On Intolerance and Charity


When they tell you you're intolerant or uncompassionate, think of the following.

Narrow! Intolerant! Uncompromising! These are the epithets of odium hurled by Liberal votaries of all degrees at us Ultramontanes (i.e., Roman Catholics or papists -- literally: "beyond the mountains" for entrance to Italy from the continent of Europe requires traversing the Alpine Mountains, the highest in Europe. Thus, to Europe the Roman Catholic Church has its government, its head, its nerve center "beyond the mountains"). 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 Himself. It is human self-love, usurping the throne of the Most High and demanding that worship which belongs to God alone.

from "Liberalism Is A Sin," by Don Felix Sarda y Salvany, a priest of Barcelona

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