Thou shall not kill.


Be ye all of one mind . . . not rendering evil for evil.--I PETER iii. 8, 9. You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill. And whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment--MATT. v. 21, 32.

In this Gospel our Lord tells us that unless our justice abounds more than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, we shall not be saved. The Scribes and Pharisees were wholly occupied with external observances and the outward appearances of religion, caring little or nothing for the true virtue of the heart. The doctrine of Christ is quite the opposite. Our Lord tells us that we must not only refrain from the commission of such external acts of violence as murder, but we must also clear out of our hearts all anger and hatred of our neighbor; our internal sentiments, our thoughts, feelings and desires must be made to conform to our external appearance and outward show of virtue and religion.

I. The external sins forbidden by the fifth Commandment. 1. This precept prohibits the taking of human, and not of animal life, although cruelty to animals is also sinful. 2. It is only unjust homicide that is forbidden by this Commandment, for it is lawful to take human life in three cases: (a) in the time of war; (b) in punishing malefactors who have been lawfully condemned by the civil authorities (Rom. xiii. 4) ; (c) in necessary defense of one's life against an unjust aggressor. 3. He who willfully and unjustly takes away another's life, or contributes to such a deed, is guilty of murder, e.g., those who practice abortion. Likewise those who, through carelessness or neglect, cause another's death are guilty of homicide, and their sin is greater or less in proportion to the degree of their negligence, e.g., reckless drivers, engineers, etc. 4. Suicide is similarly forbidden by the fifth Commandment, because a man has no more right to kill himself than to kill his neighbor. For the same reason no one has the right to risk his life without necessity, nor seriously to injure or impair his health. It is further forbidden to shorten one's days by excessive eating and drinking, by refusing to take remedies or to make use of other ordinary means of preserving life and strength. Hence the immorality of Christian Science. 5. The unlawful taking of human life is a most grievous crime (I John iii. 15; Gen. iv. 10; ix. 6), because, (a) it is most injurious to man, robbing him of his greatest temporal possession, and often exposing him to eternal loss; (b) it is a crime against society which it thus unjustly deprives of its members, frequently substituting brute force for law and order; (c) it is an injury to God, for it usurps power that belongs to God alone (Deut. xxxii. 39; Gen. ix. 6). 6. The fifth Commandment furthermore prohibits, (a) fighting, i.e., all unjust encounters with others in which blows, wounds or bodily injuries are dealt; (b) quarrelings, i.e., unjust hostile contentions or disputes, or the sinful exchange of bitter and injurious words. As our Lord says in today's Gospel, these may be very grievous sins.

II. The internal sins forbidden by the fifth Commandment. 1. This precept prohibits, first of all, unlawful anger, which is a feeling of displeasure towards another with a desire of revenge. Anger is unlawful, (a) when it is directed against the offender rather than his offense, and makes us desire his injury and ruin; (b) when it leads to excessive punishment or gets beyond the control of the reason. 2. Anger is lawful, however, when it is directed against the offense rather than the offender, and seeks only the latter's correction, or reasonable redress (Eph. iv. 26; Luke xix. 45). 3. Unlawful anger is a capital sin, and is mortal when serious and deliberate. 4. When anger hardens into a fixed and abiding state of resentment, wishing another evil and rejoicing over his misfortunes, it becomes hatred--a mortal sin. Mere dislike of another's bad qualities without ill will towards him is not hatred, but should be controlled.

CONCLUSION. 1. Many persons nowadays are like the Pharisees. As long as they go to Mass and the Sacraments, and perform certain external acts of religion, they consider themselves good Catholics, despite the fact that they are full of all kinds of thoughts of dislike, hatred, and even murder against their neighbor. 2. We should avoid not only injurious actions, but also harmful words, thoughts and desires. 3. Let us imitate the mildness and gentleness of our Saviour in all we do and think, and try to carry out in our lives the counsels given by St. Peter in today's Epistle.

Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part III

THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT: Thou shalt not kill.--Exod. xx. 13.

The great happiness proposed to the peacemakers, of being called "the children of God," should prove a powerful incentive to the pastor to explain with care and accuracy the obligations imposed by this Commandment. No means more efficacious can be adopted to promote peace and harmony among mankind, than the proper explanation of this Commandment and its holy and due observance by all. Then might we hope that men, united in the strictest bonds of union, would live in perfect peace and concord.

The necessity of explaining this Commandment to the faithful is proved by two considerations. Immediately after the earth was overwhelmed in universal deluge, this was the first prohibition made by God to man: "I will require the blood of your lives," He said, "at the hand of every beast and at the hand of man."(1) In the next place, among the precepts of the Old Law expounded by our Lord, this Commandment was mentioned first by Him, as may be seen by consulting the Gospel of St. Matthew, where the Redeemer says: "It has been said thou shalt not kill," etc.(2)

The faithful, on their part, should hear with willing attention the explanation of this Commandment, since its observance procures the security of their own lives. These words, "Thou shalt not kill," emphatically forbid the shedding of human blood; and they should be heard by all with the same pleasure as if God, expressly naming each individual, were to prohibit injury to be offered him under a threat of the divine anger and the heaviest chastisements. As, then, the announcement of this Commandment must be heard with pleasure, so should its observance be to us a pleasing duty.


In its explanation our Lord Himself points out its twofold obligation: the one is prohibitory and forbids us to kill; the other is mandatory and commands us to cherish sentiments of charity, concord, and friendship towards our enemies, to have peace with all men, and finally, to endure with patience every inconvenience.



With regard to the prohibitory part of the Commandment, the pastor will first point out the exceptions to the law. In the first place, we are not prohibited to kill those animals which are intended to be the food of man. Since God intends that they should be eaten by man, it cannot be wrong to kill them. "When," says St. Augustine, "we hear the words 'thou shalt not kill,' we are not to understand the prohibition to extend to the fruits of the earth, which are insensible, nor to irrational animals, which form no part of the great society of mankind."(3)


Again, this prohibition does not apply to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally procure this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: "In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord."(4)


In like manner, the soldier is guiltless who, actuated not by motives of ambition or cruelty, but by a pure desire of serving the interests of his country, takes away the life of an enemy in a just war.(5)

Furthermore, there are on record instances of carnage executed by the special command of God Himself. The sons of Levi, who put to death so many thousands in one day, were guilty of no sin; when the slaughter had ceased, they were addressed by Moses in these words: "You have consecrated your hands this day to the Lord."(6)


Again, death caused, not by intent or design, but by accident, is not murder. "He that killed his neighbor ignorantly," says the book of Deuteronomy, "and who is proved to have had no hatred against him yesterday and the day before, but to have gone with him to the wood to hew wood, and in cutting down the tree the axe slipped out of his hand, and the iron slipping from the handle struck his friend and killed him, shall live."(7) Such accidental deaths, because inflicted without intent or design, involve no guilt whatever, and this is confirmed by the words of St. Augustine: "God forbid that what we do for a good and lawful end shall be imputed to us, if, contrary to our intention, evil thereby befall anyone." (8)

There are, however, two cases in which guilt attaches to accidental death. The first case is when death results from an unlawful act; when, for instance, a person kicks or strikes a woman in a state of pregnancy, and abortion follows. The consequence, it is true, may not have been intended, but this does not exculpate the offender, because the act of striking a pregnant woman is in itself unlawful. The other case is when death is caused by negligence, carelessness, or want of due precaution.


If a man kill another in self-defence, having used every means consistent with his own safety to avoid the infliction of death, he evidently does not violate this Commandment.


The above are the cases in which life may be taken without the guilt of murder; and with these exceptions the precept binds universally whether we consider the person who kills, the person killed, or the means used to kill.

As to the person who kills, the Commandment recognizes no exception whatever, be he rich or powerful, master or parent. All, without exception of person or distinction of rank, are forbidden to kill.

With regard to the person killed, the obligation of the law is equally extensive, embracing every human creature. There is no individual, however humble or lowly his condition, whose life is not shielded by this law.

It also forbids suicide. No man possesses such absolute jurisdiction over himself as to be at liberty to put himself to death. Hence we find that the Commandment does not say: "Thou shalt not kill another," but simply: "Thou shalt not kill."

Finally, if we consider the numerous means by which murder may be committed, the law admits of no exception. Not only does it forbid to take away the life of another by laying violent hands on him, by means of a sword, a stone, a stick, a halter, or by administering poison; but also strictly prohibits the accomplishment of the death of another by counsel, assistance, or any other means of co-operation.


The Jews, with singular dulness of apprehension, thought that to abstain from taking life with their own hands was enough to satisfy the obligation imposed by this Commandment. But the Christian, instructed in the interpretation of Jesus Christ, has learned that the precept is spiritual, and that it commands us not only to keep our hands unstained, but our hearts pure and undented; hence what the Jews regarded as quite sufficient, the Christian considers as only a partial compliance with the law. For the Gospel has taught that it is unlawful even to be angry with a brother: "But I say to you that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." 9 From these words it clearly follows that he who is angry with another is not free from sin, even though he conceals his resentment; that he who gives indication of his wrath sins grievously; and that he who does not hesitate to treat another with harshness, and to utter contumelious reproaches against him, sins still more grievously.(10)

This, however, is to be understood of cases in which no just cause of anger exists. God and His laws permit us to be angry when we chastise the faults of those who are subject to us. For the anger of a Christian should spring from the Holy Spirit and not from the impulse of passion, seeing that we are called to be the temples of the Holy Ghost, in which Jesus Christ may dwell.(11)

Our Lord has left us many other lessons of instruction with regard to the perfect observance of this law, such as "Not to resist evil; but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other. And if a man will contend with thee in judgment, and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him; I and whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him two."(12)


From what has been said, it is easy to see how inclined man is to those sins which are prohibited by this Commandment, and how many are guilty of murder, if not in fact, at least in desire. As, then, the Sacred Scriptures prescribe remedies for so dangerous a disease, the pastor should spare no pains in making them known to the faithful.

Of these remedies the most efficacious is to form a just conception of the wickedness of murder. The enormity of this sin is manifest from many and weighty passages of Holy Scripture. So much does God abominate homicide that He declares that of the very beast of the field He will exact vengeance for the life of man, commanding the beast that injures man to be put to death.(13) And if the Almighty commanded man to abstain from the use of blood, he did so for no other reason than to impress on his mind the obligation of entirely refraining, both in act and desire, from the enormity of homicide.

The murderer is the worst enemy of his species, and consequently of nature. To the utmost of his power, he destroys the universal work of God by the destruction of man, since God declares that He created all things for man's sake. Nay, as it is forbidden in Genesis to take human life, because God created man to His own image and likeness, he who destroys God's image offers great injury to God, and almost seems to lay violent hands on God Himself! David, thinking of this with a mind divinely illumined, complained bitterly of the bloodthirsty in these words: "Their feet are swift to shed blood."(14) He does not simply say, "they kill," but, "they shed blood," words which serve to mark the enormity of that execrable crime and to denote the barbarous cruelty of the murderer. With a view also to describe in particular how the murderer is precipitated by the impulse of the devil into the commission of such an enormity, he says: "Their feet are swift."

Canon Law 2350

Excommunications reserved to the Ordinary are incurred by: whoever procures an abortion, if effect has taken place. Anyone may incur the penalty as an accomplice.

Pope Pius XI (Encyclical Letter on Christian Marriage 1931)

But another very grave crime is to be noted, Venerable Brethren, which regards the taking of the life of the offspring hidden in the mother's womb. Some wish it to be allowed and left to the will of the father or the mother; others say it is unlawful unless there are weighty reasons which they call by the name of medical, social, or eugenic "indication." Because this matter falls under the penal laws of the state by which the destruction of the offspring begotten but unborn is forbidden, these people demand that the "indication," which in one form or another they defend, be recognized as such by the public law and in no way penalized. There are those, moreover, who ask that the public authorities provide aid for these death-dealing operations, a thing, which, sad to say, everyone knows is of very frequent occurrence in some places.

As to the "medical and therapeutic indication" to which, using their own words, we have made reference, Venerable Brethren, however much we may pity the mother whose health and even life is gravely imperiled in the performance of the duty allotted to her by nature, nevertheless what could ever be a sufficient reason for excusing in any way the direct murder of the innocent? This is precisely what we are dealing with here. Whether inflicted upon the mother or upon the child, it is against the precept of God and the law of nature: "Thou shalt not kill." The life of each is equally sacred, and no one has the power, not even the public authority, to destroy it. It is of no use to appeal to the right of taking away life for here it is a question of the innocent, whereas that right has regard only to the guilty; nor is there here question of defense by bloodshed against an unjust aggressor (for who would call an innocent child an unjust aggressor?); again there is no question here of what is called the "law of extreme necessity" which could even extend to the direct killing of the innocent. Upright and skilful doctors strive most praiseworthily to guard and preserve the lives of both mother and child; on the contrary, those show themselves most unworthy of the noble medical profession who encompass the death of one or the other, through a pretence at practising medicine or through motives of misguided pity.

St. Basil (329-379)

She who has intentionally destroyed [the fetus] is subject to the penalty corresponding to a homicide. For us, there is no scrutinizing between the formed and unformed [fetus]; here truly justice is made not only for the unborn but also with reference to the person who is attentive only to himself/herself since so many women generally die for this very reason.

Let her that procures abortion undergo ten years' penance, whether the embryo were perfectly formed, or not.

...those who give the abortifacients and those who take the poisons are guilty of homicide.

St. John Chrysostom (347-407)

Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? Where there are many efforts at abortion? where there is murder before the birth? For even the harlot thou dost not let continue a mere harlot, but makest her a murderer also. You see how drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevents its being born. Why then dost thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter? For with a view to drawing more money by being agreeable and an object of longing to her lovers, even this she is not backward to do, so heaping upon thy head a great pile of fire. For even if the daring deed be hers, yet the causing of it is Thine. Hence too come idolatries, since many, with a view to become acceptable, devise incantations, and libations, and love potions, and countless other plans. Yet still after such great unseemliness, after slaughters, after idolatries, the thing [fornication] seems to belong to things indifferent, aye, and to many that have wives, too.

St. Jerome (347-420)

You may see many women widows before wedded, who try to conceal their miserable fall by a lying garb. Unless they are betrayed by swelling wombs or by the crying of their infants, they walk abroad with tripping feet and heads in the air. Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when (as often happens) they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder.

St. Caesarius (470-543)

No woman should take drugs for purposes of abortion, nor should she kill her children that have been conceived or are already born. If anyone does this, she should know that before Christ's tribunal she will have to plead her case in the presence of those she has killed. Moreover, women should not take diabolical draughts (drinks) with the purpose of not being able to conceive children. A woman who does this ought to realize that she will be guilty of as many murders as the number of children she might have borne.

Tertullian (160-240)

Thus, you read the word of God, spoken to Jeremias: "Before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee." If God forms us in the womb, He also breathes on us as He did in the beginning: "And God formed man and breathed into him the breath of life." Nor could God have known man in the womb unless he were a whole man. "And before thou camest forth from the womb, I sanctified thee." Was it, then, a dead body at that stage? Surely it was not, for "God is the God of the living and not the dead."

How are they dead unless they were first alive? But still in the womb an infant by necessary cruelty is killed when lying twisted at the womb's mouth he prevents birth and is a matricide unless he dies. Therefore there is among the arms of physicians an instrument by which with a rotary movement the genital parts are first opened, then with a cervical instrument the interior members are slaughtered with careful judgment by a blunt barb, so that the whole criminal deed is extracted with a violent delivery. There is also the bronze needle by which the throat - cutting is carried out by a robbery in the dark; this instrument is called and embryo knife from its function of infanticide, as it is deadly for the living infant.

In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the foetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man - killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in the seed.

Sins against the Fifth Commandment

Murder, Suicide, Self Mutilation, Vasectomy, Hysterectomy (always mortally sinful if done to prevent offspring), Euthanasia (Mercy Killing of the sick and incurable), Abortion, Cruelty to Animals, Unjust Wars, Wife and Child Abuse, Unjust Anger, and Hatred.

Sermons: The Fifth Commandment
by the very Rev. Bede Jarret, O.P.


It is surely with careful paradox that our Lord bade His disciples have more justice than those whose very trade was justice. He chooses His words deliberately, and commands us to live the law better than they who are the men of the law. A lawyer is too much acquainted with law, its ins and outs, its anomalies, its narrowness and curious elasticity, its inability at times to touch the real criminal, and its having to be content with his catspaw, the methods of evading and eluding it and escaping its machinery, he is too much acquainted with its turns and shifts not to be tempted at times to live by its letter as against its spirit. This result of professionalism is not merely the danger of the lawyer, for to the priest no less it is an ever present menace. He knows only too well that, when he is answering the questions of others as to what is lawful, he may be giving himself also a lower standard than what is expedient. A man may be allowed to do one thing, and yet it may be better for him, finer, to do another. A priest has so frequently to acknowledge to his questioners that some particular course is allowable, that he may end by counseling it to himself. It is the menace of all professionalism to hold to literal interpretation, by petty and narrow traditions, and to miss the real spirit, wide and alive. Just as our Lord found it and denounced it in His own time. The story of the Good Samaritan- was a parable to show how the priest and levite obeyed the letter but not the spirit of the law; the Pharisee was shown repeatedly how actually in adopting some traditions he was violating others; the scribe or lawyer is here told that his law is often no real law and his justice is blind justice, prejudiced, narrow, one-sided, unfair.


Our Lord takes as His instance of this the fifth Commandment: Thou shalt not kill. Now it evidently was the custom of the scribes to leave the matter there and to hold rigorously by the literal reading of the law, to forbid all killing indeed, but to make it the sole thing forbidden. They forbade the act, but did not forbid those things that led up to the act; viz., the sins of speech, of thought, the quick judgments, the angry words. When, therefore, we consider the fifth Commandment we have to take as our first set of sins forbidden (1) sins of thought. We can, as we know, be uncharitable in thought. We can be quick to form judgments without sufficient evidence, to determine who is responsible for something wrong which has been done, to accuse people to ourselves or others on mere suspicion, to see or hear of something wrongly done and know who has done it and to attribute to him some evil motive. We can be perfectly justified always in denouncing things ill done, but not in being able to say the motive that possessed the man who did it. Sometimes it has happened that we have done things we found afterwards to be wrong, but have done them in good faith for a good motive. What we have done, certainly others can do. We can judge deeds, but not men, their works, but not their guilt, for it is the motive, not the action, that determines the moral value of anything done, and this motive must always elude us. (2) Sins of word are committed when in our anger we bandy accusations about, calling men names to stir up in turn their anger. "Big words break no bones," says the proverb; but they break the peace, and break men's hearts. It is not sufficient to forbid killing; one must first prevent oneself from uttering an angry word. There have been "pacifists" who denounced war and yet let themselves be unbridled in their accusations of corruption, of evil and unworthy motives, against men in high places: "unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and pharisees, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." (3) Sins in deed are acts of violence done in unrighteous anger that physically affect our neighbor directly or indirectly. By this then, murder, mutilation, injuries, damage to property or life, are forbidden: except they be done by public authority for grave and just reasons. The Church allows that capital punishment is lawful: but the crime must be gravely harmful to the common weal to warrant it, and even then it is not always expedient. Expedience depends on times, tempers, hanging manners, the proved value of it as a deterrent, etc.


Self-murder and mutilation, directly and deliberately intended, are also comprehended under the heading of the fifth Commandment: but war is not necessarily included. War is simply a particular form of the employment of physical force by public authority. Physical force is certainly permitted to the state for the restraint of the guilty and the defense of the innocent. The "policeman" has always been recognized by the Church of Christ, though society would be in a better state if he could be successfully dispensed with. To restrain the guilty is certainly allowed to a third party, even though the victim himself follow the precept of Christ and turn the other cheek. If I see a child brutally struck, I can threaten force to prevent a repetition of the blow, and follow threats by active interference. That is the principle applied by nations to war. A people has the right to threaten injustice with physical restraints and to back up these threats with physical force. But since war carries in its train so many dreadful evils, it should never be lightly entered into. It cannot, of course, be used for purposes of aggression, it must only be in defense of justice. Moreover, the conditions laid down by the Church are three- fold: (a) the purpose must be very grave, (b) all other means of settlement must have been honestly tried, (c) there must be every reasonable hope of success, so that the evils that follow shall not outweigh the good. These conditions apply equally to civil war and to wars of liberation. In all these matters, whether of war or punishment, it is the public authority alone that can move.

Sermon: The Sin of Anger
by the Right Rev. H.T. Henry, Litt. D.

Whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment-- MATT. V. 22.

That wondrous brotherhood which Christ had founded--a brotherhood derived from the fact that we all are, through Christ, sons of the one Heavenly Father, and coheirs with Christ of the Kingdom of God, obliges us to be merciful to those who offend us, not to render evil for evil, insult for insult, but, on the contrary, blessing for insult or injury; to seek peace and pursue it, doing always the works that indicate peace in the heart.

Now the great enemy of this Christian peace and mutual love is the sin of anger; and it is not surprising that we should find our Saviour severely denouncing that sin. How gentle He was to the sins and frailties of mankind; and yet He uttered terrible threats against those who offend against their neighbors by anger, insult, contumely. Why is this? Simply because the New Law brought to earth by Christ was a law of love. We know that the First Commandment of that Law is that we must love God with our whole heart, with our whole soul, with all our mind and strength; and we know that the second, the lesser Commandment, is that we must love our neighbor with a love like that which we have for ourself. At first, as we read the pages of the Gospels, it may appear strange to us that Christ should seem almost to forget the great First Commandment, in His engrossing eagerness to insist on the Second Commandment of that Law--that we must love our neighbor. And yet it is not strange; and St. Paul understood spiritual things clearly when he uttered the grand thought, that "whosoever loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the Law!"

And who is my neighbor? In the parable of the Good Samaritan, our Saviour shows us that the word "neighbor" includes all men, even those who are alien to us in nationality, in creed, in politics, in business, in social life. He Himself gives us the finishing touch to the wonderful picture of love, by praying on the Cross for those who had nailed Him to it. Indeed, the whole human race was His enemy by the fall of the first parent, and yet Divine Love sought out that enemy and died for its salvation.


Since our Lord has denounced so severely the sin of anger, it is necessary for us to know what it is and what it is not.

Anger is an affection or sentiment of our nature, and, like the sentiment of love, may be turned either to good or to bad ends, in proportion as we subject it to reason, or allow it to go beyond the bounds of reasonable activity. Thus, for instance, we should love our children, but we should not allow our love for them to blind us to their faults, or to relieve them from the punishment which is necessary to train our children aright. So we should be angry at injustice, we should be indignant at outrage, but we must not allow our anger to go to undue lengths. There is, then, an anger which is proper and reasonable, for it stimulates us to resist injustice, to perform our duty in correcting those who are placed under our jurisdiction, to arouse public sentiment against public dishonor, to defend our civil rights, to preserve our native land from the ravages of a foreign foe or a domestic enemy. It is proper for us to reflect on this fact, because some parents may neglect to correct the faults of their children, some citizens may regard with indifference the scandals or municipal extravagances which it is their duty to protest against, and these parents or citizens may consider themselves models of meekness when, in fact, they are merely examples of torpidity and lazy-mindedness. It is quite easy, in the modern vulgar phrase, to "go along" with civic corruption, to tolerate low standards of commercial life, to condone or even to abet the insolence of our children towards those not of our own household. But it requires the stimulus of a just anger to make our reproofs of all these faults properly, felt by the offenders. Let us not, brethren, confound laziness and slothfulness and unwillingness to give offence with the sublime virtue of meekness.

To understand all this more clearly and vividly, we may consider some appropriate scriptural examples. We know that our Saviour was a perfect model of meekness. We know that, infinite God though He was, He nevertheless emptied Himself of His Majesty, He forgot the veneration due to His awful sacredness, in order that He might show us how to walk in His footsteps, how to be, like Him, meek and humble of heart. We know that, when the time He had appointed for His great Sacrifice came at length, "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and was dumb as a lamb before the shearer." Yet it was this same Divine Lord who gave us an example of just indignation when, entering the synagogue on a certain Sabbath day, He saw a man with a withered hand, and in mercy determined to heal the cripple. And the crowd "watched Him," says St. Mark (iii. 2-5), "whether He would heal on the Sabbath day, that they might accuse Him." And He said to the man who had the withered hand: "Stand up in the midst. And He said to them: Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath day, or to do evil? to save life or to destroy? But they held their peace." Thus St. Mark describes with dramatic brevity and vividness, the sullen, suspicious, unfriendly attitude of the enemies of Christ. They should have fallen at His divine feet in adoration, but they are watching how they may accuse Him. And our Lord, says the Evangelist, "looking round about on them with anger, being grieved for the blindness of their hearts," cured the cripple, even on the Sabbath day. Our Lord was indignant that they should have taken occasion of an act of mercy towards a suffering fellowman, to seek how they might accuse the Great Physician.

But perhaps a still more striking example of His splendid indignation was given when, entering the Temple at Jerusalem, He found that His Father's House, which should be only a house of prayer, had been turned, by a certain portion of the Jewish population, into what He so terribly described as a "den of thieves." We know how the glowing indignation that shone from His face so cowed the money-changers in the Temple, that they offered no resistance as, with a whip of knotted cords, He drove them from the Temple and overthrew their tables.

Another example of indignation--and this time against a personal affront--is found in the case of St. Paul, that man amongst men, when he stood accused before the council of the Jews. With great dignity he offered his defense: "Men, brethren," he said, "I have conversed with all good conscience before God, until this present day." Surely this was a proper statement to make. But, with cruel injustice, the high-priest Ananias "commanded them that stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him: God shall strike thee, thou whited wall. For sittest thou to judge me according to the law, and contrary to the law commandest me to be struck? And they that stood by said: Dost thou revile the high-priest of God? And Paul said: I knew not, brethren, that he is the high-priest. For it is written: Thou shalt not speak evil of the prince of thy people" (Acts xxiii. 1-5). What a fine lesson this is of righteous indignation at the cruel injustice shown to a prisoner by a judge, and at the same time of a proper apology offered for his ignorance that the judge was also a high-priest of the Jewish religion! To a judge, St. Paul's answer was just; but to a high-priest, it lacked the respect which the law commanded should be shown to a prince of the Jewish people. St. Paul was ignorant of the personality of the judge, and, on learning it, made proper amends. His indignation was perfectly under the control of his reason.

These illustrations show us that there are times when we may be justly angry; for instance, when the honor of God is assailed, as by the money-changers in the Temple; or when the just interests of our neighbor are at stake, as in the case of the cripple; or when a personal injustice is done to us, as in the case of St. Paul before the council of the Jews.

In what, then, does the sin of anger consist? It consists in an inordinate desire of revenge, and is found when our anger seeks an object that did not give the offence, or visits the offender with an undue retribution, or inflames our souls immoderately, or breaks out into clamors, gestures, opprobrious epithets, cutting speeches, and other signs of an animal passion that has gone beyond the just bounds of reason.

With respect to the words of our Lord in today's Gospel, which apportion the same punishment to anger as to murder, it is only necessary to point to the fact that the law of God is here shown as reaching down to the intentions of the heart as well as to the outward actions of which men can judge. For it is true that the anger which seeks an outlet in murder or in some grave mutilation of an offender, or in some grave injury to his reputation or worldly possessions, is, like murder itself, a mortal sin. But I should think that this terrible sin of anger is very rare, indeed, amongst you, my brethren in Christ, if indeed it be found at all in a Christian who is giving even a slight care to his eternal salvation.

The anger to which most Christians are inclined, is an irritability arising from the many cares of modern life--cares of the household, of business details, of the hurry and bustle of life as it is lived today. It shows itself in impatient words and gestures, angry looks and heated words, and does not, as a rule, last long. Such anger is venial in its nature, and should not prevent us from approaching the Holy Table, although, of course, we should strive to conquer our impatience and govern our temper with greater care. However, parents, and, in general, those who are in authority, should especially strive to avoid unseemly anger, even where punishment should be meted out to an offender, lest scandal be given; for if we cannot govern ourselves, with what propriety shall we undertake to govern others? But most particularly we must avoid harsh and biting speeches and, of course, vulgar epithets. Neither must we brood over real or fancied grievances, as this will produce a more or less permanent feeling of resentment, with resulting coldness, lessening of fraternal charity, and sadness of heart.


How shall we guard ourselves against inordinate anger? First of all, our human reason will show us its danger in many ways. Physicians will echo the warning of Sacred Scripture, that "anger shorteneth a man's days." That turbulence of passion which draws the blood suddenly to the heart, and then sends it pulsing rapidly to the head, that nervous agitation that excites the whole physical frame, that clouding of the intelligence by heavy mists of feeling, can not be wholesome in respect of health. Reason will also open to us the pages of history, and show that inordinate anger is often responsible for the political murder of one nation by another, for the suicide of states rent by faction and anarchy, for the severing of family ties and the scattering of brethren who should have dwelt in unity. This terrible story of the ravages of immoderate anger is repeated again and again in the annals of our race. Perhaps the traditions handed down in your own family circle will offer some dark chapters of lamentable discord and division due to the long resentments born of anger. And then the current history of the world, reflected partially in the daily newspaper--what a loathsome recital we have there of the results of anger, in so many physical maimings, bloody encounters, so many divorces, so many murders and suicides! These lessons of history may even find some sort of repetition in our own experience, in the breaking of tender and old-time friendships, in plighted troths given to the wind, in many family quarrelings, in sullen resentments, in heart- burnings, perhaps even in hatreds! Finally, Revelation shows us how God looks upon this sin of anger; and terrible as are the natural results of its fury, still more dreadful are the punishments it will meet with in the supernatural order; for even a venial sin of anger merits great punishments from Almighty God, while the mortal sin of anger merits eternal hell.


While, as I have pointed out, the anger which ordinarily careful Christians may be guilty of is usually venial in its character, and should not prevent them from receiving Holy Communion frequently through any misapprehension as to its grade of sinfulness, still we should earnestly strive so to master our tendency towards immoderate anger, that we shall always be able to control it, even under great provocation. We should, therefore, cultivate the opposite virtue of meekness, which does not mean insensibility to irritation, or an easy-going disposition, but means positive strength of character, or the ability to suffer in patience that which may nevertheless move us powerfully to revenge. One interesting illustration of the strength of character implied in the virtue of meekness, is furnished by the life-history of the great opponent of the Turks in the fifteenth century, the illustrious Scanderbeg, King of Albania. In that century the Turks, under Mahomet II, again and again menaced the Christianity of Europe by wars of invasion and conquest. But again and again they were heroically repulsed by Scanderbeg with much smaller armies. One historian declares that "there appeared in Scanderbeg something almost above human nature; and it is certain that very few generals have been equal to him in firmness of mind, strength of body, heroic valor, and brilliant success. He gained twenty-two victories over the Ottomans, whilst they were in the height of their power and under the most terrible of their sultans. . . He not only displayed the intrepidity of a warrior, and the talents of a consummate general, but also practiced the social and Christian virtues in a high degree of perfection. Most historians represent him as the mildest of men; and yet, such was the struggle within him whenever he met with great opposition, that his lower lip would split and bleed; whence we may conclude that, as he was naturally much inclined to anger, his great mildness must have been the effect of a sublime virtue, and of an extraordinary violence which he offered to himself" (Fredet's "Modern History," 1877, p. 342). Meekness, then, does not mean weakness, but rather strength of character, and shines with the brightest luster in strong men and noble characters.

Humility, too, is a safeguard against anger, partly because much of our proneness to indignation arises from over-sensitiveness and too great self-appreciation, and partly because the humble of heart can recognize their own sinfulness and are not, therefore, over-exacting with respect to their neighbor.

A just recognition of the fact that inordinate anger is a shameful sign of our own weakness of will should be a powerful natural safeguard against anger. A truly strong man governs an unruly steed, and is not carried whithersoever that lower animal nature would carry the rider. And, indeed, which one of us, in regarding the raging anger of another, does not immediately perceive the dishonoring and indecent character of the exhibition poor human nature is making of itself? That ugly picture which you are looking at, is a mirror in which you may see clearly your own features in any outburst of immoderate anger.

The thought, too, that unrestrained anger may result in other most horrible sins--veritable murders, and grave sins of hatred, and horrible cursings, blasphemies, imprecations--this should make us fear the growth of anger in us and lead us to every precaution possible to avoid such a possible outcome of ungoverned passion.

Finally, there is the contemplation of our Divine Model, the God-Man, Christ Jesus, Who bids us learn of Him, Who is meek and humble of heart, how to suffer with patience the evils of our life, the offenses of our brethren, the misunderstandings of our friends, the guile and misrepresentation of our enemies. Remembering that we can do all things in Him Who strengtheneth us, let us make the constant companion of our hearts, the frequent prayer of our lips, that sweet aspiration to which Holy Church has attached an indulgence: "Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine!"

1. Gen. ix. 5.
2. Matt. v. 21.
3. De civit. Dei, lib. I. c. 20; de morib. Manich. lib. 2. c. 13-15.
4. Ps. c. 8; Aug., epist. 154; quoted in 23. q. 5. cap. de occidendis; epist 54; cited ibid. cap. non est iniquitatis; other chapters in the same place; St. Thomas, IIa. IIae. 64. a. 2; q. 106. a. 3.
5. Aug. de civit. Dei. c. 26; quoted in 23. q. 5. cap. miles; on war see also St. Thomas, IIa. IIa. q. 40, art. 4.
6. Exod. xxxii 29.
7. Deut. xix.
8. Epist. 154; quoted in 23. q. 5. c. de occidendis; see also many chapters in dist. 5; St. Thomas, IIa. IIae., q. 64. a. 8; C. of Trent, Sess. 14. de reform. c. 7.
9. Matt. v. 22. on anger see Basil., hom. 10; Chrysost., horn. 29. ad pop. Antioch; St. Thomas, IIa. IIae., quaest. 108 throughout.
10. Aug. de serm. Dom. in monte, lib. I; St. Thomas, IIa. IIae, q. 158. a. 3.
11. I Cor. vi. 19.
12. Matt. v. 39. See Aug., epist. 5. ad Mar.; de serm. Domini in monte, lib. 2. C. 20.
13. Gen. ix. 5, 6.
14. Psalm xiii. 3.

(Music: If you Love Me by Tomas Tallis (16th Century)
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