St. Thomas Aquinas
from the Christian
Classics Etherial Library website.
THE SECOND PART OF THE SECOND PART
QUESTION 33 OF FRATERNAL CORRECTION (EIGHT ARTICLES)
(1) Whether fraternal correction is an act of charity?
It would seem that fraternal correction is not an act of charity.
For a gloss on
Mat. 18:15, "If thy brother shall offend against thee," says
that "a man should reprove his brother out of zeal for justice." But
justice is a distinct virtue from charity. Therefore fraternal
correction is an act, not of charity, but of justice.
Objection 2: Further, fraternal
correction is given by secret admonition. Now admonition is a kind
of counsel, which is an act of prudence, for a prudent man is one
who is of good counsel (Ethic. vi, 5). Therefore fraternal
correction is an act, not of charity, but of prudence.
Objection 3: Further, contrary acts do
not belong to the same virtue. Now it is an act of charity to bear
with a sinner, according to
Gal. 6:2: "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so you shall
fulfil the law of Christ," which is the law of charity. Therefore it
seems that the correction of a sinning brother, which is contrary to
bearing with him, is not an act of charity.
On the contrary, To correct the
wrongdoer is a spiritual almsdeed. But almsdeeds are works of
charity, as stated above (Q, A). Therefore fraternal
correction is an act of charity.
I answer that, The correction of the
wrongdoer is a remedy which should be employed against a man's sin.
Now a man's sin may be considered in two ways, first as being
harmful to the sinner, secondly as conducing to the harm of others,
by hurting or scandalizing them, or by being detrimental to the
common good, the justice of which is disturbed by that man's sin.
Consequently the correction of a wrongdoer is
twofold, one which applies a remedy to the sin considered as an evil
of the sinner himself. This is fraternal correction properly so
called, which is directed to the amendment of the sinner. Now to do
away with anyone's evil is the same as to procure his good: and to
procure a person's good is an act of charity, whereby we wish and do
our friend well. Consequently fraternal correction also is an act of
charity, because thereby we drive out our brother's evil, viz. sin,
the removal of which pertains to charity rather than the removal of
an external loss, or of a bodily injury, in so much as the contrary
good of virtue is more akin to charity than the good of the body or
of external things. Therefore fraternal correction is an act of
charity rather than the healing of a bodily infirmity, or the
relieving of an external bodily need. There is another correction
which applies a remedy to the sin of the wrongdoer, considered as
hurtful to others, and especially to the common good. This
correction is an act of justice, whose concern it is to safeguard
the rectitude of justice between one man and another.
Reply to Objection 1: This gloss speaks
of the second correction which is an act of justice. Or if it speaks
of the first correction, then it takes justice as denoting a general
virtue, as we shall state further on (Q , A), in which sense
again all "sin is iniquity" (1
Jn. 3:4), through being contrary to justice.
Reply to Objection 2: According to the
Philosopher (Ethic. vi, 12), prudence regulates whatever is directed
to the end, about which things counsel and choice are concerned.
Nevertheless when, guided by prudence, we perform some action aright
which is directed to the end of some virtue, such as temperance or
fortitude, that action belongs chiefly to the virtue to whose end it
is directed. Since, then, the admonition which is given in fraternal
correction is directed to the removal of a brother's sin, which
removal pertains to charity, it is evident that this admonition is
chiefly an act of charity, which virtue commands it, so to speak,
but secondarily an act of prudence, which executes and directs the
Reply to Objection 3: Fraternal
correction is not opposed to forbearance with the weak, on the
contrary it results from it. For a man bears with a sinner, in so
far as he is not disturbed against him, and retains his goodwill
towards him: the result being that he strives to make him do better.
(2) Whether it
is a matter of precept?
It would seem that fraternal correction is not a matter of precept.
For nothing impossible is a matter of precept, according to the
saying of Jerome [*Pelagius, Expos. Symb. ad Damas]: "Accursed be he
who says that God has commanded any. thing impossible." Now it is
7:14): "Consider the works of God, that no man can correct whom
He hath despised." Therefore fraternal correction is not a matter of
Objection 2: Further, all the precepts
of the Divine Law are reduced to the precepts of the Decalogue. But
fraternal correction does not come under any precept of the
Decalogue. Therefore it is not a matter of precept.
Objection 3: Further, the omission of a
Divine precept is a mortal sin, which has no place in a holy man.
Yet holy and spiritual men are found to omit fraternal correction:
since Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i, 9): "Not only those of low
degree, but also those of high position, refrain from reproving
others, moved by a guilty cupidity, not by the claims of charity."
Therefore fraternal correction is not a matter of precept.
Objection 4: Further, whatever is a
matter of precept is something due. If, therefore, fraternal
correction is a matter of precept, it is due to our brethren that we
correct them when they sin. Now when a man owes anyone a material
due, such as the payment of a sum of money, he must not be content
that his creditor come to him, but he should seek him out, that he
may pay him his due. Hence we should have to go seeking for those
who need correction, in order that we might correct them; which
appears to be inconvenient, both on account of the great number of
sinners, for whose correction one man could not suffice, and because
religious would have to leave the cloister in order to reprove men,
which would be unbecoming. Therefore fraternal correction is not a
matter of precept.
On the contrary, Augustine says (De
Verb. Dom. xvi, 4): "You become worse than the sinner if you fail to
correct him." But this would not be so unless, by this neglect, one
omitted to observe some precept. Therefore fraternal correction is a
matter of precept.
I answer that, Fraternal correction is a
matter of precept. We must observe, however, that while the negative
precepts of the Law forbid sinful acts, the positive precepts
inculcate acts of virtue. Now sinful acts are evil in themselves,
and cannot become good, no matter how, or when, or where, they are
done, because of their very nature they are connected with an evil
end, as stated in Ethic. ii, 6: wherefore negative precepts bind
always and for all times. On the other hand, acts of virtue must not
be done anyhow, but by observing the due circumstances, which are
requisite in order that an act be virtuous; namely, that it be done
where, when, and how it ought to be done. And since the disposition
of whatever is directed to the end depends on the formal aspect of
the end, the chief of these circumstances of a virtuous act is this
aspect of the end, which in this case is the good of virtue. If
therefore such a circumstance be omitted from a virtuous act, as
entirely takes away the good of virtue, such an act is contrary to a
precept. If, however, the circumstance omitted from a virtuous act
be such as not to destroy the virtue altogether, though it does not
perfectly attain the good of virtue, it is not against a precept.
Hence the Philosopher (Ethic. ii, 9) says that if we depart but
little from the mean, it is not contrary to the virtue, whereas if
we depart much from the mean virtue is destroyed in its act. Now
fraternal correction is directed to a brother's amendment: so that
it is a matter of precept, in so far as it is necessary for that
end, but not so as we have to correct our erring brother at all
places and times.
Reply to Objection 1: In all good deeds
man's action is not efficacious without the Divine assistance: and
yet man must do what is in his power. Hence Augustine says (De
Correp. et Gratia xv): "Since we ignore who is predestined and who
is not, charity should so guide our feelings, that we wish all to be
saved." Consequently we ought to do our brethren the kindness of
correcting them, with the hope of God's help.
Reply to Objection 2: As stated above
(Q, A, ad 4), all the precepts about rendering service to our
neighbor are reduced to the precept about the honor due to parents.
Reply to Objection 3: Fraternal
correction may be omitted in three ways.
First, meritoriously, when out of charity one
omits to correct someone. For Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i, 9): "If
a man refrains from chiding and reproving wrongdoers, because he
awaits a suitable time for so doing, or because he fears lest, if he
does so, they may become worse, or hinder, oppress, or turn away
from the faith, others who are weak and need to be instructed in a
life of goodness and virtue, this does not seem to result from
covetousness, but to be counselled by charity."
Secondly, fraternal correction may be omitted
in such a way that one commits a mortal sin, namely, "when" (as he
says in the same passage) "one fears what people may think, or lest
one may suffer grievous pain or death; provided, however, that the
mind is so dominated by such things, that it gives them the
preference to fraternal charity." This would seem to be the case
when a man reckons that he might probably withdraw some wrongdoer
from sin, and yet omits to do so, through fear or covetousness.
Thirdly, such an omission is a venial sin,
when through fear or covetousness, a man is loth to correct his
brother's faults, and yet not to such a degree, that if he saw
clearly that he could withdraw him from sin, he would still forbear
from so doing, through fear or covetousness, because in his own mind
he prefers fraternal charity to these things. It is in this way that
holy men sometimes omit to correct wrongdoers.
Reply to Objection 4: We are bound to
pay that which is due to some fixed and certain person, whether it
be a material or a spiritual good, without waiting for him to come
to us, but by taking proper steps to find him. Wherefore just as he
that owes money to a creditor should seek him, when the time comes,
so as to pay him what he owes, so he that has spiritual charge of
some person is bound to seek him out, in order to reprove him for a
sin. On the other hand, we are not bound to seek someone on whom to
bestow such favors as are due, not to any certain person, but to all
our neighbors in general, whether those favors be material or
spiritual goods, but it suffices that we bestow them when the
opportunity occurs; because, as Augustine says (De Doctr. Christ. i,
28), we must look upon this as a matter of chance. For this reason
he says (De Verb. Dom. xvi, 1) that "Our Lord warns us not to be
listless in regard of one another's sins: not indeed by being on the
lookout for something to denounce, but by correcting what we see":
else we should become spies on the lives of others, which is against
the saying of
Prov. 24:19: "Lie not in wait, nor seek after wickedness in the
house of the just, nor spoil his rest." It is evident from this that
there is no need for religious to leave their cloister in order to
this precept belongs only to Prelates?
It would seem that fraternal correction belongs to prelates alone.
For Jerome [*Origen, Hom. vii in Joan.] says: "Let priests endeavor
to fulfil this saying of the Gospel: 'If thy brother sin against
thee,'" etc. Now prelates having charge of others were usually
designated under the name of priests. Therefore it seems that
fraternal correction belongs to prelates alone.
Objection 2: Further, fraternal
correction is a spiritual alms. Now corporal almsgiving belongs to
those who are placed above others in temporal matters, i.e. to the
rich. Therefore fraternal correction belongs to those who are placed
above others in spiritual matters, i.e. to prelates.
Objection 3: Further, when one man
reproves another he moves him by his rebuke to something better. Now
in the physical order the inferior is moved by the superior.
Therefore in the order of virtue also, which follows the order of
nature, it belongs to prelates alone to correct inferiors.
On the contrary, It is written (Dist.
xxiv, qu. 3, Can. Tam Sacerdotes): "Both priests and all the rest of
the faithful should be most solicitous for those who perish, so that
their reproof may either correct their sinful ways. or, if they be
incorrigible, cut them off from the Church."
I answer that, As stated above (A),
correction is twofold. One is an act of charity, which seeks in a
special way the recovery of an erring brother by means of a simple
warning: such like correction belongs to anyone who has charity, be
he subject or prelate.
But there is another correction which is an act
of justice purposing the common good, which is procured not only by
warning one's brother, but also, sometimes, by punishing him, that
others may, through fear, desist from sin. Such a correction belongs
only to prelates, whose business it is not only to admonish, but
also to correct by means of punishments.
Reply to Objection 1: Even as regards
that fraternal correction which is common to all, prelates have a
grave responsibility, as Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i, 9): "for
just as a man ought to bestow temporal favors on those especially of
whom he has temporal care, so too ought he to confer spiritual
favors, such as correction, teaching and the like, on those who are
entrusted to his spiritual care." Therefore Jerome does not mean
that the precept of fraternal correction concerns priests only, but
that it concerns them chiefly.
Reply to Objection 2: Just as he who has
the means wherewith to give corporal assistance is rich in this
respect, so he whose reason is gifted with a sane judgment, so as to
be able to correct another's wrong-doing, is, in this respect, to be
looked on as a superior.
Reply to Objection 3: Even in the
physical order certain things act mutually on one another, through
being in some respect higher than one another, in so far as each is
somewhat in act, and somewhat in potentiality with regard to
another. In like manner one man can correct another in so far as he
has a sane judgment in a matter wherein the other sins, though he is
not his superior simply.
this precept binds the subject to correct his Prelate?
It would seem that no man is bound to correct his prelate. For it is
19:12): "The beast that shall touch the mount shall be stoned,"
[*Vulg.: 'Everyone that shall touch the mount, dying he shall die.']
Kings 6:7) it is related that the Lord struck Oza for touching
the ark. Now the mount and the ark signify our prelates. Therefore
prelates should not be corrected by their subjects.
Objection 2: Further, a gloss on
Gal. 2:11, "I withstood him to the face," adds: "as an equal."
Therefore, since a subject is not equal to his prelate, he ought not
to correct him.
Objection 3: Further, Gregory says
(Moral. xxiii, 8) that "one ought not to presume to reprove the
conduct of holy men, unless one thinks better of oneself." But one
ought not to think better of oneself than of one's prelate.
Therefore one ought not to correct one's prelate.
On the contrary, Augustine says in his
Rule: "Show mercy not only to yourselves, but also to him who, being
in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger."
But fraternal correction is a work of mercy. Therefore even prelates
ought to be corrected.
I answer that, A subject is not
competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an
act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but the
fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the
competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is
bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which
Now an act which proceeds from a habit or power
extends to whatever is contained under the object of that power or
habit: thus vision extends to all things comprised in the object of
sight. Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due
circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate,
he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and
harshness, but with gentleness and respect. Hence the Apostle says (1
Tim. 5:1): "An ancient man rebuke not, but entreat him as a
father." Wherefore Dionysius finds fault with the monk Demophilus (Ep.
viii), for rebuking a priest with insolence, by striking and turning
him out of the church.
Reply to Objection 1: It would seem that
a subject touches his prelate inordinately when he upbraids him with
insolence, as also when he speaks ill of him: and this is signified
by God's condemnation of those who touched the mount and the ark.
Reply to Objection 2: To withstand
anyone in public exceeds the mode of fraternal correction, and so
Paul would not have withstood Peter then, unless he were in some way
his equal as regards the defense of the faith. But one who is not an
equal can reprove privately and respectfully. Hence the Apostle in
writing to the Colossians (4:17) tells them to admonish their
prelate: "Say to Archippus: Fulfil thy ministry [*Vulg.: 'Take heed
to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou
fulfil it.' Cf.
2 Tim. 4:5]." It must be observed, however, that if the faith
were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even
publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter's subject, rebuked him in
public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning
faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on
Gal. 2:11, "Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any
time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should
not disdain to be reproved by their subjects."
Reply to Objection 3: To presume
oneself to be simply better than one's prelate, would seem to savor
of presumptuous pride; but there is no presumption in thinking
oneself better in some respect, because, in this life, no man is
without some fault. We must also remember that when a man reproves
his prelate charitably, it does not follow that he thinks himself
any better, but merely that he offers his help to one who, "being in
the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger," as
Augustine observes in his Rule quoted above.
(5) Whether a
sinner may correct anyone?
It would seem that a sinner ought to reprove a wrongdoer. For no man
is excused from obeying a precept by having committed a sin. But
fraternal correction is a matter of precept, as stated above (A).
Therefore it seems that a man ought not to forbear from such like
correction for the reason that he has committed a sin.
Objection 2: Further, spiritual
almsdeeds are of more account than corporal almsdeeds. Now one who
is in sin ought not to abstain from administering corporal alms.
Much less therefore ought he, on account of a previous sin, to
refrain from correcting wrongdoers.
Objection 3: Further, it is written (1
Jn. 1:8): "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves."
Therefore if, on account of a sin, a man is hindered from reproving
his brother, there will be none to reprove the wrongdoer. But the
latter proposition is unreasonable: therefore the former is also.
On the contrary, Isidore says (De Summo
Bono iii, 32): "He that is subject to vice should not correct the
vices of others." Again it is written (Rom.
2:1): "Wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself.
For thou dost the same things which thou judgest."
I answer that, As stated above (A, ad
2), to correct a wrongdoer belongs to a man, in so far as his reason
is gifted with right judgment. Now sin, as stated above (FS, Q,
AA,2), does not destroy the good of nature so as to deprive the
sinner's reason of all right judgment, and in this respect he may be
competent to find fault with others for committing sin. Nevertheless
a previous sin proves somewhat of a hindrance to this correction,
for three reasons. First because this previous sin renders a man
unworthy to rebuke another; and especially is he unworthy to correct
another for a lesser sin, if he himself has committed a greater.
Hence Jerome says on the words, "Why seest thou the mote?" etc. (Mat.
7:3): "He is speaking of those who, while they are themselves
guilty of mortal sin, have no patience with the lesser sins of their
Secondly, such like correction becomes
unseemly, on account of the scandal which ensues therefrom, if the
corrector's sin be well known, because it would seem that he
corrects, not out of charity, but more for the sake of ostentation.
Hence the words of
Mat. 7:4, "How sayest thou to thy brother?" etc. are expounded
by Chrysostom [*Hom. xvii in the Opus Imperfectum falsely ascribed
to St. John Chrysostom] thus: "That is---'With what object?' Out of
charity, think you, that you may save your neighbor?" No, "because
you would look after your own salvation first. What you want is, not
to save others, but to hide your evil deeds with good teaching, and
to seek to be praised by men for your knowledge."
Thirdly, on account of the rebuker's pride;
when, for instance, a man thinks lightly of his own sins, and, in
his own heart, sets himself above his neighbor, judging the latter's
sins with harsh severity, as though he himself were a just man.
Hence Augustine says (De Serm. Dom. in Monte ii, 19): "To reprove
the faults of others is the duty of good and kindly men: when a
wicked man rebukes anyone, his rebuke is the latter's acquittal."
And so, as Augustine says (De Serm. Dom. in Monte ii, 19): "When we
have to find fault with anyone, we should think whether we were
never guilty of his sin; and then we must remember that we are men,
and might have been guilty of it; or that we once had it on our
conscience, but have it no longer: and then we should bethink
ourselves that we are all weak, in order that our reproof may be the
outcome, not of hatred, but of pity. But if we find that we are
guilty of the same sin, we must not rebuke him, but groan with him,
and invite him to repent with us." It follows from this that, if a
sinner reprove a wrongdoer with humility, he does not sin, nor does
he bring a further condemnation on himself, although thereby he
proves himself deserving of condemnation, either in his brother's or
in his own conscience, on account of his previous sin.
Hence the Replies to the Objections are clear.
(6) Whether one ought to correct a person who
becomes worse through being corrected?
It would seem that one ought not to forbear from correcting someone
through fear lest he become worse. For sin is weakness of the soul,
Ps. 6:3: "Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak." Now he that
has charge of a sick person, must not cease to take care of him,
even if he be fractious or contemptuous, because then the danger is
greater, as in the case of madmen. Much more, therefore should one
correct a sinner, no matter how badly he takes it.
Objection 2: Further, according to
Jerome vital truths are not to be foregone on account of scandal.
Now God's commandments are vital truths. Since, therefore, fraternal
correction is a matter of precept, as stated above (A), it seems
that it should not be foregone for fear of scandalizing the person
to be corrected.
Objection 3: Further, according to the
3:8) we should not do evil that good may come of it. Therefore,
in like manner, good should not be omitted lest evil befall. Now
fraternal correction is a good thing. Therefore it should not be
omitted for fear lest the person corrected become worse.
On the contrary, It is written (Prov.
9:8): "Rebuke not a scorner lest he hate thee," where a gloss
remarks: "You must not fear lest the scorner insult you when you
rebuke him: rather should you bear in mind that by making him hate
you, you may make him worse." Therefore one ought to forego
fraternal correction, when we fear lest we may make a man worse.
I answer that, As stated above (A)
the correction of the wrongdoer is twofold. One, which belongs to
prelates, and is directed to the common good, has coercive force.
Such correction should not be omitted lest the person corrected be
disturbed, both because if he is unwilling to amend his ways of his
own accord, he should be made to cease sinning by being punished,
and because, if he be incorrigible, the common good is safeguarded
in this way, since the order of justice is observed, and others are
deterred by one being made an example of. Hence a judge does not
desist from pronouncing sentence of condemnation against a sinner,
for fear of disturbing him or his friends.
The other fraternal correction is directed to
the amendment of the wrongdoer, whom it does not coerce, but merely
admonishes. Consequently when it is deemed probable that the sinner
will not take the warning, and will become worse, such fraternal
correction should be foregone, because the means should be regulated
according to the requirements of the end.
Reply to Objection 1: The doctor uses
force towards a madman, who is unwilling to submit to his treatment;
and this may be compared with the correction administered by
prelates, which has coercive power, but not with simple fraternal
Reply to Objection 2: Fraternal
correction is a matter of precept, in so far as it is an act of
virtue, and it will be a virtuous act in so far as it is
proportionate to the end. Consequently whenever it is a hindrance to
the end, for instance when a man becomes worse through it, it is
longer a vital truth, nor is it a matter precept.
Reply to Objection 3: Whatever is
directed to end, becomes good through being directed to the end.
Hence whenever fraternal correction hinders the end, namely the
amendment of our brother, it is no longer good, so that when such a
correction is omitted, good is not omitted lest evil should befall.
secret correction should precede denouncement?
It would seem that the precept of fraternal correction does not
demand that a private admonition should precede denunciation. For,
in works of charity, we should above all follow the example of God,
Eph. 5:1,2: "Be ye followers of God, as most dear children, and
walk in love." Now God sometimes punishes a man for a sin, without
previously warning him in secret. Therefore it seems that there is
no need for a private admonition to precede denunciation.
Objection 2: Further, according to
Augustine (De Mendacio xv), we learn from the deeds of holy men how
we ought to understand the commandments of Holy Writ. Now among the
deeds of holy men we find that a hidden sin is publicly denounced,
without any previous admonition in private. Thus we read (Gn.
37:2) that "Joseph accused his brethren to his father of a most
wicked crime": and (Acts
5:4,9) that Peter publicly denounced Ananias and Saphira who had
secretly "by fraud kept back the price of the land," without
beforehand admonishing them in private: nor do we read that Our Lord
admonished Judas in secret before denouncing him. Therefore the
precept does not require that secret admonition should precede
Objection 3: Further, it is a graver
matter to accuse than to denounce. Now one may go to the length of
accusing a person publicly, without previously admonishing him in
secret: for it is decided in the Decretal (Cap. Qualiter, xiv, De
Accusationibus) that "nothing else need precede accusation except
inscription." [*The accuser was bound by Roman Law to endorse (se
inscribere) the writ of accusation. The effect of this endorsement
or inscription was that the accuser bound himself, if he failed to
prove the accusation, to suffer the same punishment as the accused
would have to suffer if proved guilty.] Therefore it seems that the
precept does not require that a secret admonition should precede
Objection 4: Further, it does not seem
probable that the customs observed by religious in general are
contrary to the precepts of Christ. Now it is customary among
religious orders to proclaim this or that one for a fault, without
any previous secret admonition. Therefore it seems that this
admonition is not required by the precept.
Objection 5: Further, religious are
bound to obey their prelates. Now a prelate sometimes commands
either all in general, or someone in particular, to tell him if they
know of anything that requires correction. Therefore it would seem
that they are bound to tell them this, even before any secret
admonition. Therefore the precept does not require secret admonition
before public denunciation.
On the contrary, Augustine says (De
Verb. Dom. xvi, 4) on the words, "Rebuke him between thee and him
18:15): "Aiming at his amendment, while avoiding his disgrace:
since perhaps from shame he might begin to defend his sin; and him
whom you thought to make a better man, you make worse." Now we are
bound by the precept of charity to beware lest our brother become
worse. Therefore the order of fraternal correction comes under the
I answer that, With regard to the public
denunciation of sins it is necessary to make a distinction: because
sins may be either public or secret. In the case of public sins, a
remedy is required not only for the sinner, that he may become
better, but also for others, who know of his sin, lest they be
scandalized. Wherefore such like sins should be denounced in public,
according to the saying of the Apostle (1
Tim. 5:20): "Them that sin reprove before all, that the rest
also may have fear," which is to be understood as referring to
public sins, as Augustine states (De Verb. Dom. xvi, 7).
On the other hand, in the case of secret sins,
the words of Our Lord seem to apply (Mat.
18:15): "If thy brother shall offend against thee," etc. For if
he offend thee publicly in the presence of others, he no longer sins
against thee alone, but also against others whom he 'disturbs.
Since, however, a man's neighbor may take offense even at his secret
sins, it seems that we must make yet a further distinction. For
certain secret sins are hurtful to our neighbor either in his body
or in his soul, as, for instance, when a man plots secretly to
betray his country to its enemies, or when a heretic secretly turns
other men away from the faith. And since he that sins thus in
secret, sins not only against you in particular, but also against
others, it is necessary to take steps to denounce him at once, in
order to prevent him doing such harm, unless by chance you were
firmly persuaded that this evil result would be prevented by
admonishing him secretly. On the other hand there are other sins
which injure none but the sinner, and the person sinned against,
either because he alone is hurt by the sinner, or at least because
he alone knows about his sin, and then our one purpose should be to
succor our sinning brother: and just as the physician of the body
restores the sick man to health, if possible, without cutting off a
limb, but, if this be unavoidable, cuts off a limb which is least
indispensable, in order to preserve the life of the whole body, so
too he who desires his brother's amendment should, if possible, so
amend him as regards his conscience, that he keep his good name.
For a good name is useful, first of all to the
sinner himself, not only in temporal matters wherein a man suffers
many losses, if he lose his good name, but also in spiritual
matters, because many are restrained from sinning, through fear of
dishonor, so that when a man finds his honor lost, he puts no curb
on his sinning. Hence Jerome says on
Mat. 18:15: "If he sin against thee, thou shouldst rebuke him in
private, lest he persist in his sin if he should once become
shameless or unabashed." Secondly, we ought to safeguard our sinning
brother's good name, both because the dishonor of one leads to the
dishonor of others, according to the saying of Augustine (Ep. ad
pleb. Hipponens. lxxviii): "When a few of those who bear a name for
holiness are reported falsely or proved in truth to have done
anything wrong, people will seek by busily repeating it to make it
believed of all": and also because when one man's sin is made public
others are incited to sin likewise.
Since, however, one's conscience should be
preferred to a good name, Our Lord wished that we should publicly
denounce our brother and so deliver his conscience from sin, even
though he should forfeit his good name. Therefore it is evident that
the precept requires a secret admonition to precede public
Reply to Objection 1: Whatever is
hidden, is known to God, wherefore hidden sins are to the judgment
of God, just what public sins are to the judgment of man.
Nevertheless God does rebuke sinners sometimes by secretly
admonishing them, so to speak, with an inward inspiration, either
while they wake or while they sleep, according to
Job 33:15-17: "By a dream in a vision by night, when deep sleep
falleth upon men . . . then He openeth the ears of men, and teaching
instructeth them in what they are to learn, that He may withdraw a
man from the things he is doing."
Reply to Objection 2: Our Lord as God
knew the sin of Judas as though it were public, wherefore He could
have made it known at once. Yet He did not, but warned Judas of his
sin in words that were obscure. The sin of Ananias and Saphira was
denounced by Peter acting as God's executor, by Whose revelation he
knew of their sin. With regard to Joseph it is probable that he
warned his brethren, though Scripture does not say so. Or we may say
that the sin was public with regard to his brethren, wherefore it is
stated in the plural that he accused "his brethren."
Reply to Objection 3: When there is
danger to a great number of people, those words of Our Lord do not
apply, because then thy brother does not sin against thee alone.
Reply to Objection 4: Proclamations
made in the chapter of religious are about little faults which do
not affect a man's good name, wherefore they are reminders of
forgotten faults rather than accusations or denunciations. If,
however, they should be of such a nature as to injure our brother's
good name, it would be contrary to Our Lord's precept, to denounce a
brother's fault in this manner.
Reply to Objection 5: A prelate is not
to be obeyed contrary to a Divine precept, according to
Acts 5:29: "We ought to obey God rather then men." Therefore
when a prelate commands anyone to tell him anything that he knows to
need correction, the command rightly understood supports the
safeguarding of the order of fraternal correction, whether the
command be addressed to all in general, or to some particular
individual. If, on the other hand, a prelate were to issue a command
in express opposition to this order instituted by Our Lord, both
would sin, the one commanding, and the one obeying him, as
disobeying Our Lord's command. Consequently he ought not to be
obeyed, because a prelate is not the judge of secret things, but God
alone is, wherefore he has no power to command anything in respect
of hidden matters, except in so far as they are made known through
certain signs, as by ill-repute or suspicion; in which cases a
prelate can command just as a judge, whether secular or
ecclesiastical, can bind a man under oath to tell the truth.
witnesses should be called before denouncement?
It would seem that before the public denunciation witnesses ought
not to be brought forward. For secret sins ought not to be made
known to others, because by so doing "a man would betray his
brother's sins instead of correcting them," as Augustine says (De
Verb. Dom. xvi, 7). Now by bringing forward witnesses one makes
known a brother's sin to others. Therefore in the case of secret
sins one ought not to bring witnesses forward before the public
Objection 2: Further, man should love
his neighbor as himself. Now no man brings in witnesses to prove his
own secret sin. Neither therefore ought one to bring forward
witnesses to prove the secret sin of our brother.
Objection 3: Further, witnesses are
brought forward to prove something. But witnesses afford no proof in
secret matters. Therefore it is useless to bring witnesses forward
in such cases.
Objection 4: Further, Augustine says in
his Rule that "before bringing it to the notice of witnesses . . .
it should be put before the superior." Now to bring a matter before
a superior or a prelate is to tell the Church. Therefore witnesses
should not be brought forward before the public denunciation.
On the contrary, Our Lord said (Mat.
18:16): "Take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of
I answer that, The right way to go from
one extreme to another is to pass through the middle space. Now Our
Lord wished the beginning of fraternal correction to be hidden, when
one brother corrects another between this one and himself alone,
while He wished the end to be public, when such a one would be
denounced to the Church. Consequently it is befitting that a
citation of witnesses should be placed between the two extremes, so
that at first the brother's sin be indicated to a few, who will be
of use without being a hindrance, and thus his sin be amended
without dishonoring him before the public.
Reply to Objection 1: Some have
understood the order of fraternal correction to demand that we
should first of all rebuke our brother secretly, and that if he
listens, it is well; but if he listen not, and his sin be altogether
hidden, they say that we should go no further in the matter, whereas
if it has already begun to reach the ears of several by various
signs, we ought to prosecute the matter, according to Our Lord's
command. But this is contrary to what Augustine says in his Rule
that "we are bound to reveal" a brother's sin, if it "will cause a
worse corruption in the heart." Wherefore we must say otherwise that
when the secret admonition has been given once or several times, as
long as there is probable hope of his amendment, we must continue to
admonish him in private, but as soon as we are able to judge with
any probability that the secret admonition is of no avail, we must
take further steps, however secret the sin may be, and call
witnesses, unless perhaps it were thought probable that this would
not conduce to our brother's amendment, and that he would become
worse: because on that account one ought to abstain altogether from
correcting him, as stated above (A).
Reply to Objection 2: A man needs no
witnesses that he may amend his own sin: yet they may be necessary
that we may amend a brother's sin. Hence the comparison fails.
Reply to Objection 3: There may be
three reasons for citing witnesses. First, to show that the deed in
question is a sin, as Jerome says: secondly, to prove that the deed
was done, if repeated, as Augustine says (in his Rule): thirdly, "to
prove that the man who rebuked his brother, has done what he could,"
as Chrysostom says (Hom. in Matth. lx).
Reply to Objection 4: Augustine means
that the matter ought to be made known to the prelate before it is
stated to the witnesses, in so far as the prelate is a private
individual who is able to be of more use than others, but not that
it is to be told him as to the Church, i.e. as holding the position