it would certainly be easier to use lethal force without much consideration to whether or not it is absolutely necessary. Am I the only one who would find it tempting to do so?

If anyone thinks that there is no potential ambiguity in such matters, consider this question: How many of you would agree with me that only the last bullet fired by Bernard Goetz )in the famous New York subway shooting case) was unjustified?

I submit that there can be circumstances where the lack of opportunity for sufficient reflection could render an unjustifiable homocide (i.e., murder) a venial sin.
 
Be careful when you say that not meeting one of the three requirements makes a grave sin venial. Not meeting a requirement reduces culpability, and only by talking with a priest in confession can the determination be made as to whether your culpability was reduced to the point of it becoming venial.
 
I wan’t clear in my post. I was thinking in terms of this section (which I’ll grant may not apply):
1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.
 
Agreed. When I was thinking of ignorance, I was thinking of someone who is mentally handicapped.

It seems far more likely that the lessening of culpability would come by having less than full consent.
 
it depends,on wether it was an accident or not,The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides:

[1855] Mortal Sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God… by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, though it offends and wounds it.
[1861] Mortal sin… results in… 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…
[1862] 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 complete consent.
[1863] Venial sin weakens charity… and… merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However, venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace, it is humanly reparable. “Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently, eternal happiness.”

What Does the Bible Have to Say?

Matt. 5:19:

Whoever then relaxes (breaks) one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Our Lord here teaches that there are “least commandments” a person can break and even teach others to do so yet still remain “in the kingdom of heaven.” That is both a good definition of venial sin and perfectly in line with paragraph 1863 of the Catechism. Then, Jesus goes on to warn us in no uncertain terms that there are other sins that will take us to hell—if we do not repent, of course. For example, in Matt. 5: 22, Jesus says, “… whoever says ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” In verses 28-29, he says:

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

Clearly Jesus teaches there are some sins that will separate us from God for all eternity and some that will not–mortal and venial sin.
 
I agree with the posters who have noted that the murderer’s ability to comprehend of the seriousness of the act reduces culpability. It is entirely plausible that someone such as a child is mature enough to be capable of sin, because the person understands the difference between right and wrong, and yet to be too immature to commit a mortal sin because the person lacks the capacity to comprehend the seriousness of a grave sin–that is, the person cannot comprehend either the consequences that would be justly borne by a perpetrator or the devastating consequences borne by the victim or victims.

A middle ground with regards to consent is a bit harder to imagine, but these are matters to be judged by God alone. It is possible for God to read the heart of anyone who has committed a sin that is mortal in seriousness and to justly judge that the sin shall not be imputed according to seriousness alone because of mitigating circumstances that God sees and weighs perfectly.
 
BTW, this question fits Moral Theology a bit better than it does this one.
 
Most people here seem to be mistaken about exactly what conduct and state of mind actually constitutes murder. Murder, by definition, cannot ever be a venial sin.
 
The connotations of the word ‘murder’ seem to require full knowledge and consent, like a mortal sin does.

On the other hand, it’s possible to kill an innocent human being without knowledge and consent in some circumstances. In secular law terms, mens rea wouldn’t be there, or it would be weak, or it would be a case of insanity, or, say, some kind of culpable error.
 
Most people here seem to be mistaken about exactly what conduct and state of mind actually constitutes murder. Murder, by definition, cannot ever be a venial sin.
I’d love to agree with this.

But a situation popped into my head that made me second guess this statement.

Give the culture of death we live in currently…the secular world has consistently taught that abortion is not murder.
It’s a woman’s choice, it’s just a glob of tissue and not a real human being and so on and so forth.
We as Christians know this is wrong…or at least we should know it’s wrong and actually considered murder.

But what about the teenager who just found out she is pregnant and is told by everyone she knows (probably since she was a child) that abortion is perfectly okay…it’s legal.
That’s a form of brainwashing…and it could eradicate full knowledge that the act is wrong.
She gets the abortion and then years later…or less…she still feels awful about it and goes to talk to someone who tells her the truth.

I think that might be the only time where murder could be considered a venial sin and not always a mortal sin.

To a more minor extent…while some people in the secular world may still argue that abortion is wrong…they may have an easier time justifying something like the morning after pill…which is an abortion pill…and if it actually works…is considered murder.

Women who take the morning after pill don’t actually know if they’ve conceived and will never know…that takes away full knowledge that the sin is wrong too.
 
I’d love to agree with this.

But a situation popped into my head that made me second guess this statement.

Give the culture of death we live in currently…the secular world has consistently taught that abortion is not murder.
It’s a woman’s choice, it’s just a glob of tissue and not a real human being and so on and so forth.
We as Christians know this is wrong…or at least we should know it’s wrong and actually considered murder.

But what about the teenager who just found out she is pregnant and is told by everyone she knows (probably since she was a child) that abortion is perfectly okay…it’s legal.
That’s a form of brainwashing…and it could eradicate full knowledge that the act is wrong.
She gets the abortion and then years later…or less…she still feels awful about it and goes to talk to someone who tells her the truth.

I think that might be the only time where murder could be considered a venial sin and not always a mortal sin.

To a more minor extent…while some people in the secular world may still argue that abortion is wrong…they may have an easier time justifying something like the morning after pill…which is an abortion pill…and if it actually works…is considered murder.

Women who take the morning after pill don’t actually know if they’ve conceived and will never know…that takes away full knowledge that the sin is wrong too.
Yeah that’s an interesting point 🙂

I’m a law student, so I was just thinking about the legal definition. In Australia, abortion’s not considered common law murder, because, legally, a person is not a human being until he or she is fully born in a living state. However, if (as we believe) the child in the womb actually is a human being, then abortion would be murder, regardless of whether the brainwashed teenager thought it was wrong, since she’d still have an intention to kill and therefore have the requisite subjective state of mind (i.e. mens rea).

I can’t really agree or disagree on whether the teenager’s state of mind could be such as to convert the act from a mortal sin to a venial one. I’m only a catechumen atm & so don’t have a deep understanding of the terms
 
Most people here seem to be mistaken about exactly what conduct and state of mind actually constitutes murder. Murder, by definition, cannot ever be a venial sin.
By definition, murder is the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another. The law referred to in the definition of murder is human law, not divine law.

A secular court could find a person guilty of capital murder, totally according to the correct reading of human law, and sentence the person according to the duty of a human judge, but Heaven could find the same person’s culpability for the same sinful act did not rise to a mortal sin.

Human courts can only guess at the state of the murderer’s soul, but the Creator knows. That is why murder can be a venial sin.
 
By definition, murder is the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another. The law referred to in the definition of murder is human law, not divine law.

A secular court could find a person guilty of capital murder, totally according to the correct reading of human law, and sentence the person according to the duty of a human judge, but Heaven could find the same person’s culpability for the same sinful act did not rise to a mortal sin.

Human courts can only guess at the state of the murderer’s soul, but the Creator knows. That is why murder can be a venial sin.
Are you referring to the situation in which a person is wrongly convicted of murder? Or are you saying that someone can actually meet all the elements of the crime and yet the act be a venial sin?
 
As I recall, ALL of three conditions must be present in order for one to have committed a mortal sin: 1) Grave matter; 2) Sufficient reflection; and 3) Full consent of the will. An impediment in any of these conditions could render a sin venial rather than mortal.

It would therefore seem that when we refer to an act as being objectively a mortal sin, we actually mean that the act is serious enough to be a mortal sin when the other conditions are present.

Consequently, it would also seem that it is possible to commit murder under circumstances in which it would be only a venial sin rather than a moral sin.

One example of such a situation might be the circumstances of a soldier in a war, where life and death decisions might have to be made without time available for sufficient reflection.

If anyone can find anything erroneous in the reasoning above, I welcome responses.
In Catholic moral theology “murder” by its very definition necessitates conditions of both “wilfulness” and “injustice” by a private individual.

Therefore the commission of murder is always intrinsically evil.

Its just a semantic game of course.
The real issue is whether or not the killing we just witnessed is murder or homicide or self-defence or just the “act of a man” (eg sleep walking) which is neither moral nor immoral.
 
Are you referring to the situation in which a person is wrongly convicted of murder? Or are you saying that someone can actually meet all the elements of the crime and yet the act be a venial sin?
No, I mean that Heaven and secular courts, by necessity, judge in different ways. It is impossible for a human court to read a heart. A human court must judge by human law and while using a merely human capacity to perceive. The jury must determine that the prosecution in the case has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that a murder occurred according to the definition of the laws of that jurisdiction and the accused committed the crime. They may do that without there being any mitigating circumstance that the law allows to return a verdict of guilty for a lesser charge.

It is in the reading of hearts that a deliberate act of grave seriousness might be rightly judged to be less than mortal in culpability. So yes, it is theoretically possible to meet all the elements of a deliberate murder according the capacity of a human judge and jury to perceive and judge and yet be a venial sin because of conditions of the heart that are not in human law because humans cannot reasonably hope see them or judge them.

This is why someone who is convicted of murder might forgive the judge and jury: that is, because according to human law a just verdict was reached. The accused might not have any reason to say, “the law should not read in this way,” because the mitigating reality is beyond human capacity to know.

Who knows? We may be very poor ourselves at judging those of our serious offenses for which we are most or least culpable. We think we know ourselves, but sometimes when it comes to learning the truth about ourselves, we are our own worst enemies.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Back
Top