The Unforgiven Sin
Therefore I say to you, that every kind of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven to men; but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit it will not be forgiven him, either in this world or in the world to come (Mt. 12:31-32).
A great and difficult question, says St. Augustine,1 has been raised concerning the above text, which St. Cyril of Jerusalem designates "the fearful thing written in the Gospel." Interpreting the fearful thought contained in the text, St. Cyril writes: "Jesus Christ, the Judge of the living and the dead, declared that such a one has no pardon. If therefore one offends, what hope has he?"2
The question raised by our text is two-fold: What is the specific nature of this sin, and how is it said to be without forgiveness? This question is primarily exegetic and should be answered, as far as possible, from the Gospels. There is also a dogmatic side to the question, for it apparently involves the possibility of the remission of sin, either on the part of God or on part of the Church. Because of this dogmatic aspect, the text assumed a role of importance in the Novatian controversy and later led some exegetes and theologians to determine the meaning of the text by first establishing that a certain sin is "irremissible." In this latter case, it is usually said that final impenitence is the "irremissible sin" of which our text speaks. Final impenitence may be understood in two ways: a) Perseverance in sin until death, which is not a specific sin, but a circumstance that may accompany any sin; b) A positive resolve or determination on the part of the sinner not to repent, which is one of the six sins against the Holy Spirit.
It is somewhat unfortunate that the terms "irremissible" and "unforgivable " are applied to this sin in popular writings; for these terms need explanation and distinctions which are not always made. On exegetical grounds, this blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is more appropriately called "the unforgiven sin," and may be considered as constituting a special species of sin. If thus understood, the difficulty found by many in the second part of our question is easily solved in the words of St. Bede: "We do not deny that even he, if he be willing to do penance, can be forgiven by Him who wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. But, believing the judge and Grantor of pardon, who said that He would always accept repentance and also said that this blasphemy would not be forgiven, we believe that this blasphemer, because of his wickedness, as he never obtains remission so neither does he bring forth worthy fruits of penance" (Exp. in Ev. Sti Marci). St. Bede adds that this text of the Gospel refutes the errors of both Novatian and Origen, the former denying the possibility of remission for certain sins and the latter asserting that all sins would be forgiven some time after the general judgment.
This explanation is exegetically sound and safeguards any dogma that might be involved in the question. It makes a distinction between possibility of remission and actual remission, granting the first and denying the second. It also states that the sin is not forgiven because he who commits it never repents. This is not the final impenitence which may accompany any sin; nor is it that sin against the Holy Spirit by which one determines not to repent. It is a particular sin which is never repented of by the one who commits it, and so always remains an "unforgiven sin." This paper will endeavor to determine the nature of this sin from the text and context of the Gospels, to which will be added the interpretation of the Fathers.3
The "unforgiven sin" is mentioned in each of the Synoptic Gospels, with some differences in the wording of the text. St. Mark records it in the same context as St. Matthew (3: 28-29), while St. Luke places it in a different context (12: 10). The wording of these texts makes it certain that the sin under consideration is directed against the Holy Spirit, that it is completed or perfected in word, and that it was committed by the Pharisees, at least materialiter.
SS. Matthew and Mark mention "sins" (genus) and "blasphemies" (a species). It is first declared that all sins and blasphemies shall be forgiven, a general statement that does not exclude the necessity of repentance for remission of sin. Both texts then make an exception in the species mentioned. There is one blasphemy"the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit"which will not be forgiven, "either in this world or in the world to come" (Mt.), for it is an "everlasting sin" (Mk.).
Properly speaking, blasphemy is contumely in speech, and this proper meaning should be retained here. This seems clear in the text of St. Matthew, where "speaking against the Son of Man" is placed among the sins that shall be forgiven, while "speaking against the Holy Spirit" is the sin that will never be forgiven. St. Mark makes this even clearer. After recording the words of our Lord, he gives the reason for the words, saying: "For they said, he has an unclean spirit." From these two Gospels, then, it is clear that Jesus spoke of a sin that is externalized in words, and that the blasphemous accusation uttered by the Pharisees, to which St. Mark refers, constitutes the matter of the "unforgiven sin."
St. Luke mentions the "unforgiven sin" in a discourse on persecution. In the immediate context, Jesus declares that He will acknowledge before His Heavenly Father those who acknowledge Him before men, and will disown those who disown Him before men. "Disown me" is a denial of faith, as "acknowledge me" is a profession of faith. Then follows our text, in which it is said that a "word spoken against the Son of Man" shall be forgiven, but that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. From the context and the opposition of the two sins mentioned in the text, it follows that the "unforgiven sin" is an external sin, committed in word.
All texts mention two blasphemies, one against Christ as Man and the other against the Holy Spirit. Ignorance or weakness is usually assigned as an extenuating circumstance in the first blasphemy, while the second is said to be without any excuse. Thus St. Chrysostom: "You act impudently against the manifest truth. For though you say that you do not know me, you certainly know that casting out devils and curing disease are the works of the Holy Spirit." St. Ambrose explains the difference in the following manner: "If any one, led astray by the visible body, should think less of the body of Christ than is fitting ... he incurs guilt, but is not shut out from pardon, to which he may attain through faith. But if any one should deny the dignity, majesty and eternal power of the Holy Spirit, and should say that devils are cast out by Beelzebub, and not by the Spirit of God, there is no attaining of pardon where there is fullness of sacrilege" (De Sp. Sanc., I, 3, 54). St. Jerome and others cite contumelies against Jesus recorded in the Gospels as examples of "words against the Son of Man," saying that these sins have some excuse because of the humility of the body, or because they were not expressly directed against the Divinity.
In the Gospels of SS. Matthew and Mark the text on the "unforgiven sin" forms the conclusion of a discourse in which Jesus replied to the accusation of the Pharisees. St. Luke also records the blasphemous accusation and the discourse of Jesus, but does not mention the "unforgiven sin" in this context. A consideration of the discourse and its occasion will help understand the nature and peculiar malice of this sin.4
SS. Matthew and Luke record how Jesus cured a possessed man who was blind and dumb, restoring him to the full possession of his faculties. Both record the deep impression made upon the people by this three-fold miracle, St. Matthew adding that they began to ask among themselves: "Can this be the Son of David?" The miracle aroused in them a beginning of faith in Jesus as the Messias, or at least caused them to begin inquiry into the truth.
The Pharisees present "were more indignant at the miracle than the devil himself, who left the body and fled away without saying a word" (St. Chrysostom). Unable to deny the miraculous deed and unwilling to acknowledge its value as evidence for the claims of Jesus, they endeavor to destroy the incipient faith of the people by making the base accusation that Jesus is in league with Satan, that He casts out devils by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of devils.
St. Luke immediately records that the Pharisees also asked Jesus for a "sign from heaven." This request, mentioned later in the same context by St. Matthew, was intended to confirm their blasphemous accusation. They thereby insinuated that the miracle just wrought was not "from heaven," i. e., was not performed by divine power; and at the same time they desired to create the impression that they would believe in Him, if given sufficient proof of His claim. Since the "unforgiven sin" is mentioned in connection with the accusation, we need consider only this part of the discourse, in which "He shows that the accusation is against both the common mode of reason and the congruity of the circumstances" (St. Chrysostom).
Our Lord's first argument is taken from natural reason. It is self-evident that division and disunity in a kingdom, city or house lead to ruin and desolation, for unity is everywhere recognized as the first requisite for the existence and welfare of any society or community. Since this is the case, there must be some kind of unity in the kingdom of Satan, a unity that causes the evil spirits to conspire towards the same end and not oppose one another in attaining this end. But, Jesus continues with the minor of the argument: "If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand?" If Satan were to cast out devils and cooperate in the work of Jesus, he would oppose himself and destroy his own kingdom. Natural reason, unimpaired by prejudice and ill-will, dictates that there is no community of effort between Jesus and Satan.5
The second argument is contained in the question: "If I cast out devils by Beelzebub, by whom do your children cast them out?" He asks by what power Jewish exorcists, some of whom may have been members of their party, cast out devils. Had they answered according to their own belief, they would have said: "By the power of God." The argument, then, is: If others among you cast out devils, and you believe and profess that such power comes from God, why do you ascribe my power to Beelzebub? "Therefore," Jesus continues, "they shall be your judges"by comparison (St. Jerome). The fact that exorcists exist among you, the fact that they and you profess that such power comes only from God, condemns you of prejudice and malice in ascribing my works to the power of Satan.6
These two arguments prove the accusation false, malicious and contrary to reason. They also prove the only other alternative: Jesus casts out devils "by the Spirit of God." And as a consequence, He tells them: "The Kingdom of God is come upon you"is present in your midst, being established by me. This conclusion snows that both the accusation of the Pharisees and the reply of Jesus had His entire work and mission in view, not only the one miracle.
Jesus continues with the simile of the strong man, considered by some a third argument and by others an illustration of the preceding conclusion. St. Luke gives the simile with many details. St. Matthew is more concise: A strong man must be bound before his house can be entered and his goods plundered. By reason of the context, Satan is the strong man who, according to St. Luke, is armed and guarding his court. Jesus bound Satan, entered his house and plundered his goods by limiting his power, unmasking his deceits and wiles, rescuing men from his domination. The life, teaching and miracles of Jesus show that He is the opponent of Satan, that through him man is saved from the powers of evil.
The next words of Jesus: "He who is not with me is against me," have received two interpretations in the present context, both of which may have been intended by Him. First, the conflict between Jesus and Satan is one that involves every man, a conflict in which no one can be neutral. Man must be either for or against Jesus; and as a consequence, for or against Satan. This leads to the second interpretation: The work of Jesus and the present argumentation prove that Satan cannot cooperate with Jesus, but is opposed to Him.
It is at this point that Jesus speaks of the "unforgiven sin." In St. Matthew's account, this text is connected with the preceding by the clause: "Therefore I say to you." It is a conclusion, clearly indicating that the blasphemy uttered by the Pharisees, with all its attending circumstances, is the sin that will never be forgiven. St. Mark explicitly refers to this blasphemy as the reason why Jesus said that such a blasphemer is guilty of an everlasting sin.
The context shows that the Pharisees witnessed an evident work of divine power, an undeniable motive for faith. Envious of Jesus and desirous of keeping the people from the faith, they said that this divine work was the work of the devil. The discourse of Jesus shows that their blasphemy proceeded from malice, prejudice and ill-will, without any extenuating circumstance, as passion, ignorance, indeliberation or the like. Knowingly and willfully, they were resisting the known and manifest truth and placing an obstacle to the growth of grace in the hearts of the people. With diabolical malice and against their own conscience, as St. Bede remarks, they dared to oppose God and His grace.7
Turning to the interpretation of the Fathers, we believe the greatest importance and interest attaches to the explanation of the "unforgiven sin" in the writings of SS. Pacianus, Jerome and Ambrose. These Fathers wrote against the Novatians who quoted the text of St. Matthew in support of their heresy that the Church had no power to forgive certain sins.
St. Pacianus, Bishop of Barcelona towards the end of the fourth century, wrote three letters in reply to Sympronianus, a disciple of Novatian. In his third letter, Contra tract. Novatianorum, no. 15, St. Pacianus speaks of the use made of the text by Sympronianus. Citing Mt. 12: 32, he says: "Either I am mistaken or this text refutes you. For, if every sin and every blasphemy is forgiven, you must see that pardon is never to be denied the penitent. Therefore every sin, and every blasphemy (can be forgiven). You have added according to Luke: 'And whoever sins against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him.' What more could be said of the mercy of God, of the clemency of the Judge? Are you envious because the master of the house is good? Or is it not lawful for him to do what he wills?"
Having chided the heretic for limiting the mercy of God, the Saint explains that a certain sin is never forgiven. "You are accustomed to peruse all texts," he says. "Why have you not read here, the meaning of 'against the Holy Spirit'? It is written that, when the Lord expelled the devil by a word and performed many works of special power, the Pharisees said: He casts out devils by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of devils. This is to sin against the Holy Spirit, to blaspheme the works of the Spirit. In other sins we fall by error, are broken by fear or overcome by weakness of the flesh. But this is blindness, not to see what you see, to ascribe the works of the Holy Spirit to the devil, to say that the Lord's power, by which He overcomes devils, is the power of the devil. This is the sin that is not forgiven. All other sins, brother Sympronianus, are forgiven to the truly repentant."
Every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven to those who repent, but the sin committed by the Pharisees is not forgiven. It must follow that those who commit this sin do not repent. St. Jerome chooses a more particular thesis than St. Pacianus. Having been asked for an explanation of St. Matthew's text, he shows that the text does not speak of apostasy, which Novatian taught was an "irremissible sin" in every sense. The explanation is contained in Epistola 42 ad Marcellam, which he calls a "little commentary."
Stating the view of Novatian that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, mentioned by St. Matthew, is committed only by a Christian who denies the faith, St. Jerome says this view would lead to the unacceptable conclusion that the Pharisees had not committed the sin, and continues: "He must be convinced from the whole context of the Scripture that the blasphemy is not said to be irremissible to those who, compelled by torments and disemboweled by torture, deny their Lord; but (irremissible) to those who, when they see that works are the fruit of God's power, ascribe the power to the demon and declare that signs wrought belong not to divine excellence but to the devil." He declares that this is the gist of our Lord's discourse, of which he gives a brief summary. "Let him (Novatian) prove that any of those who were compelled to sacrifice before the judge's tribunal declared that all the things written in the Gospels were wrought, not by God but by Beelzebub, and he will make good his contention that this (denial of faith) is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which will never be forgiven."
St. Jerome then calls attention to the distinction made between "speaking against the Son of Man" and "speaking against the Holy Spirit," maintaining that "men who have denied Christ under persecution have spoken against the Son of Man, but have not blasphemed the Holy Spirit." He rejects Novatian's attempt to destroy the distinction made in the Gospels, and recounts the fall and repentance of St. Peter who, he says, did not blaspheme the Holy Spirit when he denied Christ. "It is obvious," St. Jerome concludes, "that this sin against the Holy Spirit is never forgiven because it involves blasphemy, as when one sees God in deeds of power and says they are the works of Beelzebub. Let him (Novatian) show an instance of a denier who has called Christ Beelzebub, and I will at once give up my position and admit that after such a fall the denier cannot win forgiveness. For, to give way under persecution and deny oneself a Christian is one thing, to say that Christ is Beelzebub is another, as the Scripture and its context will prove, if read attentively."
St. Ambrose wrote a full and complete refutation of the Novatian heresy in his two books de Poenitentia. In Book II, c. 4, he replies to the argument taken from the text of St. Matthew. He first retorts in a manner similar to St. Pacianus: "By this text the whole of your assertion is destroyed" (n. 20). Like St. Jerome, he admonishes the Novations to consider the whole context of St. Matthew in order to understand whom our Lord declared guilty of a sin that is not forgiven. Repeating the Gospel narrative, he concludes: "We see that the words are expressly used of those who said that the Lord Jesus was casting out devils by Beelzebub. The Lord replied that the heritage of Satan would be in those who compared the Savior of all to Satan and attributed the grace of Christ to the kingdom of Satan. And that we might know that He spoke of this blasphemy, He added: Brood of vipers, how can you speak good things, when you are evil? He denies, therefore, that those who speak thus shall have pardon" (n. 21-22).
St. Ambrose follows this explanation of the "unforgiven sin" with the example of Simon Magus, who sinned against the Holy Spirit by endeavoring to purchase the gift of God with money. Yet, St. Peter did not exclude him from all hope of pardon (n. 23).8 He apparently introduces this example as proof that the "unforgiven sin" must not be extended beyond what is stated in the Gospels, for he continues: "The Lord's reply, then, concerns the sin of the Pharisees; and He refuses them the grace of His power, which consists in the remission of sin, because they asserted that His heavenly power rested on the help of the devils" (n.24).
In answering the Novatians, these Fathers did not deny the existence of an "unforgiven sin," but showed that the heretics were misinterpreting the Scriptures in drawing up their list of absolutely "irremissible sins." They insist that the nature of this sin be determined from the Gospels; and while teaching that all sins can be forgiven to those who repent, they maintain that a blasphemy such as the Pharisees committed is never forgiven. The same explanation is given by SS. Bede, Chrysostom and Cyril Jer., quoted previously in this paper; also by SS. Hilary, Athanasius (Ep. 4 ad Serap., 12), Basil M. (Moralia, 35; de Sp. Sanc., 28), Anselm, Bl. Rabanus and Didymus Alex. (De Sp. Sanc., 63).9
Opposed to these patristic authorities there is what might be called a "minority opinion" among the Fathers on both parts of the question. The outstanding exception on the nature of the "unforgiven sin" is St. Augustine. While teaching that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not forgiven, he maintains that this blasphemy is final impenitence. He treats the question from an exegetic and theological standpoint in his 71st Sermon, a discourse filling 22 columns in Migne and divided into 24 chapters. A brief indication of the sermon's content will show how he arrived at his conclusion.10
St. Augustine begins his sermon with a commentary on the narrative of St. Matthew, in which he emphasizes "the divided spirit" and opposition to Christ (c. 1-2). Quoting the text placed at the head of this paper, he asks: "Who shall be saved? What will become of those whom the Church desires to gain? When they have reformed and returned from whatever error to the Church, is a false hope of pardon promised them?" He enumerates many sins committed by Pagans, Jews and heretics, which he calls blasphemies against the Holy Spirit. But all these sins are remitted when they become Christians, and so cannot be "unforgiven sins" (c. 3). He then rejects the doctrine of the Novatians that apostasy, murder and adultery cannot be forgiven, because such a doctrine cannot be proved from the Scriptures and is against the practice of the Church (c. 4).
Returning to the wording of the Gospel text, he discusses the difference between omnis blasphemia, quodcumque verbum and verbum. Since the Gospel uses the third term, he concludes that there is but one "unforgiven sin," saying: "If we understand quodcumque verbum, who can be saved? If we think there is nullum, we contradict the Savior. There is, without doubt, a certain blasphemy and a certain word which, if spoken against the Holy Spirit, will never be forgiven " (c. 5-6). He then cites and analyzes many similar Scripture texts in order to prove that the text of St. Matthew does not include every mode of blasphemy, but one particular mode which God wills us to seek out and understand (c. 7-11).
Seeking to understand this one mode of blasphemy, St. Augustine discourses on the Holy Trinity and the remission of sin attributed to the Holy Spirit. "Against this gratuitous gift, against this grace of God, the impenitent heart speaks. Therefore this impenitence is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which will never be forgiven . . . For against the Holy Spirit, in whom they are baptized whose sins are forgiven, does he speak a very heinous and impious word, whether in thought only or also in word" (c. 12). This sin can be detected in no one as long as he lives, is "one word" consisting of many and continuous sins, and its presence impedes the forgiveness of other sins (c. 13-14). After a lengthy discourse on the power and operations of the Holy Trinity and the remission of sins in the Church, he concludes that final impenitence is not forgiven because the sinner "stops the source of forgiveness "and" resists the remission of sin granted in the Church by the Holy Spirit" (c. 15-20).
Turning to the Gospel narrative to prove that final impenitence is the sin of which Jesus spoke, he again stresses "the divided spirit." This spirit destroys himself, he argues, and so also does the impenitent who divides himself against the undivided Spirit. St. Mark, he says, states that the blasphemy uttered by the Pharisees gave occasion to speak of the "unforgiven sin," not because their blasphemy is not forgiven, but because it gave occasion to mention "the divided spirit." Speaking further on division and unity, on the Holy Spirit and the Church, he says that "he speaks a word against the Holy Spirit who, with impenitent heart, resists the unity of the Church where, in the Holy Spirit, the remission of sin is obtained." He is not forgiven because he who is not with Christ is against Him (c. 21-22).11
There are also exceptions among the Fathers to the previous explanation of the words: "It will not be forgiven." St. Cyril of Alexandria sees in the sin of the Pharisees the blasphemy of which Jesus spoke, but says: "Christ spoke in this way to show the magnitude of the sin; for there is no sin which God does not remit if penance is done." St. Paschasius accepts the view of St. Augustine on the nature of this sin, but says: "This blasphemy is forgiven if they cease from the blasphemy and wish to do penance." Later commentators have added another explanation: The words indicate the rarity and difficulty with which remission is obtained. St. Thomas explains that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit may be understood not only in the two senses given in patristic interpretation, but also as a "peccatum ex certa malitia," committed by one who chooses evil itself and rejects with contempt whatever may withdraw him from sin, as fear of punishment and hope of pardon. Those things that prevent sin or draw man from sin are effects of the Holy Spirit, and to reject them is to sin against the Holy Spirit. There are six species of this sin, and it is said to be irremissible, either because there is no forgiveness after this life, or because it removes those things by which sin is remitted, or because of itself it does not merit to be forgiven. But this does not preclude a way to forgiveness through the omnipotence and mercy of God, by which the sin is sometimes remitted as it were by a miracle of grace (2a 2ae, q. XIV).
1. We believe the better answer has been given by the Fathers who explained the nature of this sin from the context of the Gospels. Jesus did not speak of every sin or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, as these Fathers recognized and St. Augustine proved. Since a particular blasphemy is mentioned in the context, it seems but natural that this sin, with every circumstance that constitutes its species infima and peculiar malice, should be the sin of which Jesus spoke. The blasphemy had the guilt of somenot allof the six sins against the Holy Spirit; and these were not separate sins in the case of the Pharisees, but were united and formed unum peccatum totum.
In order to have the "unforgiven sin" there must be present all elements that constituted the sin of the Pharisees: A blasphemy by which divine works and effects are attributed to the powers of evil; the work must be evidently divine to him who blasphemes it; the blasphemy must be uttered deliberately and willfully, out of pure malice, without any extenuating circumstance present; the blasphemer must have the purpose of preventing or destroying the operation of grace in the hearts of men. With diabolical malice and against the dictates of his own conscience, says St. Bede, such a man dares to oppose God directly.
2. We also think that the better explanation has been given by the Fathers who understood the words: "It will not be forgiven" literally. These Fathers, either explicitly or implicitly, distinguished between the possibility of remission and actual remission, and the explanation means that Jesus, by divine foreknowledge, made known a certain fact: Those who commit this sin will not be forgiven. Whenever they gave the reason or internal cause for non-remission, it is non-repentance. We might say that this is one sin which is always accompanied by final impenitence. This explanation avoids the error of the Novatians, places no limits on the mercy of God, does not restrict the power of the Church and gives our Lord's words their proper and native meaning.
3. The Fathers and theologians draw two dogmatic conclusions from the words: "It will not be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come." Since a certain sin is not forgiven, either here or hereafter, the punishments of hell are eternal. From the same premise, and particularly from the phrasing of the text, they conclude that there is some remission in the next life, either of the guilt of sin or of its penalty. We doubt whether this second conclusion follows unless the words of Jesus be understood literally, as stated in our second conclusion.
1 Sermo 71. On the other hand, St. Chrysostom, Hom. 41 in Mt., and St. Jerome, Ep. 42 ad Marc., think the solution of the question easy, if one attends to the context of the Gospels.
2 Catechesis XVI, c. 1. St. Cyril mentions the non-remission of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit among the things to be learned and believed, in Catechesis IV, c. 16.
3 In this paper we confine ourselves almost entirely to the works of the Fathers. Quotations, without citation of their source, are taken from the commentary on the Gospels by the Father quoted.
4 Mt. 12:22-32, Mk. 3:22-30, Lk. 11:14-23. Mt. And lk. record the miracle that occasion the blasphemy, Mk. records only the blasphemy. Besides the omission of two texts in Mk., there are some verbal differences in the three accounts, none of which change the sense. We follow the account given by St. Matthew.
5 The difficulty or objection that Satan may produce some good effect in order to bring about a greater evil cannot be urged against this argument or weaken its force. The blasphemous accusation included the person and entire work of Jesus. Its purpose was to deny the divine power of Jesus, cast doubt upon His person and prevent the people from believing in Him. And Jesus also considers the accusation, which in itself was general, in relation to His mission and work of destroying the empire of Satan and establishing the Kingdom of God, as will be seen from the rest of the discourse.
6 Another explanation of this argument understands "your children" to be the disciples of Jesus, present and future, who cast out devils. This explanation must answer two serious difficulties. In the idiom of the time, "your children" in the present sentence designates those connected with the Pharisees, not with Jesus. Secondly such an argument is open to the retort, "Your disciples, like you, cast them out by Beelzebub." That such a retort cannot be excluded, is shown by the words of our Lord: "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more those of his household!" (Mt. 10:25).
7 While many consider the Pharisees fully guilty of a sin that was never forgiven them, others think that they had not yet completed the sin in specie sua. They say that the Gospels leave it uncertain whether the Pharisees had uttered the blasphemy openly or were merely preparing the accusation in their minds. They also consider the discourse, which proves the malice of such an accusation, as a warning not to complete the sin. Had they continued and completed their sin after this warning they would have sealed their fate for eternity.
8 St. Ambrose again speaks of the case of Simon in c. 5. The Novatians claimed that St. Peter did not believe that Simon's sin could be forgiven, because he used the word "perhaps" in speaking of its remission. St. Ambrose replies: St. Peter did not forgive Simon because of his evil disposition; Scriptural use of "perhaps" in other places shows that St. Peter could use this word "without prejudice to his belief."
9 St. Hilary: "He condemns the statement of the Pharisees and the perversity of those who think as they did." St. Athanasius: "The Savior declared that the Pharisees had uttered a blasphemy which would have no forgiveness....Inasmuch as they dared this unbearable thing, He adjudged them to eternal punishment." St. Basil: "Terrible is the account to be give for words of this kind by you who have heard from God, who cannot lie, that for the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit there is no forgiveness." St. Anselm: "These (Pharisees) fall into a diabolical sin, and God deserts them as He did Judas." Didymus: "Neither mercy nor pardon shall be given to him who despises the Son of God and treats with contumely the grace of the Holy SPirit in whom is sanctification." Bl. Rabanus repeats and accepts the explanation of St. Bede, quoted above.
10 St. Augustine also speaks of the sin or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in Epistola 185 ad Bonif., the Enchirdion, de correp. et gratia and in his commentary on Romans.
11 Briefly: St. Augustine proves from Scripture that there is an "unforgiven sin"; he shows by many arguments why final impenitence is not forgiven; then endeavors to prove that Jesus spoke of final impenitence. But we think he fails in this last step. For, he makes our Lord's discourse an explanation as it were of the sin, whereas it is a defense against the accusation of the Pharisees, showing it to be false, malicious and inexcusable. Particularly, he makes the "divided spirit" of the essence of this sin, whereas it is an argument to prove that Jesus is not casting out devils by the power of Beelzebub. He apparently makes St. Mark's explanatory verse a causa causae, whereas this verse plainly states that Jesus spoke of the "unforgiven sin" because of the Pharisees' blasphemy.
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