Moral Briefs – Chapter XC – Calumny

To the malice of detraction calumny adds that of falsehood. It is a lie, which is bad; it is a report prejudicial to the character of another, which is worse; it is both combined, out of which combination springs a third malice, which is abominable. All the more so, since there can exist no excuse or reason in the light of which this sin may appear as a human weakness. Because slander is the fruit of deliberate criminal spite, jealousy and revenge, it has a character of diabolism. The calumniator is not only a moral assassin, but he is the most accomplished type of the coward known to man. If the devil loves a cheerful liar, he has one here to satisfy his affections.

This crime is one that can never be tolerated, no matter what the circumstances; it can never be justified on any grounds whatsoever; it is intrinsically evil, a sin of injustice that admits no mitigation. When slander is sworn to before the courts, it acquires a fourth malice, that of irreligion, and is called false testimony. It is not alone perjury, for perjury does not necessarily attack the neighbor’s good name; it is perjured calumny, a crime that deserves all the reprobation it receives in this world – and in the next.

To lie outright, deliberately and with malice aforethought, in traducing a fellow-man, is slander in its direct form; but such conditions are not required to constitute a real fault of calumny. It is not necessary to be certain that what you allege against your neighbor be false; it is sufficient that you be uncertain if it be true. An unsubstantiated charge or accusation, a mere rumor given out as worthy of belief, a suspicion or doubt clothed so as to appear a certainty, these contain all the malice and all the elements of slander clearly characterized. Charity, justice and truth alike are violated, guilt is there in unquestioned evidence. Whatever subterfuge, equivocation or other crooked proceeding be resorted to, if mendacity in any form is a feature of the aspersions we cast upon the neighbor, we sin by calumny, purely and simply.

Some excuse themselves on the plea that what they say, they give out for what it is worth; they heard it from others, and take no responsibility as to its truth or falsehood. But here we must consider the credulity of the hearers. Will they believe it, whether you do or not? Are they likely to receive it as truth, either because they are looking for just such reports, or because they know no better? And whether they believe it or not, will they, on your authority, have sufficient reason for giving credence to your words? May it not happen that the very fact of your mentioning what you did is a sufficient mark of credibility for others? And by so doing, you contribute to their knowledge of what is false, or what is not proven true, concerning the reputation of a neighbor.

For it must be remembered that all imprudence is not guiltless, all thoughtlessness is not innocent of wrong. It is easy to calumniate a person by qualifying him in an off-hand way as a thief, a blackleg, a fast-liver, etc. It is easy, by adding an invented detail to a statement, to give it an altogether different color and turn truth into falsehood. But the easiest way is to interpret a man’s intentions according to a dislike, and, by stringing in such fancies with a lot of facts, pass them on unsuspecting credulity that takes all or none. If you do not think well of another, and the occasion demand it, speak it out; but make it known that it is your individual judgment and give your reasons for thus opining.

The desperate character of calumny is that, while it must be repaired, as we shall see later, the thing is difficult, often impossible; frequently the reparation increases the evil instead of diminishing it. The slogan of unrighteousness is: “Calumniate, calumniate, some of it will stick!” He who slanders, lies; he who lies once may lie again, a liar is never worthy of belief, whether he tells the truth or not, for there is no knowing when he is telling the truth. One has the right to disbelieve the calumniator when he does wrong or when he tries to undo it. And human nature is so constructed that it prefers to believe in the first instance and to disbelieve in the second.

You may slander a community, a class as well as an individual. It is not necessary to charge all with crime; it is sufficient so to manipulate your words that suspicion may fall on any one of said class or community. If the charge be particularly heinous, or if the body of men be such that all its usefulness depends on its reputation, as is the case especially with religious bodies, the malice of such slander acquires a dignity far above the ordinary.

The Church of God has suffered more in the long centuries of her existence from the tongue of slander than from sword and flame and chains combined. In the mind of her enemies, any weapon is lawful with which to smite her, and the climax of infamy is reached when they affirm, to justify their dishonesty, that they turn Rome’s weapons against her. There is only one answer to this, and that is the silence of contempt. Slander and dollars are the wheels on which moves the propaganda that would substitute Gospel Christianity for the superstitions of Rome. It is slander that vilifies in convention and synod the friars who did more for pure Christianity in the Philippines in a hundred years than the whole nest of their revilers will do in ten thousand. It is slander that holds up to public ridicule the congregations that suffer persecution and exile in France in the name of liberty, fraternity, etc. It is slander that the long-tailed missionary with the sanctimonious face brings back from the countries of the South with which to regale the minds of those who furnish the Bibles and shekels. And who will measure the slander that grows out of the dunghill of Protestant ignorance of what Catholics really believe!

Moral Briefs – Chapter LXXXIX – Detraction

To absolve oneself of the sin of detraction on the ground that nothing but the truth was spoken is, as we have seen, one way of getting around a difficulty that is no way at all. Some excuses are better than none, others are not. It is precisely the truth of such talk that makes it detraction; if it were not true, it would not be detraction but calumny – another and a very different fault. It would be well for such people to reflect for a moment, and ask themselves if their own character would stand the strain of having their secret sins and failings subjected to public criticism and censure, their private shortcomings heralded from every housetop. Would they, or would they not, consider themselves injured by such revelations? Then it would be in order for them to use the same rule and measure in dealing with others.

He who does moral evil offends in the sight of God and forfeits God’s esteem and friendship. But it does not follow that he should also forfeit the esteem of his fellow-men. The latter evil is nothing compared with the first; but it is a great misfortune nevertheless. If a man’s private iniquity is something that concerns himself and his God, to the exclusion of all others, then whosoever presumes to judge and condemn him trespasses on forbidden ground, and is open to judgment and condemnation himself before his Maker.

All do not live in stone mansions who throw stones. If there is a mote in the neighbor’s eye, perhaps there is a very large piece of timber in your own. Great zeal in belaboring the neighbor for his faults will not lessen your own, nor make you appear an angel of light before God when you are something very different. If you employed this same zeal towards yourself, you would obtain more consoling results, for charity begins at home. One learns more examining one’s own conscience than dissecting and flaying others alive.

It may be objected that since detraction deals with secret sins, if the facts related are of public notoriety, there is no wrong in speaking of them, for you cannot vilify one who is already vilified. This is true; and then, again, it depends. First, these faults must be of public notoriety. A judicial sentence may make them such, but the fact that some, many, or a great many know and speak of them will not do it. The public is everybody, or nearly everybody. Do not take your friends for the public, when they are only a fraction thereof. If you do you will find out oftener than it is pleasant that your sins of detraction are sins of slander; for rumors are very frequently based on nothing more substantial than lies or distorted and exaggerated facts set afloat by a calumniator.

Even when a person has justly forfeited, and publicly, the consideration of his fellowmen, and it is not, therefore, injurious to his character to speak of his evil ways, justice may not be offended, but charity may be, and grievously. It is a sin, an uncharity, to harp on one’s faults in a spirit of spite, or with the cruel desire to maintain his dishonor; to leave no stone unturned in order to thoroughly blacken his name. In doing this you sin against charity, because you do something you would not wish to have done unto you. Justice itself would be violated if, even in the event of the facts related being notorious, you speak of them to people who ignore them and are not likely ever to come to a knowledge of them.

If you add, after telling all you know about a poor devil, that he did penance and repaired his sin, you must not imagine that such atonement will rehabilitate him in the minds of all. Men are more severe and unforgiving than God. Grace may be recovered, but reputation is a thing which, once lost, is usually lost for good. Something of the infamy sticks; tears and good works will not, cannot wash it away. He, therefore, who banks too much on human magnanimity is apt to err; and his erring constitutes a fault.

“But I confided the secret to but one person; and that one a dear friend, who promised to keep it.” Yes, but the injured party has a right to the estimation of that one person, and his injury consists precisely in being deprived of it. Besides, you accuse yourself openly. Either what you said was void of all harm^ or it was not. In the one case, why impose silence! In the other, why not begin yourself by observing the silence you impose upon others! Your friend will do what you did, and the ball you set rolling will not stop until there is nothing left of your victim’s character.

Of course there are times when to speak of another’s faults is derogatory neither to justice nor to charity; both may demand that the evil be revealed. A man to defend himself may expose his accuser’s crookedness; in court his lawyer may do it for him, for here again charity begins at home. In the interests of the delinquent, to effect his correction, one may reveal his shortcomings to those who have authority to correct. And it is even admitted that a person in trouble of any kind may without sin, for the purpose of obtaining advice or consolation, speak to a judicious friend of another’s evil ways.

Zeal for the public good may not only excuse, but even require that the true character of a bad man be shown up and publicly censured. Its object is to prevent or undo evil, to protect the innocent; it is intended to destroy an evil influence and to make hypocrisy fly under his own colors. Immoral writers, living or dead, corrupt politicians and demagogues, unconscionable wretches who prey on public ignorance, may and should be, made known to the people, to shield them is to share their guilt. This should not be done in a spirit of vengeance, but for the sole purpose of guarding the unwary against vultures who know no law, and who thrive on the simplicity of their hearers.

Moral Briefs – Chapter LXXXVIII – Defamation

Defamation differs from contumely in that the one supposes the absence, the other, the presence, of the person vilified; and again, in that the former asperses the reputation of the victim while the latter attacks the honor due or paid to said reputation. A good name is, after the grace of God, man’s most precious possession; wealth is mere trash compared with it. You may find people who think otherwise, but the universal sentiment of mankind stigmatizes such baseness and buries it under the weight of its opprobrium. Nor is it impossible that honor be paid where a good character no longer exists; but this is accidental. In the nature of things, reputation is the basis of all honor; if you destroy character, you destroy at the same time its fruit, which is honor. Thus will be seen the double malice of defamation.

To defame therefore is to lessen or to annul the estimation in which a person is held by his fellow-men. This crime may be perpetrated in two different manners: by making known his secret faults, and this is simple detraction; and by ascribing to him faults of which he is innocent, and this is calumny or slander. Thus it appears that a man’s character may suffer from truth as well as from falsehood. Truth is an adorable thing, but it has its time and place; the fact of its being truth does not prevent it from being harmful. On the other hand, a lie, which is evil in itself, becomes abominable when used to malign a fellow-man.

There is one mitigating and two aggravating forms of defamation. Gossip is small talk, idle and sufficiently discolored to make its subject appear in an unfavorable light. It takes a morbid pleasure in speaking of the known and public faults of another. It picks at little things, and furnishes a steady occupation for people who have more time to mind other people’s business than their own. It bespeaks smallness in intellectual make-up and general pusillanimity. That is about all the harm there is in it, and that is enough.

Libel supposes a wide diffusion of defamatory matter, written or spoken. Its malice is great because of its power for evil and harm. Tale-bearing or back-biting is what the name implies. Its object is principally to spread discord, to cause enmity, to break up friendships; it may have an ulterior purpose, and these are the means it employs. No limit can be set to its capacity for evil, its malice is especially infernal.

It is not necessary that what we do or say of a defamatory nature result, as a matter of fact, in bringing one’s name into disfavor or disrepute; it is sufficient that it be of such a nature and have such a tendency. If by accident the venomous shaft spend itself before attaining the intended mark, no credit is due therefore to him who shot it; his guilt remains what it was when he sped it on its way. Nor is there justification in the plea that no harm was meant, that the deed was done in a moment of anger, jealousy, etc., that it was the result of loquacity, indulged in for the simple pleasure of talking. These are excuses that excuse not.

There are those who, speaking in disparagement of the neighbor, speak to the point, directly and plainly; others, no less guilty, do it in a covert manner, have recourse to subterfuge and insinuation. They exaggerate faults and make them appear more odious, they put an evil interpretation on the deed or intention; they keep back facts that would improve the situation; they remain silent when silence is condemnatory; they praise with a malignant praise. A mean, sarcastic smile or a significant reticence often does the work better than many words and phrases. And all this, as we have said, independently of the truth or falsehood of the impression conveyed.

Listeners share the guilt of the defamers on the principle that the receiver is as bad as the thief. This supposes of course that you listen, not merely hear; that you enjoy this sort of a thing and are willing and ready to receive the impression derogatory to the neighbor’s esteem and good name. Of course, if mere curiosity makes us listen and our pleasure and amusement are less at the expense of the neighbor’s good name than excited by the style of the narrator or the irregularity of the facts alleged, the fault is less; but fault there nevertheless is, since such an attitude serves to encourage the traducer and helps him drive his points home. Many sin who could and should prevent excesses of this kind, but refrain from doing so; their sin is greater if, by reason of their position, they are under greater obligations of correction.

Although reputation is a priceless boon to all men, there are cases wherein it has an especial value on account of the peculiar circumstances of a man’s position. It not infrequently happens that the whole success of a man’s life depends on his good name. Men in public life, in the professions, religious and others similarly placed, suffer from defamation far more than those in the ordinary walks of life; and naturally those who injure them are guilty of more grievous wrong. And it goes without saying that a man can stand an immoral aspersion better than a woman. In all cases the malice is measured by the injury done or intended.

Moral Briefs – Chapter LXXXVII – Contumely

The Eighth Commandment concerns itself with the good name of the neighbor; in a general way, it reproves all sins of the tongue, apart from those already condemned by the Second and Sixth commandments, that is to say, blasphemous and impure speech. It is as a weapon against the neighbor and an instrument of untruth that the tongue is here considered.

By a good name is here intended the esteem in which a person is held by his fellow-men. Call it reputation, character, fame, renown, etc., a good name means that the bearer is generally considered above reproach in all matters of honesty, moral integrity and worth. It does not necessarily imply that such esteem is manifested exteriorly by what is technically known as honor, the natural concomitant of a good name; it simply stands for the knowledge entertained by others of our respectability and our title to honor. A good name is therefore one thing; honor is another. And honor consists precisely in that manifestation on the part of our fellows of the esteem and respect in which they hold us, the fruit of our good name, the homage rendered to virtue, dignity and merit. As it may therefore be easily seen, these two things – a good name and honor – differ as much as a sign differs from the thing signified.

The Eighth Commandment protects every man’s honor; it condemns contumely which is an attack upon that honor. Contumely is a sign of contempt which shows itself by attempting to impair the honor one duly receives; it either strives to prevent that honor being paid to the good name that naturally deserves it, or it tries to nullify it by offering just the contrary, which is contumely, more commonly called affront, outrage, insult.

Now, contumely, as you will remark, does not seek primarily to deprive one of a good name; which it nearly always succeeds in doing, and this is called detraction; but its object is to prevent your good name from getting its desert of respect, your character supposedly remaining intact. The insult offered is intended to effect this purpose. Again, all contumely presupposes the presence of the party affronted; the affront is thrown in one’s face, and therein consists the shocking indecency of the thing and its specific malice.

It must be remembered that anger, hatred, the spirit of vengeance or any other passion does not excuse one from the guilt of contumely. On the other hand, one’s culpability is not lessened by the accidental fact of one’s intended insults going wide of the mark and bearing no fruit of dishonor to the person assailed. To the malice of contumely may, and is often, added that of defamation, if apart from the dishonor received one’s character is besmirched in the bargain. Contumely against parents offends at the same time filial piety; against God and His saints, it is sacrilegious; if provoked by the practice of religion and virtue, it is impious. If perpetrated in deed, it may offend justice properly so called; if it occasion sin in others, it is scandalous; if it drive the victim to excesses of any kind, the guilt thereof is shared by the contumelious agent.

Sometimes insult is offered gratuitously, as in the case of the weak, the old, the cripple and other unfortunates who deserve pity rather than mockery; the quality of contumely of this sort is brutal and fiendish. Others will say for justification: “But he said the same, he did the same to me. Can I not defend myself?” That depends on the sort of defense you resort to. All weapons of defense are not lawful. If a man uses evil means to wrong you, there is no justification, in Christian ethics, for you to employ the same means in order to get square, or even to shelter yourself from his abuse. The “eye-for-eye” principle is not recognized among civilized and Christian peoples.

This gross violation of personal respect may be perpetrated in many ways; any expression of contempt, offered to your face, or directed against you through a representative, is contumely. The usual way to do this is to fling vile epithets, to call opprobrious names, to make shameful charges. It is not always necessary that such names and epithets be inapplicable or such charges false, if, notwithstanding, the person in question has not thereby forfeited his right to respect. In certain circumstances, the epithet “fool” may hold all the opprobriousness of contumely: “thief” and “drunkard” and others of a fouler nature may be thus malicious for a better reason. An accusation of immorality in oneself or in one’s parents is contumelious in a. high degree. Our mothers are a favorite target for the shafts of contumely that through them reach us. Abuse is not the only vehicle of contumely; scorn, wanton ridicule, indecent mockery and caricature that cover the unfortunate victim with shame and confusion serve the purpose as well. To strike one, to spit on one and other ignoble attacks and assaults belong to the same category of crime.

The malice of contumely is not, of course, equal in all cases; circumstances have a great deal to do in determining the gravity of each offense. The more conspicuous a person is in dignity and the more worthy of respect, the more serious the affront offered him; and still more grave the offense, if through him many others are attainted. If again no dishonor is intended and no offense taken, or could reasonably be taken, there is no sin at all. There may be people very low on the scale of respectability as the world judges respectability; but it can never be said of a man or woman that he or she cannot be dishonored, that he or she is beneath contempt. Human nature never forfeits all respect; it always has some redeeming feature to commend it.

Moral Briefs – Chapter LXXXVI – An Oft Exploited, But Specious Plea

It is not an infrequent occurrence for persons given to the habit of petty thefts and fraud, to seek to justify their irregular conduct by a pretense of justice which they call secret compensation. They stand arraigned before the bar of their conscience on the charge of filching small sums, usually from their employers; they have no will to desist; they therefore plead not guilty, and have nothing so much at heart as to convince themselves that they act within their rights. They elaborate a theory of justice after their ideas, or rather, according to their own desires; they bolster it up with facts that limp all the way from half-truths to downright falsities; and thus acquit themselves of sin, and go their way in peace. A judge is always lenient when he tries his own case.

Secret compensation is the taking surreptitiously from another of the equivalent of what is due to one, of what has been taken and is kept against all justice, in order to indemnify oneself for losses sustained. This sort of a thing, in theory at least, has a perfectly plausible look, nor, in fact, is it contrary to justice, when all the necessary conditions are fulfilled to the letter. But the cases in which these conditions are fulfilled are so few and rare that they may hardly be said to exist at all. It is extremely difficult to find such a case, and nearly always when this practice is resorted to, the order of justice is violated.

And if common sense in the case of any given individual fail to show him this truth, we here quote for his benefit an authority capable of putting all his doubts at rest. The following proposition was advanced: “Domestic servants who adjudge themselves underpaid for services rendered, may appropriate to themselves by stealth a compensation.” This proposition has received the full weight of papal condemnation. It cannot be denied that it applies to all who engage their services for hire. To maintain the contrary is to revolt against the highest authority in the Church; to practice it is purely and simply to sin.

A case is often made out on the grounds that wages are small, work very hard and the laborer therefore insufficiently remunerated. But to conclude therefrom the right to help oneself to the employer’s goods, is a strange manner of reasoning, while it opens the door to all manner of injustice. Where is there a man, whatever his labor and pay, who could not come to the same conclusion? Who may not consider himself ill-paid? And who is there that really thinks he is not worth more than he gets? There is no limit to the value one may put on one’s own services; and he who is justified today in taking a quarter of a dollar, would be equally justified tomorrow in appropriating the whole concern. And then- what becomes of honesty, and the right of property? And what security can anyone have against the private judgment of his neighbor?

And what about the contract according to the terms of which you are to give your services and to receive in return a stipulated amount? Was there any clause therein by which you are entitled to change the terms of said contract without consulting the other party interested? You don’t think he would mind it. You don’t think anything of the kind; you know he will and does mind it. He may be generous, but he is not a fool.

“But I make up for it. I work overtime, work harder, am more attentive to my work; and thereby save more for my employer than I take.” Here you contradict yourself. You are therefore not under-paid. And if you furnish a greater amount of labor than is expected of you, that is your business and your free choice. And the right you have to a compensation for such extra labor is entirely dependent on the free will of your employer. People usually pay for what they call for; services uncalled for are gratuitous services. To think otherwise betokens a befuddled state of mind.

“But I am forced to work harder and longer than we agreed.” Then it is up to you to remonstrate with your employer, to state the case as it is and to ask for a raise. If he refuses, then his refusal is your cue to quit and go elsewhere. It means that your services are no longer required. It means, at any rate, that you have to stand the cut or seek to better your condition under other employers. It is hard! Of course it is hard, but no harder than a great many other things we have to put up with.

If my neighbor holds unjustly what belongs to me, or if he has failed to repair damages caused, to recover my losses by secret compensation has the same degree of malice and disorder. The law is instituted for just such purposes; you have recourse thereto. You may prosecute and get damages. If the courts fail to give you justice, then perhaps there may be occasion to discuss the merits of the secret compensation theory. But you had better get the advice of some competent person before you a.ttempt to put it in practice; otherwise you are liable to get into a bigger hole than the one you are trying to get out of.

Sometimes the bold assertion is advanced that the employer knows perfectly that he is being systematically robbed and tolerates it. It is incumbent on this party to prove his assertion in a very simple way. Let him denounce himself to his employer and allow the truth or falsity thereof hang on the result. If he does not lose his job inside of twenty-four hours after the interview, he may continue his peculations in perfect tranquillity of conscience. If he escapes prosecution through the consideration of his former employer, he must take it for granted that the toleration he spoke of was of a very general nature, the natural stand for a man to take who is being robbed and cannot help it. To justify oneself on such a principle is to put a premium on shrewd dishonesty.

Moral Briefs – Chapter LXXXV – Petty Thefts

A question may arise as to petty thefts, venial in themselves, but oft repeated and aggregating in the long run a sum of considerable value: how are we to deal with such cases? Should peculations of this sort be taken singly, and their individual malice determined, without reference to the sum total of injustice caused; or should no severe judgment be passed until such a time as sufficient matter be accumulated to make the fault grievous? In other words, is there nothing but venial sin in thefts of little values, or is there only one big sin at the end? The difficulty is a practical one.

If petty thefts are committed with a view to amass a notable sum, the simple fact of such an intention makes the offense a mortal one. For, as we have already remarked in treating of the human act, our deeds may be, and frequently are, vitiated by the intention we have in performing them. If we do something with evil intent and purpose, our action is evil whether the deed in itself be indifferent or even good. Here the intention is to cause a grave injustice; the deed is only a petty theft, but it serves as a means to a more serious offense. The act therefore takes its malice from the purpose of the agent and becomes sinful in a high degree.

As to each repeated theft, that depends again on the intention of the culprit. If in the course of his pilferings he no longer adverts to his first purpose and has no intention in stealing beyond that of helping himself to a little of his neighbor’s goods, he is guilty of nothing more than a venial sin. If, however, the initial purpose is present at every act, if at every fresh peculation the intention to accumulate is renewed explicitly or implicitly, then every theft is identical with the first in malice, and the offender commits mortal sin as often as he steals. Thus the state of soul of one who filches after this fashion is not sensibly affected by his arriving at a notable sum of injustice in the aggregate. The malice of his conduct has already been established; it is now completed in deed.

A person who thievishly appropriates small sums, but whose pilferings have no moral reference to each other, will find himself a mortal offender the moment his accumulated injustices reach the amount we have qualified as notable, provided he be at that moment aware of the fact, or even if he only have a doubt about the matter. And this is true whether the stolen sums be taken from one or from several persons. Even in the latter case, although no one person suffers serious damage or prejudice, justice however is seriously violated and the intention of the guilty party is really to perpetrate grave injustice.

However, such thefts as these which in the end become accumulative, must of their nature be successive and joined together by some bond of moral union, otherwise they could never be considered a whole. By this is meant that there must not exist between the different single thefts an interruption or space of time such as to make it impossible to consider reasonably the several deeds as forming one general action. The time generally looked upon as sufficient to prevent a moral union of this kind is two months. In the absence therefore of a specific intention to arrive at a large amount by successive thefts, it must be said that such thefts as are separated by an intervening space of two months can never be accounted as parts of one grave injustice, and a mortal sin can never be committed by one whose venial offenses are of this nature. Of course if there be an evil purpose, that alone is sufficient to establish a moral union between single acts of theft however considerable the interval that separates them.

Several persons may conspire to purloin each a limited amount. The circumstance of conspiracy, connivance or collusion makes each co-operator in the deed responsible for the whole damage done; and if the amount thus defrauded be notable, each is guilty of mortal sin.

We might here add in favor of children who take small things from their parents and of wives who sometimes relieve their husbands of small change, that it is natural that a man be less reluctant to being defrauded in small matters by his own than by total strangers. It is only reasonable therefore that more latitude be allowed such delinquents when there is question of computing the amount to be considered notable; perhaps the amount might be doubled in their favor. The same might be said in favor of those whose petty thefts are directed against several victims instead of one, since the injury sustained individually is less.

The best plan is to leave what does not belong to one severely alone. In other sins there may be something gained in the long run, but here no such illusion can be entertained, for the spectre of restitution, as we shall see, follows every injustice as a shadow follows its object, and its business is to see that no man profit by his ill-gotten goods.

Moral Briefs – Chapter LXXXIV – Thou Shalt Not Steal

The Seventh Commandment is protective of the right of property which is vested in every human being enjoying the use of reason. Property means that which belongs to one, that which is one’s own, to have and to hold, or to dispose of, at one’s pleasure, or to reclaim in the event of actual dispossession. The right of property embraces all things to which may be affixed the seal of ownership; and it holds good until the owner relinquishes his claim, or forfeits or loses his title without offense to justice. This natural faculty to possess excludes every alien right, and supposes in all others the duty and obligation to respect it. The respect that goes as far as not relieving the owner of his goods is not enough; it must safeguard him against all damage and injury to said goods; otherwise his right is non-existent.

All violations of this right come under the general head of stealing. People call it theft, when it is effected with secrecy and slyness; robbery, when there is a suggestion of force or violence. The swindler is he who appropriates another’s goods by methods of gross deception or false pretenses while the embezzler transfers to himself the funds entrusted to his care. Petty thieving is called pilfering or filching; stealing on a large scale usually has less dishonorable qualificatives. Boodling and lobbying are called politics; watering stock, squeezing out legitimate competition, is called financiering; wholesale confiscation and unjust conquest is called statesmanship. Give it whatever name you like, it is all stealing; whether the culprit be liberally rewarded or liberally punished, he nevertheless stands amenable to God’s justice which is outraged wherever human justice suffers.

Of course the sin of theft has its degrees of gravity, malice and guilt, to determine which, that is, to fix exactly the value of stolen goods sufficient to constitute a grievous fault, is not the simplest and easiest of moral problems. The extent of delinquency may be dependent upon various causes and complex conditions. On the one hand^ the victim must be considered in himself, and the amount of injury sustained by him; on the other, justice is offended generally in all cases of theft, and because justice is the corner stone of society, it must be protected at all hazards. It is only by weighing judiciously all these different circumstances that we can come to enunciate an approximate general rule that will serve as a guide in the ordinary contingencies of life.

Thus, of two individuals deprived by theft of a same amount of worldly goods, the one may suffer thereby to a much greater extent than the other; he who suffers more is naturally more reluctant to part with his goods, and a greater injustice is done to him than to the other. The sin committed against him is therefore greater than that committed against the other. A rich man may not feel the loss of a dollar, whereas for another less prosperous the loss of less than that sum might be of the nature of a calamity. To take therefore unjustly from a person what to that person is a notable amount is a grievous sin. It is uniformly agreed that it is a notable loss for a man to be unduly deprived of what constitutes a day’s sustenance. This is the minimum of grievous matter concerning theft.

But this rule will evidently not hold good applied on a rising scale to more and more extensive fortunes; for a time would come when it would be possible without serious guilt to appropriate good round sums from those abundantly blessed with this world’s goods.

The disorders necessarily attendant on such a moral rule are only too evident; and it is plain that the law of God cannot countenance abuses of this nature. Justice therefore demands that there be a certain fixed sum beyond which one may not go without incurring serious guilt; and this, independent of the fortune of the person who suffers. Theologians have fixed that amount approximately, in this country, at five dollars. This means that when such a sum is taken, in all cases, the sin is mortal. It is not always necessary, it is seldom necessary, that one should steal this much in order to offend grievously; but when the thief reaches this amount, be his victim ever so wealthy, he is guilty of grave injustice.

This rule applies to all cases in which the neighbor is made to suffer unjustly in his lawful possessions; and it effects all wrongdoers whether they steal or destroy another’s goods or co-operate efficaciously in such deeds of sin. It matters not whether the harm be wrought directly or indirectly, since in either case there may be moral fault; and it must be remembered that gross negligence may make one responsible as well as malice aforethought.

The following are said to co-operate in crime to the extent of becoming joint-partners with the principal agent in guilt: those in whose name the wrong is done, in obedience to their orders or as a result of any other means employed; those who influence the culprit by suggesting motives and reasons for his crime or by pointing out efficient means of arriving thereat; those who induce others to commit evil by playing on their weaknesses thereby subjecting them to what is known as moral force; those who harbor the thief and conceal his stolen property against their recovery; those whose silence is equivalent to approbation, permission or official consent; those finally who before, during or after the deed, abstain from performing a plain duty in preventing, deterring or bringing to justice the guilty party. Such persons as the foregoing participate as abettors in crime and share all the guilt of the actual criminals; sometimes the former are even more guilty than the latter.

The Tenth Commandment which forbids us to covet our neighbor’s goods, bears the same relation to the Seventh as the Ninth does to the Sixth. It must, however, be borne in mind that all such coveting supposes injustice in desire, that is, in the means by which we desire to obtain what is not ours. To wish for, to long ardently for something that appeals to one^s like and fancy is not sinful; the wrong consists in the desire to acquire it unjustly, to steal it, and thereby work damage unto the neighbor. It is a natural weakness in man to be dissatisfied with what he has and to sigh after what he has not; very few of us are free from this failing. But so long as our cravings and hankerings are not tainted with injustice, we are innocent of evil.

Moral Briefs – Chapter LXXXIII – A Helping Hand

The moralist is usually severe, and the quality of his censure is merciless, when he attempts to treat the unwholesome theme of moral deformity; and all his efforts are mere attempts, for no human language can do full justice to such a theme, or fully express the contempt such excesses deserve. It is just, then, that, when he stands in the presence of the moral leper who blushes not for his degradation, he flay with the whip of scorn and contempt, scourge with anathema and brand him with every stigma of infamy, in order that the load of opprobrium thus heaped upon his guilty head may at least deter the clean from such defilement.

But, if guilt is always guilt, the quality of guilt is varied. Just as all virtue is not equally meritorious, so to other sources than personal unworthiness may often be traced moral debility that strives against natural causes, necessary conditions of environment and an ever-present and ever-active influence for evil. A fall does not always betoken profound degradation, nor a stain, acute perversity of the will. Those therefore who wrestle manfully with the effects of regretted lapses or weaknesses, who fight down, sometimes perhaps unsuccessfully, the strong tendencies of a too exuberant animal nature, who strive to neutralize an influence that unduly oppresses them, against these, guilty though they may have been, is not directed the moralist’s unmeasured censure. His reproaches in such cases tend less to condemn than to awake to a sense of moral responsibility; earnestness in pointing out remedy and safeguards takes the place of severity against willfulness. For he knows that not a few sentences of condemnation Christ writes on the sands, as He did in a celebrated case, and many an over-zealous accuser he has confounded, like the villainous Pharisees whom He challenged to show a hand white enough to be worthy to cast the first stone.

Evidently such pity and commiseration should not serve to make vice less unlovely and thus undo the very work it is intended to perform. It should not have the characteristics of certain books and plays that pretend to teach morality by exposing vice in all its seductiveness. Over-sensitive and maudlin sympathy is as ridiculous as it is unhealthy; its tendency is principally to encourage and spoil. But a judicious, discreet and measured sympathy will lift up the fallen, strengthen the weak and help the timorous over many a difficulty. It will suggest, too, the means best calculated to insure freedom from slavery of the passions.

The first of these is self-denial, which is the inseparable companion of chastity; when they are not found together, seldom does either exist. And by self-denial is here meant the destruction of that eternal preference for self that is at the bottom of all uncleanness, that makes all things, however sacred, subservient to one’s own pleasures, that considers nothing unlawful but what goes against the grain of natural impulse and natural appetites. There may be other causes, but this self-love is a primary one. Say what you will, but one does not fall from his own level; the moral world is like the physical; if you are raised aloft in disregard for the laws of truth, you are going to come down with a thud. If you imagine all the pleasures of life made for you, and become lawful because your nature craves for them, you are taking a too high estimate of yourself; you are going before a fall. He who takes a correct measure of himself, gets his bearings in relation to God, comes to realize his own weak points and several deficiencies, and acknowledges the obligations such a state of affairs places upon him, that one may sin, but he will not go far.

He may fall, because he is human, because strength sufficient to guard us against the assaults of impurity is not from us, but from God. The spirit of humility, therefore, which makes known to him his own insufficiency, must be fortified with the spirit of faith which makes him ask for support through prayer. It is faith that makes prayer possible, and living faith, the spirit of faith, that makes us pray aright. This kind of prayer need not express itself in words; it may be a habit, a long drawn out desire, an habitual longing for help coupled with firm confidence in God’s mercy to grant our request. No state of soul however disordered can long resist such a power, and no habit of evil but in time will be annihilated by it.

The man or woman who undertakes to keep himself or herself pure, or to rise out of a habit of sin without the liberal use of divine supplication has in hand a very ungrateful task, and he or she will realize it before going far. And unless that prayer is sincere and heartfelt, a prayer full of faith that will not entertain the thought of failure, every effort will be barren of results. You must speak to God as to one near you, and remember that He is near you all the time.

Then there are the sacraments to repair every breach and to heal every wound. Penance will cleanse you, communion will adorn and equip you anew. Confession will give you a better knowledge of yourself every time you go; the Food of God will strengthen every fibre of your soul and steel you against the seductions that otherwise would make you a ready victim. Don’t go once a year, go ten, twenty times and more, if necessary, go until you feel that you own yourself, that you can command and be obeyed. Then you will not have to be told to stop; you will be safe.

Moral Briefs – Chapter LXXXII – Not Good To Be Alone

A man may come to discover that the state in which he finds himself placed, is not the one for which he was evidently intended by the Maker. We do not all receive the same gifts because our callings are different; each of us is endowed in accordance and in harmony with the ends of the Creator in making us. Some men should marry, others may not; but the state of celibacy is for the few, and not for the many, these few depending solely on an abundant grace of God.

Again, one may become alive to the fact that to remain in an abnormal position means to seriously jeopardize his soul’s salvation; celibacy may, as for many it does, spell out for him, clearly and plainly, eternal damnation. It is to no purpose here to examine the causes of, and reasons for, such a condition of affairs. We take the fact as it stands, plain and evident, a stern, hard fact that will not be downed, because it is supported by the living proof of habit and conduct; living and continuing to live a celibate, taking him as he is and as there is every token of his remaining without any reasonable ground for expecting a change, this main is doomed to perdition. His passions have made him their slave; he cannot, it is morally impossible for him to do so, remain continent.

Suppose again that the Almighty has created the state of wedlock for just such emergencies, whereby a man may find a remedy for his weaknesses, an outlet for his passions, a regulator of his life here below and a security against damnation hereafter; and this is precisely the case, for the ends of marriage are not only to perpetuate the species, but also to furnish a remedy for natural concupiscence and to raise a barrier against the flood of impurity.

Now, the case being as stated, need a Catholic, young, or a no longer young, man look long or strive hard to find his path of duty already clearly traced? And in making this application we refer to man, not to woman, for reasons that are obvious; we refer, again, to those among men whose spiritual sense is not yet wholly dead, who have not entirely lost all respect for virtue in itself: who still claim to have an immortal soul and hope to save it; but who have been caught in the maelstrom of vice and whose passions and lusts have outgrown in strength the ordinary resisting powers of natural virtue and religion incomplete and half-hearted. These can appreciate their position; it would be well for them to do so; the faculty for so doing may not always be left with them.

The obligation to marry, to increase and multiply, was given to mankind in general, and applies to man as a whole, and not to the individual; that is, in the common and ordinary run of human things. But the circumstances with which we are dealing are outside the normal sphere; they are extraordinary, that is say, they do not exist in accordance with the plan and order established by God; they constitute a disorder resulting from unlawful indulgence and wild impiety. It may therefore be, and it frequently is the case, that the general obligation to marry particularize itself and fall with its full weight on the individual, this one or that one, according to the circumstances of his life. Then it is that the voice of God’s authority reaches the ear of the unit and says to him in no uncertain accents: thou shalt marry. And behind that decree of God stands divine justice to vindicate the divine right.

We do not deny but that, absolutely speaking, recourse to this remedy may not be imperiously demanded; but we do claim that the absolute has nothing whatever to do with the question which is one of relative facts. What a supposed man may do in this or that given circumstance does not in the least alter the position of another real, live man who will not do this or that thing in a given circumstance; he will not, because, morally speaking, he cannot; and he cannot, simply because through excesses he has forgotten how. And of other reasons to justify non-compliance with the law, there can be none; it is here at question of saving one’s soul; inconveniences and difficulties and obstacles have no meaning in such a contingency.

And, mind you, the effects of profligate celibacy are farther-reaching than many of us would suppose at first blush. The culprit bears the odium of it in his soul. But what about the state of those – or rather of her, whoever she may be, known or unknown – whom he, in the order of Providence, is destined to save from the precariousness of single life? If it is his duty to take a wife, whose salvation as well as his own, perhaps depends on the fulfillment of that duty, and if he shirks his duty, shall he not be held responsible for the results in her as well as in himself, since he could, and she could not, ward off the evil?

It has come to such a pass nowadays that celibacy, as a general thing, is a misnomer for profligacy. Making all due allowance for honorable exceptions, the unmarried male who is not well saturated with spirituality and faith is notoriously gallinaceous in his morals. In certain classes, he is expected to sow his wild oats before he is out of his teens; and by this is meant that he will begin young to tear into shreds the Sixth Commandment so as not to be bothered with it later in life. If he married he would be safe.

Finally what kind of an existence is it for any human being, with power to do otherwise, to pass through life a worthless, good-for-nothing nonentity, living for self, shirking the sacred duties of paternity, defrauding nature and God and sowing corruption where he might be laying the foundation of a race that may never die? There is no one to whom he has done good and no one owes him a tear when his barren carcass is being given over as food to the worms. He is a rotten link on the chain of life and the curse of oblivion will vindicate the claims of his unborn generations. Young man, marry, marry now, and be something in the world besides an eyesore of unproductiveness and worthlessness; do something that will make somebody happy besides yourself; show that you passed, and leave something behind that will remember you and bless your name.

Moral Briefs – Chapter LXXXI – Scandal

On only rare occasions do people who follow the bent of their unbridled passions bethink themselves of the double guilt that frequently attaches to their sins. Seemingly satisfied with the evil they have wrought unto their own souls, they choose to ignore the wrong they may have done unto others as a consequence of their sinful doings. They believe in the principle that every soul is personally responsible for its own damnation: which is true; but they forget that many elements may enter as causes into such a calamity. We are in nowise isolated beings in this world; our lives may, and do, affect the lives of others, and influence them sometimes to an extraordinary extent. We shall have, each of us, to answer one day for results of such influence; there is no man but is, in this sense, his brother’s guardian.

There are, who deny this, like Cain. Yet we know that Jesus Christ spoke clearly His mind in regard to scandal, and the emphasis He lays on His anathemas leaves no room to doubt of His judgment on the subject. Scandal, in fact, is murder; not corporal murder, which is a vengeance-crying abomination, but spiritual murder, heinous over the other in the same measure as the soul’s value transcends that of the body. Kill the body, and the soul may live and be saved; kill the soul and it is lost eternally.

Properly speaking, scandal is any word or deed, evil or even with an appearance of evil, of a nature to furnish an occasion of spiritual downfall, to lead another into sin. It does not even matter whether the results be intended or merely suffered to occur; it does not even matter if no results follow at all. It is sufficient that the stumbling-block of scandal be placed in the way of another to his spiritual peril, and designed by nature to make him fall; on him who placed it, is the guilt of scandal.

The act of scandal consists in making sin easier to commit – as though it were not already easy enough to sin – for another. Natural grace, of which we are not totally bereft, raises certain barriers to protect and defend the weak and feeble. Conspicuous among these are ignorance and shame; evil sometimes offers difficulties, the ones physical, the others spiritual, such as innate delicacy, sense of dignity, timidity, instinctive repugnance for filth, human respect, dread of consequences, etc. These stand on guard before the soul to repel the first advances of the tempter which are the most dangerous; the Devil seldom unmasks his heavy batteries until the advance-posts of the soul are taken. It is the business of scandal to break down these barriers, and for scandal this work is as easy as it is nefarious. For curiosity is a hungering appetite, virtue is often protected with a very thin veil, and vice can be made to lose its hideousness and assume charms, to untried virtue, irresistible. There is nothing doing for His Satanic Majesty while scandal is in the field; he looks on and smiles.

There may be some truth in the Darwinian theory after all, if we judge from the imitative propensities of the species, probably an inherited trait of our common ancestor, the monkey. At any rate, we are often more easily led by example than by conviction; example leads us against our convictions. Asked why we did this or that, knowing we should not have done it, we answer with simian honesty, “because such a one did it, or invited us to do it.” We get over a good many old-fashioned notions concerning modesty and purity, after listening to the experiences of others; we forget to be ashamed in the presence of the brazen, the unabashed and the impudent. We feel partially justified in doing what we see done by one to whom we are accustomed to look up. “If he acts thus,” we say, “how can it be so very wrong in me; and if everybody – and everybody sometimes means a very few – if everybody does so, it cannot be so bad as I first imagined.” Thus may be seen the workings of scandal in the mind and soul of its victim. Remembering our natural proneness to carnal indulgence, it is not surprising that the victims of scandal are so many. But this cannot be taken as an apology for the scandal-giver; rather the contrary, since the malice of his sin has possibilities so unbounded.

Scandal supposes an inducement to commit sin, which is not the case when the receiver is already disposed to sin and is as bad as the giver. Nor can scandal be said properly to be given when those who receive it are in all probability immune against the evil. Some people say they are scandalized when they are only shocked; if what shocked them has nothing in it to induce them into sinning, then their received scandal is only imaginative, nor has any been given. Then, the number of persons scandalized must be considered as an aggravating circumstance. Finally, the guilt of scandal is greater or less according to the helplessness of the victim or intended victim, and to the sacredness of his or her right to immunity from temptation, children being most sacred in this respect.

Of course God is merciful and forgives us our offenses however great they may be. We may undo a deal of wrong committed by us in this life, and die in the state of grace, even after the most abominable crimes. Theologically, therefore, the idea has little to commend itself, but it must have occurred to more than one: how does one feel in heaven, knowing that there is in hell, at that moment, one or many through his or her agency! How mysterious is the justice of God to suffer such a state of affairs! And although theoretically possible, how can anyone count on such a contingency in his or her particular case! If the scandalous would reflect seriously on this, they would be less willing to take the chances offered by a possibility of this nature.