Interficere errorem, diligere errantem
This basic principle, taught by St. Augustine in his classic work entitled "The City of God" (Book 14, ch.6), translates thusly into English: "kill the error, love the one who errs." Unfortunately, there are many Catholics today who believe that one cannot accomplish both of these actions at the same time. Such people fail to understand that love actually requires the killing of error.
Why do these individuals remain silent when faced with the grave evils of our day? And why are they critical of those Catholics who actually do condemn these evils? The answer is simple, they wrongly interpret Sacred Scripture as teaching that it is never permissible to judge. Yes, our Lord tells us, "Judge not, that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matthew 7: 1-2).
And we also read in James 4: 12-13, "There is one lawgiver and judge, that is able to destroy and to deliver. But who art thou that judgest thy neighbour?"
Vatican II, specifically Gaudium et Spes, No. 28, also reminds us of this prohibition against judging others: "God alone is the judge and searcher of hearts; for that reason he forbids us to make judgments about the internal guilt of anyone." But this norm does not preclude us from rendering judgments on words, ideas and actions. On the contrary, the words of the great St. Augustine (Bishop of Hippo and Father and Doctor of the Church) "kill the error, love the one who errs," says it all.
We have a responsibility as Catholics to admonish others at times. And this responsibility is grounded in love of neighbor. When we truly love our neighbor, we will for them to abide in God's love and not to be separated from His love by sin. Recall the Church's definition of charity as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1822. The responsibility we have as Catholics to admonish others at times and to engage in fraternal correction is clearly taught in Sacred Scripture: Luke 17:3, 1 Corinthians 6: 1-6, Galatians 6:1, 1 Thessalonians 5: 14, 2 Thessalonians 3: 14-15, James 5: 19-20.
There are two different meanings to the word "judge" in Sacred Scripture then. God alone may judge a person's interior dispositions. God alone may judge a person's soul. Scripture is clear on this. However, the same Scripture is clear when it teaches us that we may judge actions, words and ideas which fail to live up to Gospel demands. Recall what the Holy Spirit tells us through St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 5: 12, "..Do not you judge them that are within?"
It is possible to judge that what others are doing (or saying) is wrong and to accomplish this without judging the person's internal guilt. While killing the error, we continue to love the one who errs. And our love is shown by the very fact that we admonish the person because we don't want them to be separated from God's love by sin.
Until next time,
God love you
Paul Anthony Melanson