Plinio CorrÍa de Oliveira
In the course of our exposition, we have had occasion to quote Sacred Scripture repeatedly; but the reader will have noticed that citations from the Old Testament have appeared much more often than quotes from the New Testament.
This is because we deliberately reserved a special, broader chapter to analyze New Testament texts and particularly the position of the doctrines we defend in relation to those texts.
The advantage of a special study in this regard is obvious. We make the apology of doctrines of combat and force, combat for the good of course, and force at the service of truth. But the religious romanticism of the last century so disfigured the true notion of Catholicism in many circles that in the eyes of a large number of people, even in our time, it appears as a doctrine rather befitting the "meek Rabbi of Galilee" of whom Renan spoke than the God-Man the holy Gospels presented to us. While seemingly exalting Him, Renanís portrayal is a positivist and blasphemous depiction of Our Lord as a quasi-Rotarian miracle worker in his spirit and works.
It is habitually affirmed in this order of ideas that the New Testament instituted such a suave regime in relationships between God and man, and between man and his neighbor, that all sense of combat and severity has supposedly disappeared from Religion. Thus the warnings and threats of the Old Testament have become obsolete and man has been emancipated from any obligation to fear God or fight the enemies of the Church.
Without denying that in the law of grace there has been indeed a much more abundant effusion of divine mercy, we want to demonstrate that this most blissful event is sometimes attributed a greater scope than it really has. Thanks be to God, there is not one Catholic (however little his knowledge of the New Testament may be) who does not remember the episode narrated by Saint Luke which expresses in an admirable way the reign of mercy; a reign wider, more constant and more brilliant in the New Testament than in the Old. The Savior had been the object of insult in the city of Samaria:
And when his disciples James and John had seen this, they said: Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them? And turning, he rebuked them, saying: You know not of what spirit you are. The Son of Man came not to destroy souls, but to save. And they went into another town. (1)
What an admirable lesson of kindness! And with what consoling and great frequency Our Lord repeated lessons like this! Let us have them engraved deeply in our hearts: but engraved in such a way as to leave room for other, no less important lessons from the Divine Master. He certainly preached mercy, but He did not preach systematical impunity for evil. If in the Gospel He often appears forgiving, He more than once also appears punishing or threatening. Let us learn from Him that there are circumstances that require forgiveness and in which it would be less perfect to punish; but that there are also circumstances that demand punishment and in which it would be less perfect to forgive. Let us not fall into a one-sidedness of which the adorable example of the Savior is an express condemnation, as He knew how to use at times forgiveness, and at other times punishment. Let us not forget the memorable event that Saint Luke relates above. Let us also not forget another episode symmetrical with the first, which constitutes a lesson in severity that harmoniously fits with that of divine kindness in one perfect whole. Let us listen to what the Lord said about Corozain and Bethsaida and learn from Him, not only the divine art of forgiving but also the no-less-divine art of threatening and punishing:
Woe to thee, Corozain, woe to thee, Bethsaida: for if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in you, they had long ago done penance in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you. And thou Capharnaum, shalt thou be exalted up to heaven? Thou shalt go down even unto hell. For if in Sodom had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in thee, perhaps it had remained unto this day. But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee. (2)
Note that the same Master who did not want to send fire from heaven upon the town of which we talked before, prophesied for Corozain and Bethsaida worse misfortunes than those of Sodom! Let us not tear any pages from the Holy Gospel but rather find elements of edification and imitation in somber pages as well as in luminous ones, since both are most wholesome gifts of God.
If mercy in the New Testament increased the effusion of grace, then justice, on the other hand, finds in the rejection of greater graces, greater crimes to punish. Both virtues, intimately intertwined, mutually support each other in the government of the world by God. It is not accurate, then, to claim that in the New Testament there is room only for forgiveness but not for punishment.
Sinners Before and After Christ
Even after the Redemption, original sin continued to exist with its sad string of consequences upon manís intellect and will. On the other hand, men remained subject to being tempted by the devil. Accordingly, sin did not disappear from the earth and the Church continued sailing on a rough sea in which the obstinacy and malice of sinners raise obstacles against her that she must overcome at every moment. A quick glance at the history of the Church is enough to make this truth painfully obvious. But there is more: Grace sanctifies those who accept it, but a manís rejection of grace will make him worse than he was before receiving it. It is in this sense that the Apostle writes that the pagans converted to Christianity and later seduced by heresies, became worse than they were before becoming Christians. The worse criminal in history was certainly not the pagan who condemned Jesus Christ to death, nor the high priest who directed the course of events that culminated in the crucifixion, but the unfaithful apostle who sold his Master for thirty coins. "The greater the height, the deeper the fall," says a proverb of our popular wisdom. What a profound and painful consonance this affirmation has with the teachings of theology!
Thus, in her journey Holy Mother Church must face men just as bad or even worse than those who revolted against Godís law in Old Testament times. In his Encyclical, Divini Redemptoris, the Holy Father Pius XI says that in our time not only some men but "entire peoples find themselves in danger of falling back into a barbarism worse than that which oppressed the greater part of the world at the coming of the Redeemer." (3)
Therefore, the defense of the rights of the truth and the good, demands that the numerous enemies of the Church be humbled with greater vigor than ever. Accordingly, when prayers and kindness are not enough to overcome the adversary, a Catholic must be ready to effectively use all the legitimate weapons within his reach.
Note, in the following passages, how many, admirable examples of penetrating astuteness, untiring combativeness and heroic frankness are found in the New Testament. They clearly show that Our Lord was not a sentimental preacher but the infallible Master Who knew how to preach love with words and examples of an insuperable and admirable sweetness but also knew how to preach in word and deed, with an insuperable and no less adorable severity, the duty of vigilance, shrewdness, and an open and unrelenting combat against the enemies of the Church that kindness is unable to disarm.
1) Luke 9:54-56.
2) Matt. 11:21-24.
3) Pius XI, Encyclical Divini Redemptoris, Mar. 19, 1937, no. 2, at www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_19031937_divini-redemptoris_en.html