I just read the article about the testimony of the man who was sexually molested by Cardinal McCarrick in the confessional, starting at age 11.
I have this difficulty with "cheap forgiveness",
a mainstay of the culture. Christians are not immune.
So I am providing some background on "forgiveness", something we are bound to do, but something that has suffered at the hands of the "therapeutic culture," where it has somehow morphed to become a variant of that "unconditional love" shibboleth that is always tossed out as a justification for sin.
In point of fact, while we are commanded by God to forgive, we are not commanded to be more forgiving than God, who is the penultimate "judgmental" Being who made us all, and stands ever ready to forgive us our sins if we repent and approach Him with (perfect or imperfect) contrition.
I will acknowledge that the therapeutic culture is right in on one respect. It frees the soul not to nurse anger over injury; however, there is nothing new in this (see the Trent Catechism entry below). On the other hand, the willingness to forgive, and ability to forget injury, are not the same as forgiving the one who did injury. We are asked to "be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect", and in this we are to stand ready to forgive. But we can no more forgive the unrepentant that God will forgive us if we are unrepentant.
It is true, we can and should with all charity pray to God and ask Him to forgive others, as Jesus, St Stephen, Moses, and Job did. But you will note: Jesus on the cross said "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." He did not forgive them, as he did so many other times ("go, your sins are forgiven"
). In the material that follows, you will find exhortation to make intercessory prayer for those who have injured you.
What follows is, I hope, what might be a counter-cultural primer on forgiveness. It contains entries from the Catechism of Trent (used for the remarkable clarity), Scripture, St Augustine, and Denzinger.
Matthew 6:12 and
forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;(NAB)
FIFTH PETITION OF THE LORD'S PRAYER:
FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS, AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS"
Importance of Explaining This Petition
So many are the things which display at once God's infinite
power and His equally infinite wisdom and goodness, that wheresoever we turn
our eyes or direct our thoughts, we meet with the most certain signs of
omnipotence and benignity. And yet there is truly nothing that more eloquently
proclaims His supreme love and admirable charity towards us, than the
inexplicable mystery of the Passion of Jesus Christ, whence springs that never failing
fountain to wash away the defilements of sin. (It is this fountain) in which,
under the guidance and bounty of God, we desire to be merged and purified, when
we beg of Him to forgive us our debts.
This Petition contains a sort of summary of those benefits
with which the human race has been enriched through Jesus Christ. This Isaias
taught when he said: The iniquity of the house of Jacob shall be forgiven; and
this is all the fruit, that the sin thereof should be taken away. David also
shows this, proclaiming those blessed who could partake of that salutary fruit:
Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven.
The pastor, therefore, should study and explain accurately
and diligently the meaning of this Petition, which, we perceive, is so
important to the attainment of salvation.
Between this And the Preceding Petitions
In this Petition we enter on a new manner of praying. For
hitherto we asked of God not only eternal and spiritual goods, but also
transient and temporal advantages; whereas, we now ask to be freed from the
evils of the soul and of the body, of this life and of the life to come.
with which this Petition Should be Offered
Since, however, to obtain what we ask we must pray in a
becoming manner, it appears expedient to explain the disposition with which
this prayer should be offered to God.
The pastor, then, should admonish the faithful, that he who
comes to offer this Petition must first acknowledge, and next feel sorrow and
compunction for his sins. He must also be firmly convinced that to sinners,
thus disposed and prepared, God is willing to grant pardon. This confidence is
necessary to sinners, lest perhaps the bitter remembrance and acknowledgment of
their sins should be followed by that despair of pardon, which of old seized
the mind of Cain and of Judas, both of whom looked on God solely as an avenger
and punisher, forgetting that He is also mild and merciful.
In this Petition, therefore, we ought to be so disposed,
that, acknowledging our sins in the bitterness of our souls, we may fly to God
as to a Father, not as to a Judge, imploring Him to deal with us not according
to His justice, but according to His mercy.
We shall be easily induced to acknowledge our sins if we
listen to God Himself admonishing us through the Sacred Scriptures in this
regard. Thus we read in David: They are all gone aside; they are become
unprofitable together; there is none that doeth good, no not one. Solomon
speaks to the same purpose: There is no just man upon earth, that doth good,
and sinneth not. To this subject apply also these words: Who can say: "my
heart is clean, I am pure from sin?" The very same has been written by St.
John to deter men from arrogance: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive
ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Jeremias also says: Thou hast said:
"I am without sin, and am innocent"; and therefore, let thy anger be
turned away from me. Behold, I will contend with thee in judgment, because thou
hast said: "I have not sinned."
Christ the Lord, who spoke by the mouth of all these,
confirms their teaching by this Petition in which He commands us to confess our
sins. The Council of Milevi forbids us to interpret it otherwise. It hath
pleased the Council, that whosoever will have it that these words of the Lord's
prayer, "forgive us our debts," are said by holy men in humility, not
in truth, let him be anathema. For who can endure a person praying, and lying
not to men, but to the Lord Himself, saying with the lips that he desires to be
forgiven, but with the heart, that he has no debts to be forgiven?
In making this necessary acknowledgment of our sins, it is
Dot enough to call them to mind lightly; for it is necessary that the
recollection of them be bitter, that it touch the heart, pierce the soul, and
imprint sorrow. Wherefore, the pastor should treat this point diligently, that
his pious hearers may not only recollect their sins, and iniquities, but
recollect them with pain and sorrow; so that with true interior contrition they
may betake themselves to God their Father, humbly imploring Him to pluck from
the soul the piercing stings of sin.
For Sorrow Over Sin: The Baseness Of Sin
The pastor, however, should not be content with placing
before the eyes of the faithful the turpitude of sin. He should also depict the
unworthiness and baseness of men, who, though nothing but rottenness and
corruption, dare to outrage in a manner beyond all belief the incomprehensible
majesty and ineffable excellence of God, particularly after having been
created, redeemed and enriched by Him with countless and invaluable benefits.
Consequences of Sin
And for what? Only for this, that separating ourselves from
God our Father, who is the supreme Good, and lured by the most base rewards of
sin, we may devote ourselves to the devil, to become his most wretched slaves.
Language is inadequate to depict the cruel tyranny which the devil exercises
over those who, having shaken off the sweet yoke of God, and broken the most
lovely bond of charity by which our spirit is bound to God our Father, have
gone over to their relentless enemy, who is therefore called in Scripture, the
prince and ruler of the world, the prince of darkness, and king over all the
children of pride. Truly to those who are oppressed by the tyranny of the devil
apply these words of Isaias: O Lord our God, other lords besides thee have had
dominion over us.
If these broken covenants of love do not move us, let at
least the calamities into which we fall by sin move us. The sanctity of the
soul is violated, which we know to have been wedded to Christ. That temple of
the Lord is profaned, against the contaminators of which the Apostle utters
this denunciation: If any man violate the temple of God, him shall God destroy.
Innumerable are the evils brought upon man by sin, that
almost infinite pest of which David says: There is no health in my flesh,
because of thy wrath; there is no peace for my bones, because of my sins. In
these words he marks the violence of the plague, confessing that it left no
part of him uninfected by pestiferous sin; for the poison had penetrated into
his bones, that is, it infected his understanding and will, which are the two
most intimate faculties of the soul. This widespread pestilence the Sacred
Scriptures point out, when they designate sinners as the lame, the deaf, the
dumb, the blind, the paralyzed.
But, besides the anguish which he felt on account of the
enormity of his sins, David was afflicted yet more by the knowledge that he had
provoked the wrath of God against him by his sin. For the wicked are at war
with God, who is offended beyond belief at their crimes; hence the Apostle
says: Wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man
that worketh evil. Although the sinful act is transient, yet the sin by its
guilt and stain remains; and the imminent wrath of God pursues it, as the shadow
does the body.
When, therefore, David was pierced by these tormenting
thoughts, he was moved to seek the pardon of his sins. That the faithful,
imitating the Prophet, may learn to grieve, that is, to become truly penitent,
and cherish the hope of pardon, the pastor should call to their attention the
example of David's penitential sorrow, and the lessons of instruction drawn
from his fiftieth Psalm.
How great is the utility of this sort of instruction, which
teaches us to grieve for our sins, God Himself declares by the mouth of
Jeremias, who, when exhorting the Israelites to repentance, admonished them to
awake to a sense of the evils that follow upon sin. See, he says, that it is an
evil and a bitter thing for thee, to have left the Lord thy God, and that my
fear is not with thee, saith the Lord, the God of hosts. They who lack this
necessary sense of acknowledgment and grief, are said by the Prophets Isaias,
Ezechiel and Zachary to have a hard heart, a stony heart, a heart of adamant,
for, like stone, they are softened by no sorrow, having no sense of life, that
is, of the salutary recognition (of their sinfulness).
in God's Mercy
But lest the faithful, terrified by the grievousness of
their sins, despair of being able to obtain pardon, the pastor ought to
encourage them to hope by the following considerations.
As is declared in an Article of the Creed, Christ the Lord
has given power to the Church to remit sins.
Furthermore, in this Petition, our Lord has taught how great
is the goodness and bounty of God towards mankind; for if God were not ready
and prepared to pardon penitents their sins, never would He have prescribed
this formula of prayer: Forgive us our trespass. Wherefore we ought to be
firmly convinced, that since He commands us in this Petition to implore His
paternal mercy, He will not fail to bestow it on us. For this Petition
assuredly implies that God is so disposed towards us, as willingly to pardon
those who are truly penitent.
God it is against whom, having cast off obedience, we sin;
the order of whose wisdom we disturb, as far as in us lies; whom we offend;
whom we outrage by words and deeds. But it is also God, our most beneficent
Father, who, having it in His power to pardon all transgressions, has not only
declared His willingness to do so, but has also obliged men to ask Him for
pardon, and has taught in what words they are to do so. To no one, therefore,
can it be a matter of doubt, that under His guidance it is in our power to be
reconciled to God. And as this declaration of the divine willingness to pardon
increases faith, nurtures hope and inflames charity, it will be worth while to
amplify this subject, by citing some Scriptural authorities and some examples
of penitents to whom God granted pardon of the most grievous crimes. Since,
however, in the introduction to the Lord's Prayer and in that portion of the
Creed which teaches the forgiveness of sins, we were as diffuse on the subject
as circumstances allowed, the pastor will borrow from those places whatever may
seem pertinent for instruction on this point, for the rest drawing on the
fountains of the Sacred Scriptures.
The pastor should also follow the same plan which we thought
should be used in the other Petitions. Let him explain, then, what the word
debts here signifies, lest perhaps the faithful, deceived by its ambiguity,
pray for something different from what should be prayed for.
First, then, we are to know, that we by no means ask for
exemption from the debt we owe to God on so many accounts, the payment of which
is essential to salvation, namely, that of loving Him with our whole heart, our
whole soul, and our whole mind; neither do we ask to be in future exempt from
the duties of obedience, worship, veneration, or any other similar obligation,
comprised also under the word debts.
What we do ask is that He may deliver us from sins. This is
the interpretation of St. Luke, who, instead of debts, makes use of the word
sins, because by their commission we become guilty before God and incur a debt
of punishment, which we must pay either by satisfaction or by suffering. It was
of this debt that Christ the Lord spoke by the mouth of His Prophet: Then did I
pay that which I took not away. From these words of God we may understand that
we are not only debtors, but also unequal to the payment of our debt, the
sinner being of himself utterly incapable of making satisfaction.
Wherefore we must fly to the mercy of God; and as justice,
of which God is most tenacious, is an equal and corresponding attribute to
mercy, we must make use of prayer, and the intercession of the Passion of our
Lord Jesus Christ, without which no one ever obtained the pardon of his sins,
and from which, as from its source, have flown all the efficacy and virtue of
satisfaction. For of such value is that price paid by Christ the Lord on the
cross, and communicated to us through the Sacraments, received either actually
or in purpose and desire, that it obtains and accomplishes for us the pardon of
our sins, which is the object of our prayer in this Petition.
Here we ask pardon not only for our venial offences, for
which pardon may most easily be obtained, but also for grievous and mortal
sins. With regard to grave sins, however, this Petition cannot procure
forgiveness unless it derive that efficacy from the Sacrament of Penance,
received, as we have already said, either actually or at least in desire.'
The words our debts are used here in a sense entirely
different from that in which we said our bread. That bread is ours, because it
is given us by the munificence of God; whereas sins are ours, because with us
rests their guilt. They are our voluntary acts, otherwise they would not have
the character of sin.
Admitting, therefore, and confessing the guilt of our sins,
we implore the clemency of God, which is necessary for their expiation. In this
we make use of no palliation whatever, nor do we transfer the blame to others,
as did our first parents Adam and Eve. We judge ourselves, employing, if we are
wise, the prayer of the Prophet: Incline not my heart to evil words, to make
excuses in sins.
Nor do we say, forgive me, but forgive us; because the
fraternal relationship and charity which subsist between all men, demand of
each of us that, being solicitous for the salvation of all our neighbors, we
pray also for them while offering prayers for ourselves.
This manner of praying, taught by Christ the Lord, and
subsequently received and always retained by the Church of God, the Apostles
most strictly observed themselves and taught others to observe.
Of this ardent zeal and earnestness in praying for the
salvation of our neighbors, we have the splendid example of Moses in the Old,
and of St. Paul in the New Testament. The former besought God thus: Either
forgive them this trespass; or, if thou dost not, strike me out of the book
that thou hast written; ' while the latter prayed after this manner: I wished
myself to be anathema from Christ for my brethren.
we Forgive our Debtors"
The word as may be understood in two senses. It may be taken
as having the force of a comparison, meaning that we beg of God to pardon us
our sins, just as we pardon the wrongs and contumelies which we receive from
those by whom we have been injured. It may also be understood as denoting a
condition, and in this sense Christ the Lord interprets that formula. If, He
says, you forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will also forgive
you your offences; but if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father
forgive you your sins.
Either sense, however, equally contains the necessity of
forgiveness, intimating, as it does that, if we desire that God should grant us
the pardon of our offences, we ourselves must pardon those from whom we have
received injury; for so rigorously does God exact from us forgetfulness of
injuries and mutual affection and love, that He rejects and despises the gifts
and sacrifices of those who are not reconciled to one another.
Even the law of nature requires that we conduct ourselves
towards others as we would have them conduct themselves towards us; hence he
would be most impudent who would ask of God the pardon of his own offences
while he continued to cherish enmity against his neighbor.
Those, therefore, on whom injuries have been inflicted,
should be ready and willing to pardon, urged to it as they are by this form of
prayer, and by the command of God in St. Luke: If thy brother sin against thee,
reprove him; and if he repent, forgive him; and if he sin against thee seven
times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, "I
repent," forgive him. In the Gospel of St. Matthew we read: Love your
enemies; and the Apostle, and before him Solomon wrote: If thy enemy be hungry,
give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink; and finally we read in the
Gospel of St. Mark: When you shall stand to pray, forgive if you have anything
against any man; that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your
But since, on account of the corruption of nature, there is
nothing to which man brings himself more reluctantly than to the pardon of
injuries, let pastors exert all the powers and resources of their minds to
change and bend the dispositions of the faithful to this mildness and mercy so
necessary to a Christian. Let them dwell on those passages of Scripture in
which we hear God commanding to pardon enemies.
Let them also insist on this certain truth, that one of the
surest signs that men are children of God is their willingness to forgive
injuries and sincerely love their enemies; for in loving our enemies there
shines forth in us some likeness to God our Father, who, by the death of His
Son, ransomed from everlasting perdition and reconciled to Himself the human
race, which before was most unfriendly and hostile to Him.
Let the close of this exhortation and injunction be the
command of Christ the Lord, which, without utter disgrace and ruin, we cannot
refuse to obey: Pray for them that persecute and calumniate you; that you may
be the children of your Father who is in heaven.
Petition Should Not be Neglected
But in this matter no ordinary prudence is required on the
part of the pastor, lest, knowing the difficulty and necessity of this precept,
anyone despair of salvation.
Unable To Forget Injuries
There are those who, aware that they ought to bury injuries
in voluntary oblivion and ought to love those that injure them, desire to do
so, and do so as far as they are able, but feel that they cannot efface from
their mind all recollection of injuries. For there lurk in the mind some
remains of private grudge, in consequence of which such persons are disturbed
by misgivings of conscience, fearing that they have not in simplicity and
frankness laid aside their enmities and consequently do not obey the command of
Here, therefore, the pastor should explain the contrary
desires of the flesh and of the spirit; that the former is prone to revenge,
the latter ready to pardon; that hence a continual struggle and conflict goes
on between them. Wherefore he should point out that although the appetites of
corrupt nature are ever opposing and rebelling against reason, we are not on
this account to be uneasy regarding salvation, provided the spirit persevere in
the duty and disposition of forgiving injuries and of loving our neighbor.
Who Do Not Love Their Enemies
There may be some who, because they have not yet been able
to bring themselves to forget injuries and to love their enemies, are
consequently deterred by the condition contained in this Petition from making
use of the Lord's Prayer. To remove from their minds this pernicious error, the
pastor should adduce the two following considerations.
(In the first place), whoever belongs to the number of the
faithful, offers this prayer in the name of the entire Church, in which there
must necessarily be some pious persons who have forgiven their debtors the
debts here mentioned.
Secondly, when we ask this favor from God, we also ask for
whatever cooperation with the Petition is necessary on our part in order to obtain
the object of our prayer. Thus we ask the pardon of our sins and the gift of
true repentance; we pray for the grace of inward sorrow; we beg that we may be
able to abhor our sins, and confess them truly and piously to the priest.
Since, then, it is necessary for us to forgive those who have inflicted on us
any loss or injury, when we ask pardon of God we beg of Him at the same time to
grant us grace to be reconciled to those against whom we harbor hatred.
Those, therefore, who are troubled by that groundless and
perverse fear, that by this prayer they provoke still more the wrath of God,
should be undeceived and should be exhorted to make frequent use of a prayer in
which they beseech God our Father to grant them the disposition to forgive
those who have injured them and to love their enemies.
to Make this Petition Fruitful
But that this Petition may be really fruitful we should
first seriously reflect that we are suppliants before God, soliciting from Him
pardon, which is not granted but to the penitent; and that we should,
therefore, be animated by that charity and piety which are fitting in
penitents, whom it eminently becomes to keep before their eyes, as it were,
their own crimes and enormities and to expiate them with tears.
of Dangers Of Sin
To this thought should be joined caution in guarding for the
future against every occasion of sin, and against whatever I nay expose us to
the danger of offending God our Father. With this solicitude the mind of David
was occupied when he said: My sin is always before me; and: Every night I will
wash my bed; I will water my couch with my tears.
of Fervent Penitents
Let each one also call to mind the ardent love of prayer of
those who obtained from God through their entreaties the pardon of their sins.
Such was the publican, who, standing afar off through shame and grief, and with
eyes fixed on the ground, only smote his breast, crying: O God, be merciful to
me, a sinner. Such was also the woman, a sinner, who, standing behind Christ
the Lord, washed His feet, wiped them with her hair, and kissed them. Lastly,
there is the example of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, who going forth wept
Use of The Sacraments
They should next consider that the weaker men are, and the
more liable to diseases of the soul, which are sins, the more numerous and
frequent are the remedies they need. Now the remedies of a sick soul are
Penance and the Eucharist; these, therefore, the faithful should frequently
make use of.
Next almsdeeds, as the Sacred Scriptures declare, are a
medicine suited to heal the wounds of the soul. Wherefore, let those who desire
to make pious use of this prayer act kindly to the poor according to their
means. Of the great efficacy of alms in effacing the stains of sin, the Angel
of the Lord in Tobias, holy Raphael, is a witness, who says: Alms deliver from
death, and the same is that which purgeth away sins, and maketh to find mercy
and life everlasting. Daniel is another witness, who thus admonished King Nabuchodonosor:
Redeem thou thy sins with alms, and thy iniquities with works of mercy to the
Spirit of Forgiveness
The best alms and the most excellent act of mercy is
forgetfulness of injuries, and good will towards those who have injured us or
ours, in person, in property, or in character. Whoever, therefore, desires to
experience in a special manner the mercy of God, should make an offering to God
Himself of all his enmities, remit every offence, and pray for his enemies with
the greatest good will, seizing every opportunity of doing them good. But as
this subject was explained when we treated of murder, we refer the pastor to
The pastor ought to conclude his explanation of this
Petition with this final reflection, that nothing is, or can be conceived, more
unjust than that he who is so rigorous towards men as to extend indulgence to
no one, should himself demand that God be mild and kind towards him.
THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT: "Thou
shalt not kill"
of Instruction on This Commandment
The great happiness proposed to the peacemakers, of being
called the children of God, should prove a powerful incentive to the pastor to
explain to the faithful with care and accuracy the obligations imposed by this
Commandment. No means more efficacious can be adopted to promote peace among
mankind, than the proper explanation of this Commandment and its holy and due
observance by all. Then might we hope that men, united in the strictest bonds
of union, would live in perfect peace and concord.
The necessity of explaining this Commandment is proved from
the following. Immediately after the earth was overwhelmed in universal deluge,
this was the first prohibition made by God to man. I will require the blood of
your lives, He said, at the hand of every beast and at the hand of man. In the
next place, among the precepts of the Old Law expounded by our Lord, this
Commandment was mentioned first by Him; concerning which it is written in the
Gospel of St. Matthew: It has been said thou shalt not kill, etc.
The faithful, on their part, should hear with willing
attention the explanation of this Commandment, since its purpose is to protect
the life of each one. These words, Thou shalt not kill, emphatically forbid
homicide; and they should be heard by all with the same pleasure as if God,
expressly naming each individual, were to prohibit injury to be offered him
under a threat of the divine anger and the heaviest chastisements. As, then,
the announcement of this Commandment must be heard with pleasure, so also
should the avoidance of the sin which it forbids give pleasure.
Parts of This Commandment
In the explanation of this Commandment the Lord points out
its twofold obligation. The one is prohibitory and forbids us to kill; the
other is mandatory and commands us to cherish sentiments of charity, concord
and friendship towards our enemies, to have peace with all men, and finally, to
endure with patience every inconvenience.
Prohibitory Part of this Commandment
The Killing of Animals
With regard to the prohibitory part, it should first be
taught what kinds of killing are not forbidden by this Commandment. It is not
prohibited to kill animals; for if God permits man to eat them, it is also
lawful to kill them. When, says St. Augustine, we hear the words, "Thou
shalt not kill," we do not understand this of the fruits of the earth,
which are insensible, nor of irrational animals, which form no part of human
Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil
authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and
judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent.
The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act
of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of
the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the
punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger
of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by
repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I
put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers
of iniquity from the city of the Lord.
in a Just War
In like manner, the soldier is guiltless who, actuated not
by motives of ambition or cruelty, but by a pure desire of serving the
interests of his country, takes away the life of an enemy in a just war.
Furthermore, there are on record instances of carnage
executed by the special command of God. The sons of Levi, who put to death so
many thousands in one day, were guilty of no sin; when the slaughter had
ceased, they were addressed by Moses in these words: You have consecrated your
hands this day to the Lord.
Again, death caused, not by intent or design, but by
accident, is not murder. He that killeth his neighbor ignorantly, says the book
of Deuteronomy, and who is proved to have had no hatred against him yesterday
and the day before, but to have gone with him to the wood to hew wood, and in
cutting down the tree the axe slipt out of his hand, and the iron slipping from
the handle struck his friend and killed him, shall live. Such accidental
deaths, because inflicted without intent or design, involve no guilt whatever,
and this is confirmed by the words of St. Augustine: God forbid that what we do
for a good and lawful end shall be imputed to us, if, contrary to our
intention, evil thereby befall any one.
There are, however, two cases in which guilt attaches (to
accidental death). The first case is when death results from an unlawful act;
when, for instance, a person kicks or strikes a woman in a state of pregnancy,
and abortion follows. The consequence, it is true, may not have been intended,
but this does not exculpate the offender, because the act of striking a
pregnant woman is in itself unlawful. The other case is when death is caused by
negligence, carelessness or want of due precaution.
If a man kill another in self-defence, having used every
means consistent with his own safety to avoid the infliction of death, he
evidently does not violate this Commandment.
Part of This Commandment Forbids Murder And Suicide
The above are the cases in which life may be taken without
violating this Commandment; and with these exceptions all other killing is
forbidden, whether we consider the person who kills, the person killed, or the
means used to kill.
As to the person who kills, the Commandment recognizes no
exception whatever, be he rich or powerful, master or parent. All, without
exception or distinction, are forbidden to kill.
With regard to the person killed, the law extends to all.
There is no individual, however humble or lowly his condition, whose life is
not shielded by this law.
It also forbids suicide. No man possesses such power over
his own life as to be at liberty to put himself to death. Hence we find that
the Commandment does not say: Thou shalt not kill another, but simply: Thou
shalt not kill.
Finally, if we consider the numerous means by which murder
may be committed, the law admits of no exception. Not only does it forbid to
take away the life of another by laying violent hands on him, by means of a
sword, a stone, a stick, a halter, or by administering poison; but also
strictly prohibits the accomplishment of the death of another by counsel,
assistance, help or any other means whatever.
Anger Is Also Forbidden By the Fifth Commandment
The Jews, with singular dullness of apprehension, thought
that to abstain from taking life with their own hands was enough to satisfy the
obligation imposed by this Commandment. But the Christian, instructed in the
interpretation of Christ, has learned that the precept is spiritual, and that
it commands us not only to keep our hands unstained, but our hearts pure and
undefiled; hence what the Jews regarded as quite sufficient, is not sufficient
at all. For the Gospel has taught that it is unlawful even to be angry with
anyone: But I say to you that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in
danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, "Raca,"
shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, "Thou
fool," shall be in danger of hell fire. From these words it clearly
follows that he who is angry with his brother is not free from sin, even though
he conceals his resentment; that he who gives indication of his wrath sins
grievously; and that he who does not hesitate to treat another with harshness,
and to utter contumelious reproaches against him, sins still more grievously.
This, however, is to be understood of cases in which no just
cause of anger exists. God and His laws permit us to be angry when we chastise
the faults of those who are subject to us. For the anger of a Christian should
spring from the Holy Spirit and not from carnal impulse, seeing that we should
be temples of the Holy Ghost, in which Jesus Christ may dwell.
Our Lord has left us many other lessons of instruction with
regard to the perfect observance of this law, such as Not to resist evil; but
if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other. And if a man
will contend with thee in judgment, and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak
also unto him; and whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him two.
Against the Violation of this Commandment
From what has been said, it is easy to see how inclined man
is to those sins which are prohibited by this Commandment, and how many are
guilty of murder, if not in fact, at least in desire. As, then, the Sacred
Scriptures prescribe remedies for so dangerous a disease, the pastor should
spare no pains in making them known to the faithful.
Of these remedies the most efficacious is to form a just
conception of the wickedness of murder. The enormity of this sin is manifest
from many and weighty passages of Holy Scripture. So much does God abominate
homicide that He declares in Holy Writ that of the very beast of the field He
will exact vengeance for the life of man, commanding the beast that injures man
to be put to death. And if (the Almighty) commanded man to have a horror of
blood,' He did so for no other reason than to impress on his mind the
obligation of entirely refraining, both in act and desire, from the enormity of
The murderer is the worst enemy of his species, and
consequently of nature. To the utmost of his power he destroys the universal work
of God by the destruction of man, since God declares that He created all things
for man's sake. Nay, as it is forbidden in Genesis to take human life, because
God created man to his own image and likeness, he who makes away with God's
image offers great injury to God, and almost seems to lay violent hands on God
David, thinking of this with a mind divinely illumined,
complained bitterly of the bloodthirsty in these words: Their feet are swift to
shed blood. He does not simply say, they kill, but, they shed blood, words
which serve to mark the enormity of that execrable crime and to denote the
barbarous cruelty of the murderer. With a view also to describe in particular
how the murderer is precipitated by the impulse of the devil into the commission
of such a crime, he says: Their feet are swift.
Part of this commandment
of Neighbor Inculcated
The mandatory part of this Commandment, as Christ our Lord
enjoins, requires that we have peace with all men. Interpreting the Commandment
He says: If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember
that thy brother hath anything against thee; leave there thy offering before
the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then coming thou
shalt offer thy gift, etc.
to All Commanded
In explaining this admonition, the pastor should show that
it inculcates the duty of charity towards all without exception. In his
instruction on the precept he should exhort the faithful as much as possible to
the practice of this virtue, since it is especially included in this precept.
For since hatred is clearly forbidden by this Commandment, as whosoever hateth
his brother is a murderer, it follows, as an evident consequence, that the
Commandment also inculcates charity and love.
Beneficence and Mildness Commanded
And since the Commandment inculcates charity and love, it
must also enjoin all those duties and good offices which follow in their train.
Charity is patient, says St. Paul. We are therefore commanded patience, in
which, as the Redeemer teaches, we shall possess our souls. Charity is kind;
beneficence is, therefore, the friend and companion of charity. The virtue of
beneficence and kindness has a great range. Its principal offices are to
relieve the wants of the poor, to feed the hungry, to give drink to the
thirsty, to clothe the naked; and in all these acts of beneficence we should
proportion our liberality to the wants and necessities of those we help.
These works of beneficence and goodness, in themselves
exalted, become still more illustrious when done towards an enemy; for our
Savior says: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, which also the
Apostle enjoins in these words: If thine enemy be hungry, give him to eat: if
he thirst, give hint to drink. For, doing this, thou shalt heap coals of fire
on his head. Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.
Finally, if we consider the law of charity, which is kind,
we shall be convinced that to practice the good offices of mildness, clemency,
and other kindred virtues, is a duty prescribed by that law.
of Injuries Commanded
But the most important duty of all, and that which is the
fullest expression of charity, and to the practice of which we should most
habituate ourselves, is to pardon and forgive from the heart the injuries which
we may have received from others. The Sacred Scriptures, as we have already
observed, frequently admonish and exhort us to a full compliance with this
duty. Not only do they pronounce blessed those who do this, but they also
declare that God grants pardon to those who really fulfil this duty, while He
refuses pardon to those who neglect it, or refuse to obey it.
to Persuade Men to Forgive Injuries
As the desire of revenge is almost natural to man, it
becomes necessary for the pastor to exert his utmost diligence not only to
instruct, but also earnestly to persuade the faithful, that a Christian should
forgive and forget injuries; and as this is a duty frequently inculcated by
sacred writers, he should consult them on the subject, in order to be able to
subdue the pertinacity of those whose minds are obstinately bent on revenge,
and he should have ready the forcible and appropriate arguments which those
Fathers piously employed. The three following considerations, however, demand
We Have to Endure Comes From God
First, he who thinks himself injured ought above all to be
persuaded that the man on whom he desires to be revenged was not the principal
cause of the loss or injury. Thus that admirable man, Job, when violently
injured by the Sabeans, the Chaldeans, and by Satan, took no account of these,
but as a righteous and very holy man exclaimed with no less truth than piety:
The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away. The words and the example of that man
of patience should, therefore, convince Christians, and the conviction is most
just, that whatever chastisements we endure in this life come from the hand of
God, the Father and Author of all justice and mercy. He chastises us not as
enemies, but, in His infinite goodness, corrects us as children. To view the
matter in its true light, men, in these cases, are nothing more than the
ministers and agents of God. One man, it is true, may cherish the worst
feelings towards another, he may harbour the most malignant hatred against him;
but, without the permission of God, he can do him no injury. This is why Joseph
was able patiently to endure the wicked counsels of his brethren, and David,
the injuries inflicted on him by Semei.
Here also applies an argument which St. Chrysostom has ably
and learnedly handled. It is that no man is injured but by himself. Let the
man, who considers himself injured by another, consider the matter in the right
way and he will certainly find that he has received no injury or loss from
others. For although he may have experienced injury from external causes, he is
himself his greatest enemy by wickedly staining his soul with hatred,
malevolence and envy.
The second consideration is that there are two advantages,
which are the special rewards of those, who, influenced by a holy desire to
please God, freely forgive injuries. In the first place, God has promised that
he who forgives, shall himself obtain forgiveness of sins, a promise which
clearly shows how acceptable to God is this duty of piety. In the next place,
the forgiveness of injuries ennobles and perfects our nature; for by it man is
in some degree made like to God, Who maketh his sun to shine on the good and
the bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust.
Finally, the disadvantages which arise from the refusal to
pardon others are to be explained. The pastor, therefore, should place before
the eyes of the unforgiving man that hatred is not only a grievous sin, but
also that the longer it is indulged the more deeply rooted it becomes. The man,
of whose heart this passion has once taken possession, thirsts for the blood of
his enemy. Filled with the hope of revenge, he will spend his days and nights
brooding over some evil design, so that his mind seems never to rest from
malignant projects, or even from thoughts of blood. Thus it follows that never,
or at least not without extreme difficulty, can he be induced generously to
pardon an offence, or even to mitigate his hostility. Justly, therefore, is
hatred compared to a wound in which the weapon remains firmly embedded.
Moreover, there are many evil consequences and sins which
are linked together with this one sin of hatred. Hence these words of St. John:
He that hateth his brother, is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and
knoweth not whither he goeth; because the darkness hath blinded his eyes. He
must, therefore, frequently fall; for how can anyone view in a favorable light
the words or actions of him whom he hates? Hence arise rash and unjust
judgments, anger, envy, detractions, and other evils of the same sort, in which
are often involved those who are connected by ties of friendship or blood; and
thus does it frequently happen that this one sin is the prolific source of
Not without good reason is hatred called the sin of the
devil. The devil was a murderer from the beginning; and hence our Lord Jesus
Christ, the Son of God, when the Pharisees sought His life, said that they were
begotten of their father the devil.
Besides the reasons already adduced, which afford good
grounds for detesting this sin, other and most suitable remedies are prescribed
in the pages of Holy Writ.
Of these remedies the first and greatest is the example of
the Redeemer, which we should set before our eyes as a model for imitation. For
He, in whom even suspicion of fault could not be found, when scourged with
rods, crowned with thorns, and finally nailed to a cross, uttered that most
charitable prayer: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. And as
the Apostle testifies: The sprinkling of his blood speaketh better than Abel.
Another remedy, prescribed by Ecclesiasticus, is to call to
mind death and judgment: Remember thy last end, and. thou shalt never
sin." As if he had said: Reflect frequently and again and again that you
must soon die, and since at death there will be nothing you desire or need more
than great mercy from God, that now you should keep that mercy always before
your mind. Thus the cruel desire for revenge will be extinguished; for you can
discover no means better adapted, none more efficacious to obtain the mercy of
God than the forgiveness of injuries and love towards those who in word or deed
may have injured you or yours.
Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love (St. Augustine)
73. The Greatest of All Alms is to Forgive Our Debtors and to Love Our Enemies.
But none of those is greater than to forgive from the
heart a sin that has been committed against us. For it is a comparatively small
thing to wish well to, or even to do good to, a man who has done no evil to
you. It is a much higher thing, and is the result of the most exalted goodness,
to love your enemy, and always to wish well to, and when you have the
opportunity, to do good to, the man who wishes you ill, and, when he can, does
you harm. This is to obey the command of God: Love your enemies, do good to
them that hate you, and pray for them which persecute you. But seeing that this
is a frame of mind only reached by the perfect sons of God, and that though
every believer ought to strive after it, and by prayer to God and earnest
struggling with himself endeavor to bring his soul up to this standard, yet a
degree of goodness so high can hardly belong to so great a multitude as we
believe are heard when they use this petition, Forgive us our debts, as we
forgive our debtors; in view of all this, it cannot be doubted that the implied
undertaking is fulfilled if a man, though he has not yet attained to loving his
enemy, yet, when asked by one who has sinned against him to forgive him his
sin, does forgive him from his heart. For he certainly desires to be himself forgiven
when he prays, as we forgive our debtors, that is, Forgive us our debts when we
beg forgiveness, as we forgive our debtors when they beg forgiveness from us.
74. God Does Not Pardon the Sins of Those Who Do Not from the Heart Forgive
Now, he who asks forgiveness of the man against whom he
has sinned, being moved by his sin to ask forgiveness, cannot be counted an
enemy in such a sense that it should be as difficult to love him now as it was
when he was engaged in active hostility. And the man who does not from his
heart forgive him who repents of his sin, and asks forgiveness, need not
suppose that his own sins are forgiven of God. For the Truth cannot lie. And
what reader or hearer of the Gospel can have failed to notice, that the same
person who said, I am the Truth, taught us also this form of prayer; and in
order to impress this particular petition deeply upon our minds, said, For if
you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;
but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive
your trespasses? The man whom the thunder of this warning does not awaken is
not asleep, but dead; and yet so powerful is that voice, that it can awaken
even the dead. http://newadvent.org/fathers/1302.htm
Luke 17:3-4 (RSV)
Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he
repents, forgive him; 4 and if
he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and
says, 'I repent,' you must forgive him."
Matthew 18:15-35 (New American Bible)
15 “If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him
his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over
your brother. If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to
listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax
collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever
you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth
shall be loosed in heaven. l Again,
[amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they
are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together
in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Then Peter approaching asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as
seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to
you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a
king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was
brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be
sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of
the debt. At that, the servant fell
down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in
full.’ Moved with compassion the master
of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of
his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and
started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant
begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in
prison until he paid back the debt. Now
when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and
went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You
wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow
servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in
anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the
whole debt. So will my heavenly Father
do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”
Luke 15:11-32 (New American Bible)
Then he said, “A
man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the
share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the
property between them. After a few days,
the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country
where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had
freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found
himself in dire need. So he hired
himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the
swine. And he longed to eat his fill of
the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of
my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I,
dying from hunger. I shall get up and go
to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and
against you. I no longer deserve to be
called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was
filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned
against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your
son.’ But his father ordered his
servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his
finger and sandals on his feet. Take the
fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because
this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has
been found.’ Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he
neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the
servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has
slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He
became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and
pleaded with him. He said to his father
in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your
orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for
him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here
with me always; everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead
and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
1 John 5:16 (New American Bible)
If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not
deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those
whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do
not say that you should pray.
Matthew 5:43-48 (New American Bible)
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your
neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray
for those who persecute you, that you
may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad
and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense
will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is
unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father
Luke 23:34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know
not what they do.”
Exodus 32:9-14 I have seen this people, how stiff-necked
they are, continued the LORD to Moses. Let me alone, then, that my anger may
burn against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation. But
Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying, “Why, O LORD, should your anger burn
against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power
and with a strong hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent he
brought them out, that he might kill them in the mountains and wipe them off
the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning wrath; change your mind about
punishing your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and
how you swore to them by your own self, saying, ‘I will make your descendants
as numerous as the stars in the sky; and all this land that I promised, I will
give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.’” So the LORD changed his
mind about the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.
Job 42:7-9 And after the LORD had spoken these words to
Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My anger blazes against you and
your two friends! You have not spoken rightly concerning me, as has my servant
Job. So now take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and
sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves, and let my servant Job pray for you.
To him I will show favor, and not punish your folly, for you have not spoken
rightly concerning me, as has my servant Job.” Then Eliphaz the Temanite, and
Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, went and did as the LORD had
commanded them. The LORD showed favor to Job.
Acts 6:59-60 As they were stoning Stephen, he called out,
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a
loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”; and when he said this,
he fell asleep.
Dz 897 Contrition, which has the first place among the
aforementioned acts of the penitent, is a sorrow of the soul and a detestation
of sin committed, with a determination of not sinning in the future. This
feeling of contrition is, moreover, necessary at all times to obtain the
forgiveness of sins, and thus for a person who has fallen after baptism it
especially prepares for the remission of sins, if it is united with trust in
divine mercy and with the desire of performing the other things required to
receive this sacrament correctly. The holy Synod, therefore, declares that this
contrition includes not only cessation from sin and a resolution and a
beginning of a new life, but also hatred of the old, according to this
statement: "Cast away from you all your transgressions, by which you have
transgressed, and make to yourselves a new heart and a new spirit" (Ez
18,31). And certainly, he who has considered those lamentations of the saints:
"To Thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before Thee" (Ps
50,6); "I have labored in my groanings; I shall wash my bed every
night" (Ps 6,7); "I will recount to Thee all my years in the
bitterness of my soul" (Is 38,15), and others of this kind, will readily
understand that they emanate from a certain vehement hatred of past life and
from a profound detestation of sins.
Dz 898 The Council teaches, furthermore, that though it
sometimes happens that this contrition is perfect because of charity and
reconciles man to God, before this sacrament is actually received, this
reconciliation nevertheless must not be ascribed to the contrition itself
without the desire of the sacrament which is included in it. That imperfect
contrition [can. 5] which is called attrition, since it commonly arises either
from the consideration of the baseness of sin or from fear of hell and its
punishments, if it renounces the desire of sinning with the hope of pardon, the
Synod declares, not only does not make a person a hypocrite and a greater
sinner' but is even a gift of God and an impulse of the Holy Spirit, not indeed
as already dwelling in the penitent, but only moving him, assisted by which the
penitent prepares a way for himself unto justice. And though without the
sacrament of penance it cannot per se
lead the sinner to justification, nevertheless it does dispose him to obtain
the grace of God in the sacrament of penance. For the Ninivites, struck in a
salutary way by this fear in consequence of the preaching of Jonas which was
full of terror, did penance and obtained mercy from the Lord (cf. Jon 3). For
this reason, therefore, do some falsely accuse Catholic writers, as if they
taught that the sacrament of penance confers grace without any pious endeavor
on the part of those who receive it, a thing which the Church of God has never
taught or pronounced. Moreover, they also falsely teach that contrition is
extorted and forced, and that it is not free and voluntary [can. 5]
Necessity and Fruit of Satisfaction
Dz 904 Finally with regard to satisfaction, which of all
the parts of penance has been recommended by our Fathers to the Christian
people in all ages, and which is especially assailed in our day under the
pretext of piety by those who "have an appearance of piety, but who have
denied the power thereof" (2Tm 3,51), the holy Synod declares that it is
absolutely false and contrary to the word of God that the guilt is never
forgiven by the Lord without the entire punishment also being remitted [can.
12, 15]. For clear and illustrious examples are found in the Sacred Writings
(cf. Gn 3,16 f.; Nb 12,14 f.; Nb 20,11 f.; 2S 12,13). f., etc.], besides which
divine tradition refutes this error with all possible clarity. Indeed the nature of divine justice seems to
demand that those who have sinned through ignorance before baptism may be
received into grace in one manner, and in another those who at one time freed
from the servitude of sin and the devil, and on receiving the gift of the Holy
Spirit, did not fear to "violate the temple of God knowingly" (1Co
3,17), "and to grieve the Holy Spirit" (Ep 4,30). And it befits
divine clemency that sins be not thus pardoned us without any satisfaction,
lest, seizing the occasion (Rm 7,8), and considering sins trivial, we, offering
injury and "affront to the Holy Spirit" (He 10,29), fall into graver
ones, "treasuring up to ourselves wrath against the day of wrath" (Rm
2,5 Jc 5,3). For, without doubt, these satisfactions greatly restrain from sin,
and as by a kind of rein act as a check, and make penitents more cautious and
vigilant in the future; they also remove the remnants Of sin, and destroy
vicious habits acquired by living evilly through acts contrary to virtue.
Neither was there ever in the Church of God any way considered more secure for
warding off impending punishment by the Lord than that men perform these works
of penance (Mt 3,28 Mt 4,17 Mt 11,21 etc.) with true sorrow of soul. Add to
this that, while we suffer by making satisfaction for our sins, we are made
conformable to Christ Jesus, "who made satisfaction for our sins" (Rm
5,10 1Jn 2,1 f.), from whom is all our sufficiency (2Co 3,5), having also a
most certain pledge from Him that "if we suffer with Him, we shall also be
glorified" (cf. Rm 8,17).