Sermon LIII Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost. – On Blasphemy
“When, therefore, you shall see the abomination of desolation.” MATT. xxiv. 15.
ALL sins are hateful in the sight of God; but the sin of blasphemy ought more properly to be called an abomination to the Lord. Every mortal sin, as the Apostle says, dishonours God. ”By transgression of the law, thou dishonourest God.” (Rom. ii. 23.) Other sins dishonour God indirectly by the violation of his law; but blasphemy dishonours him directly by the profanation of his most holy name. Hence St. Chrysostom teaches, that no sin exasperates the Lord so much as the sin of blasphemy against his adorable name. ”Nihil ita exacerbat Deum, sicut quando nomen ejus blasphematur.” Dearly beloved Christians, allow me, then, this day, to show you, first, the great enormity of the sin of blasphemy; and secondly, the great rigour with which God punishes it.
First Point. On the great enormity of the sin of blasphemy. 1. What is blasphemy? It is the uttering of language injurious to God; it is, according to the definition of theologians, “contumeliosa in Deum locutio ;” or, contumely against God. God! whom does man assail when he blasphemes? He directly attacks the Lord. “He hath strengthened himself against the Almighty.” (Job. xv. 25.) Are you not afraid, blasphemer, says St. Ephrem, that fire will come down from heaven and devour you? or that the earth shall open and swallow you up?”Non metuis ne forte ignis de coelo descendat et devoret te, qui sic os adversus omnipotentem aperis? Neque vereris, ne terra te ab- sorbeat?” (Paren. 3.) The devil, says St. Gregory Nazianzen, trembles at the name of Jesus: and we are not afraid to profane it. ”Domones ad Christi nomen exhorrescunt, nos vero nomen adeo venerandum contumelia afficere nou veremur.” (Orat. xx.) The vindictive assail a man who is their own equal; but, by their blasphemies blasphemers appear to seek revenge against God, who does or permits what is displeasing to them. There is a great difference between an act of contempt towards the portrait of a king, and an insult offered to his person. Man is the image of God; but the blasphemer offends God himself. ”He who blasphemes” says St. Athanasius, ”acts against the very Deity itself.” The man who violates the law is guilty of a crime; but he who attacks the person of his sovereign commits an act of treason; therefore he receives no mercy, but is chastised with the utmost severity. What, then, shall we say of the man who blasphemes and insults the majesty of God?”If,” says the high-priest Heli, “one man shall sin against another, God may be appeased in his behalf; but if a man shall sin against the Lord, who shall pray for him?”(1 Kings ii. 25.) The sin of blasphemy, then, is so enormous, that the saints themselves appear not to have courage to pray for a blasphemer.
2. Some sacrilegious tongues blaspheme the God who preserves their existence!”Tu Deo benefacienti tibi,” says St. Chrysostom, ”et tui curam agenti maledicis.” O God! you stand with one foot at the gate of hell; and if God, in his mercy, did not preserve your life you should be damned for ever: and, instead of thanking him for his goodness, you, at the very time that he bestows his favours upon you, blaspheme his holy name. ”If,” says the Lord, ”my enemy hath reviled me, I would verily have borne with it. (Ps. liv. 13.) Had you treated me with contumely and insult at the time that I chastised you, I would be more willing to bear with your impiety; but you revile me at the time that I confer my favours upon you. diabolical tongue! exclaims St. Bernardine of Sienna, what could have induced you to blaspheme your God, who has created you, and redeemed you with his blood? “0 lingua diabolica, quid, potest te inducere ad blasphemandum Deus tuum qui te plasmavit, qui te pretioso sanguine redemit?” (Serm. xxxiii.) Some expressly blaspheme the name of Jesus Christ of that God who died on a cross for the love of them. God! if we were not subject to death, we should be glad to die for Jesus Christ, in order to make some little return of gratitude to a God who gave his life for us. I say, a little return of gratitude; for there is no comparison between the death of a miserable creature, and the death of a God. But instead of loving and blessing this God, you, as St. Augustine says, revile and curse him. ”Christ was scourged by the lash of the Jews; but he is not less scourged by the blasphemies of false Christians.” (S. Aug. in Joan.) Some have blasphemed and insulted the Virgin Mary, that good mother, who loves us so tenderly, and prays continually for us. Some of these blasphemers have received a horrible chastisement from God. Surius relates, in the 7th August, that a certain impious Christian blasphemed the blessed Virgin, and pierced her image with a dagger. As soon as he went out of the church to which the image belonged, he was struck by a thunderbolt, and reduced to ashes. The infamous Nestorious blasphemed, and induced others to blaspheme, most holy Mary, by asserting that she was not the mother of God. But, before death, his impious tongue was eaten away by worms, and he died in despair.
3. “Who is this who speaketh blasphemies?” (Luke v. 21.) He is a Christian who has received the holy sacrament of baptism, in which his tongue has been in a certain manner consecrated to God. A learned author says, that on the tongue of all who are baptized is placed blessed salt, ”that the tongues of Christians may be made, as it were, sacred, and may be accustomed to bless God.” (Clericat. torn. 1. Dec. Tract. 52.) And the blasphemer afterwards makes his tongue, as St. Bernardine says, a sword to pierce the heart of God. “Lingua blasphemantis efficitur quasi gladius cor Dei penetrans.” (Tom. 4. serm. xxxiii.) Hence the saint adds that no sin contains in itself so much malice as the sin of blasphemy. ”Nullum est peccatum quod habet in se tantem iniquitatem sicut blasphemia.” St. Chrysostom says, that”there is no sin worse than blasphemy; for in it is the accumulation of all evils, and every punishment.” St. Jerome teaches the same doctrine. ”Nothing,” says the holy doctor, ”is more horrible than blasphemy; for every sin, compared with blasphemy, is small.” (In Isa. cxviii.) And here it is necessary to observe, that blasphemies against the saints, against holy things or holidays such as the sacraments, the Mass, Easter Sunday, Christmas Day, Holy Saturday are of the same species as blasphemies against God; for St. Thomas teaches, that, as the honour paid to the saints, to holy things, and holidays, is referred to God, so an insult offered to the saints is injurious to God, who is the foundation of sanctity. ”Sicut Deus, in sanctis suis laudatur,” as we read in the 150th Psalm, “laudate Dominum in sanctis ejus, ita et blasphemia in sanctos in Deum redundat.” (S. Thorn, qu. 13, a 1 3, a 1, ad 2.) The saint adds, that blasphemy is one of the greatest of the sins against religion. (Ibid. a. 3.)
4. Thus, from the works of St. Jerome we may infer, that blasphemy is more grievous than theft, than adultery, or murder. All other sins, says St. Bernardine proceeds from frailty or ignorance; but the sin of blasphemy proceeds from malice. ”Omnia alia peccata vindentur procedere partim ex fragilitate, partim ex ignorantia, sed peccatum blasphemia procedit ex propria malitia.” (Cic. serm. xxx.) For it proceeds from a bad will, and from a certain hatred conceived against God. Hence the blasphemer renders himself like the damned, who, as St. Thomas says, do not now blaspheme with the mouth for they have no body, but with the heart, cursing the divine justice which punishes them. ”The detestation of the divine justice is in them an interior blasphemy of the heart.” (S. Thom. 2, 2, qu. 13, a. 4.) The saint adds, that we may believe that as the saints in heaven, after the resurrection shall praise God with the tongue, so the reprobates in hell shall also blaspheme him with the tongue. ”Et credibile est quod post resurrectionem erit in eis etiam vocalis blasphemiæ sicut in sanctis vocalis laus Dei.” Justly, then, has a learned author called blasphemy the language of hell; because, as God speaks by the mouth of the saints so the devil speaks by the mouth of blasphemers. ”Blasphemia est peccatum diabolicum, loquela infernalis: sicut enim Spiritus Sanctus loquitur per bonos ita et diabolus per blasphemos.” (Mansi. Discors, 7, num. 2.) When St. Peter denied Christ in the Palace of Pilate, and swore that he did not know him, the Jews said, that his language showed that he was a disciple of Jesus, because he spoke the language of his Master. ”Surely,” they said, “thou also art one of them; for even thy speech doth discover thee.” (Matt. xxvi. 73.) Thus we may say to every blasphemer: You are from hell; you are a true disciple of Lucifer; for you speak the language of the damned. St. Antonine writes, that the entire occupation of the damned in hell consists in blaspheming and cursing God. ”Non aliud apus inferno exercent nisi blasphemare Deum et maledicere.” (Part 2, tit. 7, cap. iii.) In proof of this doctrine the saint adduces the following text of the Apocalypse: ”And they gnawed their tongues for pain: and they blasphemed the God of heaven.” (Apoc. xvi. 10, 11.) The holy doctor afterwards adds, that he who indulges in the vice of blasphemy, already belongs to the number of the damned, because he practises their art. ”Qui ergo hoc vitio detinetur ostendit se pertinere ad statum damnatorum, ex quo exercet artem eorum.” (Ibid.)
5. To the malice of blasphemy is added the malice of scandal, which generally accompanies blasphemy; for this sin is ordinarily committed externally and in presence of others. St. Paul reproved the Jews, because by their sins they caused the Gentiles to blaspheme our God, and to laugh at his law. “For the name of God, through you, is blasphemed by the Gentiles.” (Rom. ii. 24.) But how much more criminal are Christians, who, by their blasphemies, induce other Christians to imitate their example! How does it happen, that in certain provinces blasphemies are never, or at least very seldom, heard, and that in other places this horrible vice is so prevalent, that the Lord may say of them: ”My name is continually blasphemed all the day long.” (Isa. Iii, 5.) In the squares, houses, cities, villas, nothing is heard but blasphemies. How does this happen? Some of the inhabitants learn to blaspheme from others: children from their parents, servants from their masters, the young from the old. In some families particularly the vice of blasphemy seems to be transmitted as an inheritance. The father is a blasphemer; hence, the sons and nephews blaspheme: to this inheritance their descendants succeed. O accursed father! Instead of instructing your children to bless the name of God, you teach them to blaspheme him and his saint. ”But I reprove them when they blaspheme in my presence.” Of what use are these reproofs, when with your own mouth you give them bad example. For God’s sake, for God’s sake, O fathers of families, never blaspheme; but be particularly on your guard never to blaspheme in presence of your children. This is a crime which God can no longer bear in you. And whenever you hear any of your children utter a blasphemy, reprove them severely, and, in obedience to the advice of St. Chrysostom, strike him on the mouth, and you shall thus sanctify your hand. ”Contere os ipsius, manum tuam percussione sanctificat.” (Hom. i. ad pop.) Certain fathers unmercifully beat a child for the neglect of some temporal business; but if he blaspheme the saints, they either laugh at his blasphemies, or listen to them in silence. St. Gregory relates (Dial. 4., cap. xvii.), that a child of five years, the son of a Roman noble man, was in the habit of profaning the name of God. The father neglected to correct him; but he one day saw his son pursued by certain black men. The child ran to embrace his father; but they, who were so many devils, killed him in the father‟s arms, and carried him with them to hell.
Second Point. On the great rigour with which God punishes the sin of blasphemy.
6. “Woe to the sinful nation… they have blasphemed the Holy One of Israel.” (Isa. i. 4.) Woe to blasphemers, eternal woe to them: for, according to Tobias, they shall be condemned. ”They shall be condemned that blaspheme thee.” (Job xiii. 16.) The Lord has said by the mouth of Job, “Thou imitatest the tongue of blasphemers; thy own mouth shall condemn, and not I.” (Job xv. 5, 6.) In pronouncing the sentence of their condemnation, God will say: It is not I that condemn you to hell; it is your own mouth, with which you have dared to revile me and .my saints, that condemns you. Poor miserable blasphemers! They shall continue to blaspheme in hell for their greater torment: their very blasphemies in hell shall always remind them that they are damned for ever in punishment of their blasphemies on earth.
7. But blasphemers are punished not only in hell, but even on this earth. In the Old Law they were stoned by the people. “And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, dying let him die; all the multitude shall stone him.” (Lev. xxiv. 76.) In the New Law they were condemned to death by the Emperor Justinian. St. Louis, King of France, ordered them to be punished by perforating their tongue, and by branding their forehead with a red hot iron; and when they afterwards relapsed into blasphemy, he ordained that they should die on the scaffold. (Homo Bon. de cas. res. p. 2, c. i.) Another author says, that the law renders blasphemers (as being infamous) incapable of giving testimony. (Navarr. cons. 11, de offic. ord.) By the constitution of Gregory the Fourteenth, they were deprived of Christian burial. In the Authentica ut non luxur hom., it is said that blasphemies bring on famine, earthquakes, and pestilence. ”Propter blasphemias, et fames, et terræmotus et pestilentia fiunt.” You, O blasphemer, complain that though you labour and submit to fatigue, you are always in poverty. You say: ”I know not why I am always in misery: some malediction must have fallen on my family.” No; the blasphemies which you utter are the cause of your wretchedness, and make you always an object of God’s malediction.
8. O! how many melancholy examples could I mention of blasphemers who have died a bad death. Father Segneri relates, (Tom. 1, Rag. 8,) that, in Gascony, two men who had blasphemed the blood of Jesus Christ, were soon after killed in a quarrel, and torn to pieces by dogs. In Mexico, a blasphemer being once reproved, answered: ”I will hereafter blaspheme more than I have hitherto done.” During the night he found his tongue sowed under the palate, and died in that miserable state without giving the least sign of repentance. Dresselius relates, that a certain person was struck blind in the very act of blaspheming. Another, in uttering a blasphemy against St. Anthony, was seized by a flame which issued from the image of the saint, and was burnt alive. In his book against blasphemy, Sarnelli relates, that in Constantinople, a man called Simon Tornaco, who had blasphemed God, began like a mad dog to lacerate his own flesh, and died in his madness. Canta- pratensis states (cap. xlviii.), that a person who had been guilty of blasphemy, had his eyes distorted, and that falling on the ground he bellowed like an ox, and continued to roar aloud until he expired. In the Gallician Mercury (lib. x.) we read that a man named Michael, who had been condemned to be hanged, when he felt the pain of the halter, burst out into blasphemies, and died instantly. After death his head fell from the body, and the tongue remained hanging out from the neck, as black as coal. I abstain from fatiguing you with other terrible examples: you can find a great many of them in the work of Father Sarnelli against blasphemy.
9. But to conclude. Tell me, blasphemers, if there be any of you present, what benefit do you derive from your accursed blasphemies? You do not receive pleasure from them. Bellarmine says, that blasphemy is a sin which produces no pleasure. You derive no profit from them; for, as I have already said, your blasphemies are the cause of your poverty and wretchedness. You derive no honour from them; your fellow- blasphemers have a horror of your blasphemies, and call you a mouth of hell. Tell me, then, why you blaspheme. “Father, the habit which I have contracted is the cause of my blasphemies.” But can this habit excuse you before God? If a son beat his father, and say to him: ”My father, have compassion on me: for I have contracted a habit of beating you :” would the father take pity on him? You say that you blaspheme through the anger caused by your children, your wife, or your master. Your wife or your master put you into a passion, and you take revenge on the saints. What injury have the saints done to you? They intercede before God in your behalf, and you blaspheme them. But”the devil tempts me at that time.” If the devil tempts you, follow the example of a certain young man, who, when tempted to blaspheme, went for advice to the Abbot Pemene. The abbot told him, that as often as the devil tempted him to commit this sin, his answer should be: Why should I blaspheme that God who has created me, and bestowed so many benefits upon me? I will forever praise and bless him. The young man followed the advice, and Satan ceased to tempt him. When you are excited to anger, can you speak nothing but blasphemies? Say on such occasions: “Accursed sin, I hate thee: Lord, assist me: Mary, obtain for me the gift of patience.” And if you have hitherto contracted the abominable habit of blaspheming, renew every morning, as soon as you rise, the resolution of doing violence to yourself to abstain from all blasphemies during the day: and then say three Aves to most holy Mary, that she may obtain for you the grace to resist every temptation by which you shall be assailed.