The Way of God

November 15 2021 | by

IN THE SECULAR world, scandal is defined as “an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.” By this definition, actions are morally or legally wrong only when they outrage the “general public.” What God thinks of the action doesn’t matter.

If actions are scandalous because people consider them “morally or legally wrong,” then there are no moral absolutes of right and wrong. What people consider “morally or legally wrong” can change.


Me, myself & I


Here’s an example of how something once considered scandalous has become commonly accepted. Throughout history, having a sexual tryst outside of marriage was scandalous. Then the sexual revolution of the 1960s began. Today’s generation considers sex outside of marriage to be acceptable and even expected. Today, those who remain virgins until marriage are considered frigid, quirky, mentally unbalanced, or religious fanatics.

Following the 60s sexual revolution came the 70s abortion revolution. Until then, a woman having an abortion would cause “general public outrage.” Until recent decades, Hollywood actresses kept secret not only their sexual trysts, but also their abortions. Now women proclaim and even laud both.  

The progression of normalizing once scandalous behavior continues. In the Journal of Medical Ethics, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva propose “after-birth abortion” because “we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be.” Once the public accepts “after-birth abortion,” infanticide will no longer provoke “general public outrage”, thus no longer being scandalous.

From being God-centered, society has slipped into being “me” centered. People laud abortions because they see themselves as taking responsibility for their own futures and even for the future of the planet. Rarely is God consulted about these “choices.” The life of the unborn baby, if even considered, is a non-essential distraction.  


God first


In contrast, the members of the Confraternity of Penitents, an association of the Third Order Franciscans founded at St. Anthony’s time, tried to put God first in every decision. Since they had relinquished worldly ideas, they never defined scandalous behavior by what outraged the general public. Scandalous behavior outraged God. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Penitents were “not… carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.” (Hebrews 13: 8-9). They knew that, as Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life frequently says, “There is only one God. It’s not me.”

The Rule of 1221 for lay penitents required that they to give good Christian witness and avoid scandal. Provisions include:

32. No heretic or person in bad repute for heresy is to be received. If he is under suspicion of it, he may be admitted if otherwise fit, upon being cleared before the bishop.

34. Brothers and sisters ejected from the brotherhood as incorrigible are not to be received in it again except it please the saner portion of the brothers.

35. The ministers of any city or place shall report public faults of the brothers and sisters to the Visitor for punishment. And if anyone proves incorrigible, after consultation with some of the discreet brothers he should be denounced to the Visitor, to be expelled by him from the brotherhood, and thereupon it should be published in the meeting. Moreover, if it is a brother, he should be denounced to the mayor or the governor.

36. If anyone learns that a scandal is occurring relative to brothers and sisters, he shall report it to the ministers and shall have opportunity to report it to the Visitor. He need not be held to report it in the case of husband against wife


Age of disbelief


When Saint Anthony was writing his Sermon Notes and preaching, what was scandalous to the Church was also scandalous to society. Why? Because then society consisted of people who were, at least nominally, members of the Church. That is not the case today. As one history site put it: “The Contemporary West is a secular, humanistic civilization whereby religion plays a and not the role in people's everyday lives… In Medieval Europe, it was the opposite; religion, namely Roman Catholic Christianity, played the central role in people’s lives and not merely a role in everyday life for the average civilian… The Medieval European Christian saw his or her world as a reflection, representation, manifestation and fulfillment of the Christian story… Medieval Europe was very much, an “Age of Faith.”

In our “Age of Disbelief,” Christians need to assume that people do not know God so they can’t know what is scandalous in His sight.


Love as antidote


Anthony, on the other hand, recognized that people in his age did know God and hence understood scandal. Thus, he preached against usury, robbery, laxity, and lust. He called out the sins of gossip, avarice, gluttony, lying, injustice, and pride. Anthony named the origin of each of these sins. “Note that there are three things from which life or death proceed: the heart, the tongue, and the hand. In the heart is the consent to good or evil; in the tongue is the utterance of words; in the hand is the putting into action” (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals IV, p. 290; translated by Paul Spilsbury; Edizioni Messaggero Padova).

In the Penitents’ Rule of 1221, the heretic or person in bad repute for heresy (stipulation 32) has sinned with the tongue in uttering heresy. Those who are incorrigible (Stipulations 34 and 35) have consented to evil in their hearts and then committed it with their hands or tongues. The Rule protects wives from bad intentioned husbands who might falsely accuse them (stipulation 36). In this case, the detracting husband is the guilty party, St. Anthony writes. “He denies Christ with his tongue, who destroys truth with a lie, or who slanders his neighbor… Detraction is turning the good deeds of others into evil, or belittling them” (Sermons IV, pp. 290-291).

Scandal’s antidote is love. Penitents, indeed all Christians, are called to love, and in fact Anthony writes, “I love with my heart by faith and devotion, I love with my tongue, by confessing the truth and edifying my neighbor, I love with my hand by purity of deed. Amen” (Sermons IV, p. 291).

Updated on October 25 2021