Mortal and Venial Sin in the Regenerate

Following up on a discussion of Luke 13:1-9 and the question of sin and suffering, the follow excerpt from Chemnitz’ Loci Theologici is offered as a resource to further the discussion. In the CPH edition, the discussion of this matter begins on page 671 in volume 2.

The Difference Between Mortal and Venial Sin in the Regenerate

In order that the fundamental teaching of the distinction between mortal and venial sin in the regenerate can be correctly understood and studied, we shall show the chief points which we must note in this treatment.

Chapter 1
The Scripture Passages Underlying This Doctrine

First of all, we must note the sedes of the matter (as they say in the schools), that is, in which passages of Scripture the doctrine is established. For just as the students in law schools are directed to the chapters and titles of their subjects in which they can find the complete treatment of this matter, so also it is possible to prove each point by a passage of Scripture, but the choosing of the proper statements must be carried out so that there is always a confirmation or a rebuttal appropriate to the subject.



[Chemnitz gives an overview of a Scriptural basis for the distinction. He then continues with a discussion of the witness of the Fathers and the Lutheran Confessions. He continues the discussion with an examination of what “loss of faith” means. This discussion is cited now.]

The loss of faith is shown by four very simple signs:
1. As the common definition says, when a person assents to an error in a fundamental article of faith. For the articles of faith are the objects of justifying faith. Eph. 2:20, “We are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.” Thus a person who does not know the number of years that Methuselah lived or the dimensions of Noah’s ark is no worse off, as long as he retains the foundation of the faith. But if a person in regard to his salvation believes something other than what the Gospel teaches, for example, if he ignores the merit of the Son of God which is brought to him in the Word and the sacraments, so that he does not apply it to himself by faith, or if a person allows an error in the doctrine of the person or the work of Christ, such a person commits an error in a fundamental point. Hence matters pertaining to the sacraments are not adiaphora whereby each can believe whatever he wishes without any detriment to his faith. For not every kind of opinion regarding Christ or faith is correct, but only that teachining which lays hold on the promise of grace as it has been taught. But he who is in opposition to this foundation commits an error, he has lost his faith and the grace of God. A false or heretical faith is not true faith but is contending against the foundation.
2. The loss of faith takes place when he who had been born again permits himself to take an action contrary to conscience and is not desirous of receiving remission in the Word and the sacraments. There are many who neglect the hearing of the Word and the use of the sacraments, and they persuade themselves that they can still keep their faith and the forgiveness of their sins despite this. But they have shamefully blinded themselves. For when faith does not grow in sinners or exercise its own qualities, but rather degenerates into Epicurean impurity, how can it continue to exist or live in a man? This point can be easily demonstrated and understood. for it is the characteristic of true faith that it clings to the promise of the Gospel with a sound mind and a contrite heart, and in Christ seeks the remission of sins or deliverance from sin. Further, it is the fruit of true faith that it does not live in sin but in righteousness. Therefore, when a person constantly shuts off either of these elements, how can he retain true faith?
3. Faith also is lost when the mind without repentance conceives and adopts the opinion or persuasion that it wants to and can continue and keep on in sin, and yet nevertheless for the sake of Christ can have and keep the grace of God. It is manifest that such faith is not true faith. For faith in Christ does not seek to be able freely to practice sin against conscience and to pile up sins, but rather to be freed from them.
4. From the fruit we also can learn whether faith is true or false. The fruit of true faith is not to serve sin but to live unto righteousness. Likewise the corrupt fruits also show that the tree itself has become evil because of the loss of faith. From these basic ideas it is simple to judge when true faith has been lost and trodden under foot. Consequently when sins take place and are mortal, it means that faith has been lost and destroyed.

What Chemnitz discusses above is very much related to the parable of the fig tree and manure. It is also clear that one cannot sin the more that grace might abound and not be considered to have lost faith. The discussion of venial sin which follows the above section is worth pondering and discussing. I am wondering if others find Chemnitz’ discussion as helpful as I do.

Posted by pomeranus


One comment on “Mortal and Venial Sin in the Regenerate

  1. pulpitmaster says:

    excellent article. CFWalther also
    supports this position.

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