POLEMICAL CHARITY AND LIBERALISMLiberalism never gives battle on solid ground; it knows too well that in a discussion of principles it must meet with irretrievable defeat. It prefers tactics of recrimination, and under the sting of a just flagellation whiningly accuses Catholics of (107) lack of charity in their polemics. This is also the ground which certain Catholics, tainted with Liberalism, are in the habit of taking.
Let us see what is to be said on this score. We Catholics, on this point as on all others, have reason on our side, whilst Liberals have only its shadow. In the first place a Catholic can handle his Liberal adversary openly, if such he be in truth; no one can doubt this. If an author or a journalist makes open profession of Liberalism and does not conceal his Liberal predilections what injury can be done him in calling him a Liberal? Si palman res est, repetitio injuria non est: "to say what everybody knows is no injury." With much stronger reason to say of our neighbor what he every instant says of himself cannot justly offend. And yet how many Liberals, especially those of the easygoing and moderate type, regard the expressions "Liberal" and "friend of Liberals," which Catholic adversaries apply to them as offensive and uncharitable!
Granting that Liberalism is a bad thing, to call the public defenders and professors of Liberalism bad is no want of charity.
The law of justice, potent in all ages, can be applied in this case. The Catholics of today are no innovators in this respect. (108) We are simply holding to the constant practice of antiquity. The propagators and abettors of heresy have at all times been called heretics as well as its authors. As the Church has always considered heresy a very grave evil, so has she always called its adherents bad and pervert. Run over the list of ecclesiastical writers you will then see how the Apostles treated the first heretics, how the Fathers, and modern controversialists and the Church herself in her official language has pursued them. There is then no sin against charity in calling evil evil, its authors, abettors and disciples bad; all its acts, words and writings iniquitous, wicked, malicious. In short the wolf has done to the flock and shepherd.
If the propagation of good and the necessity of combating evil require the employment of terms somewhat harsh against error and its supporters, this usage is certainly not against charity. This is a corollary or consequence of the principle we have just demonstrated. We must render evil odious and detestable. We cannot attain this result without pointing out the dangers of evil, without showing how and why it is odious, detestable and contemptible. Christian oratory of all ages has (109) ever employed the most vigorous and emphatic rhetoric in the arsenal of human speech against impiety. In the writings of the great athletes of Christianity the usage of irony, imprecation, execration and of the most crushing epithets is continual. Hence the only law is the opportunity and the truth.
But there is another justification for such an usage. Popular propagation and apologetics cannot preserve elegant and constrained academic forms. In order to convince the people we must speak to their heart and their imagination which can only be touched by ardent, brilliant, and impassioned language. To be impassioned is not to be reprehensible, when our heat is the holy ardor of truth.
The supposed violence of modern Ultramontane journalism not only falls short of Liberal journalism, but is amply justified by every page of the works of our great Catholic polemicists of other epochs. This is easily verified. St. John the Baptist calls the Pharisees "race of vipers," Jesus Christ, our Divine Savior, hurls at them the epithets "hypocrites, whitened sepulchers, a perverse and adulterous generation" without thinking for this reason that He sullies the sanctity of His benevolent speech. St. Paul criticizes the schismatic Cretins (110) as "always liars, evil beasts, slothful bellies." The same apostle calls Elymas the magician "seducer, full of guile and deceit, child of the Devil, enemy of all justice."
If we open the Fathers we find the same vigorous castigation of heresy and heretics. St. Jerome arguing against Vigilantius casts in his face his former occupation of saloonkeeper: "From your infancy," he says to him, "you have learned other things than theology and betaken yourself to other pursuits. To verify at the same time the value of your money accounts and the value of Scriptural texts, to sample wines and grasp the meaning of the prophets and apostles are certainly not occupations which the same man can accomplish with credit." On another occasion attacking the same Vigilantius, who denied the excellence of virginity and of fasting, St. Jerome, with his usual sprightliness, asks him if he spoke thus "in order not to diminish the receipts of his saloon?" Heavens! What an outcry would be raised if one of our Ultramontane controversialists were to write against a Liberal critic or heretic of our own day in this fashion!
What shall we say of St. John Chrysostom? His famous invective against Eutropius is not comparable, in its personal (111) and aggressive character, to the cruel invectives of Cicero against Catiline and against Verres! The gentle St. Bernard did not honey his words when he attacked the enemies of the faith. Addressing Arnold of Brescia, the great Liberal agitator of his times, he calls him in all his letters "seducer, vase of injuries, scorpion, cruel wolf."
The pacific St. Thomas of Acquinas forgets the calm of his cold syllogisms when he hurls his violent apostrophe against William of St. Amour and his disciples: "Enemies of God," he cries out, "ministers of the Devil, members of AntiChrist, ignorami, perverts, reprobates!" Never did the illustrious Louis Veuillot speak so boldly. The seraphic St. Bonaventure, so full of sweetness, overwhelms his adversary Gerard with such epithets as "impudent, calumniator, spirit of malice, impious, shameless, ignorant, impostor, malefactor, perfidious, ingrate!" Did St. Francis de Sales, so delicately exquisite and tender, ever purr softly over the heretics of his age and country? He pardoned their injuries, heaped benefits on them even to the point of saving the lives of those who sought to take his, but with the enemies of the faith he preserved neither moderation nor consideration. Asked by a Catholic, who (112) desired to know if it were permissible to speak evil of a heretic who propagated false doctrines, he replied: "Yes, you can, on the condition that you adhere to the exact truth, to what you know of his bad conduct, presenting that which is doubtful as doubtful according to the degree of doubt which you may have in this regard." In his "Introduction to a Devout Life," that precious and popular work, he expresses himself again: "If the declared enemies of God and of the Church ought to be blamed and censured with all possible vigor, charity obliges us to cry wolf' when the wolf slips into the midst of the flock, and in every way and place we may meet him."
But enough. What the greatest Catholic polemists and saints have done is assuredly a fair example for even the humblest defenders of the faith. Modern Ultramontanism has never yet surpassed the vigor of their castigation of heresy and heretics. Charity forbids us to do unto another what we would not reasonably have them to do unto ourselves. Mark the adverb reasonably; it includes the entire substance of the question.
The essential difference between ourselves and the Liberals on this subject consists in this, that they look upon the (113) apostles of error as free citizens, simply exercising their full right to think as they please on matters of religion. We, on the contrary, see in them the declared enemies of the faith which we are obligated to defend. We do not see in their errors simply free opinions but culpable and formal heresies, as the law of God teaches us they are. By virtue of the assumed freedom of their own opinions the Liberals are bound not only to tolerate but even respect ours; for since freedom of opinion is in their eyes the most cardinal of virtues, no matter what the opinion be, they are bound to respect it as the expression of man's rational freedom. It is not what is thought, but the mere thinking that constitutes the standard of excellence with them. To acknowledge God or deny Him is equally rational by the standard of Liberalism, and Liberalism is grossly inconsistent with itself when it seeks to combat Catholic truths, in the holding of which there is as much exercise of rational freedom, in the Liberal sense, as in rejecting them. But our Catholic standpoint is absolute; there is but one truth, in which there is no room for opposition or contradiction. To deny that truth is unreasonable; it is to put falsehood on the level with truth. This is the folly and sin of Liberalism. To denounce this sin and (114) folly is a duty and a virtue. With reason therefore does a great Catholic historian say to the enemies of Catholicity: "You make yourselves infamous by your actions and I will endeavor to cover you with that infamy by my writings." In this same way the law of the Twelve Tables ordained to the virile generations of early Rome: Adversus hostem aeterna auctoritas esto, which may be rendered: "To the enemy no quarter."