How and when we can judge others

December 23, 2021 • 4 min

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 88
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley

How, then, you will say, is it lawful to have judges and courts of justice, since man may not judge his neighbour? I will try to answer this objection in Blessed Francis’ own words:

But may we, then, under no circumstances judge our neighbour? Under no circumstances whatever—for in a court of justice it is God, Philothea, not man, who judges and pronounces sentence. It is true that He makes use of the voice of the magistrate, but only to render His own sentence audible to us. Earthly judges are His spokesmen and interpreters, nor ought they to decide anything but as they have learnt from Him of Whom they are the oracles. It is when they do otherwise, and follow the lead of their own passions, that they, and not God, judge, and that consequently they themselves will be judged. In fact, it is forbidden to men, as men, to judge others. This is why Scripture gives the name of gods [Psalm lxxxi. 1. 6.] to judges, because when judging they hold the place of God, and Moses for that reason is called the god of Pharaoh. [Exod. vii. 1.]

You ask if we are forbidden to entertain doubts about our neighbour when founded on good and strong reasons. I answer we are not so forbidden, because to suspend judgment is not to judge, but only to take a step towards it. We must, nevertheless, beware of being thereby hurried on to form a hasty judgment, for that is the rock on which so many make shipwreck; that is the flare of the torch in which so many thoughtless moths singe their tiny wings.

In order that we may avoid this danger he gives us an excellent maxim, one which is not only useful, but necessary to us. It is that, however many aspects an action may have, the one we should dwell upon should be that which is the best.

If it is impossible to excuse an action, we can at least modify our blame of it by excusing the intention, or we may lay the blame on the violence of the temptation, or impute it to ignorance, or to the being taken by surprise, or to human weakness, so as at least to try to lessen the scandal of it. If you are told that by doing this you are blessing the unrighteous and seeking excuses for sin, you may reply that without either praising or excusing his sin you can be merciful to the sinner.

You may add that judgment without mercy will be the lot of those who have no pity for the misfortunes or the infirmities of their brother, and who in him despise their own flesh. We all are brethren, all of one flesh. In fact, as says our Blessed Father, those who look well after their own consciences rarely fall into the sin of rash judgment. To judge rashly is proper to slothful souls, which, because they never busy themselves with their own concerns, have leisure to devote their energies to finding fault with others.

An ancient writer expresses this well. Men who are curious in their inquiries into the lives of others are mostly careless about correcting their own faults. The virtuous man is like the sky, of which the stars are, as it were, the eyes turned in upon itself.

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