Rash judgments

June 27, 2021 • 11 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 176
By St. Francis de Sales

Chapter XXVIII.

Rash judgments

“Judge not, and you shall not be judged,” says the Saviour of our souls; “condemn not, and you shall not be condemned” (Luke, vi. 37). “No,” says the holy apostle, “judge not before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart” (2 Cor. iv. 5). Oh, how displeasing are rash judgments to God!

The judgments of the children of men are rash, because they are not the judges of one another, and therefore usurp to themselves the office of our Lord.

They are rash, because the principal malice of sin depends on the intention of the heart, which is an impenetrable secret to us.

They are not only rash, but also impertinent, because everyone has enough to do to judge himself, without taking upon him to judge his neighbour.

In order that we may not be hereafter judged, it is equally necessary to refrain from judging others; and to be careful to judge ourselves. For, as our Lord forbids the one, so the apostle enjoins the other, saying, that “if we judge ourselves, we should not be judged.”

But, O good God! we do quite the contrary; for by judging our neighbour on every occasion we do that which is forbidden; and by not judging ourselves, we neglect to put into practice that which we are strictly commanded to do.

We must apply remedies against rash judgments, according to their different causes.

There are some hearts naturally so sour, bitter, and harsh, as to make everything bitter and sour that comes into them: “turning judgment,” as the prophet Amos says, into wormwood, by never judging their neighbour but with rigour and harshness. Such have great need to fall into the hands of a good spiritual physician; for this bitterness of heart being natural to them, it is hard to overcome it, and though it be not in itself a sin, but an imperfection, yet it is dangerous, because it introduces and causes rash judgment and detraction to remain in the soul.

Some judge rashly, not through harshness, but through pride, imagining that in the same proportion as they lower the honour of other men they raise their own. Arrogant and presumptuous spirits, who admire themselves so much and place themselves so high in their own esteem, look on all the rest of mankind as mean and abject. “I am not like the rest of men,” saith the foolish Pharisee (Luke, xviii. 11).

Others, who have not altogether this manifest pride, feel a certain satisfaction in thinking over the evil qualities of other men, in contradistinction to the good qualities wherewith they think themselves endowed. Now, this self-complacency is so imperceptible as not to be discovered even by those who are tainted with it.

Others, to excuse themselves to themselves and to assuage the remorse of their own conscience, very willingly judge others to be guilty of the same kind of vice to which they themselves are addicted, or some other as great; thinking that the multitude of offenders make the sin the less blamable.

Many take the liberty to judge others rashly, merely for the pleasure of delivering their opinion and conjectures on their manners and humours, by way of exercising their wit; and if, unhappily, they sometimes happen not to err in their judgment, their rashness increases to so violent an excess as to render it, in a manner, impossible ever to effect their cure.

Others judge through passion and prejudice, always thinking well of what they love, and ill of what they hate; excepting in one case only, not less wonderful than true, in which the excess of love incites them to pass an ill judgment on that which they love; and this is jealousy, through which, as everyone knows, one simple look, or the least smile may convict the beloved person of disloyalty or infidelity.

In fine, fear, ambition, and other such weaknesses of the mind frequently contribute towards the forming of suspicions and rash judgments.

But what is the remedy?

As they who drink the juice of the herb of Ethiopia, called ophiusa, imagine that they everywhere behold serpents and other frightful objects; so they who have swallowed pride, envy, ambition, and hatred, think everything they see evil and blamable.

The former, to be healed, must drink palm wine; and I say to the latter, drink as much as you can of the sacred wine of charity, and it will deliver you from those noxious humours that beget rash judgment.

As charity fears to meet evil, so she never goes to seek after it; but whenever it falls in her way, she turns her face aside and takes no notice. At the first alarm of evil she shuts her eyes, and afterwards believes, with an honest simplicity, that it was not evil, but only its shadow or apparition; and if she cannot help sometimes acknowledging it to be really evil, she presently turns from it, and endeavours to forget even its shadow.

Charity is the sovereign remedy against all evils, but especially this.

All things appear yellow to the eyes of those who are afflicted with the jaundice; and it is said that to cure them of this evil they must wear celandine under the soles of their feet.

The sin of rash judgment is, indeed, a spiritual jaundice, and makes all things appear evil to the eyes of such as are infected with it. He that desires to be cured of it must apply the remedies, not to his eyes, nor to his understanding, but to his affections, which are the feet of the soul. If your affections are mild, your judgment will be mild also; if your affections are charitable, your judgment will also be charitable.

I shall here present you with three admirable examples:

  1. Isaac had said that Rebecca was his sister; Abimelech saw him playing with her, that is to say, caressing her in a tender manner (Gen. xxvi. 8); and presently he judged she was his wife; a malicious eye would rather have judged her to have been his mistress. But Abimelech followed the most charitable opinion he could gather from such an action.

    We must always do the like, Philothea, ever judging, as much as possible, in favour of our neighbour; and if one action could bear a hundred faces, we should always look on that which is the fairest.

  2. Our Blessed Lady was with child (Matt. i. 9), and St. Joseph plainly perceived it; but, on the other hand, as he saw her quite holy, pure, and angelical, he could not believe she became pregnant in any unlawful way; he resolved, therefore, to leave her privately, and commit the judgment of her case to God; and though the argument was very strong to make him conceive an ill opinion of his Virgin Spouse, yet he would never judge her by it, and why? Because, says the spirit of God, he was a just man.

    A just man, when he can no longer excuse either the action or the intention of him that he sees otherwise to be virtuous, nevertheless will not judge him, but puts the remembrance of it out of his mind, and leaves the judgment to God.

  3. Thus, our Blessed Saviour on the cross (Luke, xxxi. 24), not being able altogether to excuse the sin of those that crucified Him, yet at least extenuated the malice of it by alleging their ignorance. When we cannot excuse the sin, let us at least render it deserving of compassion, attributing it to the most favourable cause, such as ignorance or weakness.

But may we never then judge our neighbour? No, verily, never.

It is God, O Philothea, that judges criminals in public justice. It is true He uses the voice of the magistrate to make himself intelligible to our ears; they are his interpreters, and ought to pronounce nothing but what they have learned of Him, as being his oracles; if they do otherwise, by following their own passions, then it is they indeed who judge, and who consequently shall be judged; for it is forbidden to men, as of men, to judge others.

To see or know a thing is not to judge it; for judgment, at least according to the phrase of the Scriptures, presupposes some difficulty, great or small, true or apparent, which is to be decided; wherefore they say: “That he who believeth not, is already judged” (John, iii. 1), because there is no doubt of his damnation. Is it not then evil to doubt of our neighbour? No, for we are not forbidden to doubt but to judge; however, it is not allowable either to doubt or suspect any farther than precisely so far as reason and argument may force us, otherwise our doubts and suspicions will be rash.

If some evil eye had seen Jacob when he kissed Rachel by the well, or had seen Rebecca receive bracelets and ear-rings from Eliezer, a man unknown in that country, he would no doubt have thought ill of these two patterns of chastity, but without reason or ground; for, when an action is of itself indifferent, it is a rash suspicion to draw an evil conclusion from if, unless many circumstances give strength to the argument. It is also a rash judgment to draw an inference from an action, in order to blame the person, but this I shall explain more clearly hereafter.

In fine, those who have tender consciences are not very subject to rash judgments; for, as the bees in misty or cloudy weather keep themselves close in their hives in order to arrange their honey, so the thoughts of good souls go not in search of objects that lie concealed amidst the cloudy actions of their neighbours; but, rather to avoid meeting them, they withdraw themselves into their own hearts, there to arrange and set in order good resolutions for their own amendment.

It is the part of a useless soul to amuse herself with examining into the lives of other men; I except spiritual directors, fathers of families, magistrates, &c., for a large portion of their duty consists in looking to or watching over the conduct of others; let them discharge that duty with love, and having done so, let them then keep themselves within themselves.

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