Christian Charity and notion of Fraternal and Brotherly correction
By Rev. Bishop George Hay
Q. What is brotherly correction?
A. It is a spiritual alms-giving, to the soul of our neighbour, or a charitable admonition to our Christian brother, when we see him either doing any thing which is hurtful to his soul, or in any danger of being led away to do so, made with a view to his spiritual good only.
Q. Are all obliged to perform this duty of brotherly correction?
A. Every one is obliged to perform it in the proper circumstances, both out of charity and by the command of God. However those who have authority over others, such as masters, parents, and pastors of souls, etc., are bound to do so in justice.
Q. What are the grounds of this duty for all in general?
A. 1. That charity, or love of our neighbour, which Jesus Christ requires of all his followers; for, as we have seen above, this love must be founded in, and arise from the love of God, and must tend to God; that is, we must love our neighbour because he belongs to, and is nearly connected with God; and we must show our love to him principally be endeavouring to bring him to God. And, indeed, if the natural affection we have for any friend, makes us have a regard for everything that belongs to him, and, if we see anything of his in danger of being lost, makes us use every means in our power to save it for him, how much more ought our love for God to make us do all we can to save our neighbours soul, and bring it to God, we see it in danger of being lost to God by sin.
2. The duty of corporal alms-giving which we owe to our neighbours in their bodily wants; for if we be so strictly obliged in charity to assist him in his corporal necessities, how much more in what regards his soul, and his eternal salvation?
3. The command of loving our neighbour as Christ loved us; for the love of Christ to us was chiefly directed to the salvation of our souls. All he did and said, and suffered, was intended principally for this end; such, therefore, ought our love for our neighbour to be; and as Christ loved us to that degree, as to lay down his life for the good of our souls, so, says the holy scripture, “we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren;” (1 John 3: 16). Namely, when the good of their souls require it.
If, therefore, we ought to lay down our lives for the good of our neighbour’s soul, how much more to give him an admonition in charity, and in brotherly correction, when we see him in danger of hurting his soul.
4. Our love of God enjoins the same duty; for how can we pretend to love God, if we see our brother’s soul, which is so dear to God, in danger of perishing, and will not speak a word to preserve it? The scripture says “If any man hath the substance of this world, and shall see his brother in need, and shall shut up his bowels from him, how does the charity of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). How much more may it be said, if any one sees his brother’s soul in need of spiritual admonition, and shall shut up his bowels from him, and refuse to give it him, how does the charity of God abide in him.
5. The scripture assures us that “God gave to everyone a command concerning his neighbour” – Ecclus 17:12. What this command is we learn from St. Paul, when he says, “We being many, are one body in Christ, and everyone members one of another,” (Rom 12:5). Now, “God hath so tempered the body together . . . that there might be no schism in the body; but the members might be careful one for another, and if one member suffer any thing, all the members suffer with it,” – 1 Cor. 12: 24. Hence, therefore, the command given to everyone concerning his neighbour is, to love one another as members of the same body. And “to be careful one for another,” and consequently to give all help and assistance to our brother in his wants, especially in those of his soul.
6. Our blessed Saviour himself expressly commands it: “If thy brother shall offend against thee, go and reprove him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother,” (Matt 17:16). In which words this duty is clearly commanded, and at the same time the motive of it is plainly pointed out to us; for our saving by saying, “If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother,” teaches us, that our only view in rebuking him should be, his amendment, and the gaining of his soul, which, by what he was doing, was in danger of being lost.
7. The same command is several times repeated in scripture, with reasons adjoined to enforce its observance; thus, “You shall not hate your brother in thy heart, but reprove him openly, lest you incur sin through him,” (Lev 19:17). Where we see that our neglect of this duty, where our admonition might have been of service to our brother, renders us partakers of his sin by our silence. So also the wise man says, “Deliver them that are led to death, and those that are drawn to death forbear (refrain) not to deliver. If you say, I have not the strength enough, he that sees into the heart, he understands, and nothing deceives the keeper of your soul, and he shall render to a man a according to his works,” – Prov. 24:11; that is, when you see your neighbour in danger of the death of the soul, forbear (refrain or refuse) not to deliver him; and though you think your admonition will not succeed, no matter; do your best, and God, who sees the heart, will reward you. And a little after he adds, “They that say to the wicked man, thou art just, shall be cursed by the people, and the tribes shall abhor him; they that rebuke him shall be praised, and a blessing shall come upon them,” (Prov. 24:25). Again, “Reprove a friend, lest he may not have understood, and say, I did not; or if he did it, that he may do it no more,” (Ecclus 19:13); that is, if you hear any bad report against your brother, admonish him of it, lest it may not have come to his ears that such thing are said of him; that if innocent he may defend himself, and if guilty he may amend (his ways). Also “Admonish thy neighbour before you threaten him, and give place to the fear of the Most high,” – Ecclus 19:17; that is, if your neighbour do any injury to yourself keep down your anger, and fall not into fits of passion and threatening, but correct him in private with mildness, for fear of offending God. Lastly, “Reverence not thy neighbour in his fall, and refrain not to speak in the time of salvation,” – Ecclus 4:27; that is, be not ashamed to correct your neighbour when he falls into any fault, and refrain not to admonish him in what may be of help to his salvation; perhaps that is the time, on making a proper use of which, his salvation may depend.
8. A great reward is annexed to it; for, “If any of you err from the truth, and one convert him, he must know, that he who caused a sinner to be converted from error of his way, shall save his soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins,” – James 5: 19
Q. Why are the Pastors of souls more particularly obliged to admonish and correct the faults of those under their charge?
A. Because, besides the above reasons from charity and the command, which regard them as well as all others, there are several other strong reasons to show that it is particularly incumbent on those who have the charge of others, and especially on the pastors of souls, to admonish those under them, and to correct their faults, as being a duty annexed to their office and strictly enjoined them by almighty God.
Q. What are these reasons with regard to pastors of souls?
A. Chiefly these: 1. They are, by their office, entrusted with the care of promoting the glory of God among men, for, “they are taken from among men, and appointed for men in the things that appertain to God.” – Heb 5:1. They are the ministers of God, the ambassadors of God, and the dispensers of his mysteries, consequently they are obliged to seek and defend his glory and honour, as the very end of their vocation. Jesus Christ, who is the chief pastor, declares of himself, “that he sought not his own glory, but the glory of his Father, who sought not his own glory, but the glory of his Father, who sent him,” (John 7:18); John 8:5 says, “that if he sought his own glory, his glory was nothing,”. And as this was the work committed to Christ by his Father, to glorify him upon earth; so it is also by Christ committed to all those who are pastors of souls under him, to whom he says, “As my Father sent me, I also send you.” And almighty God so strictly requires this duty from them, that he speaks thus to those who neglect it: “And now, O ye priests, to you is this commandment – if you will not hear, if you will not lay it to heart, to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, I will send poverty upon you, and will curse your blessings; yea, I will curse them, because you have not laid it to heart,” Mal 2:1. From this it plainly follows, that, as those who have the charge of souls are strictly obliged, by their office, to promote the glory of God among their flock, they are no less obliged to hinder his being dishonoured by the, by admonishing and correcting their people for whatever they see among them contrary to his holy will.
2. They are also by their office, entrusted with the care of souls redeemed by the blood of Christ, and have undertaken the charge of bringing these souls to God; consequently they are strictly obliged to use all endeavours to prevent, and take away from these souls, whatever may tend to their ruin and destruction; and therefore, to admonish and correct them for their faults.
3. The commission which God gave to his priest and prophet Jeremiah, and in him (as their model) to all who have the charge of souls, shows with what courage they ought to perform this duty: “Lo, I have set you this day over nations and kingdoms, to root up and pull down, and waste, and to destroy, and to build up and to pull down, and to plant . . . . You, therefore, gird up your loins, and rise and speak to them all that I command you. Be not afraid at their presence, for I will make you not to fear their countenance,” (Jer 1:10).
4. The injunction given to Ezechiel, is particularly clear, and dreadfully strong upon this point, and shows the greatness of this duty, both in admonishing the wicked when they do amiss, and the good when they are in danger of offending God: “Son of man,” says almighty God, “I have made you a watchman to the house of Isreal . . . . If, when I say to the wicked, you will surely die, you declare it not to him, nor speak to him, that he may be converted from his wicked way and live; the same wicked man shall die, in his iniquity, but I will require his blood at thy hand. But if you give warning to the wicked, and he be not converted from his wickedness, and from his evil way, he, indeed, shall die in his iniquity, but shall have delivered (saved) your soul. …” (Ezech 3:17). This needs no explication – it speaks to the point indeed, and at the same time shows how much the death or salvation of souls may depend upon the omitting or giving them a seasonable and charitable admonition; “he shall die,” says God, “because you have not given him warning,” and again, “Living he shall live, because you have warned him.” The same thing is repeated, Ezech 33.
5. Almighty God, speaking to his prophet Isaiah on the duty of warning sinners expresses himself thus: “Cry – cease not – lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their wicked doings, and the house of Jacob their sins,” (Isaiah 58:1). And it is given as one of the causes of the ruin of Jerusalem, that their prophets did not lay open their iniquity to the people. “Thy prophets have seen false and foolish things for thee; and they have not laid open your iniquity to excite you to penance,” – Lament 2.
6. All these commands and admonitions to the pastors of souls from the Old Testament are confirmed and greatly enforced upon by what St. Paul enjoins to his disciple Timothy under the gospel – “I charge you, before God and Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead, by his coming and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, and out of season; reprove, entreat, rebuke with all patience and doctrine.” And that none who have the charge of souls might be deterred from this duty, so that it might not be taken badly, or give offence, he forewarns his disciples that this will sometimes be the case. “There shall be a time when they will not endure sound doctrine . . . . . And will turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned to fables:” Yet this not withstanding he immediately adds, “But be you vigilant – labour, in all things, do the work of an evangelist – fulfil your ministry.” – (2 Tim 4:1). Do your duty, let them take it as they please; save your own soul; for if you neglect your part, “their blood will be required at your hand,” (Ezech 3). In like manner, after giving serval advices to Titus, he concludes, “These things speak and exhort, and rebuke with all authority,” Titus 2: 15.
7. To these strong and clear testimonies of Holy Writ add this reason, that if pastors of souls are known to overlook anything which is sinful in any of their people, this proves an encouragement to the delinquent to go on in his evil way, and to think that what he does is not so ill as it is said to be, or that he may do it with impunity, since his pastor takes no notice of it; and it proves also a great encouragement for others to follow the bad example given; and thus the evil spreads, when those who ought to prevent it, neglect in time to apply the remedy.
Q. What is it that makes men generally so backward in performing this duty?
A. The behaviour of some people in regard to this act of charity is most unchristian. What is it to me? They say; I have no charge of him; I have enough to do to take care of myself; it is his business, let him look to it, and the like. These behave like Cain, who, when God asked him, “Where is your brother Abel?” answered, “I know not, am I my brother’s keeper?” But should they not also fear that the same sentence be passed on them that was passed on Cain; such behaviour shows, that they have neither love of God, nor the love of their neighbour; neither zeal for God’s glory, nor concern for their neighbour’s salvation; nor indeed can they have any serious concern for their own soul, when they speak slightly of a duty which the law of God so strictly enjoins. Others, again, do not show such open disregard of this duty; nay, they are even sensible of its obligation, but are kept back from performing it by various causes.
1. The fear of displeasing, and losing the friendship and interest of their friend, and at the same time of not doing any good by their admonitions. But they ought to consider, that this fear alone is not an excuse, and that it is often groundless; for, a person may do ill through inadvertency, and when admonished, thinks himself obliged to his friend, and amends. Sometimes he may not know that his fault is know to others, and when this is told him, he is incited to correct it; and though he become a little hot at first, he may afterwards think on this admonition when he cools, and take it in good part, and profit by it. They ought also to reflect on the other danger of the loss of their friend’s soul, if not corrected, and consider whether that, or their own danger of losing his friendship should preponderate; and whether they ought to be directed by a mere human respect, or the command of God.
2. A consciousness of their being equally guilty themselves of the same fault. But if their own guilt before God, it ought not to hinder them from this duty, but rather their performing this duty to their brother should be an inducement to them to correct themselves. If their own guilt be known, it ought to give them courage to speak to their neighbour, putting themselves as well as on their neighbour at the same time, which will make their neighbour take it in better part, hurt his pride less, and encourage him by their example.
3. A certainty that it will do harm, and make their neighbour become worse. When this is really the case, it excuses from this duty, those who are not obliged to it by their office, nor have authority to punish obstinate offenders; because our saviour says, “Give not which is holy to dogs, neither cast you your pearls before swine, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turning upon you, tear you,” (Matt 7:6). And the wise man says, “He that teaches a scorner, does an injury to himself; and he that rebukes a wicked man, gets himself a blot. Rebuke not a scorner, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you,” (Prov. 9:7).
Q. But does not experience show that brotherly correction seldom does good, and often does harm?
A. This is too often seen indeed; but the reason is, because it is too often given in a very improper manner, which destroys all the good effects it might have had, and makes it be taken badly (amiss). Men often reprove and rebuke their neighbour out of pride, showing a contempt of him, and exposing him to the contempt of others; or out of a discontented peevish disposition which takes a pleasure in carping and chiding at every thing: but this, however common in the world, does not deserve the name of fraternal correction.
Q. In what manner then ought it to be given?
A. To do this properly, the following rules are to be observed.
1. There ought to be a real fault committed, or a real danger incurred: nothing is more disgusting than one who is always chiding and fretting upon every little trifling occasion; admonition from such people can have little or no effect even when a real cause occurs; all they say will be attributed more to their fretful humour and peevishness, than to reason and charity.
2. It must proceed from real charity, that is, from a real love for the person, and a desire for the good of his soul; for, as our Saviour says, “If he shall hear you, you shall gain your brother;” by this he clearly shows that the motive for correcting should only be with a view to gain him, who might be lost if not admonished. But if the correction, arise either from any hatred to the person, or from anger or displeasure, it will always do mischief, and instead of brotherly correction, becomes a sinful vent of one’s own passion. It will easily be perceived by the person corrected, whence the correction proceed; if he be convinced it arises from love it cannot fail to be taken well; but if otherwise, it will only provoke and irritate.
3. It must be done with meekness and humility, which will always be the case when it flows from a real charity. “Brethren,” says St. Paul, “if a man be overtaken in any fault, you who are spiritual, instruct such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.” (Gal. 6:1).
4. It must be in season, when the person is disposed to receive it; not when in a passion, or obstinately engaged in dispute, or when it exposes him to humiliation before others; because then there is little room to hope for success.
5. Whoever would correct others profitably, must never presume himself, but confide in God alone for success, and therefore be earnest in recommending the whole affair to God, who alone can touch the heart, and give a blessing to our words. “Consider the works of God, than no man can correct whom he despises.” – Ecclus 7:14
Q. Are there any other particular rules for those who have the charge of others, in exercising this duty of correction?
A. Their correction ought never to proceed from any other motive than real charity, zeal for the glory of God, and the good of the soul of the person corrected, and from a consciousness of its being their duty; hence all anger and passion ought to be banished far from them, as well as from others, in exercising this duty; but it will be often necessary for them both to correct in public, and punish, where there are small hopes of amendment; for the sake of discipline, and for preventing the fall of others, and lest their silence should be interpreted an approbation.
 Taken from his work, The Devout Christian instructed in the Faith of Christ, from the written word, Chapter 15, On the 5th Commandment, Pg. 481 – 489. Dublin; James Duffy & Sons, 15 Wellington Quay, and 1 Paternoster Row, London