Moral Briefs – Chapter LXXV – Our Enemies

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonWhat is an enemy? A personal, an individual enemy is he who has done us a personal injury. The enemy, in a general or collective sense, are they – a people, a class or party – who are opposed to our interests, whose presence, doings or sayings are obnoxious to us for many natural reasons. Concerning these latter, it might be said that it is natural, often-times necessary and proper, to oppose them by all legitimate means. This opposition, however lawful, is scarcely ever compatible with any high degree of charity or affection. But whatever of aversion, antipathy or even hatred is thereby engendered, it is not of a personal nature; it does not attain the individual, but embraces a category of beings as a whole, who become identified with the cause they sustain and thereby fall under the common enmity. The law that binds us unto love of our enemy operates only in favor of the units, and not of the group as a group.

Hatred, aversion, antipathy, such as divides peoples, races and communities, is one, though not the highest, characteristic of patriotism; it may be called the defect of a quality. When a man is whole-souled in a cause, he will brook with difficulty any system of ideas opposed to, and destructive of, his own. Anxious for the triumph of what he believes the cause of right and justice, he will rejoice over the discomfiture of his rivals and the defeat of their cause. Wars leave behind an inheritance of hatred; persecution makes wounds that take a long time to heal. The descendants of the defeated, conquered or persecuted will look upon the generations of their fathers’ foes as typifying oppression, tyranny and injustice, will wish them all manner of evil and gloat over their downfall. Such feelings die hard. They spring from convictions. The wounds made by injustice, fancied or real, will smart; and just as naturally will men retain in their hearts aversion for all that which, for them, stands for such injustice. This is criminal only when it fails to respect the individual and become personal hate.

Him who has done us a personal injury we must forgive. Pardon drives hatred out of the heart. Love of God is incompatible with personal enmity; therefore such enmity must be quelched. He who says he loves God and hates his brother is a liar, according to divine testimony. What takes the place of this hate? Love, a love that is called common love, to distinguish it from that special sort of affection that we have for friends. This is a general kind of love that embraces all men, and excludes none individually. It forbids all uncharity towards a man as a unit, and it supposes a disposition of the soul that would not refuse to give a full measure of love and assistance, if necessity required it. This sort of love leaves no room for hatred of a personal nature in the heart.

Is it enough to forgive sincerely from the heart? It is not enough; we must manifest our forgiveness, and this for three good reasons: first, in order to secure us against self-illusion and to test the sincerity of our dispositions; secondly, in order to put an end to discord by showing the other party that we hold no grudge; lastly, in order to remove whatever scandal may have been given by our breach of friendship. The disorder of enmity can be thoroughly cured and healed only by an open renewal of the ties of friendship; and this is done by the offering and acknowledgment of the signs of friendship.

The signs of friendship are of two sorts, the one common, the other special. Common tokens of friendship are those signs which are current among people of the same condition of life; such as saluting, answering a question, dealing in business affairs, etc. These are commonly regarded as sufficient to take away any reasonable suspicion of hatred, although, in matter of fact, the inference may be false. But the refusal to give such tokens of pardon usually argues the presence of an uncharitable feeling that is sinful; it is nearly always evidence of an unforgiving spirit. There are certain cases wherein the offense received being of a peculiar nature, justifies one in deferring such evidence of forgiveness; but these cases are rare.

If we are obliged to show by unmistakable signs that we forgive a wrong that has been done, we are in nowise bound to make a particular friend of the person who has been guilty of the wrong. We need not go out of our way to meet him, receive or visit him or treat him as a long lost brother. He would not expect it, and we fulfill our obligations toward him by the ordinary civilities we show him in the business of life.

If we have offended, we must take the first step toward reconciliation and apologize; that is the only way we have of repairing the injury done, and to this we are held in conscience. If there is equal blame on both sides, then both are bound to the same duty of offering an apology. To refuse such advances on the part of one who has wronged us is to commit an offense that might very easily be grievous.

All this, of course, is apart from the question of indemnification in case of real damage being sustained. We may condone an offense and at the same time require that the loss suffered be repaired. And in case the delinquent refuse to settle amicably, we are justified in pursuing him before the courts. Justice is not necessarily opposed to charity.