Is it a sin to argue and be angry? - Catholic Courier
Canonist Jenna Marie Cooper is a consecrated virgin and a practicing canon lawyer. She is pictured in an undated photo. (OSV News photo/Jenna Marie Cooper) Canonist Jenna Marie Cooper is a consecrated virgin and a practicing canon lawyer. She is pictured in an undated photo. (OSV News photo/Jenna Marie Cooper)

Is it a sin to argue and be angry?

A: It looks like your question has multiple layers. One level is the technical theological question of whether or in what circumstances anger might be a sin; another is a more pastoral question of whether this situation was handled appropriately.

Theologically, we know that the church considers sins to be either mortal or venial. A mortal sin is a spiritually deadly sin. For a sin to be mortal, it must be an act which is seriously wrong in and of itself (called “grave matter”), and this act must be freely, deliberately and knowingly chosen. If a sin does not involve grave matter, or if it’s committed in a less intentional way, then it is not a mortal sin but is rather what we could call a “venial” one.

“Anger” or synonyms such as “wrath” or “rage” are often included in traditional lists of sins. However, whether anger is mortal or venial sin — or even a sin at all — depends on the circumstances of a given situation. For instance, simply having an emotion is morally neutral experience, so merely feeling angry is certainly not a sin. As your priest noted, we know from Scripture that even Jesus had feelings of anger. (See Jn 2:13-17)

Still, our reactions to our emotions, and the behavior we choose to exhibit as a response to them, do have the potential to be either sinful or virtuous. For instance, choosing to express our feelings of anger by physically harming another person would likely be a mortal sin; a cutting personal remark prompted by feelings of annoyance might be venially sinful. Yet again, context is important and it’s difficult to make judgements about what responses to anger are or are not sinful in the abstract. Even in your example, getting into an argument might be sinful if the conversation demonstrated a lack of respect for the other person or was filled with cruel accusations. But an argument that is more like a lively debate, or a difficult but necessary conversation, might not be sinful at all, even if there are feelings of anger involved.

Pastorally, there are some instances where pastors have an obligation to correct a person exhibiting outwardly sinful behavior. If a Catholic is openly involved in promoting government policies which seriously contradict the church’s moral teaching, for instance, it would be very appropriate for that person’s bishop to reach out and admonish them personally.

For the most part our personal journeys to overcome sin and grow in virtue — including when and how often to approach the sacrament of penance — are something which the church’s law treats with respect and discretion. Catholics are required to make a sacramental confession at least once a year if they are conscious of having committed any mortal sins, and it might be helpful to ask advice (from priests who know us well) about how frequently we should go to confession given our individual strengths and weaknesses. But the discernment of whether a person would need to go to confession after engaging in a heated argument is ultimately something which should be left between God and the individual’s conscience.


Cooper, who holds a licentiate in canon law, is a consecrated virgin and a canonist. Send your questions to CatholicQA@osv.com.

Tags: Catholic Beliefs
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