See you in hospital

Let’s talk a little about sin. It often creeps into our discussions, and this can be confusing unless we are clear what we mean by it.

My first point is that sin is a misleading word. The reason for this is that it is a label, and labels can stop us thinking. If we go to Scripture, in both the Hebrew and the Greek, we find that its etymology is missing the mark. That by itself is enlightening because it indicates that sin is damaging – and damaging to us. It doesn’t offend God because, by definition, God is not affected in any way by what we do – he is unchanging. It is we who suffer because our aspiration to reach the good has been foiled by our mistaken action. We have missed the target, and our arrow falls to the ground.

We could of course describe it as an offence against God. That makes it sound a little bit like breaking the bylaws in the park. It doesn’t indicate what breaking God’s law really means. Let’s take an example.

Telling a lie will serve for this. Why is that missing the mark? The simple answer is that we owe each other the truth – we damage our neighbour’s interests by misleading him. It is an offence against love, as well as against justice. And offences against love damage us – every time we tell a lie we, so to speak, shrink a little further away from that very good which is our target.

However, the more that I learn about human nature the more I realise that the actual act of sin is often an outcome of the sort of person we are, rather than a deliberate choice at the point of decision. Using the same example, we can see how this might occur in the sin of lying. Thus, if we are the sort of person who is careless about truth, or puts a low value on our duty to our neighbour, or is low in the courage which telling the truth can sometimes demand, we are likely to lie without making any conscious decision to do so. We have developed the habit of lying; it has become at least our second nature – sometimes our first nature. And we can apply a similar analysis to all the classes of sins to which we are prone. Thus, in the matter of sexual sins, the root cause may be that we have focussed on sensual pleasure as the objective rather than the physical expression of our committed love, for which sensual pleasure is the worthy handmaiden.

Pope Francis describes the Church as a field hospital. As Paul put it (Rom 3), we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We, and he includes himself, are all sinners. And where do you find the doctor in a good hospital? With the sick, of course. Why are we sick? Because our lives have so much in them which “misses the mark”. But being a sinner is not just a question of looking at a list and ticking all the sins. What I suggest we should be doing first of all is attempting to grow in virtue. One who loves, does loving things; one who is just does just things; one who hopes and believes points himself at the true target. The sins we recognise are, above all, indications of our perennial sickness, and our virtues are the medication which puts us on the right path – travelling in the right direction.

I am not suggesting that we should ignore the commandments – but we should put them in the right place. To use another metaphor “Christ is the harbour light and the laws are the buoys which mark the entrance to the channel. As one theologian described it: “the ten commandments protect the outer periphery of the realm in which Christ will be formed in us.”

The last Confession I made (to a priest I have known all my life) was not a tick box. Instead we sat down and I explained to him as best I could all the ways I had fallen short in my love towards the people who surround me. And then, through God’s power, he healed me. I wish I could tell you that I have sustained improvement ever since. Time for another check up, I feel.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Moral judgment, Pope Francis, Spirituality, virtue ethics. Bookmark the permalink.

92 Responses to See you in hospital

  1. Brian Hamill says:

    Very interesting topic, Quentin. A comment – the sins we commit are the symptoms of our sinfulness, not the cause. That lies deep inside our very createdness, a condition which is profoundly ambivalent; on the one side we seek the source of our being, God who alone truly is, and on the other we tend to slip back into the nothingness from which we came, and that side has been strengthened in its weakness by the Fall. If we want to see what we, and others, are really like on that fundamental level, we need to take a look at a crucifix. There Jesus manifests to us our basic condition before God. He, however, on the cross, showed us what we need to do, offer it to the Father and he will turn our darknesses into the glorious light of the resurrection.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Brian Hamill.
      As you say’we need to take a look at a crucifix’ etc;
      A while back the Crucifix was not too popular,and in some places not now either,taking it out of schools,or wearing it around ones neck.
      The Cross without our Lord crucified is considered to be more appropriate.,especially on some religious.habits. Also I notice the Cross we kiss on Good Friday has no figure of Jesus on it..(although not where I worship)
      To me the resurrection has no meaning without the Sacrifice on the Cross for our sins.It is as if sin does not exist any more now and we are free from it, and perhaps we are now because the gateway to Heaven is made clear to us,However Jesus shows us the way, the’ Way of the Cross’!.
      As far as lies are concerned, Herod was lied to as to where Jesus lay!

  2. Iona says:

    Quentin – “time for a check-up” – well, Advent is nearly upon us, and I expect quite a few of us will be going for check-ups!

  3. RAHNER says:

    “If we want to see what we, and others, are really like on that fundamental level, we need to take a look at a crucifix. There Jesus manifests to us our basic condition before God.”

    What on earth do you mean exactly?

  4. Nektarios says:

    Speaking of Hospital for sinners…. Just want to pass on my grateful thanks for all your holy prayers
    for me as I had cancer.
    The good news is your prayers were answered on my behalf, and my cancer has been killed off
    by the radiotherapy. God bless you all.

  5. Iona says:

    Wonderful news, Nektarios!

  6. Iona says:

    Quentin said that sin “doesn’t offend God because, by definition, God is not affected in any way by what we do – he is unchanging.”

    It affects God the Son, – it crucified Him.

  7. Quentin says:

    I was delighted to receive the news from Nektarios about his return to health. I had not thought to apply “When two or three are gathered in your name….” to a blog on the internet. But here we are: a community in more than one way. And I thank God for it.

    • John L says:

      I share your view entirely, Quentin.
      Apropos your original text – I was particularly struck by your final paragraph. I, too, try to make my confession more in the way of a diagnostic exercise rather than a tick list.
      The effect is to make confession much more difficult than easy.
      A priest I know resonds most helpfully, but this all takes time and is to the detriment of the confessional queue!. Another confessor I use is more brisk, but sometimes leaves me wondering if either I am merely repeating myself or am not reaching the root of the problem,
      It’s a bit of a minefield, isn’t it?

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        I too was bothered about making a series of virtually (or should that be viceally?) identical confessions, but have been assured that it shouldn’t worry me too much. I suppose it’s better than working systematically through the Ten Commandments with a sledgehammer.

  8. John Candido says:

    Nektarios, this is absolutely wonderful news. I will have a drink or two this afternoon and salute your good health! Nobody can guarantee that all prayers can be answered, but it looks like it has done so in the affirmative in your case. Wonderful!

    • St.Joseph says:

      Nektarios.
      I am pleased to hear your news and thank God.
      Quentin. I like your comment on your ‘confession’ I think it would be good for all to be able to speak to a priest like that as well as confession where we are inclined to just tick our sins off,. I do understand that time is important when we are in the Church in a queue
      I have always been able to speak to the priest if I did not understand his sermon or misunderstood something he said-and ask him to explain it to me.Even if it meant in writing.
      One does have to be careful that the priest does not feel challenged ,they too must understand that it may need explaining to some.
      I do think it is sad when people read the bulletin while the homily is being said, even if they do not agree with it, the opportunity is there to make thinks clear.
      Sometimes I believe there is a lack of communication amongst parishioners and the clergy.

  9. tafacory says:

    “Why is [telling a lie] missing the mark? The simple answer is that we owe each other the truth – we damage our neighbour’s interests by misleading him. It is an offence against love, as well as against justice. And offences against love damage us – every time we tell a lie we, so to speak, shrink a little further away from that very good which is our target.”

    I’d like to present a hypothetical to you. You live in a village in Nazi-occupied France in the early 1940s. One of your best friends is a Jewish man. He and his family escaped persecution in Germany and relocated to France before the country surrendered and the Vichy government was established. Prior to this, you told your best friend that he and his family were welcome to stay with you and your family. Things became more grave once the Germans settled in, however. You are able to harbour these “fugitives” for several months without incident. However, one day, right after coming home from work you hear a firm and grim knock on the door. You open it to see a highly decorated German officer standing before you. He barks at you in German. His translator quickly explains that they had been given information by a local spy that you had been hiding some Jews in you home. He tells you that you and your family will be spared if you cooperate with him and his “investigation.” He asks you point blank, “Where is the Jewish family that you’re protecting?” Now, would lying in this situation actually constitute a transgression against love and just? Wouldn’t it constitute a defense of love and justice; of love because of the altruism and justice because of the protecting of the defenseless and the weak? The point I’m trying to make is that Biblical morality, if based solely on the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God, is inadequate to handle real world ethical problems. The bland application of a general principle such as those found in the Ten Commandments lead to all kinds of immoral consequences.

    However, I do admire your suggested solution to the problem of sin. Virtue based ethics can be more flexible and therefore more practical. Plus, it allows each person the opportunity to customize how they decide to form and maintain these virtues. Great idea.

    • John L says:

      Of course one should take the charitable approach – saving others at one’s own cost is what is represented on this cross we have been invited to look at.
      I remember hearing an argument about telling the truth which would perhaps be attributed as “Jesuitical”. If you ask me a question about another person to which the truthful answer is “Yes” but that answer would act to the detriment of the person in question, then I am entitled to reply “No”. The justification given is that the “No” embodies the concept “Insofar as you are entitled to know, the answer is ‘No'”.
      In the interests of charity, this seems to me to be acceptable. Of course in a court of law, if I have taken an oath to speak the truth, then the case is different.
      Or is it?
      A proposal, whose origin I have forgotten, states that rules are for the obedience of fools and for the guidance of wise men.
      As a Catholic, in saying that I have probably condemned myself to the stake. I shouldn’t have claimed to be a wise man.

      • St.Joseph says:

        John L
        Strangely enough I was just a minute ago sorting out some books to give to a charity shop and came across one, I don’t know where it came from, could be one of my grandsons .
        The Pub Landlords Book of British Common Sense. by Al Murray.
        On the back cover it say ‘ Rules is Rules-and if we didn’t have Rules, where would we be?That’s right France.! and if we had too many rules where would we be? Germany”!

        I think I will keep it- it looks interesting.!

      • tafacory says:

        Very well said, John. I essentially agree with you.

    • Vincent says:

      Yes, the problem you raise with your example has a long history. It was once used in terms of hiding a priest upstairs and an Elizabethan pursuivant asking whether a priest was in the house. Again, it was central in Charles Kingsley accusing Newman for championing lying. That had a happy outcome because it resulted in Newman’s “Apologia pro Vita Sua”.

      There are two ways of approaching this. One is to use a phrase (see John L. above) which is intended to deceive but does not contain an actual lie. The other is to treat telling the truth as primarily a matter of justice. Since, in your example, the German is bent on evil, he has no right to the truth, the morality of lying is not an issue. I take the second view, but the Catechism doesn’t. The Catechism is wrong.

      However, the fact that some extreme cases may excuse lying, requires us only to use the second approach in the most clearcut of situations. I cannot think of any occasion where evidence is given on oath when lying would be justified – unless perhaps a trial under a totalitarian government where a certainly innocent accused is facing a show trial.

      • ignatius says:

        Perhaps another way to consider it mught be that – in that situation your first duty is to your own wife and children?

      • John L says:

        Thanks, Vincent – you make a good point. I used the phrase “Or is it?” precidely because I don’t know the answer.
        Presumably taking an oath to tell the truth ranks above normal truthfulness. Or does it? Jesus told us not to take oaths but just to mean “yes” or “no” as we say it.
        There again, does the demand of charity outweigh the demand for truthfulness?
        Then Ignatius asks us about conflicting responsibilities.
        I don’t know if it was just Robert Bolt’s play or whether Thomas More actually said it, but I like the line “but man He made to serve Him wittily in the tangle of his mind”.

  10. John Nolan says:

    Quentin, most formulas for the Act of Contrition refer to our sins offending God. The Ordo Paenitentiae published by the Holy See has “because by sinning I have offended Thee” (quia peccando offendi te). So I don’t think this aspect of sin can be easily dismissed. The verb ‘to offend’ is from the Latin ‘offendere’ which itself is originally derived from two words ‘ob fendere’ meaning to strike against. A problem is that in colloquial English when someone claims to be offended it usually means that his feelings are hurt.

  11. RAHNER says:

    “God is not affected in any way by what we do – he is unchanging”
    Quentin is of course quite correct. In terms of traditional Christian theism – for what it’s worth – (set out, for example, in Vatican 1) God is eternal, timeless and immutable. He does not undergo transient emotional states like anger or change through dispositional responses. God can no more be angry than he can be depressed or suffer hallucinations. God can only be offended in a highly oblique metaphorical sense. As Aquinas remarks in the SCG “we do not offend God except by doing something contrary to our own good” .

  12. ignatius says:

    Rahner:
    ““we do not offend God except by doing something contrary to our own good” .
    So when we sin we DO offend God then? Sin,by definition almost runs contrary to our own good.

    • RAHNER says:

      For the traditional theist our actions cannot bring about any change in God so there is nothing caused in God by our sin that can be called a state of being offended.
      Some may judge that this shows the inadequacy of traditional theism.

  13. ignatius says:

    Quentin:
    “However, the more that I learn about human nature the more I realise that the actual act of sin is often an outcome of the sort of person we are, rather than a deliberate choice at the point of decision. Using the same example, we can see how this might occur in the sin of lying. Thus, if we are the sort of person who is careless about truth, or puts a low value on our duty to our neighbour, or is low in the courage which telling the truth can sometimes demand, we are likely to lie without making any conscious decision to do so. We have developed the habit of lying; it has become at least our second nature – sometimes our first nature. And we can apply a similar analysis to all the classes of sins to which we are prone. Thus, in the matter of sexual sins, the root cause may be that we have focussed on sensual pleasure as the objective rather than the physical expression of our committed love, for which sensual pleasure is the worthy handmaiden…”

    I may not be an architect but I certainly recognise a slippery slope when I see one!!!

  14. St.Joseph says:

    Jesus took the whip at the money lenders in the Temple, He showed His anger,
    Why do we think He did that,He had a human nature but He is also God. Hewas protecting His Fathers House..
    Does He still have His human nature,now.in His Glorified Body.That is what we receive in Holy Communion.His Body and Blood.
    Is there a theologian out there!

  15. Iona says:

    If “offend” means essentially “strike at”, then our sins may “offend” God without changing him in any way, – the “offense” is in what we have done, not in the effect it has had on God. (We have struck out, and missed!)

    • St.Joseph says:

      Iona.
      You say “strike at” do you mean to offend God intentionally-or is He offended anyway.
      I don’t think the money lenders were intentionally ‘offending God
      Why did Jesus not lecture them on the Temple being His Fathers House?Instead of being so angry to turn the tables on them.
      If He did that, how much will He do to those who do things against Him especially as He gave His only Son for us on the Cross.
      Otherwise it seems He may have died for nothing if we do not repent. I don’t see God as a silent witness with no feelings for us only love. He is not on the Cross any more, willing to take all that is thrown at Him!..
      If we think that we could be bordering on presumption.

    • John Nolan says:

      ” … ne unquam offendas ad lapidem pedem tuum” (lest thou dash thy foot against a stone). Ps 90.

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      Iona – Yes.The problem is that the word “offend” is used in two distinct senses (as has already been implied):
      (a) to transgress against another’s rights, or
      (b) to arouse anger in that person.
      In relation to God, only (a) applies.

  16. Iona says:

    Quentin, I’m wondering if what you’re asking for (when you go into the confessional with a general survey rather than a list of specific sins) is spiritual direction, and if so whether you would do better to find it somewhere else than the confessional?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Iona.
      I understood by Quentins comment that is what he did.
      The Sacrament of Confession does not depend on the Box.
      People may not be going to confession in Church so much today as we used to, maybe some are receiving the Sacrament in the way Quentin described.As long as we receive absolution.
      I was not given penance the last time I went to confession and an elderly lady said to me afterwards that she didn’t either. But I suppose that is something we can do for our selves!.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Iona PS.
        Jesus said ‘go show your selves to the priest’ that says to me that we ought to tell our sins through a priest and receive absolution. The Sacrament.The difficult part is the atonement for our sins,and how we can do that sufficiently.?
        As the first Commandment says!. ‘We must love the Lord our God with our whole heart and our whole mind etc.
        Or is it a case of living in ignorance and then be innocent!!…

      • Quentin says:

        Yes, though I would willingly confess to a fellow lay Catholic if I were in danger of death, and there were no priest around. God would provide.

        Incidentally when, occasionally because of sickness, Communion is brought to the house by a eucharistic minister, I have the strongest sense of the meaning of the People of God.

      • John Nolan says:

        St.Joseph, the priest is required to impose a penance (Canon 981). It is part of the sacrament, and should not be omitted. I despair of some priests these days who are quite frankly either incompetent or wilfully perverse when it comes to celebrating Mass and conferring the sacraments. In any other walk of life they would be sacked. I hope that his omission on this occasion did not invalidate the sacrament.

  17. Ignatius says:

    I must admit to being profoundly and deeply unhappy with all this. God may not, of course, be lessened, diminished, harmed, changed etc by our sin but God can CHOOSE to allow our sin to grieve him -which it most certainly does. God could presumably show us that aspect of God which is changeless and impermeable to our need if God wished-and we would be reduced to nothing. But God chooses to show us relationship, sacrificial love and kindred of Spirit. This means that our sin should deeply wound and offend us simply because we know that it is thrown back in the face of such generosity in that God CHOOSES, within God’s changelessness to allow us into a loving and reciprocal relationship. Sorry Quentin and all but I completely disagree with your analysis of this; your sin should fill you with shame and hurt you deeply-otherwise whence comes contrition?
    On the other hand comes God’s choice of forgiveness-which again doesn’t affect God one jot either way but certainly has an effect on us! The state you talk about Quentin comes when a person realises not only their own ineradicable concuspicence- but recognises that, somehow the Grace of God overcomes it and still sets us free to change.. The net result is hopefully an individual who remains keenly conscious of their sinfulness and mourns it deeply accepting the sting as motivation to draw closer to God but not in cravenness of spirit but in joyful submission. The other route, which is a kind of evolutionary perspective says in effect:
    ‘I’m not responsible, its in my genes yer honour I’m only doin me best honest guv”
    I don’t see much of a motor for change of heart or engagement of spirit there. Right, having got that off my chest I will retire to browse through a bit of apologetics on the subject.

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      We tend to forget that God lives in eternity, not time. I presume that any of God’s attributes, be they analogous to anger, joy, pain or whatever, are as they always have been and always will be; change doesn’t come into it. Perhaps this modifies my earlier comment!

    • St.Joseph says:

      Ignatius.
      That is such a deep emotional comment you made and really touched my soul’.

    • Quentin says:

      Ignatius, I don’t want to go over old ground again — we discussed the theology behind this at some length in “Is God a myth”. But you certainly don’t need to accept that approach, if it doesn’t make sense to you. What I would just like to clear up is your statement ” your sin should fill you with shame and hurt you deeply-otherwise whence comes contrition?”. If the implication here is that anything I have written is not consistent with this attitude to sin, then you have misunderstood me.

      • Ignatius says:

        Quentin:

        “. That by itself is enlightening because it indicates that sin is damaging – and damaging to us. It doesn’t offend God because, by definition, God is not affected in any way by what we do – he is unchanging..”

        No I don’t think I have misunderstood, I think you have simply expressed yourself in a manner open to interpretation here hence the blog attempts to qualify your use of the word. There is very little in your post which points to the grievous nature of sin and much to make it seem simply a ‘product of our nature’ I don’t recall going over these things in the last post particularly by the way.

  18. RAHNER says:

    “but God can CHOOSE to allow our sin to grieve him”
    What do you mean by “grieve”?

  19. Ignatius says:

    Changelessness does not imply a static frozen state of impermeability to influence. It is not that God cannot be moved but that God chooses as God wishes, God chooses to allow our action to make an impression on him which he chooses to feel. God doesn’t have to choose this any more than God had to make the earth or partake of existence at all. God does not exist outside of time-God made ‘time’ which is a condition of finite existence. God does not act on his seperateness from his creation when he could but God choses to inhabit it. To intuit that God had anything to do with human existence and then to assert that God stands aloof from it is a bit odd don’t you think?

    This idea of Gods ‘changelessness’, if we are not careful, limits God. We can get somewhere towards it when we realise that -for example- a broken love affair probably doesn’t really ‘affect’ us but it certainly hurts. Its not a good analogy because, unlike God we cannot always choose how we feel – but its the best I can do right now.

    You cannot seriously read the Old and New testament without realising that God allows himself to get in a state over us…it is a mystery in the true catholic sense I guess. Otherwise why do we bother with confession at all? why do we dwell on the psalms so much inn the Divine Office. Why did David bother writing the things ??

    • RAHNER says:

      “then to assert that God stands aloof from it is a bit odd don’t you think?”
      But isn’t a bit odd to claim that if I steal a can of larger this makes an impression on the creator of the universe?

      • Ignatius says:

        Rahner…ha ha ha, good!! maybe those sparrows in Luke ch 12 were all on special offer with the Carlsberg. Yes it is odd, lets mull it over awhile. Taking into account the infinity, immensity, incomprehensibility and eternity of God (The Catholic Catechism, Hardon p81)
        it is not at all unlikely that God is aware of your misdeeds in the off licence – I guess one could call this a kind of ‘butterfly effect’ in terms of modern catastrophe theory. Why do you find the idea so difficult to stomach?

  20. Ignatius says:

    PS Sorry, line 5 should be something like: God does not exist ‘outside’ of time, God made ‘time’ We bang on about God being ‘outside’ of time as if time were a little bubble somewhere that only we float around in.

  21. Iona says:

    God is independent of time. Time is part of God’s creation, not something God is subject to. (Does that help?)

    • John L says:

      It helps very much, Iona.
      The problem which causes most people puzzlement is that our thinking is very much bound up with our life view which consists of past, present and future. Only “present” applies to God and we can touch God only in our “now”. The limitations of human thinking make this sometimes very hard to grasp.
      For example – many of our Protestand friends cannot accept the concept of praying for the dead. They feel that the state of grace at the point of death is irrevocable.
      However, the dead person has transferred from time into God’s “now”. If I pray for a person a week before his death or pray for him a week after his death it is all one to God “now”. If my prayer has any effect, it cannot change God but God may use it to influence the state of grace at the person’s death.
      Gloriously complicated, isn’t it?

    • John L says:

      P.S. Before I get side-tracked onto the Souls in Purgatory, my own personal belief is that Purgatory, like Heaven and Hell, is part of God’s “now” environment – it isn’t a question of time, but possibly of degree, Prayer after a person’s death may still affect the state of grace and hence the need for cleansing at the point of death.

  22. Iona says:

    St. Joseph – you were wondering (last night!) about the state of mind of the money-lenders in the temple –
    I don’t think the money lenders were intentionally ‘offending God
    Why did Jesus not lecture them on the Temple being His Fathers House?Instead of being so angry to turn the tables on them.
    They were culpably ignorant, perhaps? If they had thought about what they were doing, and where they were doing it, they would have realised that their activities were out of step with what the Temple was, and what it was for.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Iona thank you.
      I would have thought that Jesus would have known that and tauight them,
      Do you think maybe that Jesus was referring to a deeper meaning of ‘Temple’ as to His Body that was going to be crucified.
      Just a thought.,

  23. St.Joseph says:

    John Nolan.
    Thank you for you reply.
    The priest concerned was a foreign priest, visiting .
    So I asked my priest and he looked bewildered and maybe thought the same that I had misheard him. However he asked if I had received absolution, and I had so I was happy with that.

    Many years ago when I was having 3 miscarriages and the Specialist told me to take the contraceptive pill to sort my hormones out and I only knew at the time that it sorted hormones out- I was maybe 4 yrs married and quite ignorant but knew it was against Church teaching and just needed some conscience time with the priest in confession. Well he nearly cleaned me out of the confessional box and was reluctent to give me absolution.
    I went home and told my husband in tears(not a catholic and he said if that is what the church is like I don’t want to be one, it is so uncharitable. Anyway 6 months later I got thrombosis in my leg and nearly died, and have suffered ever since with my leg
    One of the main reasons many years later decided to study NFP when I realised it caused an early abortion and breast cancer. It took a long time to feel comfortable in confession.
    That same priest told me my children would lapse if i did not send them to a catholic school
    I proved him wrong.!However we remained friends until he died but left the parish many many years ago….

    …..

    • Quentin says:

      I think that your priest must have explained himself very badly. He would have known that taking the pill to sort out hormones did not constitute a sin (this is a well established principle, not just my opinion). He couldn’t absolve you because there was nothing to absolve.

  24. St.Joseph says:

    Quentin Looking back I remember him saying, that ‘doctors will tell you anything
    Actually I stopped going to Mass for a while, and I remember once I saw him in the Church yard and froze and felt sick and could not go in..
    Maybe that is the reason that I will ask the clergy anything if I don’t think it sounds right.Even a Pope…

  25. RAHNER says:

    Ignatius,
    “Why do you find the idea so difficult to stomach?”
    Where in my comments do I deny divine knowledge of all things? What I deny is that God has reactive emotions.

  26. Ignatius says:

    Rahner,
    So you deny that God may choose what does and what does not displease Him?

    • RAHNER says:

      I think I would want to deny that God deliberates about /responds to anything in a temporal fashion.

      A useful book is “Does God Suffer?”, Thomas Weinandy, T & T Clark, 2000.

      • Ignatius says:

        Rahner,

        To that extent I agree with you – we are skirting round the edge of the same topic here. It is clear that God does not react like a person and I think this is what you mean by ‘temporal fashion’ But God nonetheless remains God and the abundant evidence of scripture both Old and New is that he reacts ‘as if’ in terms of anger, mercy and love – while at the same time declaring that his ways are not ours. If I can get hold of your book second hand on amazon or at the seminary I’ll take a look.

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        I’m merely flying a kite here in relation to the apparent conflict between God’s eternity and anger, distress, or what have you. Physicists apparently cannot make sense of the universe with only four dimensions of space and time; might a response of the eternally unchanging God be in one or more of the others? Or am I just being silly?

  27. Horace says:

    On this subject I must be very naïve (or perhaps poorly catechised!).
    To me sin is :-
    Deliberately doing something that you were told not to do.
    or conversely
    Deliberately not doing something that you were told to do.

    [“told” here means “told by authority”
    {i.e. by God or by someone acting with authority from God.
    e.g. a parent in the case of a child or a Parish Priest or other Church authority (including the Bible) in the case of an adult.}]

    As I have said before – “love” is a very misleading word in today’s society.

    In the Vulgate the word ‘love’ is most usually the English translation of the Latin word ‘diligens’ obviously the root of our English word ‘diligent’ with connotations of commitment and industry.
    Love in the proper sense evolves from and is underpinned by dedication and commitment.

    In the Gospel when Jesus asks Peter “Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these?”
    On the first and second occasions the Latin text uses the words “diligis me” (lovest thou me?”) and only on the third occasion does the Latin text use “amas me”.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I am pleased to hear Jesus mentioned in all this.
      When one speaks about God it is often forgotten that He existed in the beginning as the Fathers Son.

      Three Persons in one God.

      RAHNER. can you tell me which Persons you know and speak so well about.
      Tell me about Him.

    • Singalong says:

      This definition of sin is very clear, and is probably how I was taught, but I do not think it is always easy to see how it operates in practice, as other contributors have pointed out, with regard to telling the truth for instance.

      What about another example, Thou shalt not steal? Is it right to buy luxuries, when we know so much about how many of our neighbours in the third world, or indeed in this country, are starving? Is this sinful, or (only) less than perfect? Does it make any difference if I am buying them for my family or friends rather than for myself particularly?

      There is also the question of motive to sort out, which can be almost impossible. Again, with giving as an example, is my main reason that I want the recipient to think well of me? Do I mainly want to impress with my clever choices or generosity? I think that only God can know why I do anything and make any decision, there are always so many layers and numerous reasons.

      Another factor is illustrated by Our Lord`s parable of the talents. More is expected of those who are given more, more opportunities, and more understanding, being of greater consequence than material goods and advantages.

      This all seems to makes formal sin, and guilt, at least to some degree, relative to each person`s circumstances, rather than a clearcut legal assessment.

      • Quentin says:

        Singalong, Your excellent examples illustrate the case for the value of developing the virtues rather than focussing on just avoiding ‘sin’. Buying luxury goods is not, as such sinful — but putting a high importance on justice might well lead to realising how that virtue might be best served in such a case.

        Developing the virtue of charity, in imitation of Christ, should lead to having the right motives. And this would be helped by the virtue of discernment given by the Holy Spirit.

        And so on.

  28. Ignatius says:

    Here’s a bit on contrition:

    “Contrition is the true sorrow which we conceive for having offended God by sin. We can have contrition only for our own sins;………..Contrition, of its very nature, implies detestation of sin and a firm purpose of amendment. We must share in God’s hatred of sin, and we must be resolved not to offend him again…… Perfect contrition is contrition founded on Charity or the perfect love of God. In Perfect Contrition we grieve for our sins because they are hateful to one who is Himself infinitely lovable and whom we love above all things for His Own Sake.”

    Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine Michael Sheehan Baronius press 2009 pages 560-561

    Right now we are all sending money to the Philippines – we are not personally affected or changed by the Philippines disaster but we see it and we hate to see the suffering so our compassion is aroused and we act. Likewise God and sin ?

  29. Ignatius says:

    Singalong:

    “….This all seems to makes formal sin, and guilt, at least to some degree, relative to each person`s circumstances, rather than a clearcut legal assessment…..”

    No, what it means is that sin is sin, code is code and mercy is mercy. A casual flick through the catechism will show an abundance of considerations of this nature. The point remains that sin is offensive to God both in legal and moral senses, it is also an offence against heart and spirit since to act against charity is to act against love which is to act in hatred. There is simply no getting round this, no softening of the blow, no looking the other way. Of course the flip side of this arrangement is that our abundantly wretched behaviour brings forth an overwhelming torrent of mercy which tends to carry us on its tide and beach us once again on the shores of His immense love. The apostle Paul of course puzzled over this in the book of Romans where he poses a simple rhetorical question:
    “What should we say then? Should we remain in sin so that grace may be given the more fully?”

    I am very interested in the language of the ‘tick list’ by the way. This seems to me distinctly catholic and shows a theology biased towards clericalism and legalism rather than mercy which,in its turn makes it hard for people to accept the reality of sin.

    • St.Joseph says:

      This may be me , however I do not see how anyone can presume how The Lord feels about anything. Except we know He loves us. I love my children, but still could be angry and sorrowful when they got out of hand..
      To say that He hates sins is actually saying that is able to hate, It is all mixed up what is being said..
      I just pray that the world will be in a better state than what it is now at His second coming,because we may see the side of His anger
      About ticking boxes- ‘When I was a child I thought like a child now I am a man I put away foolish things’
      How man times are we going to tick the same boxes, did Jesus not say ‘have I been with you all this time etc. How long does it take to know Him?
      ..

      • Ann says:

        St Joseph,
        did Jesus not say ‘have I been with you all this time etc. How long does it take to know Him? Maybe a life time for some people. You say how can we presume how the Lord feels about anything, and i agree. God came in the human form to experience our human condition, was tempted and over came all our human failings, yet God is a spirit, neither male nor female and definately not human, yet we can only think of God in human terms.

      • Quentin says:

        We are instructed to recognise God as the father after whom all fatherhood is named. While God’s fatherhood is infinite, our own parental experiences give us perhaps the best insights available to us at the human level. I have written before about the time when one of my sons stood defiantly out of line. I looked out for the slightest instance of repentance so that I could grab it, and restore the relationship. It gave me the beginnings of an idea about how God longs to forgive us — even if we give only the slightest sign of our regret.

    • Singalong says:

      Ignatius, I do not really understand how there can be a definitive list of sins which are always sins, regardless of the circumstances and people involved, which is what I meant.

      For instance, I think we would all accept that there is no sin involved in a starving man taking food for himself, and still more for his family, and the description in some papers of looting in the Philippines recently is wrong. CCC 1860 referring to mortal sin, mentions unintentional ignorance, as well as the promptings of feelings and passions, and external pressures or pathological disorders as diminishing the voluntary and free character of an offence, which I think would apply to all sin.

      At the higher end of the scale, great saints are conscious of sin, and falling short of the goodness of God, in matters which lesser folk like myself would barely register as minor imperfections.

      Striving after virtue, as Quentin is advocating, rather than just aiming to avoid sin, was a thesis propounded by Fr. William Lawson SJ, some years ago, in his positive approach to the Commandments. I believe some of his talks and teachings are still available as CTS pamphlets. Another great teacher, perhaps it was Fr Bernard Bassett SJ, or maybe even Bishop Fulton Sheen, described the love God has for those who toil hard for Him, and come home to Him weary and splattered with the mud and scars of sin, like hounds coming in from the chase, and how much He loves them in comparison with the spotless little lapdogs who have never ventured out and risked their perfect manicures.

      A theological approach to God“s response to our sinful ingratitude, selfishness and disobedience may well describe Him as untouched, but He revealed Himself to us as a complete human being, God the Son made man, true God and true man, with all the emotions and feelings of the human condition. How can He love us without being vulnerable? He wept over Jerusalem. He emphasised this aspect of His humanity still more in the 17th century, with His appearances to St. Margaret Mary, and His wish for devotion to His Sacred Heart to be spread throughout the world.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Ann.
        Yes with what you say.
        I don’t know if you have read Light Of The World.Pope Benedict XV1.An interview he gave to a Journalist Chpt 16. Mary and the Message of Fatima. (which some will doubt) but not he!.
        He speaks of the important role Our Blessed Mother has in our salvation, and shows the bigger picture that represents our life here on earth.

  30. Ignatius says:

    Singalong:

    “At the higher end of the scale, great saints are conscious of sin, and falling short of the goodness of God, in matters which lesser folk like myself would barely register as minor imperfections…”

    There is no scale, its the same for us all. Sin is sin, but you are correct in saying that culpability varies and that the catechism, throughout, provides excellent consideration of this. But I think it is a red herring to begin categorising and classifying as it leads us away from the main point. Sin is sin, it is the breaking of our communion with God and our refusing of his gifts- it is the choice of ourselves over him – lets not pretend otherwise, sin is grievous both to our own hearts and to God. If you break your arm you go to the hospital, the doctor doesn’t say…”ahh, it wasn’t your fault, you tripped accidentally, go home all will be well” no, the doctor says: “You’ve broken your arm, lets fix it”
    So sin is sin and mercy is mercy – decisions regarding culpability are mercy in action.

    “However much we may try to avoid anthropomorphic ways of speaking aboutGod, and however much modern sentimentality may dislike the notion of an angry and irritated God, we must realise and recognise that ,at least, the effects of what we call God’s anger are real, and we must insist that, in his dealings with man, his justice must be given as prominent a place as his love and mercy. For God is justice as truly as he is love. Now sin is an insult to God, an attempt to dethrone him, a refusal to give him what is his….”

    The Teaching of the Catholic Church Canon George Smith Burns&Oates 1956 p 913

  31. Ignatius says:

    PS As to this ‘definitive list of sins’ you speak of, that too is irrelevant as far as I can see. Sin is every action of the heart or the mind which refuses God…no need for a list and no need to ask anyone if the thoughts and intentions of your heart and mind or the actions of our bodies are sinful or not- we already know before we even ask.

  32. St.Joseph says:

    Quentin.
    As you say above (no room to reply there)
    You are quite right. Also mothers feel the pain,so the slightest show of regret is heaven to us.
    Perhaps we need to have felt this as parents to understand how deeply Gods love and also our Blessed Mothers love for not only us Her children ,but for Her own Son Jesus Christ.
    How difficult is it for us here on earth it must be for mothers whose children have been harmed or murdered by someone ,.
    We look to Mary to Jesus, at least I do, She is the one who gives us strength;
    Perhaps those who do not see the significance of the Cross nowadays would have their hearts softened as Singalong’s comment above on St. Margaret Mary.
    Then maybe we could speak about sin and how it affects our relationship with God through Mary to Jesus.
    We are supposed to be children living in the Light, and we know instantly when we have committed an offence.
    St Bernard’s prayer comes to mind.

    ‘Look to the Star, call upon Mary,with Her for guide we will not go astray.
    For under Her protection, we have nothing to fear.
    That is sung at Vespers.

  33. Iona says:

    St. Joseph – commiserations – you really seem to have suffered at the hands of that priest who wrung you out in the confessional and nearly refused you absolution! – I’m not surprised your husband reacted as he did, and only surprised you plodded on and indeed became friends with the priest eventually.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Iona thank you.
      In fact we never really fell out, it is just that he got me thinking, I was in the wrong and felt I was a great sinner. and realised afterwards that he was right,about the pill ,but his attitude was wrong,However it was not the last time I came at cross words with the clergy
      But next time stood up for myself and my conscience..with a little bit of help from ‘my Friend’!!!!.

  34. Iona says:

    (Just tried to post a comment which seems to have vanished. Sorry if this duplicates it):
    St. Joseph, commiserations. You really seem to have suffered at the hands of that priest who more-or-less wrung you out in the confessional. I’m not surprised your husband reacted as he did, only surprised you soldiered on and eventually became friends with the priest.

  35. Iona says:

    Horace:
    “To me sin is :-
    Deliberately doing something that you were told not to do.
    or conversely
    Deliberately not doing something that you were told to do.

    [“told” here means “told by authority”
    {i.e. by God or by someone acting with authority from God.
    e.g. a parent in the case of a child or a Parish Priest or other Church authority (including the Bible) in the case of an adult.}]”

    Not happy about “deliberately”. For example, I can act thoughtlessly and thus in some way hurt or upset someone, and that is sinful even though I didn’t hurt them deliberately, – I ought to have given my action more consideration, or (to use Quentin’s language of cultivating virtue) I ought to make a habit of paying more attention to other people’s needs and less to my own “needs”, then I would have acted with greater forethought and more love.

    Also not happy about “told by authority”. – someone may have grown up with mainly bad advice and bad examples, but still be aware – (through “natural law”?) that certain actions are wrong and in a more just society (or sub-section of society) would be condemned as such. I am thinking, for example, of people growing up in a culture of gang violence.

    • Horace says:

      Iona
      I do understand your points above:-
      ‘Deliberately’ – perhaps the wrong word; my intention was to indicate that if you didn’t know that an action was something you must not do (or must do) then you had not committed a sin. This, of course, gets difficult when you say “You ought to have known!”.

      Quentin says “the more that I learn about human nature the more I realise that the actual act of sin is often an outcome of the sort of person we are, rather than a deliberate choice at the point of decision”
      and this is indeed perfectly true; – so I agree with “What I suggest we should be doing first of all is attempting to grow in virtue.” St Paul says (Rom:7/20) “if I do that which I will not, it is no more I that do it: but sin that dwelleth in me.” and the more we grow in virtue the less sin will dwell within us.

      Apropos “told by authority” we are again in trouble if the ‘authority’ is not “someone acting with authority from God” and the ‘telling’ is by an evil or atheist society. You say that ’Natural Law’ (“gut instinct ?”) should warn us when this is the case – yes, hopefully, it will.

  36. John Nolan says:

    The discussion on this thread is indicative of the strength of this blog which allows the sharing of views without too much acrimony, and which gives food for thought even for those (like myself) who are rather set in their ways and need an occasional jolt. I don’t think people here hurl missiles at each other from entrenched positions. Even this side of the grave, there is always a lot to learn.

    • Quentin says:

      John, that’s a real compliment to the blog. (If I can return it, it would be to say that I never feel that a discussion has really got going until I see your name!)

      I agree with you. In the last several months I think that the blog has come of age. We get some first class discussions which, to me, are a model of how Christians can and should be thinking their way through these difficult questions.

      Quentin

  37. Ignatius says:

    Bah.. humbug….!

  38. Ignatius says:

    Sorry Vincent it was that most unwelcome of comments called a joke! One should never attempt them online you know due to the potential for misinterpretation. I am clearly the only one who makes the link between Christmas, Scrooge, and the misanthropic dismissal of any kind sentiment expressed on a blog especially by John Nolan and intended as a mark of esteem and affection: “Bah Humbug” was I thought universally understood in contemporary life as a sign of humour but you have proved me wrong and I believe ticked me off in the process!!!
    Speaking of contributing though:
    Jurgen Moltmann wrote in 1974 a book called “The Crucified God” in which he raised the point that a remote God was one unable to love, hence the basic tenet that the classical theism of the impassible God was more Platonic than Christian. In other words, theologise as you will but the Church stands grouped at the foot of the cross on which a dying man called out:
    ‘My God my God why have you forsaken me?”

    The life of Christ and his crucifixion do not sit happily with the concept of the God who sits alone and untouched, happy completely in and with himself. There is the possibility that without suffering there cannot be love and that the classical formulations are only part of the story I think this gives the tension being expressed on this discussion -between impassible remoteness and the woundings of sin and love.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Ignatius.
      Just food for though when Jesus called out ‘My God my God why have you forsaken me?’
      Perhaps it was His human nature. seeking comfort in His Divine nature at the weakest moment one could feel in that time of agony. Perhaps His greatest temptation.!

  39. Vincent says:

    If I have followed the argument correctly, there are three ways in which we can ascertain God.

    1. We can understand him through looking at human characteristics and applying them, in an appropriate way, to God. This must lead us towards truth because God reveals himself in Scripture in this anthropomorphic way.
    2. We can attempt a deeper and more philosophical view of God — through realising what he is not, rather than what he is. This way is not for everyone but for some it leads to a deeper understanding of the ultimate nature of God.
    3. We can put our focus on Christ, accepting that “he who has seen me has seen the father.”

    Of course we can use any or all of these three. And I do not think that we can criticise anyone who uses the way or ways which he feels brings him closer to God.

  40. Ignatius says:

    Vincent,
    “..Of course we can use any or all of these three. And I do not think that we can criticise anyone who uses the way or ways which he feels brings him closer to God…”

    One of the interesting things about this is the likelihood that an affective personality will choose one way of perceiving -through the emotions I mean while a more intellectual type might choose the second of your three ‘ways’ It may well be that the one type needs to learn from the other type in order that we might all grow together and build one another up as the dwelling place of God. This blog plays its own part in that process quite well I think.
    However in the case which we are debating one wing of the thesis beats against the other and so the restoration of a bit of rhythm is necessary. There is, if you like a kind of ‘dialectic’ of faith where experience of God is situated against a backdrop of ‘the church’ So Quentin’s formulation of the impassible (unreachable) nature of God is one wing of the discussion while the personal relationships described in scripture and experienced in religious life form the counter balance which speaks of a two way relationship of the heart and spirit..- we hold these things in tension knowing that , in truth, they are mystery.

    • Vincent says:

      I agree with this. It is, I believe, a feature of God’s providence that there are different ways of approaching him according to our temperaments, and according to our needs at any one time.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Jesus dying words on the Cross.seeing His mother and the disciple he loved standing near Her, Jesus said to His Mother, ;Woman this is your son,; hen to the disciple He said ‘This is your Mother, and from that moment the disciple made a place for Her in his home..
        I think Jesus when calling Mary ‘Woman He was probably telling all women to live the example Mary lived. And when Jesus said to John this is your mother, He was asking all men to treat all women as they would treat Our Blessed Mother;
        Perhaps that is the way that sin will be no longer in the world and Satan will have His head crushed with our heel!

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