Verba Tua manent in aeternum



Popes and punishments








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Datis Nuperrime, Encyclical of Pope Pius XII, Lamenting the Sorrowful Events in Hungary (1956-11-05):

2. But tidings have reached Us lately which fill Our heart with pain and sorrow. There is being shed again in the cities, towns, and villages of Hungary the blood of citizens who long with all their hearts for their rightful freedom. National institutions which had just been restored have been overthrown again and violently destroyed. A blood-drenched people have been reduced once more to slavery by the armed might of foreigners.

3. We cannot help but deplore and condemn (for so Our consciousness of Our office bids Us) these unhappy events which fill all Catholics and all free peoples with deepest sorrow and indignation. May those whose commands have caused these tragic events come to realize that the rightful freedom of a people cannot be extinguished by the shedding of human blood.

4. We who watch over all peoples with a father's concern assert that any violence and any bloodshed which anyone unjustly causes is never to be tolerated. On the contrary, We exhort all people and all classes of society to that peace which finds its basis and nurture in justice, liberty, and love.

5. The words which "the Lord said to Cain. . . 'The voice of thy brother's blood crieth to me from the earth'," (Gen. 4, 10) are relevant today. For so the blood of the Hungarian people cries out to God. And even though God often punishes private individuals for their sins only after death, nonetheless, as history teaches, He occasionally punishes in this mortal life rulers of people and their nations when they have dealt unjustly with others. For He is a just judge. 

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General Audience of John Paul II, Castelgandolfo, Wednesday, 13 August 2003:

(...) 3. Tobit presses sinners to convert and act with justice: this is the path to take to rediscover that divine love which gives serenity and hope (cf. v. 8).

Jerusalem's very history is a parable which teaches everyone what choice to make. God punished the city because he could not remain indifferent before the evil committed by his children. Now, however, seeing that many have converted and become faithful and righteous children, he will once again show his merciful love (cf. v. 10).

Throughout the Canticle of chapter 13 of Tobit this firm conviction is repeated often:  the Lord "afflicts, and he shows mercy;... will afflict us for our iniquities; and again he will show mercy.... He will afflict you for the deeds of your sons, but again he will show mercy to the sons of the righteous" (vv. 2, 5, 9). God's punishment is a way to make sinners who are deaf to other appeals turn back to the right path. However, the last word of the righteous God remains a message of love and of forgiveness; he profoundly desires to embrace anew the wayward children who return to him with a contrite heart.

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General Audience of Benedict XVI, St. Peter's Square, Wednesday, 18 May 2011:

(...) This is what the Lord desires and his dialogue with Abraham is a prolonged and unequivocal demonstration of his merciful love. The need to find enough righteous people in the city decreases and in the end 10 were to be enough to save the entire population.

The reason why Abraham stops at 10 is not given in the text. Perhaps it is a figure that indicates a minimum community nucleus (still today, 10 people are the necessary quorum for public Jewish prayer). However, this is a small number, a tiny particle of goodness with which to start in order to save the rest from a great evil.

However, not even 10 just people were to be found in Sodom and Gomorrah so the cities were destroyed; a destruction paradoxically deemed necessary by the prayer of Abraham’s intercession itself. Because that very prayer revealed the saving will of God: the Lord was prepared to forgive, he wanted to forgive but the cities were locked into a totalizing and paralyzing evil, without even a few innocents from whom to start in order to turn evil into good.

This the very path to salvation that Abraham too was asking for: being saved does not mean merely escaping punishment but being delivered from the evil that dwells within us. It is not punishment that must be eliminated but sin, the rejection of God and of love which already bears the punishment in itself.

The Prophet Jeremiah was to say to the rebellious people: “Your wickedness will chasten you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God” (Jer 2:19).

It is from this sorrow and bitterness that the Lord wishes to save man, liberating him from sin. Therefore, however, a transformation from within is necessary, some foothold of of goodness, a beginning from which to start out in order to change evil into good, hatred into love, revenge into forgiveness.

For this reason there must be righteous people in the city and Abraham continuously repeats: “suppose there are...”. “There”: it is within the sick reality that there must be that seed of goodness which can heal and restore life. It is a word that is also addressed to us: so that in our cities the seed of goodness may be found; that we may do our utmost to ensure that there are not only 10 upright people, to make our cities truly live and survive and to save ourselves from the inner bitterness which is the absence of God. And in the unhealthy situation of Sodom and Gomorrah that seed of goodness was not to be found.

Note: See also others Popes on this matter at

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