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Chapter 26: Modes of Christian Response

Question K: What mode of Christian response corresponds to the eighth Beatitude: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5.10)?

1. People whose primary love is charity love divine goodness above all else. Since divine goodness is incompatible with the destruction of anything, one who loves it will not be willing to destroy, damage, or impede any good, even to overcome evil, but will be prepared instead to undergo evil in order to bring the evildoer into touch with goodness without defect. Thus the eighth mode of Christian response is to do no evil that good might come of it, but suffer evil together with Jesus in cooperation with God’s redeeming love. This love will overcome all evil and achieve integral human fulfillment in the fulfillment of all things in Jesus. This way of acting—the Christian way of achieving success—is faith’s specification and charity’s transformation of the eighth mode of responsibility: One should not be moved by a stronger desire for one instance of an intelligible good to act for it by choosing to destroy, damage, or impede some other instance of an intelligible good.

In the fallen human condition, compromises seem essential if one is going to be at all effective in pursuing human goods and avoiding evils. If one refuses to do evil—for example, to kill—one seems to surrender not only oneself but all one’s dependents to being victimized by those who will not hesitate to do evil. The law of Israel had ambiguous implications for this dilemma (8‑H). On the one hand, it deepened a sense of the dignity of human persons and their goods, and it called in question confidence about human value judgments. But it seemed also to validate a conventional morality which authorized doing some evils.

Some people who are not self-sacrificing nevertheless condemn pragmatic craftiness and maintain that there are absolute standards of morality. How do they manage to develop such respect for human goods? In some cases the answer simply is that they condemn the craftiness of others, or the doing of evil for the sake of goods they consider inadequate. Thus diplomats of the liberal democracies reject the Machiavellianism of the Communists—and vice versa. Many people reject the use of craft in private affairs, but consider it justified in any sort of public or official matter. This position makes sense for those who are in power.

There are certain other instances in which moral norms are conceived of as having an absoluteness of their own, and observing them is thought of as being the sole human good. A position of this sort can demand that moral norms be obeyed regardless of consequences: Let right be done though the heavens fall! The trouble with this is that in absolutizing morality, it treats the substantive goods of human persons as of no ultimate consequence. Some Stoics, for example, held both the absoluteness of moral requirements and the acceptability of suicide. A position of this sort is a form of fanaticism; lacking humane concern for the substantive goods of the person, it violates authentic morality despite its noble moralism.

Christian revelation, accepted with living faith, transforms the understanding of human goods and the possibility of realizing them. Faith teaches that integral human fulfillment can be realized, despite evil, in the fulfillment of all things in Jesus. One must respond to evil with good; in doing so, one can live consistently with integral human fulfillment. Such a life will inevitably involve suffering evil, and one will have to forgo the immediate attainment of those goods and avoidance of those evils which cannot be attained or avoided without adopting bad means to good ends. However, one will accept the suffering of evil precisely in order to overcome it. The death and resurrection of Jesus show that this strategy is effective.

2. The virtuous disposition present in this mode of Christian response is self-oblation, the offering of oneself to God as a living sacrifice. The opposite disposition is the fragile rectitude of the person who does not wish to sin but seeks fulfillment in this world. Such a person might consistently respect all the other modes of responsibility, but sooner or later will be tempted to violate the eighth one. At this point one either accepts a share in Jesus’ self-oblation or separates oneself from him by irreverently violating a human good.

3. Christian self-oblation is not self-destruction; it aims at true human self-fulfillment. “For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mk 8.35; cf. Mt 16.25; Lk 9.24; 17.33; Jn 12.25). No sooner does Jesus reveal the awful mystery of the cross than he reveals the wonderful mystery of the resurrection. In a world fallen and redeemed, human fulfillment is only possible by sharing in the fulfillment of the risen Lord Jesus. If we die with him, we shall rise with him (see Rom 6.5). As his wounds and pierced side remain to him as badges of glory, so we shall rejoice forever in the fulfillment our present sufferings merit.

4. Jesus makes it clear that those persecuted for the sake of righteousness are persecuted for his sake, since he is righteousness. “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5.11–12). “Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tm 3.12). Anyone who responds to evil with good and refuses to do evil for the sake of good does not belong to this world. The world will hate and persecute every true Christian because of Jesus (see Wis 2.1–20; Jn 15.18–21; Phil 1.27–30; 1 Pt 3.13–17; 1 Jn 3.16; Rv 13.10).33

5. The last and longest woe in Jesus’ excoriation of the scribes and Pharisees condemns them for their impending murder of him, a murder which puts them in the line of those who murdered the prophets. This murder will not save Jerusalem as the leaders hope; they will fail to gain their end. They will find their temple empty, and Jesus, who came to save Jerusalem, will not return until he comes in judgment (see Mt 23.29–39).

6. Because there are only seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, St. Augustine does not assign a gift corresponding to Christian self-oblation. In his view, this last Beatitude returns to the first, forming a kind of circle.34 At the same time, it illuminates the perfection of Christian life and shows in what it consists (cf. S.t., 1–2, q. 69, a. 3, ad 5; a. 4, ad 2). Perhaps we could say there is a gift of the Spirit corresponding to this Beatitude, but one without a common name like “wisdom” or “fear of the Lord.” Rather, it is a unique gift proper to each Christian, by which he or she is disposed to share creatively and in a personal way in Jesus’ suffering. To offer God that unique gift which is oneself, each Christian requires an impetus of divine love which is his or her own special gift of the Spirit.

Readiness to suffer death for the sake of God is a great virtue. But, as Jesus points out, it is a virtue which existed throughout the Old Testament. The prophets were also martyrs. Faithful unto death, they died out of loyalty to God and to the truth of God which it was their mission to communicate.

Christian self-oblation differs. It is not required only of some persons, when they must either die for their faith or renounce it. The demands of Christian morality extend to all the human goods. Hence, the possibility of martyrdom is not limited to the case in which one might be forced to choose between suffering evil and violating a specifically religious good. Anyone who tries to live a Christian life will suffer evil (see 2 Tm 3.12). Thus, slaves are instructed: “For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pt 2.19–21).

To be a Christian is to have a vocation to suffer, because suffering is inevitable as a consequence of doing what is right. Accepted out of love—in awareness of God’s “presence”—such suffering becomes an acceptable gift to God. Hence, Christian self-oblation is the offering of one’s whole life, united with Jesus in suffering, as a gift to God.35

The greatest love is not a love for God which cares nothing for human goods; the greatest love is a love for God which is fulfilled by one’s laying down one’s life for one’s friends (see Jn 15.13). “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn 3.16). The friends for whom Jesus laid down his life included his followers, who also were enemies of God in need of redemption, and his opponents, who also were called to be his friends. Paul’s wonder that Jesus died for godless men (see Rom 5.6–10) is based on personal experience, since he had persecuted Jesus (see Acts 8.1–3; 9.4; 1 Cor 15.9). Christian self-oblation is aimed at the redemption of others—one’s inimical friends and potentially friendly enemies.

33. See Dupont, op. cit., 329–55.

34. St. Augustine, op. cit., 16–24.

35. See Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, rev. unabridged ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1959), 76–83. While Catholic readers will note certain Lutheran positions in it, this work is excellent, and much of it is relevant to the present chapter.