“Lists” of Mortal Sins

One of the deceptions of our time is the notion that serious sin is only a remote possibility for most people and that such sins are only committed by truly wicked people. Too many people assess their moral standing with unhelpful platitudes such as these: “I’m basically a good person,” or “Well, I haven’t murdered anybody.”

We must be more serious and mature in our discernment. While it is true, as we have noted in previous articles (HERE and HERE) that there are conditions necessary for mortal sin, we ought not simply presume they are hard to meet. It is true that, even when there is grave matter, that our freedom or knowledge can be limited in such a way that our blameworthiness is reduced below the level of mortal sin. But, as noted, deep down we usually know what we are doing in most matters. Further, our freedom, though seldom a perfect freedom is more free that we like to admit when we get in trouble of some sort. 

Further, God does not leave us in such a fog of uncertainty. His Word is quite clear in specifying some of the more serious sins so that we can humbly recognize our tendency to do these very things. It is also expected of us, who have reason and free will that these are not just theoretical powers seldom observed, but that they are fundamental endowments for which we are responsible and in which are expected to grow. It is offensive to our human dignity to assert, in effect, that most people are too stupid to go to hell or too enslaved to their passions to really be responsible for what they do. The Holy Scriptures presuppose that we are moral agents and engage our intellect and will. They warn of serious sin and and its consequences neither of which are relevant if we do not possess the requisite intellect and will. 

In this third post on the topic mortal sin is to advance a kind of listing of sins that are more commonly mortal. But note, simply listing mortal sins is not sufficient because, as noted, there are important factors affecting culpability. For example, some of the sins listed below (e.g., lying) can admit of lighter matter (one might tell a lie to avoid hurting someone’s feeling). Lies can also be devastating, robbing people of their good name or depriving people of necessary information. Also, as noted and despite the cautions I have noted,  compulsions or addictions can erode the freedom necessary to be guilty of mortal sin. Hence, a sin could be venial if the person were acting under some compulsion. This does not mean that it is not a sin at all, just that it may not be fully mortal in its effects.

We begin with biblical “lists” of the more serious sins from the New Testament. Note in these lists that saying a particular sin excludes one from the Kingdom of Heaven is a biblical way of saying that it is a mortal sin. These five lists are not exhaustive and there are other passages in the Bible that include sins not mentioned below (e.g., refusal to forgive, cf Matt 6:15).

  1. Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were (1 Cor 6:9-10).
  2. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21).
  3. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No sexually immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore, do not be partners with them (Eph 5:3-6).
  4. “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star” (Rev. 22:12-16).
  5. Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Matt 25:41-46).

Finally, here is a general warning from the Lord:

Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me (John 5:28-29).

What follows is a list of sins that are mortal or can commonly become mortal due to the harm caused.

First Commandment: I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me. Polytheism and idolatry, divination, magic, sorcery and spiritism. Atheism, Agnosticism, Irreligion, sacrilege, simony. Apostacy, Heresy, schism, stubborn refusal to obey God, recourse to: Wicca, Pachamama, witchcraft, horoscopes, palm readers, tarot cards, mediums and psychics, Ouija boards, crystals, pendulums, Rieke, Charlie-charlie, seances, crystals and… just add the latest .  See CCC 2110-2128; 2138-2140

Second Commandment: You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain. Blasphemy, curses, unfaithfulness to promises, false oaths, perjury. See CCC 2142-2149; 2160-2162

Third Commandment: Remember to keep holy the LORD’S day. Not attending Holy Mass on Sundays and Holy days of Obligation without a just motive (e.g. sickness); See Catechism 1389

Fourth  Commandment: Honor your father and your mother. Serious Negligence, of the obligations/responsibilities towards one’s children, parents and siblings; hatred; ingratitude; disrespect; disobedience in matters concerning the material and spiritual well-being; negligence and indifference toward virtue and in faith of one’s children. Serious insubordination or lack of due respect  to lawful authority. Undermining of authority by sedition or inciting public unrest.  See Catechism 2114-2118;2221-2229

5th Commandment: You shall not kill. Direct and intentional murder and cooperation in it; direct abortion and  cooperation in it. Direct euthanasia,
suicide. Hatred, extreme anger, terrorism, seduction into serious sin, See Compendium 470; Catechism 2268-2283; 2321-2326

6th Commandment: You shall not commit adultery. Adultery, masturbation, fornication before or outside of marriage, incest, sexual abuse and harassment, pornography, prostitution, rape, and homosexual actions. Direct sterilization, contraception, artificial or in vitro fertilization, divorce and remarriage, polygamy, incest, cohabitation. See Catechism 2351-2359; 2396; 2370-2372; 2380-2391, 2400

7th Commandment: You shall not steal. Theft, borrowing without permission,  business fraud; paying unjust wages; forcing up prices, taking advantage of the ignorance or hardship of another; appropriation and use for private purposes of the common goods of an enterprise; work poorly done; tax evasion; forgery of checks and invoices; excessive expenses and waste. Willfully damaging private or public property, vandalism, refusing reparations when property is damaged, slavery, greed, withholding wages.

Eighth Commandment: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Lying, especially about serious matters that harm reputations, seriously misleading  or depriving others of important information, false witness and perjury,  rash judgment, detraction, calumny, adulation, violation of the sacramental seal, divulging professional secrets. Catechism 2475-2487; 2507-2509;

10th Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods. Jealousy, envy, ingratitude, disrespect or misuse of the property of others, greed, and envy, immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself. Catechism 2534-2540; 2551-2554

No list of mortal sins can be perfect, either due to excess or defect. We must recall that small sins can cause great harm in certain circumstances, such as when children are involved or merely unkind words are uttered in a very sensitive moment. Further, what are often mortal sins can admit of light matter such as telling a lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or taking a small item like a cookie versus a highly expensive one. 

Mortal sins happen. Frequent confession is a salutary and proper remedy that takes such sin seriously but does not despair of God’s mercy. Further, it refers judgment to the proper tribunal of God working through the Church and the priest. It  “errs” on the  side of caution  beseeching mercy.

Finally, this thought: Even venial sin harms our relationship with God. It weakens it and sets us on a path that becomes accustomed to sin in growing degrees. Those who forever say, “Well I don’t think it is mortal” soon enough cross into mortal sin, likely still denying they are in such a state since they have been desensitized and settled down with sin.

Go to confession.

18 Replies to ““Lists” of Mortal Sins”

  1. Why can no list of mortal sins be perfect? If God sees a group of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors so egregious that they require eternal torment, wouldn’t that god want to be undeniably explicit about what those acts are? A perfect list of what these transgressions are seem to be necessary in making sure people do not walk too close to the line.

    Maybe there isn’t an actual list for other reasons…

    1. I think the answer to your question is contained in the articles.

    2. Chas, here’s one important reason, famously given by St Paul, why there isn’t one single master list, why there couldn’t be and doesn’t need to be:
      “from the foundations of the world men have caught sight of his invisible nature, his eternal power and his divineness, as they are known through his creatures. Thus there is no excuse for them; 21 although they had the knowledge of God, they did not honour him or give thanks to him as God; they became fantastic in their notions, and their senseless hearts grew benighted… And as they scorned to keep God in their view, so God has abandoned them to a frame of mind worthy of all scorn, that prompts them to disgraceful acts.” (Rom 1)
      In short, God gave us minds; if we abuse his gift, we ruin that gift and suffer for it. (According to St Augustine: “Peccatum poena peccati” — sin is the punishment for sin.) Anyway, it’s silly to suggest that anyone is damned because he was invincibly ignorant because God didn’t give him a perfect enough list! The list Msgr gives here should be more than adequate for anyone who has not already given himself over to hardness of heart and willful ignorance.

      1. I appreciate your thoughtful reply David. I would ask you to consider that I am a thoughtful, conscientious person who does not know the presence of God. I do feel any presence, nor have I been convinced of such a presence. If there is one, I would prefer not to be eternally punished for my oversight, but I have in earnest sought God, and cannot believe such a God exists in the present. I hope that a God that is both omnibenevolent and Omnipowerful would understand my difficulties.

        1. I apologize for the typo. I meant to write that I do not feel any presence. Sorry!

        2. The existence of God is not a matter of feeling or emotion, but of intellect as it is the intellect, not emotion, that is the seat of truth and the means by which we know what is. We can know the existence of God through unaided reason alone. If you are looking for such intellectual arguments, then you are in luck because there are plenty that have accrued over the course of human history. A good primer might be Edward Feser’s “Five Proofs”. His book “The Last Superstition” is likewise something you may find benefit reading and may, in fact, be better to start with before moving to “Five Proofs”.

          Now, the existence of God is knowable with certainty through reason alone, but the divinity of Christ is a question of best explanation or high probability; faith grounded in grace (over which we have no control) and backed by knowledge (over which we do) completes our conviction. For that, I might point you to Peter Kreeft’s “Handbook of Catholic Apologetics”. The book also covers some of what Feser discusses, so perhaps you should make it the second book on this list of three and leave “Five Proofs” as a deep dive into five selected arguments for the existence of God after getting the overview.

          1. Thank you for your recommendations Laurentius. I will look into them. I am not familiar with these books, I agree with you that feelings of god are more or less irrelevant to whether or not god exists. I have tried to learn about as many arguments, formal and informal, for the existence of god. Perhaps these references may provide a new insight, but at this point I do not expect them to. I am happy to be wrong though, if that turns out to be ther case.

        3. Chas, that is a difficult position in which to live. Trust that God absolutely does understand your difficulties. The answer is to wait on the Lord and ask Him to remove all barriers you’ve built around you. He will answer you. Faith is a gift and can only be received.

          1. Thank you for your concern Lady Rachel. I am quite happy with the position in which I live. I have come to terms with my lack of belief and feel my life is better for it. I live simply and live to serve others and those I love. Losing my belief in God has not negatively impacted these things in the least.

        4. Hi Chas. The thing with God is, if he exists, then he knows more than you, about everything, including yourself and what you can and cannot believe, so if you truly cannot believe, he knows that, and he knows why you cannot believe (much more clearly than you know about it yourself); and/or he knows how you have managed to deceive yourself into thinking that you cannot believe; and either way, he also knows to what degree you are culpable, etc., and when you die, and/or when he comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead, then he will make all that plain to you too. So until then, best of luck and don’t stop searching.

          1. I agree with everything you said David, presuming there is a God. I would also consider that the God you describe would also know exactly what would convince me. If you believe I am searching in earnest (I promise I am, but know that likely does not convince you on its own) then why would I not recognize what you recognize? Perhaps I am deceiving myself, as you suggest. Perhaps you are deceiving yourself. How can we know which is likely to be the case?

    3. Chas,

      It’s all the permutations. Fundamental concepts break into myriad sub-concepts. Many of these are immensely logical, if you take time to think through the underlying principles.

      Take “Thou shall not kill” pretty simple, but it covers suicide, torture, degrading (cruel) language, gluttony, alcoholism, drug abuse, etc.

      So the list would be nearly too ponderous.

      1. I agree Israel. There are certainly rich moral considerations that can be pulled from the Bible. That being said, those permutations lead to many devout people believing varied, and at times conflicting things. I think if there are oughts and ought nots as dictated by a god who wants us to know that, I wouldn’t expect such true variation.

    4. When it comes down to it mortal sins are not about what is on a list and what is not on that list. Simply follow Christ’s direction “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That means if you don’t want someone to do it to you or to someone you love then don’t do it to somebody else.

      And if you see someone in a situation where you can offer them some help and if you were in that same situation you know you would need that help then do it.

      And don’t get caught up too much on the mortal/venial sin distinction. While it is definitely valid and legitimate we should be striving to not commit ANY sin, because if a person starts knowingly committing venial sins because they think they can get away with it or that they are not a big deal then they are about five seconds away from committing a mortal sin.

  2. Thanks for this Father! Gonna bookmark this as a help to navigating any doubts while doing my examination of conscience. I think my wife might think that you should include “spouse” in addition to parents, siblings and children your 4th commandment list.

  3. a thoughtful way to avoid Mortal sin.
    1. affirm that your every thought, word and deed will be an act of
    kindness and ever pleasing to Almighty God.
    2. every human act involves some time; during the interstitial of
    every devout act of kindness; use the silent times and beg the
    Holy Spirit for His graces and to be ever present in your life.
    3. thing about your person after death and where you will want to
    be after your death, for eternity !
    4. Be Wise; Be Kind!

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