Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Book Four
Discussions about sin can cause various reactions. Some intuitively recognize there should be appropriate guilt for doing something wrong (e.g. immoral, unjust, unfair). But, for others, the word “sin” surfaces a history of self-condemning shame and/or the censorious judgmental of others. Let’s explore the subject of sin in more detail:
- Sin is the absence of love. It dehumanizes self and/or others.
- Sin is the not a failure to comply with an external religious and legalistic code. The “legal code” version of sin leads many in religious circles to make severe judgments about the character, motives, and lifestyle choices of others. It also blinds them to their own gossip, judgmental attitudes, resentment, lack of joy, and ingratitude.
- Teresa of Avila separates sin into two forms: Venial sin (less intentional and less serious sins) and Mortal Sin (intentional or grave sins). I’ve had a number of friends ask the rhetorical question: “Are there degrees of sin?” with the implied answer of “no”. But, sin has different forms of severity. (I deal with this in more detail in the Tree of Life.)
The “Spiritually Mature” and Their Struggle
In this section of the Interior Castle, Teresa discusses “spiritually mature” people and their relationship with sin. These individuals have the intention not to commit sin, including the less intentional, less severe sins. But there is an assumption, by others, that because of their spiritual depth, they don’t struggle with sin. But they do! These individuals are aware of their “imperfections” and it concerns them that their behavior could cause damage to others. They, sometimes out of ignorance, do things they shouldn’t do and don’t do things they should do. This is part of the reason the spiritually mature can be so humble and non-judgmental: They know their own hearts and ignorance — so they cast aside self-righteousness.
Should We Worry About Sin?
- In one sense: YES! We should be concerned about sin. This is for all the reasons noted above. And so we take measures to eliminate our own sin knowing it could be damaging to self and others. We also take whatever steps we can to immunize ourselves against the destructive behaviors of others.
- In another sense, NO! We don’t worry about sin because of forgiveness. “There is . . . no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Since God does not condemn us, we can also forgive ourselves and eliminate shame. Once this happens, our forgiveness can flow into our other relationships. We forgive others. Forgiving others will also set us free from our anger about their past behaviors. Until we can reach that point, we’re still giving them a measure of control over our present and future. Let me add, extending forgiveness does not mean we reenter a destructive relationship. We must combine grace with boundaries.
Sin, grace, and forgiveness are key messages in Christianity. We move from sin (e.g. destructive behaviors). We discard religious legal codes designed to control people. We release self-condemnation. We embrace grace and forgiveness for ourselves. We extend forgiveness and grace to others. We establish healthy and appropriate boundaries.
For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.
Forgiveness to eliminate shame is so important. Great post, Dave!
Thanks Christy — I hope you have a great week.
I have explained, or at least tried to, Venial Sin & Mortal Sin, to several friends. My Catholic upbringing was very precise on this.
Whatever I think or believe, the one take away in this article is: “Sin is the absence of love.”
That could be a very true idea, yet a disparaging statement.
Hi Resa — I always enjoy hearing your thoughts. Thanks for reading.