Tuesday, February 15, 2005


We not infrequently hear the Church accused of intolerance. The Catholic Church stands for truth, as Jesus Christ did. The Catholic Church is no more intolerant than was her divine Founder. Intolerance is a much misunderstood and much abused word. A mathematician must be intolerant with regard to the multiplication table. A civil engineer cannot tolerate any trifling with or abuse of mechanical laws. Our government must be intolerant of anarchy.

Truth is necessarily intolerant of falsehood. Christ, who was the most patient and gentle person that this world has known, was also the most intolerant of everything opposed to His teaching. His Church would be untrue to Him if she were not intolerant where He was intolerant. He established His Church as a depository of His truth. Consequently she can make no compromise with what He has committed to her charge.

Intolerance under certain circumstances is the highest virtue. A good woman will tolerate no trifling with her chastity. An upright man will tolerate no charge against his honesty. Our government will tolerate no trifling with the Constitution. The deposit of faith, entrusted to the Church by her divine Founder, is more sacred than the Constitution. If the Church did not uphold the faith she would be guilty of the betrayal of the most sacred trust ever committed to mankind.

But, it may be said, is not intolerance an evil thing, is it not narrow, inconsiderate, an enemy of liberty? To this it may be said that intolerance may be considered under two aspects, theoretic and practical. Theoretically, error, vice, anarchy, etc., must never be tolerated, since that were to approve or at least silently encourage these vicious monsters.

Practically, the victims of error, vice, and anarchy are to be dealt with patiently, with a view to rescuing them from their unfortunate condition. Oppose error, but extend a helping hand to the erring. When, however, the upholders of error, vice, or anarchy become a menace to the public weal, they must be repressed. And so with regard to the Church established by Jesus Christ; to error she is absolutely opposed, toward the erring she is tolerant to the point of indulgence. It is only when those in error become a menace to faith or morals that she protects herself against them by every legitimate procedure.

The Church will expend all her resources for the conversion and true welfare of those who are in error. So long as the erring ones are in personal error only, she leaves them to God. A man's conscience is sacred. God alone is judge of the individual soul. But if one in error endeavors to spread error, and openly proclaims error, advocates error, defends error, the Church has the right and duty to protect herself against error, and in so doing to repress and chastise the upholder of error.

She first warns those of her subjects who may be the victims of error. She does all in her power to cure their spiritual malady. It is only when everything of a kindly nature has failed that she has recourse to extreme measures. It should be well understood that she employs her measures only against her own subjects. Her weapons are spiritual, mainly.

Having said this much about tolerance in general, it may not be out of place or uninteresting to consider some aspects of tolerance. We may consider tolerance with regard to its personal, civic and governmental aspects. Personal tolerance refers mainly to our private association with others. It means that we bear patiently with what we disapprove of or even condemn as evil. We may be tolerant with people whom we dislike and of whom we disapprove, by making allowance for their shortcomings and habits.

This tolerance may degenerate into a vice, if by our silence we encourage others in wrong-doing. But if, all things considered, we realize that tolerance is the advisable thing, and not another form of cowardice, it is best to show ourselves patient and silent toward persons and things that are apparently beyond our influencing or changing. But if we have a duty toward others, such as that of parents in regard to children, tolerance may be participation in wrong-doing.

Another aspect of this subject is civic tolerance. This is very important, particularly in a country like ours, where there is such a mixture of nationalities, religions, and temperaments. Civic tolerance is concerned with our attitude toward our fellow citizens who differ from us in religion, or politics, or race, or social standing. We confine the present consideration to religious tolerance. Briefly, religious tolerance means respect for the religious convictions of others. It is based on the Christian teaching that we should love our neighbor. Our neighbor is not only the man who agrees with us in our convictions, but every man. Christian kindness and love extend not merely to those who please us or agree with us, but toward our fellowman as man.

Pope Gregory IX in the year 1233 exemplified this doctrine of religious tolerance, when he proclaimed that "Christians must show towards Jews the same good-will which we desire to be shown to Christians in pagan lands." Tolerance thus practiced for the love of God becomes a charming Christian virtue. It is not the easiest virtue to practice, by any means, as we see from its frequent violation. St. Francis de Sales won more converts from heresy by his benevolence toward heretics than by his arguments.

It was so with all the saints, and especially with the great missionary and apostolic saints. Without compromising on error they esteemed and loved the erring persons. The more sincere a man's religious convictions, the greater is his virtue of tolerance toward those who differ with him. Tolerance must not be taken for indifference. Religious indifference makes one care little or nothing for what others believe. But that is not the virtue of tolerance. Religious tolerance means that although a person may be absolutely convinced that he has the truth, and is willing to die in its defense, he nevertheless, for the love of God, shows esteem and love for those whom he holds to be in error. God Himself gives us an example of this tolerance, since He allows the wheat and tares to grow side by side, and permits the sun to shine on just and sinners alike.

Christ was known to love sinners, yet no one thought that He condoned sin. The more religious one is the more resplendent is his religious toleration. The saints were the most tolerant of men. A saint will give his life to bring the truth into the life of others, but, like Christ, his Master and Model, he will be all goodness and kindness to those who err. It is only a small mind that is intolerant. Indeed intolerance brands one as narrow. Intolerant people are hated. They stand in their own way. Their power for doing good is shackled. Tolerant people are loved, and in the end accomplish most good. Tolerance, when practiced by those who have no religion, is a natural virtue, very beautiful and very admirable. When practiced as a supernatural virtue, that is for the love of God, who so loved us, it becomes a very meritorious act of religion. Very often intolerant people think they are virtuous when they are simply stubborn or narrow. It is easy to be intolerant, difficult to be tolerant. Tolerance implies patience, unselfishness, and due regard for the feelings and traditions of others.

By all means let us uphold truth and oppose error. But let us also leave the individual conscience to the judgment of God. That is what Christ did. That is what we must do if we would be His true followers.
Excerpts from:
Things Catholics Are Asked About
by Martin J Scott, S.J.

I have been reading from a series of books by Fr. Scott recently - (as well as several other books). This particular one is titled "The Hand of God, A Theology for the People", from 1918, had an article on intolerance which was very good and I was lucky enough to find a similar online version from a different book written by Fr. Scott.

The link to the complete chapter is here.

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