St. Augustine on Judgment

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In the chapter on contemplative prayer in The Holy Way, Ms. Huston discusses St. Augustine's opinion about judging.

from The Holy Way
Paula Huston

St. Augustine believe that one of our most important tasks as human beings is to clean that lamp so that our perceptions are as clear as they can possibly be this side of heaven. In their book Purity of Heart in Early Ascetic and Monastic Literature, Harriet A. Luckman and Llinda Kulzer talk about what he meant. For Augstine, the say, love of one's neighbor "purifies the mind to an incredible degree." They quote his own words on the subject: "When he [the seeker of tranquility] arrives at the love of his enemy he ascends to the sixth step where he cleanses the eye through which God may be seen in so far as he can be seen by those who die in the world as much as they are able."

Augustine, however, believed that to truly see clearly we must go quite a bit further: We must actually embrace a paradox, then try to live in the company of two antithetical notions. . . . [H]e tells us that to see well, we must stop judging our neighbor and ourselves "in the light of the truth." How can we know anything if we stop judging? Isn't it our ability to discriminate that allows us to become wise? Augustine goes on to say, "On this step he so cleanses the eye of his heart that he neither prefers his neighbor to the Truth nor compares him with it." "This state," Luckman and Kulzer add, "brings about peace and tranquility." . . .

This is not merely a restatement of the Gold Rule; apparently our vision is seriously distorted by our habit of passing judgment. We tend to exaggerate the bad in other people and minimize it is ourselves, a practice which Jesus seems to have been fully aware. . .

Though I could not fathom how one stopped judging--we evaluate everything and everybody a hundred times a day, after all--there seemed to be a rock-bottom truth buried here somewhere.

My judgment of others serves only to clutter mental space better used for other purposes. When my eye strays to the sins of my neighbor, it is no longer focused as sharply on the Glory of God. It may be that the Holy Spirit is leading me to reprove and correct; but far more often, it seems like the interference of the Evil One. Distract the person intent on God by showing him clearly the ungodly and the wickedness of the world.

The world is undoubtedly wicked, but for most of us reproving the wickedness leads neither to tranquility nor to deeper love of God. It proves a byway in which we are too easily trapped. We make a short pit stop in judgment and then decide to spend the week there. Next thing you know, we're building a condo near the beach. This is the chief danger of judgment--that it distracts us from more noble and more worthwhile pursuits. After all, isn't a life lead in perfect obedience to God reproof enough of much of the evil we encounter? Did St. Maria Goretti spend her time judging her murderer? Did Pope John Paul II with his would-be assassin? Their unconditional forgiveness served to heap burning coals on the heads of their attackers. Whether it brought about any change or not is not up to the saints, but to the working of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the culprits.

So busying ourselves with judging others is a distraction from the one thing necessary. It's yet another example of being Marthas in a world that needs more Marys. We don't need to judge and it disequilibrates us, making it nearly impossible to continue in peace and tranquility toward God. In a sense our prophetic mission is caught up in our vocation to Holiness. For most of us (those not granted the charism of Prophecy as vocation) it is the most powerful expression of the action of God in our lives, the most visible demonstration of presence and sovereignty, and the most powerful condemnation of wickedness possible. If our lives are rightly adjusted and lived they will serve as the chief instruments of the conversion of sinners--judgment is both unnecessary and draining.

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Thank you.

Very convincing. I just read a line from novelist Mary McCarthy, who I don't agree with but who has a point when she wrote, "only good people can afford to be religious. For others, it is too great a temptation - a temptation to the deadly sins of pride, anger, chiefly, but one might also add sloth."

This explains to me why I'm always much more judgemental while I'm sitting in church than anywhere else (besides my own propensity towards it, I mean)...Satan's working overtime trying to get my eyes off God. I need to work harder at trying to keep my thoughts captive! Thanks for sharing this. I am reading the same book but have not come across this part yet.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 23, 2004 7:31 AM.

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