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On Scandal: by Saint Alphonsus Liguori

The wolf catcheth and scattereth the sheep.” - 1 St John 10:12

The wolves that catch and scatter the sheep of Jesus Christ are the authors of scandal, who, NOT content with their own destruction, labor to destroy others. But the Lord says:

Woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh." - St Matthew 18:7

Woe to him who gives scandal, and causes others to lose the grace of God. Origen says, that “a person who impels another to sin, sins more grievously than the other."

If, brethren, there be any among you who has given scandal, I will endeavor this day to convince him of the evil he has done, that he may bewail it and guard against it for the future.

First Point: On the great displeasure which the sin of scandal gives to God

1) It is, in the first place, necessary to explain what is meant by scandal. Behold how St. Thomas defines it: “Scandal is a word or act which gives occasion to the ruin of one’s neighbor." (2 ii., q. 45, art. 1)

Scandal, then, is a word or act by which you are to your neighbor the cause or occasion of losing his soul. It may be direct or indirect.

It is direct, when you directly tempt or induce another to commit sin.

It is indirect, when, although you foresee that sinful words or actions will be the cause of sin to another, you do not abstain from them.

But, scandal, whether it be direct or indirect, if it be in a matter of great moment, is always a mortal sin.

2) Let us now see the great displeasure which the destruction of a neighbor’s soul gives to God.

To understand it, we must consider how dear every soul is to God. He has created the souls of all men to His own image. “Let us make man to our image and likeness." - Genesis 1:26

Other creatures God has made by a fiat by an act of His will; but the soul of man He has created by His own breath. "And the Lord breathed into his face the breath of life." - Genesis 2:7

The soul of your neighbor God has loved for eternity. "I have loved thee with an everlasting love." - Jeremias 31:3

He has, moreover, created every soul to be a queen in Paradise, and to be a partner in His glory. “That by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature." - 2 Peter 1:4

In heaven He will make the souls of the Saints partakers of His own joy. "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." - St Matthew 25:21

To them He shall give Himself as their reward. “I am thy reward exceeding great." - Genesis 15:1

3) But nothing can show the value which God sets on the souls of men more clearly than what the Incarnate Word has done for their redemption from sin and hell.

If," says St. Eucharius, ”you do not believe your Creator, ask your Redeemer, how precious you are."

Speaking of the care which we ought to have of our brethren, St. Ambrose says: ”The great value of the salvation of a brother is known from the death of Christ."

We judge of the value of everything by the price paid for it by an intelligent purchaser.

Now, Jesus Christ has, according to the Apostle, purchased the souls of men with His own blood. "You are bought with a great price." - 1 Corinthians 6:20

We can, then, say, that the soul is of as much value as the blood of a God. Such, indeed, is the language of St. HilaryTam copioso munere redemptio agitur, ut homo Deum valere videatur.

Hence, the Savior tells us, that whatsoever good or evil we do to the least of His brethren, we do to Himself. “So long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.” - St Matthew 25:40

4) From all this we may infer how great is the displeasure given to God by scandalizing a brother, and destroying his soul.

It is enough to say, that they who give scandal rob God of a child, and murder a soul, for whose salvation He has spent His blood and His life.

Hence, St. Leo calls the authors of scandals murderers. "Quisquis scandalizat, mortem infert animæ proximi."

They are the most impious of murderers; because they kill not the body, but the soul of a brother, and rob Jesus Christ of all His tears, of His sorrows, and of all that He has done and suffered to gain that soul.

Hence the Apostle says: "Now, when you sin thus against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ." - 1 Corinthians 8:12

They who scandalize a brother, sin against Christ; because, as St. Ambrose says, they deprive Him of a soul for which He has spent so many years, and submitted to so many toils and labors.

It is related, that B. Albertus Magnus spent thirty years in making a head, which resembled the human head, and uttered words: and that St. Thomas, fearing that it was done by the agency of the devil, took the head and broke it.

B. Albertus complained of the act of St. Thomas, saying: "You have broken on me the work of thirty years."

I do not assert that this is true; but it is certain that, when Jesus Christ sees a soul destroyed by scandal, He can reprove the author of it, and say to him: Wicked wretch, what have you done? You have deprived me of this soul, for which I have labored thirty-three years.

5) We read in the Scriptures, that the sons of Jacob, after having sold their brother Joseph to certain merchants, told his father that wild beasts had devoured him. ”Fera pessima devoravit eum." - Genesis 37:20

To convince their father of the truth of what they said, they dipped the coat of Joseph in the blood of a goat, and presented it to him, saying: "See whether this be thy son’s coat or not.” (v. 32)

In reply, the afflicted father said with tears: “It is my son’s coat: an evil wild beast hath eaten him.” (v. 33)

Thus, we may imagine that, when a soul is brought into sin by scandal, the devils present to God the garment of that soul dipped in the blood of the Immaculate Lamb, Jesus Christ that is, the grace lost by that scandalized soul, which Jesus Christ had purchased with His blood and that they say to the Lord: “See whether this be thy son’s coat or not."

If God were capable of shedding tears, He would weep more bitterly than Jacob did, at the sight of that lost soul, His murdered child, and would say: ”It is my son’s coat: an evil wild beast hath eaten him."

The Lord will go in search of this wild beast, saying: "Where is the beast? Where is the beast that has devoured My child?" When He finds the wild beast, what shall He do with him?

6) "I will," says the Lord by his prophet Osee, "meet them as a bear that is robbed of her whelps." - Osee 8:8

When the bear comes to her den, and finds NOT her whelps, she goes about the wood in search of the person who took them away. When she discovers the person, oh! with what fury does she rush upon him!

It is thus the Lord shall rush upon the authors of scandal, who have robbed Him of His children.

Those who have given scandal, will say: "My neighbor is already damned; how can I repair the evil that has been done?"

The Lord shall answer: Since you have been the cause of his perdition, you must pay Me for the loss of his soul. "I will require his blood at thy hands." - Ezechiel 3:20

It is written in Deuteronomy, "Thou shalt not pity him, but shalt require life for life." (19:21)

You have destroyed a soul; you MUST suffer the loss of your own.

Let us pass to the second point.

Second Point: The great punishment which God threatens to those who give scandal

7)Woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh." - St Matthew 18:7

If the displeasure given to God by scandal be great, the chastisement which awaits the authors of it must be frightful.

Behold how Jesus Christ speaks of this chastisement: ”But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea." - St Matthew 18:6

If a malefactor dies on the scaffold, he excites the compassion of the spectators, who, at least, pray for him, if they cannot deliver him from death. But, were he cast into the depths of the sea, there should be no one present to pity his fate.

A certain author says, that Jesus Christ threatens the person who scandalizes a brother with this sort of punishment, to signify that he is so hateful to the angels and saints, that they do not wish to recommend to God the man who has brought a soul to perdition. "He is declared unworthy not only to be assisted, but even to be seen." (Mansi. cap. iii. num. 4)

8) St. John Chrysostom says, that scandal is so abominable in the eyes of God, that though He overlooks very grievous sins, He cannot allow the sin of scandal to pass without condign punishment.

God himself says the same by the prophet Ezechiel: "Every man of the house of Israel, if he ... set up the stumbling block of his iniquity ... I will make him an example and a proverb, and will cut him off from the midst of my people." - Ezechiel 14:7-8

And, in reality, scandal is one of the sins which we find in the sacred Scriptures punished by God with the greatest rigor.

Of Heli, because he did not correct his sons, who gave scandal by stealing the flesh offered in sacrifice (for parents give scandal, not only by giving bad example, but also by not correcting their children as they ought), the Lord said:

"Behold, I do a thing in Israel: and whosoever shall hear it, both his ears shall tingle." - 1 Kings 3:11

And speaking of the scandal given by the sons of Heli, the inspired writer says: "Wherefore the sin of the young men was exceeding great before the Lord." - 1 Kings 2:17

What was this sin exceeding great? It was, says St. Gregory, in explaining this passage, drawing others to sin.

Why was Jeroboam chastised? Because he scandalized the people: he “hath sinned, and made Israel sin." - 3 Kings 14:16

In the family of Achab, all the members of which were the enemies of God, Jezabel was the most severely chastised. She was thrown down from a window, and devoured by dogs, so that nothing remained but her ”skull, and the feet, and the extremities of her hands." And why was she so severely punished? Because "she set Achab on to every evil."

9) For the sin of scandal Hell was created.

"In the beginning God created heaven and earth." - Genesis 1:1

But, when did He create hell? It was then Lucifer began to seduce the angels into rebellion against God. Lest he should continue to pervert those who remained faithful to God, he was banished from heaven immediately after his sin.

Hence Jesus Christ said to the Pharisees, who, by their bad example, scandalized the people, that they were children of the devil, who was from the beginning, a murderer of souls.

You are of your father, the devil: he was a murderer from the beginning." - St John 8:44

And when St. Peter gave scandal to Jesus Christ, by suggesting to Him NOT to allow His life to be taken away by the Jews, and thus endeavoring to prevent the accomplishment of redemption, the Redeemer called him a devil. ”Go behind me, Satan; thou art a scandal to me." - St Matthew 16:23

And, in reality, what other office do the authors of scandal perform, than that of a minister of the devil? If he were not assisted by such impious ministers, he certainly would not succeed in gaining so many souls.

A scandalous companion does more injury than a hundred devils.

10) On the words of Ezechias, "Behold, in peace is my bitterness most bitter" (Isaiah 38:17), St. Bernard, in the name of the Church, says: “Peace from pagans, peace from heretics, but no peace from children."

At present the Church is not persecuted by idolaters, or by heretics, but she is persecuted by scandalous Christians, who are her own children.

In catching birds, we employ decoys, that is, certain birds that are blinded, and tied in such manner that they cannot fly away. It is thus the devil acts.

When," says St. Ephrem, "a soul has been taken, she becomes a snare to deceive others."

After having made a young man fall into sin, the enemy first blinds him as his own slave, and then makes him his decoy to deceive others; and to draw them into the net of sin, he not only impels, but even forces him to deceive others.

The enemy," says St. Leo, ”has many whom he compels to deceive others." (Serm. de Nativ.)

11) Miserable wretches! The authors of scandal must suffer in hell the punishment of all the sins they have made others commit.

Cesarius relates (1. 2, c. vi) that, after the death of a certain person who had given scandal, a holy man witnessed his judgment and condemnation, and saw that, at his arrival at the gate of hell, all the souls whom he had scandalized came to meet him, and said to him: "Come, accursed wretch, and atone for all the sins which you have made us commit." They then rushed in upon him, and like so many wild beasts, began to tear him in pieces.

St. Bernard says, that, in speaking of other sinners, the Scriptures hold out hopes of amendment and pardon; but they speak of those who give scandal as persons separated from God, of whose salvation there is very little hope.

12) Behold, then, the miserable state of those who give scandal by their bad example, who utter immodest words before their companions, in the presence of young females, and even of innocent children, who, in consequence of hearing those words, commit a thousand sins.

Considering how the angel-guardians of those little ones weep at seeing them in the state of sin, and how they call for vengeance from God against the sacrilegious tongues that have scandalized them.

A great chastisement awaits all who ridicule those who practice virtue. For many, through fear of the contempt and ridicule of others, abandon virtue, and give themselves up to a wicked life. What shall be the punishment of those who bring messages to induce others to sin or of those who boast of their own wicked actions? God! Instead of weeping and repenting for having offended the Lord, they rejoice and glory in their iniquities!

Some advise others to commit sin; others induce them to it; and some, worse than the devils, teach others how to sin.

What shall we say of fathers and mothers, who, though it is in their power to prevent the sins of their children, allow them to associate with bad companions, or to frequent certain dangerous houses, ...? Oh! with what scourges shall we see such persons chastised on the day of judgment!

13) Perhaps some father of a family among you will say: "Then, I am lost because I have given scandal? Is there no hope of salvation for me?"

No! I will NOT say that you are past hope; the mercy of God is great. He has promised pardon to all who repent. But, if you wish to save your soul, you must repair the scandal you have given.

"Let him," says Eusebius Emmissenus, “who has destroyed himself by the destruction of many, redeem himself by the edification of many." (Hom. x. ad Mon.)

You have lost your soul, and have destroyed the souls of many by your scandals. You are now bound to repair the evil. As you have hitherto drawn others to sin, so you are bound to draw them to virtue:

  • by words of edification,

  • by good example,

  • by avoiding sinful occasions,

  • by frequenting the sacraments,

  • by going often to the church to pray, and

  • by attending sermons.

And from this day forward avoid, as you would death, every act and word which could scandalize others.

"Let their own ruin," says St. Cyprian, ”suffice for those who have fallen." (Lib. 1, epis. iii.) And St. Thomas of Villanova says: "Let your own sins be sufficient for you."

What evil has Jesus Christ done to you that it is not enough for you to have offended Him yourselves, but you wish to make others offend Him? This is an excess of cruelty.

14) Be careful, then, never again to give the smallest scandal. And if you wish to save your soul, avoid as much as possible those who give scandal.

These incarnate devils shall be damned; but, if you do not avoid them, you will bring yourself to perdition.

Woe to the world because of scandals," says the Lord (St Matthew 18:7), that is, many are lost because they do NOT fly from occasions of scandal.

But you may say: Such a person is my friend; I am under obligations to him; I expect many favors from him. But Jesus Christ says: ”If thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. It is better for thee, having one eye, to enter into life, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire." - St Matthew 18:9

Although a certain person was your right eye, you must withdraw forever from him; it is better for you to lose an eye and save your soul, than to preserve it and be cast into hell.

- Pax Tecum


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