Q. In his homily on the statement of Jesus that we are not to judge others (cf. Matt. 7:1), my pastor seemed to rule out any criticism of the moral failings of others, but is this what Jesus meant? I seem to recall a spiritual work of mercy that we are to admonish the sinner. But how can we do that without judging him? I’m confused. — T.L.H., Massachusetts.
A. It is a very common reaction these days that when you criticize moral evils, you are often accused of being judgmental. And those who know little or nothing about Jesus’ moral code seem to know just enough to quote the Lord when He said, “Stop judging, that you may not be judged.” Does this mean that when you return home and find your house was broken into, you shouldn’t call the police because that would be judgmental? Of course not.
Yes, it is judgmental to say that certain actions are wrong, such as murder, abortion, racism, adultery, fornication, and missing Mass deliberately on Sunday, but it is not wrong to judge the sin as long as we don’t judge the sinner. We leave that up to God.
What Jesus was forbidding was judging the motives of others because only God knows a person’s heart. He did not mean that we should remain silent about the faults of others, but rather that we should point them out in a spirit of charity, not out of arrogance or out of a sense of moral superiority where we are so busy finding fault with others that we fail to see our own faults. As Jesus said:
“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:3-5).
This is one of those examples from Scripture that cannot be read on its own, as if this were the only time that Jesus talked about judging others. Skip ahead to Matt. 18:15-17, where Jesus suggests four steps in dealing with a sinful person:
“If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”
Trying to turn a person away from evil and wrongdoing, whether you are a parent, a teacher, a pastor, or a friend, is a work of love. We love the other person so much that we don’t want them to go down the wrong path, to pursue a course of action that could cause harm to them or to others. What kind of a parent or friend would we be if we neglected to steer someone away from abortion, drugs, alcohol, adultery, or the homosexual lifestyle? Consider the words of the Lord to the prophet Ezekiel (3:18-19):
“If I say to the wicked man, You shall surely die; and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his wicked conduct so that he may live: that wicked man shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death. If, on the other hand, you have warned the wicked man, yet he has not turned away from his evil nor from his wicked conduct, then he shall die for his sin, but you shall save your life.”
Similar advice can be found in the Letter of James (5:20): “My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
Some good advice on this matter comes from a sermon of Blessed John Henry Newman, which we are quoting at length because it illustrates the point so well:
“St. John the Baptist had a most difficult office to fulfill: that of rebuking a king. Not that it is difficult for a man of rude arrogant mind to say a harsh thing to men in power — no, rather, it is a gratification to such a one; but it is difficult to rebuke well, that is, at a right time, in a right spirit, and a right manner. The holy Baptist rebuked Herod without making him angry; therefore, he must have rebuked him with gravity, temper, sincerity, and an evident goodwill towards him. On the other hand, he spoke so firmly, sharply, and faithfully, that his rebuke cost him his life.
“We who now live have not that extreme duty put upon us with which St. John was laden; yet every one of us has a share in his office, inasmuch as we are all bound ‘to rebuke vice boldly,’ when we have fit opportunities for so doing….
“Aim at viewing all things in a plain and candid light, and at calling them by their right names. Be frank, do not keep your notions of right and wrong to yourselves, nor, on some conceit that the world is too bad to be taught the Truth, suffer it to sin in word or deed without rebuke. Do not allow friend or stranger in the familiar intercourse of society to advance false opinions, nor shrink from stating your own, and do this in singleness of mind and love.
“Persons are to be found who tell their neighbors of their faults in a strangely solemn way, with a great parade, as if they were doing something extraordinary; and such men not only offend those whom they wish to set right, but also foster in themselves a spirit of self-complacency. Such a mode of finding fault is inseparably connected with a notion that they themselves are far better than the parties they blame; whereas the single-hearted Christian will find fault, not austerely or gloomily, but in love; not stiffly, but naturally, gently, and as a matter of course, just as he would tell his friend of some obstacle in his path which was likely to throw him down, but without any absurd feeling of superiority over him because he was able to do so.”
Q. In my considerable readings on the East-West Schism of 1054, the filioque always tops the list of disputed things, along with leavened bread, but I have never read that clerical marriage was an issue at the time. Papal primacy became an issue, but only after the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Do you have any clarification on this? — M.M., via e-mail.
A. Our reading on the Eastern Schism is much less than yours, so we are going to rely on the summary that appears in James Hitchcock’s History of the Catholic Church. According to Dr. Hitchcock, there were a number of points of difference between East and West prior to 1054, including leavened or unleavened bread, a drop of water in the wine before the consecration at Mass, the style of haircut (tonsure) for the clergy, and clerical marriage. He said that “the Eastern church still allowed clerical marriage, although bishops were drawn exclusively from the ranks of the celibate” (p. 196).
The most substantive disagreement between the two sides, said Hitchcock, was over the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed (cf. p. 197), which said that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son.
In the middle of the 11th century, Michael Cerularius, a patriarch of Constantinople, opposed the Western practices just mentioned so vigorously that he closed the Latin churches in his city. Pope Leo IX in 1054 sent a delegation to Constantinople under Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida.
“The delegates received a friendly welcome from Emperor Constantine IX (1042-1055),” said Hitchcock, “but Cerularius’ intransigence was matched by Humbert, who pronounced an excommunication on the patriarch and placed the decree on the altar of Hagia Sophia. Although this incident has traditionally been treated as marking the final split between Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, it was not seen as such at the time” (p. 198).
Reunification efforts continued for four centuries, said Hitchcock, and reunion was actually proclaimed in Hagia Sophia in 1452, but “the final rupture between Catholicism and Orthodoxy occurred in 1472, when the Orthodox formally repudiated the formulae agreed to by [Emperor] John VIII. Cyril Kontaris, patriarch of Constantinople (d. 1640), entered into communion with Rome but was deposed and murdered by the Turks” (p. 205).