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Let the Sword First Strike the Person,
and then the Error He Defends

"It is all well enough to make war on abstract doctrines," we often hear people say. “But, in combating error, even when it is very evident, it is wrong and even uncharitable to make attacks upon the persons who uphold such error.” This is a liberal position, Fr. Felix Sará y Salvani teaches us in his book Liberalism Is A Sin. To the contrary, it is often not only good to make a personal attack, but at times even indispensable and meritorious before God and men.

Fr. Felix Sardá y Salvani

Catholic apologists are often accused of entering the personal arena during debates. And when Liberals and those tainted with Liberalism hurl this accusation against one of us, they imagine that this charge is enough to condemn us.

But they deceive themselves. We are not so easily removed from the scene. We have reason – and quite substantial reason – on our side. In order to combat and discredit false ideas, we must make them look abhorrent and despicable to the same multitude they tried to convince and seduce. A disease cannot be separated from the persons who have it. The cholera threatening a country came in the persons infected with it. If we wish to exclude it, we must exclude them.

Now it so happens that ideas cannot be sustained by themselves in the air, nor do they spread or propagate by themselves. Left to themselves, they would never produce all the evil that harms society. It is only when they are applied by those who conceive them that they have an effect. Ideas are like the arrows and the bullets that would harm no one if they were not shot from the bow or the gun. It is the archer and the gunner, therefore, who should be the first target in our sight. Save for them, the fire would kill no one. Any other method of waging war, be it liberal or not, does not make sense.

The authors and propagators of heretical doctrines are soldiers with poisoned weapons in their hands. Their arms are the books, the newspapers, the public speeches and their personal influence. It is not enough to dodge the bullets they fire. The first thing necessary is to make the shooter himself ineffective so that he can do no more mischief.

It is, therefore, perfectly proper not only to discredit the book, journal or lecture of the enemy, but it can also be proper to discredit his person. For in warfare the principal element of the combat is the person engaged, just as the gunner is the principal factor in an artillery fight and not the cannon, powder or bomb.

It is thus lawful in certain cases to publicly display the infamy of a Liberal opponent, to present his customs to contempt, to drag his name in the mire. Yes, this is fully permissible, permissible in prose, in verse, in caricature, in either a serious or a light vein, by every means and method within reach. The only care we should take is to not to employ a lie in the service of justice. This, never. Under no pretext may we sully the truth, even to the dotting of an i. ….
The Fathers of the Church support this thesis. The very titles of their works clearly show that in their combats against heresies, their first blow was at the heresiarchs. Almost all the titles of St. Augustine’s works bear the name of the author of the heresy against which they are written: Adversus (Against) Fortunatum, Adversus Manichaean, Adversus Adamanctum, Adversus Felicem, Adversus Secundinum. Or, Quis fuerit Petriamus (Who is Petrianus?), De gestis Pelagii (About the Deeds of Pelagius), Quis fuerit Julianus, etc.

Thus we see that the greater part of the polemics of the great Augustine was personal, aggressive, and biographical as well as doctrinal, a hand-to-hand struggle with the heretic as well as the heresy. We could say the same about all the other Church Fathers.

What right do the Liberals have to impose on us the new obligation of fighting error only in the abstract and of lavishing smiles and flattery on them? We, the Ultramontanes, will fight our battles according to Catholic tradition and defend the faith as it has always been defended in the Church of God. When it strikes, let the sword of the Catholic polemist wound, and when it wounds, wound mortally. This is the only real and efficatious way to combat!

(Felix Sardá y Salvani, El Liberalism es pecado, Barcelona: 1960, pp. 60-62;
the text of this book can also be found here
)
Posted on November 20, 2010

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