Blasphemy Against the Spirit?

Our Gospel gives us an opportunity to address one of the more confusing passages in Scripture: “‘Amen, I say to you, all sins and blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.’ For they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’” (Mark 3:28–30). We must keep in mind that Our Lord means what He says and He does not contradict Himself. We have to wrestle with the hard sayings, and every difficulty in Scripture can be solved, even if we do not yet have the tools to do so.

So, what is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? St. Thomas Aquinas, a Doctor of the Church, summarizes the issue neatly. In his Summa Theologiae (II-II, q. 14), he mentions the interpretations of Sts. Athanasius, Hilary, Ambrose, Jerome, John Chrysostom, and Augustine, holy Fathers of the Church.

All but St. Augustine interpret blasphemy against the Spirit as literally speaking a blasphemy against the Third Person of the Trinity, namely by attributing His work to Satan. This is what the Jews did in our Gospel. Jesus had been performing miracles by His own power, glorifying God, but the Jews called Him possessed, saying that He was casting out demons by Satan’s power. In reality, Jesus performed miracles by the power of the Spirit. But the Jews said that the Spirit’s work was Satan’s work, gravely offending God.

St. Augustine interpreted blasphemy against the Spirit as final impenitence, which is the refusal to accept the mercy of God. According to Aquinas, this can happen through despair or presumption. In despair, we think ourselves unworthy of God’s mercy and resign ourselves to Hell, never daring to ask forgiveness for our shameful sins. In presumption, we think ourselves too good for God’s mercy, never stooping to ask forgiveness because we think we are perfect. Either way the result is the same: a direct offense against God’s mercy or justice, and death in the state of unrepented mortal sin.

These interpretations are not mutually exclusive, but St. John Paul II emphasizes Augustine’s interpretation in his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Dives in Misericordia (part II, section 6). There he describes the “unforgivable sin” as unforgivable by its very nature, since it rejects the salvation offered to us through the Holy Spirit.

Whether we side with either or both interpretations, this shouldn’t be an issue for most of us. Chances are that if we are reading this, we are in the habit of turning to God for His mercy and confessing our sins in the confessional. However, it is always good to be on our guard against despair, presumption, and calling God’s good work evil. It can be easy sometimes to think that we are either too far gone or too good for God’s forgiveness.

(On his feast day, I’d also like to recommend St. Francis de Sales, another Doctor of the Church. His Introduction to the Devout Life is incredibly practical, and his section on ordinary temptations (part 4) is especially helpful.)

Contact the author

David Dashiell is a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader based in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. His writing has been featured in Crisis Magazine and The Imaginative Conservative, and his editing is done for a variety of publishers, such as Sophia Institute and Scepter. He can be reached at

Feature Image Credit: Laura Tapias,