Friday, April 4, 2014

Catholic Pharisees and the sin of rash judgment

The most dreaded implement of the Internet Inquisition:
the comfy chair. (© 1970 Python (Monty) Pictures, Ltd.)
That the accusations came in on a post dedicated to shoring up the tradition of worshiping on Sunday was bizarre as the accusations themselves. Said Kelly Lexy:

You seem to be an adherent to the Novus Ordo sectarian community. That is bad news. That means you are pro-abortion and a supporter of the engagers of the Sin of Sodom. …
One must say that you are obstinate. You are familiar with the sedevacante position [Indeed I am, especially with its similarity in flaws to Protestantism]. You have a familiarity concerning the heresies of the post-Vatican II claimants to the papacy. Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation: the heretics you promote reject this Dogma. …

If you’re at all familiar with my writings of the last five years plus, the statement that I am “pro-abortion and a supporter of the engagers of the Sin of Sodom” must have had you howling with either rage or laughter. The bit about baptism is a bit trickier; let me just content myself for now with saying that this is willful misinterpretation of Pope Francis’ words on the part of Ms. Lexy.[1]

When I denied her charge and told her she’d committed the sin of rash judgment, she doubled down on it: “Your false religion recognizes pro-abortion politicians as having a  good standing. Your false religion celebrates the sodomites since you have sodomite ‘masses.’ You are therefore pro-sodomite and pro-abortion since you are in communion with this evil and all such persons. You are an apostate.”

Not even Bernardo Gui — the real Bernardo Gui, not the cardboard-cutout antagonist of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose — would have brought me to trial under such specious reasoning. In any event, since the inquisition is defunct and has been for a very long time (even in Spain), I’m not worried about an auto-da-fé just yet.

It’s at times like these that I can feel some sympathy for those who don’t want to bother with religion at all, or who just want to be disciples of Christ without having to deal with an organized, institutional and authoritative Church. However, gluteal anginas aren’t found solely among the religious, let alone solely among the members of a specific religion; indeed, many atheists and agnostics are tuchas pains as well.

More to the point, even when we can’t come to an agreement on just what is true or false, we share a common recognition that truth matters, and that as a general principle we owe each other the truth. Truth is the foundation of trust and of faith, of fidelity and loyalty, and as such is a necessary ingredient for the stable, organic community. “Since man is a social animal, one man naturally owes another whatever is necessary for the preservation of human society. Now it would be impossible for men to live together, unless they believed one another, as declaring the truth one to another. Hence the virtue of truth does, in a manner, regard something as being due.”[2]

Now, the sin of rash judgment is the assumption, without sufficient foundation, of the moral fault of a neighbor.[3] As such, it’s a form of false witness, and a sin against the Christian virtues of charity and prudence. Furthermore, to condemn someone to Hell even on the basis of good evidence is to usurp God’s justice and a further sin against charity: “… if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”[4]

To be Catholic is to walk a very narrow path between two classes of error. The class of error to the left we can call either Indifferentism or Moral Relativism, in which caritas is valued over veritas, and God’s forgiving love is emphasized to the extent of denying His justice. The class of error to the right I shall call Pharisaism, in which veritas is placed over caritas, and God’s justice emphasized to the extent of implicitly devaluing His mercy and forgiveness. On the one side, Buddy Jesus and liturgical puppets; on the other, Jesus the Intolerant Master and the Spanish Inquisition … with no comfy chair.

There is a reason for orthodoxy. That is, Jesus and the apostles definitely taught some things and not others; over the many centuries that the original mustard seed of the gospel has flowered into the tree of doctrine we have today, the Church as its conservator has cautiously approved some extensions and interpretations and denied others. The gospel message isn’t ours to do with as we wish; it is entrusted to us to faithfully hand down to the next generations as our predecessors in the faith handed it to us. The dissident is dissatisfied with the gospel as it is, and wants to change it, where if he were a true disciple of Christ he ought to want himself to be changed instead.

However, Pharisaism is the perversion of the apostolic tradition — its dogmas, disciplines and rites — into a set of shibboleths that separate a self-chosen elect from the masses of the damned in an unwarranted anticipation of Christ’s final judgment. The Catholic Pharisee uses his often formidable knowledge of Catholic dogma and history not to instruct the ignorant, a spiritual work of mercy, but to assure himself of his own purity (“I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like everyone else, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here”).[5] The Catholic Pharisee, like his historical counterpart’s obsession with the minutiae of the Law, quibbles over minor matters of dogma — though he would argue that there is no such thing as a “minor matter of dogma” — and neglects the weightier issues of Catholic teaching, justice and mercy and forgiveness, straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel.[6] (“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”)[7] In sum, in his zeal to protect the integrity of the gospel message, the Catholic Pharisee has missed the point of the evangelium — the conversion of souls rather than their condemnation.

It was the “Pharisee of Pharisees”, Saint Paul, who told his Corinthian accusers, “It is of no importance to me how you or any other human court may judge me: I will not even be the judge of my own self. It is true that my conscience does not reproach me, but that is not enough to justify me: it is the Lord who is my judge. For that reason, do not judge anything before the due time, until the Lord comes; he will bring to light everything that is hidden in darkness and reveal the designs of all hearts. Then everyone will receive from God the appropriate commendation.”[8]

For my own part, I’m too concerned with my real sins to spend any more time on the bogus charges of a schismatic who doesn’t know the difference between heterodoxy and apostasy.[*] Moreover, Catholic Pharisees are a source of division and scandal, a burden on the Church, and are in need of prayer for the conversion of their souls.

As indeed we all are.

Update: Same day, 3:14 pm CDT
My Catholic Stand colleague JoAnna Wahlund posted an interesting article in Catholic Phoenix three years ago, titled “Yes, Catholics Can Judge”. JoAnna makes a very important distinction: “What we, as Catholics, are called to do is to judge behavior and actions. What we, as Catholics, cannot do is judge the state of another’s soul.” This is the moral context in which we must analyze Pope Francis’ statement, “Who am I to judge?”

But what makes a judgment rash, and therefore sinful, is that it's based on insufficient or deficient evidence, mostly because the person passing judgment exerted little to no diligence in seeking the facts of the matter. For instance, I’d be hesitant about judging Judas Iscariot guilty of eating bacon if my information were based on a story in the media, because the media regularly gets stuff wrong, especially concerning religious matters; people in the media often tailor facts to suit the story they want to tell, especially if that story serves an agenda.

So while it’s licit to pass judgment on behavior and actions, the conscientious Catholic must proceed with caution, gathering as much information as possible, and taking care, as St. Ignatius Loyola said, to “be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it.”[9]

[*] Sedevacantists are schismatics by virtue of their rejection of the authority of the pope and bishops. For bonus points: a heretic merely rejects or distorts one or more teachings of the Church, while an apostate is a baptized person who rejects Christianity in toto.

[1] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica III:72:6 ad 1: “The Divine power is not confined to the sacraments.” Vide Ott, L. (1960). Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 4th ed. (tr. Lynch, P.; ed. Bastible, J.). Rockford, Ill.: TAN Books, p. 340.
[2] Summa Theologica II-II:109:3 ad 1.
[4] Matthew 6:15; cf. Matthew 7:1-5, 18:21-35.
[5] Luke 18:11 NJB.
[6] Cf. Matthew 23:23-24.
[7] Matthew 9:13; cf. Hosea 6:6.
[8] 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 NJB.
[9] Mullan, E., trans. (1914). The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. Retrieved April 4, 2014 from; "Presupposition".