Degrees Of Sin

"Our Lord said to Pilate (John 19:11): 'He that hath delivered me to thee, hath the greater sin,' and yet it is evident that Pilate was guilty of some sin. Therefore one sin is greater than another.

Therefore it matters much to the gravity of a sin whether one departs more or less from the rectitude of reason: and accordingly we must say that sins are not all equal.

To commit sin is unlawful on account of some inordinateness therein: wherefore those which contain a greater inordinateness are more unlawful, and consequently graver sins." - St. Thomas Aquinas ("Summa Theologica" 13th century A.D.)

"If any man see his brother sin a sin [which is] not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death." - 1 John 5:16-17

"Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin." - John 19:11

"And the Lord said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous..." - Genesis 18:20

"Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done." - Genesis 20:9

"He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death." - Exodus 21:12

"And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death. And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death. And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed: If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed." - Exodus 21:15-19

"If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine." - Exodus 21:22

"If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep." - Exodus 22:1

"If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double. If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man's field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard, shall he make restitution. If fire break out, and catch in thorns, so that the stacks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field, be consumed therewith; he that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution." - Exodus 22:4-6

"And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins." - Exodus 22:16-17

"Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death." - Exodus 22:19

What the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on "Degrees Of Sin:"

1854. "Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture, [Cf. 1 Jn 5:16-17.] became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience."

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

1856. "Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us - that is, charity - necessitates a new initiative of God's mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation:  When the will sets itself upon something that is of its nature incompatible with the charity that orients man toward his ultimate end, then the sin is mortal by its very object . . . whether it contradicts the love of God, such as blasphemy or perjury, or the love of neighbor, such as homicide or adultery.... But when the sinner's will is set upon something that of its nature involves a disorder, but is not opposed to the love of God and neighbor, such as thoughtless chatter or immoderate laughter and the like, such sins are venial. [St. Thomas Aquinas, Su Th I-II, 88, 2, corp. art.] "

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 without complete consent."

1863. "Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul's progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment.  Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin.  However venial sin does not set us in direct opposition to the will and friendship of God; it does not break the covenant with God. 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.' [John Paul II, RP 17 # 9.]  While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call 'light': if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession. [St. Augustine, In ep. Jo. 1, 6: PL 35, 1982.]"

"But what presses harder upon the present question [in the Lord's command of praying for enemies and persecutors] is that saying of the apostle John, 'If any man know that his brother sinneth a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and the Lord will give life to that man who sinneth not unto death: but there is a sin unto death: not for that do I say that he should ask.' For it manifestly shows that there are some 'brethren' whom we are not commanded to pray for, whereas the Lord bids us pray even for our persecutors. Nor can this question be solved except we acknowledge, that there are some sins in brethren that are worse than the sin of enemies in persecuting." - St. Augustine of Hippo ("Homily on 1 John 5:16" 4th century A.D.)


I do not understand the Protestants' stance on "sin being sin" with no matter of "degree" of evil or wickedness. There is no "difference" if one steals a nickel from his/her mother's purse or commits mass murder? That makes no sense to me.  I believe God is a fair and just judge (Deut. 32:4; John 5:30 ) and that the degree of sin will determine the degree of punishment.

Why in Exodus does God specifically differentiate "punishments" for different sins if all sins are "equal" in the eyes of God?  Why is the punishment for all sins in the above passages from Exodus, not death?

How can the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah be "very grievous" in Genesis 18:20 if all sins are the same?  The words "very grievous" themselves distinguish the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.

What is a "great" sin as opposed to another sin in Genesis 20:9?  Again, "great" is a word distinguishing a "lesser" sin from a "greater" one.

In John 19:11, Jesus Himself uses the words "greater sin."  If all sins are the same, how can one be "greater" than the other?

--- Chris                              

Church Fathers on Degrees of Sin

"Adultery, fraud, and manslaughter are mortal sins."  St. Cyprian of Carthage ("Treatise VII," c. 250 A.D.)

"The clergyman who is deposed for mortal sin, shall not be excommunicated."   St. Basil the Great ("Canonical Letter" c. 374 A.D.)

"There are venial sins and there are mortal sins. It is one thing to owe ten thousand talents, another to owe but a farthing. We shall have to give an accounting for an idle word no less than for adultery. But to be made to blush and to be tortured are not the same thing; not the same thing to grow red in the face and to be in agony for a long time. . . . If we entreat for lesser sins we are granted pardon, but for greater sins, it is difficult to obtain our request. There is a great difference between one sin and another."  St. Jerome ("Against Jovinian" c. 393 A.D.)