What is Consent?

Pretty much every Catholic is familiar with the concept of Mortal Sin. We all know that there are 3 conditions: it must be grave matter, you must have full knowledge, and you must give full consent. In my opinion, consent is the most important part, since consent is the only part of the sin you can actually do. The gravity of an action is objective and will always be the same when factoring in the object, purpose, and circumstances of the act. The knowledge is variable but is set at the time consent is given. Without consent, an act will not take place. It is possible to fully consent to evil without knowing that it is gravely evil. Then again, the grave evil this usually refers to is that of breaking a disciplinary law such as meat on Friday. It is a sin because of the disobedience, not because meat is bad. (So, I guess it really isn’t gravely evil since you can’t intentionally sin through disobedience if you didn’t know it was a rule, to begin with).

Now with consent to a sin, there are many different levels.

The highest level is full consent. This means you are allowing your body to perform the act and you are participating without resistance. This does not mean you aren’t facing temptation. For instance, there is a party going on at the same time as church, and you really want to go to it and you are seriously considering skipping mass/liturgy.

Then there is consent through habit. It is something our body has been used to doing, so the body has a stronger inclination to do. We feel bothered when we don’t do it. An example here is foul language. We are so used to using Jesus’s name in vulgar ways that it happens automatically. We don’t mean disrespect but we do it anyways.

Then there is consent through addiction. This is where the body feels like it NEEDS to do something. This is something that happens when you are actively trying to stop but can’t stop easily. There are people addicted to pornography, people addicted to eating, people addicted to smoking, etc. Yes, you are allowing yourself to perform the act and participating in it, but if you didn’t have that addiction, you could go periods without considering it. An example is the people who do drugs even when they know they will be caught and lose everything. Or someone who cannot function normally without a substance. Yes, there are people addicted to coffee, even if coffee isn’t immoral.

Then there is consent through violence. For instance, you commit a sin because you are being threatened. An example is being forced at gunpoint to perform sexual acts. It’s still considered consent because you could resist, but without the threat, you wouldn’t have done it.

Then there is involuntary reaction.You don’t actively give consent or participate, but you don’t resist either. An example is throwing a punch without contemplation. The fist flies before you can even think to stop. Or when you injure yourself and you shout Jesus’s name.

Lastly, there is perfect resistance, where you don’t give into the sin.

A lot of people, especially traditionalists, forget that the condition of mortal sin is FULL consent. Now, these people have good intentions. They understand the serious potential for people to rationalize their mortal sin into a venial sin. For instance, someone could take their temptation and say “I didn’t give full consent because I was tempted” which is absolutely false. Thus, you have people who don’t even repent of their sins or even try to fight sins. To them, full consent is if they do something completely devoid of inclination. The other fear of traditionalists is that the person with an addiction will figure that since they aren’t committing a mortal sin, they won’t have to change. The fact is that not even trying is a different sin. The sin of being lukewarm. Sin is damaging and every time a sin is committed, regardless of consent, you are damaged, and so is your relationship with God. And those sins will cause you to commit other sins that you aren’t addicted to, thus enabling you to give full consent to a different sin. If you don’t fight an addiction, you will fall away from God. The last traditionalist fear is that someone will claim an addiction when they really don’t have one. Thus, they excuse themselves from the confessional. “I don’t need to go since I’m addicted and therefore not in mortal sin.” That distinction isn’t made by an individual. Either a healthcare practitioner or a priest will tell you of your addiction.

The traditionalists have good intentions here, but the issue that occurs is that the addicted person will despair and give up. The same occurs with people with scrupulosity. Saying that someone who is addicted isn’t in mortal sin is not a free pass for them to continue their sin. And it only applies to someone who genuinely repents and wants to change.

The thing about actions, whether good or bad, is that we don’t own them. They don’t originate from us. We are incapable of owning our own actions since due to our corrupted fall, all the good we do came from God, and all that is bad is because of the fall. Yes, we cannot even pride ourselves in having ownership over our sins. We perform deeds. We commit sins. We do not own them. The only thing we do is consent to them and participate in them. Thus, the only action we really own is whether we consent to or reject God’s mercy.

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