Adult Baptism and Actual Mortal Sin

A valid reception of the Sacrament of Penance, also called Reconciliation or Confession, forgives all sins, mortal and venial. The penitent is forgiven even if his sorrow for sin is only imperfect contrition (“attrition”) and not perfect contrition.

But what happens if an adult, who has not yet been baptized, commits actual mortal sin? How can he be forgiven?

Sacrament of Baptism

Of course, the infant or small child has no actual mortal sin to be forgiven by Baptism. But suppose that an adult has committed actual mortal sin, and then he subsequently seeks adult Baptism. The question arises as to whether he must go to Confession so that this sin is forgiven. First of all, no one can receive any Sacrament prior to Baptism, which is the Sacrament of initiation. So he cannot go to Confession before being baptized.

Now, some persons ask whether an adult in that situation must go to Confession after Baptism, and they wonder if the reception of the state of grace does not occur until the subsequent valid confession. But the answer is found in the infallible teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium that Baptism forgives all sins.

So my understanding is that an adult, guilty of actual mortal sin prior to Baptism, is forgiven for that sin and all his past sins, by a valid reception of Baptism. For the valid reception of the Sacrament of Baptism, by an adult, requires his willingness to receive the Sacrament, which in turn implies at least implicit imperfect contrition for past sins. The reason is that this Sacrament, by its very nature, is a change from the old sinful life, to a new life in Christ, a life of grace, not sin.

{6:1} So what shall we say? Should we remain in sin, so that grace may abound?
{6:2} Let it not be so! For how can we who have died to sin still live in sin?
{6:3} Do you not know that those of us who have been baptized in Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death?
{6:4} For through baptism we have been buried with him into death, so that, in the manner that Christ rose from the dead, by the glory of the Father, so may we also walk in the newness of life.

Council of Trent: “And when, understanding themselves to be sinners, they turn themselves from the fear of divine justice, by which they are usefully shaken, to consider the mercy of God, they are incited to hope. For they trust that God will be favorable to them because of Christ, and so they begin to love Him as the fountain of all justice. And after this, they are moved against sins by a certain hatred and detestation, that is, by that repentance which must occur before Baptism. And finally, they resolve to receive Baptism, to begin a new life, and to keep the divine commandments.” [Trent, Justification, Chapter VI].

Council of Trent: “For, through Baptism, clothed in Christ, we are thereby made into an entirely new creature, obtaining a full and integral remission of all sins.” [Trent, Penance, Chapter II].

Baptism, by its very nature, is a turning away from a sinful life, to a life of grace. The willing reception of Baptism, by an adult, necessarily forgives all sins because it necessarily includes at least imperfect contrition for past sins. An adult who is not repentant from past sins, with at least imperfect contrition, does not validly receive the Sacrament of Baptism. And a subsequent attempted Confession, in such a case, would also not be valid, since Confession is only valid after the valid reception of Baptism.

Therefore, after an adult has validly received the Sacrament of Baptism, he need not confess any sins committed prior to Baptism, whether mortal or venial. Baptism forgives all sin and all punishment due for sin. And in fact, no priest can forgive any sin, mortal or venial, by the power of the keys of the Church in the Confessional, if that sin was committed prior to Baptism. Confession only gives the priest the ability to forgive the sins of a contrite penitent when those sins were committed after Baptism. The confessor cannot forgive the sins of an unbaptized person, nor any sins of a baptized person committed prior to Baptism.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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1 Response to Adult Baptism and Actual Mortal Sin

  1. Bob says:

    I agree. Baptism cleanses us from all sin.
    My Father- in- Law at 68 years and a few weeks before his death deceided o become a Catholic – He was baptized, went to confession and then received the holy Communion. GREAT PRIEST. HIS DEATH WAS SOMETHING I WILL NEVER FORGET. Wow!!! What joy and peace!!!!!!!!!!

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