Mortal (or DEADLY, as the Anglican theologians prefer to call it) sin is, according to Roman Catholicism, the worst form of sin, thus distinguishing in grade of sin, and recognizing as moderate and pardonable sin, under the name of venial, all such acts of transgression as are not likely to bring eternal punishment on the sinner. According to Peter Dens, the eminent Roman Catholic theologian, whose dicta the Church has accepted as authoritative, mortal sin (Lat. peccatum) is that which of itself brings spiritual death to the soul, inasmuch as of itself it deprives the soul of sanctifying grace and charity, in which the spiritual life of the soul consists; and venial sin (Lat. vitium) that which does not bring spiritual death to the soul, or that which does not turn it away from its ultimate end, or which is only slightly repugnant to the order of right reason.
Protestants dissent from this view, and indeed visit it with their condemnation, on the ground that this distinction respecting sins tends to immorality and laxity of life. That sins differ in magnitude they concede to be the doctrine of the Scriptures (e.g. Christ declared the sin of Judas to be greater than that of Pilate. This appears also in the case of the servant who knew the will of his master and did it not. This difference, indeed, is conspicuous in the judgment of the degrees and expressions of anger in calling men Raca, "vain," or yuwpi, "fool," and also in Christ's comparing some sills to gnats and others to camels; and in his mention of the "many stripes," and in the "greater condemnation" spoken of by James). Yet the Scriptures also declare that "the wages of sin is death." Therefore, though Protestants, like the Christians of the apostolic and patristic Church, distinguish between greater and less sins (graviora et leviora), and hold that a knowledge of this distinction is important in considering the discipline which the early Christians exercised, they yet hold that the early Church did not think any sins to be venial, but deemed all to be mortal (whenever we find the expressions venial and mortal applied to sins by Augustine and others, these appear to be simply a reference to such sins as require penance and such as do not); and therefore now maintain on this question that all sins are punishable as God may determine, even with everlasting destruction from the presence of God and the glory of his power. They assign for such view the following reasons:
"(i.) Every sin is an offence against God's law, and therefore is deadly and damnable on account of the claims of divine justice; for though sins may be divided into greater and less, yet their proportion to punishment is not varied by their temporal or eternal consequences, but by greater and less punishments.
"(ii.) The law of God never threatens, nor does the justice of God inflict, punishment on any except the transgressors of his law; but the smallest offences are not only threatened, but may be punished with death; therefore they are transgressions of divine law.
"(iii.) Every sin, even that apparently insignificant, is against charity, which is the end of the commandment.
"(iv.) When God appointed expiatory sacrifices for sin, though they were sufficient to show that there existed a difference in the degree of it, yet, because 'without shedding of blood there is no remission,' all manner of sin has rendered the offender guilty and liable to punishment; for 'cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them.' No sin was recognized as venial in the covenant which God entered into with our first parents, for there was no remission; and without the death of Christ there could be none afterwards; therefore, if any sin be venial or pardonable, it is only through the death of Christ and the grace of God; and as God pardons all upon the condition of faith and repentance, and none otherwise, it must follow that, although sins differ in degree, they vary not in their essential character. The man who commits sin at all must die, if he repent not; and he who repents in time and effectually will be saved. 'The wages of sin is death;' of sin indefinitely, and consequently of all sin." See Elliott, Delin. of Roman Catholicism, page 229.
There is, however, a class of Protestants who go so far as to teach that, "while mortal sins are punishable eternally, venial or deadly sins are punishable by God's fatherly chastisements in this life;" and in the same way, as regards the pardon of sin, that "while mortal sins are only forgiven through a direct act of absolution, venial sins are forgiven by renewal of grace (especially in the Eucharist); each mode of pardon .presupposing a degree of penitence conformable to the. degree of sin." Such is the teaching of the Highs-Churchmen of the Anglican establishment, the Ritualists of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and the High Lutherans. See the articles SEE SATISFACTION; SEE SIN.