Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Catholic suicide

Here's the traditional Catholic position on suicide:

Q. 1274. What sin is it to destroy one's own life, or commit suicide, as this act is called?

A. It is a mortal sin to destroy one's own life or commit suicide, as this act is called, and persons who willfully and knowingly commit such an act die in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of Christian burial. 

Unsurprisingly, post-Vatican II theology smudges the original clarity:

2282 Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

But there are tensions in the current position. Does the CCC mean that suicide is never a mortal sin? Or does it mean that in some cases, there are extenuating circumstances that mitigate what would otherwise be a mortal sin? 

If suicide is a mortal sin, and by that very act, the suicide dies in a state of mortal sin, then it's too late for him to confess to a priest and receive absolution. By that logic, suicide is a damnable sin. There's is no second chance between the suicide ran out the clock. That's the traditional logic of the Baltimore catechism. 

Suicide is unforgivable if you can't receive forgiveness direct from God. If you can only be forgiven by a priest, then suicide uniquely eliminates that opportunity. 

But if forgiveness needn't be mediated by a priest, then it's not unforgivable on those grounds. So does the CCC mean sinners, or Christians in particular, can receive direct divine forgiveness? But in that event, the sacrament of penance is superfluous. 

This is the studied fuzziness we find in contemporary Catholic theology, even at the highest levels. 

The traditional position presumes that you need to maintain a running checklist of sins. When you go to confession, you cross out the sins for that week, then begin compiling a new list. 

No doubt Christians should be contrite and confess their sins (to God). But the nature of sin is to be morally numbing to some degree, so that we don't remember or are even aware of all our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. 



  2. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

    Doesn't say anything about priests Catholics.

  3. I think the question is whether salvation hinges on knowing and recalling every sin one has committed and also on having the good sense of timing to make sure one confesses before dying.