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Walter Hilton on hating the sin, not the sinner June 20, 2012

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Basics, Dallas Diocese, Domestic Church, General Catholic, Interior Life, Latin Mass, North Deanery, religious, Tradition, Virtue.

Walter Hilton was a 14th century English monk and sometime hermit.  He wrote a book on the spiritual life, The Ladder (or Scale) of Perfection.  I’ve been reading through an early 19th century translation of it, and it’s a bit of a bear, because of the rather antiquated English used.  But, I found this section worthwhile, and a very good reminder for me, because I have a temper I despise that just loves to flare up.  And having a bad temper is a very bad thing for the spiritual life, as it shows lack of temperance and excessive self-love.  Hilton:

The branches of the sins of envy and wrath are these: Hared, evil suspicion, false and rash or unskillful judging, melancholy, risings of the heart against them, despising, unkindness, and back-biting, or other ill-speakign of them, misliking, unskillful or causeless blaming of them, misconstruing their words or deeds, anguish and heaviness against those those that despise us, or speak any evil of us, or speak against us, a joy or gladness at their pain, a selfness or bitterness against sinful men and others that will not do as we think they should do, with great desire and eagerness of heart (under color of charity and justice), that they were well punished and chastised for their sin. 

Such motions and stirrings as these seem good; nevertheless, if thou ransack it well, thou shalt find it more fleshly and sensual sometimes against the person than spiritual against the sin; for thou shouldst love the man, be he never so sinful, and hate the sin in every man whatever he be. Many are beguiled in this, for they set the bitter instead of the sweet and take darkness instead of light, contrary to the prophet, saying: “Wo to you who call evil good, and good evil; putting darkness for light, and light for darkness; putting bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. (Is 5)” Thus do all they who, when they should hate the sin of their neighbor and love his person, hate the person instead of the sin, and imagine that they hate the sin. Wherefore it is a special craft and art by itself whoso can do it well.

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I find it interesting that “love the sinner, hate the sin” has been around in Catholic spirituality for at least 600+ years!  There is truly nothing new under the sun.

Having said that, this is an easy error to fall into.  It’s easy to feel that one is hating the sin, when, deep inside, the hatred has transmogrified into hatred of the person.  Hilton goes on at length about means and methods by which one can avoid this error.  For one, we must all strive to practice the maximum possible charity for all our neighbors, even those who gravely offend or injure us.  If one feels passionately about an issue, it’s easy to come to demonize those who oppose you equally passionately.  I pray for the conversion of the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Kathleen Sebelius, and the myriad others who support the murder of babies, but it’s a bit of a trick to feel real charity in my heart for them.  I can’t say I’m fully successful at that, given the manifest evil they so stridently, cheerfully support (along with Pelosi’s constant butchery and misrepresentations of the Faith). 

But, we are called to love all, even our greatest enemies.  That is one aspect of assisting at the traditional Mass I have found incredibly valuable (and, perhaps even more so, going to confession at a traditional parish), is the constant reminder to pray for those who hate us.  Or, praying for the person who made you mad when  you were driving, when they cut you off and gave you the bird.  That’s a proof of at least some degree of charity.  It’s a very important thing to do on a constant basis, and it’s a reminder I haven’t heard often outside traditional parishes.

It’s something I really need to work on.

Julian of Norwich, anchoress, contemporary of Hilton

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