How profoundly charitable is the advice of St. Francis of Sales to prohibit our “advertising” the sins of others, adding spicy details, and enjoying discussing them publicly, instead of earnestly seeking excuses that may shed a milder light not on the sin but on the sinner. Moreover, if someone tells us confidentially about his or her moral aberrations, it would indeed be a very grave sin to share this information with others. It is a serious sin called defamation differing from slander which spreads lies, and also fully deserves to be severely censured. In fact both are cousin sins: in one case we spread lies; in the other we spread sad facts which most people need not, should not know. Both are serious offenses against charity.
The sins and faults of others should never be a topic of conversation; alas, some people major in it: it is entertaining, it is a superb topic for cynics who enjoy proclaiming that between virtue and vice, there is only a very minor difference. As a French cynic remarked: conversion easily languishes when the guests run out of things to criticize.
How many of us need beat their breast in this domain? How deeply meaningful that St. Teresa of Avila writes in her biography that “the absent” were safe when she was present at a conversation.
Granted that “charity” toward sin can never be justified, one’s attitude toward sinners should be radically different. Sin is the arch enemy of the sinner; let me repeat: the practice of homosexuality is the cancer menacing some potentially very beautiful friendships between either two men or two women. Let us recall the beautiful words of St. Augustine bound by a deep affection with Nebridius and the moving words he uses referring to his friend’s death.
The Bishop of Hippo gave us a golden key that we should always carry with us; Interficere errorem; diligere errantem. (kill the error; love the erring person). How many great sinners became great saints. Let us recall Mary Magdalena who had been possessed by seven demons, and when converted, followed Christ to Golgotha. She was the one who first received the glorious news of Christ’s resurrection.
Detestable as the sinner’s sin might be, we should hope that his intentions were not as bad as they might appear to be. We should refrain from judging him, even though we should mercilessly condemn the sin. St. Augustine is, in fact, formulating the arch Christian principle taught us by the Savior who did not condemn the adulterous woman, but condemned adultery He told her: “sin no more”.
Alas, the history of the world teaches two sad facts; how often have sinners been brutally rejected because of their sin (let us recall the Scarlet Letter), or, and this is rampant today, sins are “not that bad” they might have some positive sides; in fact the practice of sodomy expresses the deep love the two men have for each other.
Our “Brave New World” is definitely sympathetic to “amorality –a child of relativism – this “new Gospel” which is finally authentic “good news”, has liberated us from the horror of Pharisaism. “Fortunately” modern man freed to the taboo of the Dark ages, has “finally” understood the authentic Christian message which is “compassion”. Any radical condemnation of sin is now viewed as a very grave lack of “love for the sinner, redolent of the harshness of the Dark ages”. The Inquisition, Anathema, the Crusades: all rotten fruits of a so-called orthodoxy. Why should adultery be condemned? There are so many reasons that seem to justify it. Moreover, as a French cynic remarked, to limit one’s “love” (meaning sex) to one single people is to deprive others of their right to pursue happiness. Why should people object to gay marriage? Circumstance Ethics has eloquently shown that it all depends upon time, place and circumstances which vary from person to person and from epoch to epoch.
Advertisements such as “sinfully attractive” are gaining currency. Sin is in fact “lovable”. What is to be thrown into the deepest pits of hell (if there is one) is pharisaic behavior. Puritanism is the sin par excellence, and is responsible for many grave psychological problems.
This is the framework in which we shall address a baffling question: the disappointment we should experience when people that we look up to, love and admire, do or say things which conflict with their previous views. Unfortunately these cases are not infrequent and are troubling. How can one and the same person make contributions of great depth and value, and all of a sudden, communicate gravely misleading messages.
As I said, it does happen. In the framework of this brief article, I shall limit myself to very few. But it might be valuable to dedicate a whole book to this topic. No one can deny that Origen was a great and noble thinker whose message has been enriching and beautiful. Yet, he has been accused of erring in making statements which seem to indicate that he believed in universal salvation: that is, at the end of time, Christ will victoriously guarantee the salvation of all men. This is being echoed today in several noble and famous Catholic thinkers. Jacques Maritain wrote an article published posthumously in which he suggests that, once again, at the end of time, all men, all devils will be freed from hell, thanks to the love and merits of Christ. One by one, they will be drawn out of this place of hatred and despair, and be accepted in Limbo – the place where unbaptized children are now to be found. Lucifer will be the last one to be pulled out…but the physical fire of hell will continue to burn forever, even though hell will now be empty. Any economist would object to the amazing waste of fuel!
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Be it remarked that Maritain – a most faithful son of the Church – does not say that it will be so, but only that He who can change bread into his body at the words of consecration, could also by means of a miracle change the will of those who are condemned by their own sins. (Idees Eschatologiques, p. 26. Published dans Approches sans entraves). Hans Urs von Balthasar has been similarly interpreted by some in his book: Dare We Hope That All Men Will Be Saved? In this context, two things should be mentioned: there is a fundamental difference by making suggestions which can be seriously questioned for not being in conformity with the traditional teaching of the Church, and making a claim that a position is true, even though in disagreement with the Magisterium. This applies to the two thinkers I have just mentioned. They would definitely submit to the Church’s judgment. One of the many great blessings of Catholicism is that it has a magisterium - blessed by infallibility.
Another great mind to whom we are very indebted is Tertullian. Alas, he too at the end of his life was accused to falling into Montanism.
No human mind, great and noble as it is infallible. Humility is the greatest protection against error. Great thinkers should, like St. Augustine, write a retractions.
Worth mentioning is a remarkable spiritual writer, Karl Adam who, in 1924 wrote a book: The Spirit of Catholicism which was immediately praised as a Catholic classic. I believe it never was out of print. But to Dietrich von Hildebrand’s profound grief he was told that, shortly after Hitler came to power in l933, Karl Adam referring to the traditional claim of the Church that grace does not destroy nature, but presupposes it (Gratia supponit naturam), he is supposed to have added the word: NATURAM GERMANICAM. Such aberrations call for tears. How is it possible that such a noble and orthodox thinker can all of sudden, after the ascension of a criminal to the Chancellorship of Germany, seem to endorse his anti- Christian racism? I do not have an answer to that question, but it should be a concern for all “intellectuals”, who, possibly because of their reputation and the accolade they keep receiving, suddenly forget that humility is the golden key indispensable when addressing supernatural question or any “sensitive” question for that matter. Whereas this most unfortunate formulation should grieve us and be rejected, this does not allow us to forget the beauty of the message he has transmitted us in his previous work.
A similar case of the one of Otto von Habsburg, the eldest son of the last the saintly Emperor of Austria. Some ten years again he told a friend of mine who visited him in Rome, that recently he was in Barcelona and upon entering a Church, possibly the Cathedral, he saw “to his great satisfaction” that there were three pictures over the altar: one of the Cross, the second the Star of David, and the third, the Crescent. “This is a hopeful sign for the future” Otto said. Alas, ecumenism easily degenerates into what my husband called “ecumenitis” that is a distorted desire to create a harmony of all religions by viewing each one of them as a segment of the truth: in fact, “we need them all to have the fullness of truth”. This is to sacrifice the word of Christ, “I am the truth” on the altar of wishy- washy relativism.
If such aberrations can take place with good and noble thinkers, what should be said about detestable philosophies and psychologies which have pervaded our colleges and universities? Because of their “brilliance’ or because they were “new” or because they appeal to our fallen nature, have gained currency and formed the mentality of millions of young people, responsible for the confusion dominating the world today. Let us think of the brilliant Nietzsche or of the eloquent Marx, or the clever Darwin, of the seducing Freud…followed by a whole army of disciples. One of the many stupidities one hears in Universities is that ideas can do no harm (except the true ones). Actions alone can be dangerous. But such claim has no basis in history; there is no revolution that had not been preceded by vicious philosophies. Let me just mention Communism, and Nazism that have done a tremendous amount of harm by cleverly injecting poison into schools and universities. The intellectual confusion prevailing today is the fruit of their “evil efficiency”. Anyone wishing to destroy a society only need aim at destroying the family and education. Once this is done, these evil doers can “rest”.