Tag Archives: Fear of the LORD

Do Not Be Afraid

pantophobiaHow many times in the Bible does God or one of His messengers say, “Be Not Afraid!”

Urban legend suggests that it is there 365 times although that is apparently not the case. I have never counted it myself. For me it suffices that the saying is there, many times. Perhaps someday I will find the time to do a more in-depth search of it, correlating admonitions to “fear not” with admonitions to “Fear the Lord.” That will be fascinating.

However, not really the point right now. For this blog I want to share a half formed thought that has been rattling around in my head for, oh, probably more than a year now, whenever I read a scripture verse that says, “Be not afraid.” Perhaps like most people, whenever I have heard that I have always taken it to be a suggestion, an exhortation, or even an admonition. But at some time a year or so ago the thought occurred to me: “What if it is not a suggestion. What if it is a command?”

Ryan Climbing 2I don’t remember the context of that thought, although I think it became a Facebook status for the day. But I remember the very strong impression, which remains with me to the present, that I had, in some sense, hit on the right track.

Now, I freely acknowledge that it is not a common position, and certainly not a theory without its issues. So far everyone I have suggested it to has responded with polite incomprehension, or (in the case of my brother) open disagreement. The immediate reaction of most people has been, “But how can you help being afraid? When something is frightening, fear just happens, you don’t decide to be afraid. The verse is more likely saying something like, ‘Buck up, don’t let the fear control you. Do the right thing in spite of being afraid.'”

This was the first thought that occurred to me as well, notwithstanding the impression of right-track-ness. As I said, this thought is half formed, and there is still unresolved tension even in my own head, so I do not expect it to be readily embraced by other people.

But let me explain some of what I mean by it. First of all, what do we mean by fear?

Ryan Climbing 1
I’m top-roped so let me take a selfie…

The word is not unambiguous. I will take the example of rock climbing, since I am, and always have been, afraid of heights, but since I was on a mountain team in 1st Special Forces Group, I had to go through an advanced mountaineering school and multiple training events that involved heights, high places, climbing up to them, and rappelling off of them.

When I stand on a high place, ready to rappel off, I feel sensations of fear. I sense my heart rate and respirations increasing, my blood pressure rising, my stomach unsettling, and my palms (as well as the rest of me) sweating. These are physical stress reactions. I can go into greater detail if you want, but I think you get the idea. We can call this feeling “fear” and it would not be inaccurate. However, there is a second component, which is a sense of apprehension, an unpleasant anxiety and discomfort with the current situation, similar to what I might feel the morning of a big test in school. This also could be called “fear” with justification. Finally, there is what I call a cognitive feedback loop going on in my head. I look at the drop below me, I feel the wind whistling past me, I smell my own sweat, and I experience my own uneasiness. I think about that, and I think “This sucks” or some variation of that. Then I think about the fact that it sucks, and I wish myself anywhere but there. Then I think about all the places I might be, in a small act of escapism (my favorite trick was to promise myself if I made it off the rock alive I would never climb again. So far I have always failed to keep that promise).

Ryan Climbing 4
Wishing I was somewhere flat.

My flight into escapism would be cut short by reality, and the necessity of moving a step closer to the edge and backing into rappel position. I would review my procedures, mentally review my anchor, remind myself of the relative puniness of my weight compared to the rating of all of my equipment, but none of these facts ever seem to bear the visceral weight that the sight of the drop, the feel of the wind, the smell of sweat and that dang, jittery, uneasy feeling.

When I use the word “fear” in its full sense, I mean the combination of all three of these things: the physical stress response, the emotional weight of that response (including the shame attendant upon the knowledge of one’s own fear), and the cognitive feedback loop that recognizes, names, examines and perpetuates all three. The cognitive part is the tongue of the self-licking ice cream cone.

That cognitive component, which I sometimes call “worry,” is the part of fear that I think we are commanded not to do. It is the active part of fear, the part that doesn’t just happen to me, but that I actively participate in. I also suspect that it is a part of the fear that we humans tend to cling to, despite the fact that it sucks. We cling to it for a lot of reasons. It is a million miles away from real problem solving, but it gives us a sense of control. It doesn’t improve the situation, but if does give us the momentary relief of escapism. It makes us feel important because, if I am afraid then I must be Doing A Big Thing! If I dwell on the fact that I am afraid, and then do it anyway, then I can feel brave for it. In the last resort is an excuse to stop. It is the beginning of phobia, and the consequent weakness of saying, “I can’t do that because I have a fear of x, y and z.”

Ryan Climbing 3Fear sucks. The stress reaction is unpleasant enough, unless you happen to be an adrenalin junky. The discomfort with your situation is even worse. I have known many instances when I actually begged God to break my arm or leg or even just let me die, so I wouldn’t have to go through with this, but I also wouldn’t have to quit. The worst is when I dwell on the fear, perpetuate it and reinforce it.

When I first went through airborne school I complained to a friend of mine that I hate jumping out of airplanes, and I was glad that I wouldn’t have to do it as often when I got to my training unit. She asked whether I shouldn’t try to get on as many jumps as possible and try to overcome that fear. I laughed and said, no, it’s enough that I can make myself do it when I have to. Making myself comfortable with it is too much work.

She was right, and she was much wiser than I was. In retrospect I have many times found myself, paradoxically, clinging to the fear, refusing to put in the work that would have made
me unafraid. I would rather be afraid, than force myself to endure the sheer mental stress and physical exhaustion that I would have to go through to get past the fear.

Mountain ClimbingPerhaps that is what I mean when I say that, “Be not afraid,” is a command, rather than merely a suggestion. Do the thing you are afraid of until you are no longer afraid of it. Do not be afraid of being unafraid. Part of it anyway. I can tell you that I have never regretted doing something that I was afraid of doing. I have also never turned away from something I was afraid of, and not regretted later.

Cloud on the mountainThe view is worth it.

There is yet another layer of this, suggested by St. John’s assurance that “Perfect love casts out all fear” but this post is already too long, and it will have to wait.

 

 

Writing Within the Word?

Ever since childhood I was always taught to treat the Bible with a certain amount of respect.  This included never setting it on the bare floor, but always on top of something; never tossing or throwing it around irreverently; generally avoiding stacking non-religious things on top of it; and not writing in it.  The Bible was God’s Word, and thus deserved a level of treatment above that shown to an average book.

When I was younger I never thought twice about not writing in my Bibles, as I was never prone to write in any of my books anyway and—typical of Catholics—no one I knew really tended to carry around a Bible regularly, much less mark in it.  When I spent my first two years of high school at a “non-denominational” Christian school, I met people who used the Bible much more often than Catholics, but also treated it with more familiarity.  Though their knowledge of the Bible was truly inspirational, often their attitude towards it was a little more casual than I felt comfortable with.  This only reinforced the reverent habits of younger years, and as friends in Bible class highlighted and dog-eared pages of their Protestant translations, I found myself jotting notes on sticky notes or in journals outside my Catholic translation instead, not able to bring myself to mark the sacred text.

Then I began to realize the benefit in owning various translations of the Bible, Protestant and Catholic, so that I could compare and thus better understand where other Christians were coming from based off of the footnotes in their translations, or the errors in word choices that led to misleading interpretations.  I also began to feel comfortable marking the Protestant translations, because after all I wasn’t studying them for religious reasons—only for scholarly ones—thus I did not consider the ESV, for instance, as worthy of as much respect as the Catholic RSV.  Though I was able to justify jotting down apologetic notes in the Protestant translations, I still felt like writing in the real Word of God would be disrespectful.

LaurensJournalingBible-97

When I started taking Bible classes at my Catholic college, it wasn’t unusual to have a professor suggest underlining or marking a passage which was particularly important for the class lesson.  As I learned more about the Scriptures, I found myself becoming more attached to them, wanting to carry the Bible around more regularly.  As I studied them and started, thanks to our campus chaplain, practicing Lectio Divina, I often wished I had marked the passages that were meaningful or particularly insightful when my attempts to find them after-the-fact often ended in despairingly giving up the search.  But when it came to actually putting the pen on the page, I still felt like—in some way—by marking in the margins of the Bible I was not treating it with the reverence it deserved.  After all, who was I to mark alongside the inspired Word of the Creator of the Universe?  Yet as I quickly became “that person” whose favorite books could be determined by the amount of notes in the margins, I began to wonder if maybe, just maybe, marking biblical passages so that I could find and benefit from them again—just like I marked poignant lines in works by Chesterton or Tolkien—made more sense than I previously realized.

Many Catholics online have written about how marking in their Bibles is not a sign of disrespect, but rather a testimony to how often they turn to God’s Word.  One of my favorite bloggers writes about the way the Word of God has been a constant presence in her life, as is evidenced by the state of her favorite Bible, now falling apart with use and brimming over with bookmarks and marginal notes.  The Catholic Answers forum members chimed in, all encouraging a young person with concerns like mine to embrace the idea of marking up the pages, because it will help her connect better with the text.  Life Teen’s website encourages writing in the Bible in their post about how to start reading it.  I can see their points, but I can’t help but remain stuck on the question of reverence.

What do y’all think?  Is marking up Bibles a sign of particular devotion, or can it encourage an all-too-familiar attitude towards the Sacred Word of God?  Would you go so far as to make your Bible’s works of art in the spirit of religious fervor, or is there a line that can be crossed where marking it up hinders respect for God rather than encouraging it?  Does the translation make a difference?  Does having a “good Bible” that is treated with reverence and remains untouched by human additions to go along with the marked one preserve the reverence while also allowing for the devotional method?  What do you think?

Fear of the Lord Part 2: Love and Fear

“Those, who denounce fear, assail the law; and if the law, plainly also God, who gave the law…. If, then, according to hypothesis, they abolish the law; then, by necessary consequence, each one who is led by lust, courting pleasure, must neglect what is right and despise the Deity, and fearlessly indulge in impiety and injustice together, having dashed away from the truth.

Yea, say they, fear is an irrational aberration, and perturbation of mind. What do you say? And how can this definition be any longer maintained, seeing the commandment is given me by the Word?

….Fear is not then irrational. It is therefore rational. How could it be otherwise, exhorting as it does, You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, Than shall not bear false witness? But if they will quibble about the names, let the philosophers term the fear of the law, cautious fear, (εὐλάβεια) which is a shunning (ἔκκλισις) agreeable to reason…. Cautious fear (εὐλάβεια) is therefore shown to be reasonable, being the shunning of what hurts; from which arises repentance for previous sins. For the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; good understanding is to all that do it. He calls wisdom a doing, which is the fear of the Lord paving the way for wisdom. But if the law produces fear, the knowledge of the law is the beginning of wisdom; and a man is not wise without law. Therefore those who reject the law are unwise; and in consequence they are reckoned godless (ἄθεοι). Now instruction is the beginning of wisdom. But the ungodly despise wisdom and instruction, Proverbs 1:7 says the Scripture” (Saint Clement of Alexandria, The Stomata II.7)

The fear of the Lord helps us to overcome sins to which we might fall through ordinary worldly fear. It replace and thus drive our human fears, thus leading to fortitude. The philosopher-historian Rusell Kirk puts it this way:

“Meek before Jehovah, Moses had no fear of Pharaoh; but these doctors of the schools, much at ease in Zion, were timid in the presence of a traffic policeman. Although convinced that God is too indulgent to punish much of anything, they were given to trembling before Caesar. Christian love is the willingness to sacrifice oneself; yet I would not have counted upon these gentlemen to adventure anything of consequence for my sake, nor even for those with greater claims upon them….

What raises up heroes and martyrs is the fear of God. Beside the terror of God’s judgment, the atrocities of the totalist tyrant are pinpricks. A God-intoxicated man, knowing that divine love and divine wrath are but different aspects of a unity, is sustained against the worst this world can do to him; while the goodnatured unambitious man, lacking religion, fearing no ultimate judgment, denying that he is made for eternity, has in him no iron to maintain order and justice and freedom” [1].

If “fear” has become a word associated with the purely negative connotation of “worldly fear,” it is largely because we have lost the true meaning of holy Fear. Worldly fear can lead to cowardice, it is true, and an excess of servile fear which never progresses through initial fear to filial fear can lead to scrupulosity or to spiritual paralysis. However, it is through Holy fear, including through the merely servile variety, that we can develop a sort of courage [2]; indeed as Ven. Louis of Grenada notes, each of the other gifts builds on fear of the Lord, beginning with piety and knowledge and progressing next to fortitude before at last ascending through counsel, understanding, and finally to wisdom. Saint Augustine puts it [3] more succinctly still in when he says that the martyrs can say, “I do not fear [man], because I fear [the Lord].”

There are two related objections which come to my mind, which are both related and both rooted in a poor understanding of the synthesis of Old and New Convenants, especially as found in Old and New Testaments. The first objection is that this holy fear is rooted too much in a concept of God as a wrathful deity—which is often how He appears to be portrayed in the Old Testament. But (so the misguided interpretation goes) in the New Testament, we see that God is a God of Love, and this God supplants (or replaces!) the wrathful God of the Old Testament. The second objection builds off of this first objection, and attempts to back it up by quoting a single passage taken as summary of the whole:

“Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love….So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:7-8, 16-18).

It has become a popular opinion today, especially among Christians of a “progressive” bent, to quote passages like this [4] and then conclude that we have moved beyond fear. “We have love, so why do we need fear?”

Yet, as Burk notes, a crucial step in learning to love what we ought to love is learning to hate what we ought to hate. This is the meaning of Christ’s own admonition that “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27). I would add that the first step in this process of learning to love (and yes, learning what might be called “righteous hate”) is learning what to properly fear, that is, what to rightly dread.

This includes above all sin, which separates us from God. It also must include those things which tempt us to sin, including what Mnsr. Charles Pope has referred to as “the sin of human respect,” which is “that sin wherein we fear man more than God; where we more concerned with what people think of us and what we do, than what God thinks. This is an unholy fear, a sinful fear which is at the root of a lot of sins we commit as well as of many sins of omission.” When we fear men rather than God, we put the desires of men above the designs of God, which is not wisdom but rather is folly. When we fear the power of the world—this is a form of worldly fear, human fear—more than the punishments or even the pleasure of God, then it becomes difficult to follow Him faithfully.

Perhaps it is for this reason that Saint Paul counsels us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). It is not counsel to be afraid, in the worldly sense, but rather to be aware that God is present, to take heed lest we slip into immoral and ungodly patterns of living; it is an “alarm,” in Pope Francis’ words, against settling oneself into evil; indeed, fear of God is an alarm even against simply spiritual complacency, whereby we cease to desire that our souls progress closer to God. In such complacency, we say to ourselves that we are now good enough, and need no further help from grace, or need cooperate no more with it. We say to God, in effect, “this far, and not a step more”; in contrast, He says to us that that we must take up our crosses daily in order to follow Him (Luke 9:23). It is for this reason that the author of the Epistle of Barnabas tells us that “Fear and patience, then, are helpers of our faith; and long-suffering and continence are things which fight on our side.”

What, therefore, should we make of the words of Saint John when he tells us that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”? Saint Augustine appears to take especial interest in this question, in that he returns to it several times in his sermons and writings: for example, we see him address this point in his Tractates on the Gospel of John (Tractates 43 and 85), in his homily on the First Epistle of John, and in his letters.

The solution which he proposes is the previously mentioned distinction between chaste and unchaste fear, and with it the distinction between hating sin and merely avoiding it. In his letter to Anastasius (ca. AD 412-413), he notes that one can avoid sin because one fears the consequences of sin—that is, a man can refrain from committing a sin in order to avoid the punishment which that sin will bring. This is, of course, true in regards to crimes against God, but also in regard to crimes punishable by the state.

On the other hand, we might avoid sins for the reason that we actually hate them, that is, because they become unthinkable to us. They may be unthinkable on the face of the thing, for example the idea of murdering my wife or daughter is absolutely unthinkable to me, both because I love God and know this to be contrary to His commandments (see John 14:15, 23), but also because I love my wife and my daughter and could not stand the thought of doing such a horrible thing. This is, incidentally, what is meant by St Paul when he says that love fulfills the law (Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:14): “thou shalt not kill” seems less like a burdening law and more like an obvious afterthought when you love the person whom you are not killing.

Where chaste fear comes into play is that there are some “laws” or “commandments” which are less obvious on their face [5]. That we should not commit rape or adultery ought to be obvious as conditions of loving a person and doing so faithfully. Yet, fornication, pornography, and “sexting” are amongst the things which are (implicitly or explicitly) proscribed by the Law. They are ultimately also not consistent with loving God and neighbor, yet this inconsistency is less obvious than is the case with rape; to the modern mindset at least, it seems at times as if the only reason to not engage in activities like casual sex (at least before marriage) is that they are somehow displeasing to God.

But this is precisely where chaste fear steps in. We may feel that we desire some of these things, for example, that we desire to be able to have casual or even relatively committed sex before marriage. We may not understand how these things are inconsistent with loving our neighbors—but we still forgo these things, not because we fear the potential punishment or other consequences; rather, we forgo them because we recognize taht they are displeasing to God. Saint Augustine tells us that the one who refrains from sin because he fears punishment has not won victory over the sin:

“In vain, however, does any one think himself to have gained the victory over sin, if, through nothing but fear of punishment, he refrains from sin; because, although the outward action to which an evil desire prompts him is not performed, the evil desire itself within the man is an enemy unsubdued….

He, then, is an enemy to righteousness who refrains from sin only through fear of punishment; but he will become the friend of righteousness if through love of it he sin not, for then he will be really afraid to sin. For the man who only fears the flames of hell is afraid not of sinning, but of being burned; but the man who hates sin as much as he hates hell is afraid to sin. This is the “fear of the Lord,” which “is pure, enduring for ever.” For the fear of punishment has torment, and is not in love; and love, when it is perfect, casts it out” (Letter 145 to Anastasius).

An alternative analogy may be useful here. Saint Augustine refers to the difference between chaste and unchaste fear to be as the difference between a wife who fears to commit adultery because she wants only to not be displeasing to her husband, and a wife who refrains from adultery because she fears of the consequence of her husband’s anger. The one who has unchaste fear is afraid of being condemned, but the one who has chaste fear is afraid only of being forsaken.

This analogy can be furthered a bit. Suppose that a young man decides to court a young woman. He discovers that she has a phobia of spiders, and thus abstains from wearing his lucky “spider tie” on their date. He knows that she would probably forgive him for it—she might not even really be angry at him for it—but he does not want to displease her by his wearing it. Moreover, he is consciously alert for spiderwebs in the branches of the trees which the pass as he walks her home after dinner, even though he himself actually doesn’t mind spiders (and even though said branches are clear o the sidewalk on which they are walking). He does not fear that she will blame him should a spider alight upon her shoulder, but he does fear that she will be very unhappy nonetheless. This young man has a sort of chaste fear for the sake of the young woman he loves, because he “fears” displeasing her. But note that this “fear” is nt so much a matter of being afraid, but rather is a matter of loving her and taking utmost care to not displease her.

We can take “chaste” fear a step further. We ought fear not only that we will do something which is displeasing to God, but rather that we will fail to do something which is actually pleasing to Him and which was in our power to do. As St Gregory the Great writes in his Moralia, “To fear God is to omit none of the good that is to be done. Thus it is said through Solomon: ‘The man who fears God neglects nothing.’….The holy church of the elect enters on the path of innocence and righteousness in fear, but comes to its end with charity…every vice is crushed by fear, but the virtues spring from charity ”

Since we are imperfect in this life, we will fail at both, committing sins of commission and of omission. Here holy fear is for us, that we will be more alert to to possibility of doing wrong, so that we may avoid it (imagine if the young man above did not bother to find out that his love suffered arachnophobia!), but also that we will be more alert to the possibility of doing right so that we can please God with our good deeds.

Therefore, what does it mean to say that perfect love drives out fear? Saint Augustine gives us this answer:

“What then of the two fears? There is a servile fear, and there is a clean [chaste] fear: there is the fear of suffering punishment, there is another fear of losing righteousness. That fear of suffering punishment is slavish. What great thing is it to fear punishment? The vilest slave and the cruelest robber do so. It is no great thing to fear punishment, but great it is to love righteousness. Has he, then, who loves righteousness no fear? Certainly he has; not of incurring of punishment, but of losing righteousness. My brethren, assure yourselves of it, and draw your inference from that which you love. Some one of you is fond of money. Can I find any one, think you, who is not so? Yet from this very thing which he loves he may understand my meaning. He is afraid of loss: why is he so? Because he loves money. In the same measure that he loves money, is he afraid of losing it. So, then, some one is found to be a lover of righteousness, who at heart is much more afraid of its loss, who dreads more being stripped of his righteousness, than thou of your money. This is the fear that is clean— this [the fear] that endures for ever. It is not this that love makes away with, or casts out, but rather embraces it, and keeps it with it, and possesses it as a companion. For we come to the Lord that we may see Him face to face. And there it is this pure fear that preserves us; for such a fear as that does not disturb, but reassure. The adulterous woman fears the coming of her husband, and the chaste one fears her husband’s departure” (Tractate 43 on the Gospel of John).

In other words, love drives out servile, unchaste fear, but it leaves us with chaste, filial fear. We are no longer afraid of the punishments of God [6], but only fear that we cannot please Him enough, or that we will displease Him. Saint Thomas Aquinas adds to this that even servile fear is not entirely cast out by charity (ST II-II 19.4, 10), though its servility is; but that love does perfect servile (unchaste) fear and mold it into filial (chaste) fear. Indeed, filial fear will remain with us in heaven as a fear that “holds fast to a good which we cannot lose” (ST II-II.19.11). Love does not cast out fear, in other words, but instead perfects it and then is in turn further perfected by it.

 

—Footnotes—
[1] From his essay, The Rarity of the God-Fearing Man. In that same essay, he also notes that

There are things which rightfully we ought to fear, if we are to enjoy and dignity as men. When, in an age of smugness and softness, fear has been pushed temporarily into the dark corners of personality and society, then soon the gods of the copybook headings with fire and slaughter return. To fear to commit evil, and to hate what is abominable, is the mark of manliness. “They will never love where they ought to love,” Burke says, “who do not hate where they ought to hate.” It may be added that they will never dare when they ought to dare, who do not fear when they ought to fear….

“Forgetting that there exists such a state as salutary dread, modern man has become spiritually foolhardy. His bravado, I suspect, will stand the test no better than ancient Pistol’s. He who admits no fear of God is really a post-Christian man; for at the heart of Judaism and Christianity lies a holy dread. And a good many people, outwardly and perhaps inwardly religious . . . today deny the reality of reverential fear, and thus are post-Christian without confessing it.

Christianity always was a scandal; and I rather think I began to fear God because I discovered that terror to be so unconventional, impractical, and off-color in our era… Before I began to think much on the spiritual diseases of our century, I revolted against the disgusting smugness of modern America—particularly the complacency of professors and clergymen, the flabby clerisy of a sensate time.”

He does, however, acknowledge that there can be an excess of fear (by which he means servile fear), and that taken in the extreme this too can cause problems. As Monsignor Pope notes, “A mature fear of the Lord does not box us in or paralyze us. Rather, it reminds us of our boundaries and keeps us away from truly dangerous things that erode our talents. But because we love God, respecting His boundaries is a joyful thing for us.” This “mature fear” is what St Augustine means by “chaste fear” and what St. Thomas means by “filial fear.”

[2] Pope Benedict XVI went so far as to state that

Thanks to fear of the Lord there is no fear of the evil that rages in history and one takes up again with vigor the journey of life, as the prophet Isaiah declared: “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!'” (Isaiah 35: 3-4).

The fear of the Lord therefore drives out worldly fear.

[3] Sermon 15 on the New Testament, which is specifically about the words of Christ recorded in Matthew 10:28: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

[4] And perhaps the one found at the beginning of Matthew 7, which is arguably the most widely misconstrued passage today.

[5] Note that “less obvious on the face” does not mean that they are mere impositions which cannot be accessed by the use of reason or arrived at as a consequence of rightly ordered love. Rather, it means that the reasoning might be more complex, might have more steps, or might be less easy to follow without reflection.

[6] Note well that even servile fear is not necessarily bad. It is still fear of the Lord, but it is a less perfect fear. See Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, II-II.19.4: “Servile fear is good, but servility is evil.”

Fear of the Lord Part 1: Holy Fear

“The gifts of the Holy Ghost are seven in number: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord [Isaiah 11:2-3]…. The gifts proceed in orderly fashion and gradually ascend by degrees. From the fear of the Lord, the soul rises to the other gifts, one after the other, to arrive at the most lofty and excellent of all, which is the gift of wisdom. Fear of the Lord arouses and awakens in us a fear of God: not the servile fear which the Apostle calls the spirit os bondage [Romans 8:15], but a fear proper to the adopted sons of God. Such a fear enables the Christian to venerate his merciful father with filial reverence, striving conscientiously never to offend him in the slightest way nor to lose His grace and love. St. Augustine calls it a chaste fear which is born of Charity”

Venerable Louis of Grenada, O.P., Summa of the Christian Life (II.3.5)

This is what one of the great spiritual masters [1] had to say about fear of the Lord. It is the least of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and thus listed last, and yet it is also perhaps the most important, in the sense of being the most foundational. Without it, the soul will fail to rise to receive the other gifts; or at the very least will be hindered in that reception, and will not attain them to their fullest degree. So we read in a variety of Old Testament passages, perhaps the most germane of which is found in Sirach:

“All wisdom comes from the Lord and is with him for ever….The fear of the Lord delights the heart, and gives gladness and joy and long life. With him who fears the Lord it will go well at the end; on the day of his death he will be blessed. To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…To fear the Lord is wisdom’s full measure…The fear of the Lord is the crown of wisdom” (Sirach 1:1. 12-14, 16, 18, my emphasis).

Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (see also Psalm 110:10), and indeed as Ven. Louis notes, each gift builds on the last until culminating in wisdom, which is the the disposition of the mind to desire the greatest things first and the least things last. To what extent is the fear of the Lord the “crown of wisdom” or “wisdom’s full measure” (see also Job 28:28)? It is tempting to answer that it is the chaste fear of St Augustine which is the crown of wisdom, wherease the initial fear posited by St. Thomas (ST II-II.19.2) is the beginning of wisdom, but this is perhaps too simplistic. Rather, it may be reiterated that if wisdom is king of the gifts (being the greatest), then fear of the Lord is its crown, completing its adornment as the crown completes the king’s adornment.

As stated above, St. Augustine draws attention to the distinction between “chaste” and “not chaste” fear:

“There is one fear which is called chaste, and there is another fear which is not called chaste. Let us mark the difference between these two fears, and so understand the harmony of the flutes. How are we to understand, or how to distinguish? Mark, my beloved. There are men who fear God, lest they be cast into hell, lest haply they burn with the devil in everlasting fire. This is the fear which introduces charity: but it comes that it may depart. For if you as yet fear God because of punishments, not yet do you love Him whom you in such sort fear. You do not desire the good things, but are afraid of the evil things. Yet because you are afraid of the evil things, you correct yourself and beginnest to desire the good things. When once you have begun to desire the good, there shall be in you the chaste fear. What is the chaste fear? The fear lest you lose the good things themselves. Mark! It is one thing to fear God lest He cast you into hell with the devil, and another thing to fear God lest He forsake you. The fear by which you fear lest you be cast into hell with the devil, is not yet chaste; for it comes not from the love of God, but from the fear of punishment: but when you fear God lest His presence forsake you, you embrace Him, you long to enjoy God Himself.” (Homily 9 on the First Epistle of Saint John, with my emphasis)

In short, there is a holy fear which is not chaste, which seeks to avoid the punishments due to sin. This is fear of the Lord, but mostly it is fear of the punishments which come from the Lord, both temporal and eternal. This sort of fear can still cause us to do good and to avoid evil, but it does so for less pure motives than does chaste fear. Chaste fear motivates not through the desire to avoid some evil [2], but rather through the dread of not accomplishing some good. Also, the unchaste fear often precedes and thus leads to the chaste fear.

Saint Augustine continues his analysis by comparing chaste and unchaste love to a pair of possible wives. The former wife, representing unchaste fear, desires to commit adultery and yet refrains for fear of being found out and condemned by her husband. She still desires to commit a sin, and yet because she desires not to face the consequences of that act, she also refrains from the sin. The latter wife does not wish to disappoint her husband, and (rightly) fears that adultery would so disappoint him—she therefore avoids adultery for his sake. She fears that he might forsake her, and so does all that she can to avoid this, out of love for him. This latter woman expereinces what might be called “chaste fear,” the fear of doing that which displeases the one whom she loves. The former woman fears condemnation; the latter fears only being forsaken.

This concept of two fears is further broadened by Saint Thomas Aquinas, who draws a distinction between worldly fear—what we normally mean in modern parlance by the word “fear”, and which St Augustine calls “human fear”—on the one hand, and fear of the Lord (or Holy Fear) on the other. Both types of fear discussed by Saint Augustine above fit under the general heading of “fear of the Lord,” which Saint Thomas divides into three types: “servile” (unchaste) fear, “filial” (chaste) fear, and intiial fear which is a mixture of the two and which charity slowly changes into filial fear by removing servile fear (ST II-II.19.2).

Note here that both types of holy fear are in fact good: they both cause the one who fears to avoid sin. Indeed, the two actaully parallel the two type of contrition, perfect and imperfect. In other words, both types of fear can motivate us towards sorrow for our sins: servile fear motivates us to imperfect contrition, which may yet lead to a perfect confession, while filial fear would motivate us towards perfect contrition for which a perfect confession would surely be made.

Merely avoiding sin is not the complete end of fearing the Lord. Actually, it might be further clarified here that a good and holy fear might make us more aware of those idle things which might bring offense to God, that is, those things which would be materially sinful. Saint Thomas is known for noting that the curse of Original sin is not only that our will is weakened and inclined towards sin, but also that our intellects are darkened so that we may not recognize sin. Besides this, there are some sins which might be committed in haste, as thoughtless words sown without heed to the damage they may reap. Saint John Chrysostum notes that fear of the lord is a sort of safegaurd against such murmurings:

“Let us utter nothing hasty, nothing disrespectful, but let us humble ourselves that we may be reverential. For this is with reverence and godly fear….Let us utter nothing blasphemous, nothing hasty, nothing bold, nothing presumptuous, nothing desperate. This is with reverence and godly fear. Hebrews 12:28 For a soul in tribulations becomes desponding, and reckless. But let not us [be so]. See here he again says the same thing which he said before, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, for so shall we be able to do all things with reverence. For oftentimes even out of respect for men, we refrain from doing many evil things.” (Homily 33 on Hebrews).

Indeed, Saint Thomas Aquinas pairs fear of the Lord with the virtue of temperance as being the Gift which perfects this virtue [3], and notes that it combats against temptations to the evil things of this world. Saint Athanasius does likewise when he writes that “having the fear of the Lord before your eyes you will put Him first” (Letter 47). Fear of the Lord causes us to desire to please Him before we desire any other thing: truly, this is the beginning of wisdom.

 

Part 2 is available here.

 

—Footnotes—
[1] Although not himself canonized—yet?—Ven. Louis of Grenada’s writings have been praised by such saints and doctors as Saints Teresa of Avila, Charles Boromeo, Francis de Sales, Vincent de Paul, John of the Cross, and Rose of Lima

[2] Saint Thomas discusses this point in ST II-II.19.1, noting of the punishment ordained by the Lord that “this is evil not absolutely but relatively, and, absolutely speaking, is a good.”

[3] Each of the gifts of the Holy Spirit perfects one of the cardinal virtues (ST II-II.68.4), and that in particular fear of the Lord perfects temperance: “The gift of fear corresponds, in a manner, to temperance: for just as it belongs to temperance, properly speaking, to restrain man from evil pleasures for the sake of the good appointed by reason, so does it belong to the gift of fear, to withdraw man from evil pleasures through fear of God” (ST II-II.68.4.R1). Elsewher, St. Thomas notes that although presumption is ultimately opposed to hope, it is to some extent opposed to fear of the Lord, and in particular to servile fear (ST II-II.21.3).

Curiosity, Wonder, and Wisdom

In a short but provocative reflection, Prof. J. Budziszewski calls curiosity the enemy of wonder. In so doing, he is drawing a distinction between the desire for knowledge—itself a good thing—and the elevation of that desire to the highest good, one which can then seek fulfillment at all costs:

The problem is that the curiosity-as-holiness line is carelessly undiscriminating, and at best half-true.

Here is the true half: In itself, the knowledge of truth is good. Aristotle says philosophy begins in wonder. John Paul II says everyone wonders, and in that sense everyone is a philosopher. Thomas Aquinas says it is man’s natural vocation to seek truth, especially the truth about God. We are made, among other things, to know, as no other animal is made to know.

But the way one goes about pursuing knowledge may be right or wrong….

Mere curiosity is to the tender love of truth as voyeurism is to marital love. That is why the ancients made distinctions. They accounted wonder a natural inclination, and the humble pursuit of knowledge to be a high virtue. But they reserved the word curiositas for seeking knowledge in ways it never should be sought.

At most universities—and especially in most science departments—the party line is that education should be about awakening a person’s natural curiosity, that is, their desire for knowledge []. There is not, in principle, anything wrong with awakening a desire to know in a person, and indeed, the actual desire to know itself is a good thing. Indeed, knowing may be counted among the highest human goods (along with loving).

However, although knowing itself is among the highest goods of man, it cannot be the final end of education. Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of knowledge, one which is theoretical and one which is practical. The former should lead to understanding and then to contemplation and at last to loving; the latter should lead to right action. Therefore, inculcation of virtue is an important part of a true education, yet this is at best ignored entirely, but more often outright contradicted (as being old fashioned, or as forcing morality on others) or otherwise undermined (e.g. by being replaced with some other moral system) in many of the hallowed halls of education.

Curiosity itself cannot therefore form a sound basis for education, since it elevates the search for knowledge above the actual ends of knowledge. Worse still, knowledge can be sought licitly or illicitly, morally or immorally: it may be sought through good means or evil.

A few extreme examples should suffice. The experiments of the Nazis on their prisoners are fairly well known and documented. Closer to home, it is well known that there are “enhanced interrogation techniques” (torture) which have been in use by the US against Islamic militants as an attempt to gain knowledge about possible future terrorist attacks (or even to attempt to find other militants); if this is not sufficient as an example of “badly gained” knowledge, then one could easily imagine such techniques being used by a more corrupt regime to obtain less vital information, that is, to gain knowledge which is frivolous as a military matter: torturing men to learn answers to less pressing questions []. Finally, there are the various nuclear bomb tests which were conducted during the Cold War without concern as to the . All of this is to show that there is, in other words, such a thing as “morbid curiosity” in a very literal sense.

What, then, is the cure to curiosity, that is, the antidote to the desire to seek knowledge at all costs? Professor Budziszewski calls curiosity the enemy of wonder, and states that wonder—which leads to “the humble pursuit of knowledge”—is a high virtue. In his discussion of wonder as the basis for philosophy [], Josef Pieper wrote that

In wonder, there is something negative and something positive. The negative aspect is that the person who feels wonder does not know something, does not grasp something–he does not know, “What is behind it all”; as Thomas puts it, “The cause of our wonder is hidden to us.” He who feels wonder does not know, or does not know completely, does not comprehend. He who knows does not feel wonder. It could not be said that God experiences wonder, for God knows in the most absolute and perfect way. And, further: the one who wonders not only does not know, he is intimately sure that he does not know, and he understands himself as being in a position of not-knowing. But this un-knowing is not the kind that brings resignation. The one who wonders is one who sets out on a journey, and this journey goes along with the wonder: not only that he stops short for a moment, and is silent, but also that he persists in searching. Wonder is defined by Thomas in the Summa Theologiae, as the desiderium sciendi, the desire for knowledge, active longing to know.

But along with not-knowing, and not-giving-up, wonder is also… joy, as Aristotle said, and the Middle Ages agreed with him: omnia admirabilia sunt delectabilia–the source of joy and the source of wonder are the same thing. One might even venture to say that wherever spiritual joy is to be met with, the wonderful is also there, and where there is a capacity to feel joy, there is also a capacity to feel wonder. The joy of one who is astounded is the joy of a soul that is beginning something, of a soul that is always ready and alert for something new, for something unheard of.

Pieper continues by noting that the one who wonders and does philosophy has hope and so is superior the the one who doubts all knowledge, but yet he is inferior to the one who finally knows (or “understands”). Wonder is thus a counter to both curiosity—the insatiable desire for knowledge at all costs—and to doubt of all knowledge, which the epistemological despair which likewise ruins philosophy [].

So far, I have limited my discussion to the merely secular considerations of wonder or curiosity as opposing bases for the pursuit of knowledge. By this I mean that everything which has been said so far can be accessed by the light of human reasoning alone. However, as Catholics we can go a step further and look to the light of revelation. A good Catholic education will include a beginning with wonder, just as a good secular education would—but we must go beyond only wonder at not knowing. The end of a good secular education must be increase in knowledge and understanding, and hopefully the development of virtue. A good Catholic education also means a growth in wisdom with the hope of developing saintliness.

Therefore, a good Catholic education has an additional basis, a theological basis which aims it towards wisdom. Wisdom is ultimately a gift of the Holy Spirit (as are knowledge and understanding in the theological sense), and means desiring heaven and heavenly things above earth and earthly things. We are told, moreover, that the beginning of wisdom is another of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; we read in Sirach [] that

“All wisdom comes from the Lord and is with him for ever….The fear of the Lord delights the heart, and gives gladness and joy and long life. With him who fears the Lord it will go well at the end; on the day of his death he will be blessed. To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…To fear the Lord is wisdom’s full measure…The fear of the Lord is the crown of wisdom” (Sirach 1:1, 12-14, 16, 18).

This, then, is a basis for the specifically Christian mode of education. If it is the more difficult basis, it is also the more important. Curiosity might be excited and wonder inspired, but fear of the Lord is a gift which can only be inculcated with the help of grace. Still, we must try and we must pray, and in the meantime we might wait in wonder.

 

—-Footnotes—-
[] Prof. Budziszewski has apparently observed this “curiosity as the highest aim of education” in the liberal arts (he is a professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin). I have likewise noticed its prevalence in the various physics departments of which I have been a member as student, instructor, or guest, and have heard it in conversations with other instructors.

[] Perhaps this latter scenario is not too far-fetched, as it is debatable whether “enhanced interrogation” has been used with much success. On the other hand, one could easily imagine a criminal torturing an innocent person to gain access to something of value.

[] From Leisure: The Basis of Culture, pp. 106-107, translated by Gerald Malsbary. Italics and ellipsis both appear in the original.

[] The main discussion of wonder is in Leisure: The Basis of Culture, pp. 100-110, but he follows this up with a brief discussion of the specifically Christian mode (or modes) of philosophy as opposed to non-Christian philosophy. He counters the claim that Christian philosophy is content with simple (and therefore implicitly dismissable) answers to philosophical questions. He notes that good Christian philosophy possesses mysteries, which are in turn both true and yet not fully knowable by man, and which are hence a uniquely Christian source of wonder.

[] We read something similar in Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction….The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10).

Hell in the Scheme of Things

Some years ago, I joined a group of friends in their college dorm lounge to enjoy a movie. While we watched the movie, I overheard a conversation between two students in the lounge’s loft area (it was an elaborate lounge). The topic of the conversation was Hell.

The first student, a woman, stated not a disbelief in the existence of hell, but rather her objection as to its significance and her astonishment that it should exist. The second student, a man, attempted to answer her question by citing Biblical passages, ultimately demonstrating that Hell was consistent to Christian doctrine but failing to really address his friend’s specific objections. The result was that the woman did something too often observed in Christian circles: she marginalized Hell.

I am reminded of this conversation by a more recent exchange I had with an acquaintance — this about morality. Why should we be concerned with our own sins, let alone with warning others against theirs? Provided that the sin in question isn’t harming us, what business is it of ours?

In one sense, none—we can’t really judge the state of another’s soul by the public sins they do or don’t commit; our Lord is quite in His proscriptions against judging and condemning others’ souls (see Matthew 7:1-5 or Luke 6:35-42).

Sure, He also gives us instructions regarding fraternal correction (Matthew 18:15-17), and of course by nature of our baptisms we all have the prophetic charge given to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 33:5-7). But why the concern for morality and sin; why are these important? My acquaintance did not account for Death and Judgement and Hell in his philosophy of life.

The British novelist Piers Paul Read begins his essay on Hell with a reminiscence of his childhood catechesis:

“My religious upbringing began at Gilling, the Ampleworth Prep school, which I attended from the age of eight to twelve. It followed the Penny Catechism with its numbered questions and answers. To encourage us to remember the answers, we were set a ‘stick test’: too many wrong answers led to a beating. It was important to get them right not just to avoid being thwacked on the hands by a ferule in this world but to escape a more terrible punishment in the next. ‘What are the four last things to be ever remembered?’ asked question 332. ‘The four last things to be ever remembered are Death, Judgement, Hell, and Heaven.’ What was Hell? Eternal punishment. What would lead to eternal punishment? Dying unrepentant in a state of mortal sin. What sins were mortal? Murder, adultery—and choosing not to go to Mass on a Sunday.”

He then asks why it seems that these things “to ever be remembered” seem to have been forgotten by the Church today.

Of the existence of Hell, there ought not to be any doubt on the Christian’s part. Yet all too many Christians pay lip service to its existence whilst doubting or even disbelieving in its existence. These people fail to attribute any importance to the existence of Hell, concluding that if it does actually exist, none save Satan and a few demons are actually sentenced to an eternity there.

How important is Hell really? Does Christianity really need a place of suffering and damnation, or is it merely a doctrine held on the basis of Biblical references for the sake of internal consistency? All too often, Christians tend to draw the latter conclusion, which then leads to a marginalization of Gehenna. Unfortunately, Hell is not such a trivial matter, and forsaking it often leaves the devil to pay.

Most people would like to think of Heaven while ignoring Hell. However, Hell’s existence illustrates some of God’s defining traits independently of Heaven. Russell Kirk once noted that without Hell, there could be no true justice in the world: Hell enables those who escape from their just punishments in this life to pay for it in the next.

People who are wicked and who win a “free pass” from justice in this life can only be led to justice in the next. All people sin against God (and man), and most of those will never be caught, thus escaping from atonement, reconciliation, atonement, justification, and even guilt. Hell allows for these things to happen.

Just as Hell gives a picture of God’s justice, it also illustrates His mercy. Mercy is, after all, the remittance of a punishment justly deserved. Thus, in not condemning some souls to Hell, God shows us His mercy, forgiving us our just reward for something else. It is only through mercy that God is able to forgive people their sins, whose betrayal of His friendship and love justly deserve His condemnation. Forgiveness, the act of mercy, means not consigning some people to the Fire for their treachery.

Ignoring the existence of Hell does even more than to hinder the acknowledgement of two of God’s qualities. For so long, Christians have known that people will ultimately arrive in one of two places in the afterlife: Heaven, or Hell. When Hell is ignored, it becomes incomprehensible to a person that he or she may be sent there after death; thus, the only option left is Heaven.

If Hell is impossible, then a person views himself as being entitled to Heaven, as perhaps earning it somehow. Thus, yet another of God’s characteristics is lost: grace. If Heaven is earned, it is not freely granted, nor is it an undeserved gift. Rather, it becomes a birthright, and God becomes a cruel tyrant for not granting it to some.

Moreover, by forgetting Hell man must necessarily lose sight of Heaven. If man is entitled to paradise, what has he to gain by living for God first? Thus, happiness on earth supersedes happiness in Heaven, and man’s own ends become more important to him than God’s.

After-life and life are then divorced from each other, and then God is forgotten. When God is denied, “He will also deny us” (2 Timothy 2:12, NAB). Thus is paradise lost.

In addition to the theological and spiritual ramifications of the denial of Hell’s significance, there are effects in daily life. Without Hell, God’s wrath also becomes insignificant, and thus God cannot be truly feared either. Damnation by God means nothing if no sentence can be carried out. What does His wrath mean if it is restricted to sufferings in the short time of life on earth when these will be but a distant memory during the eternity of Heaven?

Righteous fear of the Lord is the basis for human courage. Kirk noted that “Meek before Jehovah, Moses had no fear of pharaoh,” while those who lacked a proper respect for God’s justice, being “much at ease in Zion, were timid in the presence of a traffic policeman.” Is it any wonder then why Christians often seem so unwilling to fight for those things which are right and against those which are wrong?

This attitude can be compared against that of a man whom has the courage of conviction that God is on his side.

When asked why he is so outspoken on the toughest issues of modern times, Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary responded “…if you really believe that the Spirit of God is with you, what have you got to fear?” An outspoken bishop, Henry has even warned that there is danger in ignoring the laws of God—namely, the danger of burning for eternity in Hell.

The relationship between faith and courage is simple: “If we really believe in our baptism we’ve got to be courageous people, the Spirit of God is with us.” Without the courage of conviction, faith becomes fragile and may break when first tested. Without the fear of God and the possibility of eternal perdition, courage may be brittle; that makes for a weak faith indeed.

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin (pt 1): Hating Where We Ought to Hate

“There are things which rightfully we ought to fear, if we are to enjoy and dignity as men. When, in an age of smugness and softness, fear has been pushed temporarily into the dark corners of personality and society, then soon the gods of the copybook headings with fire and slaughter return. To fear to commit evil, and to hate what is abominable, is the mark of manliness. “They will never love where they ought to love,” Burke says, “who do not hate where they ought to hate.” It may be added that they will never dare when they ought to dare, who do not fear when they ought to fear….

“Forgetting that there exists such a state as salutary dread, modern man has become spiritually foolhardy. His bravado, I suspect, will stand the test no better than ancient Pistol’s. He who admits no fear of God is really a post-Christian man; for at the heart of Judaism and Christianity lies a holy dread. And a good many people, outwardly and perhaps inwardly religious . . . today deny the reality of reverential fear, and thus are post-Christian without confessing it.” (Russell Kirk, The Rarity of the God-Fearing Man).

The tendency of the blogosphere in a simple GIF, which actually makes me feel a little sorry for the horse.

I no longer consider it particularly shocking when I hear of the defection of a prominent Republican leader [] to the cause of so-called “gay marriage” []. Similarly, I am not generally surprised to hear that yet another of my Christians friends—Catholic or Protestant—has come out in favor of “gay marriage.” And, of course, there is the recent spate of public defections following the article written by Joseph Bottum for Commonweal, which is, I suppose, the closest thing to a “Catholic case for gay marriage” that can exist []. Others have looked in-depth at Mr Bottum’s defection (or betrayal) and what it means for both sides, and it’s probably old enough news by now that adding column expressing frustration or outrage–or for that matter gratitudeencouragement, hope, or even just sadness and disappointmentwould feel like beating a dead horse.

There is, however, another issue which underlies some of these defections []. Many people, including many Christians in general (who should probably know better) and many Catholics in particular (who should definitely know better) consider our efforts against legal recognition of “gay marriage” to be a waste. This is certain, and it’s been stated. Less certain–but really not in much doubt in my mind–is that many consider the effort a waste because they want to see “gay marriage” become a reality, and not merely because they think the fight is using up political and moral capital which could be better spent elsewhere.

“Elsewhere” tends to be vague: it may be on the very important issues of fighting abortion, or the culture of death in general, or of poverty, or what-have-you. Anywhere else.

Like Mr Bottum, I have had a number of friends–and I do still consider them to be friends for now despite this–who have come out in favor of “gay marriage.” Literally, they want to see gay people getting married in the eyes of the state–and of everyone else. These are predominantly Catholic friends (that I know of), though only, I think, because I have more Catholic friends than anything else. And most of these friends have decided that they will go against Church teachings, despite being professing Catholics.

We read in the Gospel this past Sunday that “Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27).

The originator of lots of great phrases and sayings.
The originator of lots of great phrases and sayings.

It is from this passage that we may draw the phrase “love the sinner, [but] hate the sin” []. Now, to be fair, the common interpretation is that we must love God with such an all-consuming love that our love for anything else might seem “hateful” in comparison, and that when we find new life in Christ we must come to hate our old life without Him. Actually, these interpretations become one and the same: we must love God above all else, and then our neighbor (parent, sibling, friends, strangers, even enemies) as ourselves. But what does it really mean to “love”?

Many today mistake love as an emotion; others equate it with the willingness to do anything for the other person, to do whatever it takes to make that person content and satisfied, to make him “feel loved.” This second definition is nearer to the mark, in that it might require some sacrifice from the lover for the sake of the beloved, but notice that it still reduces love to an emotion only, albeit an emotional state on the part of the beloved and not the lover. Love is more than this, for to love a person is to desire the good of (or for) that person, and then to strive to help him to achieve it. Hence we say that the vocation of spouses is to help each other to become saints, for this is ultimately the good of a person, to become a saint, to live in heaven with God. The Baltimore Catechism puts it simply by stating that “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven” (BC Q6).

So what does this love, which desires the greatest good and strives for real happiness, have to do with the “hatred” preached by Jesus in last Sunday’s gospel–or for that matter with the necessity of hate noted by Burke and quoted by Kirk? How, in other words, do we get to the necessity of hating the sin as a condition of loving the sinner?

Hatred, it should be noted, is not the opposite of love, but rather is in it proper context a condition of love. When we love somebody, we begin to hate what is harmful to that person. We begin to hate what is hateful in their sight. But what is it that harms a person? As Christians, we ought to know the answer to this: all three synoptic Gospels record the same saying of Christ’s that it does not profit a man to gain the whole world if he loses his soul. And a soul is lost through sin, and through sin alone, for sin is the rejection of God, and thus also of God’s grace. Sin is the thing which destroys a soul, which ruins it and which, when unrepented, leads to separation from God, and thus from final happiness.

Therefore, if we love the sinner, and hence desire that which is good for him, we must hate his sins, which act only to deprive him of the good. If we love ourselves in accordance with the second great commandment (Matthew 22:39), we must hate our own sins for the same reason. Thus, when the LORD tells us that we must hate mother, father, sister, brother, spouse, and even our own lives to follow Him, we see that this should be read to mean that we must hate the sins of each of these people, as well as the temptation to excuse those sins (especially our own) as “harmless”, or as being somehow “normal” and thus in the final measure “acceptable.” They aren’t, and it is not an act of love to pretend that they are at the risk of endangering the sinner’s soul.

This brings me full-circle to the question of “gay marriage” and of leaving the Church, or (perhaps more commonly) at least of ignoring and even outright rejecting the Church’s teaching, namely that “gay is not o.k.” Now, again, here we look at the difference between the sins committed (e.g. attempting to simulate a sacrament, to say nothing of the lesser sins involved in a “romantic” homosexual relationship) and the actual sinner. As regards the sexual orientation, the Church states only that it is “disordered,” adding that those who struggle with same-sex attractions are deserving our our compassion: it is one more form of concupiscence, ever unique and ever common [].

Image text taken from "What's Wrong with the World."
Often, the Christian ideal has been found socially unacceptable; and left unpreached.

Yet compassion means first and foremost helping the other to rise above his sins, urging him to holiness and thus to real and lasting happiness. “Bear each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” St Paul tells us (Galatians 6:2). The day may yet come when we lose the culture war, or at least the front of the culture war pertaining to “gay marriage.” That will be a sad day indeed (especially since a part of that loss will eventually involve the imposition of “gay marriages” on the churches), but saddest (in the end) for those who will then attempt to get “gay-married.” It is saddest for them, because they are the ones who will then enter into a legal institution whose purpose is to promote and celebrate a particular set of sins against which they must struggle. They are the ones who are ultimately told to forget about their sins, and to cease the struggle in favor of embracing those sins as “who they are.”

Loving the sinner is absolutely necessary. But we cannot really love a person if we do not at the same time hate their sins. Nor, it seems to me, do we love God first when we celebrate sins, or tolerate them any more than is necessary for the sake of that kindness which is required by charity. This certainly becomes the more difficult for us when our friends identify with their particular sins, for pride is the deadliest of sins, the one thing necessary for making a sin unforgivable []. When our friends so identify with their sins, loving God (and even loving them) will appear hateful to them, so that it will really seem as if we hate family, friends, and even ourselves for His sake. We may therefore be tempted to turn aside from following Christ fully out of a sense of sympathy for our loved ones who identify themselves so strongly with their sins. This misguided sympathy is not, however, a good reason to waver in our faith or our fight, lest we become “unworthy” of Christ.

 

Footnotes

[] The Democrats are less surprising still. They first filibustered and then voted en masse against a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman—and this in the year 2004, when similar amendments passed in 13 out of 13 states in which they were introduced that year, and in all previous state elections.

[] “Gay marriage” is probably the most common term used, but I’ve also heard it called (by supporters): “homosexual marriage,” “queer marriage,” “marriage equality,” and of course “same-sex marriage” (SSM). I will refer to it as “gay marriage.”

[] This is not to claim that he has actually taken the step of breaking with the Church doctrinally on the question of marriage. He has stated that this was never his intention, though his article might be a source of confusion and unintended scandal nevertheless. For what it is worth, a very charitable reading of his article might suggest that he is proposing something similar to both Monsignor Charles Pope and Fr. Dwight Longenecker: neither of whom drew quite the same kind of reaction even from those of us who disagreed with them. This proposal is essentially the separation of civil “marriage” from sacramental “Holy Matrimony.” Perhaps it is the style, perhaps the length, perhaps the tone; or maybe Longenecker and Pope are just more clear in their writing and convey hope rather than despair in their posts.

[] Not just the defections, though. There are some people who have had a “change of heart” as it were on this issue. Others still have long since been privately in favor of “gay marriage” but publicly against it while looking for a reason to come out and switch public sides. Ironically, some of these will eventually use the “personally against, but politically in favor of” line which is (or was) popular in a different debate.

[] Of course, the phrase itself perhaps originates with Saint Augustine.

[] Henri Cardinal de Lubac states in his Paradoxes of the Faith that “All suffering is unique–and all suffering is common. I have to be reminded of the latter truth when i am suffering myself–and of the former truth when I see others suffering.” I think that much the same might be said of temptations to sin.

[] Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is the one unforgivable sin, but it comes in 6 varieties. It seems to me that each of these varieties can be paired with another of the capital sins, but all six also point back to pride. For what it is worth, my pairing is: envy with envy of another’s spiritual well-being, avarice with impugning a known truth, sloth with presumption, wrath with obstinacy in sin, gluttony with despair, and lust with final impenitence. The last of these is the only real stretch, and it’s less of a stretch when one realizes that the daughters of lust include blindness of mind, hatred of God, love of the world, and abhorrence/despair of a future world.