FAITH AND ERROR
INTOLERANCE is a harsh term. It is stern, rigid, brutal, almost. It
makes no compromise, combats a outrance and exacts blind and absolute
obedience. Among individuals tolerance should prevail, man, should be
liberal with man, the Law of Charity demands it. In regard to
principles, there must and shall eternally be antagonism between truth
and error, justice demands it. It is a case of self-preservation; one
other. Political truth can never tolerate treason preached
or practised; neither can religious truth tolerate unbelief and heresy
preached or practised.
Now our faith is based on truth, the Church is the custodian of faith,
and the Church, on the platform of religious truth, is absolutely
uncompromising and intolerant, just as the State is in regard to
treason. She cannot admit error, she cannot approve error; to do so
would be suicidal. She cannot lend the approval of her presence, nay
even of her silence, to error. She stands aloof from heresy, must
always see in it an enemy, condemns it and cannot help condemning it,
for she stands for truth, pure and unalloyed truth, which error
pollutes and outrages.
Call this what you will, but it is the attitude of honesty first, and
of necessity afterwards. "He who is liberal with what belongs to him is
generous, he who undertakes to be generous with what does not belong to
him is dishonest." Our faith is not founded on an act or agreement of
men, but on the revelation of God. No human agency can change or modify
it. Neither Church nor Pope can be liberal with the faith of which they
are the custodians. Their sole duty is to guard and protect it as a
precious deposit for the salvation of men.
This is the stand all governments take when there is question of
political truth. And whatever lack of generosity or broadmindedness
there be, however contrary to the spirit of this free age it may seem,
it is nevertheless the attitude of God Himself who hates error, for it
is evil, who pursues it with His wrath through time and through
eternity. How can a custodian of divine truth act otherwise? Even in
human affairs, can one admit that two and three are seven?
We sometimes hear it said that this intolerance takes from Catholics
the right to think. This is true in the same sense that penitentiaries,
or the dread of them, deprive citizens of the right to act. Everybody,
outside of sleeping hours and with his thinking machine in good order,
thinks. Perhaps if there were a little more of it, there would be more
solid convictions and more practical faith. Holy Writ has it somewhere
that the whole world is given over to vice and sin because there is no
one who thinks.
But you have not and never had the right to think as you please, inside
or outside the Church. This means the right to form false judgments, to
draw conclusions contrary to fact. This is not a right, it is a defect,
a disease. Thus to act is not the normal function of the brain. It is
no more the nature of the mind to generate falsehoods than it is the
nature of a sewing machine to cut hair. Both were made for different
things. He therefore who disobeys the law that governs his mind
prostitutes that faculty to error.
But suppose, being a Catholic, I cannot see things in that true light,
what then? In such a case, either you persist, in the matter of your
faith, in being guided by the smoky lamp of your reason alone, or you
will be guided by the authority of God's appointed Church. In the first
alternative, your place is not in the Church, for you exclude yourself
by not living up to the conditions of her membership. You cannot deny
but that she has the right to determine those conditions.
If you choose the latter, then correct yourself. It is human to err,
but it is stupidity to persist in error and refuse to be enlightened.
If you cannot see for yourself, common sense demands that you get
another to see for you. You are not supposed to know the alpha and
omega of theological science, but you are bound to possess a
satisfactory knowledge in order that your faith be reasonable.
Has no one a right to differ from the Church? Yes, those who err
unconsciously, who can do so conscientiously, that is, those who have
no suspicion of their being in error. These the heavenly Father will
look after and bring safe to Himself, for their error is material and
not formal. He loves them but He hates their errors. So does the Church
abominate the false doctrines that prevail in the world outside her
fold, yet at the same time she has naught but compassion and pity and
prayers for those deluded ones who spread and receive those errors. To
her the individual is sacred, but the heresy is damnable.
Thus we may mingle with our fellow citizens in business and in
pleasure, socially and politically, but religiously--never. Our charity
we can offer in its fullest measure, but charity that lends itself to
error, loses its sacred character and becomes the handmaid of evil, for
error is evil.