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A rough estimate of the time will do. To refer to mortal sins, the Catechism of the Catholic Church uses peccatum mortale (CCC 1856-1857), as does Saint Thomas Aquinas (ST II-I Q88 cf. New Advent). However, the Code of Canon Law refers to peccati gravis (Can 916). These are translated mortal sin and grave sin, respectively.

In my experience, many people will make a distinction between grave sin, which is a sin of grave matter, and mortal sin, which is a sin of grave matter carried out with full knowledge and intention. But St. Thomas says in the same question cited above, article 6:

Nevertheless a sin which is generically mortal, can become venial by reason of the imperfection of the act, because then it does not completely fulfil the conditions of a moral act, since it is not a deliberate, but a sudden act, as is evident from what we have said above (Article 2). This happens by a kind of subtraction, namely, of deliberate reason. And since a moral act takes its species from deliberate reason, the result is that by such a subtraction the species of the act is destroyed.

This seems to me to indicate that he thought mortal sin just referred to any sin which constituted grave matter, and that those sins could be made venial instead of mortal because of a lack of knowledge or intention, any circumstance which provides "subtraction... of deliberate reason."

Because of this, I'm suspicious of the term "peccatum gravis,” or "grave sin." I suspect it is a modernist invention meant to muddy the waters on sin and confuse the faithful into thinking that they can generally still be saved when in habitual mortal sin. This is verified when I hear anecdotes about priests telling penitents that they may receive communion prior to confession of "grave sins" because those sins are habitual, and thus not really mortal sins. Of course, even this advice appears to contradict the plain words of canon law, which appears to me as even further evidence that this distinction was introduced in order to confuse.

Does any pre-modern orthodox theologian, especially a Doctor of the Church, use the term "peccatum gravis?" And do they use it in this manner?

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In the decree "De Defectibus in Celebratione Missarum Occurentibus" of Pope St. Pius V, the first paragraph of Chapter V ends as follows:

"Si quis autem aliquid diminueret, vel immutaret de forma consecrationis Corporis et Sanguinis, et in ipsa verborum immutatione verba idem non significarent, non conficeret Sacramentum. Si vero aliquid adderet, quod significationem non mutaret, conficeret quidem, sed gravissime peccaret."

Although "gravissime peccaret" (sins most gravely) isn't literally "peccatum gravis", it seems close enough to be worth mentioning here.

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  • Yes, that is similar, but I'm looking more for a usage like the one I described above, where grave sin is being used as a term in moral theology distinct from mortal sin.
    – jaredad7
    Jul 25, 2023 at 17:47
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When was the first appearance of the term "Peccatum Gravis” in Catholic Theology?

One may not really know when the term Peccatum Gravis first appeared in Catholic theology. We know that this term was employed in the Early Church. The concept itself is hinted at in some works of the early Fathers of the Church and explicit in others.

In the year 385 AD, St. Pacian of Barcelona, in his Sermon Exhorting to Penance, gives contempt of God, murder, and fornication as examples of "mortal" or "capital sins."

In the year 393 AD, the Doctor of the Church, St. Jerome wrote:

There are venial sins and there are mortal sins. It is one thing to owe ten thousand talents, another to owe but a farthing. We shall have to give an accounting for an idle word no less than for adultery. But to be made to blush and to be tortured are not the same thing; not the same thing to grow red in the face and to be in agony for a long time. . . . If we entreat for lesser sins we are granted pardon, but for greater sins, it is difficult to obtain our request. There is a great difference between one sin and another. — Against Jovinianus, 2:30

Here follows the entire section 30 of St. Jerome’s Adversus Iovinianum

  1. Ordo Ecclesiae. Peccata gravia et levia. --Porro quod jactitas sponsam, sororem, matrem, et omnia haec vocabula unius esse Ecclesiae, cunctosque credentes his nominibus significari, contra te facit. Si enim unus ordo Ecclesiae est, et non habet plurima membra in uno corpore; quid necesse est ut sponsa, soror vocetur et mater: nisi aliorum sponsa, aliorum soror, aliorum mater sit? Stant quidem omnes ad dextram: sed alius stat ut sponsus, alius ut frater, alius ut filius. Filioli, inquit, mei, quos iterum parturio, donec Christus formetur in vobis (Galat. IV, 19). Putasne ejusdem esse meriti eos qui parturiuntur, et qui parturit? Unde et stulte asserere voluisti omnia membra aequaliter nos diligere, nec oculum praeponere digito, nec manum auriculae; sed in singulorum amissione membrorum, dolorem esse communem, cum Apostolus doceat ad Corinthios, Alia membra 372 esse honestiora, alia verecundiora; et quae verecundiora sunt, majore honestate circumdari: quae vero per se honesta, nostri [Al. nostra] non indigere sollicitudine (I Cor. XII, 22 et 23). Ejusdemne ordinis arbitraris et meriti, os et alvum, oculos et meatus per quos fimus egeritur et urina? Lucerna, inquit, corporis tui est oculus tuus. Si oculus caecas fuerit, totum corpus in tenebris est (Luc. XI, 34). Si digitum amputes, si summitatem auriculae, est quidem dolor, sed non tantum damnum, nec tanta cum dolore deformitas, quanta si oculos eruas, trunces nares, os disseces. Sine aliis membris vivere possumus, sine aliis omnino non possumus. Sunt peccata levia, sunt gravia. Aliud est decem millia talenta debere, aliud quadrantem. Et de otioso quidem verbo, et adulterio rei tenebimur; sed non est idem suffundi, et torqueri: erubescere, et longo tempore cruciari. Putas nostrum esse quod loquimur? Audi Apostolum Joannem: Qui scit fratrem suum peccare peccatum non ad mortem, petat, et dabit ei vitam, peccanti non ad mortem. Qui vero peccaverit ad mortem, quis orabit pro eo (I Joan. V, 16)? Cernis quod si pro peccatis minoribus deprecemur, impetremus veniam. Si pro majoribus, difficilis impetratio sit: et inter peccata et peccata, magnam esse distantiam. Unde et de populo Israel, quia peccaverat peccatum ad mortem, dicitur ad Jeremiam: Noli orare pro populo hoc, nec assumas pro eis deprecationem, et non obsistas mihi, quia non exaudiam te (Jerem. VII, 16). Si autem omnes aequaliter et introimus saeculum, et eximus de saeculo, et hoc praejudicium futurorum [ Al. futurum] est: ergo aequaliter et justi, et peccatores habebimur apud Deum, quia nunc pari modo et generamur, et morimur. Quod si duos esse contendis Adam, alterum terrenum, alterum coelestem; et qui in terreno fuerint, eos esse ad sinistram: qui vero in coelesti, eos esse a dextris; responde mihi interim, ut de duobus te fratribus interrogem: Esau in terreno fuit, an in coelesti? Nulli dubium est, quin in terreno eum fuisse respondeas. Jacob in quo fuit? Dices protinus, in coelesti. Et quomodo in coelesti fuit, cum adhuc Christus non venisset in carne, qui secundus et coelestis Adam dicitur? Aut igitur omnes 373 ante incarnationem Christi in veteri reputabis Adam, et justi quoque in terreno homine, et ad sinistram erunt inter hircos tuos: aut si impium est ibi Isaac ponere, ubi Ismael: ibi Jacob, ubi Esau: ibi sanctos, ubi peccatores; novissimus Adam ex eo tempore numerabitur, quo Christus est natus ex Virgine, et argumentum duorum Adam non proficiet ovibus et haedis tuis, quia in primo Adam et oves et haedos convicimus fuisse, et in uno atque eodem homine, alios a dextris Dei stetisse, alios a sinistris. Ab Adam enim usque ad Moysen, mors super omnes dominata est, etiam super eos qui non peccaverunt: in similitudinem praevaricationis Adam (Rom. V, 14).
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  • It seems Jerome is just using the term "peccatum gravis" to mean mortal sin. I spoke to a Thomist academic about this who I am friends with, and he told me that sometimes Aquinas also uses "peccatum gravis," but he uses it interchangeably with "peccatum mortale"
    – jaredad7
    Jul 31, 2023 at 2:40

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