As a Catholic I never knew much about sanctifying grace, what it was, or how I got it. Like most Catholics I just tried to live my life and do what was right and, if I made a major sin then to confess it to a priest. The whole idea of collecting things like grace and merits never caused much concern for me and I doubt that the vast, vast majority of RC's around the world really think or know much about it anyway. The whole idea of collecting sanctifying grace in ones soul sounds too much to me like being evangelistic, or even superstitious. What is grace? Can we feel it? Is it something we can collect In a jar like butterfly's? I don't know what this grace is and really have never given too much thought about how to get it. I just, as said before try to live my life as best I can and be a good person, helping others as I can along life's journey. If this way of living can't produce grace then who needs it?
This is a huge question which the Orthodox tradition answers in a *completely* different way Latin tradition (cf. RC Nature/Grace dualism). In Orthodox Christianity the Grace/Gift of God (grace literally means gift) is nothing less than God Himself:
"In short, the Orthodox understanding of the nature of Grace is that it is the very energies of God Himself. Through the Trinitarian ministry of the Holy Spirit—a ministry involving both general and special activities—these energies are mediated to mankind. This stands in contrast to the Latin view flowing mainly from the anti-Pelagian writings of Saint Augustine. For Roman Catholics, Grace is a created intermediary between God and man" (Patrick Barnes, The Non-Orthodox: The Orthodox Teaching on Christians Outside of the Church.
(Salisbury, MA, Regina Orthodox Press, 1999), p. 4).
Cf. also Vladimir Lossky: [The] theology of the Eastern Church distinguishes in God the three hypostases, the nature or essence, and the energies. The Son and the Holy Spirit are, so to say, personal processions, the energies, natural processions. The energies are inseparable from the nature, and the nature is inseparable from the three Persons. These distinctions are of great importance for the Eastern Church’s conception of mystical life:… 3) The distinction between the essence and the energies, which is fundamental for the Orthodox doctrine of grace, makes it possible to preserve the real meaning of Saint Peter’s words “partakers of the divine nature” [2 Peter 1:4]. The union to which we are called is neither hypostatic—as in the case of the human nature of Christ—nor substantial, as in that of the three divine Persons: it is union with God in His energies, or union by grace making us participate in the divine nature, without our essence becoming thereby the essence of God. In deification [theosis] we are by grace (that is to say, in the divine energies), all that God is by nature, save only identity of nature... according to the teaching of Saint Maximus. We remain creatures while becoming God by grace, as Christ remained God in becoming man by the Incarnation... Eastern tradition knows no such supernatural order between God and the created world, adding, as it were, to the latter a new creation. It recognizes no distinction, or rather division, save that between the created and the uncreated. For [the] eastern tradition the created supernatural has no existence. That which western theology calls by the name of the supernatural signifies for the East the uncreated—the divine energies ineffably distinct from the essence of God. . . . The act of creation established a relationship between the divine energies and that which is not God... [However,] the divine energies in themselves are not the relationship of God to created being, but they do enter into relationship with that which is not God [i.e., His creation], and draw the world into existence by the will of God" (Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church
(London: James Clark and Co., 1957), pp. 85-86, 87-88).
I must say for my own part that re-reading the NT where it speaks of things like Gift of God, in Christ, the Glory of God, partakers of the Divine Nature etc. is completely transformed by the Orthodox Way, which opens to us nothing less than encounter -ontological, not just legal- with the Living God Himself! This seems so much more powerful and profound than something like a "storehouse of merit" as if in some celestial bank vault or something.
According to the Didiach of the Apostles there are only really three Mortal sins, Murder, Adultery, and Apostasy. A lot of the sins listed in RC Catholicisms and confession primers are probably just speculations from moral theologians. In fact I would say that, given the criteria I've mentioned the vast majority of baptized believers may have never even committed a mortal sin in their lives.
I was really happy to hear that B XVI was thinking about loosening the rules for the use of contraception in the RCC towards the end of last year. I thought to myself "finally", but then he had to go and retract his statements (Or did he, I think the retraction was made only by the CDF, but correct me if I'm wrong).
I have seen Latin Catholic sources trace this to the Didache
, but I don't recall seeing it there specifically (the sins you mentioned do occur in a more generalized discussion of the way of light and the way of darkness). Do you (or does anyone) have an exact quote from the Didache
in mind as *explicitly* (rather than inferentially) affirming a mortal/venial distinction for particular offenses rather than ways of life? My current understanding is the mortal/venial demarcation is not a dogma of the Orthodox Church but only an opinion (theologoumenon) sometimes of obvious Latin derivation, and one which I often see specifically denied among Orthodox writers.
According to Fr. Allyne Smith, "While the Roman Catholic tradition has identified particular acts as 'mortal' sins, in the Orthodox tradition we see that only a sin for which we don't repent is 'mortal" (Fr. Allyne Smith, in G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Bishop Kallistos Ware, trs., Phylokalia: The Eastern Christian Spiritual Texts
(Skylight Press, 2000), p. 2).
This understanding is also reflected in the OCA website's article "Sin":
"In the Orthodox Church there are no "categories" of sin as found in the Christian West. In the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic catechism, sins were categorized as "mortal" and "venial." In this definition, a "mortal" sin was one which would prevent someone from entering heaven unless one confessed it before death. Not only were such things as pride, lust, and sloth on the list of "mortal" sins, but failing to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation were also considered "mortal" sins. A "venial" sin, according to this line of thinking, did not jeopardize one's salvation. While stealing a car might be considered a "mortal" sin, stealing a candy bar was not. While a "venial" sin did not jeopardize one's salvation, it still needed to be confessed and still may have had time in purgatory attached to it. Another way to see this distinction in Roman Catholic teaching -- and here I simplifyy a tremendously complex line of reasoning -- is as follows: If one commits a mortal sin and dies before confessing it, one would go straight to hell. If one commits a venial sin and dies before confessing it, one would not go straight to hell, but would have to spend time in purgatory before entering heaven. [The Orthodox Church does not accept the teaching on purgatory that developed in more recent times in Roman Catholicism.] These categories do not exist in the Orthodox Church. Sin is sin.
Concerning Confession, having a list of deadly sins could, in fact, become an obstacle to genuine repentance. For example, imagine that you commit a sin. You look on the list and do not find it listed. It would be very easy to take the attitude that, since it is not on a list of deadly sins, it is not too serious. Hence, you do not feel the need to seek God's forgiveness right away. A week passes and you have completely forgotten about what you had done. You never sought God's forgiveness; as a result, you did not receive it, either. We should go to Confession when we sin -- at the very least, we should ask God to forgive us daily in our personal prayers. We should not see Confession as a time to confess only those sins which may be found on a list." "Sin," Orthodox Church in America website: http://www.oca.org/qa.asp?id=153&sid=3