YEAR OF CONDEMNATION
09: Who’s the “Hater” now? True vs. False Charity
We come to the ninth installment of our special Novus Ordo Watch Year of Exclusion, Judgment, and Condemnation series, where we propagate forgotten truths of the holy Catholic Faith that are considered by our sorry society as extremely judgmental, exclusionary, negative, hateful, bigoted, intolerant, condemnatory, unwelcoming, dogmatic, narrow-minded, and everything else that oh-so-enlightened modern man despises and detests.
Today we share an excerpt from the phenomenal work Liberalism is a Sin by Fr. Felix Sarda y Salvany. It was originally published in Spanish in 1886 and received the endorsement of the Sacred Congregation of the Index (Holy Office) under Pope Leo XIII. The text is available in English online in full; a paperback copy of the book is available here.
The title of Fr. Sarda’s book is a bit unfortunate, inasmuch as the work does much more than simply prove that Liberalism — the 19th-century precursor of Modernism — is a sin. In fact, it tears the mask of respectability and orthodoxy off Liberalism and exposes it for the trap it is. It shows how Liberalism perverts the true Gospel and reveals what tactics and rhetorical tricks its advocates use to propagate it and poison the minds of the unwary under the guise of piety, charity, and sincerity. A more fitting title for the book might have been, “Liberalism — Its Errors, Dangers, and Tactics Refuted and Exposed”.
The following text consists of Chapters 19 and 20 of Fr. Sarda’s book. These chapters speak about the difference between true and false charity, a difference entirely forgotten today, where there is an epidemic of “niceness” but very little genuine love. Most people erroneously think that niceness equals love, and hence when they experience not-so-niceness, they immediately scream “hate”! It is high time we understood the difference between real and false charity and acted accordingly.
CHAPTER 19 Charity and Liberalism
Narrow! Intolerant! Uncompromising! These are the epithets of odium hurled by Liberal votaries of all degrees at us Ultramontanes [i.e., Roman Catholics]. Are not Liberals our neighbors like other men? Do we not owe to them the same charity we apply to others? Are not your vigorous denunciations, it is urged against us, harsh and uncharitable and in the very teeth of the teaching of Christianity, which is essentially a religion of love? Such is the accusation continually flung in our face. Let us see what its value is. Let us see all that the word “Charity” signifies.
The Catechism [of the Council of Trent], that popular and most authoritative epitome of Catholic theology, gives us the most complete and succinct definition of charity; it is full of wisdom and philosophy. Charity is a supernatural virtue which induces us to love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves for the love of God. Thus, after God we ought to love our neighbor as ourselves, and this not just in any way, but for the love of God and in obedience to His law. And now, what is it to love? Amare est velle bonum, replies the philosopher. “To love is to wish good to him whom we love.” To whom does charity command us to wish good? To our neighbor, that is to say, not to this or that man only, but to everyone. What is that good which true love wishes? First of all supernatural good, then goods of the natural order which are not incompatible with it. All this is included in the phrase “for the love of God.”
It follows, therefore, that we can love our neighbor when displeasing him, when opposing him, when causing him some material injury, and even, on certain occasions, when depriving him of life; in short, all is reduced to this: Whether in the instance where we displease, oppose, or humiliate him, it is or is not for his own good, or for the good of someone whose rights are superior to his, or simply for the greater service of God.
If it is shown that in displeasing or offending our neighbor we act for his good, it is evident that we love him, even when opposing or crossing him. The physician cauterizing his patient or cutting off his gangrened limb may nonetheless love him. When we correct the wicked by restraining or by punishing them, we do nonetheless love them. This is charity–and perfect charity.
It is often necessary to displease or offend one person, not for his own good, but to deliver another from the evil he is inflicting. It is then an obligation of charity to repel the unjust violence of the aggressor; one may inflict as much injury on the aggressor as is necessary for defense. Such would be the case should one see a highwayman attacking a traveler. In this instance, to kill, wound, or at least take such measures as to render the aggressor impotent, would be an act of true charity.
The good of all good is the divine Good, just as God is for all men the Neighbor of all neighbors. In consequence, the love due to a man, inasmuch as he is our neighbor, ought always to be subordinated to that which is due to our common Lord. For His love and in His service we must not hesitate to offend men. The degree of our offense towards men can only be measured by the degree of our obligation to Him. Charity is primarily the love of God, secondarily the love of our neighbor for God’s sake. To sacrifice the first is to abandon the latter. Therefore, to offend our neighbor for the love of God is a true act of charity. Not to offend our neighbor for the love of God is a sin.
Modern Liberalism reverses this order; it imposes a false notion of charity: our neighbor first, and, if at all, God afterwards. By its reiterated and trite accusations toward us of intolerance, it has succeeded in disconcerting even some staunch Catholics. But our rule is too plain and too concrete to admit of misconception. It is this: Sovereign Catholic inflexibility is sovereign Catholic charity. This charity is practiced in relation to our neighbor when, in his own interest, he is crossed, humiliated, and chastised. It is practiced in relation to a third party when he is defended from the unjust aggression of another, as when he is protected from the contagion of error by unmasking its authors and abettors and showing them in their true light as iniquitous and pervert, by holding them up to the contempt, horror, and execration of all. It is practiced in relation to God when, for His glory and in His service, it becomes necessary to silence all human considerations, to trample under foot all human respect, to sacrifice all human interests–and even life itself–to attain this highest of all ends. All this is Catholic inflexibility and inflexible Catholicity in the practice of that pure love which constitutes sovereign charity. The Saints are the types of this unswerving and sovereign fidelity to God, the heroes of charity and religion. Because in our times there are so few true inflexibles in the love of God, so also are there few uncompromisers in the order of charity. Liberal charity is condescending, affectionate, even tender in appearance, but at bottom it is an essential contempt for the true good of men, of the supreme interests of truth and [ultimately] of God. It is human selflove, usurping the throne of the Most High and demanding that worship which belongs to God alone.
CHAPTER 20 Polemical Charity and Liberalism
Liberalism never gives battle on solid ground; it knows too well that in a discussion of principles it must meet with irretrievable defeat. It prefers tactics of recrimination and, under the sting of a just flagellation, whiningly accuses Catholics of lack of charity in their polemics. This is also the ground which certain Catholics, tainted with Liberalism, are in the habit of taking. Let us see what is to be said on this score.
We Catholics, on this point as on all others, have reason on our side; whereas, Liberals have only its shadow. In the first place, a Catholic can handle his Liberal adversary openly, if such he be in truth; no one can doubt this. If an author or a journalist make open profession of Liberalism and does not conceal his Liberal predilections, what injury can be done him in calling him a Liberal? Si palam res est, repetitio injuria non est: “To say what everybody knows is no injury.” With much stronger reason, to say of our neighbor what he every instant says of himself cannot justly offend. And yet, how many Liberals, especially those of the easy-going and moderate type, regard the expressions “Liberal” and “friend of Liberals” which Catholic adversaries apply to them, as offensive and uncharitable!
Granting that Liberalism is a bad thing, to call the public defenders and professors of Liberalism bad is no want of charity.
The law of justice, potent in all ages, can be applied in this case. The Catholics of today are no innovators in this respect. We are simply holding to the constant practice of antiquity. The propagators and abettors of heresy, as well as its authors, have at all times been called heretics. As the Church has always considered heresy a very grave evil, so has she always called its adherents bad and pervert. Run over the list of ecclesiastical writers — you will then see how the Apostles treated the first heretics, how the Fathers and modern controversialists and the Church herself in her official language has pursued them. There is then no sin against charity in calling evil evil; its authors, abettors and its disciples bad; all its acts, words, and writings iniquitous, wicked, malicious. In short, the wolf has always been called the wolf; and in so calling it, no one ever has believed that wrong was done to the flock and the shepherd.
If the propagation of good and the necessity of combating evil require the employment of terms somewhat harsh against error and its supporters, this usage is certainly not against charity. This is a corollary or consequence of the principle we have just demonstrated. We must render evil odious and detestable. We cannot attain this result without pointing out the dangers of evil, without showing how and why it is odious, detestable and contemptible. Christian oratory of all ages has ever employed against impiety the most vigorous and emphatic rhetoric in the arsenal of human speech. In the writings of the great athletes of Christianity, the usage of irony, imprecation, execration and of the most crushing epithets is continual. Hence the only law is the opportunity and the truth.
But there is another justification for such usage. Popular propagation and apologetics cannot preserve elegant and constrained academic forms. In order to convince the people, we must speak to their heart and their imagination, which can only be touched by ardent, brilliant, and impassioned language. To be impassioned is not to be reprehensible — when our heat is the holy ardor of truth.
The supposed violence of modern Ultramontane journalism not only falls short of Liberal journalism, but is amply justified by every page of the works of our great Catholic polemists of other epochs. This is easily verified. St. John the Baptist calls the pharisees a “ ace [brood] of vipers”; Jesus Christ, Our Divine Saviour, hurls at them the epithets “hypocrites, whitened sepulchres, a perverse and adulterous generation,” without thinking for this reason that He sullies the sanctity of His benevolent speech. St. Paul criticizes the schismatic Cretians as “always liars, evil beasts, slothful bellies.” The same Apostle calls Elymas the magician a “Seducer, full of guile and deceit, a child of the devil, an enemy of all justice.”
If we open the Fathers, we find the same vigorous castigation of heresy and heretics. St. Jerome, arguing against Vigilantius, casts in his face his former occupation of saloon-keeper: “From your infancy,” he says to him, “you have learned other things than theology and betaken yourself to other pursuits. To verify at the same time the value of your money accounts and the value of Scriptural texts, to sample wines and grasp the meaning of the prophets and apostles are certainly not occupations which the same man can accomplish with credit.” On another occasion, attacking the same Vigilantius, who denied the excellence of virginity and of fasting, St. Jerome, with his usual sprightliness, asks him if he spoke thus “in order not to diminish the receipts of his saloon?” Heavens! what an outcry would be raised if one of our Ultramontane controversialists were to write against a Liberal critic or heretic of our own day in this fashion!
What shall we say of St. John Chrysostom? Is his famous invective against Eutropius not comparable, in its personal and aggressive character, to the cruel invectives of Cicero against Catiline and against Verres! The gentle St. Bernard did not honey his words when he attacked the enemies of the Faith. Addressing Arnold of Brescia, the great Liberal agitator of his times, he calls him in all his letters, “seducer, vase of injuries, scorpion, cruel wolf”.
The pacific St. Thomas of Acquin [Aquinas] forgets the calm of his cold syllogisms when he hurls his violent apostrophe against William of St. Amour and his disciples: “Enemies of God” he cries out, “ministers of the devil, members of antichrist, ignorami, perverts, reprobates!” Never did the illustrious Louis Veuillot speak so boldly. The seraphic St. Bonaventure, so full of sweetness, overwhelms his adversary Gerard with such epithets as “impudent, calumniator, spirit of malice, impious, shameless, ignorant, impostor, malefactor, perfidious, ingrate!” Did St. Francis de Sales, so delicately exquisite and tender, ever purr softly over the heretics of his age and country? He pardoned their injuries, heaped benefits on them even to the point of saving the lives of those who sought to take his, but with the enemies of the Faith he preserved neither moderation nor consideration. Asked by a Catholic, who desired to know if it were permissible to speak evil of a heretic who propagated false doctrines, he replied:
“Yes, you can, on the condition that you adhere to the exact truth, to what you know of his bad conduct, presenting that which is doubtful as doubtful, according to the degree of doubt which you may have in this regard.” In his Introduction to the Devout Life, that precious and popular work, he expresses himself again: “If the declared enemies of God and of the Church ought to be blamed and censured with all possible vigor, charity obliges us to cry wolf when the wolf slips into the midst of the flock and in every way and place we may meet him.”
But enough. What the greatest Catholic polemists and Saints have done is assuredly a fair example for even the humblest defenders of the Faith. Modern Ultramontanism has never yet surpassed the vigor of their castigation of heresy and heretics. Charity forbids us to do unto another what we would not reasonably have them do unto ourselves. Mark the adverb reasonably; it includes the entire substance of the question.
The essential difference between ourselves and the Liberals on this subject consists in this, that they look upon the apostles of error as free citizens, simply exercising their full right to think as they please on matters of religion. We, on the contrary, see in them the declared enemies of the Faith, which we are obligated to defend. We do not see in their errors simply free opinions, but culpable and formal heresies, as the law of God teaches us they are. By virtue of the assumed freedom of their own opinions, the Liberals are bound not only to tolerate but even to respect ours; for since freedom of opinion is, in their eyes, the most cardinal of virtues, no matter what the opinion be, they are bound to respect it as the expression of man’s rational freedom. It is not what is thought, but the mere thinking that constitutes the standard of excellence with them. To acknowledge God or deny Him is equally rational by the standard of Liberalism, and Liberalism is grossly inconsistent with itself when it seeks to combat Catholic truths, in the holding of which there is as much exercise of rational freedom, in the Liberal sense, as in rejecting them. But our Catholic standpoint is absolute; there is but one truth, in which there is no room for opposition or contradiction. To deny that truth is unreasonable; it is to put falsehood on the level with truth. This is the folly and sin of Liberalism. To denounce this sin and folly is a duty and a virtue. With reason, therefore, does a great Catholic historian say to the enemies of Catholicity: “You make yourselves infamous by your actions, and I will endeavor to cover you with that infamy by my writings.” In this same way the law of the Twelve Tables of the ancient Romans ordained to the virile generations of early Rome: Adversus bostem aeterna auctoritas esto, which may be rendered: “To the enemy no quarter.”
(Source: Fr. Felix Sarda y Salvany, Liberalism is a Sin, translated by Conde B. Pallen, 1899; available at sedevacantist.com)
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- Year of Condemnation 04: Catholic Condemnations of Idolatry
- Year of Condemnation 03: The Syllabus of Modernist Errors condemned by Pope Saint Pius X
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- Year of Condemnation 01: Pope Pius XI’s Instruction Concerning the Immodest Dress of Women (1930)