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Between Laxism and Rigorism


Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange once wrote, “Respect for all opinions, however false or perverse they may be, is only the proud denial of respect due to the Truth. Sincerely to love the true and the good, we must have no sympathy with error and evil."

Yet, in another place he writes, “The Church is intolerant in principle because she believes; she is tolerant in practice because she loves. The enemies of the Church are tolerant in principle because they do not believe; they are intolerant in practice because they do not love.”

Here, the Sacred Monster of Thomism walks the fine line between two seemingly contradictory principles, charity and faithfulness.

My proposition for how this is done according to Catholic tradition is, 1. Normatively we ought to elimate evil, abstracted from consideration of the situation at hand (what Fr. Lagrange means by the first quote), 2. In consideration of the effects of eliminating evil, we ought to restrain our hand when a greater evil would come about, e.g., the Church did not excommunicate the English monarch for decades after its apostacy so that they would be given a chance to repent and not harden their hearts (what Fr. Lagrange means by the second quote).


Whether one ought to tolerate a lesser evil that a greater one may not come about?

Objection 1: It seems that one ought not tolerate evil whatsoever, for, St. Paul ordered that we “remove the evil from among you.”

Obj. 2: Further, we ought not to do evil that good may come about, therefore…

Obj. 3: Further, Tolerance of any kind will bring about laxity, therefore…

Obj. 4: Further, it seems that we should tolerate evil in more cases than merely “when greater evils come about.” For, charity requires that we accept all as they are. Therefore...

On the contrary, Our Lord says concerning the wheat and the tares “The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn." St. Thomas Aquinas comments on this passage, "in the first part you should note that the good is great and victorious over evil, because good can be without evil, but not evil without good. Therefore, the Lord puts up with many evils that many goods might come, or also lest they perish."

I answer that, some have erred in two ways concerning this matter. First, the laxists who tolerate evil in itself. They err both against the virtue of charity, subordinating the goodness of God to the goodness of men, and when it comes to divine truth, the teaching of sacred scripture and of the magisterium concerning morals.

Second, the rigorists. The rigorists err in that they seek to eliminate evil without consideration of the material effects of their actions. This, rather than being a sin against the theological virtues, is an error in prudence (depending on the level of cooperation one has with bringing about evil).

In the former, we allow the gangrenous limb to infect the whole body, and, in the latter, we pull the wheat along with the tares.

The true way in dealing with particular evils is between these two errors. For, we are bound to seek the good in itself. Now, in eliminating certain evils we may bring about even greater evils. Therefore, we ought to temper the elimination of evil so that we do not bring about greater evil. Yet, we do not tolerate evil as evil, rather we intend to stop some future evil only consequentally and materially tolerating evil.

Thus the practice of Catholic states in tolerating certain sinful practices so that greater evils do not crop up. The classic example is given by St. Augustine, that we "tolerate prosititution that the entire world be not filled with adultery." Further, such also is the practice of divine providence wherein God tolerates the existence of certain evil men so that greater evil do not come about.

Yet, this is not the ordinary situation. For, we are bound to the good. Now, evil is a privation of the good. Therefore, they cannot exist in the same subject in the same sense. So in order to bring about the good we must eliminate certain evils. Therefore, we are bound to eliminate evils contrary to the Laxists. It is only when such a course of action would bring about greater evil that we tolerate. For example, a state is ordinarily bound to restrict the practice of false religions, yet, the state often must tolerate the private existence of false religions so that greater evil does not come about.

Yet, in comparing the two tendencies, the tendency towards harshness and the tendency towards laxity, we ought rather to tend towards harshness (although this is merely in consideration of the thing and not in consideration of certain personal tendencies towards each error). For, laxity is a sin against divine faith and charity. Now, without the theological virtues one cannot be saved, therefore, laxity is a damnable error. Whereas, rigorism is a defect in regard to prudence. Now, prudence is a natural virtue without which one may be saved. For, the object against which we sin in lacking prudence is not God, rather it is created things. Therefore, in consideration of the thing in itself laxism is a greater error than rigorism and therefore ought to be more strongly avoided (with due consideration to one’s tendencies).

Reply to Objection 1: The statement of St. Paul ought not to be taken as absolute, but relative, yet normative, considering the effects of one‘s action or inaction, not without exception.

Obj. 2: Such is conceded, yet, that is not what is being proposed. Rather, inaction is being proposed.

Obj. 3: Concerning that individual sin, it is conceded, yet, in considering whether to tolerate, this would be taken into account in weighing the action.

Obj. 4: We may answer this objection in two ways. First, charity has God as it’s immediate object and man as merely a secondary object for the sake of God. Now, the immediate object is greater than the secondary object. Therefore, we ought to love God more than men. Now, we love God in our obedience to him.

Second, charity is seeking the good for another. Now, to allow someone to fall into sin brings about their ruin. Therefore. It is not in accordance with charity to do so. As Fr. Lagrange writes, “False charity subordinates the love of God to a false love of our neighbor; it does not hate evil, rather it sympathizes secretly with it and, under the pretext of loving the sinner, it contributes to his ruin.”

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