EXPLANATION OF CATHOLIC MORALS
A Concise, Reasoned, and Popular Exposition of Catholic Morals
Rev. JOHN H. STAPLETON
New York, Cincinnati, Chicago: Benzinger Brothers Printers to the Holy Apostolic See Publishers of Benzinger's Magazine 1913
Nihil Obstat. REMY LAFORT, Censor Librorum.
Imprimatur JOHN M. FARLEY, Archbishop of New York New York, March 25, 1904 Copyright, 1904, by Benzinger Brothers.
THE contents of this volume appeared originally in The Catholic Transcript, of Hartford, Connecticut, in weekly installments, from February, 1901, to February, 1903. During the course of their publication, it became evident that the form of instruction adopted was appreciated by a large number of readers in varied conditions of life— this appreciation being evinced, among other ways, by a frequent and widespread demand for back-numbers of the publishing journal. The management finding itself unable to meet this demand, suggested the bringing out of the entire series in book-form; and thus, with very few corrections, we offer the "Briefs" to all desirous of a better acquaintance with Catholic Morals. THE AUTHOR.
I. Believing and Doing II. The Moral Agent III. Conscience IV. Laxity and Scruples V. The Law of God and Its Breach VI. Sin VII. How to Count Sins VIII. Capital Sins IX. Pride X. Covetousness XI. Lust XII. Anger XIII. Gluttony XIV. Drink XV. Envy XVI. Sloth XVII. What We Believe XVIII. Why We Believe XIX. Whence Our Belief: Reason XX. Whence Our Belief: Grace and Will XXI. How We Believe XXII. Faith and Error XXIII. The Consistent Believer XXIV. Unbelief XXV. How Faith May Be Lost XXVI. Hope XXVII. Love of God XXVIII. Love of Neighbor XXIX. Prayer XXX. Petition XXXI. Religion XXXII. Devotions XXXIII. Idolatry and Superstition XXXIV. Occultism XXXV. Christian Science XXXVI. Swearing XXXVII. Oaths XXXVIII. Vows XXXIX. The Professional Vow XL. The Profession XLI. The Religious XLII. The Vow of Poverty XLIII. The Vow of Obedience XLIV. The Vow of Chastity XLV. Blasphemy XLVI. Cursing XLVII. Profanity XLVIII. The Law of Rest XLIX. The Day of Rest L. Keeping the Lord's Day Holy LI. Worship of Sacrifice LII. Worship of Rest LIII. Servile Works LIV. Common Works LV. Parental Dignity LVI. Filial Respect LVII. Filial Love LVIII. Authority and Obedience LIX. Should We Help Our Parents? LX. Disinterested Love in Parents LXI. Educate the Children LXII. Educational Extravagance LXIII. Godless Education LXIV. Catholic Schools LXV. Some Weak Points in the Catholic School System LXVI. Correction LXVII. Justice and Rights LXVIII. Homicide LXIX. Is Suicide a Sin? LXX. Self-Defense LXXI. Murder Often Sanctioned LXXII. On the Ethics of War LXXIII. The Massacre of the Innocents LXXIV. Enmity LXXV. Our Enemies LXXVI. Immorality LXXVII. The Sink of Iniquity LXXVIII. Wherein Nature Is Opposed LXXIX. Hearts LXXX. Occasions LXXXI. Scandal LXXXII. Not Good to Be Alone LXXXIII. A Helping Hand LXXXIV. Thou Shalt Not Steal LXXXV. Petty Thefts LXXXVI. An Oft Exploited, But Specious Plea LXXXVII. Contumely LXXXVIII. Defamation LXXXIX. Detraction XC. Calumny XCI. Rash Judgment XCII. Mendacity XCIII. Concealing the Truth XCIV. Restitution XCV. Undoing the Evil XCVI. Paying Back XCVII. Getting Rid of Ill-Gotten Goods XCVIII. What Excuses From Restitution XCIX. Debts
CHAPTER I. BELIEVING AND DOING.
MORALS pertain to right living, to the things we do, in relation to God and His law, as opposed to right thinking, to what we believe, to dogma. Dogma directs our faith or belief, morals shape our lives. By faith we know God, by moral living we serve Him; and this double homage, of our mind and our works, is the worship we owe our Creator and Master and the necessary condition of our salvation.
Faith alone will save no man. It may be convenient for the easy-going to deny this, and take an opposite view of the matter; but convenience is not always a safe counsellor. It may be that the just man liveth by faith; but he lives not by faith alone. Or, if he does, it is faith of a different sort from what we define here as faith, viz., a firm assent of the mind to truths revealed. We have the testimony of Holy Writ, again and again reiterated, that faith, even were it capable of moving mountains, without good works is of no avail. The Catholic Church is convinced that this doctrine is genuine and reliable enough to make it her own; and sensible enough, too. For faith does not make a man impeccable; he may believe rightly, and live badly. His knowledge of what God expects of him will not prevent him from doing just the contrary; sin is as easy to a believer as to an unbeliever. And he who pretends to have found religion, holiness, the Holy Ghost, or whatever else he may call it, and can therefore no longer prevaricate against the law, is, to common-sense people, nothing but a sanctified humbug or a pious idiot.
Nor are good works alone sufficient. Men of emancipated intelligence and becoming breadth of mind, are often heard to proclaim with a greater flourish of verbosity than of reason and argument, that the golden rule is religion enough for them, without the trappings of creeds and dogmas; they respect themselves and respect their neighbors, at least they say they do, and this, according to them, is the fulfilment of the law. We submit that this sort of worship was in vogue a good many centuries before the God-Man came down upon earth; and if it fills the bill now, as it did in those days, it is difficult to see the utility of Christ's coming, of His giving of a law of belief and of His founding of a Church. It is beyond human comprehension that He should have come for naught, labored for naught and died for naught. And such must be the case, if the observance of the natural law is a sufficient worship of the Creator. What reasons Christ may have had for imposing this or that truth upon our belief, is beside the question; it is enough that He did reveal truths, the acceptance of which glorifies Him in the mind of the believer, in order that the mere keeping of the commandments appear forthwith an insufficient mode of worship.
Besides, morals are based on dogma, or they have no basis at all; knowledge of the manner of serving God can only proceed from knowledge of who and what He is; right living is the fruit of right thinking. Not that all who believe rightly are righteous and walk in the path of salvation: losing themselves, these are lost in spite of the truths they know and profess; nor that they who cling to an erroneous belief and a false creed can perform no deed of true moral worth and are doomed; they may be righteous in spite of the errors they profess, thanks alone to the truths in their creeds that are not wholly corrupted. But the natural order of things demands that our works partake of the nature of our convictions, that truth or error in mind beget truth or error correspondingly in deed and that no amount of self-confidence in a man can make a course right when it is wrong, can make a man's actions good when they are materially bad. This is the principle of the tree and its fruit and it is too old-fashioned to be easily denied. True morals spring from true faith and true dogma; a false creed cannot teach correct morality, unless accidentally, as the result of a sprinkling of truth through the mass of false teaching. The only accredited moral instructor is the true Church. Where there is no dogma, there can logically be no morals, save such as human instinct and reason devise; but this is an absurd morality, since there is no recognition of an authority, of a legislator, to make the moral law binding and to give it a sanction. He who says he is a law unto himself chooses thus to veil his proclaiming freedom from all law. His golden rule is a thing too easily twistable to be of any assured benefit to others than himself; his moral sense, that is, his sense of right and wrong, is very likely where his faith is—nowhere.
It goes without saying that the requirements of good morals are a heavy burden for the natural man, that is, for man left, in the midst of seductions and allurements, to the purely human resources of his own unaided wit and strength; so heavy a burden is this, in fact, that according to Catholic doctrine, it cannot be borne without assistance from on high, the which assistance we call grace. This supernatural aid we believe essential to the shaping of a good moral life; for man, being destined, in preference to all the rest of animal creation, to a supernatural end, is thereby raised from the natural to a supernatural order. The requirements of this order are therefore above and beyond his native powers and can only be met with the help of a force above his own. It is labor lost for us to strive to climb the clouds on a ladder of our own make; the ladder must be let down from above. Human air-ships are a futile invention and cannot be made to steer straight or to soar high in the atmosphere of the supernatural. One-half of those who fail in moral matters are those who trust altogether, or too much, in their own strength, and reckon without the power that said "Without Me you can do nothing."
The other half go to the other extreme. They imagine that the Almighty should not only direct and aid them, but also that He should come down and drag them along in spite of themselves; and they complain when He does not, excuse and justify themselves on the ground that He does not, and blame Him for their failure to walk straight in the narrow path. They expect Him to pull them from the clutches of temptation into which they have deliberately walked. The drunkard expects Him to knock the glass out of his hand: the imprudent, the inquisitive and the vicious would have it so that they might play with fire, yea, even put in their hand, and not be scorched or burnt. 'Tis a miracle they want, a miracle at every turn, a suspension of the laws of nature to save them from the effects of their voluntary perverseness. Too lazy to employ the means at their command, they thrust the whole burden on the Maker. God helps those who help themselves. A supernatural state does not dispense us from the obligation of practising natural virtue. You can build a supernatural life only on the foundations of a natural life. To do away with the latter is to build in the air; the structure will not stay up, it will and must come down at the first blast of temptation.
Catholic morals therefore require faith in revealed truths, of which they are but deductions, logical conclusions; they presuppose, in their observance, the grace of God; and call for a certain strenuosity of life without which nothing meritorious can be effected. We must be convinced of the right God has to trace a line of conduct for us; we must be as earnest in enlisting His assistance as if all depended on Him; and then go to work as if it all depended on ourselves.
CHAPTER II. THE MORAL AGENT.
MORALS are for man, not for the brute; they are concerned with his thoughts, desires, words and deeds; they suppose a moral agent.
What is a moral agent?
A moral agent is one who, in the conduct of his life, is capable of good and evil, and who, in consequence of this faculty of choosing between right and wrong is responsible to God for the good and evil he does.
Is it enough, in order to qualify as a moral and responsible agent, to be in a position to respect or to violate the Law?
It is not enough; but it is necessary that the agent know what he is doing; know that it is right or wrong; that he will to do it, as such; and that he be free to do it, or not to do it. Whenever any one of these three elements—knowledge, consent and liberty—is wanting in the commission or omission of any act, the deed is not a moral deed; and the agent, under the circumstances, is not a moral agent.
When God created man, He did not make him simply a being that walks and talks, sleeps and eats, laughs and cries; He endowed him with the faculties of intelligence and free will. More than this, He intended that these faculties should be exercised in all the details of life; that the intelligence should direct, and the free will approve, every step taken, every act performed, every deed left undone. Human energy being thus controlled, all that man does is said to be voluntary and bears the peculiar stamp of morality, the quality of being good or evil in the sight of God and worthy of His praise or blame, according as it squares or not with the Rule of Morality laid down by Him for the shaping of human life. Of all else He takes no cognizance, since all else refers to Him not indifferently from the rest of animal creation, and offers no higher homage than that of instinct and necessity.
When a man in his waking hours does something in which his intelligence has no share, does it without being aware of what he is doing, he is said to be in a state of mental aberration, which is only another name for insanity or folly, whether it be momentary or permanent of its nature. A human being, in such a condition, stands on the same plane with the animal, with this difference, that the one is a freak and the other is not. Morals, good or bad, have no meaning for either.
If the will or consent has no part in what is done, we do nothing, another acts through us; 'tis not ours, but the deed of another. An instrument or tool used in the accomplishment of a purpose possesses the same negative merit or demerit, whether it be a thing without a will or an unwilling human being. If we are not free, have no choice in the matter, must consent, we differ in nothing from all brutish and inanimate nature that follows necessarily, fatally, the bent of its instinctive inclinations and obeys the laws of its being. Under these conditions, there can be no morality or responsibility before God; our deeds are alike blameless and valueless in His sight.
Thus, the simple transgression of the Law does not constitute us in guilt; we must transgress deliberately, wilfully. Full inadvertence, perfect forgetfulness, total blindness is called invincible ignorance; this destroys utterly the moral act and makes us involuntary agents. When knowledge is incomplete, the act is less voluntary; except it be the case of ignorance brought on purposely, a wilful blinding of oneself, in the vain hope of escaping the consequences of one's acts. This betrays a stronger willingness to act, a more deliberately set will.
Concupiscence has a kindred effect on our reason. It is a consequence of our fallen nature by which we are prone to evil rather than to good, find it more to our taste and easier to yield to wrong than to resist it. Call it passion, temperament, character, what you will,—it is an inclination to evil. We cannot always control its action. Everyone has felt more or less the tyranny of concupiscence, and no child of Adam but has it branded in his nature and flesh. Passion may rob us of our reason, and run into folly or insanity; in which event we are unconscious agents, and do nothing voluntary. It may so obscure the reason as to make us less ourselves, and consequently less willing. But there is such a thing as, with studied and refined malice and depravity, to purposely and artificially, as it were, excite concupiscence, in order the more intensely and savagely to act. This is only a proof of greater deliberation, and renders the deed all the more voluntary.
A person is therefore more or less responsible according as what he does, or the good or evil of what he does, is more or less clear to him. Ignorance or the passions may affect his clear vision of right and wrong, and under the stress of this deception, wring a reluctant yielding of the will, a consent only half willingly given. Because there is consent, there is guilt but the guilt is measured by the degree of premeditation. God looks upon things solely in their relation to Him. An abomination before men may be something very different in His sight who searches the heart and reins of man and measures evil by the malice of the evil-doer. The only good or evil He sees in our deeds is the good or evil we ourselves see in them before or while we act.
Violence and fear may oppress the will, and thereby prove destructive to the morality of an act and the responsibility of the agent. Certain it is, that we can be forced to act against our will, to perform that which we abhor, and do not consent to do. Such force may be brought to bear upon us as we cannot withstand. Fear may influence us in a like manner. It may paralyze our faculties and rob us of our senses. Evidently, under these conditions, no voluntary act is possible, since the will does not concur and no consent is given. The subject becomes a mere tool in the hands of another.
Can violence and fear do more than this? Can it not only rob us of the power to will, not only force us to act without consent, but also force the will, force us to consent? Never; and the simple reason is that we cannot do two contradictory things at the same time—consent and not consent, for that is what it means to be forced to consent. Violence and fear may weaken the will so that it finally yield. The fault, if fault there be, may be less inexcusable by reason of the pressure under which it labored. But once we have willed, we have willed, and essentially, there is nothing unwilling about what is willingly done.
The will is an inviolable shrine. Men may circumvent, attack, seduce and weaken it. But it cannot be forced. The power of man and devil cannot go so far. Even God respects it to that point.
In all cases of pressure being brought to bear upon the moral agent for an evil purpose, when resistance is possible, resistance alone can save him from the consequences. He must resist to his utmost, to the end, never yield, if he would not incur the responsibility of a free agent. Non-resistance betokens perfect willingness to act. The greater the resistance, the less voluntary the act in the event of consent being finally given; for resistance implies reluctance, and reluctance is the opposition of a will that battles against an oppressing influence. In moral matters, defeat can never be condoned, no matter how great the struggle, if there is a final yielding of the will; but the circumstance of energetic defense stands to a man's credit and will protect him from much of the blame and disgrace due to defeat.
Thus we see that the first quality of the acts of a moral agent is that he think, desire, say and do with knowledge and free consent. Such acts, and only such, can be called good or bad. What makes them good and bad, is another question.
CHAPTER III. CONSCIENCE.
THE will of God, announced to the world at large, is known as the Law of God; manifested to each individual soul, it is called conscience. These are not two different rules of morality, but one and the same rule. The latter is a form or copy of the former. One is the will of God, the other is its echo in our souls.
We might fancy God, at the beginning of all things, speaking His will concerning right and wrong, in the presence of the myriads of souls that lay in the state of possibility. And when, in the course of time, these souls come into being, with unfailing regularity, at every act, conscience, like a spiritual phonograph, gives back His accents and reechoes: "it is lawful," or "it is not lawful." Or, to use another simile, conscience is the compass by which we steer aright our moral lives towards the haven of our souls' destination in eternity. But just as behind the mariner's compass is the great unseen power, called attraction, under whose influence the needle points to the star; so does the will or Law of God control the action of the conscience, and direct it faithfully towards what is good.
We have seen that, in order to prevaricate it is not sufficient to transgress the Law of God: we must know; conscience makes us know. It is only when we go counter to its dictates that we are constituted evil-doers. And at the bar of God's justice, it is on the testimony of conscience that sentence will be passed. Her voice will be that of a witness present at every deed, good or evil, of our lives.
Conscience should always tell the truth, and tell it with certainty. Practically, this is not always the case. We are sometimes certain that a thing is right when it is really wrong. There are therefore two kinds of conscience: a true and a certain conscience, and they are far from being one and the same thing. A true conscience speaks the truth, that is, tells us what is truly right and truly wrong. It is a genuine echo of the voice of God. A certain conscience, whether it speaks the truth or not, speaks with assurance, without a suspicion of error, and its voice carries conviction. When we act in accordance with the first, we are right; we may know it, doubt it or think it probable, but we are right in fact. When we obey the latter, we know, we are sure that we are right, but it is possible that we be in error. A true conscience, therefore, may be certain or uncertain; a certain conscience may be true or erroneous.
A true conscience is not the rule of morality. It must be certain. It is not necessary that it be true, although this is always to be desired, and in the normal state of things should be the case. But true or false, it must be certain. The reason is obvious. God judges us according as we do good or evil. Our merit or demerit is dependent upon our responsibility. We are responsible only for the good or evil we know we do. Knowledge and certainty come from a certain conscience, and yet not from a true conscience which may be doubtful.
Now, suppose we are in error, and think we are doing something good, whereas it is in reality evil. We perceive no malice in the deed, and, in performing it, there is consequently no malice in us, we do not sin. The act is said to be materially evil, but formally good; and for such evil God cannot hold us responsible. Suppose again that we err, and that the evil we think we do is really good. In this instance, first, the law of morality is violated,—a certain, though erroneous conscience: this is sinful. Secondly, a bad motive vitiates an act even if the deed in itself be good. Consequently, we incur guilt and God's wrath by the commission of such a deed, which is materially good, but formally bad.
One may wonder and say: "how can guilt attach to doing good?" Guilt attaches to formal evil, that is, evil that is shown to us by our conscience and committed by us as such. The wrong comes, not from the object of our doing which is good, but from the intention which is bad. It is true that nothing is good that is not thoroughly good, that a thing is bad only when there is something lacking in its goodness, that evil is a defect of goodness; but formal evil alone can be imputed to us and material cannot. The one is a conscious, the other an unconscious, defect. Here an erroneous conscience is obeyed; there the same conscience is disregarded. And that kind of a conscience is the rule of morality; to go against it is to sin.
There are times when we have no certitude. The conscience may have nothing to say concerning the honesty of a cause to which we are about to commit ourselves. This state of uncertainty and perplexity is called doubt. To doubt is to suspend judgment; a dubious conscience is one that does not function.
In doubt the question may be: "To do; is it right or wrong? May I perform this act, or must I abstain therefrom?" In this case, we inquire whether it be lawful or unlawful to go on, but we are sure that it is lawful not to act. There is but one course to pursue. We must not commit ourselves and must refrain from acting, until such a time, at least, as, by inquiring and considering, we shall have obtained sufficient evidence to convince us that we may allow ourselves this liberty without incurring guilt. If, on the contrary, while still doubting, we persist in committing the act, we sin, because in all affairs of right and wrong we must follow a certain conscience as the standard of morality.
But the question may be: "To do or not to do; which is right and which is wrong?" Here we know not which way to turn, fearing evil in either alternative. We must do one thing or the other. There are reasons and difficulties on both sides. We are unable to resolve the difficulties, lay the doubt, and form a sure conscience, what must we do?
If all action can be momentarily suspended, and we have the means of consulting, we must abstain from action and consult. If the affair is urgent, and this cannot be done; if we must act on the spot and decide for ourselves, then, we can make that dubious conscience prudently certain by applying this principle to our conduct: "Of two evils, choose the lesser." We therefore judge which action involves the least amount of evil. We may embrace the course thus chosen without a fear of doing wrong. If we have inadvertently chosen the greater evil, it is an error of judgment for which we are in nowise responsible before God. But this means must be employed only where all other and surer means fail. The certainty we thereby acquire is a prudent certainty, and is sufficient to guarantee us against offending.
CHAPTER IV. LAXITY AND SCRUPLES.
IN every question of conscience there are two opposing factors: Liberty, which is agreeable to our nature, which allows us to do as we list; and Law which binds us unto the observance of what is unpleasant. Liberty and law are mutually antagonistic. A concession in favor of one is an infringement upon the claims of the other.
Conscience, in its normal state, gives to liberty and to law what to each is legitimately due, no more, no less.
Truth lies between extremes. At the two opposite poles of conscientious rectitude are laxity and scruples, one judging all things lawful, the other all things forbidden. One inordinately favors liberty, the other the law. And neither has sufficient grounds on which to form a sound judgment.
They are counterfeit consciences, the one dishonest, the other unreasonable. They do unlawful business; and because the verdict they render is founded on nothing more solid than imaginations, they are in nowise standards of morality, and should not be considered as such.
The first is sometimes known as a "rubber" conscience, on account of its capacity for stretching itself to meet the exigencies of a like or a dislike.
Laxity may be the effect of a simple illusion. Men often do wrong unawares. They excuse themselves with the plea: "I did not know any better." But we are not here examining the acts that can be traced back to self-illusion; rather the state of persons who labor under the disability of seeing wrong anywhere, and who walk through the commandments of God and the Church with apparent unconcern. What must we think of such people in face of the fact that they not only could, but should know better! They are supposed to know their catechism. Are there not Catholic books and publications of various sorts? What about the Sunday instructions and sermons? These are the means and opportunities, and they facilitate the fulfilment of what is in us a bounden duty to nourish our souls before they die of spiritual hunger.
A delicate, effeminate life, spiritual sloth, and criminal neglect are responsible for this kind of laxity.
This state of soul is also the inevitable consequence of long years passed in sin and neglect of prayer. Habit blunts the keen edge of perception. Evil is disquieting to a novice; but it does not look so bad after you have done it a while and get used to it. Crimes thus become ordinary sins, and ordinary sins peccadillos.
Then again there are people who, like the Pharisees of old, strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. They educate themselves up to a strict observance of all things insignificant. They would not forget to say grace before and after meals, but would knife the neighbor's character or soil their minds with all filthiness, without a scruple or a shadow of remorse.
These are they who walk in the broad way that leadeth to destruction. In the first place, their conscience or the thing that does duty for a conscience, is false and they are responsible for it. Then, this sort of a conscience is not habitually certain, and laxity consists precisely in contemning doubts and passing over lurking, lingering suspicions as not worthy of notice. Lastly, it has not the quality of common prudence since the judgment it pronounces is not supported by plausible reasons. Its character is dishonesty.
A scruple is a little sharp stone formerly used as a measure of weight. Pharmacists always have scruples. There is nothing so torturing as to walk with one or several of these pebbles in the shoe. Spiritual scruples serve the same purpose for the conscience. They torture and torment; they make devotion and prayer impossible, and blind the conscience; they weaken the mind, exhaust the bodily forces, and cause a disease that not infrequently comes to a climax in despair or insanity.
A scrupulous conscience is not to be followed as a standard of right and wrong, because it is unreasonable. In its final analysis it is not certain, but doubtful and improbable, and is influenced by the most futile reasons. It is lawful, it is even necessary, to refuse assent to the dictates of such a conscience. To persons thus afflicted the authoritative need of a prudent adviser must serve as a rule until the conscience is cured of its morbid and erratic tendencies.
It is not scruples to walk in the fear of God, and avoid sin and the occasions thereof: that is wisdom; nor to frequent the sacraments and be assiduous in prayer through a deep concern for the welfare of one's soul: that is piety.
It is not scruples to be at a loss to decide whether a thing is wrong or right; that is doubt; nor to suffer keenly after the commission of a grievous sin; that is remorse.
It is not scruples to be greatly anxious and disturbed over past confessions when there is a reasonable cause for it: that is natural.
A scrupulous person is one who, outside these several contingencies, is continually racked with fears, and persists, against all evidence, in seeing sin where there is none, or magnifies it beyond all proportion where it really is.
The first feature—empty and perpetual fears—concerns confessions which are sufficient, according to all the rules of prudence; prayers, which are said with overwrought anxiety, lest a single distraction creep in and mar them; and temptations, which are resisted with inordinate contention of mind, and perplexity lest consent be given.
The other and more desperate feature is pertinacity of judgment. The scrupulous person will ask advice and not believe a word he is told. The more information he gets, the worse he becomes, and he adds to his misery by consulting every adviser in sight. He refuses to be put under obedience and seems to have a morbid affection for his very condition.
There is only one remedy for this evil, and that remedy is absolute and blind obedience to a prudent director. Choose one, consult him as often as you desire, but do not leave him for another. Then submit punctiliously to his direction. His conscience must be yours, for the time being. And if you should err in following him, God will hold him, and not you, responsible.
CHAPTER V. THE LAW OF GOD AND ITS BREACH.
WITHOUT going into any superflous details, we shall call the Law of God an act of His will by which He ordains what things we may do or not do, and binds us unto observance under penalty of His divine displeasure.
The law thus defined pertains to reasonable beings alone, and supposes on our part, as we have seen, knowledge and free will. The rest of creation is blindly submissive under the hand of God, and yields a necessary obedience. Man alone can obey or disobey; but in this latter case he renders himself amenable to God's justice who, as his Creator, has an equal right to command him, and be obeyed.
The Maker first exercised this right when He put into His creature's soul a sense of right and wrong, which is nothing more than conscience, or as it is called here, natural law. To this law is subject every human being, pagan, Jew and Christian alike. No creature capable of a human act is exempt.
The provisions of this law consider the nature of our being, that is, the law prescribes what the necessities of our being demand, and it prohibits what is destructive thereof. Our nature requires physically that we eat, drink and sleep. Similarly, in a moral sense, it calls for justice, truthfulness, respect of God, of the neighbor, and of self. All its precepts are summed up in this one: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"—the golden rule. Thence flows a series of deducted precepts calculated to protect the moral and inherent rights of our nature.
But we are more concerned here with what is known as the positive Law of God, given by Him to man by word of mouth or revelation.
We believe that God gave a verbal code to Moses who promulgated it in His name before the Jewish people to the whole world. It was subsequently inscribed on two stone tables, and is known as the Decalogue or Ten Commandments of God. Of these ten, the first three pertain to God Himself, the latter seven to the neighbor; so that the whole might be abridged in these two words, "Love God, and love thy neighbor." This law is in reality only a specified form of the natural law, and its enactment was necessitated by the iniquity of men which had in time obscured and partly effaced the letter of the law in their souls.
Latterly God again spoke, but this time in the person of Jesus Christ. The Saviour, after confirming the Decalogue with His authority, gave other laws to men concerning the Church He had founded and the means of applying to themselves the fruits of the Redemption. We give the name of dogma to what He tells us to believe and of morals to what we must do. These precepts of Jesus Christ are contained in the Gospel, and are called the Evangelical Law. It is made known to us by the infallible Church through which God speaks.
Akin to these divine laws is the purely ecclesiastical law or law of the Church. Christ sent forth His Church clothed with His own and His Father's authority. "As the Father sent me, so I send you." She was to endure, perfect herself and fulfil her mission on earth. To enable her to carry out this divine plan she makes laws, laws purely ecclesiastical, but laws that have the same binding force as the divine laws themselves, since they bear the stamp of divine authority. God willed the Church to be; He willed consequently all the necessary means without which she would cease to be. For Catholics, therefore, as far as obligations are concerned, there is no practical difference between God's law and the law of His Church. Jesus Christ is God. The Church is His spouse. To her the Saviour said: "He that heareth you, heareth me, and he that despiseth you despiseth Me."
A breach of the law is a sin. A sin is a deliberate transgression of the Law of God. A sin may be committed in thought, in desire, in word, or in deed, and by omission as well as by commission.
It is well to bear in mind that a thought, as well as a deed, is an act, may be a human and a moral act, and consequently may be a sin. Human laws may be violated only in deed; but God, who is a searcher of hearts, takes note of the workings of the will whence springs all malice. To desire to break His commandments is to offend Him as effectually as to break them in deed; to relish in one's mind forbidden fruits, to meditate and deliberate on evil purposes, is only a degree removed from actual commission of wrong. Evil is perpetrated in the will, either by a longing to prevaricate or by affection for that which is prohibited. If the evil materializes exteriorly, it does not constitute one in sin anew, but only completes the malice already existing. Men judge their fellows by their works; God judges us by our thoughts, by the inner workings of the soul, and takes notice of our exterior doings only in so far as they are related to the will. Therefore it is that an offense against Him, to be an offense, need not necessarily be perpetrated in word or in deed; it is sufficient that the will place itself in Opposition to the Will of God, and adhere to what the Law forbids.
Sin is not the same as vice. One is an act, the other is a state or inclination to act. One is transitory, the other is permanent. One can exist without the other. A drunkard is not always drunk, nor is a man a drunkard for having once or twice overindulged.
In only one case is vice less evil than sin, and that is when the inclination remains an unwilling inclination and does not pass to acts. A man who reforms after a protracted spree still retains an inclination, a desire for strong drink. He is nowise criminal so long as he resists that tendency.
But practically vice is worse than sin, for it supposes frequent wilful acts of sin of which it is the natural consequence, and leads to many grievous offenses.
A vice is without sin when one struggles successfully against it after the habit has been retracted. It may never be radically destroyed. There may be unconscious, involuntary lapses under the constant pressure of a strong inclination, as in the vice of parsing, and it remains innocent as long as it is not wilfully yielded to and indulged. But to yield to the ratification of an evil desire or propensity, without restraint, is to doom oneself to the most prolific of evils and to lie under the curse of God.
CHAPTER VI. SIN.
IF the Almighty had never imposed upon His creatures a Law, there would be no sin; we would be free to do as we please. But the presence of God's Law restrains our liberty, and it is by using, or rather abusing, our freedom, that we come to violate the Law. It is for this reason that Law is said to be opposed to Liberty. Liberty is a word of many meanings. Men swear by it and men juggle with it. It is the slogan in both camps of the world's warfare. It is in itself man's noblest inheritance, and yet there is no name under the sun in which more crimes are committed.
By liberty as opposed to God's law we do not understand the power to do evil as well as good. That liberty is the glory of man, but the exercise of it, in the alternative of evil, is damnable, and debases the creature in the same proportions as the free choice of good ennobles him. That liberty the law leaves untouched. We never lose it; or rather, we may lose it partially when under physical restraint, but totally, only when deprived of our senses. The law respects it. It respects it in the highest degree when in an individual it curtails or destroys it for the protection of society.
Liberty may also be the equal right to do good and evil. There are those who arrogate to themselves such liberty. No man ever possessed it, the law annihilated it forever. And although we have used the word in this sense, the fact is that no man has the right to do evil or ever will have, so long as God is God. These people talk much and loudly about freedom—the magic word!—assert with much pomp and verbosity the rights of man, proclaim his independence, and are given to much like inane vaunting and braggadocio.
We may be free in many things, but where God is concerned and He commands, we are free only to obey. His will is supreme, and when it is asserted, we purely and simply have no choice to do as we list. This privilege is called license, not liberty. We have certain rights as men, but we have duties, too, as creatures, and it ill-becomes us to prate about our rights, or the duties of others towards us, while we ignore the obligations we are under towards others and our first duty which is to God. Our boasted independence consists precisely in this: that we owe to Him not only the origin of our nature, but even the very breath we draw, and which preserves our being, for "in Him we live, move and have our being."
The first prerogative of God towards us is authority or the right to command. Our first obligation as well as our highest honor as creatures is to obey. And until we understand this sort of liberty, we live in a world of enigmas and know not the first letter of the alphabet of creation. We are not free to sin.
Liberty rightly understood, true liberty of the children of God, is the right of choice within the law, the right to embrace what is good and to avoid what is evil. This policy no man can take from us; and far from infringing upon this right, the law aids it to a fuller development. A person reading by candlelight would not complain that his vision was obscured if an arc light were substituted for the candle. A traveler who takes notice of the signposts along his way telling the direction and distance, and pointing out pitfalls and dangers, would not consider his rights contested or his liberty restricted by these things. And the law, as it becomes more clearly known to us, defines exactly the sphere of our action and shows plainly where dangers lurk and evil is to be apprehended. And we gladly avail ourselves of this information that enables us to walk straight and secure. The law becomes a godsend to our liberty, and obedience to it, our salvation.
He who goes beyond the bounds of true moral liberty, breaks the law of God and sins. He thereby refuses to God the obedience which to Him is due. Disobedience involves contempt of authority and of him who commands. Sin is therefore an offense against God, and that offense is proportionate to the dignity of the person offended.
The sinner, by his act of disobedience, not only sets at naught the will of his Maker, but by the same act, in a greater or lesser degree, turns away from his appointed destiny; and in this he is imitated by nothing else in creation. Every other created thing obeys. The heavens follow their designated course. Beasts and birds and fish are intent upon one thing, and that is to work out the divine plan. Man alone sows disorder and confusion therein. He shows irreverence for God's presence and contempt for His friendship; ingratitude for His goodness and supreme indifference for the penalty that follows his sin as surely as the shadow follows its object. So that, taken all in all, such a creature might fitly be said to be one part criminal and two parts fool. Folly and sin are synonymous in Holy Writ. "The fool saith in his heart there is no God."
Sin is essentially an offense. But there is a difference of degree between a slight and an outrage. There are direct offenses against God, such as the refusal to believe in Him or unbelief; to hope in Him, or despair, etc. Indirect offenses attain Him through the neighbor or ourselves.
All duties to neighbor or self are not equally imperious and to fail in them all is not equally evil. Then again, not all sins are committed through pure malice, that is, with complete knowledge and full consent. Ignorance and weakness are factors to be considered in our guilt, and detract from the malice of our sins. Hence two kinds of sin, mortal and venial. These mark the extremes of offense. One severs all relation of friendship, the other chills the existing friendship. By one, we incur God's infinite hatred, by the other, His displeasure. The penalty for one is eternal; the other can be atoned for by suffering.
It is not possible in all cases to tell exactly what is mortal and what venial in our offenses. There is a clean-cut distinction between the two, but the line of demarcation is not always discernible. There are, however, certain characteristics which enable us in the majority of cases to distinguish one from the other.
First, the matter must be grievous in fact or in intention; that is, there must be a serious breach of the law of God or the law of conscience. Then, we must know perfectly well what we are doing and give our full consent. It must therefore be a grave offense in all the plenitude of its malice. Of course, to act without sufficient reason, with a well-founded doubt as to the malice of the act, would be to violate the law of conscience and would constitute a mortal sin. There is no moral sin without the fulfilment of these conditions. All other offenses are venial.
We cannot, of course, read the soul of anybody. If, however, we suppose knowledge and consent, there are certain sins that are always mortal. Such are blasphemy, luxury, heresy, etc. When these sins are deliberate, they are always mortal offenses. Others are usually mortal, such as a sin against justice. To steal is a sin against justice. It is frequently a mortal sin, but it may happen that the amount taken be slight, in which case the offense ceases to be mortal.
Likewise, certain sins are usually venial, but in certain circumstances a venial sin may take on such malice as to be constituted mortal.
Our conscience, under God, is the best judge of our malevolence and consequently of our guilt.
CHAPTER VII. HOW TO COUNT SINS.
THE number of sins a person may commit is well-nigh incalculable, which is only one way of saying that the malice of man has invented innumerable means of offending the Almighty—a compliment to our ingenuity and the refinement of our natural perversity. It is not always pleasant to know, and few people try very hard to learn, of what kind and how many are their daily offenses. This knowledge reveals too nakedly our wickedness which we prefer to ignore. Catholics, however, who believe in the necessity of confession of sins, take a different view of the matter. The requirements of a good confession are such as can be met only by those who know in what things they have sinned and how often.
There are many different kinds of sin. It is possible by a single act to commit more than one sin. And a given sin may be repeated any number of times.
To get the exact number of our misdeeds we must begin by counting as many sins at least as there are kinds of sin. We might say there is an offense for every time a commandment or precept is violated, for sin is a transgression of the law. But this would be insufficient inasmuch as the law may command or forbid more than one thing.
Let the first commandment serve as an example. It is broken by sins against faith, or unbelief, against hope, or despair, against charity, against religion, etc. All these offenses are specifically different, that is, are different kinds of sin; yet but one precept is transgressed. Since therefore each commandment prescribes the practice of certain virtues, the first rule is that there is a sin for every virtue violated.
But this is far from exhausting our capacity for evil. Our virtue may impose different obligations, so that against it alone we may offend in many different ways. Among the virtues prescribed by the first commandment is that of religion, which concerns the exterior homage due to God. I may worship false gods, thus offending against the virtue of religion, and commit a sin of idolatry. If I offer false homage to the true God, I also violate the virtue of religion, but commit a sin specifically different, a sin of superstition. Thus these different offenses are against but one of several virtues enjoined by one commandment. The virtue of charity is also prolific of obligations; the virtue of chastity even more so. One act against the latter may contain a four-fold malice.
It would be out of place here to adduce more examples: a detailed treatment of the virtues and commandments will make things clearer. For the moment it is necessary and sufficient to know that a commandment may prescribe many virtues, a virtue may impose many obligations, and there is a specifically different sin for each obligation violated.
But we can go much farther than this in wrongdoing, and must count one sin every time the act is committed.
"Yes, but how are we to know when there is one act or more than one act! An act may be of long or short duration. How many sins do I commit if the act lasts, say, two hours? And how can I tell where one act ends and the other begins?"
In an action which endures an hour or two hours, there may be one and there may be a dozen acts. When the matter a sinner is working on is a certain, specified evil, the extent to which he prevaricates numerically depends upon the action of the will. A fellow who enters upon the task of slaying his neighbor can kill but once in fact; but he can commit the sin of murder in his soul once or a dozen times. It depends on the will. Sin is a deliberate transgression, that is, first of all an act of the will. If he resolves once to kill and never retracts till the deed of blood is done, he sins but once. If he disavows his resolution and afterwards resolves anew, he repeats the sin of murder in his soul as often as he goes through this process of will action. This sincere retraction of a deed is called moral interruption and it has the mysterious power of multiplying sins.
Not every interruption is a moral one. To put the matter aside for a certain while in the hope of a better opportunity, for the procuring of necessary facilities or for any other reason, with the unshaken purpose of pursuing the course entered upon, is to suspend action; but this action is wholly exterior, and does not affect the will. The act of the will perseveres, never loses its force, so there is no moral, but only a physical, interruption. There is no renewal of consent for it has never been withdrawn. The one moral act goes on, and but one sin is committed.
Thus, of two wretches on the same errand of crime, one may sin but once, while the other is guilty of the same sin a number of times. But the several sins last no longer than the one. Which is the more guilty? That is a question for God to decide; He does the judging, we do the counting.
This possible multiplication of sin where a single act is apparent emphasizes the fact that evil and good proceed from the will. It is by the will primarily and essentially that we serve or offend God, and, absolutely speaking, no exterior deed is necessary for the accomplishment of this end.
The exterior deed of sin always supposes a natural preparation of sin— thought, desires, resolution,—which precede or accompany the deed, and without which there would be no sin. It is sinful only inasmuch as it is related to the will, and is the fruit thereof. The interior act constitutes the sin in its being; the exterior act constitutes it in its completeness.
All of which leads up to the conclusion, of a nature perhaps to surprise some, that to resolve to sin and to commit the sin in deed are not two different sins, but one complete sin, in all the fulness of its malice. True, the exterior act may give rise to scandal, and from it may devolve upon us obligations of justice, the reparation of injury done; true, with the exterior complement the sin may be more grievous. But there cannot be several sins if there be one single uninterrupted act of the will.
An evil thing is proposed to your mind; you enjoy the thought of doing it, knowing it to be wrong; you desire to do it and resolve to do it; you take the natural means of doing it; you succeed and consummate the evil—a long drawn out and well prepared deed, 'tis true, but only one sin. The injustices, the scandal, the sins you might commit incidentally, which do not pertain naturally to the deed, all these are another matter, and are other kinds of sins; but the act itself stands alone, complete and one.
But these interior acts of sin, whether or not they have reference to external completion, must be sinful. The first stage is the suggestion of the imagination or simple seeing of the evil in the mind, which is not sinful; the next is the moving of the sensibility or the purely animal pleasure experienced, in which there is no evil, either; for we have no sure mastery over these faculties. From the imagination and sensibility the temptation passes before the will for consent. If consent is denied, there is no deadly malice or guilt, no matter how long the previous effects may have been endured. No thought is a sin unless it be fully consented to.
CHAPTER VIII. CAPITAL SINS.
YOU can never cure a disease till you get at the seat or root of the evil. It will not do to attack the several manifestations that appear on the surface, the aches and pains and attendant disorders. You must attack the affected organ, cut out the root of the evil growth, and kill the obnoxious germ. There is no other permanent remedy; until this is done, all relief is but temporary.
And if we desire to remove the distemper of sin, similarly it is necessary to seek out the root of all sin. We can lay our finger on it at once; it is inordinate self-love.
Ask yourself why you broke this or that commandment. It is because it forbade you a satisfaction that you coveted, a satisfaction that your self-love imperiously demanded; or it is because it prescribed an act that cost an effort, and you loved yourself too much to make that effort. Examine every failing, little or great, and you will trace them back to the same source. If we thought more of God and less of ourselves we would never sin. The sinner lives for himself first, and for God afterwards.
Strange that such a sacred thing as love, the source of all good, may thus, by abuse, become the fountainhead of all evil! Perhaps, if it were not so sacred and prolific of good, its excess would not be so unholy. But the higher you stand when you tumble, the greater the fall; so the better a thing is in itself, the more abominable is its abuse. Love directed aright, towards God first, is the fulfilment of the Law; love misdirected is the very destruction of all law.
Yet it is not wrong to love oneself; that is the first law of nature. One, and one only being, the Maker, are we bound to love more than ourselves. The neighbor is to be loved as ourselves. And if our just interests conflict with his, if our rights and his are opposed to each other, there is no legitimate means but we may employ to obtain or secure what is rightly ours. The evil of self-love lies in its abuse and excess, in that it goes beyond the limits set by God and nature, that it puts unjustly our interests before God's and the neighbor's, and that to self it sacrifices them and all that pertains to them. Self, the "ego," is the idol before which all must bow.
Self-love, on an evil day, in the garden of Eden, wedded sin, Satan himself officiating under the disguise of a serpent; and she gave birth to seven daughters like unto herself, who in turn became fruitful mothers of iniquity. Haughty Pride, first-born and queen among her sisters, is inordinate love of one's worth and excellence, talents and beauty; sordid Avarice or Covetousness is excessive love of riches; loathsome Lust is the third, and loves carnal pleasures without regard for the law; fiery Anger, a counterpart of pride, is love rejected but seeking blindly to remedy the loss; bestial Gluttony worships the stomach; green-eyed Envy is hate for wealth and happiness denied; finally Sloth loves bodily ease and comfort to excess. The infamous brood! These parents of all iniquity are called the seven capital sins. They assume the leadership of evil in the world and are the seven arms of Satan.
As it becomes their dignity, these vices never walk alone or go unattended, and that is the desperate feature of their malice. Each has a cortege of passions, a whole train of inferior minions, that accompany or follow. Once entrance gained and a free hand given, there is no telling the result. Once seated and secure, the passion seeks to satisfy itself; that is its business. Certain means are required to this end, and these means can be procured only by sinning. Obstacles often stand in the way and new sins furnish steps to vault over, or implements to batter them down. Intricate and difficult conditions frequently arise as the result of self-indulgence, out of which there is no exit but by fresh sins. Hence the long train of crimes led by one capital sin towards the goal of its satisfaction, and hence the havoc wrought by its untrammeled working in a human soul.
This may seem exaggerated to some; others it may mislead as to the true nature of the capital sins, unless it be dearly put forth in what their malice consists. Capital sins are not, in the first place, in themselves, sins; they are vices, passions, inclinations or tendencies to sin, and we know that a vice is not necessarily sinful. Our first parents bequeathed to us as an inheritance these germs of misery and sin. We are all in a greater or lesser degree prone to excess and to desire unlawful pleasures. Yet, for all that, we do not of necessity sin. We sin when we yield to these tendencies and do what they suggest. The simple proneness to evil, devoid of all wilful yielding is therefore not wrong. Why? Because we cannot help it; that is a good and sufficient reason.
These passions may lie dormant in our nature without soliciting to evil; they may, at any moment, awake to action with or without provocation. The sight of an enemy or the thought of a wrong may stir up anger; pride may be aroused by flattery, applause or even compliments; the demon of lust may make its presence known and felt for a good reason, for a slight reason, or for no reason at all; gluttony shows its head at the sight of food or drink, etc.
He who deliberately and without reason arouses a passion, and thus exposes himself imprudently to an assault of concupiscence, is grievously guilty; for it is to trifle with a powerful and dangerous enemy and it betokens indifference to the soul's salvation.
Suggestions, seductions, allurements follow upon the awakening of these passions. When the array of these forces comes in contact with the will, the struggle is on; it is called temptation. Warfare is the natural state of man on earth. Without it, the world here below would be a paradise, but life would be without merit.
In this unprovoked and righteous battle with sin, the only evil to be apprehended is the danger of yielding. But far from being sinful, the greater the danger, the more meritorious the struggle. It matters not what we experience while fighting the enemy. Imagination and sensation that solicit to yielding, anxiety of mind and discouragement, to all this there is no wrong attached, but merit.
Right or wrong depends on the outcome. Every struggle ends in victory or defeat for one party and in temptation there is sin only in defeat. A single act of the will decides. It matters not how long the struggle lasts; if the will does not capitulate, there is no sin.
This resistance demands plenty of energy, a soul inured to like combats and an ample provision of weapons of defense—faith, hatred of sin, love of God. Prayer is essential. Flight is the safest means, but is not always possible. Humility and self-denial are an excellent, even necessary, preparation for assured victory.
No man need expect to make himself proof against temptation. It is not a sign of weakness; or if so, it is a weakness common to all men. There is weakness only in defeat, and cowardice as well. The gallant and strong are they who fight manfully. Manful resistance means victory, and victory makes one stronger and invincible, while defeat at every repetition places victory farther and farther beyond our reach.
Success requires more than strength, it requires wisdom, the wisdom to single out the particular passion that predominates in us, to study its artifices and by remote preparation to make ourselves secure against its assaults. The leader thus exposed and its power for evil reduced to a minimum, it will be comparatively easy to hold in check all other dependent passions.
CHAPTER IX. PRIDE.
EXCELLENCE is a quality that raises a man above the common level and distinguishes him among his fellow-beings. The term is relative. The quality may exist in any degree or measure. 'Tis only the few that excel eminently; but anyone may be said to excel who is, ever so little, superior to others, be they few or many. Three kinds of advantages go to make up one's excellence. Nature's gifts are talent, knowledge, health, strength, and beauty; fortune endows us with honor, wealth, authority; and virtue, piety, honesty are the blessings of grace. To the possession of one or several of these advantages excellence is attached.
All good is made to be loved. All gifts directly or indirectly from God are good, and if excellence is the fruit of these gifts, it is lawful, reasonable, human to love it and them. But measure is to be observed in all things. Virtue is righteously equidistant, while vice goes to extremes. It is not, therefore, attachment and affection for this excellence, but inordinate, unreasonable love that is damnable, and constitutes the vice of pride.
God alone is excellent and all greatness is from Him alone. And those who are born great, who acquire greatness, or who have greatness thrust upon them, alike owe their superiority to Him. Nor are these advantages and this preeminence due to our merits and deserts. Everything that comes to us from God is purely gratuitous on His part, and undeserved on ours. Since our very existence is the effect of a free act of His will, why should not, for a greater reason, all that is accidental to that existence be dependent on His free choice? Finally, nothing of all this is ours or ever can become ours. Our qualities are a pure loan confided to our care for a good and useful purpose, and will be reclaimed with interest.
Since the malice of our pride consists in the measure of affection we bestow upon our excellence, if we love it to the extent of adjudging it not a gift of God, but the fruit of our own better selves; or if we look upon it as the result of our worth, that is, due to our merits, we are guilty of nothing short of downright heresy, because we hold two doctrines contrary to faith. "What hast thou, that thou hast not received?" If a gift is due to us, it is no longer a gift. This extreme of pride is happily rare. It is directly opposed to God. It is the sin of Lucifer.
A lesser degree of pride is, while admitting ourselves beholden to God for whatever we possess and confessing His bounties to be undeserved, to consider the latter as becoming ours by right of possession, with liberty to make the most of them for our own personal ends. This is a false and sinful appreciation of God's gifts, but it respects His and all subordinate authority. If it never, in practice, fails in this submission, there is sin, because the plan of God, by which all things must be referred to Him, is thwarted; but its malice is not considered grievous. Pride, however, only too often fails in this, its tendency being to satisfy itself, which it cannot do within the bounds of authority. Therefore it is that from being a venial, this species of pride becomes a mortal offense, because it leads almost infallibly to disobedience and rebellion. There is a pride, improperly so called, which is in accordance with all the rules of order, reason and honor. It is a sense of responsibility and dignity which every man owes to himself, and which is compatible with the most sincere humility. It is a regard, an esteem for oneself, too great to allow one to stoop to anything base or mean. It is submissive to authority, acknowledges shortcomings, respects others and expects to be respected in return. It can preside with dignity, and obey with docility. Far from being a vice, it is a virtue and is only too rare in this world. It is nobility of soul which betrays itself in self-respect.
Here is the origin, progress and development of the vice. We first consider the good that is in us, and there is good in all of us, more or less. This consideration becomes first exaggerated; then one-sided by reason of our overlooking and ignoring imperfections and shortcomings. Out of these reflections arises an apprehension of excellence or superiority greater than we really possess. From the mind this estimate passes to the heart which embraces it fondly, rejoices and exults. The conjoint acceptation of this false appreciation by the mind and heart is the first complete stage of pride—an overwrought esteem of self. The next move is to become self-sufficient, presumptuous. A spirit of enterprise asserts itself, wholly out of keeping with the means at hand. It is sometimes foolish, sometimes insane, reason being blinded by error.
The vice then seeks to satisfy itself, craves for the esteem of others, admiration, flattery, applause, and glory. This is vanity, different from conceit only in this, that the former is based on something that is, or has been done, while the latter is based on nothing.
Vanity manifested in word is called boasting; in deed that is true, vain-glory; in deed without foundation of truth, hypocrisy.
But this is not substantial enough for ambition, another form of pride. It covets exterior marks of appreciation, rank, honor, dignity, authority. It seeks to rise, by hook or crook, for the sole reason of showing off and displaying self. Still growing apace, pride becomes indignant, irritated, angry if this due appreciation is not shown to its excellence; it despises others either for antipathy or inferiority. It believes its own judgment infallible and, if in the wrong, will never acknowledge a mistake or yield. Finally the proud man becomes so full of self that obedience is beneath him, and he no longer respects authority of man or of God. Here we have the sin of pride in all the plenitude of its malice.
Pride is often called an honorable vice, because its aspirations are lofty, because it supposes strength, and tends directly to elevate man, rather than to debase and degrade him, like the other vices. Yet pride is compatible with every meanness. It lodges in the heart of the pauper as well as in that of the prince. There is nothing contemptible that it will not do to satisfy itself; and although its prime malice is to oppose God it has every quality to make it as hideous as Satan himself. It goeth before a fall, but it does not cease to exist after the fall; and no matter how deep down in the mire of iniquity you search, you will find pride nethermost. Other vices excite one's pity; pride makes us shudder.
CHAPTER X. COVETOUSNESS.
"WHAT is a miser?" asked the teacher of her pupils, and the bright boy spoke up and answered: one who has a greed for gold. But he and all the class were embarrassed as to how this greed for gold should be qualified. The boy at the foot of the class came to the rescue, and shouted out: misery.
Less wise answers are made every day in our schools. Misery is indeed the lot, if not the vice, of the miser. 'Tis true that this is one of the few vices that arrive at permanent advantages, the others offering satisfaction that lasts but for a moment, and leaves nothing but bitterness behind. Yet, the more the miser possesses the more insatiable his greed becomes, and the less his enjoyment, by reason of the redoubled efforts he makes to have and to hold.
But the miser is not the only one infected with the sin of avarice. His is not an ordinary, but an extreme case. He is the incarnation of the evil. He believes in, hopes in, and loves gold above all things; he prays and sacrifices to it. Gold is his god, and gold will be his reward, a miserable one.
This degree of the vice is rare; or, at least, is rarely suffered to manifest itself to this extent; and although scarcely a man can be found to confess to this failing, because it is universally regarded as most loathsome and repulsive, still few there are who are not more or less slaves to cupidity. Pride is the sin of the angels; lust is the sin of the brute, and avarice is the sin of man. Scripture calls it the universal evil. We are more prone to inveigh against it, and accuse others of the vice than to admit it in ourselves.
Sometimes, it is "the pot calling the kettle black;" more often it is a clear case of "sour grapes." Disdain for the dollars "that speak," "the mighty dollars," in abundance and in superabundance, is rarely genuine.
There are, concerning the passion of covetousness, two notions as common as they are false. It is thought that this vice is peculiar to the rich, and is not to be met with among the poor. Now, avarice does not necessarily suppose the possession of wealth, and does not consist in the possession, but in the inordinate desire, or greed for, or the lust of, riches. It may be, and is, difficult for one to possess much wealth without setting one's heart on it. But it is also true that this greed may possess one who has little or nothing. It may be found in unrestrained excess under the rags of the pauper and beggar. They who aspire to, or desire, riches with avidity are covetous whether they have much, little, or nothing. Christ promised His kingdom to the poor in spirit, not to the poor in fact. Spiritual poverty can associate with abundant wealth, just as the most depraved cupidity may exist in poverty.
Another prejudice, favorable to ourselves, is that only misers are covetous, because they love money for itself and deprive themselves of the necessaries of life to pile it up. But it is not necessary that the diagnosis reveal these alarming symptoms to be sure of having a real case of cupidity. They are covetous who strive after wealth with passion. Various motives may arouse this passion, and although they may increase the malice, they do not alter the nature, of the vice. Some covet wealth for the sake of possessing it; others, to procure pleasures or to satisfy different passions. Avarice it continues to be, whatever the motive. Not even prodigality, the lavish spending of riches, is a token of the absence of cupidity. Rapacity may stand behind extravagance to keep the supply inexhausted.
It is covetousness to place one's greatest happiness in the possession of wealth, or to consider its loss or privation the greatest of misfortunes; in other words, to over-rejoice in having and to over-grieve in not having.
It is covetousness to be so disposed as to acquire riches unjustly rather than suffer poverty.
It is covetousness to hold, or give begrudgingly, when charity presses her demands.
There is, in these cases, a degree of malice that is ordinarily mortal, because the law of God and of nature is not respected.
It is the nature of this vice to cause unhappiness which increases until it becomes positive wretchedness in the miser. Anxiety of mind is followed by hardening of the heart; then injustice in desire and in fact; blinding of the conscience, ending in a general stultification of man before the god Mammon.
All desires of riches and comfort are not, therefore, avarice. One may aspire to, and seek wealth without avidity. This ambition is a laudable one, for it does not exaggerate the value of the world's goods, would not resort to injustice, and has not the characteristic tenacity of covetousness. There is order in this desire for plenty. It is the great mover of activity in life; it is good because it is natural, and honorable because of its motives.
CHAPTER XI. LUST.
PRIDE resides principally in the mind, and thence sways over the entire man; avarice proceeds from the heart and affections; lust has its seat in the flesh. By pride man prevaricating imitates the angel of whose nature he partakes; avarice is proper to man as being a composite of angelic and animal natures; lust is characteristic of the brute pure and simple. This trinity of concupiscence is in direct opposition to the Trinity of God—to the Father, whose authority pride would destroy; to the Son, whose voluntary stripping of the divinity and the poverty of whose life avarice scorns and contemns to the Holy Ghost, to whom lust is opposed as the flesh is opposed to the spirit. This is the mighty trio that takes possession of the whole being of man, controls his superior and inferior appetites, and wars on the whole being on God. And lust is the most ignoble of the three.
Strictly speaking, it is not here question of the commandments. They prescribe or forbid acts of sin—thoughts, words or deeds; lust is a passion, a vice or inclination, a concupiscence. It is not an act. It does not become a sin while it remains in this state of pure inclination. It is inbred in our nature as children of Adam. Lust is an appetite like any other appetite, conformable to our human nature, and can be satisfied lawfully within the order established by God and nature. But it is vitiated by the corruption of fallen flesh. This vitiated appetite craves for unlawful and forbidden satisfactions and pleasures, such as are not in keeping with the plans of the Creator. Thus the vitiated appetite becomes inordinate. At one and the same time, it becomes inordinate and sinful, the passion being gratified unduly by a positive act of sin.
This depraved inclination, as everyone knows, may be in us, without being of us, that is, without any guilt being imputed to us. This occurs in the event of a violent assault of passion, in which our will has no part, and which consequently does not materialize, exteriorly or interiorly, in a human act forbidden by the laws of morality. Nor is there a transgression, even when gratified, if reason and faith control the inclination and direct it along the lines laid down by the divine and natural laws. Outside of this, all manners, shapes and forms of lust are grievous sins, for the law admits no levity of matter. No further investigation, at the present time, into the essence of this vice is necessary.
There is an abominable theory familiar to, and held by the dissolute, who, not content with spreading the contagion of their souls, aim at poisoning the very wells of morality. They reason somewhat after this fashion: Human nature is everywhere the same. He knows others who best knows himself. A mere glance at themselves reveals the fact that they are chained fast to earth by their vile appetites, and that to break these chains is a task too heavy for them to undertake. The fact is overlooked that these bonds are of their own creation, and that every end is beyond reach of him who refuses to take the means to that end. Incapable, too, of conceiving a sphere of morality superior to that in which they move, and without further investigation of facts to make their induction good, they conclude that all men are like themselves; that open profession of morality is unadulterated hypocrisy, that a pure man is a living lie. A more wholesale impeachment of human veracity and a more brutal indignity offered to human nature could scarcely be imagined. Reason never argued thus; the heart has reasons which the reason cannot comprehend. Truth to be loved needs only to be seen. Adversely, it is the case with falsehood.
It is habitual with this passion to hide its hideousness under the disguise of love, and thus this most sacred and hallowed name is prostituted to signify that which is most vile and loathsome. Depravity? No. Goodness of heart, generosity of affections, the very quintessence of good nature! But God is love, and love that does not see the image of the Creator in its object is not love, but the brutal instinct.
There are some who do not go so far as to identify vice with virtue, but content themselves with esteeming that, since passion is so strong, virtue so difficult and God so merciful to His frail creatures, to yield a trifle is less a sin than a confession of native weakness. This "weakness" runs a whole gamut of euphemisms; imperfections, foibles, frailties, mistakes, miseries, accidents, indiscretions—anything to gloss it over, anything but what it is. At this rate, you could efface the whole Decalogue and at one fell stroke destroy all laws, human and divine. What is yielding to any passion but weakness? Very few sins are sins of pure malice. If one is weak through one's own fault, and chooses to remain so rather than take the necessary means of acquiring strength, that one is responsible in full for the weakness. The weak and naughty in this matter are plain, ordinary sinners of a very sable dye.
Theirs is not the view that God took of things when He purged the earth with water and destroyed the five cities with fire. From Genesis to the Apocalypse you will not find a weakness against which He inveighs so strongly, and chastises so severely. He forbids and condemns every deliberate yielding, every voluntary step taken over the threshold of moral cleanness in thought, word, desire or action.
The gravity and malice of sin is not to be measured by the fancies, opinions, theories or attitude of men. The first and only rule is the will of God which is sufficiently clear to anyone who scans the sacred pages whereon it is manifested. And the reason of His uncompromising hostility to voluptuousness can be found in the intrinsic malice of the evil. In man, as God created him, the soul is superior to the body, and of its nature should rule and govern. Lust inverts this order, and the flesh lords it over the spirit. The image of God is defiled, dragged in the mire of filth and corruption, and robbed of its spiritual nature, as far as the thing is possible. It becomes corporal, carnal, animal. And thus the superior soul with its sublime faculties of intelligence and will is made to obey under the tyranny of emancipated flesh, and like the brute seeks only for things carnal.
It is impossible to say to what this vice will not lead, or to enumerate the crimes that follow in its wake. The first and most natural consequence is to create a distaste and aversion for prayer, piety, devotion, religion and God; and this is God's most terrible curse on the vice, for it puts beyond reach of the unfortunate sinner the only remedy that could save him.
But if God's justice is so rigorous toward the wanton, His mercy is never so great as toward those who need it most, who desire it and ask it. The most touching episodes in the Gospels are those in which Christ opened wide the arms of His charity to sinful but repentant creatures, and lifted them out of their iniquity. That same charity and power to shrive, uplift and strengthen resides to-day, in all its plenitude, in the Church which is the continuation of Christ. Where there is a will there is a way. The will is the sinner's; the way is in prayer and the sacraments.
CHAPTER XII. ANGER.
NEVER say, when you are angry, that you are mad; it makes you appear much worse than you really are, for only dogs get mad. The rabies in a human being is a most unnatural and ignoble thing. Yet common parlance likens anger to it.
It is safe to say that no one has yet been born that never yielded, more or less, to the sway of this passion. Everybody gets angry. The child sulks, the little girl calls names and makes faces, the boy fights and throws stones; the maiden waxes huffy, spiteful, and won't speak, and the irascible male fumes, rages, and says and does things that become him not in the least. Even pious folks have their tiffs and tilts. All flesh is frail, and anger has an easy time of it; not because this passion is so powerful, but because it is insidious and passes for a harmless little thing in its ordinary disguise. And yet all wrath does not manifest itself thus exteriorly. Still waters are deepest. An imperturbable countenance may mask a very inferno of wrath and hatred.
To hear us talk, there is no fault in all this, the greater part of the time. It is a soothing tonic to our conscience after a fit of rage, to lay all the blame on a defect of character or a naturally bad temper. If fault there is, it is anybody's but our own. We recall the fact that patience is a virtue that has its limits, and mention things that we solemnly aver would try the enduring powers of the beatified on their thrones in heaven. Some, at a loss otherwise to account for it, protest that a particular devil got hold of them and made resistance impossible.
But it was not a devil at all. It was a little volcano, or better, a little powder magazine hidden away somewhere in the heart. The imp Pride had its head out looking for a caress, when it received a rebuff instead. Hastily disappearing within, it spat fire right and left, and the explosion followed, proportionate in energy and destructive power to the quantity of pent-up self-love that served as a charge. Once the mine is fired, in the confusion and disorder that follow, vengeance stalks forth in quest of the miscreant that did the wrong.
Anger is the result of hurt pride, of injured self-love. It is a violent and inordinate commotion of the soul that seeks to wreak vengeance for an injury done. The causes that arouse anger vary infinitely in reasonableness, and there are all degrees of intensity.
The malice of anger consists wholly in the measure of our deliberate yielding to its promptings. Sin, here as elsewhere, supposes an act of the will, A crazy man is not responsible for his deeds; nor is anyone, for more than what he does knowingly.
The first movement or emotion of irascibility is usually exempt of all fault; by this is meant the play of the passion on the sensitive part of our nature, the sharp, sudden fit that is not foreseen and is not within our control, the first effects of the rising wrath, such as the rush of blood, the trouble and disorder of the affections, surexcitation and solicitation to revenge. A person used to repelling these assaults may be taken unawares and carried away to a certain extent in the first storm of passion, in this there is nothing sinful. But the same faultlessness could not be ascribed to him who exercises no restraining power over his failing, and by yielding habitually fosters it and must shoulder the responsibility of every excess. We incur the burden of God's wrath when, through our fault, negligence or a positive act of the will, we suffer this passion to steal away our reason, blind us to the value of our actions, and make us deaf to all considerations. No motive can justify such ignoble weakness that would lower us to the level of the madman. He dishonors his Maker who throws the reins to his animal instincts and allows them to gallop ahead with him, in a mad career of vengeance and destruction.
Many do not go to this extent of fury, but give vent to their spleen in a more cool and calculating manner. Their temper, for being less fiery, is more bitter. They are choleric rather than bellicose. They do not fly to acts but to desires and well-laid plans of revenge. If the desire or deed lead to a violation of justice or charity, to scandal or any notable evil consequence, the sin is clearly mortal; the more so, if this inward brooding be of long duration, as it betrays a more deep-seated malice.
Are there any motives capable of justifying these outbursts of passion? None at all, if our ire has these two features of unreasonableness and vindictiveness. This is evil. No motive, however good, can justify an evil end.