Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
IN DEFENSE OF CATHOLIC ACTION
How Some in Catholic Action Propose to Disseminate the Doctrine of the Church
How to Present Catholic Doctrine
There Is a Great Variety of Souls
A first observation that occurs to anyone dedicated to the study of souls is the immense variety that the Creator established among them. The human soul is one of the most beautiful and outstanding works of creation, and as God established such a great diversity in the beings of inferior categories, He could not stop from enriching with an immensely greater variety the spiritual souls created in His image and likeness. This diversity of souls found in the literature of all peoples, in the pen of the keenest observers, is nowhere manifested in a more objective and eloquent way than in Sacred Scripture. In it all the passions capable of stirring man appear in the fullness of their pathetic intensity. Some are moved by affection, some by the love of riches, some even by hatred, by a passion for command, by a thirst for science, by the emotions of art, etc. And this great natural variety is matched by a great variety of attitudes of the soul in relation to God. While some seem more inclined to adore the goodness of God, others are more sensitive to his dazzling power, the depth of his knowledge, etc.
Implicitly, There Must Be a Great Variety of Approaches in the Apostolate
We can deduce from all this that it is absolutely impossible to expect that the many people dedicated to the task of the apostolate always use the same words or the same methods in their action. In addition to the natural impossibility of expecting identical effects from different causes, there is a supernatural impediment. Indeed, grace, which “does not destroy nature but perfects it," far from destroying the variety of souls, in a sense makes it sharper, so that if from a certain point of view there is nothing so similar as two saints, from another point of view, nothing is so different.
This diversity of character among people dedicated to the apostolate, far from harming the Church, is a providential means for her to be able to speak with the same efficacy to all souls.
While some are moved above all by sweetness, others are moved mainly by fear; while some are touched by simplicity, others are thrilled by the splendor of genius joined with Holiness; while some are called to conversion by God through suffering, others are attracted by God through the way of honors and consolations. Were we to follow the modern tendencies of standardization and rationalization by seeking to have only one type of apostle, we would sadly fail. Because the richness of the work God created will not allow itself to be compressed or impoverished by the arbitrary elaboration of our imagination and by the subjective panorama of reality that we would have fabricated.
A “Technique of Apostolate” That Fails to Take This Fundamental Truth into Account Will Err
Yet, some overly narrow conceptions that exist in some circles of Catholic Action lead straight to this error. By accepting the methods proposed in those circles, one would say that the vast majority of souls existing outside the Church is reduced to only one type of person, ideally well-intentioned and candid, in whose interior no voluntary obstacle is raised against the Faith, and who is kept away from the Church by a simple misunderstanding of a speculative or sentimental kind.
Once this arbitrary conception is established, all pastoral wisdom is reduced to enlightening people’s minds and attracting their souls, something that must obviously be done slowly, with extreme tact and in diluted doses, so that these souls, "climbing slowly from clarity to clarity, may be reconciled with their inner selves and may finally attain, almost without realizing it, and as if through an ingenious trap, the possession of truth and of interior transparency."
"Strategic Retreat," the Only Method of Apostolate
Whence comes a whole technique which, once adopted officially in Catholic Action, would become the canonization of human prudence and human respect. The first principle of wisdom would consist in avoiding systematically anything that legitimately or not could cause the least difference of opinion. Placed in a non-Catholic atmosphere, a member of Catholic Action should only—and particularly at the beginning—point out the common traits between him and those present, while cautiously remaining silent about the differences. In other words, the beginning of any maneuver of apostolate would consist in creating large areas of "mutual understanding" between Catholics and non-Catholics, placing both on common, neutral and friendly ground, however broad and vague it might be.
And since unbelievers often profess but a very reduced minimum of principles in common with ours, charity and wisdom would mandate that we hide the religious nature of our works so as to attract them to the practice of Religion in a surreptitious way. Let us give an example. In documents promoting Catholic Action, it would be preferable to mention words such as "truth," "virtue," "good," "charity," in an absolutely non-religious sense. If in certain situations it is possible to advance further, one should speak about God, but without pronouncing the adorable name of Jesus Christ. If it is possible to speak about Jesus Christ, it should be done, but without mentioning the Holy Catholic Church. When speaking of Catholicism, it should be done in a way so as to give an idea that it is an accommodating Religion with vague doctrinal limits that do not entail a profound separation of camps. All this is tantamount to saying that the agnostic language of the Rotary Club, the deist language of Freemasonry, and the pan-Christian language of the YMCA are but masks that Catholic Action should use according to circumstances, being more effective for the apostolate than an open and bold Catholic language.
As a rigorous consequence, some people formally reject, pass over in silence, and seem to forget and ignore all the passages of Sacred Scripture, all of the writings of the Fathers and Doctors, all papal documents and all episodes of Catholic hagiography, as long as they make the apology of courage, energy, and the spirit of combativeness. They try to see religion with only one eye; and when the eye that sees justice is closed to leave open only the one that sees mercy, the latter is immediately disturbed and drags man to the rash presumption of saving himself and others, without merits.
The Cross of Christ Does Not Drive Neophytes Away from Catholic Action
Another great worry consists in hiding everything that can give non-Catholics or the indifferent, the idea that the Church is a school of suffering and sacrifice. Austere truths are strictly proscribed. Not a word is said of mortification, penance, or expiation. All they talk about are the delights of the spiritual life. Accordingly, they see it as hardly useful, not to say completely inept, to try to attract non-believers by telling them, for example, about the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. They wish that only and exclusively Christ the King and Christ Glorious and Triumphant be spoken of, as the humiliations of the Garden and of Golgotha would scare souls away. Only the delights of Tabor could effectively attract. A certain priest once told us that in the sacristy of an old, still Masonic-influenced confraternity, he found on the door the following sign: "It is forbidden to speak of Hell." The same prohibition is in effect in those circles. (1) For the same reason they also tend to consider Holy Week much more like a joyous commemoration that announces the triumph of Easter, than a set of ceremonies designed to move the faithful with compassion for the Redeemer and lamentation for their own sins.
These Doctrines Are Erroneous Because They Presuppose a False Panorama
The first observation we must formulate in relation to so many errors, is that they spring from the false premise that all, or almost all the souls separated from the Church are in the same psychological situation, that is, having no interior obstacles other than purely intellectual or sentimental ones, they await for the strategic therapeutics of Catholic Action in order to be saved. And this is why the idea that only one method of apostolate can be used by Catholic Action—that of half truths, half measures and half words—is false.
We do not deny that one or the other soul outside the Church could find itself in the situation described above, and that some of these souls—though not all—could be led to the truth solely through this method of temporization and procrastination.
It is, however, a serious error to suppose that the great majority of those outside the Church are separated from her by mere intellectual prejudices and emotional misunderstandings.
Like it or not, even in the baptized, original sin left serious and deplorable effects not only in the intellect but even in the will and sensibility. Consequently, all men feel an inclination to evil they can vanquish only by fighting, at times heroically. To demonstrate it we must not seek examples in the inevitable fights against their own inclinations by sinners just emerging from a life full of vice. A quick look at the lives of Saints is enough for us to see that even after many years practicing the most austere virtue and having already acquired a high degree of intimacy with God, they were forced to do extreme violence against themselves so as to refrain from committing highly censurable actions. Saint Benedict, retired from the world and completely given to divine contemplation, had to roll over thorns to extinguish the concupiscence that would drag him to sin. Saint Bernard threw himself into a lake to obtain the same victory. At ninety years of age, Saint Alphonsus De Liguori, a Bishop, Doctor of the Church and founder of a Religious Congregation, still felt the assaults of concupiscence. So we understand the difficulties that original sin creates for the fulfillment of Catholic doctrine by the faithful; difficulties so great, that Catholic morality is decidedly superior to human strength alone, and it is a heresy to maintain that it is possible for man, on his own strength and without the supernatural help of grace, to practice all the Commandments in a lasting way. Summing up all we have said, and to show that we are not exaggerating, let us conclude with the words of Leo XIII. The great Pope said that to follow the Catholic morality oftentimes calls for strenuous labour, earnest endeavour, and perseverance! For although by Our Redeemer's grace human nature bath been regenerated, still there remains in each individual a certain debility and tendency to evil.
Various natural appetites attract man on one side and the other; the allurements of the material world impel his soul to follow after what is pleasant rather than the law of Christ. Still we must strive our best and resist our natural inclinations with all our strength "unto the obedience of Christ."…In this contest every man must be prepared to undergo hardships and troubles for Christ's sake. It is difficult to reject what so powerfully entices and delights. It is hard and painful to despise the supposed goods of the senses and of fortune for the will and precepts of Christ our Lord. But the Christian is absolutely obliged to be firm, and patient in suffering, if he wish to lead a Christian life. (2)
In Scripture there are many passages that confirm the affirmation of the great Leo XIII: "…for the imagination and thought of man's heart are prone to evil from his youth," the Holy Ghost warns. (3)
Up to now we have only talked about the obstacles created by original sin for man. How much more cogent our arguments will be, if we also take diabolical temptations into account!
If the life of a faithful Catholic entails so much fighting, it is easy to understand how an unbeliever would be averse to the sheer perspective of its observance and to the considerable obstacles that his will must face before making, together with the intellect, an act of faith. Now then, if many of the faithful, albeit supported by a superabundance of grace inside the Church, fail to persevere in the way of virtue and at times even become apostates and cruel enemies of Jesus Christ, infidels—often comforted by smaller graces—would be led much more easily to turn against the Church or against Catholics in an attitude of malevolence more or less conscious or explicit, and sometimes even spiteful: a far cry from the exclusively dovish and non-resentful stance that certain Catholic Action circles attribute to infidels.
Hence in the apostolate struggle, an atmosphere of battle will exist until the end of time—lived saintly on our part, sometimes satanically on the part of our adversaries. Indeed, Scripture says that "The just abhor the wicked man: and the wicked loathe them that are in the right way." (4) This is the realization of the inexorable enmity created by God Himself, and therefore very strong, that separates the children of the Blessed Virgin from those of the serpent: "Inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem." (5)
Because of that, "good is set against evil, and life against death: so also is the sinner against a just man. And so look upon all the works of the Most High. Two and two, and one against another." (6)
But the erroneous conception we have been fighting reduces the greater part of the "sentimental misunderstandings" to this: that the infidels are victims, not culprits.
On the eve of his conversion, the great Augustine still felt very strong moral obstacles, caused by concupiscence, and in his admirable Confessions he tells us the titanic fight he had to wage before reaching the safe harbor of the Church. And, as a rule, this is the testimony of all that convert—conversions themselves generally the fruit of tragic events—that reason fights against the most vehement inclination of the senses to evil. Much rarer are the souls that convert without effort and struggle, almost without feeling it; because, unfortunately, the number of men enslaved by passions of all kinds is much greater.
And So They Fail to Employ Resources of Great Importance
Now, when the will clings so doggedly to its own errors, it often happens that only an objective, frank and apostolic description of the ugliness of its actions can attain the desired effect. Examples in this line abound in Sacred Scripture and the prophets’ admonitions against the sins of Babylon, Niniveh, and those of the people of God itself, far from seeking "common ground," constitute a terrible separation of camps in which the dazzling clarity of true morals is opposed in a cruel contrast by all the abjection of paganism or the stark ingratitude of the children of God.
It would be a serious error to pretend that the New Testament suppressed these raw manifestations of the truth. To those who asked him about the way of virtue, Saint John the Baptist did not answer seeking to create the famous "common ground." On the contrary, he said: "Ye brood of vipers, who hath showed you to flee from the wrath to come?…For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire." (7)
Saint John the Baptist frankly told Herod the famous "non licet tibi" (8) which he paid for with his life. Was this tactic harmful? No. On the contrary, the Gospel tells us that his prestige with Herod was great and that Herod defended him against his enemies: "Now Herodias laid snares for him: and was desirous to put him to death, and could not. For Herod feared John, knowing him to be a just and holy man: and kept him, and when he heard him, did many things: and he heard him willingly." (9) Evidently both the prophets and Saint John the Baptist took attitudes inspired by the Holy Ghost to gain the greatest advantages for those wayward souls: therefore, they could not have erred.
…Resources Our Lord Employed
If Our Lord scourged the vendors in the Temple, he did so in the interest of their souls; and when He called the Pharisees a brood of vipers and white-washed sepulchers, he had the intention of doing good to these wayward souls. The same happened with those who gave scandal, of whom He said it would be better for them to have a millstone tied around their necks and be thrown into the depths of the sea: his merciful purpose was certainly to stop some of them at the edge of sin. And when He covered with threats the ungrateful cities of Jerusalem, Corozaim and Bethsaida, He did so to forewarn all future peoples against the same sin of ingratitude.
As for Apologetics, just glancing at the great pages of the Fathers and Doctors and examining, for example, the magnificent haughtiness with which Saint Augustine, in the City of God, ridicules all the miseries of paganism, suffices to understand how the best apologists in their wisdom judged this method indispensable for adequately defending Holy Church. To be sure, this method is very different from building "common ground."
Since Scripture in general and particularly the New Testament is usually read with a deplorable one-sidedness, at the end of this book we will quote a series of passages that constitute a rebuke of the systematical use of the famous "common ground" tactic.
…Whose Rejection the Holy See Condemned
The analysis of this subject would be incomplete if we did not add another reflection. Practiced only in exceptional cases, the tactic we examined can be considered a legitimate and effective tool of charity. Made into a general rule it easily degenerates into human respect and hypocrisy, calling upon us the scorn of our enemies. The Holy See expressly condemned this error. Here is what His Holiness Pope Leo XIII said about this tactic of perpetual retreat:
To recoil before an enemy, or to keep silence when from all sides such clamors are raised against truth, is the part of a man either devoid of character or who entertains doubt as to the truth of what he professes to believe. In both cases such mode of behaving is base and is insulting to God, and both are incompatible with the salvation of mankind. This kind of conduct is profitable only to the enemies of the faith, for nothing emboldens the wicked so greatly as the lack of courage on the part of the good…
After all, no one can be prevented from putting forth that strength of soul which is the characteristic of true Christians, and very frequently by such display of courage our enemies lose heart and their designs are thwarted. Christians are, moreover, born for combat, whereof the greater the vehemence, the more assured, God aiding, the triumph: "Have confidence; I have overcome the world(John 16:33)" (10)
Furthermore, the Holy Ghost censured excessive compromise bordering on untruthfulness: "They that say to the wicked man: Thou art just: shall be cursed by the people, and the tribes shall abhor them. They that rebuke him, shall be praised: and a blessing shall come upon them." (11)
In fact, in the fight between militant adversaries nothing is more apt to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and even admiration than profound and strong convictions expressed without arrogance but with the courageous directness of one who possesses the truth and is not ashamed of it; convictions expressed in an explicit, crystal clear manner and defended with airtight argumentation. How filled with admiration were the pagans who packed the Roman Circus and the Coliseum at the bold professions of Faith of the martyrs, so opposed to the spirit of paganism and which shocked the whole ambience so strongly, but at the same time were covered with the splendor of loyalty and the prestige of blood! What an admiration the Moors had for the heroic crusaders, who fought like lions but were as meek as lambs when facing a wounded or dying adversary. With what contempt, on the contrary, we have fulminated the Protestant propaganda that tries to use against us methods so fashionable in certain circles of Catholic Action. They have called themselves "spiritualists," "Christians," even "free Catholics" with the specific purpose of creating an ambiguous "common ground" so as to fish in muddy waters. Let us not imitate the very methods we fight, let us not turn perpetual retreat, the invariable use of ambiguous terms, and the constant habit of hiding our Faith into norms of conduct that would ultimately result in the triumph of human respect.
Addressing an association that wished to reform its bylaws so as to hide its Catholic nature and obtain greater advantages, Pius X wrote:
it is neither loyal nor dignified, to hide, covering it with a deceptive flag, the quality of Catholic, as if Catholicism were damaged merchandise, which should be smuggled. Let the Socio-economic Union display therefore, courageously the Catholic flag and keep firmly the present statutes. Will the objectives of the Federation be obtained this way? We shall give thanks for that to the Lord. Will our wish be vain? At least there will remain Catholic unions, which will keep the spirit of Jesus Christ and the Lord shall not ceases to bless. (12)
His Holiness Pope Pius X repeated the same thought to Father Ciceri in a letter of October 20, 1912: "truth wants no disguise, and our flag must be unfurled." (13)
Scripture says there is nothing new under the sun. Unfortunately, this affirmation is true particularly in regard to errors. They repeat themselves periodically. Thus, the present problem seemed to be very much in evidence in the pontificate of Pius X. Not only regarding the apostolate of works—we saw how the Socio-Economic Union attracted a reprimand to itself in this regard—but this question was placed also in the field of science. Many Catholic scientists, led by the wish to avoid friction with naturalist scientists as much as possible, let themselves be fooled by the hope that by making some concessions it would be possible to develop a fruitful apostolate. Also in the political field, many public men judged that by not asserting certain rights of the Church, or by doing so in a very limited way, they would obtain an era of peace for Catholicism.
In terms that may well solve our problem, which is essentially the same, the most suave but zealous Pontiff undid these illusions. Let us listen to him:
the error is worse when men deceive themselves with the idea of gaining an ephemeral peace by cloaking the rights and interests of the Church, by sacrificing them to private interests, by minimizing them unjustly, by truckling to the world, "the whole of which is seated in wickedness" (1 John 5: 19) on the pretext of reconciling the followers of novelties and bringing them back to the Church, as though any composition were possible between light and darkness, between Christ and Belial. This hallucination is as old as the world, but it is always modern and always present in the world so long as there are soldiers who are timid or treacherous, and at the first onset ready to throw down their arms or open negotiations with the enemy, who is the irreconcilable enemy of God and man. (14)
Pius X evidently believes there are cases "at times," when some temporizing would be just. For this reason, in another topic of the same encyclical, while employing a very careful language that we emphasize in bold, His Holiness adds: "Not indeed that it is not well at times to waive our rights as far as may lawfully be done and as the good of souls requires." (15)
In another encyclical the Holy Father deals with the same subject:
How mistaken are those who think they are doing service to the Church, and producing fruit for the salvation of souls, when by a kind of prudence of the flesh they show themselves liberal in concessions to science falsely so called, under the fatal illusion that they are thus able more easily to win over those in error, but really with the continual danger of being themselves lost. The truth is one, and it cannot be halved; it lasts for ever, and is not subject to the vicissitudes of the times. "Jesus Christ, today and yesterday, and the same for ever" (Hebr. 13: 8).
And so too are all they seriously mistaken who, occupying themselves with the welfare of the people, and especially upholding the cause of the lower classes, seek to promote above all else the material well-being of the body and of life, but are utterly silent about their spiritual welfare and the very serious duties which their profession as Christians enjoins upon them. They are not ashamed to conceal sometimes, as though with a veil, certain fundamental maxims of the Gospel, for fear lest otherwise the people refuse to hear and follow them. It will certainly be the part of prudence to proceed gradually in laying down the truth, when one has to do with men completely strangers to us and completely separated from God. "Before using the steel, let the wounds be felt with a light hand," as Gregory said (Registr. v. 44 (18) ad Joannem episcop.). But even this carefulness would sink to mere prudence of the flesh, were it proposed as the rule of constant and everyday action - all the more since such a method would seem not to hold in due account that Divine Grace which sustains the sacerdotal ministry and which is given not only to those who exercise this ministry, but to all the faithful of Christ in order that our words and our action may find an entrance into their heart. Gregory did not at all recognize this prudence, either in the preaching of the Gospel, or in the many wonderful works undertaken by him to relieve misery. He did constantly what the Apostles had done, for they, when they went out for the first time into the world to bring into it the name of Christ, repeated the saying: "We preach Christ crucified, a scandal for the Jews, a folly for the Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1:23). If ever there was a time in which human prudence seemed to offer the only expedient for obtaining something in a world altogether unprepared to receive doctrines so new, so repugnant to human passions, so opposed to the civilization, then at its most flourishing period, of the Greeks and the Romans, that time was certainly the epoch of the preaching of the faith. But the Apostles disdained such prudence, because they understood well the precept of God: "It pleased God by the foolishness of our preaching to save them that believe (1 Cor. 1:21). And as it ever was, so it is today, this foolishness "to them that are saved, that is, to us, is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18). The scandal of the Crucified will ever furnish us in the future, as it has done in the past, with the most potent of all weapons; now as of yore in that sign we shall find victory.
But, Venerable Brethren, this weapon will lose much of its efficacy or be altogether useless in the hands of men not accustomed to the interior life with Christ, not educated in the school of true and solid piety, not thoroughly inflamed with zeal for the glory of God and for the propagation of His kingdom. (16)
In this last item His Holiness gives us the profound reason for so much human prudence, so much temporizing, in a word, so much desire not to fight: the battle of the apostolate is waged with supernatural weapons that are tempered only in the forge of interior life. Once this interior life is weakened, forgotten, and diminished by the multiple doctrines mentioned in preceding chapters the result would not delay to be felt in the field of apostolic strategy, producing the fruits of liberalism and naturalism that are there.
It Is Severely Punished by God
May God deliver us from the just wrath that those deviations may cause Him. This wrath can assume frightening proportions. No one ignores the high degree of splendor reached by the Roman Empire of the West. Now, its grandiose civilization—one of the greatest in history—died precisely by the wrath that this endless temporization of Catholics with evil provoked in God. Temples, palaces, thermae, aqueducts, libraries, circuses, theaters, everything crumbled. Why? According to Saint Augustine, there were three causes for the fall of the Roman Empire of the West, and among them was the cowardice of Catholics fighting the disorders of paganism. They adopted the tactic of human prudence, half truths and the "common ground." Because of this, God punished them with an invasion of barbarians that turned out to be one of the most terrible trials in the whole history of the Church. By the enormity of the chastisement we can gauge well the seriousness of the guilt. Saint Augustine says:
Where can we readily find a man who holds in fit and just estimation those persons on account of whose revolting pride, luxury, and avarice, and cursed iniquities and impiety, God now smites the earth as His predictions threatened? Where is the man who lives with them in the style in which it becomes us to live with them? For often we wickedly blind ourselves to the occasions of teaching and admonishing them, sometimes even of reprimanding and chiding them, either because we shrink from the labor or are ashamed to offend them, or because we fear to lose good friendships, lest this should stand in the way of our advancement, or injure us in some worldly matter, which either our covetous disposition desires to obtain, or our weakness shrinks from losing.
So that, although the conduct of wicked men is distasteful to the good, and therefore they do not fall with them into that damnation which in the next life awaits such persons, yet, because they spare their damnable sins through fear, therefore, even though their own sins be slight and venial, they are justly scourged with the wicked in this world, though in eternity they quite escape punishment. Justly, when God afflicts them in common with the wicked, do they find this life bitter, through love of whose sweetness they declined to be bitter to these sinners.
If any one forbears to reprove and find fault with those who are doing wrong, because he seeks a more seasonable opportunity, or because he fears they may be made worse by his rebuke, or that other weak persons may be disheartened from endeavoring to lead a good and pious life, and may be driven from the faith; this man's omission seems to be occasioned not by covetousness, but by a charitable consideration. But what is blameworthy is, that they who themselves revolt from the conduct of the wicked, and live in quite another fashion, yet spare those faults in other men which they ought to reprehend and wean them from; and spare them because they fear to give offence, lest they should injure their interests in those things which good men may innocently and legitimately use–though they use them more greedily than becomes persons who are strangers in this world, and profess the hope of a heavenly country.
For not only the weaker brethren who enjoy married life, and have children (or desire to have them), and own houses and establishments, whom the apostle addresses in the churches, warning and instructing them how they should live, both the wives with their husbands, and the husbands with their wives, the children with their parents, and parents with their children, and servants with their masters, and masters with their servants -- not only do these weaker brethren gladly obtain and grudgingly lose many earthly and temporal things on account of which they dare not offend men whose polluted and wicked life greatly displeases them; but those also who live at a higher level, who are not entangled in the meshes of married life, but use meager food and raiment, do often take thought of their own safety and good name, and abstain from finding fault with the wicked, because they fear their wiles and violence. And although they do not fear them to such an extent as to be drawn to the commission of like iniquities, nay, not by any threats or violence soever; yet those very deeds which they refuse to share in the commission of they often decline to find fault with, when possibly they might by finding fault prevent their commission. They abstain from interference, because they fear that, if it fail of good effect, their own safety or reputation may be damaged or destroyed; not because they see that their preservation and good name are needful, that they may be able to influence those who need their instruction, but rather because they weakly relish the flattery and respect of men, and fear the judgments of the people, and the pain or death of the body; that is to say, their non-intervention is the result of selfishness, and not of love. (17)
1) It is most important to note that the Sacred Council of Trent teaches: "If anyone says that the fear of hell, whereby, by grieving for sins we flee to the mercy of God or abstain from sinning, is a sin or makes sinners worse, let him be anathema." (Can. 818.)
While this text is not immediately applicable to our case, the way the same Council defines the truth opposed to that error is an indirect denial of the assertion that one must not preach about hell and the punishments that await sinners after death. Says the Council: "…pecatores…a divinae justitiae timore…utiliter concutiuntur" (Can. 798). Thus, no one can deny that it is "useful to move sinners by way of the fear of justice."
Thus, how can one forbid or advise Catholic circles against doing so, as long as one refrains from going from one extreme to the other, that is, from an exclusive contemplation of God’s kindness to an exclusive apprehension of his severity?
Of course we do not deny that meditation on the eternal punishments can be unequally useful: most profitable for some and less so for others. Generally, however, except for certain special spiritual states or pathological cases, this subject is always useful and should always be treated with clarity and emphasis.
2) Leo XIII, Tametsi Futura Prospicientibus, no. 6.
3) Gen. 8:21.
4) Prov. 29:27.
5) “I will put enmities between thee and the woman” (Gen. 3:15).
6) Ecclus. 33:15.
7) Matt. 3:7,10.
8) “It is not lawful for thee” (Mark 6:18).
9) Mark 6:19-20.
10) Leo XIII, Sapientiae Christianae, no. 14.
11) Prov. 24:24-25.
12) St. Pius X, Letter to Count Medaloga Albani.
13) St. Pius X, Letter to Father Ciceri, Oct. 20, 1912.
14) St. Pius X, Communium Rerum, no. 30.
15) Ibid., no. 31.
16) St. Pius X, Encyclical Jucunda Sane, Mar. 12, 1904, nos. 25-27, at www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_x/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-x_enc_12031904_iucunda-sane_en.html
17) St. Augustine, City of God, Bk 1, ch. 9, at https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120101.htm