Reflections on the Jubilee and Mercy
The Meaning of a Jubilee
Since December 8, 2015, the Extraordinary Jubilee published by Pope Francis has been running its course. The successor of St. Peter chose this opening date “because of its rich meaning in the recent history of the Church.”1 The Sovereign Pontiff announced his intention to open the Holy Door “on the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.” He did so; and this explains the profound meaning behind his act: in keeping with the last council, the goal of this Jubilee Year, to be lived in a spirit of mercy, is to drive out “every form of discrimination.”2 Francis explained this very clearly,3 explicitly referring to his predecessors. At the opening of Vatican Council II, John XXIII made sure to warn the Catholic faithful that “the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity.” These words of the Pope were echoed by those of his successor Paul VI at the same council’s closing: “The old story of the Good Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the Council.” In the Gospel, this story is a parable that indicates in an illustrated way what mercy is. Fifty years later, Pope Francis is simply persevering, with all the brilliance and media publicity involved in the initiative of a Jubilee, in the new vision adopted by John XXIII and Paul VI. “The Church’s first duty,” he recently repeated, “is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord.”4
What mercy? What conversion? What salvation? And so lastly, what indulgence? These are the questions put more and more often to Catholic consciences over the last fifty years. And the opening of the latest Jubilee highlights their urgency.
Mercy is a virtue, distinct from any other, since it has its own proper object and motive. The object of mercy is to relieve the misery of another. The motive of mercy is the consideration of another’s misery as one’s own.
Misery is an evil, and in the order of human things, evil can be adequately divided into sin and punishment. The capital difference between these two sorts of evils is that sin is committed, whereas punishment is undergone. Indeed any evil undergone involuntarily6 is a punishment, since all evil is undergone precisely as a consequence of sin, original or personal, of which it is the just providential chastisement. Any evil committed voluntarily is a sin, since any evil is precisely committed against the eternal divine law. So if we consider things with full precision, we understand that sin and punishment are opposites: one and the same evil cannot be both one and the other in the same respect, since it cannot be at once and in the same respect committed and undergone. If we remain in the line of this precision, we can say that sin, because it is a voluntarily committed evil, and to the extent that it is so, in itself calls for justice and therefore a chastisement or punishment; punishment, on the contrary, because it is an evil that one undergoes against one’s own will, can arouse mercy, to the extent that the sin which merited the said punishment has become for the sinner an object of efficacious regret, that is to say, penance.
The misery that is the object of mercy is precisely the evil of punishment that is undergone. So from the point of view of mercy, there is no need to distinguish between the sinner (who merited the mercy) and the sin (that is to be reproved), for example, between the homosexual and homosexuality, or the adulterer and adultery. As such, the sinner is defined as he who willfully commits sin, the homosexual as he who willfully commits the unnatural act, the adulterer as he who willfully commits the injustice of infidelity to his spouse. The sinner in so far as he willfully sins merits the same reprobation as his sin, and that is why he merits no mercy. The distinction is possible on another level, since different aspects can be found in one and the same thing. A sin, which is necessarily willful, can result at the same time both from the free consent and from many other factors that led to it and that are weakness and infirmity; this is where the involuntary aspect, that diminishes the sin, enters in; for under this aspect it ceases to be an evil committed and becomes an evil undergone, and therefore misery; and it calls, rather, for excuse and pardon: mercy. Consequently, if there is a distinction to be made, it must be made between sin and misery, between the sinner and the miserable, between homosexuality (or the homosexual) and the weakness of an unnatural concupiscence, between the adulterer and the weakness of an unfortunately all too common concupiscence. By accident, the sinner (and not his sin) can be the object of mercy, not insofar as he willfully commits an evil act, but insofar as he involuntarily undergoes the weight of an evil concupiscence, which urges him in spite of himself to contradict the injunctions of the divine law. It is in this sense that it is true to say that we must rather pity the sinner and help him than be indignant and condemn him. This is because here we formally consider him under the aspect in which he is misery, under the aspect in which he seems to have an excuse; we explain it by everything involuntary that was able to introduce itself into him. And we also consider him under the aspect in which he comes to detest the evil act he committed and seeks to repair it. Under these aspects, but only under these aspects, mercy can seek to relieve the misery of the sinner.
The motive of mercy is always the consideration of another’s misery as one’s own. This is easy to understand if we remember that mercy is fundamentally sadness, and that we could not “be sore at heart” at the sight of someone’s misery if we were not touched by it. And misery touches us because we share it, that is to say, when we make it our own. So the whole question is to know why we make someone else’s misery our own.
There exists a certain natural, humanitarian, or philanthropic mercy, by which all men naturally love those like them and therefore share their misery which is that of the human nature in general as such. This mercy is ultimately based on a real and objective bond (which depends neither on our knowledge, nor on our affection, be it sensible or voluntary) that stimulates a practically spontaneous tendency of human nature. We say of those who go against it that they are “unnatural.” This tendency urges every normal man to lend his help to anyone in danger, to anyone undergoing an evil, and to refuse this help sometimes even constitutes a misdemeanor, penalized by positive human law, which in this case clarifies the natural law. But while natural and humanitarian mercy radically inviscerate, are instinctive, in every man, this mercy does not take into account the knowledge of the profound roots of evil. Evil undergone, that is, misery, does not at once appear as the consequence of an evil committed, that is, sin. And precisely because of this ignorance of the relation between the two, this natural tendency of man’s always runs the risk of being mistaken.
Supernatural mercy goes much farther; it supposes charity. Here our motive for relieving misery is the friendship that attaches us to God, according to grace. For the love of God, it wishes to relieve all those whom misery can touch, both spiritual and corporal misery. And in this misery that touches one’s neighbor, it sees the consequence of sin; in the evil undergone it sees the result of the evil committed. It therefore also sees to what extent it is just to relieve the punishment incurred: to the extent that the sin justifying the infliction of this punishment ceases to be willed by him who committed it, to the extent that the sinner hates his sin, and to the extent that the sinner had extenuating circumstances. Or at least to the extent that the exercise of mercy, whose intention is to diminish or even suppress the evil of a punishment, does not contradict the requirements of justice, whose intention is to neutralize the evil of a sin. And that is the heart of the matter.
True Mercy and Justice7
Justice is the constant and perpetual will to render to each his due. So its goal is to regulate our relations with others. And it can do so in two ways: either with others considered individually, or with others considered as members of a society. There are therefore two forms of justice: particular justice and general or legal justice. Particular justice renders his due to an individual taken as such. It can do so by rendering to this individual what is due to him either from another individual (in which case it is commutative justice) or from society (in which case it is distributive justice). General or legal justice renders to the common good of society what is due to it from each of its members. For the good of every virtue, both those that ordain man to himself and those that ordain him to others, must be referred to the common good to which this justice ordains us. In this way, the acts of all the virtues can come under justice insofar as this latter ordains man to the common good. And in this sense justice is a general virtue. And because it is the role of the law to ordain us to the common good, this general justice is called legal justice; for by it man is in agreement with the law that ordains the acts of all the virtues to the common good.
Distributive justice implies the power to punish with chastisements, in order to preserve the social order. Indeed, society (as such or by the intermediary of the authority) renders his due to the individual who causes disorder. Now what the society owes the cause of disorder is the punishment or chastisement that reestablishes order. Among these chastisements prominently figures discrimination, that is, the fact of not enjoying the same freedom of public action as the other members of the society. As with any chastisement, discrimination is not an evil but a good, from the precise viewpoint of the common good, whose order it preserves. In other words, it is a good for all, since it is the necessary means to effectively preserve the common good of virtue against the bad example of vice. It is also an evil in a way (the evil of punishment of which we have already spoken), for the one who undergoes it. This evil undergone involuntarily by the discriminated person (and by him alone) is his misery, which mercy can consider and remedy. But it is not the evil of a fault, a sin voluntarily committed by the authority that inflicts the punishment and imposes the discrimination (as a so-called lack of charity or mercy would be). Nor is it an evil of punishment involuntarily undergone by the society; on the contrary, it is this latter’s good, for it is a work of justice. There is therefore a formal difference within one and the same reality: what is a good from the viewpoint of the common good (and as a good, the object of particular, distributive justice) is an evil of punishment from the viewpoint of the particular good (and as an evil of punishment, the object of mercy). It is up to general (or legal) justice to harmonize the two. Which means that particular mercy and justice are dependent on general justice. This latter ordains particular justice and mercy to each other, and the principle of this order is the common good. Only from this superior viewpoint of the common good can one ordain mercy and justice as they should be within a society. Which means that in the Holy Church as in a civil society, the requirements of the common good will always remain the rule and measure of mercy. And let us take care never to forget that the common good par excellence, and the measure of all other, is the divine good, God Himself, in Whom justice and mercy are identified without confusion.
The Council’s and Francis’s False Mercy
Ever since the Second Vatican Council, says John XXIII, “the Bride of Christ considers that rather than condemning, she responds better to the needs of our times by highlighting the wealth of her doctrine.” More exactly, to quote Paul VI’s words,
“errors were condemned, indeed, because charity demanded this no less than did truth, but for the persons themselves there was only warning, respect and love.” Error and evil are denounced as such, but persons are considered beyond their reach. Or at least as if the consideration of the truth and goodness should take precedence over what is erroneous and evil. Paul VI even evokes a “wave of affection and admiration” for these persons. The relation has therefore been inversed: until now the requirements of justice prevailed over those of mercy in the external public domain, for the gravity of sin prevailed over that of the punishment, and so the need to impose discriminations in order to preserve society from the sins committed by people prevailed over the desire to have mercy on members of the society. Now, the desire to recognize and promote the good in people prevails over the desire to protect the common good of society. Or rather, the common good of society is confused with the sum of the particular goods of the members of society. The Council wished to ratify the acquisitions of modern thought and in order to do so, to place the Church in a personalist and pluralist society.
So Pope Francis’s statement is in perfect keeping with that of Vatican II: “[May] this Jubilee Year, celebrating mercy, [...] drive out every form of discrimination.” Indeed, did not the Council say: “With respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent.”8 “The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion.”9 “The government is to see to it that equality of citizens before the law, which is itself an element of the common good, is never violated, whether openly or covertly, for religious reasons.”10 The declaration on religious liberty makes non-discrimination a principle. This principle is justified by the preeminence of the particular good over the common good. And by this very fact, Dignitatis Humanae places mercy (whose object is to relieve a penalty insofar as it is an evil for a particular person) over justice (whose object is to inflict a penalty insofar as it is the good of all).
And yet it should be obvious (and so it was for twenty centuries) that the power of the civil society and the ecclesiastical power both have the duty to impose discrimination on those whose sins threaten the public order, if only because they represent a scandal, that is to say, an occasion of sin. Discrimination is necessary because of the social or religious condition of the troublemakers. Religious condition if there is a public cult contrary to the true religion. Social condition if there is behavior contrary to the divine natural law (illegitimate matrimonial union; homosexual unions). But the Council reproves all forms of discrimination: the good that is absolutely indispensable for preserving the social order is eliminated, on the pretext that it represents the all too relative evil of a punishment (and therefore a misery) for the persons involved. And this elimination is conducted in the name of “the primacy of mercy.”11 But by the very fact that it places the particular good above the common good, this mercy is redefined in a personalistic sense that is foreign to the traditional doctrine of the Church.
More precisely, it becomes a humanitarian, philanthropic mercy, no longer able to grasp the connection between the evil of sin and the evil of the punishment. It is because the punishment is merited by the sin that it becomes a good: the common good of a justice that is common to all of society and the whole Church. If we do not grasp this connection, we can see nothing but evil in discrimination: the common evil of an injustice common to all individuals and all of humanity. It is clear that the Catholic dogma “Outside of the Church there is no salvation” expresses a discrimination and includes the condemnation of “other religious traditions.” The new conception inherited from Vatican II claims that the value of mercy “goes beyond the confines of the Church”12 and most logically (although implicitly) leads Pope Francis to see in the teaching of his predecessors an injustice that goes against mercy: “I trust that this Jubilee year celebrating the mercy of God will foster an encounter with these religions and with other noble religious traditions; may it open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; may it eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination.”13
The blindness with which the men of the Church, and even the first among them, have been afflicted for the past fifty years is a great misery. But it is doubtless the just punishment merited by the great sin committed during the Council: for let us not forget: liberalism is a sin. And it is precisely this sin of liberalism that was at the principle and foundation of the whole Council. John XXIII said it and repeated it: “the Bride of Christ considers that rather than condemning, she responds better to the needs of our times by highlighting the wealth of her doctrine.” That is exactly the error of liberalism as condemned by Pope Gregory XVI in the encyclical Mirari Vos: “Some are so carried away that they contentiously assert that the flock of errors arising from them is sufficiently compensated by the publication of some book which defends religion and truth.”14 Francis’s false mercy is the daughter of John XXIII and Paul VI’s false liberty. The Council gave birth to a monster, and this monster is the chastisement for its sin, the punishment for this adulterous marriage between the men of the Church and the Revolution. This punishment is today’s great misery.
1 Misericordiae Vultus, §4.
2 MV, §23.
3 MV, §4.
4 Francis, “Address for the Conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family”, Saturday, October 24, 2015.
5 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, IIa IIae, question 30; Jacques, De caritate, vol. II, # 922-988; Michel-Marie Labourdette, «Cours de théologie morale», ad locum.
6 The physical evil of the body, such as death, blows and wounds, sickness, old age, poverty; the spiritual evil of the soul such as solitude or lack of friends, separation from one’s family, dishonor, weakness of mind; the evil of concupiscence and that of temptation, that both urge to sin.
7 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, questions 58 and 61.
8 Gaudium et Spes, §29, #2.
9 Nostra Aetate, §5.
10 Dignitatis Humanae, §6.
11 MV, §20.
12 MV, §23.
13 MV, §23.
14 Gregory XVI, encyclical Mirari Vos, August 15, 1832, §15.