Involuntary Sin

Alright before you flip out and claim that I am going to preach heresy about involuntary sin, understand that this g1is a concept very old to the church. There are ways in which man can go against God and receive the guilt of such actions, even without willing it. Furthermore, the concept of involuntary sin is accepted enough by the church that it is placed in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. A Liturgy that is practiced far and wide within the Eastern Lung of the Church. However, first thing is first:

What is Sin?

Sin is an offense against God. Plain and simple. Sin is going outside of God’s plan, against His will. An important thing to remember is that when you are talking about sin, not all sin is mortal. There is a “grave” difference between the mortal sin and other sins (venial).

Mortal and Venial Sin

The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a very clear explanation the differences and definitions of the two types of sins:

Mortal Sin

CCC 1857 :For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”

Venial Sin

CCC 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.

Involuntary Sin

Alright so after observing these definitions, we can conclude that involuntary sin must and only can be a venial sin. This is because it is a sin committed without full knowledge. It boils down to the fact that God is objective. g1There is good and there is evil, from God’s perspective there is no grey area. Every detail, down to the color of the tie you put on, is known to God. However, He not only knows these details, but He plans for the details. There is only the right and wrong choice, never the okay choice, never a decent choice. Every action committed by you may be an act against God’s will and plan and thus sinful.

This is sadly the result of being finite beings outside of the infinite knowledge of the infinite God.

All involuntary sin is a result of some choice, you made with the unintended result of going against God’s plan. That choice could be anything. But! Do not be scared, it is a sin, but a sin you cannot worry about. Do not become paranoid in your actions saying, “anything I can do might be a sin, thus I cannot do anything.” Well, because that is even worse.

The only attitude, or approach, you can take towards this kind of sin is to trust in God. Pray that Holy Spirit guides every thought, word, deed and omission, so that you are always knowing, loving, and serving God.

Involuntary Light

Alright, now I know you may be all nervous about this concept, but do not fear. There is also something that I believe in (which is a personal philosophy) called involuntary light. These are the actions that we do, with no real intention or full knowledge of following God’s will that result in his glory. To give you an example of this, here is a personal story of mine:

My Story

One day, some time after my father had surprised my mother with roses, flowers were wilting. Ergo, my mother g1wanted them to be disposed of, so I was asked to carry out the task. I grabbed the dying blossoms, however, I was compelled with the idea to toss them down the hill in the back of our house into the forest behind.  Afterward I thought nothing of it, just a pile of roses left to decay and return to the earth from which they came. However, almost an hour later, my little sister and her friend came running into the house after having been playing in the woods. They shouted and were full of joy, for they had witnessed a miracle. God had placed one dozen roses in a pile, in the middle of no where, and they were ecstatic. They were so full of joy and love for Christ that they decided to pray a Novena to the Little Flower.

I realized that I had done nothing, but go about my normal life not thinking to much about what I was doing. Nonetheless, Christ had worked through me. I had followed His divine plan and will, on no accord of my own and out of this good came.


I may not have been following God’s will. I may have sinned in tossing the roses in the woods, however this is an example about how we cannot worry about such involuntary deeds. God will bring great good out of evil, and this is all the more proof that we must just trust in His infinite knowledge. The point of this post is to say that involuntary sin exists, and to make it clear that we must take responsibility for them, but nonetheless we cannot worry or be paranoid about them.




  1. mcrognale · · Reply

    Nice try but, NO. Sorry, your logic fails. One simply cannot sin involuntarily. You have completely misinterpreted the Catechism. Let me help you. Venial sin, as you say is a lesser offense and does not merit the same grave punishment as a mortal sin. That is correct so here’s an example; my wife asks if I took out the garbage. I tell her that I did knowing that I hadn’t, but rush to do it before she catches me in the lie. Yes, I lied to her. Sin? Yup. Venial, yup because it was done deliberately. And that my friend is the key. If I tell someone something that I believe to be true and later find out that I was mistaken is that a lie (sin)? Nope. No intent. I realize that my “garbage” example is far fetched but who among us hasn’t told that “little white lie” from time to time? Hope this helps.
    Respectfully submitted.

    1. I am sorry, but that is incorrect. First of all, the catechism is not doctrine (canon law or dogma, i.e. bishops are still fallible) , and I will say do not blindly follow it’s definition of sin. Immediately you will see that they references psalms saying, ‘against You (God) alone have I sinned.” But we know this to not be true because of the Lord’s prayer (the prayer Christ taught us) talks about forgiving the sins which others commit against us. Also to be under the impression that involuntary sin is not existent is synonymous with claiming that there is a “grey” area in the Divine Will and Plan of God. Which is infinitely contrary to His nature. It is a simple black and white situation. There is God’s will and not God’s will. Any in between is the ‘lukewarm’ which Christ will expel! Secondly, sin has nothing to do with intention. Sin is a negative mark upon your soul. The catechism, itself, says that venial sin does not require full knowledge or consent. I suggest you read the works of St. John Damascene, St. John Chrysostom and Father Maximos Davis. Thank you for your comment though. May God bless you.

  2. So, you reject the definition of sin in the Catechism because “the Bishops are fallible” and then recommend that I read writings of other fallible humans eho, apparently agree with your position. Interesting. Thanks for your comments but I’ll stick with the Catechism. By the way Psalm 51 is the opening psalm in the Friday morning liturgy of the hours. It’s my favorite. God bless you and yours.

    1. No, I am saying think about. The Catechism has many things right, and it is good to err on their side. However, I believe on this particular topic you are disagreeing with the catechism. Simply because the catechism does not define venial sin in a way that is contrary to the definition of involuntary sin. Read the sources and deduce.

      Hopefully this quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia will help:
      “Material and Formal Sin
      This distinction is based upon the difference between the objective elements (object itself, circumstances) and the subjective (advertence to the sinfulness of the act). An action which, as a matter of fact, is contrary to the Divine law but is not known to be such by the agent constitutes a material sin;…”

      God love you.

  3. John Consiglio · · Reply

    I too had confusion on this topic, but you definitely cleared that up for me.

    1. I am glad! God Bless you.

  4. “The Catechism has many things right.” Your words. Now read these words:



    To my Venerable Brother Cardinals, Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Deacons and to other members of the People of God.
    It is a Cause for Great Joy that the Latin Typical Edition of the CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH is Being Published. It is approved and promulgated by me in this Apostolic Letter and thus becomes the definitive text of the aforementioned Catechism. This is occurring about five years after the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum of October 11, 1992, which, on the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, accompanied the publication of the first, French–language text of the Catechism.
    We have all been able to note with pleasure the broad positive reception and wide dissemination of the Catechism in these years, especially in the particular Churches, which have had it translated into their respective languages, thus making it as accessible as possible to the various linguistic communities of the world. This fact confirms how fitting was the request submitted to me in 1985 by the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that a catechism or compendium of all Catholic doctrine regarding faith and morals be composed.
    Drawn up by the special Commission of Cardinals and Bishops established in 1986, the Catechism was approved and promulgated by me in the aforementioned Apostolic Constitution, which today retains all its validity and timeliness, and finds its definitive achievement in this Latin typical edition.
    This edition was prepared by an Interdicasterial Commission which I appointed for this purpose in 1993. Presided over by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, this Commission worked diligently to fulfill the mandate it received. It devoted particular attention to a study of the many suggested changes to the contents of the text, which in these years had come from around the world and from various parts of the ecclesial community.
    In this regard one can certainly understand that such a remarkable number of suggested improvements shows the extraordinary interest that the Catechism has raised throughout the world, even among non–Christians, and confirms its purpose of being presented as a full, complete exposition of Catholic doctrine, enabling everyone to know what the Church professes, celebrates, lives, and prays in her daily life. At the same time it draws attention to the eager desire of all to make their contribution so that the Christian faith, whose essential and necessary elements are summarized in the Catechism, can be presented to the people of our day in the most suitable way possible. Furthermore, this collaboration of the various members of the Church will once again achieve what I wrote in the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum: “The harmony of so many voices truly expresses what could be called the ‘symphony’ of the faith” (no. 2).
    For these reasons too, the Commission seriously considered the suggestions offered, carefully examined them at various levels and submitted its conclusions for my approval. These conclusions, insofar as they allow for a better expression of the Catechism’s contents regarding the deposit of the Catholic faith, or enable certain truths of this faith to be formulated in a way more suited to the requirements of contemporary catechetical instruction, have been approved by me and thus have been incorporated into this Latin typical edition. Therefore it faithfully repeats the doctrinal content which I officially presented to the Church and to the world in December 1992.
    With today’s promulgation of the Latin typical edition, therefore, the task of composing the Catechism, begun in 1986, is brought to a close and the desire of the aforementioned Extraordinary Synod of Bishops is happily fulfilled. The Church now has at her disposal this new, authoritative exposition of the one and perennial apostolic faith, and it will serve as a “valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion” and as a “sure norm for teaching the faith,” as well as a “sure and authentic reference text” for preparing local catechisms (cf. Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, no. 4).
    Catechesis will find in this genuine, systematic presentation of the faith and of Catholic doctrine a totally reliable way to present, with renewed fervor, each and every part of the Christian message to the people of our time. This text will provide every catechist with sound help for communicating the one, perennial deposit of faith within the local Church, while seeking, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to link the wondrous unity of the Christian mystery with the varied needs and conditions of those to whom this message is addressed. All catechetical activity will be able to experience a new, widespread impetus among the People of God, if it can properly use and appreciate this post–conciliar Catechism.
    All this seems even more important today with the approach of the third millennium. For an extraordinary commitment to evangelization is urgently needed so that everyone can know and receive the Gospel message and thus grow “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).
    I therefore strongly urge my Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, for whom the Catechism is primarily intended, to take the excellent opportunity afforded by the promulgation of this Latin edition to intensify their efforts to disseminate the text more widely and to ensure that it is well received as an outstanding gift for the communities entrusted to them, which will thus be able to rediscover the inexhaustible riches of the faith.
    Through the harmonious and complementary efforts of all the ranks of the People of God, may this Catechism be known and shared by everyone, so that the unity in faith whose supreme model and origin is found in the Unity of the Trinity may be strengthened and extended to the ends of the earth.
    To Mary, Mother of Christ, whose Assumption body and soul into heaven we celebrate today, I entrust these wishes so that they may be brought to fulfillment for the spiritual good of all humanity.
    From Castel Gandolfo, August 15, 1997, the nineteenth year of the Pontificate.

  5. Note carefully the sentence that starts with the words, “Therefore it faithfully repeats the doctrinal….” Anything else is mere commentary and therefor not on par with the Catechism.

    1. That is beautiful. But I would say this argument about the catechism that you have created is a logical fallacy of straw man. I suggest we discuss involuntary sin, on this comment thread.
      Even if the catechism is pure doctrine, that does not mean it leaves no room for involuntary sin to exist or be believed in.
      It is a matter of interpretation, and you haven’t yet made an attempt to piece apart my logic or precepts.

      As for the Catechism being doctrine. Which one are you referring to? There are major and minor catechisms. Catechisms that pertain to individual rites and churches. I think we may be discussing the 1996 Catechism of the 30th anniversary of VII. Anyway doesn’t even matter. I will say that Catechism is a compilation of summaries of doctrine of the Catholic (universal) Church. And I fully believe that as well. But the definition of sin in the CCC is 100% conducive with involuntary sin.

      “1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”

      Anyways! Here is a question for you. IF a child is born and raised in a society where sex outside of marriage is completely acceptable. And thus grows up to partake in such activities of the flash. Is he not sinning? Has he not committing a venial sin? Certainly it cannot be mortal, but venial of course! He can live his entire life in ignorance of God’s plan, go against this plan (bi-facto involuntarily) sin venially and thus be required to be cleansed in purgatory. Is that not involuntary sin?

  6. BadWolf10 · · Reply

    I have a hard time swallowing this. Mostly because of how little example is given to substantiate your claims. You gave an example of “Involuntary Light”, but can we have one of the opposite? Maybe it would help me come to terms with what you’re stating here.
    Also, I disagree that sin has nothing to do with intent. If not, then why is one of the criteria for a mortal sin “sufficient/deliberate intent”?

  7. OH alright, first of all some venial sins have nothing to do with intent, and they are called involuntary sins. All mortals always have intent as a major criteria. Anyways, here is an example of involuntary sin.

    1: IF a child is born and raised in a society where sex outside of marriage is completely acceptable. And thus grows up to partake in such activities of the flash. Is he not sinning? He has not committing a venial sin? Certainly it cannot be mortal, but venial of course! He can live his entire life in ignorance of God’s plan, go against this plan (bi-facto involuntarily) sin venially and thus be required to be cleansed in purgatory.

    2: Read my SIDENOTE again, I talk about how my action of tossing the roses in the woods might have been an act of laziness or carelessness. Thus not God’s will, but regardless He brought good out of those actions.

  8. mcrognale · · Reply

    This catechism is the latest and only authentic doctrinal authority. All other Catechisms are rendered as historical documents and read for background perhaps but have no further authority in and of themselves. You can believe the concept of involuntary sin and apply it in your life. I don’t and the Catechism backs me up. There is no discussion or implication of “involuntary” sin in the book because it does not exist. Which was my original point in my first reply.

    As to your example of the child: The question of ignorance of God’s plan came up in one of my college courses a very long time ago. The posit was an undiscovered tribe living in complete isolation from the world. They had no knowledge of the true God nor His laws. Question: could they be saved and the answer of course was yes. Did they sin at any time against God? No. They had no knowledge of Him or the things that offend Him. No sin can be imputed or implied. It is then up to Him to make the final judgement as always.

    Basics: in order for sin to exist it must be an offense against God, mortal or venial; it must be consciously committed. Those are the two absolute requirements otherwise there is no sin. I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and prosperous New Year. I am done discussing this with you.

    1. Alright allow me to give my last two cents. Throughout this entire “debate”, if you can call it that, you only stated a conclusion. “Involuntary sin is not Catholic teaching.” “the Catechism supports the view that involuntary sin does not exist.”

      However, you never once gave any particular precepts or argument to back that up. The CCC definition of sin does not require any intention. The CCC definition of venial sin does not require full knowledge, or consent. Sin is simply a negative mark one’s soul. The only sin that requires intention is that of mortal sin. Venial sin can encompass “minor” sins that have intention behind them, but also engulf those that don’t require intention. By believing that involuntary sin does not exist, you suggest a world in which God has a grey area for action that He hasn’t thought about, considered or cares about. Which is contrary to His infinite nature, caring for/about all things.

      I would also say, of course that tribe sinned. There is no way they had never once sinned against God in a venial sense/involuntary sense.

      I am sorry you are done with this discussion. I enjoyed your feedback! May God bless you and your family. Have a Feliz Navidad.

  9. […] Cane – Donald Hartley Theology of the Body, Holiness & Honor – Kevin Tierney Defining Involuntary Venial Sin – Dominic Cassella How Mary Refutes Protestantism – Nick’s Catholic Blog How […]

  10. Dominic Vieira · · Reply


    Very interesting article. Even though it is obviously the fruit of much research, some direct citation – especially from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom – would have been most welcome.

    I believe you are correct in stating that this teaching on involuntary sin does not contradict the Catechism and its doctrine of Venial sin (or sin in general); however, I think it presents, at worst, a contrary position, at best, an alternative one, both of which I find lack some grain of the truth.

    If we accept that [CCC 1849] “Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as ‘an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law’,” then there are certain things which follow:

    First, that sin is an act or omission motivated by self-interest against reality — as it is, and is perceived;
    Second, that it is an act contrary to the moral [eternal] law, not Divine Providence; and
    Third, that culpability for sin depends on the state of conscience and the ordering of one’s reason towards the truth.

    The second and third points need more explanation.

    God has taken all sin into account through His Providence. In one sense, saying that an act (good or bad) is outside of God’s plan means God has not provided for that action whatsoever, and needs to adjust His plan; in another sense, it could simply mean that God desired us to act differently, but has nonetheless provided for our failure. In other words: His desire is specifically different from His Providence. (I believe the latter states the understanding in question, though I could be mistaken.) But such cannot be the case; God’s desire for us and His Providential plan are inseparable. He longs to bring all men to Himself and has provided such means to it as the author of the Economy of Grace. [CCC 321] “Divine providence consists of the dispositions by which God guides all his creatures with wisdom and love to their ultimate end.” He will not make sin where there is none to be found.

    This is the crucial point: God will not hold us culpable for things of which we have no knowledge and over which we can exert no control. He will not put us into an environment such that we cannot escape sin. The argument for involuntary sin fails to take the human conscience into account; and the eternal law which sin inevitably breaks is inscribed on the hearts of all men. It is impossible to sin and to keep this eternal law intact; but not every detail of this law is known to us. Invincible ignorance of an evil removes all culpability for the sin.

    Ah, culpability, you say, but what of the act itself? Here is the heart of the matter: hasn’t a sin been committed, even though there is no punishment due to the actor? The act can clearly be labeled a sin.

    In the first place, act and action are separate things. An act requires the intention of the actor; an action is merely something that can at sometime be done by an actor. Intention is necessary to sin. Even in sins of omission, there exists the intention to not do something which – by all accounts (of reason, right conscience, and reality) – ought to be done. Right conscience plays a heavy role in forming intention; it judges reason, which judges reality and forms our perception of things as they are.

    In the second place, if there can be sin without culpability, can there be culpability without sin? The one is the cause of the other, and the two seem inseparable. Can there be guilt without something of which to be guilty?

    And in the third place, certain actions are morally wrong regardless of good intention, and as such, clearly forbidden by the eternal law (written on the conscience, remember). Morally good actions done with bad intention are made bad, regardless of their existential goodness. And morally neutral acts are made good or bad by the intention of the actor and his circumstances. All of these things hinge on the intention, which is largely formed by the actions of the conscience.

    I couldn’t state it any clearer that this: [quoted in CCC 1778] ” [Conscience] is a messenger of him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ.”

    Of course, the Church has come to understand moral precepts far more delicate than those found in the natural law. However, these are not found in the hearts of men, and one’s conscience must be informed of these precepts from another authority. Where it is not informed (through no fault of the actor), there can be no sin.

    Therefore, in your example, the aboriginal tribe of fornicators are indeed culpable, but only for what they knew in their consciences to be against the natural law which is inscribed on the hearts of all men as a guide to Truth. They could not be guilty of not going to Mass on Sunday because they had never heard of Mass, nor could they be held responsible for not accepting the homoousios. They will be judged purely on what they knew in their hearts, and how they conformed or disrespected the laws of their consciences.

    God sees things as God; we see them as men. “Truth is truth to the end of measure,” and God cannot judge us as He would judge Himself. Knowing our inmost hearts, he alone is capable of judging us as men, and judging our response to our knowledge of the Truth.

    I believe I have given you enough things to digest. The source of this teaching is yet another mystery that I should like to discover. Again I thank you for a most excellent article and opportunity for discussion.

    Have a blessed Advent, and a very Merry Christmas. As always I remain,

    A most respectful critic,
    Dominic Vieira

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