QUESTION 33: OF FRATERNAL CORRECTION
We must now consider Fraternal Correction, under which head there are
eight points of inquiry:
(1) Whether fraternal correction is an act of charity?
(2) Whether it is a matter of precept?
(3) Whether this precept binds all, or only superiors?
(4) Whether this precept binds the subject to correct his superior?
(5) Whether a sinner may correct anyone?
(6) Whether one ought to correct a person who becomes worse through
(7) Whether secret correction should precede denouncement?
(8) Whether witnesses should be called before denouncement?
Article 1: Whether fraternal correction is an act of charity?
Objection 1: It would seem that fraternal correction is not an act of charity.
For a gloss on Mt. 18:15, "If thy brother shall offend against thee,"
says that "a man should reprove his brother out of zeal for justice." But
justice is a distinct virtue from charity. Therefore fraternal correction
is an act, not of charity, but of justice.
Objection 2: Further, fraternal correction is given by secret admonition. Now
admonition is a kind of counsel, which is an act of prudence, for a
prudent man is one who is of good counsel (Ethic. vi, 5). Therefore
fraternal correction is an act, not of charity, but of prudence.
Objection 3: Further, contrary acts do not belong to the same virtue. Now it is an act of charity to bear with a sinner, according to Gal. 6:2: "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so you shall fulfil the law of Christ," which is the law of charity. Therefore it seems that the correction of a sinning brother, which is contrary to bearing with him, is not an act of charity.
On the contrary, To correct the wrongdoer is a spiritual almsdeed. But
almsdeeds are works of charity, as stated above (Question , Article ). Therefore
fraternal correction is an act of charity.
I answer that, The correction of the wrongdoer is a remedy which should
be employed against a man's sin. Now a man's sin may be considered in two
ways, first as being harmful to the sinner, secondly as conducing to the
harm of others, by hurting or scandalizing them, or by being detrimental
to the common good, the justice of which is disturbed by that man's sin.
Consequently the correction of a wrongdoer is twofold, one which applies
a remedy to the sin considered as an evil of the sinner himself. This is
fraternal correction properly so called, which is directed to the
amendment of the sinner. Now to do away with anyone's evil is the same as
to procure his good: and to procure a person's good is an act of charity,
whereby we wish and do our friend well. Consequently fraternal correction
also is an act of charity, because thereby we drive out our brother's
evil, viz. sin, the removal of which pertains to charity rather than the
removal of an external loss, or of a bodily injury, in so much as the
contrary good of virtue is more akin to charity than the good of the body
or of external things. Therefore fraternal correction is an act of
charity rather than the healing of a bodily infirmity, or the relieving
of an external bodily need. There is another correction which applies a
remedy to the sin of the wrongdoer, considered as hurtful to others, and
especially to the common good. This correction is an act of justice,
whose concern it is to safeguard the rectitude of justice between one man
Reply to Objection 1: This gloss speaks of the second correction which is an act
of justice. Or if it speaks of the first correction, then it takes
justice as denoting a general virtue, as we shall state further on (Question , Article ), in which sense again all "sin is iniquity" (1 Jn. 3:4), through
being contrary to justice.
Reply to Objection 2: According to the Philosopher (Ethic. vi, 12), prudence
regulates whatever is directed to the end, about which things counsel and
choice are concerned. Nevertheless when, guided by prudence, we perform
some action aright which is directed to the end of some virtue, such as
temperance or fortitude, that action belongs chiefly to the virtue to
whose end it is directed. Since, then, the admonition which is given in
fraternal correction is directed to the removal of a brother's sin, which
removal pertains to charity, it is evident that this admonition is
chiefly an act of charity, which virtue commands it, so to speak, but
secondarily an act of prudence, which executes and directs the action.
Reply to Objection 3: Fraternal correction is not opposed to forbearance with the weak, on the contrary it results from it. For a man bears with a sinner, in so far as he is not disturbed against him, and retains his goodwill towards him: the result being that he strives to make him do better.
Article 2: Whether fraternal correction is a matter of precept?
Objection 1: It would seem that fraternal correction is not a matter of
precept. For nothing impossible is a matter of precept, according to the
saying of Jerome [*Pelagius, Expos. Symb. ad Damas]: "Accursed be he who
says that God has commanded any. thing impossible." Now it is written
(Eccles. 7:14): "Consider the works of God, that no man can correct whom
He hath despised." Therefore fraternal correction is not a matter of
Objection 2: Further, all the precepts of the Divine Law are reduced to the
precepts of the Decalogue. But fraternal correction does not come under
any precept of the Decalogue. Therefore it is not a matter of precept.
Objection 3: Further, the omission of a Divine precept is a mortal sin, which
has no place in a holy man. Yet holy and spiritual men are found to omit
fraternal correction: since Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i, 9): "Not only
those of low degree, but also those of high position, refrain from
reproving others, moved by a guilty cupidity, not by the claims of
charity." Therefore fraternal correction is not a matter of precept.
Objection 4: Further, whatever is a matter of precept is something due. If,
therefore, fraternal correction is a matter of precept, it is due to our
brethren that we correct them when they sin. Now when a man owes anyone a
material due, such as the payment of a sum of money, he must not be
content that his creditor come to him, but he should seek him out, that
he may pay him his due. Hence we should have to go seeking for those who
need correction, in order that we might correct them; which appears to be
inconvenient, both on account of the great number of sinners, for whose
correction one man could not suffice, and because religious would have to
leave the cloister in order to reprove men, which would be unbecoming.
Therefore fraternal correction is not a matter of precept.
On the contrary, Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. xvi, 4): "You become
worse than the sinner if you fail to correct him." But this would not be
so unless, by this neglect, one omitted to observe some precept.
Therefore fraternal correction is a matter of precept.
I answer that, Fraternal correction is a matter of precept. We must
observe, however, that while the negative precepts of the Law forbid
sinful acts, the positive precepts inculcate acts of virtue. Now sinful
acts are evil in themselves, and cannot become good, no matter how, or
when, or where, they are done, because of their very nature they are
connected with an evil end, as stated in Ethic. ii, 6: wherefore negative
precepts bind always and for all times. On the other hand, acts of virtue
must not be done anyhow, but by observing the due circumstances, which
are requisite in order that an act be virtuous; namely, that it be done
where, when, and how it ought to be done. And since the disposition of
whatever is directed to the end depends on the formal aspect of the end,
the chief of these circumstances of a virtuous act is this aspect of the
end, which in this case is the good of virtue. If therefore such a
circumstance be omitted from a virtuous act, as entirely takes away the
good of virtue, such an act is contrary to a precept. If, however, the
circumstance omitted from a virtuous act be such as not to destroy the
virtue altogether, though it does not perfectly attain the good of
virtue, it is not against a precept. Hence the Philosopher (Ethic. ii, 9)
says that if we depart but little from the mean, it is not contrary to
the virtue, whereas if we depart much from the mean virtue is destroyed
in its act. Now fraternal correction is directed to a brother's
amendment: so that it is a matter of precept, in so far as it is
necessary for that end, but not so as we have to correct our erring
brother at all places and times.
Reply to Objection 1: In all good deeds man's action is not efficacious without
the Divine assistance: and yet man must do what is in his power. Hence
Augustine says (De Correp. et Gratia xv): "Since we ignore who is
predestined and who is not, charity should so guide our feelings, that we
wish all to be saved." Consequently we ought to do our brethren the
kindness of correcting them, with the hope of God's help.
Reply to Objection 3: Fraternal correction may be omitted in three ways.
First, meritoriously, when out of charity one omits to correct someone.
For Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i, 9): "If a man refrains from chiding
and reproving wrongdoers, because he awaits a suitable time for so doing,
or because he fears lest, if he does so, they may become worse, or
hinder, oppress, or turn away from the faith, others who are weak and
need to be instructed in a life of goodness and virtue, this does not
seem to result from covetousness, but to be counselled by charity."
Secondly, fraternal correction may be omitted in such a way that one
commits a mortal sin, namely, "when" (as he says in the same passage)
"one fears what people may think, or lest one may suffer grievous pain or
death; provided, however, that the mind is so dominated by such things,
that it gives them the preference to fraternal charity." This would seem
to be the case when a man reckons that he might probably withdraw some
wrongdoer from sin, and yet omits to do so, through fear or covetousness.
Thirdly, such an omission is a venial sin, when through fear or
covetousness, a man is loth to correct his brother's faults, and yet not
to such a degree, that if he saw clearly that he could withdraw him from
sin, he would still forbear from so doing, through fear or covetousness,
because in his own mind he prefers fraternal charity to these things. It
is in this way that holy men sometimes omit to correct wrongdoers.
Reply to Objection 4: We are bound to pay that which is due to some fixed and
certain person, whether it be a material or a spiritual good, without
waiting for him to come to us, but by taking proper steps to find him.
Wherefore just as he that owes money to a creditor should seek him, when
the time comes, so as to pay him what he owes, so he that has spiritual
charge of some person is bound to seek him out, in order to reprove him
for a sin. On the other hand, we are not bound to seek someone on whom to
bestow such favors as are due, not to any certain person, but to all our
neighbors in general, whether those favors be material or spiritual
goods, but it suffices that we bestow them when the opportunity occurs;
because, as Augustine says (De Doctr. Christ. i, 28), we must look upon
this as a matter of chance. For this reason he says (De Verb. Dom. xvi,
1) that "Our Lord warns us not to be listless in regard of one another's
sins: not indeed by being on the lookout for something to denounce, but
by correcting what we see": else we should become spies on the lives of
others, which is against the saying of Prov. 24:19: "Lie not in wait, nor
seek after wickedness in the house of the just, nor spoil his rest." It
is evident from this that there is no need for religious to leave their
cloister in order to rebuke evil-doers.
Article 3: Whether fraternal correction belongs only to prelates?
Objection 1: It would seem that fraternal correction belongs to prelates
alone. For Jerome [*Origen, Hom. vii in Joan.] says: "Let priests
endeavor to fulfil this saying of the Gospel: 'If thy brother sin against
thee,'" etc. Now prelates having charge of others were usually designated
under the name of priests. Therefore it seems that fraternal correction
belongs to prelates alone.
Objection 2: Further, fraternal correction is a spiritual alms. Now corporal
almsgiving belongs to those who are placed above others in temporal
matters, i.e. to the rich. Therefore fraternal correction belongs to
those who are placed above others in spiritual matters, i.e. to prelates.
Objection 3: Further, when one man reproves another he moves him by his rebuke
to something better. Now in the physical order the inferior is moved by
the superior. Therefore in the order of virtue also, which follows the
order of nature, it belongs to prelates alone to correct inferiors.
On the contrary, It is written (Dist. xxiv, qu. 3, Can. Tam Sacerdotes):
"Both priests and all the rest of the faithful should be most solicitous
for those who perish, so that their reproof may either correct their
sinful ways. or, if they be incorrigible, cut them off from the Church."
I answer that, As stated above (Article ), correction is twofold. One is an
act of charity, which seeks in a special way the recovery of an erring
brother by means of a simple warning: such like correction belongs to
anyone who has charity, be he subject or prelate.
But there is another correction which is an act of justice purposing the
common good, which is procured not only by warning one's brother, but
also, sometimes, by punishing him, that others may, through fear, desist
from sin. Such a correction belongs only to prelates, whose business it
is not only to admonish, but also to correct by means of punishments.
Reply to Objection 1: Even as regards that fraternal correction which is common
to all, prelates have a grave responsibility, as Augustine says (De Civ.
Dei i, 9): "for just as a man ought to bestow temporal favors on those
especially of whom he has temporal care, so too ought he to confer
spiritual favors, such as correction, teaching and the like, on those who
are entrusted to his spiritual care." Therefore Jerome does not mean that
the precept of fraternal correction concerns priests only, but that it
concerns them chiefly.
Reply to Objection 2: Just as he who has the means wherewith to give corporal
assistance is rich in this respect, so he whose reason is gifted with a
sane judgment, so as to be able to correct another's wrong-doing, is, in
this respect, to be looked on as a superior.
Reply to Objection 3: Even in the physical order certain things act mutually on
one another, through being in some respect higher than one another, in so
far as each is somewhat in act, and somewhat in potentiality with regard
to another. In like manner one man can correct another in so far as he
has a sane judgment in a matter wherein the other sins, though he is not
his superior simply.
Article 4: Whether a mann is bound to correct his prelate?
Objection 1: It would seem that no man is bound to correct his prelate. For it
is written (Ex. 19:12): "The beast that shall touch the mount shall be
stoned," [*Vulg.: 'Everyone that shall touch the mount, dying he shall
die.'] and (2 Kgs. 6:7) it is related that the Lord struck Oza for
touching the ark. Now the mount and the ark signify our prelates.
Therefore prelates should not be corrected by their subjects.
Objection 2: Further, a gloss on Gal. 2:11, "I withstood him to the face,"
adds: "as an equal." Therefore, since a subject is not equal to his
prelate, he ought not to correct him.
Objection 3: Further, Gregory says (Moral. xxiii, 8) that "one ought not to presume to reprove the conduct of holy men, unless one thinks better of oneself." But one ought not to think better of oneself than of one's prelate. Therefore one ought not to correct one's prelate.
On the contrary, Augustine says in his Rule: "Show mercy not only to
yourselves, but also to him who, being in the higher position among you,
is therefore in greater danger." But fraternal correction is a work of
mercy. Therefore even prelates ought to be corrected.
I answer that, A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate
the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of
punishment: but the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is
within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom
he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which
Now an act which proceeds from a habit or power extends to whatever is
contained under the object of that power or habit: thus vision extends to
all things comprised in the object of sight. Since, however, a virtuous
act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a
subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not
with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect. Hence the
Apostle says (1 Tim. 5:1): "An ancient man rebuke not, but entreat him as
a father." Wherefore Dionysius finds fault with the monk Demophilus (Ep.
viii), for rebuking a priest with insolence, by striking and turning him
out of the church.
Reply to Objection 1: It would seem that a subject touches his prelate
inordinately when he upbraids him with insolence, as also when he speaks
ill of him: and this is signified by God's condemnation of those who
touched the mount and the ark.
Reply to Objection 2: To withstand anyone in public exceeds the mode of fraternal
correction, and so Paul would not have withstood Peter then, unless he
were in some way his equal as regards the defense of the faith. But one
who is not an equal can reprove privately and respectfully. Hence the
Apostle in writing to the Colossians (4:17) tells them to admonish their
prelate: "Say to Archippus: Fulfil thy ministry [*Vulg.: 'Take heed to
the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.'
Cf. 2 Tim. 4:5]." It must be observed, however, that if the faith were
endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence
Paul, who was Peter's subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the
imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of
Augustine says on Gal. 2:11, "Peter gave an example to superiors, that if
at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they
should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects."
Reply to Objection 3: To presume oneself to be simply better than one's prelate,
would seem to savor of presumptuous pride; but there is no presumption in
thinking oneself better in some respect, because, in this life, no man is
without some fault. We must also remember that when a man reproves his
prelate charitably, it does not follow that he thinks himself any better,
but merely that he offers his help to one who, "being in the higher
position among you, is therefore in greater danger," as Augustine
observes in his Rule quoted above.
Article 5: Whether a sinner ought to reprove a wrongdoer?
Objection 1: It would seem that a sinner ought to reprove a wrongdoer. For no
man is excused from obeying a precept by having committed a sin. But
fraternal correction is a matter of precept, as stated above (Article ).
Therefore it seems that a man ought not to forbear from such like
correction for the reason that he has committed a sin.
Objection 2: Further, spiritual almsdeeds are of more account than corporal
almsdeeds. Now one who is in sin ought not to abstain from administering
corporal alms. Much less therefore ought he, on account of a previous
sin, to refrain from correcting wrongdoers.
Objection 3: Further, it is written (1 Jn. 1:8): "If we say that we have no
sin, we deceive ourselves." Therefore if, on account of a sin, a man is
hindered from reproving his brother, there will be none to reprove the
wrongdoer. But the latter proposition is unreasonable: therefore the
former is also.
On the contrary, Isidore says (De Summo Bono iii, 32): "He that is
subject to vice should not correct the vices of others." Again it is
written (Rm. 2:1): "Wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest
thyself. For thou dost the same things which thou judgest."
I answer that, As stated above (Article , ad 2), to correct a wrongdoer
belongs to a man, in so far as his reason is gifted with right judgment.
Now sin, as stated above (FS, Question , Articles ,2), does not destroy the good
of nature so as to deprive the sinner's reason of all right judgment, and
in this respect he may be competent to find fault with others for
committing sin. Nevertheless a previous sin proves somewhat of a
hindrance to this correction, for three reasons. First because this
previous sin renders a man unworthy to rebuke another; and especially is
he unworthy to correct another for a lesser sin, if he himself has
committed a greater. Hence Jerome says on the words, "Why seest thou the
mote?" etc. (Mt. 7:3): "He is speaking of those who, while they are
themselves guilty of mortal sin, have no patience with the lesser sins of
Secondly, such like correction becomes unseemly, on account of the
scandal which ensues therefrom, if the corrector's sin be well known,
because it would seem that he corrects, not out of charity, but more for
the sake of ostentation. Hence the words of Mt. 7:4, "How sayest thou to
thy brother?" etc. are expounded by Chrysostom [*Hom. xvii in the Opus
Imperfectum falsely ascribed to St. John Chrysostom] thus: "That
is---'With what object?' Out of charity, think you, that you may save
your neighbor?" No, "because you would look after your own salvation
first. What you want is, not to save others, but to hide your evil deeds
with good teaching, and to seek to be praised by men for your knowledge."
Thirdly, on account of the rebuker's pride; when, for instance, a man
thinks lightly of his own sins, and, in his own heart, sets himself above
his neighbor, judging the latter's sins with harsh severity, as though he
himself were just man. Hence Augustine says (De Serm. Dom. in Monte ii,
19): "To reprove the faults of others is the duty of good and kindly men:
when a wicked man rebukes anyone, his rebuke is the latter's acquittal."
And so, as Augustine says (De Serm. Dom. in Monte ii, 19): "When we have
to find fault with anyone, we should think whether we were never guilty
of his sin; and then we must remember that we are men, and might have
been guilty of it; or that we once had it on our conscience, but have it
no longer: and then we should bethink ourselves that we are all weak, in
order that our reproof may be the outcome, not of hatred, but of pity.
But if we find that we are guilty of the same sin, we must not rebuke
him, but groan with him, and invite him to repent with us." It follows
from this that, if a sinner reprove a wrongdoer with humility, he does
not sin, nor does he bring a further condemnation on himself, although
thereby he proves himself deserving of condemnation, either in his
brother's or in his own conscience, on account of his previous sin.
Hence the Replies to the Objections are clear.
Article 6: Whether one ought to forbear from correcting someone, through fear lest he become worse?
Objection 1: It would seem that one ought not to forbear from correcting
someone through fear lest he become worse. For sin is weakness of the
soul, according to Ps. 6:3: "Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak."
Now he that has charge of a sick person, must not cease to take care of
him, even if he be fractious or contemptuous, because then the danger is
greater, as in the case of madmen. Much more, therefore should one
correct a sinner, no matter how badly he takes it.
Objection 2: Further, according to Jerome vital truths are not to be foregone
on account of scandal. Now God's commandments are vital truths. Since,
therefore, fraternal correction is a matter of precept, as stated above
(Article ), it seems that it should not be foregone for fear of scandalizing
the person to be corrected.
Objection 3: Further, according to the Apostle (Rm. 3:8) we should not do evil
that good may come of it. Therefore, in like manner, good should not be
omitted lest evil befall. Now fraternal correction is a good thing.
Therefore it should not be omitted for fear lest the person corrected
On the contrary, It is written (Prov. 9:8): "Rebuke not a scorner lest
he hate thee," where a gloss remarks: "You must not fear lest the scorner
insult you when you rebuke him: rather should you bear in mind that by
making him hate you, you may make him worse." Therefore one ought to
forego fraternal correction, when we fear lest we may make a man worse.
I answer that, As stated above (Article ) the correction of the wrongdoer is
twofold. One, which belongs to prelates, and is directed to the common
good, has coercive force. Such correction should not be omitted lest the
person corrected be disturbed, both because if he is unwilling to amend
his ways of his own accord, he should be made to cease sinning by being
punished, and because, if he be incorrigible, the common good is
safeguarded in this way, since the order of justice is observed, and
others are deterred by one being made an example of. Hence a judge does
not desist from pronouncing sentence of condemnation against a sinner,
for fear of disturbing him or his friends.
The other fraternal correction is directed to the amendment of the
wrongdoer, whom it does not coerce, but merely admonishes. Consequently
when it is deemed probable that the sinner will not take the warning, and
will become worse, such fraternal correction should be foregone, because
the means should be regulated according to the requirements of the end.
Reply to Objection 1: The doctor uses force towards a madman, who is unwilling to
submit to his treatment; and this may be compared with the correction
administered by prelates, which has coercive power, but not with simple
Reply to Objection 2: Fraternal correction is a matter of precept, in so far as
it is an act of virtue, and it will be a virtuous act in so far as it is
proportionate to the end. Consequently whenever it is a hindrance to the
end, for instance when a man becomes worse through it, it is longer a
vital truth, nor is it a matter precept.
Reply to Objection 3: Whatever is directed to end, becomes good through being
directed to the end. Hence whenever fraternal correction hinders the end,
namely the amendment of our brother, it is no longer good, so that when
such a correction is omitted, good is not omitted lest evil should befall.
Article 7: Whether the precept of fraternal correction demands that a private admonition should precede denunciation?
Objection 1: It would seem that the precept of fraternal correction does not
demand that a private admonition should precede denunciation. For, in
works of charity, we should above all follow the example of God,
according to Eph. 5:1,2: "Be ye followers of God, as most dear children,
and walk in love." Now God sometimes punishes a man for a sin, without
previously warning him in secret. Therefore it seems that there is no
need for a private admonition to precede denunciation.
Objection 2: Further, according to Augustine (De Mendacio xv), we learn from
the deeds of holy men how we ought to understand the commandments of
Holy Writ. Now among the deeds of holy men we find that a hidden sin is
publicly denounced, without any previous admonition in private. Thus we
read (Gn. 37:2) that "Joseph accused his brethren to his father of a most
wicked crime": and (Acts 5:4,9) that Peter publicly denounced Ananias and
Saphira who had secretly "by fraud kept back the price of the land,"
without beforehand admonishing them in private: nor do we read that Our
Lord admonished Judas in secret before denouncing him. Therefore the
precept does not require that secret admonition should precede public
Objection 3: Further, it is a graver matter to accuse than to denounce. Now
one may go to the length of accusing a person publicly, without
previously admonishing him in secret: for it is decided in the Decretal
(Cap. Qualiter, xiv, De Accusationibus) that "nothing else need precede
accusation except inscription." [*The accuser was bound by Roman Law to
endorse (se inscribere) the writ of accusation. The effect of this
endorsement or inscription was that the accuser bound himself, if he
failed to prove the accusation, to suffer the same punishment as the
accused would have to suffer if proved guilty.] Therefore it seems that
the precept does not require that a secret admonition should precede
Objection 4: Further, it does not seem probable that the customs observed by
religious in general are contrary to the precepts of Christ. Now it is
customary among religious orders to proclaim this or that one for a
fault, without any previous secret admonition. Therefore it seems that
this admonition is not required by the precept.
Objection 5: Further, religious are bound to obey their prelates. Now a
prelate sometimes commands either all in general, or someone in
particular, to tell him if they know of anything that requires
correction. Therefore it would seem that they are bound to tell them
this, even before any secret admonition. Therefore the precept does not
require secret admonition before public denunciation.
On the contrary, Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. xvi, 4) on the words,
"Rebuke him between thee and him alone" (Mt. 18:15): "Aiming at his
amendment, while avoiding his disgrace: since perhaps from shame he might
begin to defend his sin; and him whom you thought to make a better man,
you make worse." Now we are bound by the precept of charity to beware
lest our brother become worse. Therefore the order of fraternal
correction comes under the precept.
I answer that, With regard to the public denunciation of sins it is
necessary to make a distinction: because sins may be either public or
secret. In the case of public sins, a remedy is required not only for the
sinner, that he may become better, but also for others, who know of his
sin, lest they be scandalized. Wherefore such like sins should be
denounced in public, according to the saying of the Apostle (1 Tim. 5:20): "Them that sin reprove before all, that the rest also may have
fear," which is to be understood as referring to public sins, as
Augustine states (De Verb. Dom. xvi, 7).
On the other hand, in the case of secret sins, the words of Our Lord
seem to apply (Mt. 18:15): "If thy brother shall offend against thee,"
etc. For if he offend thee publicly in the presence of others, he no
longer sins against thee alone, but also against others whom he
'disturbs. Since, however, a man's neighbor may take offense even at his
secret sins, it seems that we must make yet a further distinction. For
certain secret sins are hurtful to our neighbor either in his body or in
his soul, as, for instance, when a man plots secretly to betray his
country to its enemies, or when a heretic secretly turns other men away
from the faith. And since he that sins thus in secret, sins not only
against you in particular, but also against others, it is necessary to
take steps to denounce him at once, in order to prevent him doing such
harm, unless by chance you were firmly persuaded that this evil result
would be prevented by admonishing him secretly. On the other hand there
are other sins which injure none but the sinner, and the person sinned
against, either because he alone is hurt by the sinner, or at least
because he alone knows about his sin, and then our one purpose should be
to succor our sinning brother: and just as the physician of the body
restores the sick man to health, if possible, without cutting off a limb,
but, if this be unavoidable, cuts off a limb which is least
indispensable, in order to preserve the life of the whole body, so too he
who desires his brother's amendment should, if possible, so amend him as
regards his conscience, that he keep his good name.
For a good name is useful, first of all to the sinner himself, not only
in temporal matters wherein a man suffers many losses, if he lose his
good name, but also in spiritual matters, because many are restrained
from sinning, through fear of dishonor, so that when a man finds his
honor lost, he puts no curb on his sinning. Hence Jerome says on Mt.
18:15: "If he sin against thee, thou shouldst rebuke him in private, lest
he persist in his sin if he should once become shameless or unabashed."
Secondly, we ought to safeguard our sinning brother's good name, both
because the dishonor of one leads to the dishonor of others, according to
the saying of Augustine (Ep. ad pleb. Hipponens. lxxviii): "When a few of
those who bear a name for holiness are reported falsely or proved in
truth to have done anything wrong, people will seek by busily repeating
it to make it believed of all": and also because when one man's sin is
made public others are incited to sin likewise.
Since, however, one's conscience should be preferred to a good name, Our
Lord wished that we should publicly denounce our brother and so deliver
his conscience from sin, even though he should forfeit his good name.
Therefore it is evident that the precept requires a secret admonition to
precede public denunciation.
Reply to Objection 1: Whatever is hidden, is known to God, wherefore hidden sins
are to the judgment of God, just what public sins are to the judgment of
man. Nevertheless God does rebuke sinners sometimes by secretly
admonishing them, so to speak, with an inward inspiration, either while
they wake or while they sleep, according to Job 33:15-17: "By a dream in
a vision by night, when deep sleep falleth upon men . . . then He openeth
the ears of men, and teaching instructeth them in what they are to learn,
that He may withdraw a man from the things he is doing."
Reply to Objection 2: Our Lord as God knew the sin of Judas as though it were
public, wherefore He could have made it known at once. Yet He did not,
but warned Judas of his sin in words that were obscure. The sin of
Ananias and Saphira was denounced by Peter acting as God's executor, by
Whose revelation he knew of their sin. With regard to Joseph it is
probable that he warned his brethren, though Scripture does not say so.
Or we may say that the sin was public with regard to his brethren,
wherefore it is stated in the plural that he accused "his brethren."
Reply to Objection 3: When there is danger to a great number of people, those
words of Our Lord do not apply, because then thy brother does not sin
against thee alone.
Reply to Objection 4: Proclamations made in the chapter of religious are about
little faults which do not affect a man's good name, wherefore they are
reminders of forgotten faults rather than accusations or denunciations.
If, however, they should be of such a nature as to injure our brother's
good name, it would be contrary to Our Lord's precept, to denounce a
brother's fault in this manner.
Reply to Objection 5: A prelate is not to be obeyed contrary to a Divine precept,
according to Acts 5:29: "We ought to obey God rather then men." Therefore
when a prelate commands anyone to tell him anything that he knows to need
correction, the command rightly understood supports the safeguarding of
the order of fraternal correction, whether the command be addressed to
all in general, or to some particular individual. If, on the other hand,
a prelate were to issue a command in express opposition to this order
instituted by Our Lord, both would sin, the one commanding, and the one
obeying him, as disobeying Our Lord's command. Consequently he ought not
to be obeyed, because a prelate is not the judge of secret things, but
God alone is, wherefore he has no power to command anything in respect of
hidden matters, except in so far as they are made known through certain
signs, as by ill-repute or suspicion; in which cases a prelate can
command just as a judge, whether secular or ecclesiastical, can bind a
man under oath to tell the truth.
Article 8: Whether before the public denunciation witnesses ought to be brought forward?
Objection 1: It would seem that before the public denunciation witnesses ought
not to be brought forward. For secret sins ought not to be made known to
others, because by so doing "a man would betray his brother's sins
instead of correcting them," as Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. xvi, 7).
Now by bringing forward witnesses one makes known a brother's sin to
others. Therefore in the case of secret sins one ought not to bring
witnesses forward before the public denunciation.
Objection 2: Further, man should love his neighbor as himself. Now no man
brings in witnesses to prove his own secret sin. Neither therefore ought
one to bring forward witnesses to prove the secret sin of our brother.
Objection 3: Further, witnesses are brought forward to prove something. But
witnesses afford no proof in secret matters. Therefore it is useless to
bring witnesses forward in such cases.
Objection 4: Further, Augustine says in his Rule that "before bringing it to
the notice of witnesses . . . it should be put before the superior." Now
to bring a matter before a superior or a prelate is to tell the Church.
Therefore witnesses should not be brought forward before the public
On the contrary, Our Lord said (Mt. 18:16): "Take with thee one or two
more, that in the mouth of two," etc.
I answer that, The right way to go from one extreme to another is to
pass through the middle space. Now Our Lord wished the beginning of
fraternal correction to be hidden, when one brother corrects another
between this one and himself alone, while He wished the end to be public,
when such a one would be denounced to the Church. Consequently it is
befitting that a citation of witnesses should be placed between the two
extremes, so that at first the brother's sin be indicated to a few, who
will be of use without being a hindrance, and thus his sin be amended
without dishonoring him before the public.
Reply to Objection 1: Some have understood the order of fraternal correction to demand that we should first of all rebuke our brother secretly, and that if he listens, it is well; but if he listen not, and his sin be altogether hidden, they say that we should go no further in the matter, whereas if it has already begun to reach the ears of several by various signs, we ought to prosecute the matter, according to Our Lord's command. But this is contrary to what Augustine says in his Rule that "we are bound to reveal" a brother's sin, if it "will cause a worse corruption in the heart." Wherefore we must say otherwise that when the secret admonition has been given once or several times, as long as there is probable hope of his amendment, we must continue to admonish him in private, but as soon as we are able to judge with any probability that the secret admonition is of no avail, we must take further steps, however secret the sin may be, and call witnesses, unless perhaps it were thought probable that this would not conduce to our brother's amendment, and that he would become worse: because on that account one ought to abstain altogether from correcting him, as stated above (Article ).
Reply to Objection 2: A man needs no witnesses that he may amend his own sin: yet
they may be necessary that we may amend a brother's sin. Hence the
Reply to Objection 3: There may be three reasons for citing witnesses. First, to
show that the deed in question is a sin, as Jerome says: secondly, to
prove that the deed was done, if repeated, as Augustine says (in his
Rule): thirdly, "to prove that the man who rebuked his brother, has done
what he could," as Chrysostom says (Hom. in Matth. lx).
Reply to Objection 4: Augustine means that the matter ought to be made known to
the prelate before it is stated to the witnesses, in so far as the
prelate is a private individual who is able to be of more use than
others, but not that it is to be told him as to the Church, i.e. as
holding the position of judge.