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If a person repents of a mortal sin and receives absolution, does that mean he has to start all over on the path to salvation?

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Full Question

In the February 1994 “Quick Questions” column you stated that when a person commits mortal sin he implicitly rejects God and the entire life of holiness he had led up to that point, including the reward he would have gotten for his good deeds. When he repents and comes back to God through the sacrament of confession, does this mean he will have to start from zero in gaining new rewards?


No. The common teaching of Catholic theologians is that there is a “revival of merit” when a person comes back to God. When a person comes back to God, he implicitly reaffirms the prior life of holiness he had led, so his rewards for that life are restored.

In Infinita Dei Misericordia (1924), Pope Pius XI taught that penitents have “the fullness of the merits and the gifts which they lost through sin . . . restored and given back.” Thomas Aquinas taught the same thing (Summa Theologiae 3a:89:5).

Catholic Answers Staff


1 comment

  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    What did Jesus say about “mortal” vs “venial” sins? I can’t find the term “mortal sin” in my bible.

    I remember when I was much younger and Lotus 123 came out – one of the earliest spreadsheets like Excel. I figured that God must have a huge computer room with a giant database that kept track of all our sins in something like a Lotus spreadsheet. I always wondered if maybe 10 venial sins equalled one mortal sin, and what my current spreadsheet looked like.

    And then I grew up and realized it was all nonsense.

    Besides what difference does a life of holiness make? Does one person in heaven get a greater reward than another? Given that there’s no free will in heaven (“thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”) I guess it doesn’t matter since you’ll be a zombie anyway. Some zombies are holier than other zombies, I guess.

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