The Catechism of Trent 3400
The preceding Commandments are supreme both in dignity and in importance; but those which follow rank next in order because of their necessity. For the first three tend directly to God; while the object of the others is the charity we owe to our neighbour, although even these are ultimately referred to God, since we love our neighbour on account of God, our last end. Hence Christ our Lord has declared that the two Commandments which inculcate the love of God and of our neighbour are like unto each other.
The advantages arising from the present subject can scarcely be expressed in words; for not only does it bring with it its own fruit, and that in the richest abundance and of superior excellence, but it also affords a test of our obedience to and observance of the first Commandment. He that loveth not his brother whom he seeth, says St. John, how can he love God whom he seeth not? In like manner, if we do not honour and reverence our parents whom we ought to love next to God and whom we continually see, how can we honour or reverence God, the supreme and best of parents, whom we see not? Hence we can easily perceive the similarity between these two Commandments.
The application of this Commandment is of very great extent. Besides our natural parents, there are many others whose power, rank, usefulness, exalted functions or office, entitle them to parental honour.
Furthermore.(this Commandment) lightens the labor of parents and superiors; for their chief care is that those under them should live according to virtue and the divine Law. Now the performance of this duty will be considerably facilitated, if it be known by all that highest honour to parents is an obligation, sanctioned and commanded by God.
To impress the mind with this truth it will be found useful to distinguish the Commandments of the first, from those of the second table. This distinction, therefore, the pastor should first explain.
Let him begin by showing that the divine precepts of the Decalogue were written on two tables, one of which, in the opinion of the holy Fathers, contained the three preceding, while the rest were given on the second table.
This order of the Commandments is especially appropriate, since the very collocation points out to us their difference in nature. For whatever is commanded or prohibited in Scripture by the divine law springs from one of two principles, the love of God or of our neighbour: one or the other of these is the basis of every duty required of us. The three preceding Commandments teach us the love which we owe to God; and the other seven, the duties which we owe to our neighbour and to public society. The arrangement, therefore, which assigns some of the Commandments to the first and others to the second table is not without good reason.
In the first three Commandments, which have been explained, God, the supreme good, is, as it were, the subject matter; in the others, it is the good of our neighbour. The former require the highest love, the latter the love next to the highest. The former have to do with our last end, the latter with those things that lead us to our end.
Again, the love of God terminates in God Himself, for God is to be loved above all things for His own sake; but the love of our neighbour originates in, and is to be regulated by, the love of God. If we love our parents, obey our masters, respect our superiors, our ruling principle in doing so should be that God is their Creator, and wishes to give preeminence to those by whose cooperation He governs and protects other men; and as He requires that we yield a dutiful respect to such persons, we should do so, because He deems them worthy of this honour. If, then, we honour our parents, the tribute is paid to God rather than to man. Accordingly we read in St. Matthew concerning duty to superiors: He that receiveth you, receiveth me; and the Apostle in his Epistle to the Ephesians, giving instruction to servants, says: Servants, be obedient to them that are your lords according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the simplicity of your heart, as to Christ: not serving to the eye, as it were pleasing men, but as the servants of Christ.
Moreover, no honour, no piety, no devotion can be rendered to God sufficiently worthy of Him, since love of Him admits of infinite increase. Hence our charity should become every day more fervent towards Him, who commands us to love Him with our whole heart, our whole soul, and with all our strength. The love of our neighbour, on the contrary, has its limits, for the Lord commands us to love our neighbour as ourselves.
To outstep these limits by loving our neighbour as we love God would be an enormous crime. If any man come to me, says the Lord and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also; he cannot be my disciple. In the same way, to one who would first attend the burial of his father, and then follow Christ, it was said: Let the dead bury their dead; and the same lesson is more clearly conveyed in St. Matthew: He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me.
Parents, no doubt, are to be highly loved and respected; but religion requires that supreme honour and homage be given to Him alone, who is the Creator and Father of all, and that all our love for our earthly parents be referred to our eternal Father who is in heaven. Should, however, the injunctions of parents be at any time opposed to the Commandments of God, children are, o( course, to prefer the will of God to the desires of their parents, always keeping in view the divine maxim: We ought to obey God rather than men.
After these preliminaries the pastor should explain the words of the Commandment, beginning with honour. To honour is to think respectfully of anyone, and to hold in the highest esteem all that relates to him. It includes love, respect, obedience and reverence.
Very properly, then, is the word honour used here in preference to the word fear or love, although parents are also to be much loved and feared. Respect and reverence are not always the accompaniments of love; neither is love the inseparable companion of fear; but honour, when proceeding from the heart, combines both fear and love.
The pastor should next explain who they are, whom the Commandment designates as fathers; for although the law refers primarily to our natural fathers, yet the name belongs to others also, and these seem to be indicated in the Commandment, as we can easily gather from numerous passages of Scripture. Besides our natural fathers, then, there are others who in Scripture are called fathers, as was said above, and to each of these proper honour is due.
In the first place, the prelates of the Church, her pastors and priests are called fathers, as is evident from the Apostle, who, writing to the Corinthians, says: I write not these things to confound you; but I admonish you as my dearest children. For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus by the gospel I have begotten you. It is also written in Ecclesiasticus: Let us praise men of renown, and our fathers in their generation.
Those who govern the State, to whom are entrusted power, magistracy, or command, are also called fathers; thus Naaman was called father by his servants.
The name father is also applied to those to whose care, fidelity, probity and wisdom others are committed, such as teachers, instructors masters and guardians; and hence the sons of the Prophets called Elias and Eliseus their father. Finally, aged men, advanced in years, we also call fathers.
In his instructions the pastor should chiefly emphasise the obligation of honouring all who are entitled to be called fathers, especially our natural fathers, of whom the divine Commandment particularly speaks. They are, so to say, images of the immortal God. In them we behold a picture of our own origin; from them we have received existence, them God made use of to infuse into us a soul and reason, by them we were led to the Sacraments, instructed in our religion, schooled in right conduct and holiness, and trained in civil and human knowledge.
The pastor should teach that the name mother is mentioned in this Commandment, in order to remind us of her benefits and claims in our regard, of the care and solicitude with which she bore us, and of the pain and labor with which she gave us birth and brought us up.
The honour which children are commanded to pay to their parents should be the spontaneous offering of sincere and dutiful love. This is nothing more than their due, since for love of us, they shrink from no labor, no exertion, no danger. Their highest pleasure it is to fed that they are loved by their children, the dearest objects of their affection. Joseph, when he enjoyed in Egypt the highest station and the most ample power after the king himself, received with honour his father, who had come into Egypt. Solomon rose to meet his mother as she approached; and having paid her respect, placed her on a royal throne on his right hand.
We also owe to our parents other duties of respect, such as to supplicate God in their behalf, that they may lead prosperous and happy lives, beloved and esteemed by all who know them, and most pleasing in the sight of God and of the Saints in heaven.
We also honour them by submission to their wishes and inclinations. My son, says Solomon, hear the instructon of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother; that grace may be added to thy head, and a chain of gold to thy neck. Of the same kind are the exhortations of St. Paul. Children, he says, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is just; and also, children, obey your parents in all things, for this is wellpleasing to the Lord. (This doctrine) is confirmed by the example of the holiest men. Isaac, when bound for sacrifice by his father, meekly and uncomplainingly obeyed; and the Rechabites, not to depart from the counsel of their father, always abstained from wine.
We also honour our parents by the imitation of their good example; for, to seek to resemble closely anyone is the highest mark of esteem towards him. We also honour them when we not only ask, but follow their advice.
Again we honour our parents when we relieve their necessities, supplying them with necessary food and clothing according to these words of Christ, who, when reproving the impiety of the Pharisees, said: Why do you also transgress the commandments of God because of your traditions? For God said: "Honour thy father and thy mother," and "He that shall curse father or mother let him die the death." But you say: "Whosoever shall say to his father or mother, The gift whatsoever proceedeth from me, shall profit thee." And he shall not honour his father or his mother; and you have made void the commandment of God for your tradition.
But if at all times it is our duty to honour our parents, this duty becomes still more imperative when they are visited by severe illness. We should then see to it that they do not neglect confession and the other Sacraments which every Christian should receive at the approach of death. We should also see that pious and religious persons visit them frequently to strengthen their weakness, assist them by their counsel, and animate them to the hope of immortality, that having risen above the concerns of this world, they may fix their thoughts entirely on God. Thus blessed with the sublime virtues of faith, hope and charity, and fortified by the helps. of religion, they will not only look at death without fear, since it is necessary, but will even welcome it, as it hastens their entrance into eternity.
Finally, we honour our parents, even after their death, by attending their funerals, procuring for them suitable obsequies and burial, having due suffrages and anniversary Masses offered for them, and faithfully executing their last wills.
We are bound to honour not only our natural parents, but also others who are called fathers, such as Bishops and priests, kings, princes and magistrates, tutors, guardians and masters, teachers, aged persons and the like, all of whom are entitled, some in a greater, some in a less degree, to share our love, our obedience, and our assistance.
Of Bishops and other pastors it is written: Let the priests that rule well be esteemed worthy of double honour especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.
What wondrous proofs of love for the Apostle must the Galatians have shown ! For he bears this splendid testimony of their benevolence: I bear you witness that if it could be done, you would hove plucked out your own eyes, and would have given them to me.
The priest is also entitled to receive whatever is necessary for his support. Who, says the Apostle, serveth as a soldier at his own charges? Give honour to the priests, it is written in Ecclesiasticus, and purify thyself with thy arms; give them their portion, as it is commanded thee, of the first fruits and of purifications.
The Apostle also teaches that they are entitled to obedience: Obey your prelates, and be subject to them; for they watch as being to render an account of your souls. Nay, more. Christ the Lord commands obedience even to wicked pastors: Upon the chair of Moses have sitten the scribes and Pharisees: all things, therefore, whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do; but according to their works do ye not, for they say and do not.
The same is to be said of civil rulers, governors, magistrates and others to whose authority we are subject. The Apostle in his Epistle to the Romans, explains at length the honour, respect and obedience that should be shown them, and he also bids us to pray for them. St. Peter says: Be ye subject, therefore, to every human creature for God's sake; whether it be to the king as excelling, or to governors as sent by him.
For whatever honour we show them is given to God, since exalted human dignity deserves respect because it is an image of the divine power, and in it we revere the providence of God who has entrusted to men the care of public affairs and who uses them as the instruments of His power.
If we sometimes have wicked and unworthy officials it is not their faults that we revere, but the authority from God which they possess. Indeed, while it may seem strange, we are not excused from highly honouring them even when they show themselves hostile and implacable towards us. Thus David rendered great services to Saul even when the latter was his bitter foe, and to this he alludes when he says: With them that hated peace I was peaceable.
However, should their commands be wicked or unjust, they should not be obeyed, since in such a case they rule not according to their rightful authority, but according to injustice and perversity.
Having explained the above matters, the pastor should next consider the reward promised to the observance of this Commandment and its appropriateness. That reward is great, indeed, for it consists principally in length of days. They who always preserve the grateful remembrance of a benefit deserve to be blessed with its prolonged enjoyment. Children, therefore, who honour their parents, and gratefully acknowledge the blessing of life received from them are deservedly rewarded with the protracted enjoyment of that life to an advanced age.
The (nature of the) divine promise also demands distinct explanation. It includes not only the eternal life of the blessed, but also the life which we lead on earth, according to the interpretation of St. Paul: Piety is profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come
Many very holy men, it is true, such as Job, David, Paul, desired to die, and a long life is burdensome to the afflicted and wretched: but the reward which is here promised is, notwithstanding, neither inconsiderable, nor to be despised.
The additional words, which the Lord thy God will give thee, promise not only length of days, but also repose, tranquillity, and security to live well; for in Deuteronomy it is not only said, that thou mayest live a long time, but it is also added, and that it may be well with thee, words afterwards quoted by the Apostle.
These blessings, we say, are conferred on those whose piety God rewards; otherwise the divine promises would not be fulfilled, since the more dutiful child is sometimes the more short lived.
Now this happens sometimes because it is better for him to depart from this world before he has strayed from the path of virtue and of duty; for he was taken away lest wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul. Or because destruction and general upheaval are impending, he is called away that he may escape the calamities of the times. The just man, says the Prophet, is taken away from before the face of evil, lest his virtue and salvation be endangered when God avenges the crimes of men. Or else, he is spared the bitter anguish of witnessing the calamities of his friends and relations in such evil days. The premature death of the good, therefore, gives special reason for fear.
But if God promises rewards and blessings to grateful children, He also reserves the heaviest chastisements to punish those who are wanting in filial piety; for it is written: He that curseth his father or mother shall die the death: He that afflicteth his father and chaseth away his mother, is infamous and unhappy." He that curseth his father and mother, his lamp shall be put out in the midst of darkness: The eye that mocketh at his father, and that despiseth the labour of his mother in bearing him, let the ravens of the brooks pick it out, and the young eagles eat it. There are on record many instances of undutiful children, who were made the signal objects of the divine vengeance. The disobedience of Absalom to his father David did not go unpunished. On account of his sin he perished miserably, transfixed by three lances.
Of those who resist the priest it is written: He that will be proud, and refuse to obey the commandment of the priest, who ministereth at that time to the Lord thy God, by the decree of the judge, that man shall die.
As the law of God commands children to honour, obey, and respect their parents so are there reciprocal duties which parents owe to their children. Parents are obliged to bring up their children in the knowledge and practice of religion, and to give them the best rules for the regulation of their lives; so that, instructed and trained in religion, they may serve God holily and constantly. It was thus, as we read, that the parents of Susanna acted.
The priest, therefore, should admonish parents to be to their children guides in the virtues of justice, chastity, modesty and holiness.
He should also admonish them to guard particularly against three things, in which they but too often transgress.
In the first place, they are not by words or actions to exercise too much harshness towards their children. This is the instruction of St. Paul in his Epistle to the Colossians: Fathers, he says, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. For there is danger that the spirit of the child may be broken, and he become abject and fearful of everything. Hence (the pastor) should require parents to avoid too much severity and to choose rather to correct their children than to revenge themselves upon them.
Should a fault be committed which requires reproof and chastisement, the parent should not, on the other hand, by undue indulgence, overlook its correction. Children are often spoiled by too much lenity and indulgence on the part of their parents. The pastor, therefore, should deter from such excessive mildness by the warning example of Heli, the highpriest, who, on account of overindulgence to his sons, was visited with the heaviest chastisements.
Finally, to avoid what is most shameful in the instruction and education of children, let them not propose to themselves aims that are unworthy. Many there are whose sole concern is to leave their children wealth, riches and an ample and splendid fortune; who encourage them not to piety and religion, or to honourable employment, but to avarice, and an increase of wealth, and who, provided their children are rich and wealthy, are regardless of their good name and eternal salvation. Can anything more shameful be thought or expressed? Of such parents it is true to say, that instead of bequeathing wealth to their children, they leave them rather their own wickedness and crimes for an inheritance; and instead of conducting them to heaven, lead them to the eternal torments of hell.
The priest, therefore, should impress on the minds of parents salutary principles and should exhort them to imitate the virtuous example of Tobias, that having properly trained up their children to the service of God and to holiness of life, they may, in turn, experience at their hands abundant fruit of filial affection, respect and obedience.
The great happiness proposed to the peacemakers, of being called the children of God, should prove a powerful incentive to the pastor to explain to the faithful with care and accuracy the obligations imposed by this Commandment. No means more efficacious can be adopted to promote peace among mankind, than the proper explanation of this Commandment and its holy and due observance by all. Then might we hope that men, united in the strictest bonds of union, would live in perfect peace and concord.
The necessity of explaining this Commandment is proved from the following. Immediately after the earth was overwhelmed in universal deluge, this was the first prohibition made by God to man. I will require the blood of your lives, He said, at the hand of every beast and at the hand of man. In the next place, among the precepts of the Old Law expounded by our Lord, this Commandment was mentioned first by Him; concerning which it is written in the Gospel of St. Matthew: It has been said thou shalt not kill, etc.
The faithful, on their part, should hear with willing attention the explanation of this Commandment, since its purpose is to protect the life of each one. These words, Thou shalt not kill, emphatically forbid homicide; and they should be heard by all with the same pleasure as if God, expressly naming each individual, were to prohibit injury to be offered him under a threat of the divine anger and the heaviest chastisements. As, then, the announcement of this Commandment must be heard with pleasure, so also should the avoidance of the sin which it forbids give pleasure.
In the explanation of this Commandment the Lord points out its twofold obligation. The one is prohibitory and forbids us to kill; the other is mandatory and commands us to cherish sentiments of charity, concord and friendship towards our enemies, to have peace with all men, and finally, to endure with patience every inconvenience.
With regard to the prohibitory part, it should first be taught what kinds of killing are not forbidden by this Commandment. It is not prohibited to kill animals; for if God permits man to eat them, it is also lawful to kill them. When, says St. Augustine, we hear the words, "Thou shalt not kill," we do not understand this of the fruits of the earth, which are insensible, nor of irrational animals, which form no part of human society.
Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.
In like manner, the soldier is guiltless who, actuated not by motives of ambition or cruelty, but by a pure desire of serving the interests of his country, takes away the life of an enemy in a just war.
Furthermore, there are on record instances of carnage executed by the special command of God. The sons of Levi, who put to death so many thousands in one day, were guilty of no sin; when the slaughter had ceased, they were addressed by Moses in these words: You have consecrated your hands this day to the Lord.
Again, death caused, not by intent or design, but by accident, is not murder. He that killeth his neighbour ignorantly, says the book of Deuteronomy, and who is proved to have had no hatred against him yesterday and the day before, but to have gone with him to the wood to hew wood, and in cutting down the tree the axe slipt out of his hand, and the iron slipping from the handle struck his friend and killed him, shall live. Such accidental deaths, because inflicted without intent or design, involve no guilt whatever, and this is confirmed by the words of St. Augustine: God forbid that what we do for a good and lawful end shall be imputed to us, if, contrary to our intention, evil thereby befall any one.
There are, however, two cases in which guilt attaches (to accidental death). The first case is when death results from an unlawful act; when, for instance, a person kicks or strikes a woman in a state of pregnancy, and abortion follows. The consequence, it is true, may not have been intended, but this does not exculpate the offender, because the act of striking a pregnant woman is in itself unlawful. The other case is when death is caused by negligence, carelessness or want of due precaution.
If a man kill another in selfdefence, having used every means consistent with his own safety to avoid the infliction of death, he evidently does not violate this Commandment.
The above are the cases in which life may be taken without violating this Commandment; and with these exceptions all other killing is forbidden, whether we consider the person who kills, the person killed, or the means used to kill.
As to the person who kills, the Commandment recognises no exception whatever, be he rich or powerful, master orparent. All, without exception or distinction, are forbidden to kill.
With regard to the person killed, the law extends to all. There is no individual, however humble or lowly his condition, whose life is not shielded by this law.
It also forbids suicide. No man possesses such power over his own life as to be at liberty to put himself to death. Hence we find that the Commandment does not say: Thou shalt not kill another, but simply: Thou shalt not kill.
Finally, if we consider the numerous means by which murder may be committed, the law admits of no exception. Not only does it forbid to take away the life of another by laying violent hands on him, by means of a sword, a stone, a stick, a halter, or by administering poison; but also strictly prohibits the accomplishment of the death of another by counsel, assistance, help or any other means whatever.
The Jews, with singular dullness of apprehension, thought that to abstain from taking life with their own hands was enough to satisfy the obligation imposed by this Commandment. But the Christian, instructed in the interpretation of Christ, has learned that the precept is spiritual, and that it commands us not only to keep our hands unstained, but our hearts pure and undefiled; hence what the Jews regarded as quite sufficient, is not sufficient at all. For the Gospel has taught that it is unlawful even to be angry with anyone: But I say to you that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, "Raca," shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, "Thou fool," shall be in danger of hell fire. From these words it clearly follows that he who is angry with his brother is not free from sin, even though he conceals his resentment; that he who gives indication of his wrath sins grievously; and that he who does not hesitate to treat another with harshness, and to utter contumelious reproaches against him, sins still more grievously.
This, however, is to be understood of cases in which no just cause of anger exists. God and His laws permit us to be angry when we chastise the faults of those who are subject to us. For the anger of a Christian should spring from the Holy Spirit and not from carnal impulse, seeing that we should be temples of the Holy Ghost, in which Jesus Christ may dwell.
Our Lord has left us many other lessons of instruction with regard to the perfect observance of this law, such as Not to resist evil; but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other. And if a man will contend with thee in judgment, and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him; and whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him two.
From what has been said, it is easy to see how inclined man is to those sins which are prohibited by this Commandment, and how many are guilty of murder, if not in fact, at least in desire. As, then, the Sacred Scriptures prescribe remedies for so dangerous a disease, the pastor should spare no pains in making them known to the faithful.
Of these remedies the most efficacious is to form a just conception of the wickedness of murder. The enormity of this sin is manifest from many and weighty passages of Holy Scripture. So much does God abominate homicide that He declares in Holy Writ that of the very beast of the field He will exact vengeance for the life of man, commanding the beast that injures man to be put to death. And if (the Almighty) commanded man to have a horror of blood,' He did so for no other reason than to impress on his mind the obligation of entirely refraining, both in act and desire, from the enormity of homicide.
The murderer is the worst enemy of his species, and consequently of nature. To the utmost of his power he destroys the universal work of God by the destruction of man, since God declares that He created all things for man's sake. Nay, as it is forbidden in Genesis to take human life, because God created man to his own image and likeness, he who makes away with God's image offers great injury to God, and almost seems to lay violent hands on God Himself !
David, thinking of this with a mind divinely illumined, complained bitterly of the bloodthirsty in these words: Their feet are swift to shed blood. He does not simply say, they kill, but, they shed blood, words which serve to mark the enormity of that execrable crime and to denote the barbarous cruelty of the murderer. With a view also to describe in particular how the murderer is precipitated by the impulse of the devil into the commission of such a crime, he says: Their feet are swift.
The mandatory part of this Commandment, as Christ our Lord enjoins, requires that we have peace with all men. Interpreting the Commandment He says: If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee; leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift, etc.
In explaining this admonition, the pastor should show that it inculcates the duty of charity towards all without exception. In his instruction on the precept he should exhort the faithful as much as possible to the practice of this virtue, since it is especially included in this precept. For since hatred is clearly forbidden by this Commandment, as whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer, it follows, as an evident consequence, that the Commandment also inculcates charity and love.
And since the Commandment inculcates charity and love, it must also enjoin all those duties and good offices which follow in their train. Charity is patient, says St. Paul. We are therefore commanded patience, in which, as the Redeemer teaches, we shall possess our souls. Charity is kind; beneficence is, therefore, the friend and companion of charity. The virtue of beneficence and kindness has a great range. Its principal offices are to relieve the wants of the poor, to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked; and in all these acts of beneficence we should proportion our liberality to the wants and necessities of those we help.
These works of beneficence and goodness, in themselves exalted, become still more illustrious when done towards an enemy; for our Saviour says: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, which also the Apostle enjoins in these words: If thine enemy be hungry, give him to eat: if he thirst, give hint to drink. For, doing this, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.
Finally, if we consider the law of charity, which is kind, we shall be convinced that to practice the good offices of mildness, clemency, and other kindred virtues, is a duty prescribed by that law.
But the most important duty of all, and that which is the fullest expression of charity, and to the practice of which we should most habituate ourselves, is to pardon and forgive from the heart the injuries which we may have received from others. The Sacred Scriptures, as we have already observed, frequently admonish and exhort us to a full compliance with this duty. Not only do they pronounce blessed those who do this, but they also declare that God grants pardon to those who really fulfil this duty, while He refuses pardon to those who neglect it, or refuse to obey it.
As the desire of revenge is almost natural to man, it becomes necessary for the pastor to exert his utmost diligence not only to instruct, but also earnestly to persuade the faithful, that a Christian should forgive and forget injuries; and as this is a duty frequently inculcated by sacred writers, he should consult them on the subject, in order to be able to subdue the pertinacity of those whose minds are obstinately bent on revenge, and he should have ready the forcible and appropriate arguments which those Fathers piously employed. The three following considerations, however, demand particular exposition.
First, he who thinks himself injured ought above all to be persuaded that the man on whom he desires to be revenged was not the principal cause of the loss or injury. Thus that admirable man, Job, when violently injured by the Sabeans, the Chaldeans, and by Satan, took no account of these, but as a righteous and very holy man exclaimed with no less truth than piety: The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away. The words and the example of that man of patience should, therefore, convince Christians, and the conviction is most just, that whatever chastisements we endure in this life come from the hand of God, the Father and Author of all justice and mercy. He chastises us not as enemies, but, in His infinite goodness, corrects us as children. To view the matter in its true light, men, in these cases, are nothing more than the ministers and agents of God. One man, it is true, may cherish the worst feelings towards another, he may harbour the most malignant hatred against him; but, without the permission of God, he can do him no injury. This is why Joseph was able patiently to endure the wicked counsels of his brethren, and David, the injuries inflicted on him by Semei.
Here also applies an argument which St. Chrysostom has ably and learnedly handled. It is that no man is injured but by himself. Let the man, who considers himself injured by another, consider the matter in the right way and he will certainly find that he has received no injury or loss from others. For although he may have experienced injury from external causes, he is himself his greatest enemy by wickedly staining his soul with hatred, malevolence and envy.
The second consideration is that there are two advantages, which are the special rewards of those, who, influenced by a holy desire to please God, freely forgive injuries. In the first place, God has promised that he who forgives, shall himself obtain forgiveness of sins, a promise which clearly shows how acceptable to God is this duty of piety. In the next place, the forgiveness of injuries ennobles and perfects our nature; for by it man is in some degree made like to God, Who maketh his sun to shine on the good and the bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust.
Finally, the disadvantages which arise from the refusal to pardon others are to be explained. The pastor, therefore, should place before the eyes of the unforgiving man that hatred is not only a grievous sin, but also that the longer it is indulged the more deeply rooted it becomes. The man, of whose heart this passion has once taken possession, thirsts for the blood of his enemy. Filled with the hope of revenge, he will spend his days and nights brooding over some evil design, so that his mind seems never to rest from malignant projects, or even from thoughts of blood. Thus it follows that never, or at least not without extreme difficulty, can he be induced generously to pardon an offence, or even to mitigate his hostility. Justly, therefore, is hatred compared to a wound in which the weapon remains firmly embedded.
Moreover, there are many evil consequences and sins which are linked together with this one sin of hatred. Hence these words of St. John: He that hateth his brother, is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth; because the darkness hath blinded his eyes. He must, therefore, frequently fall; for how can anyone view in a favourable light the words or actions of him whom he hates? Hence arise rash and unjust judgments, anger, envy, detractions, and other evils of the same sort, in which are often involved those who are connected by ties of friendship or blood; and thus does it frequently happen that this one sin is the prolific source of many.
Not without good reason is hatred called the sin of the devil. The devil was a murderer from the beginning; and hence our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, when the Pharisees sought His life, said that they were begotten of their father the devil.
Besides the reasons already adduced, which afford good grounds for detesting this sin, other and most suitable remedies are prescribed in the pages of Holy Writ.
Of these remedies the first and greatest is the example of the Redeemer, which we should set before our eyes as a model for imitation. For He, in whom even suspicion of fault could not be found, when scourged with rods, crowned with thorns, and finally nailed to a cross, uttered that most charitable prayer: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. And as the Apostle testifies: The sprinkling of his blood speaketh better than Abel.
Another remedy, prescribed by Ecclesiasticus, is to call to mind death and judgment: Remember thy last end, and. thou shalt never sin." As if he had said: Reflect frequently and again and again that you must soon die, and since at death there will be nothing you desire or need more than great mercy from God, that now you should keep that mercy always before your mind. Thus the cruel desire for revenge will be extinguished; for you can discover no means better adapted, none more efficacious to obtain the mercy of God than the forgiveness of injuries and love towards those who in word or deed may have injured you or yours.
The Catechism of Trent 3400