Dear Father: Unfortunately, I have gotten into the habit of blaspheming from hearing it so much in my family. Many times I don’t realize I’m blaspheming until the word slips out. I always repent, but I am left with the question: is what I am doing a sin? I will be grateful for your advice.
1. Blasphemy is defined as ‘an offensive word or saying against the Divinity’. Strictly speaking, it consists in a word uttered out loud, but it is clear that insulting expressions against God formulated with the mind or the imagination constitute a true and proper blasphemy. Theologians reduce this sin to injurious actions against God (for example, spitting at heaven and other similar actions with which one tries to show contempt for God) that can easily be compared to sacrilege if they are directed against God in things consecrated to Him (e.g. spitting or trampling on the crucifix). Blasphemy reaches its extreme in those who, not content with uttering it with their mouth, put it in writing or disseminate it through the press or media.
2. Expressions or actions can be injurious to God in various ways. One can:
- attribute to God what is not true (for example, saying that He is unjust or the author of sin, etc.)
- deny what is proper to Him (e.g., His paternal love for His creatures)
- attribute what is exclusively God’s own to creatures, or even worse, to affirm that creatures are better than God (e.g., by claiming that Satan is more powerful than God)
- speak with contempt of God or to use His name or sacred things or persons with scorn out of contempt for Him or for religion
- curse or insult God or the saints.
Blasphemy can be directly or indirectly against God. In the latter case, it is directed immediately against persons or things insofar as they are beloved of God: the saints; the most excellent creatures in whom the greatness of God shines forth (such as heaven, the world, the soul, religion, etc.); sacred things such as the Sacraments, etc. It can be willed as such, that is, as an outrage against God (diabolical blasphemy or blasphemy willed directly) or it can be rather an outpouring of anger towards creatures, impatience, etc. (blasphemy willed indirectly). If the blasphemy contains an affirmation against or denial of the faith, it is called heretical blasphemy.
3. Regarding its gravity, blasphemy, whether directly or indirectly willed, when uttered with full consciousness and deliberation, is always and without exception a grave sin. In fact, this blasphemy is a breach of the most elementary duty of the creature towards his Creator: the recognition of His supreme authority. It is therefore the greatest outrage that can be directed to the highest dignity and an act of extreme rebellion. It also implies the greatest degradation of the creature as such, whose perfection consists precisely in his subordination to God. It is therefore more serious in its essence than all the other sins of the Decalogue (including, for example, that of murder) even if, as St. Thomas wisely warns (Summa Theologica, II-II, q13, a3, ad1) in terms of its efficiency it is lesser than homicide, since homicide produces more harm to one’s neighbor than blasphemy to God, Whom no one can harm.
It is to be noted, however, that only that expression is to be judged blasphemous which, either by its common acceptation, or by its natural meaning, or by the intention of the one who utters it is injurious to God, and then only in the case where it is uttered as an assertion, not when it is simply referred to as something that happened.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the Catholic doctrine on blasphemy saying (nn. 2148-2149):
“Blasphemy is directly opposed to the second commandment. It consists in uttering against God – inwardly or outwardly – words of hatred, reproach, or defiance; in speaking ill of God; in failing in respect toward him in one’s speech; in misusing God’s name. St. James condemns those ‘who blaspheme that honorable name [of Jesus] by which you are called.’ (Jas 2:7). The prohibition of blasphemy extends to language against Christ’s Church, the saints, and sacred things. It is also blasphemous to make use of God’s name to cover up criminal practices, to reduce peoples to servitude, to torture persons or put them to death. The misuse of God’s name to commit a crime can provoke others to repudiate religion. Blasphemy is contrary to the respect due God and his holy name. It is in itself a grave sin (cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 1369).
Oaths which misuse God’s name, though without the intention of blasphemy, show lack of respect for the Lord. The second commandment also forbids magical use of the divine name.
[God’s] name is great when spoken with respect for the greatness of his majesty. God’s name is holy when said with veneration and fear of offending him (St. Augustine, De serm. Dom. in monte 2,5,19:PL 34,1278.)”
Fr. Miguel A. Fuentes, IVE
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