Unforgivable Sins Against the Spirit

We are preparing for the feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. Let’s do so praying that the whole Church—and each one of us—be open to his inspiration.

Our Lord’s mention of a sin that will not be forgiven and some find this disturbing:

“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven… whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32).

The thought of an unforgivable sin is scary. Have I committed such a sin? Am I doomed?

So what is “blasphemy against the Spirit”? First, consider the context. Jesus had just exorcised a man possessed by a demon that made him blind and dumb (Matthew 12:22); this amazed the people. The Scribes and Pharisees reacted differently, accusing Jesus of using the power of Satan (Beelzebul) to cast out demons. After showing them the absurdity of their position, Jesus condemns them for their “blasphemy against the Spirit.”

You see, after being instructed in the Scriptures, God ordained the Scribes and Pharisees with a special authority to teach the people and “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). By this authority the Holy Spirit guided them to know that Jesus fulfilled the Scripture foretelling the great Prophet and Messiah. But Jesus fulfilled those Scriptures in a way they neither expected nor wanted.

Instead of listening to the Holy Spirit and acknowledging Jesus’ messiahship, the Scribes and Pharisees accuse Jesus of being from the devil. They rejected the Spirit’s inspiration and blasphemed against him by saying the opposite. Later, when they ask Jesus by what authority he works the miracles he works, he agrees to tell them on the condition that they would answer one question: “The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or from men?” They argued: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,” we are afraid of the multitude; for all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered: “We do not know” (Matthew 21:23-27). Thus they chose not to acknowledge the Spirit’s inspiration; so our Lord refuses to respond to their question. They are not open to receiving God’s merciful forgiveness.

In this context, then, to blaspheme against the Spirit is to reject and speak contrary to a truth that one has the God-given authority to discern. This would especially true for bishops and priests, but it could apply to others in authority. Consider those who speak against Pope Francis, such as calling him a Marxist: they almost seem to be calling him, Beelzebul. Perhaps they do so in ignorance, so we let God judge this.

The Church expands its understanding of sins against the Holy Spirit to include sins against hope, such as refusing God’s mercy:

“There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss” (CCC 1864).

Also, those who think they need no mercy sin against hope: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

God always forgives those who are repentant. To refuse to believe in and accept God’s mercy is unforgivable. So let us humbly trust in our Lord’s mercy and always be attentive to those quiet little inspirations of the Holy Spirit to pray, serve others, and follow Christ’s example of self-giving.

Father John Waiss is the pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is also a member of Opus Dei, the prelature founded by St. Josemaria Escriva.