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When Should We Love Sinners &
When Should We Hate Them?

Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

In a previous article, I promised to present the solution given by St. Thomas Aquinas to the problem of the legitimacy of hatred, contrary to what the "good hearted" man thinks. In it I affirmed that Romanticism spread the false general notion that to love is always a virtue and to hate is always a sin. To the contrary, St. Thomas teaches us that at times hatred can be a grave duty.

I will transcribe the text of the Angelical Doctor from the Summa Theologica (II.II. q. 25, a. 6) at left, and follow it with some comments, below right, that aim to help apply the principles he teaches to concrete situations.

St. Thomas' authority is unsurpassed; he is the Greatest Doctor of the Catholic Church, as well as a Saint proposed by her for the veneration and imitation of the faithful.

[Prof. Plinio comments correspond to the numbers in blue introduced in the text]

Whether sinners [1] must be loved [2] out of charity [3]

Objection 1: It seems that we should not love sinners out of charity. For it is written in the Psalms:"I have hated the wicked" (Ps 118:113). Now, David had perfect charity. Therefore, sinners should be hated rather than loved, out of charity.

Objection 2: Further, "love is proved by deeds," as St. Gregory says in a homily for Pentecost (In Evang. 30). But good men do no works of love to the wicked: on the contrary they do works that appear to be of hate, according to the Psalm (100: 8): "In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land;" also, God commanded in Exodus (22:18): "You shall not suffer a witch to live." Therefore, sinners should not be loved out of charity.

Objection 3: Further, it is proper to friendship that one should desire and wish good things for one's friends. Now the saints, out of charity, desired evil things for the wicked, according to Psalm 9:18: "May the wicked be turned into Hell." Therefore sinners should not be loved out of charity.

Objection 4: Further, it is proper to friends to rejoice in and desire the same things. Now charity does not make us desire what the sinners desire, nor to rejoice in what gives them joy, but rather the contrary. Therefore, sinners should not be loved out of charity.

Objection 5: Further, it is proper to friends to associate together, according to Ethics (chap 5, n. 3). But we should not associate with sinners, according to 2 Cor 6: 17: "Wherefore come out from among them and be separate." Therefore, we should not love sinners out of charity.

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Doctrina Christi I, 30), "When it is said: Thou shalt love thy neighbor, it is evident that we ought to look upon every man as our neighbor." Now, sinners do not cease to be men, for sin does not destroy nature. Therefore, we ought to love sinners out of charity.

I answer to these arguments that two things should be considered in the sinner, his nature and his guilt. According to his nature, which he has from God, he has a capacity for eternal happiness upon which the relationship of charity is based. as stated above (A. 3, q. 23, a. 1-5). Wherefore, we ought to love sinners out of charity in respect to their nature. [4]

On the other hand, their guilt offends God and is an impediment to their eternal happiness. Wherefore, in respect to their guilt, so long as they offend God all sinners ought to be hated, even one's father or mother or kindred, according to Luke (14:26). [5] For it is our duty to hate in the sinner his being a sinner, and to love in him his being a man capable of achieving eternal happiness. [6] This is to love him out of charity for the love of God.

Reply to objection 1: The Prophet hated the iniquitous as such, and the object of his hate was their iniquity. [7]This is the perfect hatred of which the same Prophet says (Ps. 139: 22): "I hate them with a perfect hatred." Now, for this same reason one hates what is bad in a person and loves what is good in him. Hence also this perfect hatred belongs to charity. [8]

Reply to objection 2: As the Philosopher observes (Ethics, 9, 3), when our friends fall into sin, we should not deny them the benefits of friendship so long as there is hope of their mending their ways. And we should help them regain virtue more readily than to regain money, had they lost it, for virtue means more to friendship than money. [9]

When, however, such persons fall into very great wickedness and become incurable, we should refuse them friendly treatment. It is for this reason that both divine and human laws command such sinners to be put to death, because it is more likely that they will harm others than mend their ways. [10]

Nevertheless the judge issues such sentences not out of hatred for the sinners, but out of love of charity, because he prefers the public good to the life of one single person. Moreover, the death inflicted by the judge profits the sinner if he converts, as expiation for his crime; and if he does not convert, it profits him by putting an end to his sin, because the sinner is thus deprived of the power to sin more.

Reply to objection 3: Such like imprecations that we come across in the Holy Scripture may be understood in three ways: First, by way of prediction, not by way of wish, so that the sense is: "The wicked shall be turned into Hell."
Second, by way of wish, so that the wisher's desire refers not to the punishment the man receives, but to the justice of the punisher, according to Psalm 58:11: "The just shall rejoice when he shall see revenge." For according to the Book of Wisdom (1:13), not even God "delights in the perdition of the wicked" when He punishes them, but He rejoices in His justice, according to the Psalm (11:7): "The Lord is righteous and He loves righteousness."
Third, so that this desire refers to the removal of the guilt, not of the chastisement, [11] in such a way that the sin be destroyed, but the man may live.

Reply to objection 4: We love sinners out of charity not so as to desire what they desire and to rejoice in what gives them joy, but so as to make them desire what we desire and rejoice in what makes us rejoice. [12] Hence it is written (Jer 15:19): "Let them convert unto you; but you shall not convert unto them."

Reply to objection 5: The weak should avoid communicating with sinners on account of the danger of being perverted by them. But it is commendable for the perfect, [13] whose fall is not to be feared, to communicate with sinners in order to convert them. Thus, the Lord ate and drank with sinners as reported in Matthew 9:11-13. Yet all should avoid the society of sinners when it means participation in sin. Thus it is written (2 Cor 6:17): "Go away from among them and touch not the unclear thing," that is, what is in accordance with sin. [14]

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Comments by Prof. Plinio

1. In this item St. Thomas establishes the internal dispositions we must have toward our neighbor. To this effect he classifies men in two large groups: the just and sinners. Since it is obvious that we must love the just, he only speaks about the love we should have for sinners.

I believe it indispensable, before further studying St. Thomas' text, to consider the importance of this rule he established: A person's friendship toward another should be strongly influenced by whether the latter is a just man or a sinner.

How different this is from the sentimental view of many of our contemporaries! Today we are inclined to love people because they treat us well, are useful to us, amuse us, are pleasant in appearance, or because we are accustomed to their company or they are our relatives, etc. These reasons determine our decisions on how to treat them so strongly that we do not give the least consideration to the essential point that should dictate the matter: Is the person a just man or a sinner?

In fact, the professor must prefer the well-behaved, assiduous and pious disciples to those who are impious, disruptive and undisciplined, but skilled in the art of flattering and amusing their teachers. A father must prefer a son who is good, even if he is ungainly and unintelligent, to a brilliant son who is impious and impure. Among colleagues, our admiration must not be for the funniest, the most affable, the wealthiest or the most successful, but rather for the most virtuous.

We cannot give someone the treasure of our friendship without knowing whether or not he is an enemy of God. The person who lives in mortal sin is an enemy of God, and if we love God above everything, we cannot indifferently love those who love Him and those who offend Him. What should we think of a son who would be the friend of persons who gravely, unjustly and publicly offended his father? Is this not what we do when we admit to our friendship apostates, heretics, irregularly married couples and morally corrupted persons, etc?

2. Since true love is an act of the will and not of the sensibility, to love does not necessarily mean to have tenderness. To desire good for someone is to seriously wish for him everything that, according to reason and faith, is good for him: that is, first, the grace of God and his salvation, and then everything that does not deviate him from this goal, but instead leads to it.

Love is proved by works. When we seriously want good for our neighbor, we show this disposition not only by our words of affection and friendly gestures - which are, incidentally, perfectly legitimate - but also by our efforts and sacrifices. Is such a love also turned toward sinners? This is exactly the question that the Angelic Doctor deals with in this text.

3. Charity is love of God above everything. This question is tantamount to another: Since we love God above everything, should we then love, out of love of God, the sinners who are His enemies?

4. God made human nature and, therefore, it is good. Hence, in theory we must love all men, even those who are incapable of having merit or guilt, such as children who have not reached the age of reason, the demented, those born with mental handicaps, etc.. In this sense we should love - that is, wish good for - sinners, since they are also men. We should, therefore wish them every good, but not, however, in same way we do for the just, which will be commented on further on.

Virtuous hatred belongs to charity

5. The mentioned text of St. Luke (14:26) says: "If any man comes to Me, and hates not his father and mother, and his wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." It is a mistake to think that Our Lord did not teach that we can hate. There is a holy hatred that is an evangelical virtue. A love that would not generate hatred would not be love. Indeed, if I love someone, I must hate what brings evil to him. It is this holy hatred - its motives, nature and limits - that is magnificently taught in this text of St. Thomas.

6. These words are an excellent commentary on the wise but often misunderstood norm of St. Augustine: "Hate the vice, love the man" - dilige hominem, oderis vitium (Sermo 49, 5, PL 38, 323; see also De Civitate Dei 1, 14, c. 6, Epistula 211, 11, PL 33, 962). This norm is often interpreted as if sin were extrinsic to the sinner, like a book on a bookshelf: one can hate the book without having any restrictions against the bookshelf, because although one thing sets inside the other, the two are completely extrinsic to each another. Hence one could hate the error without any hatred toward the one who errs.

Nevertheless, the reality is different. The error is in the person who errs just as ferocity is in a wild beast. If we are attacked by a bear we cannot defend ourselves by shooting its ferocity and sparing the bear, accepting its embrace with open arms! St. Thomas is very clear on this point. Hatred must be directed not only toward sin considered abstractly, but also toward the person of the sinner. In doing this, however, one should not target his entire person, but spare his nature, which is good, as well as the good qualities he may have. One should target his defects.

For example, one's hatred should fall over his lust, his impiety and his falseness. I insist, one's hatred should be turned toward not only his lust, impiety or falseness considered in the abstract, but toward the sinner himself so long as he is sensual, impious and false.

7. One sees that to hate the iniquity of the iniquitous is the same as to hate the wicked so long as they are iniquitous. Therefore, one must hate the wicked when they are iniquitous, in accordance with the evil they do, and throughout the time they persevere in their iniquity. Thus, the greater the sin, the greater the hatred of the just must be for it and the sinner. In this sense we should hate mainly those who sin against the Faith, those who blaspheme against God, and those who drag others into sin because the justice of God hates them particularly.

8. It is not a hatred fed by a superficial ire. It is an ordered, rational and therefore virtuous hatred. Such is the "perfect hate" that "belongs to charity." Thus, to hate virtuously and uprightly is an act of charity! How this truth shocks the "good-hearted" man!

9. Here, sinners are divided into two categories: those who give the hope of mending their ways and those who do not. We should hate the first insofar as they are sinners and love them as men in this sense: We should do everything possible to help them stop sinning; nonetheless, so long as they persevere in evil, they should be hated.

Frequently, one hears compassionate laments for a man who lost his fortune. His friends and relatives do all they can to help him recover his patrimony. But it is very rare to hear someone lamenting a friend's loss of virtue. How psychological is the comparison of the Holy Doctor!

To do everything we can to help someone regain virtue should not be idle words. We should give him counsel, be insistent, speak at times with sympathy and affection and at other times with severity according to the case. Principally, we should pray and make penance for those whom we want to return to the grace of God. For without prayer and penance, nothing is obtained.

Sometimes when we insist, we run the risk of losing the sinner's friendship. We should not fear this sacrifice, which God will take into account. One of the greatest proofs of affection we can give to someone is to sacrifice his friendship to help him achieve salvation.

10. In principle, it is always possible for the sinner to convert. But there are sinners who are so attached to evil that their conversion is only achieved by a very special grace. But since what is very special is exceptional, obviously we should have more fear that souls in such conditions will be condemned rather than saved. Also, it is more likely that those souls will drag others into sin than that they will free themselves from its clutches.

These sinners continue to deserve our love in the sense that we must pray and sacrifice for their conversion, and we should not stop trying to encourage them to amend their ways. But we cannot have amicable and intimate relations with them.

Further, in view of their evil and the risk of losing other innocent persons because of them, these sinners deserve death. St. Thomas is quite clear in this respect.

The severity of Church doctrine - as well as her mercy - dictates this. For, in approving the just death penalty, the Church remains with the condemned man until his last moment, with pious souls offering prayers and sacrifices for him and various confraternities founded specially for this giving assistance.

Santiago Matamoros in battle

Santiago Matamoros, model of perfect hatred against the enemies of the Church
11. How many persons are incapable of understanding that we must desire chastisements for the sinners we love - sickness,persecutions, poverty - if these are the means to make them mend their ways and turn toward the grace of God!

12. The sinner desires the sin, indolence and luxury that favor his dissipation. If we really hate the sin and love the sinner, we must desire that he be deprived of all necessary means to sin. Thus, we must support all those who fight to do away with things that lead to sin: bad magazines, movies, television programs and plays, those who spread teachings opposed to Catholic Morals, etc.

13. The "sick" or "weak" man is one who for various reasons is particularly subject to sin, for whom something is an occasion of sin that is not for others. The"perfect" man is one who has a higher degree of virtue and thus can face greater obstacles than the ordinary man.

In principle, no one can expose himself to a near occasion of sin. If, in exceptional circumstances, a person considered strong - not by himself but by a spiritual director - should face uncommon risks, it is because the occasion of sin is not a near one for him.

14. We must avoid relations with persons who live a bad life, have depraved customs or frequent indecent places because being with such persons constitutes occasions of sin for almost everyone. Not only is this an attempt to legitimize evil for everyone, but it also causes scandal for the good.

Translated by TIA desk from Catolicismo, n. 35, November 1953

Posted October 24, 2011

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