Horror of sin (Horror Peccati)

Source: District of Asia

“Perhaps the greatest sin in the world today is that men have begun to lose the sense of sin” (Pius XII).

Hatred for sin, born from a deep conviction of its heinousness, is part and parcel of a good Christian’s spiritual outfit. Yet, these words, for many Catholics, evoke little more than the idea of an unreal and artificial, if not morbid, disposition.

To be frank and realistic, how many Catholics can say in truth that mortal sin is for them an object of horror? It is difficult to feel horror for sin when the things that are called mortal sins are often so attractive.  Whatever be the secret reason of the mysterious allurement of evil, it is fact, acknowledged by word-wide experience, and almost proverbial: the forbidden fruit appeals to human nature.

Even when the spell of this charm has been overcome and sin is realized as evil, it remains difficult to conceive a real horror for sin in the midst of a world which makes so light of sin. We do live in a world where the entire civilization is tending to patronize & exalt practices that grievously sin against Justice, Purity and Chasity. To stand up against this flood of unchristian ideas and examples, and to preserve untwisted a Christian moral sense, requires sustained vigilance and strength of character.

Perhaps it is born out of a notion that it can be easily forgiven. A good confession wipes out the past forever! Why then “exaggerate”? Perhaps this mentality betrays but little hatred for sin. But who will say that it is rare? Who has not, at times, secretly agreed with it? Who has never for a while harboured the half-guilty thought that ascetical authors decidedly overdraw their comparisons, when they affirm that all physical evils and temporary calamities fade away before the evil of mortal sin?

Lastly – it is a thought that no one can avoid all the sins all the time. Human nature, they argue is so impotent against such temptations that even the just are having hard time. How about the little ones?

All these four reasons, attractiveness of sin, prevailing indifference easy forgiveness, practical inevitableness, tend to show that a sincere hatred for sin is in no way natural to man, and, though precious, hard to acquire. How to go about it?

Here as elsewhere, “the truth shall deliver us”. The first and chief help in creating and developing hatred for sin is a true idea of the moral evil, as taught by Catholic dogma and theology. True, theologically speaking, we are unable to fathom the depth of malice and repulsiveness involved in a grave sin; because precisely we cannot comprehend the infinite Goodness and Majesty of God, against whom, in a real sense, mortal sin revolts. Still, it is hard sincerely to believe, that human sin, an apparently so ordinary happening, covers such an abyss of iniquity! There seems to be disproportion in the daily life of average human beings, and the tragic description theologians or spiritual authors or preachers draw of it. What is the truth in the matter?

Hence a first element that needs stressing is precisely what the Catholic Church has defined: that, as for merit so also for demerit or sin, freedom is necessary (DS 1094).

With liberty of a human act goes together, as its prerequisite, the knowledge that the given course of action is evil and sinful; otherwise it would not be a sin. This again is undisputed Catholic teaching, as appears for example, from the universally known and accepted distinction between “material” and “formal” sins.  This second element of the Catholic doctrine on mortal sin is also to be preached if we wish to foster in our Christians a hatred for sin. How can they hate what they do not realize as evil, or what they do unawares?

Theologians summarize this condition for a grievous fault by saying that mortal sinfulness can be found only in a perfect “human act”, actus humanus.  Perhaps this cannot be put too strongly before our people: that it depends on themselves and on no one else, to avoid mortal sins.  Nobody can be driven into it against his own will or be altogether taken by surprise. For this living realization is a condition sine qua non of hatred of sin.

Next to this, the Catholic doctrine on mortal sin sees in it an aversio a Deo, a turning away from God. Since this withdrawal from God is impossible without an actual move in the opposite direction, the aversion from God supposes a turning towards another, created, goal, conversion ad creaturam. St. Paul expressed this by saying that sinners prefer a creature to the Creator. And St Augustine reduced all grievous sins to love of self even to the contempt of God.

Two errors:

1. Notion about ‘philosophical sin’ (Condemned DS1290)

It excludes the possibility of dissociating the moral and the religious action which would be wrong from a rational or philosophical view-point only.  Even when he does not explicitly know or actually think of God, his wrong action (or can be) at the same time an offense of God, breaking off God’s friendship and deserving eternal punishment.  One thing remains undisputed: a transgression of the law of reason, or of the voice of conscience manifesting the inborn natural law, is inevitably and independently of the sinner’s intention or attention, a sin against the Author of the law. If it is a formal sin under the first aspect, it will also be thus under the second. Every philosophical sin is necessarily also a theological sin.

Man cannot divide his moral life into two separate compartments: one in which his reason would reign autonomous, another where God’s law dictates the rule. No, the law of conscience is the law of God.  Whatever be a man’s views or wishes, a clearly wrong action, when wrong before his conscience, is also an offence of God. This belief is bound to arouse alertness and vigilance about all that we instinctively sense as evil.

2. False conception of Mortal Sin

In an allocution to the Roman Lenten preachers, on February 22, 1944, Pope Pius XII strongly condemns the view which postulates for a mortal sin “the express intention to offend God, to break off the friendship with Him and to refuse Him one’s love. If this intention is absent, viz. if a man does not on his part wish to break off his friendship with God, the action itself, they say, cannot do him any harm.  To quote an example: the many transgressions against the sixth commandment would not be for a believer who otherwise wishes to remain united with God and to keep His friendship, any grave fault; they would not constitute any mortal sin.”  The Pope himself refutes this “astounding teaching”. “Who does not see”, he says, “how in the clear perception that a human action goes against God’s commandments, is also implied that this action cannot be directed towards union with God, precisely because it contains the aversion or estrangement of one’s mind from God and from His will (aversio a Fine ultimo)? And that this aversion destroys union and friendship with Him, as every grave sin actually does?  Do not faith and theology teach every sin is an offense of God and that it intends to offend Him, because the intention which is included in a grievous fault, goes against God’s will, as this is expressed in His commandment that one violates?  When a man says ‘yes’ to the forbidden fruit, he says ‘no’ to God who forbids it.  When he prefers himself and his own will to the divine law, he estranges himself from God and the divine will. In this consists aversion from God and the inner nature of grave sin” (AAS 26 [1944] p. 73 ff.).

This authoritative teaching brings out an important point: the connection between the aversio a Deo and the conversion ad creaturam, which are inherent in every mortal sin.  It is not necessary that a sinner, over and above the forbidden object which the knowingly and freely chooses, intends to offend God.  He unavoidably and freely chooses, intends to offend God.  He unavoidably revolts against the Almighty, whatever the intention may formulate for himself, by doing what God has forbidden.


Let the truth about mortal sin be clearly kept before the minds of the faithful: showing it to be a free and conscious human choice of a forbidden object, which in spite of appearances of wishful thinking to the contrary is a turning away from God and an offence against Him. Then an unmovable foundation-stone is laid for a true hatred of the evil.  If only the truth taught by our Catholic faith guides our thoughts, desires and deeds, compromise with evil will be banned from our lives.  A horror for sin will naturally enter and fill our minds and hearts.  It is true that our materially minded and sense-guided aspirations may not at once take to this leading principle, more spiritual and disincarnate. Whilst the evil of sins does not strike our senses, it fascinating charm does.  For all that, a free man is able to extricate himself from captivating and deceptive appearances and to guide himself by truth only.  And the perception and full acceptance of the Catholic truth about moral evil must bring forth a horror for it.

This ‘horror’ may and even should be more a disposition of the will than of the sentiments.  But the stronger the conviction of the Catholic view grows in a man’s mind, the more deeply the hatred for all moral evil takes root in his will, the more also will horror for sin become an instinct, almost a second nature.

(Condensed from an article of Fr. de Letter SJ, Clergy Monthly, July 1947 pgs. 7-15 by Fr. Therasian Babu SSPX)