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Thursday, June 18, 2020

Bearing Wrongs Patiently: the sin of taking offence

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Bearing Wrongs Patiently: the sin of taking offence

To bear wrongs impatiently, to keep and nurture grudges, offences and scandals; the creation of the valiant victim

Yesterday I had the great joy of a brief but fruitful visit up to the monastery at Norcia for the Feast of Corpus Christi. Among the many treats was a little time spent chatting with my old friend, Br. Porter. Back in the day, when I lived in Norcia, this worthy would frequently invite me to sit a spell and chat in the monastery’s Portineria[1]. I would tell him about my day and he would give me useful instruction in the monastic way of thinking, among the most important principles of which was “Don’t complain.” Yesterday we were able to re-create those happy days, sitting outside the monks’ little portable Portineria, in the peace and loveliness of the mountain setting, birds chattering and the monastery’s dogs, Primus and Secundus, at our feet.


I mentioned that I was preparing an article: “It’s about how ‘taking offence’ is a sin.” As if it were so obvious as to be not even worth elaborating, Br. Porter said, “Well of course.” And we moved on.

But to the world outside the peace and moral orderliness of traditional monastic life the notion that we may morally take offence at something another person says or does is taken as every bit as obvious. Indeed, in the age of the internet it is regarded almost as a moral imperative and the odd practice of Christians of the past to simply forgive offences is not remembered even well enough to mock.

The questions, “Is it a sin to take offence?” and “Why is this cultural phenomenon a danger to souls?” took on new force at the start of this strange explosion of whirling mayhem, riots and violent demonstrations staged by the extreme left. Even worse, perhaps, were the bizarre spectacles of politicians, celebrities and various media parasites groveling, crying and kneeling in paroxysms of contrived guilt before the demands of the neo-Maoist left. And, as Winston Churchill could have told them, with each level of prostration the demands for more appeasement grow only more strident.

At this point, about two weeks after the death of George Floyd, the impression one gets from the news is of a western world LARPing the old post-apocalyptic movie Escape from New York, while carrying on a creditable impression of a mass Maoist “Struggle Session” for crimes against The Revolution.

Among the many things to lament about modern Catholicism is the memory-holing of the spiritual directives that were once commonly known – and preached about. The purpose of the Christian life was understood until recently to be the seeking of holiness and Christian perfection, especially in ways that would sharply diverge from the ways of the pagan or secular world. The great treasury of instruction on how to live as a Catholic, has simply been abandoned by the wayside. But it used to be talked about, and can today still be found if one knows where to look.

Taking Scandal – a hindrance to “all advance in the spiritual life”

The great spiritual writer and director, Fr. Frederick William Faber, the founder of the London Oratory, warned[2] of the dual temptation to be seen to be holy: “There are two spirits which effectually hinder all advance in the spiritual life, one is the spirit of taking scandal and the other is the fidgety desire to give edification.”

For these, he adds, “deny the five essential principles of the spiritual life, the law of charity which believes all things, the attention to self, the temper of concealment[3], the carelessness of men’s judgements[4] and the practice of the presence of God. In these five ways they destroy the interior life by a daily noxious infusion of mixed pusillanimity[5] and pride.”  - a better description of the moral danger of Catholic Twitter was perhaps never penned.archives icon

In his Spiritual Conferences[6] Fr. Faber enlarges on this theme. “To give scandal is a great fault, but to take scandal is a greater fault. It implies a greater amount of wrongness in ourselves, and it does a greater amount of mischief to others. Nothing gives scandal sooner than a quickness to take scandal.”

For those with the habit of doing this, Fr. Faber had some unusually sharp terms:

For I find great numbers of moderately good people who think it fine to take scandal. They regard it as a sort of evidence of their own goodness, and of their delicacy of conscience; while in reality it is only a proof either of their inordinate conceit or of their extreme stupidity.

Such persons, he continues, “seem frequently to feel and act as if their profession of piety involved some kind of official appointment to take scandal. It is their way of bearing testimony to God,” and that “It would show a blamable inertness in the spiritual life, if they did not take scandal. It is their business to take scandal. They think they suffer very much while they are taking scandal; whereas in truth they enjoy it amazingly. It is a pleasurable excitement which delightfully varies the monotony of devotion.”

On the contrary, he wrote:

My friend and fellow Remnant columnist, Fr. Paul McDonald helped to fill in some of the gaps. He wrote in response to my question that the popular habit of “taking offence” is a danger to souls because it “shows a great lack of faith in, or at least, submission to Divine Providence.”

As a habitual practice, becoming offended is a “very unmanly” sensitivity, and shows a failure to acknowledge our own sins – the saints, he said, “desired insults”. “We should thank God if we are insulted and offended after all that we have done to the Lord. We got away with a lot of other things, and were never caught,” Fr. Paul said.

Referring to Fr. Faber’s comment above on “taking scandal”, Father said it means “among other things, the sin of letting another’s sin – or presumed sin – be an excuse for our own sin. True scandal, in the theological sense is usually not accompanied by shock.”

The Saints knew humbly, with absolute certainty, that they were believers. But as for the rest, they thought of themselves as miserable, poor sinners. But that doesn’t fit into modern spiritualities.”

Turning to the leaders of the traditional Benedictine monastic life, Dom Paul Delatte, the student of Dom Prosper Gueranger, writes[7] about the section of the Rule of St. Benedict known as the Instruments of Good Works that includes the critical instructions, “To do no wrong to anyone, yea, to bear patiently wrong done to oneself. To love one’s enemies. Not to render cursing for cursing, but rather blessing. To bear persecution for justice’s sake.”

The great second abbot of Solesmes writes:

The subject is still charity towards our neighbour, but charity exercised under difficult circumstances, when our neighbour is a trial to us or even becomes our enemy and persecutor. There are cases where simple interior benevolence will not do, where charity must be backed by courage and magnanimity. Our Lord sometimes requires heroism. Not only must we never abandon serenity of mind or seek revenge; every Christian must have in his heart this divine disposition of returning good for evil. For children of God, to suffer persecution for justice’ sake is the highest happiness.”

These admonitions will have even more force when we remember that shortly after becoming Prior of the newly refounded St. Peter’s of Solesmes, the centre and source of the Benedictine revival, Dom Delatte was forced to abandon the abbey with the whole community in 1901 by the anticlerical Freemasons in power in France.

These instructions from St. Benedict, Dom Delatte writes, “put us on our guard against he ways of the world, which foment discord among men. These warn the monk to abstain from other ‘worldly actions’ which are incompatible with Christian dignity.”

St. Benedict singles out for special condemnation the spirit of murmuring, a spirit habitual with the idle and lazy; the cantankerous, critical and malicious spirit.[8]

These counsels are designed to fortify us against the secret pride that rises in us when we have done good or avoided evil. We must know to whom we should ultimately attribute the glory of our virtues and the shame of our faults. It is too common a tendency to assume responsibility for the good alone and to give the glory of it to oneself.”

Murmuring is a deadly contagion in a monastic community, but its danger is not confined to the monastic life. In his section on the true nature of religious obedience, Dom Delatte later quotes St. Paul to the Corinthians: “Everyone as he hath determined in his heart, not with sadness or of necessity, for God loveth a cheerful giver.”

Dom Delatte continues, “If your heart is bitter and angry… if there escape you words of protest or merely secret murmurings, your sacrifice is there without doubt. But God does not accept such mere material sacrifices. In the Old Testament they were hateful to Him. He wants the offering of a good will, and it is to such that His eyes are turned.”

The cure: littleness, self awareness & examination of conscience

As always in the spiritual life, the cure is implied by the disease. The habit of taking scandal or offence, Fr. Faber warns, implies the very worst kind of pride, “a pride which believes itself to be humility” and can fool even a spiritually minded person. “Pride is hard enough to manage even when we are conscious of it; but a pride which has no self-consciousness is a very desperate thing.”

So, the obvious remedy is self-awareness, specifically an awareness of our own littleness of heart, especially in comparison to God, and a sincere examination of conscience. “If we pay attention to ourselves we shall find that contemporaneously with the scandal we have taken, there has been some wounded feeling or other in an excited state within us. When we are in good humour we do not take scandal,” Fr. Faber writes.

Fr. McDonald suggests a kind of litany of questions to ask ourselves, “Who are we to be offended? Did we create that other person out of nothing and do we sustain him in existence? Did we die on the Cross for him? Do we pour benefits into him, indeed give him existence moment by moment? Are we infinitely perfect and holy compared to our neighbour? Does he owe me absolute loyalty, obedience and love?”

He says flatly that “it is a sin to take offense” and this for a number of reasons. It is a “rash judgement,” presuming clear knowledge of the person’s intent.

And what if the person is right?

What if the person who supposedly insulted me meant to administer a charitable if harsh correction? If I perceive it as an insult I suppose that it is false. But maybe it is true and I will miss the chance of a real and valuable correction. ‘Is [that person] become [my] enemy because [he] tells me the truth?’ Galatians 4:16.

And if I don’t deserve an insult?

Christ absolutely, infinitely did not deserve an insult. The Immaculate Virgin absolutely did not deserve and insult. The Most Holy Trinity is offended, that is, insulted by every sin. Of course I deserve insults! I deserve the eternal fires of Hell, but the Lord has rescued me from them, preserved me from them up to this very point,” Fr. McDonald concludes.


[1] The section of the monks’ shop furnished with inviting benches where one could hang out, eat a sandwich, greet and shoot the breeze with monks and other local passers-by.

[2] Faber. “Growth in Holiness or the Progress of the Spiritual Life.” John Murphy co. Baltimore. 1855. p. 216

[3] a habit of keeping one’s opinions about other people’s sins to oneself and one’s spiritual life private: “Let your left hand not know what your right hand is doing.” “Trumpet not your good works before men...” “Keep your fasting secret...” “Go into your private room…” etc.

[4] or as we would say today, “not caring about the opinions of others”

[5] lack of courage or determination; timidity

[6] Forgotten Books. print-on-demand Classic Reprint. Originally published London, 1859

[7] “The Rule of St. Benedict; a commentary,” Reprinted by Wipf and Stock. 2000

[8] I take it back. This is the most apt description of Catholic Twitter ever penned.

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Last modified on Friday, June 19, 2020
Hilary White

Our Italy correspondent is known throughout the English-speaking world as a champion of family and cultural issues. First introduced by our allies and friends at the incomparable, Miss White lives in Norcia, Italy.