“It was Pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” – St. Augustine
“Pride is the queen of sin. St. Gregory the Great warns us: “For when pride, the queen of sins, has fully possessed a conquered heart, she surrenders it immediately to seven principal sins, as if to some of her generals, to lay it waste” (Moralia 87). Yet what are these seven principal sins that pride invites into the conquered heart? They are, according to Gregory, “vainglory, envy, anger, melancholy, avarice, gluttony, [and] lust.” They are the “first progeny” of pride, the offshoots of its “poisonous root.” As both Gregory and St. Thomas Aquinas note, Scripture teaches: “For pride is the beginning of all sin” (Sir. 10:15, DRA).
Pride hands the conquered heart over to her capital vices, and, as Gregory explains, each capital vice is like a general that leads an army of sins into the soul. For example, if anger is allowed to enter the soul, then it brings with it “strifes, swelling of mind, insults, clamor, indignation, blasphemies” (Moralia 88). Similarly, if avarice or greed overcomes the soul, it brings with it “treachery, fraud, deceit, perjury, restlessness, violence, and hardness of heart against compassion.” Aquinas, commenting on Gregory, explains that this is why they are called the capital sins, because capital comes from the Latin caput, meaning “head,” and the capital sins are the “head” or leaders of a host of sins (ST. I-II.84.3). The Catechism, citing Gregory, explains: “They are called ‘capital’ because they engender other sins, other vices” (1866). They are the leaders of sin in that “when they reach the heart, they bring, as it were, the bands of an army after them” (Moralia 88).
What is it about pride, the queen of sin, that opens the heart to so many other sins? Aquinas, citing St. Isidore, teaches: “A man is said to be proud, because he wishes to appear above what he really is” (II-II.162.1). Aquinas comments that a man who uses his reason rightly acts “proportionate to him,” but pride causes a man to have a disproportionate understanding of who he truly is. Therefore, the self-understanding of the prideful man is contrary to his reason and sinful (CCC 1849). It is here we may start to see how pride opens the soul to a host of sins. The humble man will seek honors in this life that are proportionate to who he truly is, yet the prideful man, having an irrational self-understanding, will be inclined to fall farther into error by seeking honors that correspond with his misperception (II-II.162.2)—like a wrestler who, believing his skill to be greater than it is, challenges a champion and is soundly defeated.
A misperception of one’s own excellence often leads one into further error. Aquinas notes that another way pride leads us into sin, even if indirectly, is that pride makes us less likely to adhere to God and his rule (II-II.162.2, 6). The prideful man says to God, “I will not serve,” and disregards the moral laws that help lead the soul into virtue (II-II.162.2). Therefore, through a disproportionate self-understanding and a disregard for God and his rule, pride opens the human heart to a host of sin.
Is pride the beginning of all sin? Aquinas, following St. Augustine, makes several key distinctions. He notes that someone could sin not through pride, but through ignorance or simply through weakness (II-II.162.2) Yet, like Gregory, Aquinas quotes Holy Scripture: “for pride is the beginning of all sin” (Sir. 10:15, DRA). How does Aquinas reconcile these two points? He observes that all sin shares in an “aversion from God” (II-II.162.7). All sin makes us turn away from God. Yet although this trait is common to all sin, it is essential to the sin of pride. Here, we may see why Gregory sees pride as the queen of sin, handing a conquered heart over to the capital vices. Pride habituates the heart to an aversion to God, inclining it to sin further. As Aquinas summarizes: “Pride is said to be ‘the beginning of all sin,’ not as though every sin originated from pride, but because any kind of sin is naturally liable to arise from pride” (II-II.162.7, Reply obj. 1).
Is pride, the queen of sin, considered one of the seven capital sins? Aquinas, following Gregory, says no. Aquinas holds that pride is a mortal sin (II-II.162.5). He explains, “The root of pride is found to consist in man not being, in some way, subject to God and His rule,” and “it is evident that not to be subject to God is of its very nature a mortal sin.” It is in fact this unwillingness in man to submit to God and His rule that makes pride “the most grievous of sins” (II-II.162.6). Pride is not, however, a capital sin—no more than a mother could be counted among her own children. Aquinas, following Gregory, states that pride is typically not listed as a capital vice, as she is the “queen and mother of all the vices” (II-II.162.8). Aquinas and Gregory make a distinction between pride and vainglory, with pride being the cause of vainglory. Aquinas writes, “Pride covets excellence inordinately,” but “vainglory covets the outward show of excellence” (II-II.162.8. Reply Obj. 1). Vainglory is a sign that the heart has already been conquered by pride.
How do we guard our hearts against the queen of sin? Aquinas recalls: “Never suffer pride to reign in thy mind, or in thy words: for from it all perdition took its beginning” (Tob. 4:14, DRA). Our Catechism reminds us that formation in virtue, especially as children, “prevents or cures . . . selfishness and pride” (1784). Above all, let us cultivate the virtue of humility, the virtue contrary to pride. If pride tempts us to have an inordinate understanding of our own excellence, then may humility lead us to an understanding of who we are under the cross of Christ (Rom. 5:8). If pride, the most grievous of sins, leads us to rebel against God and his rule, may humility teach us that the rule of Christ is gentle and brings rest (Matt. 11:28-30).
Let us combat the queen of sin and, by doing so, save our souls from her armies of sin.”
-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.
“In John Calvin’s magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, he presents a view of man that is very much like Luther’s but contrary to what we find in the pages of Sacred Scripture. Calvin used texts such as Genesis 6:5—“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”—and Romans 3:10ff—“None is righteous, no not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one ”—to prove that man is utterly depraved through the fall of Adam and Eve.
Calvin’s conclusion from these texts and others was to say, “The will is so utterly vitiated and corrupted in every part as to produce nothing but evil” (Institutes, bk. II, ch. II, para. 26).
What say we?
The context of the texts Calvin used actually demonstrates the opposite of his claim. For example, if we read forward just four verses in Genesis 6, we find: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. . . . Noah was a righteous [“just”] man, blameless in his generation” (Gen. 6:8-9). While we Catholics agree that God’s grace or “favor” was essential for Noah to be truly “just” before God, nevertheless Noah was truly just, according to the text.
As far as the quote from Romans is concerned, the greater context of the entire epistle must be understood. One of the central themes of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is the fact that it is through “the goodness of God” that we are led to repent (cf. Romans 2:4), to be justified (Romans 5:1-2), and persevere in the faith (cf. Romans 11:22). It is solely because of God’s grace that we become truly just:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God (Rom. 5:1-2).
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death . . . in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:2,4).
Notice the emphasis on the fact that man is made truly just so much so that he can fulfill “the just requirement of the law.” It doesn’t get any more just, or righteous, than that!
Thus, Romans 3:10ff simply does not teach total depravity in a Calvinist sense. It cannot when the context is understood.
Moreover, if we examine the verses where St. Paul paints his picture of the wicked who have “turned aside” and “done wrong,” we find he actually quotes Psalm 14:3. The next two verses of this Psalm explain who these “evil ones” are:
Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord? There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.
The Psalmist clearly refers to both evildoers and the righteous.
These and other passages from Romans tell us that Christ came to make us just, not that there are absolutely none who are just. We must stress again that it is because of the justice of Christ communicated to the faithful that their actions and, indeed, they themselves are truly made just. But they indeed are truly made just.
Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right (Gr., ho poion tein dikaiousunein/ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην—“the one doing justice”) is righteous (Gr., dikaios estin/δίκαιός ἐστιν—“is just”) as He is righteous (Gr., kathos ekeinos dikaios estin/καθὼς ἐκεῖνος δίκαιός ἐστιν—“as He is just”). -1 Jn 3:7
Scripture couldn’t be clearer that the faithful are made truly just in their being and in their actions through the grace of Christ.
The problem magnified
More grave problems arise when we begin to follow the path Calvin lays for us with his first principle. Even when considering the unregenerate, Calvin is wrong about total depravity, because Scripture tells us even those outside of the law can “do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:14-15).
Though Catholics agree with Calvinists that grace is necessary even for those who are ignorant of the law in order for them to be just before God—in other words, this text is not saying these pagans can be justified apart from grace—the text does infer that nature is not totally depraved, because man can clearly act justly on a natural level and by nature.
But an even more grave error comes to the fore when we consider his notion of the depravity of the just.
“Depravity of the just?” Yes. That was not a typo. According to John Calvin, even those who have been justified by Christ “cannot perform one work which, if judged on its own merits, is not deserving of condemnation” (Institutes, bk. III, ch. 9, para. 9). What a far cry this is from “he that acts justly is just” (I John 3:7) or the plain words of the Psalmist, who uses similar words as found in Genesis with regard to Abraham being justified by faith: “[Abraham] believed the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). In the Psalms we read: “Then Phineas stood up and interposed, and the plague was stayed. And that has been reckoned to him as righteousness from generation to generation” (Ps. 106:30-31).
Clearly, Phineas was justified by his works and not only by faith. In other words, Phineas’s works are truly “just as he is just,” to use the words of I John 3:7.
There are a multitude of biblical texts that come to mind at this point, but here are only three:
“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned”? (Matt. 12:37).
“By works a man is justified and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24).
“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:13-14).
These texts do not even come close to saying all of these works were “worthy of condemnation.” They say just the opposite!
We should be clear here: All “good works” man performs that contribute to his salvation are first and foremost God’s gifts, which, along with his cooperation, truly make him just and worthy to “walk with [Christ] in white; for [he is] worthy” (Rev. 3:4) by God’s grace and mercy. But we cannot escape the biblical fact that these works are truly just and they are truly the fruit of the just man himself.
Understanding the strange
When John Calvin says man is utterly dependent upon God for every single just thought in his mind (cf. Institutes, bk. II, ch. II, para. 27), Catholics will happily agree. And they would be correct: We do agree. However, appearances can be deceiving, because there is meaning beneath those words that Catholics cannot agree with.
With Calvin, there is no sense of grace aiding and empowering our wills as St. Augustine taught and the Catholic Church teaches. For Calvin, being “dependent upon God” means our free cooperation or free will has no part to play. God does not merely empower our wills; He operates them.
In the end, this may well be the most disturbing idea stemming from Calvin’s notion of total depravity: Man is essentially God’s puppet, a notion that led to Calvin attributing both the good and the evil actions of man to God.
And mind you, Calvin rejects and ridicules the Catholic notion of God merely permitting evil and working all things together for good. In his words:
Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting, because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that He directs their malice to whatever end He pleases” (Institutes, bk. I, ch. XVIII, para. 1).
Evildoers do not commit acts of depravity in spite of the command of God, but because of the command of God, according to Calvin (ibid., para. 4)!
Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6 are used to teach that there is no evil that occurs that is not “impelled” by God’s positive command (ibid., para. 2).
God is the author of all those things that, according to these objectors, happen only by his inactive permission. He testifies that he creates light and darkness, forms good and evil (Is. [45:7]); that no evil happens which he hath not done (Amos [3:6]) (ibid., para. 3).
As Catholics we understand, as St. Paul teaches, “[S]ince they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct” (Rom. 1:28). This means God may well remove grace that is rejected. He may also hold back grace as well, but this is, as St. Augustine said, God’s “just judgment.”
But according to Calvin’s unbiblical teaching, God does not give grace in the first place and then “impels” men to act sinfully. As quoted above, according to Calvin, God causes evil. And we are not talking about physical evil here; we are talking about moral evil. That is categorically absurd! God cannot “do” or “impel” moral evil because He is infinitely and absolutely good.
God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:8, Numbers 23:19); “He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13) or act contrary to His nature. If God’s nature is one of love and pure being, it is absurd to say that He can “do” evil, which is by nature a lack of some perfection that ought to be present in a given nature. In fact, James 1:13 tells us that God not only cannot cause this kind of evil, He cannot even tempt anyone with evil. That is contrary to His nature.
The bottom line
When Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6 say God “creates evil” and “does evil,” this must be seen only in a sense in which it does not contradict God’s nature and what is clearly revealed to us about God in Scripture. God can directly cause physical evil, such as the ten plagues he released against Egypt in Exodus. But this was an act of justice, which was morally upright and justified.
We can also say that God permits evil in view of the fact that He chose to create us with freedom. But even there, God permits evil only in view of His promise to bring good out of that evil, as is most profoundly demonstrated through the greatest evil in the history of the world: the Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through this greatest evil God brings about the greatest good: the redemption of the world. God did not kill Christ, nor did he “impel” anyone to kill Christ.
But by virtue of His Omnipotence, He brings good out of the evil acts committed.”
(Ed. I have always wished the Catholic Church would give a numerical 1-10 score to it’s teachings so that there might be some indication for each particular teaching how important it is. Of course, humans being humans, controversy and acrimonious debate would immediately ensue amongst faithful Catholic theologians, let alone everybody else. It would still help knuckle-draggers like me.)
“There is an idea among some Protestants that all sin is equal. Although tacitly recognizing that certain sinful actions are morally worse than others, they seem to get hung up on the idea that any sin is imperfection and any imperfection will keep someone out of heaven (this is why Jesus—who is perfect—must stand in our place). If this is the case, then any sin will send someone to hell, so any distinctions in gravity among sins is pointless. Therefore, all sin is equal. Sometimes they will quote St. James, who writes, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” ( James 2:10).
Now, common sense tells us otherwise. A Hyundai and a Lamborghini are both cars, but they are clearly not equal! All broken laws are broken laws, and anyone who breaks the law is a lawbreaker no matter which law he broke. That does not, however, mean that there is no hierarchy within the law. Indeed, it seems evident from numerous passages of Scripture that various sins can result in varying levels of punishment. Jesus tells the Pharisees that they will receive a greater condemnation for their actions (Mark 12:40). He tells his disciples that anyone who will not listen to what they say will be judged more harshly than Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt. 10:14–15). James warns teachers that they will be judged more severely than others ( James 3:1). St. Peter says that for those who have come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ but then again defile themselves with the world, it would have been better if they had never known the way of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:20–22). John records Jesus saying that Judas has a greater sin than Pilate ( John 19:11).
We perceive a similar hierarchy when it comes to good works. Several times in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that certain actions will lead to greater rewards (e.g., Matt. 5:11–12, 6:1–6, 16–20). How is it that these greater rewards are gained? Jesus said it’s according to what people do (Matt. 16:27). This concept is illustrated in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–30) and repeated by Paul in Romans 2:5–6: “He will render to every man according to his works.” Paul also distinguishes between the reward received by those whose good works endure and those whose do not: “If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved” (1 Cor. 3:14–15; cf. Rev. 20:12).
But although many Protestants typically shy away from assigning salvation-merit to good works or damnation- judgment to evil works, many agree there is indication that these very things are taught in Scripture. Evangelical apologist Norman Geisler, for example, lists degrees of happiness in heaven and punishment in hell as an area of agreement between Catholics and Evangelical Protestants: “As to the degree of punishment, Roman Catholicism holds that ‘The punishment of the damned is proportioned to each one’s guilt.’ Augustine taught that, ‘in their wretchedness, the lot of some of the damned will be more tolerable than that of others.’ Just as there are levels of blessedness in heaven, there are degrees of wretchedness in hell.”80
In Principle Protestants Agree: Moral common sense and Scripture teach that not all sins are equivalent.
In Particular Catholicism Affirms: Sins are not equivalent— either in seriousness or their effects on salvation.”
“Like Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas directly addresses the Neoplatonic theory of a hierarchy of virtues. The theory makes an appearance in the Summa Theologiae, where Aquinas, like Bonaventure in the Collations, does not attribute the theory to Porphyry but to Macrobius.40 The fifth article of question 61 (Iallae) asks: “Are the cardinal virtues appropriately divided into political, purifying, purified, and exemplar virtues?”41
After citing some Aristotelian (and one Ciceronian) objections that seem to arise from Macrobius’s account of virtue, Aquinas allows Macrobius to cite his own authority, whom Aquinas has no reason to doubt is “Plotinus, along with Plato.” To mediate this dispute, Aquinas appeals to Augustine, who says, “the soul must follow something so that virtue can be born in it; and this something is God, and if we follow Him we shall live a moral life.”42 From this, Aquinas concludes:
“…the exemplar of human virtue must pre-exist in God, just as the exemplars of all things pre-exist in Him. In this way, therefore, virtue can be considered as existing in its highest exemplification in God, and in this fashion we speak of exemplar virtues. Thus the divine mind in God can be called prudence, while temperance is the turning of the divine attention to Himself.. The fortitude of God is His immutability, while God’s justice is the observance of the eternal law in His works.”43
Aquinas’s discussion here recalls the words of Porphyry, cited above, concerning the exemplar virtues: “wisdom is nous cognizing; self-attention, temperance; peculiar function [justice], proper action. Valor is sameness, and a remaining pure of self-dependence, through abundance of power.”
Aquinas’s words are surprising because up until this point in the Summa, he has been speaking of virtue primarily in the political sense; “man is a political animal by nature,” and “manz comports himself rightly in human affairs by these [political] virtues.”44 But Aquinas acknowledges the philosophical necessity of understanding the political virtues as having their origin in higher virtues. Thus, in answer to the objection that Aristotle says it is inappropriate to attribute the virtues to God (NE, X, 8, 1178b 10), Aquinas answers that Aristotle must be speaking of the political virtues 45—for surely we would not want to deny to God any excellence of activity. And again, to the objection that the virtues concern the regulation of passions, and so could not exist if the soul was completely purified of passions, Aquinas says this is only true of the political virtues. Beatified souls, however, are without the passions of wayfaring souls; it is these souls which achieve the purer virtues. 46
To the objection that the purifying virtues cannot be virtues since they involve “flight from human affairs,” Aquinas agrees that “to neglect human affairs when they require attending to is wrong.” But otherwise such flight is virtuous. 47 Here, Aquinas appeals to Augustine, who says: “The love of truth needs a sacred leisure; the force of love demands just deeds. If no one places a burden upon us, then we are free to know and contemplate truth; but if such a burden is put upon us, we must accept it because of the demands of charity.”48
The purifying virtues, commonly called the contemplative virtues, are the virtues of “those who are on the way and tending toward a likeness of what is divine.” In agreement with Porphyry’s description of these virtues is Aquinas’:
Thus prudence, by contemplating divine things, counts all worldly things as nothing and directs all thought of the soul only to what is divine; temperance puts aside the customary needs of the body so far as nature permits; fortitude prevents the soul from being afraid of withdrawing from bodily needs and rising to heavenly things; and justice brings the whole soul’s accord to such a way of life.49
Above these are the “purified” virtues. Porphyry would attribute them only to the gods (all those other than the “father of the gods”), that is, to immaterial souls; Aquinas, in keeping with this, attributes these virtues to the souls of men who have been beatified— and even, it seems, to saints in this life:
“…prudence now sees only divine things, temperance knows no earthly desires, fortitude is oblivious to the passions, and justice is united with the divine mind in an everlasting bond, by imitating it.“50
40 Albertus Magnus also mentions this Neoplatonic theory, attributing it to Plotinus (Albertus Magnus, Super Ethica Commentum et Quaestiones 2.2; 4:12; 5.3; 7.11).
41 ST1-2.61.5: “Utrum virtutes cardinales convenienter dividantur in virtutes politicas, purgatorias, purgati animi, et exemplares.”
42 Ibid., corpus: “Respondeo dicendum quod, sicut Augustinus dicit in libro de Moribus Eccles., oportet quod anima aliquid sequatur, ad hoc quod ei possit virtus innasci: et hoc Deus est, quern si sequimur, bene vivimus.” The citation of Augustine is from De Moribus Ecclesiae Catholicae 1.6.
43 ST1-2.61.5, corpus: “.exemplar humanae virtutis in Deo praeexistat, sicut et in eo praeexistunt omnium rerum rationes. Sic igitur virtus potest considerari vel prout est exemplariter in Deo, et sic dicuntur virtutes ‘exemplares’. Ita scilicet quod ipsa divina mens in Deo dicatur prudentia; temperantia vero, conversio divinae intentionis ad seipsum…; fortitude autem Dei est eius immutabilitas; iustitia vero Dei est observatio legis aeternae in suis operibus, sicut Plotinus dixit.” Cf. Quaestiones de Virtutibus Cardinalibus 1.4 (“Utrum virtutes cardinales maneant in patria”): “.fortitude divina est eius immobilitas; temperentia erit conversio mentis divinae ad seipsam; prudentia autem est ipsa mens divina; iustitia autem Dei ipsa lex eius perennis.”
44 ST1-2.61.5, corpus: “Et quia homo secundum suam naturam est animal politicum, virtutes huiusmodi, prout in homine existunt secundum conditionem suae naturae, politicae vocantur: prout scilicet homo secundum has virtutes recte se habet in rebus humanis gerendis. Secundum quern modum hactenus de his virtutibus locuti sumus.” Cf. 1-2.61.1, corpus: “.dicendum quod, cum simpliciter de virtute loquimur, intelligimur loqui de virtute humana.”
45 ST1-2.61.5, ad. 1: “.dicendum quod Philosophus loquitur de his virtutibus secundum quod sunt circa res humanas: puta iustitia circa emptiones et venditiones, fortitude circa timores, temperantia circa concupiscentias. Sic enim ridiculum est eas Deo attribuere.”
46 Ibid., ad. 2: “dicendum quod virtutes humanae sunt circa passiones, scilicet virtutes hominum in hoc mundo conversantium. Sed virtutes eorum qui plenam beatitudenem assequuntur, sunt absque passionibus.” Cf. Quaestiones de Virtutibus Cardinalibus 1.4: “Dicendum, quod in patria manent virtutes cardinales, et habebunt ibi alios actus quam hie.”
47 ST1-2.61.5, ad 3: “.dicendum quod deserere res humanas ubi necessitas imponitur, vitiosum est: alias est virtuosum.”
48 Augustine’s words are from De Civitate Dei 19.19.
49 ST1-2.61.5, corpus: “.quaedam sunt virtutes transeuntium et in divinam similitudinem tendentium: et hae vocantur virtutes purgatoriae. Ita scilicet quod prudentia omnia mundana divinorum contemplatione despiciat, omnemque animae cogitationem in divina sola diregat; temperantia vero relinquat, inquantum natura patitur, quae corporis usus requirit; fortitudinis autem est ut anima non terreatur propter excessum a corpore, et accessum ad superna; iustitia vero est ut tota anima consentiat ad huius propositi viam.”
50 Ibid.: “Quaedam vero sunt virtutes iam assequentium divinam similitudinem: quae vocantur virtutes iam purgati animi. Ita scilicet quod prudentia sola divina intueatur; temperantia terrenas cupiditates nesciat; fortitude passiones ignoret; iustitia cum divina mente perpetua foedere societur, earn scilicet imitando. Quas quidem virtutes dicimus esse beatorum vel aliquorum in hac vita perfectissimorum.” Cf. De Virtutibus Cardinalibus 1.4, ad. 7: “dicendum, quod virtutes purgati animi, quas Plotinus definiebat, possunt convenire beads nam prudentiae ibi est sola divina intueri; temperantiae, cupiditates oblivisci fortitudinis, passiones ignorare; iustitiae, perpetuum foedus cum Deo habere.’ Mark Jordan has suggested that in ST 1-2.67.1, Aquinas says that both the purifying and the purified virtues remain in patria (Jordan 1993, 239). In fact, in that question Aquinas says that in patria the “formal” element of the moral virtues remains without the “material” element, and Aquinas’ description of what these virtues are like is consistent with the position articulated in ST 12.61.5, that only purified virtues are had in patria.
Christ’s sacrifice in no way is lacking. The Lord, in His glorious mercy, permits, gifts, provides the grace to participate with Him, albeit unnecessary in the strictest sense, to join His redemption of ourselves/others. Catholicism has a very “group” view, as opposed to an individualistic view. Catholics do not interpret the Holy Scriptures definitively themselves. The Church does and always has done so, which it is incumbent upon the faithful to assent as part of being Catholic. The entirety of Scripture definitively being defined about the 4th century AD.
The money allusions are a poor one, but the closest to the definition we have, and in so using, takes on the negative inferences of the limping analogy. We must imitate the Master in EVERY way!!! Praise Him.
NO ONE is counting!!!! We trust in the promises of the Lord. But, it gives the Catholic a salutory meaning to suffering, either for their own need or that of others, communal Treasury of Merit. It belongs to all of us. The value of suffering is never meaningless, pointless, or wasted.
-millstones, please click on the image for greater detail
In the Septuagint, the Hebrew Scriptures translated into Greek, the Hebrew מִכְשֹׁל, miḵšōl is translated into Koine Greek skandalon (σκανδαλον), a word which occurs only in Hellenistic literature, in the sense “snare for an enemy; cause of moral stumbling”. In the Septuagint Psalms 140:9 a stumbling block means anything that leads to sin.
“Scandal” is discussed by Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica. In the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is discussed under the fifth commandment (Thou shalt not kill) section “Respect for the Dignity of Persons”.
Active scandal is performed by a person; passive scandal is the reaction of a person to active scandal (“scandal given” or in Latin scandalum datum), or to acts which, because of the viewer’s ignorance, weakness, or malice, are regarded as scandalous (“scandal received” or in Latin scandalum acceptum).
In order to qualify as scandalous, the behavior must, in itself, be evil or give the appearance of evil. To do a good act or an indifferent act, even knowing that it will inspire others to sin — as when a student studies diligently to do well, knowing it will cause envy — is not scandalous. Again, to ask someone to commit perjury is scandalous, but for a judge to require witnesses to give an oath even when he knows the witness is likely to commit perjury is not scandalous. It does not require that the other person actually commit sin; to be scandalous, it suffices that the act is of a nature to lead someone to sin. Scandal is performed with the intention of inducing someone to sin. Urging someone to commit a sin is therefore active scandal. In the case where the person urging the sin is aware of its nature and the person he is urging is ignorant, the sins committed are the fault of the person who urged them. Scandal is also performed when someone performs an evil act, or an act that appears to be evil, knowing that it will lead others into sin. (In case of an apparently evil act, a sufficient reason for the act despite the faults it will cause negates the scandal.) Scandal may also be incurred when an innocent act may be an occasion of sin to the weak, but such acts should not be foregone if the goods at stake are of importance.
“Our words and actions must be building blocks for other people’s faith—not stumbling blocks that trip them into hell.
Lately, we’ve had many occasions to think about the sin of scandal. Whether certain high-profile Catholics and members of the hierarchy have truly been guilty of scandal or whether the media have just been taking reports out of context depends on each case; nonetheless, a lot of the faithful are suffering from it.
Although the word scandal is derived from the Greek skandalon (a trap or snare laid for an enemy), we’re used to it being used to describe salacious tabloid stories. But the sin of scandal has a different and more precise meaning. So what exactly is scandal?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines scandal (CCC 2284) as “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death.” Our Lord militates against scandal, and even ties a curse to those who promote it: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt 18:6).
The Catechism explains that scandal is greater according to the authority of the one scandalizing. It is one thing for a four-year-old to say, “Jesus isn’t the Son of God,” but it would be another thing entirely for a bishop to say this. Because of the authority of the episcopate, the bishop can influence more people more effectively, increasing the gravity of the harm done to those who hear him. If the faithful (or unfaithful) believe him, they move away from Jesus Christ and the salvation he offers us.
This example displays a second, closely related element of scandal: it increases when the speaker has a duty to teach the truth. Since people trust their bishops to teach them the true Catholic faith, their errors are particularly harmful. Even when the faithful don’t believe it, the above statement is still scandalous. The faithful feel betrayed by their shepherd, who should be witnessing to Christ’s truth. This can cause a mistrust of the hierarchy and a disrespect for the priesthood.
The Catechism names two more factors that can increase the gravity of scandal. It becomes more grave when the scandalized person is especially weak or when others are deliberately led into grave sin. Given the poorly formed faith of so many Catholics, this means that today the opportunities for scandal are many. The improperly catechized can easily mistake vice for virtue and be led into sin.
In cases where scandal occurs but is less grave, it may lead to a simple misunderstanding. In the graver cases described above, scandal can encourage a gravely improper view of reality, to the point that a person sees good as evil and evil as good. In the most severe cases, as when a Catholic leader endorses a sinful lifestyle, someone could get the wrong idea about God, the Church, or salvation, causing him to run towards hell while thinking that he is closing in on heaven. This potential is amplified when the listeners are young and impressionable.
Catholic leaders aren’t the only ones with the potential to give scandal. We all have to guard against it, for it can take many forms, usually regardless of our intentions. So it is important that we honestly ask ourselves how we can avoid causing scandal.
We should first realize that scandal can be caused by the truth, too. Although we usually think of scandal in the context of a flagrant lie about the Faith, in fact it can come from any attitude or behavior that leads another to do evil—including the way we present true assertions.
If I had evidence, for example, that certain bishops were the subjects of adulterous affairs, it might not be good to share that true information with certain people, especially if they are not well-formed in the Faith. Such a claim might cause the hearer to doubt the bishops’ legitimate authority as successors to the apostles, or even lead to apostasy. And so we must be attentive to the condition and disposition of those to whom we speak (or witness by our actions). We must also be attentive to speaking the truth in the proper manner to avoid scandal.
For another example of scandal caused by truth, take this situation: perhaps there is a notorious felon who attends a parish, and everyone knows what he’s doing. When confronted by upset parishioners, the pastor replies, “Look, he really loves his family. His many good actions should speak for themselves.” In this case, the pastor’s words may be true, but he scandalizes by omission: he does not denounce the sin. This could easily lead the less knowledgeable to think that the Church condones certain sins.
Of course, there’s a difference between the natural consequences of an action and unintended or even unlikely consequences. In the previous two examples, the speaker unintentionally scandalized through imprudence and omission. However, if we proclaim God’s love to a troubled soul, and he takes that as a catalyst to double down on his despair, we have not given scandal. His sin isn’t caused by our good message, but by his own resistance to that message. There were circumstances that made our efforts powerless.
If we want to avoid scandal, it is not enough to avoid imprudence and omission. We should also steer clear of “hot takes.” In the era of social media, when so many are quick to promote emotional and uncharitable discussion, even well-intentioned Catholics are at risk of causing scandal. It is especially important that we slow down and avoid mere reactions to the torrent of bad news with which we are daily confronted. When we take both our message and our audience into account, we are much less likely to scandalize.
This drives home what is most important: to truly avoid scandal, we must speak the truth in charity, within the proper context. This means charity towards the subject and charity towards our audience. When speaking about a public figure, we should freely speak about his good qualities while carefully addressing his problematic statements. We ought to take care that his dignity is preserved in the process. When we are talking to someone who is quick to be suspicious, we need to make sure that we are not feeding his prejudice. We may need to address that prejudice towards suspicion before sharing what we have heard. In every situation, we should make sure that we are never giving others an excuse to turn away from Christ or his Church.
Perhaps now more than ever, scandal is being caused by those who never intended to mislead. In response, we ought to take seriously our duty to live the Catholic faith with integrity. We must pray unceasingly, frequent the sacrament of confession, and worthily receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Armed with these tools, we are much better prepared to evangelize effectively in the public square and not unwittingly turn souls away from God.”
13 “Part three: Life in Christ / Section two: The Ten Commandments / Chapter two: You shall love your neighbor as yourself / Article 5: The fifth commandment / ii. Respect for the dignity of persons”. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Holy See. 1992. Retrieved 27 May 2016.
14 Vander Heeren 1912, “Divisions”
15 a b c d e f g h i Vander Heeren 1912, “Cases in which the sin of scandal occurs (1)”
16 Vander Heeren 1912, “Cases in which the sin of scandal occurs (3)”
“Indulgences occupy a curious place in the Catholic world. While readily appreciated by some, to many they are simply a peculiar oddity, a relic of a medieval imagination. So, when the Apostolic Penitentiary announced that, due to COVID, it was extending plenary indulgences for November throughout the whole month, unsurprisingly the news didn’t make the morning newspaper splash.
I would certainly count myself among those who have hesitated to find a fitting place for indulgences in the spiritual life. But they are a part of the faith we profess, so there is every reason to try to understand what they’re about and why they matter. A good starting point is to turn to the Apostles’ Creed, and the two articles that form the basis of a theology of indulgences: “I believe in…the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins…”.
To take the latter first, the primary means of forgiving our sins lies in the confessional. But when sins are forgiven, they still leave a trace: an attachment to vice remains even when the life of grace has been renewed. Thus at their simplest, indulgences extend the logic of the Sacrament of Penance, by addressing the residue of sin. Hence the formal definition of an indulgence is the “temporal remission of the penalties due to sin whose guilt has already been forgiven (CCC 1471)”.
Perhaps a helpful analogy would be the physio that follows an operation. If I break my arm in a bicycle accident and do some serious damage, the primary means of healing is the necessary operation that restores functionality to my arm. And although this operation may be sufficient for getting me back on my bike, some physio exercises will aid the healing process and strengthen my arm. Indulgences are similar, in that they work to accompany the restorative healing we receive in the Sacrament of Penance.
The analogy is of course imperfect, but there is another aspect of it worth considering. If you want a healthy arm, physio and strengthening exercises are good to do anyway, even if you haven’t just fallen off your bike. And the same is true of indulgences: the sorts of acts to which the Church attaches them are those which are good to do anyway.
Spending time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, reading scripture, praying a rosary, saying the Divine Office, or even something as simple as making the Sign of the Cross, are all means by which divine charity grows within us. The indulgences attached to these acts simply encourage their practice. Healing the wounds in our relationship with God comes about through an openness to His grace, enabling His love to grow within us. Making room for that love to grow is always a worthy pursuit, no matter the circumstances.
There is further aspect to indulgences that relates to the other article of the creed, the one we are yet to consider: the communion of Saints. Our incorporation through Baptism into that supernatural community which is the Mystical Body of Christ means our actions are efficacious well beyond the narrow circle of our own lives. As we grow in charity, that divine currency of our sanctification, we can apply the gifts we receive to those who have gone before us. The bond of love that ties together the entire Christian community (Ed. the Church is ONE, militant, suffering, Triumphant). empowers us wayfarers on earth to cooperate in the salvation of the souls in purgatory.
This is especially worth considering given the Vatican’s extension for indulgences for November is for those that apply to the deceased. Such is the power of the Cross that our salvation is both deeply personal and fundamentally communal: each can be the beneficiary of the charity of the other.
As we reach the halfway point for November, it is perhaps worth considering whether there is time in the latter half of the month to obtain a plenary indulgence for the souls in purgatory. After all, surely Confession, Communion, prayers in a cemetery, and prayers for the Pope are all good to do anyway…”
“According to Aquinas (ST II-II, q. 162, a. 3, s.c.), the sin of pride is always rooted in the proposition of a lie that generates a fear. So in order to address the pride, we need to address the lie and the fear.
To counter a lie, we need truth. To counter a fear, we need perfect love (1 Jn 4:18). For although the lie can be conquered by a solid exposition on truth (Ed. w/humble, reasonable people, who are rare, as saints), fear as a passion may still linger, as the lie itself is rooted deeply. Fear is the fruit of a lie, so by this fruit, the lie can grow back.
When Christ commands us to not be afraid, it is because He sometimes starts with our fear. In starting with our fear, He indirectly communicates that the lie we hold to is not true. He understands that our fear, if grave, affects our ability to listen to reason. So while the devil begins with a lie, Christ begins with communicating love and peace. Remember how Christ spoke to His apostles after the resurrection, even before He was reconciled to St. Peter.
We must therefore not forget to manifest perfect love in an exposition of truth, otherwise, our demoralizing demeanor may only reinforce the false narrative of fear in the hearts of people, that is sown by a dynamic mixture of truth and error (a lie). Nonetheless, others may be clinging so strongly to their own preferred narrative that they reject that love. This is where choice is.”
Love, Lord never make me afraid of the truth, or the love required,
“A celebrity priest—a Jesuit—writes a book on the Catholic Church’s treatment of those struggling with sexual disorders. Short on doctrine, long on compassion and sensitivity, the book places the Church and the “LGBT community” on an equal footing, couching its argument in terms of a need for a relationship of mutual respect. Although it is endorsed by at least one cardinal and several bishops, the book comes under respectful criticism from at least two other cardinals, several bishops, and many priests, deacons, and laymen.
The celebrity priest takes to social media to defend his book and to extend its argument. And along the way, he draws into his defense and the extension of his arguments another well-known priest, more than two decades deceased, declaring that he knows that the latter was not only sexually attracted to men but violated his vow of celibacy.
The reaction on Twitter and Facebook is swift and severe, as well it should be—but (in many cases) for all the wrong reasons. Most of those who defend the long-dead priest start from the question of the truth of the celebrity Jesuit’s allegation; was he right or wrong?
But the truth of the claim is, although not irrelevant, at best secondary. The real problem lies in the immorality of making the claim in the first place. Whenever we reveal the sins—actual or imagined—of another, we tread on dangerous ground, and risk committing ourselves the grave sins of detraction and calumny.
In a section titled “Respect for the Truth,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church contains the following line: “No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.” Taken out of context, this might seem to endorse lying in a good cause—for instance, to protect the Jews you have hidden in your attic when the Nazis come knocking on your door. In context, however, that line is not a defense of speaking untruths but a strong statement of the Church’s teaching on the immorality of detraction: the revealing of someone’s sins to another person who has no right to know it. The Catechism renders this traditional teaching in modern language (CCC 2488-89):
The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.
Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.
There are two things to note here. The first is that the claim “What I said is true” is no defense against the charge of detraction. In fact, the very definition of detraction requires that what you say about the other person—the information that you reveal that may do damage to his reputation—must be true. If what you say is false, then by definition you aren’t engaged in detraction; you are engaged in the related sin of calumny.
The second is that the Catechism discusses detraction in the context of someone asking you to reveal a truth that may be damaging to the reputation of a third party. It does not even discuss the possibility that you would do so without being asked. There is no need for the Catechism to discuss that possibility because such an action would fall well beyond the bounds of all human decency. (That we might sometimes engage in such actions and dismiss our transgressions as mere “gossip” does not lessen their severity.)
When we reveal the possible sins of another, we engage either in calumny (if the claim is false) or detraction (if the claim is true) by revealing the secret sins of another and doing irreparable harm to his reputation. The sins of detraction and calumny are compounded when the person who is sinned against is unable to defend himself, either because he is unaware that his reputation has been attacked (as is often the case where gossip is concerned) or because he is dead (as in the case of the well-known priest alleged to have engaged in homosexual activity.)
In either case, the Catechism plainly details what repentance and justice require:
Every offense committed against justice and truth entails the duty of reparation, even if its author has been forgiven. . . . If someone who has suffered harm cannot be directly compensated [e.g., if he is long dead], he must be given moral satisfaction in the name of charity. This duty of reparation also concerns offenses against another’s reputation. This reparation, moral and sometimes material, must be evaluated in terms of the extent of the damage inflicted. It obliges in conscience (CCC 2487).
Of course, repairing such damage when it has been widely disseminated via the internet is, if not theoretically impossible, at least practically so; but a Christian is obliged to try for the sake of his own soul. In our increasingly fractious times, where social media encourages us to act with rashness and without due regard for the reputation of others, there can be found, in the actions of our celebrity Jesuit, a lesson for us all.”
(Saint Bonaventure (Brevil., III, ix) lists the same. The number seven was given by Saint Gregory the Great (Lib. mor. in Job.) XXXI, xvii), and held for most of the Middle Age theologists. Previous authors listed 8 Deadly Sins: Saint Cyprian (mort., iv); Cassian (instit caenob., v, coll. 5, de octo principalibus vitiis); Columbanus (“Instr. de octo vitiis princip.”in”library. Max. vet. Patr. “(, XII, 23);” Alcuin (virtut et vitiis, xxvii and ff.))
“See the souls over whom anger prevailed. In the warm bath of the sun they were hateful, down here in the black sludge of the river Styx do they wish they had never been born.” — Virgil
The river Styx is a toxic marsh that eternally drowned those who are overcome with rage while they are alive. Those who expressed anger (The wrathful) attacked each other on the swamp’s surface while those who repressed anger (The sullen) eternally drowned beneath the marsh.
We have seen a lot of wrath lately.
Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance,
for He remembers their sins in detail. -Sir 27:30-28:1
This song is from the Carmina Burana and the first stanzas in Latin are translated as follows:
Estuans interius ira vehementi in amaritudine loquor mee menti: factus de materia, cinis elementi similis sum folio, de quo ludunt venti.
Burning inside with violent anger, bitterly I speak to my heart: created from matter, of the ashes of the elements, I am like a leaf played with by the winds.
Dante described wrath as “love of justice perverted to revenge and spite”. St. John Chrysostom said this regarding anger: He who is not angry when he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is a hotbed of many vices (Homily 11). St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Consequently, lack of the passion of anger is also a vice, [for it is] a lack of movement in the will directed to punishment by the judgment of reason” (Summa Theologica II, IIae 158.8).
St. Thomas, following Pope St Gregory the Great, also lists the “daughters” of anger (Summa Theologiae II-II, Q. 158, A. 7) as quarreling, swelling of the mind, contumely (contempt or derision), clamor, indignation and blasphemy. For indeed, sometimes anger is directed at one who we deem unworthy, and this is called “indignation.” Sometimes wrathful anger manifests a pride where our anger is rooted in obstinate opinions and superiority. And anger surely gives birth to quarreling, derisiveness, and clamor. Anger directed at God often produces blasphemy.
Of the Virtues that are medicine for anger – Clearly meekness is the chief virtue to moderate anger. Meekness is the proper middle ground between too much anger and not enough anger. Cleary the virtues associated with Charity such as love and peace along with proper fraternal correction assist in both curbing anger and directing it to useful ends. Prudence too will help direct and moderate anger especially through the foresight, circumspection, caution, counsel and discrimination proper to it. Finally humility helps alleviate the swollen mind of anger.
The sin of anger is ultimately a hateful and hurtful thing. It tends to destruction and must be mastered by meekness and patience. Perhaps it is best to remember a scriptural admonition:
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not; it leads only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.(Psalm 37:8-9)
Wrath, or hatred if you will, is an acid within the soul that eats away at the heart until there is almost nothing left – St. John Cassian himself refers to it as a “deadly poison.”1 It turns the Christian soul into a volcanic being, literally waiting to erupt and spill over its hate on to whatever it deems as its target and/or its oppressor. Wrath blocks the light of Christ from filling the soul – when one’s soul is filled to the brim with whipping torrents of blackened anger, clear judgment and humility of heart are not to be found, and if they are, they are buried beneath layers of ash and fire. In this, we see the truly suffocating effects of wrath.
“No matter what provokes it, anger blinds the soul’s eyes, preventing it from seeing the Sun of righteousness.”2 (St. John Cassian). It is a sin that places the soul within reach of the flames of Hell, “in danger of the judgment.” (Matt. 5:22) If left unchecked, wrath eventually produces the most evil fruits: desire for another’s harm or downfall, all-consuming hatred, violence, and many others. “If the passion of anger dominates your soul, those who live in the world will prove to be better than you and you will be put to shame…”3 (St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic)
So, how do we combat this sin and its effects? How are we able to calm a rage within us that seems to have consumed us? The cause of wrath needs to be uncovered beneath the piles of magma that surround the heart – in other words, get to the root of one’s rage. The Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”, has an incredible effect of calming the soul, taming it like a wild beast, and penetrating the heart to replace the fiery heat of rage with a gentle warmth. This prayer can often reveal what has been causing our anger.
“When anger tries to burn up my tabernacle, I will look to the goodness of God, Whom anger never touched… And when hatred tries to darken me, I will look to the mercy and the martyrdom of the Son of God…”4 (St. Hildegard of Bingen) When we find ourselves consumed by the sin of wrath, a sure antidote is found in gazing upon the crucified Savior, Who lifted not a finger against His persecutors, never once cried out against them, never once fought back. “Picture to yourself all the torments and indignities of His Passion, and amazed at His constancy, blush at your own weakness.”5 (Dom Lorenzo Scupoli)
Here, we see the virtue of humility come to our aid in the combat against wrath, for wrath is intimately linked with pride via self-justification of one’s seemingly “righteous” anger, an aspect of wrath which seems to me to speak to the inability to see clearly through one’s rage, as outlined above. As Evagrius notes, wrath “darkens the soul,”6 and this darkening causes the Christian to be lost in their own stormclouds within. Humility shines a light through these clouds, and allows us to see clearly once again.
With humility comes mercy and compassion towards others, a sure way of putting out the fires of wrath, for “the limpidity of mercy is known for patience in bearing injury, and the perfection of humility, when it rejoices in gratuitous slander”7 (St. Isaac the Syrian), and injury (either perceived or real), is the great spark that sets the sin of wrath into motion. “If you are truly merciful, when you are wrongfully and cruelly deprived of what is yours, you will not be angry within or without…”8 (St. Isaac the Syrian)
“When I’ve struggled with “anger” in the past, I’ve often thought, at the moment, that I was being reasonable. Nonetheless, more often than not, I’ve looked back on those moments of anger only to realize that this was only half-the-truth. Reason may have been operating, but there was likely a dimension within myself that wouldn’t entertain an alternative viewpoint. For this reason, St. Thomas Aquinas suggests, as the spiritual master he is, that to counterbalance the vice of Wrath (anger, when it isn’t righteous) we apply meekness.
What I often observe, however, which is where this gets tricky, is too quickly we jump to the assumption that our anger is righteous. In that moment, our fallen nature is no longer at play, we have become as immaculate as the Virgin Mary and her Son, at least in a passive manner, gazing outwardly with rage and discontent. If we have to justify our anger as “righteous” we may actually be too occupied with our own moral disposition than what we are meant to be focused on in a spirit of love for the good.
I’d like to suggest that a regular arrival at the passion “anger” can lead us down a path that is to cause us to become untrustworthy most especially to ourselves, and simply being open to this possibility is of itself a sign that perhaps our anger isn’t disordered. Or even admitting where it is imperfect, concretely. As the “Imitation for Christ” insists: the passionate man is untrustworthy.
Here one may condemn the errors of emotivism, but in practice, they cannot distinguish between their own interior battle with integrity and truth.
What are signs that our way of thinking, our inclination to be angry in a disproportionate (unreasonable manner) has taken over? One is “murmuring.” It is the habit of complaining, whereby we never delight in any improvement, but always “to on to the next thing.” In Catholic circles, this is often tagged as an ‘actively disengaged’ Christian. They are not part of the building up of the Kingdom, nor even the tearing down of structures, they simply only find fault and then consume rage like popcorn. Rather than looking towards the dysfunction with a sense of one’s own potential to have fallen into the same errors, they look at it as though lofty and self-sufficient. And it’s in this anger that often, years later, looking back through the lens of grace, one comes to the terms with their own hypocrisy. That is definitely an ongoing experience in my life – but maybe I’m alone in that.
Meekness in the face of disordered anger is really only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit that gives us “competence” or “self-control.” Both of these things mean to have a strong mind, whereby the flare-up of passion does not trump a discernment process, nor a process that is quick to factor in our own fallen-ness. The mind bends to possibilities that run contrary to the accusations that derive from our passions, and meekness is a habitual act within the soul to assess anger.
Meekness does not denounce anger, but it keeps it hinged to reason, whereby it excludes it when as a passion it is unreasonable, or it moderates it and channels it to something proactive, creative, and redeeming, when it is rooted in the right spirit of things. Without meekness man is lost to his passions, he lacks the Holy Spirit in his mind, and his own discernment cannot be trusted. In this sense we must admit that the sin of wrath is both an addiction and a sign of a weak, broken, mind that thinks itself strong, righteous, and intelligent.
I remember a number of years ago promoting the integration of meekness into our spiritual lives only to receive very livid Christians demanding that meekness was a vice. They were certain about this, and could not dare to quiet themselves before Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. For this reason, Scripture can be the cold water poured upon our passions.”
Love, pray for me,
1 – Institutes, “On the Eight Vices”
2 – ibid.
3 – A Century of Spiritual Texts, 30
4 – Scivias, IV:7
5 – The Spiritual Combat, 52
6 – Praktikos, 23
7 – On Ascetical Life, VI:8
8 – ibid., VI:9
– “Sloth (Desidia), from the series The Seven Deadly Sins, Pieter van der Heyden (Netherlandish, ca. 1525–1569), after Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, Breda (?) ca. 1525–1569 Brussels), publisher: Hieronymus Cock (Netherlandish, Antwerp ca. 1510–1570 Antwerp), 1558, engraving, 8 15/16 x 11 5/8 in. (22.7 x 29.6 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, NY. Please click on the image for greater detail.
Representing the vice of sloth, this image belongs to a series of prints of the Seven Deadly Sins, engraved by Pieter van der Heyden after drawings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The personification of sloth, a shabbily dressed woman, demonstratively sleeps away the time in the central foreground, resting her weight on the back of an ass. The various examples of lazy or slothful behavior, in evidence in the surrounding landscape, colorfully demonstrate the message of the inscription below: “Sloth makes man powerless and dries out the nerves until man is good for nothing.” Each of the seven prints follows a similar compositional scheme, with the personification of the vice accompanied by a symbolic animal in the foreground. Bruegel also adopted a common setting and “look” for the series by depicting each scene in the style of Hieronymus Bosch, to whom Bruegel was often compared. Sloth features an assortment of fantastic creatures and a confused arrangement of hybrid structures reminiscent of Bosch’s work. This reminiscent style, employed consciously by Bruegel, contrasts sharply with the way he depicted The Seven Virtues, a series of prints executed in the following years—all of them set in an accurate version of Bruegel’s contemporary world.
The Deadly Sins are listed by St. Thomas (I-II: 84:4) as:
(Saint Bonaventure (Brevil., III, ix) lists the same. The number seven was given by Saint Gregory the Great (Lib. mor. in Job.) XXXI, xvii), and held for most of the Middle Age theologists. Previous authors listed 8 Deadly Sins: Saint Cyprian (mort., iv); Cassian (instit caenob., v, coll. 5, de octo principalibus vitiis); Columbanus (“Instr. de octo vitiis princip.”in”library. Max. vet. Patr. “(, XII, 23);” Alcuin (virtut et vitiis, xxvii and ff.))
“A sin of omission is committed when a person has a duty to do something but doesn’t do it. If a Catholic skips Sunday Mass out of laziness, that is a sin of omission (a serious one). If you saw a person drowning in a river and didn’t throw a rope to him, that too would be a serious sin of omission. Jesus was very clear about what awaits people who are guilty of serious omissions (see Matthew 25:41-46).
“Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink, a stranger and you gave Me no welcome, naked and you gave Me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for Me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to Your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for Me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
There are certain things we are morally required to do, either because of our state in life (we are baptized Catholics, for instance) or simply because we are human and we have an obligation to show basic charity and respect for the life and property of others.
Now, when you see something that is good but not obligatory, and you don’t follow through and do the good act, that is an imperfection. Fr. Jordan Aumann, OP, in his book Spiritual Theology defined imperfection as “the omission of a good act that is not of obligation or the remiss performance of an act, that is, with less perfection than that of which one is capable.”
Father Aumann goes on to note that “we should not demand perfection in each and every human action, but should take into account the weakness of our human condition. The most that can be demanded is that individuals do the best they can under the circumstances and then leave the rest to God.”
Two points are worth mentioning here. First, by all means, keep working to overcome imperfections in your life. “In the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness” (Lumen Gentium, 39).
Second, don’t get discouraged if you continue to see imperfections in yourself. We are all human and therefore limited and imperfect. And being aware of our shortcomings can help motivate us to stay close to Our Lord in prayer, the sacraments and acts of charity.”
“When many of us think of sloth, we probably conjure up images of an ugly South American animal that eats shoots and actually hangs around. Or maybe we think of unshaven Joe Sixpack lying on the sofa all weekend, not lifting a finger except to open another cold one.
The latter is a fairly apt image of the vice of sloth or its synonyms such as boredom, acedia, and laziness. Boredom refers to a certain emptiness of soul or lack of passion; acedia refers to the sadness that comes from our unwillingness to tackle the difficulties involved in attaining something good; laziness more generally refers to the torpor and idleness of one who is not inclined to exert himself.
Sloth encompasses all these ideas and more. In his Pocket Catholic Dictionary, the late Jesuit Fr. John Hardon, SJ defined sloth as “sluggishness of soul or boredom because of the exertion necessary for the performance of a good work. The good work may be a corporal task, such as walking; or a mental exercise, such as writing; or a spiritual duty, such as prayer.”
One might have the impression that sloth is not a typically American sin. The virtues of diligence and industriousness are deeply ingrained in our nation’s Protestant work ethic. Our youth learn early on that the way to get ahead—at least for those who don’t win the lottery—is by working hard. The early bird catches the worm. Early to bed, early to rise. In a competitive, dog-eat-dog business world, everyone is looking for an “edge,” and that typically comes from outworking the competition.
And even apart from an employment context, when we want to communicate that our lives have been normal and healthy, we report that we’ve been “keeping busy.”
Surely the Church has always championed the intrinsic goodness of human work, through which we become “co-creators” with God and exercise legitimate stewardship over creation. In his 1981 encyclical letter on human work (Laborem Exercens), Pope John Paul II writes: “Work is a good thing for man—a good thing for his humanity—because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being’” (9).
Mightier than the Minotaur
Yet sloth is a sin against God, and not against the time clock or productivity. The fact is that it’s possible to work too much, in a way that’s not in keeping with our dignity and ultimate good. The essence of sloth is a failure to fulfill one’s basic duties. Surely one such duty is the human vocation to work. Yet another such duty is the enjoyment of leisure, to take time for worship. The gentleman lying on the sofa may be a more popular image of sloth, but the workaholic, who’s on the job 24-7 and in the process neglects God and family, is the more typical manifestation of sloth in our culture.
Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it this way:
In the United States the difficulties are not a Minotaur or dragon—not imprisonment, hard labor, death, government harassment, and censorship—but cupidity, boredom, sloppiness, indifference. Not the acts of a mighty, all-pervading, repressive government, but the failure of a listless public to make use of the freedom that is its birthright. (qtd. in William J. Bennett, “Redeeming Our Time,” Imprimis, November 1995)
Work and leisure are both products of human freedom, and both are intimately tied to our ultimate good. Most of us understand and periodically struggle with the natural aversion to work, but why do we find it so difficult to enjoy leisure? Why do we consign ourselves to joyless workaholism instead of striking a healthy balance in our lives? There are many reasons for this strange phenomenon, but I’d like to point out a few contributing factors that reflect the spiritual malaise of our time.
First, Pope John Paul II, in his 1995 encyclical on the Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), identified “the heart of the tragedy being experienced by modern man: the eclipse of the sense of God and of man” (21). He noted that “when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life” (21). The Holy Father was speaking to us: We in the west have largely lost the sense of God, leading to a loss of our own sense of purpose or mission. This has inexorably led to the societal emptiness and lack of passion that Solzhenitsyn saw so clearly decades ago. A striking correlation exists between the rise of secular atheism and boredom, as the reduction of human existence to the merely material divests it of its intended richness and meaning. This can only lead to the worldly sadness that leads to despair and ultimately death (cf. 2 Cor. 7:10).
Amusing Ourselves to Death
The most typical way of dealing with this tragedy is by not dealing with it, so as a society we tend to flock to entertainments. Certainly, these things are not bad in themselves, but excessive recourse to them reveals a flight from the depths of the human condition to the comfort of shallow pastimes. These pursuits are rightly called diversions, because they divert us from facing a life from which the living God has been excluded. For some, these diversions may be sports, television, or the Internet, among other possibilities. For others, work becomes a diversion, an escape. When it does, it ceases to be a manifestation of virtue and instead feeds the vice of sloth.
In addition, modern man tends to define himself by what he does and what he has. Yet, leisure isn’t about producing and owning, but about being—in other words, resting in God’s presence. We often fail to recognize the immense God-given dignity and value we have simply by being who we are, which is prior to anything we might accomplish in life. In Augustinian terms, without allowing for leisure, our hearts are forever restless, and our sense of worth gets tied to what we’re able to produce. This utilitarian mindset not only drives us to overwork but it also negatively affects how we value others. That’s one reason why our society has such a difficult time valuing the elderly and the infirm in our midst.
Further, as the pursuit of success, acclaim, or riches becomes the source of our personal worth, these human goods in essence take the place of God in our lives. Few of us probably set out to become idolaters, but that’s what we’ve become if our choices and work habits are ordered toward serving mammon, not God (Matt. 6:24; CCC 2113).
In response to all this, I offer a three-part plan for battling and overcoming the vice of sloth.
1: Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
I recently had the occasion to reread Pope John Paul II’s magnificent 1998 apostolic letter Dies Domini, on keeping the Lord’s Day holy. It’s hard to single out “favorites” from among John Paul’s voluminous writings, but surely this meditation on the Lord’s Day will benefit Christians “with ears to hear” for many generations to come.
I heartily recommend this apostolic letter as spiritual reading. Perhaps we can even give up an hour or so of sports (.asp) this Sunday to soak in some of the Holy Father’s insights as to what Sunday is all about in the first place.
One passage of Dies Domini really struck me: “[The Sabbath is] rooted in the depths of God’s plan. This is why, unlike many other precepts, it is not set within the context of strictly cultic stipulations but within the Decalogue, the ‘ten words’ which represents the very pillars of the moral life inscribed on the human heart” (DD 13).
Sunday Mass is not simply another requirement imposed on us by a Church that’s obsessed with “rules.” Rather, the obligation to remember to keep the day holy is prefigured and rooted in the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy, which in turn is rooted in the very act of creation. And by creation I mean both God’s creation of the world, from which he took his rest on the seventh day, and God’s creation of us. This call to worship, to rest from servile labor, to take stock of all that God has given us, is inscribed in who we are, and we are acting against our own good when we fail to remember to keep Sunday holy. As our Lord noted, the Sabbath is made for man, and not the other way around.
On top of all that, we are commanded to “remember” to keep the day holy, which suggests that we might tend to “forget.”
When it comes to tithing our money, assuming that we even make an effort to support the Church financially, we look for the minimum we can get by with. Nobody ever says, “Is it okay to give more than 10 percent?” or tries to imitate the widow in the Gospel (Luke 21:1-4). Instead, we tend to give a mere pittance of what we’re able to give—certainly not enough to affect our overall spending habits. God asks for our first fruits and we give him our spare change.
In a similar sense, God asks us to tithe our time, to give him one day per week. We’ve reduced the Lord’s Day to Sunday Mass, and even then we squawk if it lasts more than 45 minutes. We can’t get out of Church fast enough once we’ve “done our time.”
But as long as we view the Sunday obligation minimally and as a burden, we’re missing the point. While Sunday Mass is the source and summit of our Christian life for the week, the entire Lord’s Day should be set aside for God and family—in other words, for leisure and for freedom from servile labor. Surely there must be some flexibility in application especially given our diverse, secular culture, but I daresay just as we can probably do a better job of tithing our money, we can do a better job of remembering to observe the Lord’s Day.
2: Take stock of our schedule.
Time is one of our most valued commodities, and we should spend it in a way that reflects our values and priorities. Getting the Lord’s Day right is the first and most important step, but we still have six other days to order correctly. Faith, family, work, and other pursuits are like ingredients that need to be added at the right time and in the right measure to make a tasty dish. If we don’t take the time to read and follow the recipe, the ingredients won’t come together in the way we’d like.
That’s why it’s so important for individuals, couples, families, and communities to take the time to identify their priorities and commitments and schedule their days and weeks accordingly. For those of us who tend to be lazy “underachievers,” a schedule will keep us on task to make sure we meet our obligations. For those of us who tend toward workaholism and to be driven by the tyranny of the urgent, a schedule will make sure that we make time for prayer, reading to the kids, or other priorities that might get shoved aside if we’re not vigilant.
3: Cultivate virtue.
If we’re not actively engaged in cultivating virtue, then our lives will start looking like my lawn. There are some patches of grass, but each day there are also more weeds. Overcoming vice and developing virtue go together, just as it’s not enough to pull weeds without also planting and fertilizing the new grass.
When it comes to sloth, the corresponding virtues are justice, charity, and magnanimity. Sloth is about fulfilling our obligations to God and neighbor, which brings into play the various manifestations of justice. However, the motivation for fulfilling these obligations should be supernatural charity, which moves us out of our small, self-serving world so that we might live for others.
When the spiritual laxity of sloth overtakes us, we are like a football team that has lost its momentum. We are set back on our spiritual heels and feel ill-prepared to do what is necessary to turn the tide. From this perspective, we can see how the “end game” of sloth is despair, as eventually the negative momentum snowballs, and we lose the will to compete. Magnanimity, however, literally means being “great-souled”; it is the virtue that gives us the confidence that we can do all things in him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13), that we can truly run so as to win (1 Cor. 9:24).
Each time we act against our disinclination to pray, as well as work into our day habits of prayer (e.g., saying a Hail Mary when we’re stopped in traffic) and sacrifice, we are replacing sloth with virtues that will help us become saints. And it all starts with getting up off the couch and onto our knees.”
Love & virtue,
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP