Why is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit an unforgivable sin? Are not all sins forgivable?

The gospels clearly attest that our Lord came to forgive our sins and all sins.  When the angel of the Lord appeared to St. Joseph in a dream to inform him of Mary’s conception by the power of the Holy Spirit, he said, “…You are to name him Jesus because He will save His people from their sins” (Luke 1:21).  We easily call to mind powerful stories of Jesus reconciling sinners, such as the Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery.  Oftentimes His miracles of curing a physical ailment were preceded by the spiritual cure of forgiveness, such as the story of the paralytic man.  We also remember the parables of the Prodigal Son or the Merciless Official, which exhort us to forgive as well as to seek forgiveness.  Our Lord was accused of being a friend of sinners and tax collectors.  Even from the cross our Lord said, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  Finally, on the night of the resurrection, Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound” (John 20:23), clearly establishing the Sacrament of Penance and indicating the Holy Spirit’s role in channeling God’s forgiveness.

Therefore, we do believe that our Lord forgives any sin if we are truly sorry for that sin, repent of that sin, confess it, and make a firm amendment to strive not to commit that sin again.  The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Vatican II stated, “Those who approach the Sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from the mercy of God for their offenses committed against Him.  They are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church whom they have wounded by their sin…” (#11).

So what about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as an unforgivable sin?  First, remember what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit.  He identified the Holy Spirit as “the Paraclete,” meaning advocate, comforter, and guide, who instructs us and reminds us of all that our Lord taught.  The Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of Truth, God’s eternal, immutable truth to which we pattern our own lives.  (Confer John 14:16-27; 16:7-14.)

As Paraclete and Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit conveys the grace to enlighten our consciences to judge what is right versus what is wrong, and strengthens our wills to do good and avoid evil.  The Holy Spirit also moves us to examine the conscience, and reflect and what we have done or what we have failed to do.  In this task, the Holy Spirit also moves us to conversion, helping us to recognize when we have turned away from the Lord through sin, and moving us to turn back to Him with a contrite and humble heart.  Through the Holy Spirit, forgiveness is conveyed, and the truth and love of the Lord is restored in our souls.  Pope John Paul II captured this spiritual dynamic well:  “The hidden giver of this saving power is the Holy Spirit:  He, whom the Church calls ‘the light of consciences,’ penetrates and fills the depths of the human heart.  Through just such a conversion in the Holy Spirit a person becomes open to forgiveness, to the remission of sins” (Dominum et Vivificantem, #45).

To blaspheme the Holy Spirit, according to our Holy Father, “does not properly consist in offending against the Holy Spirit in words; it consists rather in the refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to man through the Holy Spirit, working through the power of the cross” (#46).  Such blasphemy is to reject the Holy Spirit, to refuse radically to recognize sin and repent of it, and to block the healing and forgiveness offered by the Lord.  So the sin is not unforgivable because of its seriousness, but because the sinner lacks the proper disposition to seek forgiveness and thereby to be forgiven.  As St. Thomas Aquinas said, “…It excludes the elements through which the forgiveness of sin takes place.”  How can the Lord forgive us and reconcile us to a sharing in His life if we refuse to recognize the sin as a sin and to say, “Please forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned against you and my neighbor”?  This “hardness of heart” leads to a sustained and firm rejection of the love and mercy of God, which in turn leads to damnation.