Sin against the Holy Spirit

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Unlike all other sins and blasphemies (Mk 3.28), the "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" that is mentioned in Mt 12.3132; and Lk 12.10 is characterized by Jesus as unforgivable (Mk 3.29). According to Mark's explanation (Mk 3.30), certain scribes committed this sin by attributing the works that Jesus had done by the Holy Spirit's power to an unclean spirit. The same saying is found in Lk 12.10b among a group of disconnected sayings, addressed, however, not to the scribes, but to the disciples (Lk 12.1). Matthew, in a context similar to Mark's (cf. Mt 12.24), has two versions in tandem; cf. Mt 12.31 with Mk 3.2829 and Mt 12.32 with Lk 12.10.

The Fathers of the Church and later the theologians were concerned to identify this blasphemy or sin, to apply the concept to sins analogous to it, and to account for the unforgivableness of these sins. St. Augustine, who found great difficulty in the scriptural passages referring to this sin (see Sermo 2 de verbis Domini, 5), understood the irremissibility to be absolute. Now the only sin to which absolute irremissibility can be attributed is final impenitence; even God cannot forgive an unrepented sin, and this Augustine understood to be the sin against the Holy Spirit. Subsequent theologians followed him in this to the extent that they generally admitted that final impenitence is a sin against the Holy Spirit, although they usually added others to the category. This view, however, need not be understood in contradiction to a more literal interpretation of the specific malicious act that Jesus called blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, i.e., the insult to the Holy Spirit committed by those who attributed His works to an unclean spirit. St. Augustine was more concerned with explaining why the sin was unforgivable, and the reason for this was that the Pharisees would have no change of heart, but would obdurately continue in their sin until death. However, the final impenitence of one dying with other kinds of sin unrepented would also be a sin against the Holy Spirit in the sense that it would frustrate the remission of sins, a work appropriated to the Holy Spirit.

Later theologians extended the concept of this sin by including under the heading certain sins that are unforgivable only in the sense that they put an obstacle in the way of forgiveness, but they do not make its attainment impossible because the obstacle is not such that it cannot be overcome by the grace of God. The obstacle arises from one of two sources.

(1) Some sins are committed with no extenuating circumstances to call for or to make appropriate a remission of the penalty. They leave the sinner, so to speak, with no grounds for appeal to the divine clemency. Three inner sources or causes of sin were recognized by the medieval scholastic theologians: ignorance; passion or weakness; and deliberate malice (certa malitia ). Sins caused by human weakness or frailty, and those caused by ignorance have a certain element of excusability lacking to the sin that comes of pure malice. Sins of weakness, because weakness is opposed to power, were said to be against the Father, to whom power was appropriated; sins of ignorance were against the Son, to whom, as the Word of God, wisdom and knowledge were appropriated; and sins of malice were against the Holy Spirit, to whom goodness was appropriated. Thus sins ex certa malitia came in medieval theology to be associated or even identified with the sin against the Holy Spirit, but they were thought to be unforgivable only in the sense that no extenuating circumstance appealed to the divine mercy for forgiveness; but this by no means made it impossible for the divine mercy to move the sinner gratuitously to repentance and so to pardon.

(2) Other sins were accounted unpardonable (in a limited sense) because, of their nature, they choked off or put a stop to efforts on the part of the sinner that might bring him to repentance and forgiveness, or cut him off from access to God. Thus, just as an illness would be fatal if it impeded one from taking the measures necessary to stay alive, so presumption and despair, or the deliberate rejection of divine truth, or the repudiation of the workings of grace, can be considered irremediable in the sense that they close the way to God through whom forgiveness could be had. Such a sin is "against the Holy Spirit" because it opposes the working of the Spirit.

Thus in medieval theology the sin against the Holy Spirit came to be considered as a genus containing, in the listing of Peter Lombard, six species. These are: despair, presumption, impenitence or a firm determination not to repent, obstinacy, resisting divine truth known to be such, and envy of another's spiritual welfare.

Bibliography: thomas aquinas, Summa Theologiae 2a2ae, 14.3; In 2 sent. 43.1.2. t. deman, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 12.1:199. g. manise, f. roberti et al., Dictionary of Moral Theology, ed. p. palazzini et al., tr. h. j. yannone et al., from 2d Ital. Ed. (Westminster, MD 1962) 1138.

[p. k. meagher/

c. bernas]