Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 3, Chapter 28

Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 3, Chapter 28

CHAPTER XXVIII. Of Hasty Judgments.

JUDGE not, and ye shall not be judged,” said the Saviour of our souls;
“condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned:” [134] and the Apostle S.
Paul, “Judge nothing 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 hearts.” [135] Of a truth, hasty judgments
are most displeasing to God, and men’s judgments are hasty, because we
are not judges one of another, and by judging we usurp our Lord’s own
office. Man’s judgment is hasty, because the chief malice of sin lies
in the intention and counsel of the heart, which is shrouded in
darkness to us. Moreover, man’s judgments are hasty, because each one
has enough to do in judging himself, without undertaking to judge his
neighbour. If we would not be judged, it behoves us alike not to judge
others, and to judge ourselves. Our Lord forbids the one, His Apostle
enjoins the other, saying, “If we would judge ourselves, we should not
be judged.” [136] But alas! for the most part we precisely reverse
these precepts, judging our neighbour, which is forbidden on all sides,
while rarely judging ourselves, as we are told to do.

We must proceed to rectify rash judgments, according to their cause.
Some hearts there are so bitter and harsh by nature, that everything
turns bitter under their touch; men who, in the Prophet’s words, “turn
judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth.” [137]
Such as these greatly need to be dealt with by some wise spiritual
physician, for this bitterness being natural to them, it is hard to
conquer; and although it be rather an imperfection than a sin, still it
is very dangerous, because it gives rise to and fosters rash judgments
and slander within the heart. Others there are who are guilty of rash
judgments less out of a bitter spirit than from pride, supposing to
exalt their own credit by disparaging that of others. These are
self-sufficient, presumptuous people, who stand so high in their own
conceit that they despise all else as mean and worthless. It was the
foolish Pharisee who said, “I am not as other men are.” [138] Others,
again, have not quite such overt pride, but rather a lurking little
satisfaction in beholding what is wrong in others, in order to
appreciate more fully what they believe to be their own superiority.
This satisfaction is so well concealed, so nearly imperceptible, that
it requires a clear sight to discover it, and those who experience it
need that it be pointed out to them. Some there are who seek to excuse
and justify themselves to their own conscience, by assuming readily
that others are guilty of the same faults, or as great ones, vainly
imagining that the sin becomes less culpable when shared by many.
Others, again, give way to rash judgments merely because they take
pleasure in a philosophic analysis and dissection of their neighbours’
characters; and if by ill luck they chance now and then to be right,
their presumption and love of criticism strengthens almost incurably.

Then there are people whose judgment is solely formed by inclination;
who always think well of those they like, and ill of those they
dislike. To this, however, there is one rare exception, which
nevertheless we do sometimes meet, when an excessive love provokes a
false judgment concerning its object; the hideous result of a diseased,
faulty, restless affection, which is in fact jealousy; an evil passion
capable, as everybody knows, of condemning others of perfidy and
adultery upon the most trivial and fanciful ground. In like manner,
fear, ambition, and other moral infirmities often tend largely to
produce suspicion and rash judgments.

What remedy can we apply? They who drink the juice of the Ethiopian
herb Ophiusa imagine that they see serpents and horrors everywhere; and
those who drink deep of pride, envy, ambition, hatred, will see harm
and shame in every one they look upon. The first can only be cured by
drinking palm wine, and so I say of these latter,–Drink freely of the
sacred wine of love, and it will cure you of the evil tempers which
lead you to these perverse judgments. So far from seeking out that
which is evil, Love dreads meeting with it, and when such meeting is
unavoidable, she shuts her eyes at the first symptom, and then in her
holy simplicity she questions whether it were not merely a fantastic
shadow which crossed her path rather than sin itself. Or if Love is
forced to recognise the fact, she turns aside hastily, and strives to
forget what she has seen. Of a truth, Love is the great healer of all
ills, and of this above the rest. Everything looks yellow to a man that
has the jaundice; and it is said that the only cure is through the
soles of the feet. Most assuredly the sin of rash judgments is a
spiritual jaundice, which makes everything look amiss to those who have
it; and he who would be cured of this malady must not be content with
applying remedies to his eyes or his intellect, he must attack it
through the affections, which are as the soul’s feet. If your
affections are warm and tender, your judgment will not be harsh; if
they are loving, your judgment will be the same. Holy Scripture offers
us three striking illustrations. Isaac, when in the Land of Gerar, gave
out that Rebecca was his sister, but when Abimelech saw their
familiarity, he at once concluded that she was his wife. [139] A
malicious mind would rather have supposed that there was some unlawful
connection between them, but Abimelech took the most charitable view of
the case that was possible. And so ought we always to judge our
neighbour as charitably as may be; and if his actions are many-sided,
we should accept the best. Again, when S. Joseph found that the Blessed
Virgin was with child, [140] knowing her to be pure and holy, he could
not believe that there was any sin in her, and he left all judgment to
God, although there was strong presumptive evidence on which to condemn
her. And the Holy Spirit speaks of S. Joseph as “a just man.” When a
just man cannot see any excuse for what is done by a person in whose
general worth he believes, he still refrains from judging him, and
leaves all to God’s Judgment. Again, our Crucified Saviour, while He
could not wholly ignore the sin of those who Crucified Him, yet made
what excuse He might for them, pleading their ignorance. [141] And so
when we cannot find any excuse for sin, let us at least claim what
compassion we may for it, and impute it to the least damaging motives
we can find, as ignorance or infirmity.

Are we never, then, to judge our neighbour? you ask. Never, my child.
It is God Who judges criminals brought before a court of law. He uses
magistrates to convey His sentence to us; they are His interpreters,
and have only to proclaim His law. If they go beyond this, and are led
by their own passions, then they do themselves judge, and for so doing
they will be judged. It is forbidden to all men alike, as men, to judge
one another.

We do not necessarily judge because we see or are conscious of
something wrong. Rash judgment always presupposes something that is not
clear, in spite of which we condemn another. It is not wrong to have
doubts concerning a neighbour, but we ought to be very watchful lest
even our doubts or suspicions be rash and hasty. A malicious person
seeing Jacob kiss Rachel at the well-side, [142] or Rebecca accepting
jewels from Eleazer, [143] a stranger, might have suspected them of
levity, though falsely and unreasonably. If an action is in itself
indifferent, it is a rash suspicion to imagine that it means evil,
unless there is strong circumstantial evidence to prove such to be the
case. And it is a rash judgment when we draw condemnatory inferences
from an action which may be blameless.

Those who keep careful watch over their conscience are not often liable
to form rash judgments, for just as when the clouds lower the bees make
for the shelter of their hive, so really good people shrink back into
themselves, and refuse to be mixed up with the clouds and fogs of their
neighbour’s questionable doings, and rather than meddle with others,
they consecrate their energies on their own improvement and good

No surer sign of an unprofitable life than when people give way to
censoriousness and inquisitiveness into the lives of other men. Of
course exception must be made as to those who are responsible for
others, whether in family or public life;–to all such it becomes a
matter of conscience to watch over the conduct of their fellows. Let
them fulfil their duty lovingly, and let them also give heed to
restrain themselves within the bounds of that duty.

[134] S. Luke vi. 37.

[135] 1 Cor. iv. 5.

[136] 1 Cor. xi. 31.

[137] Amos v. 7.

[138] S. Luke xviii. 11.

[139] Gen. xxvi.

[140] S. Matt. i.

[141] S. Luke xxiii. 34.

[142] Gen. xxix. 11.

[143] Gen. xxiv. 22.