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Understanding the Mystery of Iniquity and the Horror of Sin

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.
November 26th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Reason alone cannot fully grasp the gravity of sin and recourse to the Holy Spirit and the Cross of Christ is necessary because there is, in fact, a two-fold aspect to any serious sin: a natural aspect and the more significant supernatural aspect of which reason is ignorant. 

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - Jesus promised to send us the Holy Spirit, and that He would teach us all things.  (John 14:26)  One of those things that Jesus specifically says the Holy Spirit would teach us is what might be called sin's trilogy:  "He will convince the world," Jesus says, "concerning sin and righteousness and judgment."  (John 16:7 ff

In his encyclical on the Holy Spirit Dominum et Vivificantem, Blessed John Paul II discussed the meaning of the Holy Spirit's role in convincing the world of sin. 

"Convincing concerning sin means showing the evil that sin contains, and this is equivalent to revealing the mystery of iniquity (mysterium iniquitatis)."  Pope John Paul insists that we must seek the aid of both revelation and the Holy Spirit in understanding the viciousness of sin.  "It is not possible to grasp the evil of sin in all its sad reality," Pope John Paul II continues, "without 'searching the depths of God.'"  DV, No. 39.

In dealing with human sin--the "mystery of iniquity"--we are dealing with a mystery, which means something that exceeds the grasp of reason alone. 

According to John Paul II, this "mystery of iniquity" is opposed by yet another mystery, another truth inaccessible to reason: the "mystery of piety" (mysterium pietatis), that is to say, the entirety of Catholic truth and practice. 

The key to understanding both the mystery of iniquity and the mystery of piety--sin and its defeat by Catholic truth and practice--is the Cross of Christ.  DV, No. 32. 

The mystery behind sin and its opposite--a life of grace--is why the Holy Spirit is required to convince us of sin.  Reason is not enough to convince us of sin's depravity. 

The reason why reason alone cannot fully grasp the gravity of sin and recourse to the Holy Spirit and the Cross of Christ is necessary is because there is, in fact, a two-fold aspect to any serious sin: a natural aspect and the more significant supernatural aspect of which reason is ignorant. 

For sure, sin is a violation of the natural order as found in the natural moral law.  As Matthias Scheeben writes in his The Mysteries of Christianity: "Sin," from the perspective of the natural order, "is the privation, the exclusion of justice, an opposition set up against the moral order established by God."

"So far, then, as sin contradicts the order of nature and nature's natural relations and tendencies to good, it is contra-natural, unnatural, as being the reverse of nature.  But it is all this only because it contradicts nature and outrages the natural order alone."

The rejection of the natural moral order is, at least implicitly, a rejection of the Word of God who established that law in the creation of the world, the Word "who is also the eternal law, the source of every law which regulates the world and especially human acts."  DV, No. 33.

"This infringement of this position and this duty" to the natural law "is a monstrous, enormous evil," observes Scheeben, "because it is a disparagement and affront offered to the infinitely great Creator and Lord."

But a serious sin does more than outrage the natural moral order.  More egregiously, it is also a violation of the supernatural order, the law of grace.  It, in fact, extinguishes the life of grace in the soul, which as a sort of spiritual suicide is worse than self-slaughter. 

Pope John Paul II recognizes this dual depravity of sin--natural and supernatural--in his Encyclical on the Holy Spirit when he states that sin is the "contradiction to the presence of the Spirit of God in creation," but is "above all" a "contradiction to God's salvific self-communication to man," that is, sanctifying grace, the gift of the Holy Spirit.  DV, No. 13.

The rejection of the supernatural life of grace and our divinization, which occurs with each mortal sin done with knowledge and consent, is particularly foul and particularly vicious, even malicious.

"If the creature is truly elevated by grace to the dignity of a child of God, the malice of his sin is as unprecedented and mysterious as is the position in which he had entered relative to God," Scheeben writes.  "It is a quite special unparalleled malice, the depth of which the created intellect can no more plumb than it can comprehend the sublimity of the grace to which that malice runs counter."

From the perspective of sanctifying grace and the order of Redemption, sin "not only opposes the law of God, not only resists God as Lawgiver, not only besmirches the dignity and position of the sinner: it runs counter to his own interior hunger and love for God and God's law, counter to his own interior and goodness."

It has become commonplace to remark that the world has lost its sense of sin.  The modern world by and large rejects both the natural moral order and the supernatural order of grace.  We must pray for the Holy Spirit to "convince" the world concerning sin.  Without such convincing, the need for God's mercy and repentance cannot adequately be known.

We must constantly lift up our prayer render service to our fellow men "in order that the history of consciences and the history of societies in the great human family will not descend toward the pole of sin, by the rejection of God's commandments 'to the point of contempt of God,' but rather will rise toward the love in which the Spirit that gives life is revealed."  DV, No. 48.

One way that the world by know and be convinced of its sin is witness.  In our lives as Catholics we should cultivate the knowledge of the viciousness of sin--both its natural viciousness and its supernatural malice.  We must rouse ourselves from our laxity.

We ought to develop a delicate conscience, an authentically Catholic conscience.  This requires prayer, meditation, and practice.  We ought to be able to say and really mean--without false piety or hypocrisy, but with sincerity--the words of the spiritual writer Alfonso Rodriguez, or St. Francis de Sales, or even the young St. Dominic Savio.

In his work The Practice of Christian and Religious Perfection, the Jesuit priest Alfonso Rodriguez frames the sentiment this way: "Let me rather die than sin.  Nay, grant that I may rather die a thousand deaths, than ever commit one mortal sin." 

This is also the counsel of St. Francis de Sales in his Introduction to a Devout Life: "Acknowledge boldly that you try to meditate that you would rather die than commit a mortal sin."

The young saint Dominic Savio understood this fully at an early age, and his fervor puts us to shame.  His motto: La morte piuttosto che il peccato!  Death rather than sin!

Do we honestly share in the sentiment of these model Christians?  Do we pray that we would rather die than commit one mortal sin?  Do we meditate on this?  Do we live it in our daily lives as did St. Dominic Savio?

If we don't, we must turn to the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit whom Christ promised would "convince" us "concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment."  (John 16:7) 

We must work toward developing a healthy and habitual fear--out of love of God--of sin, so that we can say with the saints: Death rather than sin!

"I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."  (1 John 2:1-2)

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Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.

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