The Personalist Project

I think this CNA story offers an opportunity to think about how to apply the principles Katie is articulating.

Arturo Martinez-Sanchez says he had no choice but to forgive the man suspected of sexually assaulting and killing his wife and young daughter in an April 2012 attack that also left him seriously wounded.

“I have to forgive him, to go the way of life,” the Las Vegas resident told CNA in a July 17 interview. “It's in the Bible … I forgive him because I believe in God.”

“The Bible says: You forgive this gentleman, and you are forgiven yourself. That's the way it is,” said Martinez-Sanchez, a lifelong Catholic who said his upbringing and education in the Church impressed on him the need to forgive Bryan Clay.

Martinez-Sanchez recently held a press conference to declare that he forgave the 22-year-old Clay, who is accused of raping Arturo's 38-year-old wife Yadira and their 10-year-old daughter Karla. Both were beaten to death with a hammer by the attacker, who also inflicted severe head injuries on the father"


“I would say, 'I forgive you,'” he responded. “If he kissed me on the cheek, I would kiss him back.”

“I love my Yadira. I love my Karla. I love my sons,” Martinez-Sanchez said at the press conference. “We all love Jesus. Through his strength, we will survive.”

If Clay is found guilty, Martinez-Sanchez expects him to be punished appropriately, with the death penalty if necessary. But this decision, he said, is not his to make.

“My command,” he maintained, is simply “to forgive him.” That responsibility was “something between me and God,” with “nobody else involved.”

After Bryan Clay was arrested, the murder suspect reportedly told police he wished they had simply killed him rather than apprehending him. Martinez-Sanchez says he has prayed for Clay to be able “to know God” and receive the mercy available to all who sincerely repent.

No one, he stressed, is without sin in the eyes of God. And no one, according to Christ himself, will receive his mercy unless they show mercy to others.

“As a believer in Christ, I know that God forgives all the sins of those who have faith in him,” Martinez-Sanchez said in his July 12 “Forgiveness Statement.”

“In this, I am instructed to forgive first. Knowing that God will forgive even murders if there is true repentance, Bryan Clay will stand in judgment before Him.”

His choice to regard Clay with love does not take away his pain, nor does it absolve the suspected killer of his responsibilities before the law and before God.

But for a victim of injustice, “forgiveness is not a choice that God leaves to us,” Martinez-Sanchez said in his July 12 statement. “It is a commandment.

Is Martinez-Sanchez guily of unprincipled forgiveness or an exemplary Christian?

I haven't read all the posts carefully but these seem key questions to me:

1) Whose job is it to see that justice is done? Perhaps not the victim's, at least not solely. Martinez-Sanchez is leaving it to the state and to the Lord. "Vengenance is mine, says the Lord." I am not suggesting that one should not try to get just recompense for harms done to one but sometimes that effort should be let go for other goods.

2) Whose job is it to attempt to convert the sinner? Perhaps the victim has more of a responsibility here, to show God's mercy. Martinez-Sanchez would kiss the killer and is praying for him. Certainly every victim should pray for those who harm him. I think the kiss would help convert the sinner.

3. Another question: Would the kiss signal reconciliation? I think it might. They had no relationship to begin with but have one now. I think reconciliation doesn't have to mean one is forever more obliged to treat those who have harmed one as welcome guests to one's table. But I would think it would mean an attempt to restore friendly relationships to some extent. All sorts of factors would need to be taken into account, especially for harms arising from a family setting. Parents, for instance, are always to be honored and have given us great gifts even when they have done us great harm.

I know a woman who nursed her ex-husband struggling with cancer not because she felt she owed it to him but because he is the father of her children and it was important to them that he be well cared for. I don't use that as an example of forgiveness so much but as reconciliation perhaps even when forgiveness has not happened.

Certainly question of forgiveness and reconciliation in a familial situation are radically different from and much more complicated than questions of forgiveness and reconciliation with complete strangers. But if we can forgive complete strangers who have never benefitted us, how much more might we owe forgiveness to those who have benefitted us?

Comments (92)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Jul 18, 2012 8:21am

Thanks so much for chiming in, Janet.

I'll work on a proper reply.  Preliminarily I'll say only that we don't know if this is a case of true Christian forgiveness or "unprincipled forgiveness," or some mix of the two, do we?  Only God knows.  We can hope it's a genuine triumph of grace; we can also have misgivings that it might not be, especially since he's obviously a new Christian and the victim of terrible trauma.  [UPDATE: I am wrong here. In fact, he's a life-long Catholic.]  In any case, we can remind ourselves that it's not our responsibility to judge his soul.

In response to your other points:

1) In a case like this, it's clearly the job of the civil authorities to see that justice is done according to the law; it's God's job to see that justice is done on a deeper level.

2) It's the Holy Spirit's "job" to "convert the sinner."  It's never my job to convert someone else.  My own conversion is task enough for me, and more efficacious than anything else I can do to advance the gospel and win souls for Christ.

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Jul 18, 2012 8:50am

3) There is no answer to this question in the abstract.  To safeguard against "unprincipled forgiveness," though, I would caution that there is no strict duty to have "friendly relations" with anyone, including one's parents, as the gospel passage I quoted from the other day makes plain.  (Another passage, from last Sunday's Gospel: "If anyone does not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your sandals...")  Friendly relations have terms, and entail reciprocity. And sometimes, as we see in St. Paul, and in the case of Nora in A Doll's House, cutting off a relation is the act most consistent with "steadfast love," most serious about the true good. It follows that if we are holding others responsible to "maintain friendly relations," we may be guilty of illegitimate pious peer pressure.  This is especially the case if it is the wrong-doer demanding that the one he wronged "maintain friendly relations" with him, while he refuses to acknowledge and repent what he did, and continues to do.  If Nora's husband had put pressure on her to stay with him, because it's her "Christian duty to forgive," he would most certainly have been guilty of pushing "unprincipled forgiveness."

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Jul 18, 2012 9:12am

But if we can forgive complete strangers who have never benefitted us, how much more might we owe forgiveness to those who have benefitted us?

I caution here, too, against the use of the term "owe."  As Pope Benedict put it, justice is what we owe others; forgiveness is something we freely give above and beyond what we owe.

True forgiveness is essentially gratituitous.  It's not something we can demand of others; we can only beg for it as an undeserved grace.  We especially should take care not to be demanding that someone else who has been wronged forgive and be reconciled with the one who has wronged him and not repented.

This is particularly clear in the case of habitually abusive relations.  Only think how ex-Legionaires came under pressure (and put themselves under terrible pressure!) to "forgive" the wrongs they had suffered in that wretchedly dysfunctional order, because of all the good they had received through it.  That pressure was geared not to true forgiveness and reconciliation, but toward silencing critics and perpetuating wrong.

Further, when it comes to family, we have a still greater obligation to love, and therefore a much greater interest in justice.  

Jules van Schaijik

#4, Jul 18, 2012 11:44am

Regarding the extra complications in a family context, one thing to note is that it allows for much greater wrongs. There is typically a far deeper level of trust, intimacy, openness and vulnerability in families. One depends on the good faith and benevolence of friends and family members in way one doesn't with strangers. Therefore, what is only a minor wrong if done by a stranger, can be a deep betrayal if done by a friend, spouse, parent, or sibling.

Also reconciliation between friends and family is much more difficult than reconciliation between strangers. It requires the (partial) restoration of a relationship that has been damaged or broken. Genuine repentance on the part of the wrongdoer is much more important in this context. If a stranger does not repent, I can forgive him, wish him well, and never see him again. Very different with a friend or family member.  

Jules van Schaijik

#5, Jul 18, 2012 12:04pm

In Transformation in Christ, von Hildebrand argues along similar lines. If we are friends with the person who wronged us, or there is some other bond of love, then "it is strictly required by the logos of the relationship that our partner shall recognize, and regret the wrong he has done to us." Not to insist on this would be to act "against the spirit of the relationship."

Most certainly we must forgive him, too; but here we must desire that he recognize and repent of his wrong, not merely for his own good but for the sake of our relationship itself—of the restoration of that intimate union of hearts which essentially demands the clearing up of all misunderstandings and the healing of all disharmonies. For that union of hearts is an objective good which we must guard and cultivate, and which imposes certain obligations on us.

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Jul 18, 2012 12:40pm

PS: My impression that he is "a new Christian" came from a different article I'd read on the subject a few days ago.  I'll see if I can find it.

Janet Smith

#7, Jul 18, 2012 1:22pm

Jules, I haven't looked at von Hildebrand's remarks in context but they seem severe to me. To "insist" that another "recognize and regret a wrong" seems not to be a principle conducive to close relationships.  Yes, we should always desire that others, especially those we love, come to self-knowledge and make amends, more for their sake than ours.  Of course, much would depend upon the kind of wrong done, but most successful relationships involve regular looking the other way when harms are done.  We readily assume our friend !) had a good reason we don't know about 2) has suffered something in the past that causes the bad behavior 3) simply doesn't have much control over this kind of behavior (say habitual lateness). I think forgiving someone -- sometimes without even mentioning the forgiveness -- can often be the means of the person coming to see that he or she has done wrong.  

Janet Smith

#8, Jul 18, 2012 1:25pm

About converting the sinner.  Of course, only the Holy Spirit can convert a soul, but our prayers and behavior are instruments the Holy Spirit responds to and uses.  I think we have a special responsibility to try to help the Holy Spirit convert those who have harmed us.  In my experience, and the experience of countless others, fervent prayer for those who have harmed us, changes our hearts and helps us see the wrongdoer in a new light.  Prayer generally leads us to change our behavior for the better towards those who have harmed us and our changed behavior can be a means of helping the other change.  These things have probably already been said before, but may bear repeating.

Katie van Schaijik

#9, Jul 18, 2012 1:33pm

Personally, I don't like the idea of trying to "help the Holy Spirit."  It seems presumptuous.

To say we have a "responsibility" to help the Holy Spirit in cases of those who have harmed us likewise strikes me as somewhat off key, personalistically—and leaning in the direction of "dysfunctional forgiveness".  

I'd rather say that the fact that someone has harmed us gives us a particular opportunity to mediate love and truth to them. 

Rhett Segall

#10, Jul 18, 2012 2:09pm

As a general response to thoughts regarding Arturo Sanchez' tragedy and the topic of forgiveness:

First: I think it vital to differentiate our volitional response in forgiving from our heart's response.

As a Christian I have pledged myself to follow Jesus in the way of forgiveness. In such a personal tragedy I can "will' forgiveness by God's grace. The thought that Jesus has assumed the culprit's sin in the price He paid for our redemption is vital in ameliorating my sense of vengence on the one hand and in legitimately satisfying my sense of justice on the other.

Secondly, the level of heart:

Working towards a hearfelt forgiveness perhaps is an indirect process and cannot be commanded. An ongoing awareness of our own radical capacity for evil and an awareness of God's providential love for the victims of the culprit's visciousness, would seem to me the foundations for nurturing this heartfelt forgiveness. But we must be patient with ourself in this area and not push this dimension of our Christian forgiveness. If we push it rather than allow  grace to nurture it I fear we will have a sham forgiveness subject to the negative effects of unconscious repressions.

Tim Cronin

#11, Jul 18, 2012 2:18pm

I think we have to restore right order. After confession we are given a pennance to help us uproot the problems that contributed to the sin in the first place. Likewise if we don't support and fight for justice we are failing to contribute to the restoration of order and dis-orders continue. I think one of the questions here is what does forgiveness entail and require? Is it an interior letting go of the desire for vengeance, a letting go of bitterness? Or is it the objective act of meeting the perpetrator and telling them you forgive them? In order to meet does the perpetrator have to turn around (repent) and come to you as in the prodigal son (though the father runs to meet him at the earliest sign of his repentance)

Katie van Schaijik

#12, Jul 18, 2012 2:31pm

Rhett, I agree whole-heartedly.  I'm trying to persuade Jules to write an article on von Hildebrand's notion of "cooperative freedom."  He's got lots to say that's very apropos.

Another point: It's crucial, in terms of avoiding pressuring others toward premature and unreal forgiveness, to realize that (as in the case of Nora) to take a stand for justice and truth may be, in a given case or a given moral moment, the "theme", i.e. the best way to mediate good into the world and others' hearts.

Take the case of a bully.  Isn't the one stands up to him, who refuses to let him get away with his thuggish behavior, doing him a true service?

Tim Cronin

#13, Jul 18, 2012 2:36pm

3Be on your guard!* If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.b 4And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.”c

Luke 17:3

What Does the Bible Really Say about Forgiveness?

Katie van Schaijik

#14, Jul 18, 2012 2:51pm

Thanks for that link, Tim.

She nails the "unprincipled forgiveness" problem:

One of the most celebrated forgiveness texts is Jesus' prayer from the cross, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). This is often cited as the quintessential moment of unconditional Christian forgiveness, and held up as a model that believers should seek to emulate. Often, pastoral caregivers present victims of violence with this verse to demonstrate the perfect Christian response to persecution and wrongdoing. This becomes especially problematic when victims -- especially of domestic violence -- are pressured to reconcile quickly and unconditionally with their abusers based on an idealized portrait of Christian forgiveness.

Jules van Schaijik

#15, Jul 18, 2012 2:54pm

Janet Smith, Jul. 18 at 12:22pm

most successful relationships involve regular looking the other way when harms are done.

I agree entirely. I meant to speak only of serious wrong-doing, or paterns of wrongdoing. What counts as serious is, of course, hard to decide in the abstract. A lot depends on the individuals involved, and the nature of their relationship.

Katie van Schaijik

#16, Jul 18, 2012 2:55pm

I like this too:

Praying for one's attacker is an easier [i.e. more real]-- and much safer -- task than offering unconditional forgiveness and reconciling with unrepentant abusers. Requiring repentance before granting forgiveness gives victims another way to protect themselves while remaining true to the biblical text.

I'd only want to add that it's also the way to remain true to themselves (in the Kierkegaardian sense) and true to objective reality. 

Barbara Nicolosi

#17, Jul 18, 2012 2:59pm

(Part I)

As Jesus noted, "Only God can forgive sins."  What we can do is allow ourselves to understand that others screw up even as we ourselves.  This allows us not to hate the those who hurt us, and not to return evil for evil.  But we can't erase the evil they have done or even make it go away by anything we do. 

In the rush to "forgive," are we really trying to get quickly out of the sliming that we have suffered?  We want it to be over so we tell ourselves that if we "forgive" the act will not have power over us any more.

Last Fall, I was the victim of a sexual assault.  My response in the immediate aftermath of the assault was to pray for my attacker.  I see now that the impulse was rooted in some kind of attempt to take back the power he had taken from me.  I wanted my life back before I became paranoid about young black men, and being alone on street corners.  Praying for my attacker was a way of acting like I had moved beyond the assault....even though I could not really do that.

Barbara Nicolosi

#18, Jul 18, 2012 2:59pm

(Part II)

It was a lie.  The awful thing was awful and there is nothing you can do with awful things except accept that your life and framework have been inexorable, irrevocably, and probably unfairly altered.  You can't move past the evil that has been inflicted on you, you have to learn to incorporate it into your life which now is going to be different, at least for a while.  Maybe for decades.

When I do pray for my attacker now, I pray that he the next time he assaults someone he gets arrested.  I pray that he is prevented some how from doing any more evil. I can't forgive him because he has not asked my forgiveness.  If he did ask my forgiveness, like the Church in confession, I would need to be sure that there was real contrition present, and then, my faith would oblige me to promise the man that I wish him no harm.  Although I do wish him jail time.

Forgiveness without repentance is like gratitude without a gift.

Katie van Schaijik

#19, Jul 18, 2012 3:00pm

Here's another point:

"Abuser" does not refer only to severe cases like sexual abuse or domestic violence.

Nora's husband would have indignantly rejected a claim that he was abusive of her.  He loved Nora!  He doted on her!  In fact, though, his habit of relating to her was abusive, and very seriously so, inasmuch as he habitually treated her not as a person in her own right, but as an extension of his own ego. 

This is the case in very many, if not all dysfunctional and "co-dependent" relations.

Katie van Schaijik

#20, Jul 18, 2012 3:18pm

Barb, I wrote #19 before I saw your comment.  I am horrified by your story.

I, too, hope your attacker gets caught and does jail time—for his own soul's sake, as well as for the protection of society.

Janet Smith

#21, Jul 18, 2012 3:58pm

Barb, I too am horrified by your story and will certainly pray for you and your attacker.

I think it is completely right to pray that the perpetrator of a crime stop harming others, get arrested and punished. But praying for his conversion is also essential. Surely the Christian thing to do.  Yes, prayer can be a substitute for dealing with things but dealing with things should always include prayer and prayer for conversion.  I can't imagine how that is presumptuous.  Or it is a holy presumption of the kind the Jesus commanded us to have.   

Janet Smith

#22, Jul 18, 2012 3:58pm

And I can't see that we need to be asked for forgiveness before extending it.  It is there for the taking when the perpetrator repents.  In the meantime, we can have peace of heart.  I am not suggesting that any of this is easy or instantaneous or there is something unChristian about someone who is having a hard time doing it.  I agree with Rhett that there is a difference between a forgiveness that is an act of the will and an act of forgiveness that has penetrated to the heart.  But making the first one is a way of coaxing the second along.

Tim Cronin

#23, Jul 19, 2012 6:08am

Maybe it's a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. I think we are called to forgive everyone everything regardless of repentance but we can only reconcile with those who are repentant (otherwise we treat them as a gentile or tax collector). And even if someone repents of a serious crime we still seek justice for the crime so the disorder can become ordered. So I would make a distiction between three things:

forgiveness - always for everything

reconciliation - only if repentant (but can be offered through an exterior act of forgiveness)

justice - the merciful act of healing disorders

Katie van Schaijik

#24, Jul 19, 2012 6:21pm

Janet Smith

... dealing with things should always include prayer and prayer for conversion.  I can't imagine how that is presumptuous.  

To clarify: what I thought presumptuous was not praying for the ones who wrong me, but imagining I need to "help the Holy Spirit."

I see nothing wrong, objectively, in praying for those who injure us.  But there are dysfunctional ways of doing it.   

Sometimes praying for the wrongdoers can be an unwholesome way of dwelling on the wrong.  Sometimes it can express a kind of neurotic guilt—as if we hold ourselves responsible for their salvation.  Sometimes it's a way of trying to get God to make them do what we think they need to do. (Typical co-dependent behavior.) It can be a way of stroking our own piety-egos.  Or of avoiding taking responsibility for our own part in the wrong done to us (if we had any)...

The key, I think, in soul-health terms, is to find a way to "bless and not curse"; to learn to commend others to God and want good for them, even our enemies.   Even those who hurt us.

If we can do that sincerely, we're okay. We've gone far.

Katie van Schaijik

#25, Jul 19, 2012 7:13pm

About types of wrong:

I think we can learn a lot from the approach the Church takes.  First, she distinguishes between venial and mortal sins.  Small sins and big sins.  The small ones hurt our communion with God; the big ones sever it.  We can only restore it by going to confession.

This distinction has its human corollary.  Take marriage.

If I snap at my husband because I'm tired, or whatever, I wrong him.  But it's a "venial wrong".  It hurts the relationship, but not in a serious way.  I can say, "I'm sorry."  He can say, "No worries,"  and our love goes on.  

If I have an affair, though, the case is very different.  Then I have betrayed him and violated the marriage in a way that so seriously injures our union as to destroy it, absent drastic remedial measures on my part.

If I say, "O sorry!" and then demand his forgiveness, without really acknowledging what I have done to him, without resolving never to do it again, and without doing what I can to make amends, then, it would be perverse for me to blame the ruination of our marriage on his "lack of forgiveness"?  No?

Janet Smith

#26, Jul 19, 2012 7:31pm

truly did not mean to imply that the Holy Spirit needs our help but the Holy Spirit does want our help -- for our sake, of course.  I do think there is a sense in which we "need" to help the Holy Spirit.   We need to be willing instruments of whatever the Holy Spirit wants to accomplish.  I think there is lots of evidence that praying for those who hurt us is always one thing the Holy Spirit wants.  Again, it is peculiar that in many instances the only relationship we have with another is one of being a victim of that person but that relationship now should put that person high on our prayer list.  Those of us who have been harmed by perfect strangers, as in the story above, need to pray for them and for family members all the more since by nature we are in relationship with them.  

Janet Smith

#27, Jul 19, 2012 7:31pm

When Jesus spoke about coming to create division between family members but I don't think he mean division created by harm done by one member of a family to another. Those divisions we should ardently want to heal (not that we shouldn't want to heal all divisions!).

Rather, I think Jesus was referring to the fact that some members of a family will be believers and others will not and we can't prefer family harmony over belief in Christ.  Certainly there are situations where family members cannot be in relationship because of harms experineced but I don't think that was what Christ was referencing.

Janet Smith

#28, Jul 19, 2012 7:35pm

Your analysis of various modes of "dysfunctional" pray is excellent though in general I think nearly any act of prayer has benefits -- even dysfunctional ones.

One of the most wonderful insights I ever heard was from a priest who said, that God doesn't care what you say to him, he just wants you to talk to him.  Or better yet, turn to him and listen to him. Certainly, much prayer is an attempt to dictate to God what he should do but one is at least acknowledging God's existence and that he has power to make things happen (except forcibly change our wills!)

I still am not clear what you think about Martinez-Sanchez's act. You say only God knows but that is always true of any behavior.  Only God knows what we mean by what we say or do. What I am asking is if his act has the marks of exemplary Christianity or dysfunctional forgiveness.  He forgives because he wants to be forgiven.  He is not waiting to be asked to forgive.  Is that dysfunctional?

Katie van Schaijik

#29, Jul 19, 2012 9:01pm

I still am not clear what you think about Martinez-Sanchez's act. You say only God knows but that is always true of any behavior. 

 Right.  We don't know in someone else's case.  

I find enough in what I read to justify hope that it's real and exemplary, and enough to have worries that it might be something less than that.  

To me his saying, "I had no choice" is a bit of a red flag, especially because he stressed the point later: "It's a commandment."  That suggests to me an "act of the will" he imposed on himself, rather than a properly free interior achievement under grace.  

Barb testified above that she now sees that her own "act of forgiveness" after she was attacked wasn't really an act of forgiveness, but a kind of defense mechanism.  

That may be a valid step in the healing process.  It's certainly humanly understandable.  But we shouldn't confuse it with the real thing.

Katie van Schaijik

#30, Jul 19, 2012 9:05pm

Janet Smith, Jul. 19 at 6:31pm

We need to be willing instruments of whatever the Holy Spirit wants to accomplish.  

 Yes, I agree.  

Often what a person inwardly senses the Holy Spirit wants of her is very different from what the surrounding community assumes the Holy Spirit wants of her.

Janet Smith

#31, Jul 19, 2012 9:52pm

Yes it is greatly liberating when one listens to the Holy Spirit instead of the surrounding community. There is no presumption there...:)

I find the statements, "I had no choice" and "It's a commandment" impressive in their simplicity.  I think he is saying, "It is clear to me what God's will was.  In that case, I have no choice.  There is a commandment to forgive; therefore I forgive."  He seems very free from the pressure of the surrounding community.  But, you are right, we can't know what is going on inside him or around him.  

Janet Smith

#32, Jul 19, 2012 9:52pm

In an earlier post you say:

My point is not that Immaculée's story is not inspiring and exemplary. Of course it is. My point is rather that it is not apropos in every case. Unforgiveness is not the “theme” (to use a von Hildebrandian term) in all broken relationships. Sometimes, as Kevin pointed out in the earlier thread, the problem is vice, or denial, or illusion on the offender’s part. Haven’t we all read moving and admirable “tough love” stories? The parents of a young adult who repeatedly lies to them and steals from them to buy drugs are not being hardhearted or self-righteous or unloving (though he will accuse them of such) when they tell him he’s not welcome in their home until he gets himself straightened out.

Janet Smith

#33, Jul 19, 2012 9:52pm

I am not certain what you mean by saying that “unforgiveness is not the theme in all broken relationships.”  Whether or not it is the “theme” surely it needs to be a part of the response to all broken relationships.  Whether it is vice or denial or illusion that leads the wrongdoer not to repent or seek forgiveness is irrelevant to the need to forgive on the part of the victim.  Those who engage in “tough love” are not unforgiving.  The parents of the young adult that you speak of may have perfectly forgiving hearts in reference to their son. Their behavior is not explained by a refusal to forgive but by the fact that they are the ones who should hold him accountable for his deeds and they are doing so. They are both victim and judge; the victim forgives, the judge punishes. 

Janet Smith

#34, Jul 19, 2012 10:02pm

In many instances we are not properly both.  Again, to forgive doesn’t mean that one must be in a harmonious relationship with another or be reconciled. It does mean that one is prepared to be reconciled if the conditions are right.  Sometimes those conditions require that justice be done but not always.  It seems that in Immaculee’s case justice was not required for reconciliation.  She was not the person whose responsibility it was to seek justice. Her job was to forgive and be an instrument of the Holy Spirit for the conversion of others.  I think that is usually the case for most of us in relation to others. 

Parents to children is perhaps the most frequent exception.   

Children who are victims of the wrongdoing of  parents may be the most complicated case but I doubt that often children are the right agents for seeking justice.  Those relationships are not like friendships or spousal relationships either.  We always owe our parents so much.  Of course if they have done us very serious harm and continue to do so, we must get out of harm’s way. Seeking justice is likely not our job.  Forgiving and praying always are.

Katie van Schaijik

#35, Jul 20, 2012 9:02am

The comment of mine you quote there referred specifically to forgiveness as a social act, viz. reconciliation. We had already distinguished that from the interior act of forgiveness, which, as you say, can happen even absent repentance and restitution.  

I wouldn't say, though, that whether the wrong-doer repents and makes amends is "irrelevant".  That's true insofar as my obligation to forgive remains.  But it's also true that sincere contrition is often the key to helping a person achieve the hard task of forgiveness.  If the one who wrongs me (especially if it is someone close to me) refuses to acknowledge his wrong, shows no contritition, offers no amends, and blames me for the estrangement between us, then he makes my interior task that much harder to achieve.  He makes reconciliation between us impossible.

Those who are animated by a theory of "unprincipled forgiveness" do not see that.  Because they have no concern with truth or with justice, they reduce all standing tensions and estrangements between persons to a problem of "unforgiveness."  Hence, in practice, they enable wrong and injustice.  They add to the burden of the afflicted person struggling to absorb her injuries without returning evil for evil.

Katie van Schaijik

#36, Jul 20, 2012 9:10am

Janet Smith, Jul. 19 at 8:52pm

I find the statements, "I had no choice" and "It's a commandment" impressive in their simplicity.  I think he is saying, "It is clear to me what God's will was.  In that case, I have no choice. 

I agree.  If he is referring to an inward sense of God's call (which always comes with the grace necessary to accomplish it), then all's well.  

But, since practitioners of "unprincipled forgiveness" are ubiquitous, and this is just how they talk: "You have to forgive or God won't forgive you;"  I worry a little.

NB: We can impose a bogus notion of forgiveness on ourselves.  It needn't necessarily come from the surrounding community.

Katie van Schaijik

#37, Jul 20, 2012 9:45am

About justice, my meaning needs further developing in a separate post.  I will only say here that you are speaking of it in a specific sense, very different from what I have in mind.  

When I say that those who preach and practice "unprincipled forgiveness" neglect justice, I don't have in mind that the victim of wrong should take it upon herself to mete out punishment on her abuser.

Nor do I think the parents of the young adult in the example above are "punishing" their son when they tell him he's not welcome in their house.  They are taking responsibility for themselves and their property.  They are refusing to let him continue to abuse them.  They drawing a line.

The primary requirement of justice is truth: establishing the truth of what happened and who is responsible.  Other requirements are contrition and amends.

Katie van Schaijik

#38, Jul 20, 2012 10:25am

"Unprincipled forgiveness" preachers and practitioners tend to view calls for truth and justice as hard-hearted and arrogant.  They think forgiveness means dropping the matter and "moving on."

In cases of serious wrong and patterns of wrong, the wrong-doer owes (in justice) the offended party, first, the truth. "I did this to you."  If he withholds it, he perpetuates his offense.  If, instead of acknowledging his responsibility, he denies it and shifts blame onto the one he wronged, he adds to her injuries.

The offended one, may, in justice to herself, and out of concern for reality and for the good of the offender, insist on the truth.  She will not abide the lie (e.g. that it was no big deal, or partly her fault, or unavoidable...), not because she is arrogant or unforgiving, but because she is true to herself and to reality, and because she understands, deeply, inwardly, that without truth there can be no real communion between persons.  She will not consent to be abused, or to collaborate with the offender in masking the truth and setting up face-saving illusions, or to re-establishing relations that have been exposed as dysfunctional and damaging.

Katie van Schaijik

#39, Jul 20, 2012 10:55am

There are basically two ways to break through the master/slave dynamic that afflcts all human relations:

One is to cease domineering; the other is to cease being dominated.  Speaking very generally, men have a particular call to the former; women have a particular call to the latter.

Likewise, parents (as their children grow into independent adults) have a call to the former; children have a call to the latter.  

Look again at Nora's stance vis a vis her husband.  A crisis had revealed to her that their relationship was not a marriage of equals.  It was master/slave situation.  He was implicitly demanding that she conform to his will; she was cooperating.  

Now she saw that she was not a self; not a properly self-standing adult making a sincere gift of herself in love, but a dependent, an extention of his ego.

She couldn't change that reality by an act of forgiveness (though forgiveness would be needed if reconciliation were possible).  She couldn't alter her husband's habits.  But she could say, "No more."  And, in so saying, in walking away, she isn't being unloving; rather, she is doing all she can at the moment to make love possible.

Kevin Schemenauer

#40, Jul 20, 2012 11:03am

Katie, thank you for pushing forward on this issue. I have learned from your posts that forgiveness implies understanding the evil of the action performed and that the victim should not allow a false forgiveness to tempt him to pass over the evil and its consequences. Of course, as you point out, neither should the victim dwell on the sin in ways that perpetuates and the action. Forgiveness does not imply forgetting the evil, denying the evil, overlooking the evil, or rationalizing the evil. Forgiveness is not a one and done act of the will but an ongoing process as we grow in our understanding of sin and its negative consequences. As we think about justice, the principle of comparative justice from just war theory seems helpful here. Nations should be aware that they do not perfectly embody justice even while they recognize that the injustice they are seeking to correct is comparatively worse. This helps to prevent rationalization on both sides of justice. Even when I cannot say another's sin was in no way my fault, I can still recognize that I have been harmed by another in ways that I am not responsible, and that comparative justice demands further action.

Katie van Schaijik

#41, Jul 20, 2012 12:45pm

Kevin Schemenauer, Jul. 20 at 10:03am

Forgiveness does not imply forgetting the evil, dening the evil, overlooking the evil, or rationalizing the evil. 

Exactly so.  Thanks, Kevin. I would only add "minimizing the evil".

And I agree with you that insisting on truth and justice does not in any way entail an arrogant assertion of our own perfection.

We can be deeply and remorsefully aware (as Nora was) that we contributed to the wrong with our own free agency.

Tim Cronin

#42, Jul 20, 2012 1:10pm

Katie van Schaijik, Jul. 20 at 9:55am

There are basically two ways to break through the master/slave dynamic that afflcts all human relations:

One is to cease domineering; the other is to cease being dominated.  Speaking very generally, men have a particular call to the former; women have a particular call to the latter.

Likewise, parents (as their children grow into independent adults) have a call to the former; children have a call to the latter.  

Thank you Katie for this insight. It seems like the male/parent-dominating has been the focus of much attention but not the women/child cease being dominated part. I think there is similar dymamic needed in economic. Instead of a state (big government) or capital (big money/company) model we need a model that liberates the worker.

"Bruni proposes that we understand the contract as an analogue of eros, as the quintessential market instrument of self-interest.  Parties to a contract seek to maximize their gains and advantages and minimize their costs and risks; the contract establishes the relationship among the parties, and each party is concerned only with its interests."


Tim Cronin

#43, Jul 20, 2012 1:11pm


For philia, Bruni proposes that associations and cooperatives—perhaps more diversely and fully developed in Europe than in North America—are market expressions of a relationality that considers self and other.  In such productive organizations, people live more fully in an awareness of interdependence and mutuality.

Bruni finds no market analogue of agape, or selflessness, in markets.  He notes that love, in economic terms, is even sometimes seen as a scarce resource that one should reserve for private relationships rather than dissipating it in the market.

His proposal to fill this dearth of agape in markets is gratuitousness, arguably the key term in the book;

Katie van Schaijik

#44, Jul 20, 2012 1:26pm

Well, I don't know.  We are straying off topic a bit here.  But,

1) I would not define agape as selflessness.

2) The key principle of love as it applies to economics, IMO, is what Wojtyla calls the "personalistic norm".  A person is an end-in-himself, never to be used as as mere means.

Persons are not reducible to economic units, or mere functionaries.  

In terms of the master/slave dynamic, in economics, we can't use others as means to our ends, nor can we allow ourselves to be used for the sake of money (e.g., by selling ourselves as prostitutes).  The Solidarity movement in Poland was all about the latter.  A non-violent refusal to cooperate with our being treated in  ways inconsistent with the dignity of persons.

Tim Cronin

#45, Jul 20, 2012 1:52pm

I agree. I'm not that familiar with Bruni's work (though I hope to read some of it). I think he calls for contracts (eros), cooperatives (philia), and agape (willing to be wounded by being gratuitous). I think this would put the person at the center of the economy. Right now I think the economy is dominated by either Big Government in the Socialist countries or Big Business in the Capitalist countires or some combination of either Big players. I think there is a parallel with eros not being fulfilled through the asceticism of philia & agape and domination in markets. The same I think is true on the personal level. If eros is not completed through philia and agape then it will likely take the form of domination. For men I think that tends toward a physical domination, for women an emotional domination (although this is a generalization). 

Stephen Granderson

#46, Jul 21, 2012 11:18am

Janet Smith,

I think your posts hit the nail on the head.  Forgiveness does not mean ignoring wrongs (at least not grave ones) or deluding ourselves into thinking that a person is good or trustworthy when he isn't.  You can forgive a person without liking or trusting them.

C.S. Lewis explained it well in Mere Christianity:

"I imagine someone will say, 'Well, if one is allowed to condemn the enemy's acts, and punish him, and kill him, what difference is left between Christian morality and the ordinary view?'  All the difference in the world.... We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating.  We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it.  In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one's own back, must simply be killed.  I do not mean that anyone can decide this moment that he will never feel it any more.  That is not how things happen.  I mean that every time it bobs its head up, day after day, year after year, all our lives long, we must hit it on the head....

Stephen Granderson

#47, Jul 21, 2012 11:22am

....That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.

"I admit that this means loving people who have nothing lovable about them.  But then, has oneself anything lovable about it?  You love it simply because it is yourself.  God intends us to love all selves in the same way and for the same reason: but He has given us the sum ready worked out in our own case to show us how it works.  We have then to go on and apply the rule to all other selves."

Katie van Schaijik

#48, Jul 21, 2012 12:49pm

Stephen, just to be sure there is no misunderstanding of my view: When I critique an unprincipled and/or dysfunctional notion of forgiveness very commonly found among Christians today, here are two things that I am not meaning to say:

1) That forgiveness as an interior act is impossible without repentance, or

2) That justice means "eye for an eye."

Here is what I do mean to say:

1) true forgiveness comprises justice; it doesn't do away with the need for it, any more than the gospel does away with the demands of the law.

2) reconciliation after serious wrong requires repentance on the part of the wrong-doer.

3) truth matters.  

4) forgiveness is not reducible to "an act of the will."

Janet Smith

#49, Jul 21, 2012 7:16pm

Kate, I do think kicking a child out of one’s home is always a punishment – in addition to being protective of one’s property, etc., and sometimes the right one.  But let me be more precise: parents are the formators of their children. It is their job to demand honesty, good behavior, etc. from their children.  Friends are not really the formators of friends, or spouses of spouses, though some of that will likely come into play, but that is not so much the essence of the relationship.  Children may someday need to “shape” and “correct” their parents but that relationship is, obviously, very different from the others.  Yes, adult children may have to help their parents see that something they did in raising them caused them some harm. Every parent lives to some extent with the fear that some chance remark, some ill-chosen response, some neglect will scar their child forever and lead to estrangement.  Most parents live in some fear of the accusation “You once said abc and that has always made me feel efg and I have never been able to experience X good because you did abc.”

Janet Smith

#50, Jul 21, 2012 7:17pm

Some parents may have had behaviors such as alcoholism or emotional immaturity, or whatever, that did some serious harm to their children but the harm was rarely if ever intentional.   Most every adult child holds some justifiable and some unjustifiable grievances against his or her parents.  Most also at some point decide to let it all go.  The relationship is more important than getting at the “truth” so hard to sort out in such relationships.  I don’t think that is unprincipled forgiveness.  It may not be the right response in all situations but it is a very good response in many situations between parents and children.  Again, different situations require different responses but letting perceived injustices go in order to maintain a relationship with one’s parents is not, I think, the unprincipled forgiveness that you describe.  One may not have the relationship “built on truth” that one desires, at least not the “truth” about what happened that caused harm, but it may be a very good relationship built on the truth that these are one’s parents and it is right to be in relationship with them.

Janet Smith

#51, Jul 21, 2012 7:17pm

Hello Steve, Nice to make your acquaintance.  Thanks for the insights and support.  

I think dwelling too much on the need for the wrongdoer to acknowledge the wrongdoing, and to "pay" in some way to make up for the wrongdoing often stands in the way of Christian charity.  The parable of the beam and the splinter is very much to the point.  This is not to say that a person who has been abused or greatly harmed must reconcile or be indifferent to whether or not the wrongdoer acknowledges the wrongdoing or pays for the wrongdoing. Rather, it means that focussing on what is going on with another often is an avoidance technique for dealing with what is going on in one's self.   It can also be a way of refusing to do what one should do to make things better. 

Janet Smith

#52, Jul 21, 2012 7:21pm

I am not suggesting that everyone wronged has contributed to the harm.  Yet the wronged person can certainly respond wrongly and in a way that perpetuates injustice. I don’t remember enough about Hedda Gabler but I think Nora impressed me as someone who refused to do the work she might have been able to do to bring her husband around.   She grew some but not enough.  Our sudden insights don’t always translate into sudden insights for others.   People are capable of change and our stomping off may give us some needed distance for a while but stomping off and refusing to reassess and return may be perpetuating a wrong more than a part of seeking justice.  I would have to reread Hedda Gabler to refresh my memory to see if her situation is a good one for making my point. But the point is: in intimate relationships, such as spousal and filial ones, great effort must be made to help the other grow, which sounds better to me than to make the other acknowledge wrongdoing. That may come and it is a desired outcome but it may not at all be the place to start the process of reconiliation.

Janet Smith

#53, Jul 21, 2012 7:26pm

Moreover, who of us, as we mature, hasn't come to realize how hard it is to understand what motivates others to do what they have done; and for those who do wrong, how much of their behavior can be explained by harm done to them?  This is not to excuse those who do wrong because they have suffered wrong but it is to recognize a fact.  Many are philanderers or alcoholics or greedy or arrogant because of something in their past.   “To walk a mile in another’s shoe” is another adage that seems to the point.  When those we love harm us, we need to work especially hard to learn what lead them to engage in the behavior that harmed us.  Understanding why someone behaved like he did goes a long way to promoting forgiveness and reconciliation.  Those who are angry with their mothers for some harm experienced from their mothers, may learn that their mothers were badly mothered or fathered by her parents and the angry may turn largely to sympathy. 

Rhett Segall

#54, Jul 21, 2012 8:01pm

Apropos of the times when the just thing to do is to choose not to evoke the past sins of another as the inherent condition for reconciliation, perhaps most relevant to  parents' relationship with a prodigal child, I find the following principle of Karl Rahner on target.

"...there is such a ting as implicit repentance,onewhere a man does not look directly at his past action as such and repudiate it, but, without expressly recognizing his defection as sinful, (he) so definitely affirms moral good that the real marrow of his former attitude is thereby given up and repudiated.  How much we morally mature, how much moral wisdom we learn in this way as the years go by!..." (Do You Believe in God")

Do we not see this "implicit repentance" exemplified in Peter's return to the Lord. We never hear him say "Jesus, I'm sorry for denying you." And we do not hear Jesus asking "Peter are you sorry for denying me?"  But Jesus knows Peter's heart. 

Katie van Schaijik

#55, Jul 21, 2012 8:23pm

Janet, I begin to feel that we are so far apart in perspective that there is little to be hoped from continuing the discussion.  

I am dismayed to discover how much (like Mike Healy before you) you seem to be imputing to me horrible ideas and attitudes that are nothing like what I think and hold. 

To be honest, this is a mark of just the kind of "unprincipled forgiveness" theory I am opposing.  You deepen my impression that it is a very serious problem in Christian circles.

For example, what in the world gives you the idea that a wronged person sets herself up as a "formator" of anyone else when she calls for justice?  (Were Maciel's accusers making themselves his "formators"?)   What makes you think she is demanding that the offender "pay" for what he did?  (Is the Church "making us pay" when she requires us to make amends?)  Why would you suggest that putting a stop to an abusive relationship involves "stomping off"?  

The very idea that you associate the call for justice with such things confirms my point.

I notice, too, that you put "truth" in quotes, as if there's no such thing, really.  

Katie van Schaijik

#56, Jul 21, 2012 8:39pm

Janet Smith

The parable of the beam and the splinter is very much to the means that focussing on what is going on with another often is an avoidance technique for dealing with what is going on in one's self. 

Here, I will just point out that "unprincipled forgiveness" tends to focus very much on what the wronged person ought to do, namely, "forgive."

Just look to the Legion to see what I mean.  "Grave fraternal concern" was expressed all over the place over the "lack of charity" exhibited by the Legion's accusers and critics.  Nothing was done to investigate, nevermind set right the wrongs they had experienced.

Same goes for the clerical abuse scandals.  Victims would say, "This happened to me," and, instead of objective reality, what got addressed was the problem of their "bitterness" and their "giving scandal."

Same goes in ordinary interpersonal relationships.  I see it all the time.  If someone charges us with wrong, we don't ask ourselves whether it's true; we accuse them of lack of charity.

Being busy trying to get other people to "forgive" is, in my experience, among the most common ways Christians today overlook the beam in their own eye.

Janet Smith

#57, Jul 21, 2012 10:15pm

Katie, I can't see that I have attributed any views to you. I am setting forth my views.  I don't know whether you hold the views I am combatting or not but I am combatting some false views that seem to me to possibly be lurking behind this question in general.  You don't need to defend yourself against anything I have countered unless you recognize some of your views in what I have written. 

I find you giving interpretations to my statements that are implausible (e.g., that we convert people rather than Holy Spirit doing so; that the Holy Spirit needs our help...).  

I don't think that all of those asking for justice are setting themselves up as formators. I don't know why you would attribute that position to me. I was responding to a specific example you gave of parents and children and Immaculee.  I thought her response was applicable even there.  The parents could be forgiving at the same time as seeking justice.  But many others should forgive without seeking justice -- as I believe Immaculee did and many of us should in many situations.  

Janet Smith

#58, Jul 21, 2012 10:19pm

Certainly I think those who have been harmed in ways that the law addresses may well be right to have recourse to the law.  That, of course, does not preclude that at the very same time they may be forgiving the wrongdoer and even prepared to reconcile.  I would not call those seeking justice through the law to be formators.   

I have a fairly classical view of justice in respect to wrongdoing.  Those who wrong others owe the wronged ones some recompense. That is a paying back.  I do think that Church is making us "pay" in some sense for our sins when it asks us to do penance.  Punishment is a kind of payment and penance is a kind of punishment.  The question for me is who should seek to see that justice is being done in respect to wrongs that have been done.  I think parents, because they are formators, should often seek to see that their children make recompense. I think spouses, because they are not formators (among other reasons), should rarely seek to have their spouses make recompense.

Janet Smith

#59, Jul 21, 2012 10:26pm

Nor do I think for someone to leave an abusive relationship is "stomping off."  I just don't remember Nora being in a truly abusive relationship but my memory may be faulty.  So let me not use her as an example.

My example is of someone who is in an unhealthy relationship where she is being treated badly by another who truly does not intend to harm her.   A clueless fellow, perhaps narcissitic.  At some point she realizes there is something wrong in the relationship and precipitously ends the relationship, dismissing the other as an irreformable lout.  I think some children treat their erring parents that way as do some spouses.  Many divorces are the result of a failure to really work at reconciliation, preceded by a failure to forgive.  Many splits in families are a result of children coming to believe that their parents have not done right by them in some way and severing the relationship. 

Janet Smith

#60, Jul 21, 2012 10:34pm

I don't know why you would attribute to me the position that there is no such thing as truth. Just because of quotation marks?  I think context indicates that I am saying that sometimes seeking one kind of truth is an obstacle to being true to another kind of truth.  Sometimes seeking to make someone acknowledge a wrongdoing is an obstacle to the deeper truth of the relationship. I think spouses overlook a great deal of harm done to them by their spouses because they know that to press the other to acknowledge that harm has been done would not allow them to be true to other goods in the relationship.  This is not, of course, to deny that there are many times when for the good of the relationship the harms must be acknowledged and recompense must be made.  But not always.

Janet Smith

#61, Jul 21, 2012 10:43pm

I am sorry if your experience is that there are two many Christians out there recommending that other Christians practice what you call "unprincipled forgiveness."  I find the failure to extend forgiveness is a greater problem than "unprincipled forgiveness" or the urging of "unprincipled forgiveness."

I think forgiveness is always called for as an interior state towards wrongdoers (with all the proper caveats of being careful not to downplay to one's self the harm that has been done, of the need of staying out of harm's way and of still seeking justice when that is right, etc.)  

Forgiving is not my first tendency in a situation where I have been wronged. I tend to keep a ledger of wrongs that others have committed to be able to charge against them at some future date when I may need ammunition or to justify my treating them harshly when I want to.  I am grateful to those who urge me to desist such a practice. 

Janet Smith

#62, Jul 21, 2012 10:51pm

Once I had a close relative who was furious with me for over a year and didn't speak to me. Since we didn't much keep in regular touch and since I was involved in so many things, I didn't quite notice. His fury did not touch me but it was tormenting him. Finally he called and said he wanted to forgive me because he couldn't sleep.  I was glad he found a way to be able to sleep!

I know too many people who are so consumed with anger at real or perceived harms that it poisons important parts of their lives. Forgiveness helps.

I do not mean to suggest anything about your views in the above; I am setting out my own position. 

And now I shall retire for the night, and from this conversation. 

Thank you for all you do in hosting such discussions on this blog.

Janet Smith

#63, Jul 21, 2012 10:54pm

I see I keep referring to Hedda Gabler when it should be A Doll's House.  And at the moement in my head I can't distinguish one from the other.  Sigh...

Katie van Schaijik

#64, Jul 21, 2012 11:12pm

Janet, let's back up a little.  Remember how this all started.  I write a post about "the concept of unprincipled forgiveness", linking an article that I thought had articulated the problem well.  I said that what the author saw is something I have come across often in my experience too: a bad notion of forgiveness that is doing damage in Christian circles.  I sited the cases of the Legion, the clerical abuse scandals and the covenant communities.

All of these are cases where forgiveness was constantly preached and invoked without regard for truth and justice, which allowed terrible evil to persist far longer than it should have.

Mike Healy argued in response (using examples of Jesus and the saints) that we can forgive even before the wrong-doer repents.  I replied that that's true, but not apropos.  

My point was not that interior forgiveness requires repentance, it was that there is such a thing abroad as a false notion of forgiveness that treats a call for justice as tantamount to hard-heartedness and vindictiveness, when in fact, it's an indispensable intention of "steadfast love".

I said I had experienced it in my own life.  

Katie van Schaijik

#65, Jul 21, 2012 11:37pm

I, personally, have experienced (and so have friends) that a in taking a stance for justice, I get accused of  "unforgiveness", "fascism", "hypocrisy," etc. by people who know nothing of my interior life.

Mike Healy responded by likening me to the Hatfields and McCoys.

I write a third post (the PP is all about discussion!), explaining further how there is no true conflict between justice and forgiveness; that, on the contrary, authentic forgiveness (in its fullest sense of reconciliation between persons) depends on justice.  To want questions of justice dropped is to "dress wounds as if they are not serious."

You kindly chime in with a post referring to "the principles Katie is trying to articulate" and follow up with many comments that, in their basic drift, seem to want to focus all attention not on the problem I am trying to highlight, but rather on the subjectivity of the offended party and the need for her to forgive, or "stay in friendly relations", etc.

This is just the pattern I find in cases of unprincipled forgiveness.  The attention of the surrounding community shifts inexorably away from the wrong done to the alleged  "unforgiveness" in the one wronged.

Katie van Schaijik

#66, Jul 22, 2012 12:01am

Janet Smith

I think spouses, because they are not formators ...should rarely seek to have their spouses make recompense.

Your sense of justice in this context is different from mine. 

Take a concrete case.  Suppose my husband cheats on me and lies about it. I find proof and confront him with it.

He owes me, in justice, first, the truth ("yes, I did it; I wronged you profoundly"), then sincere contrition, firm purpose never to do it again, and amends, i.e. real efforts toward reestablishing the love and trust he lost.

In requiring these of my husband, I am in no way setting myself up as his "formator".  I'm not "punishing" him; I'm not "making him pay" (in the "eye for an eye" sense); I'm not being harsh or self-righteous.  I am loving him truly; I am being faithful to marriage; and I am defending my own dignity.

I'm also probably just trying to come to terms with the painful and overwhelming earthquake that has just occured in my life.  

If he withholds these things from me, say, by lying or downplaying what he did, then it's not my "unforgiveness", but his unrepented act that ruin the marriage.

Michael Healy

#67, Jul 22, 2012 12:05am


Thank you for addressing this topic with much sensitivity and insight.  The dialogue is always fruitful.

However, in comment #55, Katie opined that you and she were so far apart in perspective that little was to be hoped from continuing the discussion.  This is also the conclusion that I reached in my numerous posts with her on this topic, so I signed off. 

However, I must at least defend myself from the charge (now repeated) of attributing horrible attitudes to her.  I drew a parallel  in her argumentation not with the current reputation of vicious revenge-motives of the Hatfields and McCoys but with the fact that at the time they were seeking justice in a central way--justice they thought they could not get across the state line.  I was not accusing her of having vicious revenge-motives, but of over-stressing justice--of making it the center rather than love and mercy, of setting up limits and barriers to love and mercy in the name of justice.  Mercy and forgiveness never skip over justice, nor treat it lightly--I agree with that every time Katie says it.  But love is not limited to justice, especially in light of the One Victim on the cross.

Michael Healy

#68, Jul 22, 2012 12:20am


Looking again at your arguments from "Forgiveness and Dysfunction"--not your attitudes, which I know not (and about which I certainly may be "all wet")--let me highlight a few things from my earlier quotes in my response (I add the brackets and the bold, your words in parenthesis):

…to treat an unrepentant assailant the same way we treat someone who has 1) ceased offending, 2) sincerely repented, and 3) made amends, is [wrong].   (not Christlike, but dysfunctional).

To equate a call for justice with a desire for revenge is [wrong].   (not Christlike, but dysfunctional).

To disregard the objective reality of a serious wrong done, in the name of restoring peace between persons, is [wrong]. (not Christlike, but dysfunctional).

For third parties in a given conflict to exert moral pressure to "forgive" on the one who has (objectively) been wronged without also (and even more fundamentally) calling on the offender to repent his wrong and make amends—in other words showing concern that justice be done—is [wrong]. (not Christlike, but dysfunctional, even abusive).

I think it is still the case that these arguments could be made by Mr. Hatfield or Mr. McCoy--thus it is worth considering where they might lead.

Michael Healy

#69, Jul 22, 2012 12:28am

Your later comments in the same earlier post are even more revealing (my bold):

I have had "unforgiveness", "hypocrisy", "bitterness", "fascism", “viciousness” and "sickness" imputed to me because I asked for justice and insisted on truth,

When I stood up for myself and defended what is mine, I was charged with "causing scandal," of "attacking," and even of "inviting Satan into the neighborhood."

[The] effect is that evil is not taken seriously. Persons are not taken seriously. Objective reality is not taken seriously. Justice is neglected.

Could these statements not also be used to justify the ancient feud?  I think clearly they can--and that is worth serious consideration.  Ideas have consequences.  

Katie van Schaijik

#70, Jul 22, 2012 12:29am

I demand honesty from my friends--not because I think it's my job to make them honest, but because I think there can't be real friendship without honesty.  I don't trust people who prove dishonest.

I may be kind toward someone with "honesty issues", but there won't be any depth of real friendship.

I expect my employer to treat me fairly, according to my position and relevant standards. If he treats me like a slave, I'll protest, or seek legal recourse, or quit.  When I do any of those things, I'm taking a stand in justice, but I'm not punishing him or assuming any moral responsibility over him.

When Nora left her husband, she did it because a crisis had revealed his thorough-going ego-centrism.  She saw it was a life-long, deep-seated habit of his that made real marriage (at least for the time being) impossible.  She saw, too, that she had her own life-long habit of acting like a dependent child instead of an adult.  

She determined to change that.  She was doing what was within her power, and encouraging him to do what was within his.  

Katie van Schaijik

#71, Jul 22, 2012 12:45am

Michael, all kinds of good and true statements can be used to justify evil.  

As I said before, everything you've said about Jesus and the saints was said by the Legion leadership to cover up and perpetuate Maciel's crimes and abuses.  Shall I suspect you of wanting to cover up evil because you use arguments that they used for that purpose?

Heretics quote the Bible in defense of their heresy.  Does that mean I can't quote the same passages without having my orthodoxy called into question?

I stand by all those statements of mine as true (keeping in mind that I had stipulated that I was speaking of the social act of reconciliation).  I am happy to defend them if you want to challenge them.  (I can't understand what you see wrong with them.)  

But I wish you'd let them stand on their own and not read into them a Hatfield and McCoy notion of justice.  Their notion is not the true notion; it not the Catholic notion; it's not my notion.

Stephen Granderson

#72, Jul 22, 2012 12:48am

If I may put in my two bits again, I think that part of the problem may simply be the wording.  In reply to my earlier post, Janet said that she does not  believe that "forgiveness as an interior act is impossible without repentance," but that "reconciliation after serious wrong requires repentance on the part of the wrong-doer" and that "truth matters."  I wholeheartedly agree with those statements.  

However, I disagree with her choice of terms elsewhere when she refers to reconciliation with the wrongdoer as "true forgiveness."  I think that what she calls interior forgiveness is true forgiveness.  Reconciliation should ideally follow forgiveness and repentance, but it is an entirely separate matter, and we should truly forgive anyone who wrongs us, whether there is any repentance and reconciliation or not.  If I have truly forgiven someone who has wronged me, then I should always be open to reconciliation if they truly repent.  But the forgiveness should be there already.

That, at least, is what I gather from these posts.  If my conjecture of Janet's meaning is correct, then perhaps a better title for this subject would be "unprincipled reconciliation" (not to be confused with the sacrament).

Katie van Schaijik

#73, Jul 22, 2012 12:54am

Michael Healy, Jul. 21 at 11:05pm

 Mercy and forgiveness never skip over justice, nor treat it lightly--I agree with that every time Katie says it.  But love is not limited to justice, especially in light of the One Victim on the cross.

And I have agreed with you on that point.  Of course love is not limited to justice.  I have said so more than once.

Mercy and forgiveness as such, in themselves, do not skip over justice, but many Christians do skip over justice in their way of preaching and practicing forgiveness.  That was the point of my post.

One of the ways it shows up is that a call for justice gets treated as hard-heartedness, bitterness, vindictiveness, etc. 

Katie van Schaijik

#74, Jul 22, 2012 1:09am

Stephen Granderson, Jul. 21 at 11:48pm

I think that what she calls interior forgiveness is true forgiveness.  Reconciliation should ideally follow forgiveness and repentance, but it is an entirely separate matter, and we should truly forgive anyone who wrongs us, whether there is any repentance and reconciliation or not. 

 Stephen, I think all parties agree that there is such a thing as  interior forgiveness that is independent of repentance on the part of the wrongdoer (though that repentance can be a very important help to the one struggling to achieve forgiveness).

Speaking for myself, though, I wouldn't agree that reconciliation is "an entirely separate matter."  I see the two as intimately related and "ordered toward" each other, most especially in cases where bonds of love have been broken by wrong-doing.

Forgiveness, in its fullest and most proper sense, is, I hold, an interpersonal act.  

Katie van Schaijik

#75, Jul 22, 2012 1:19am

Michael Healy, Jul. 21 at 11:05pm

 I was not accusing her of having vicious revenge-motives, but of over-stressing justice--of making it the center rather than love and mercy, of setting up limits and barriers to love and mercy in the name of justice.  

Where is the evidence for this serious accusation, Michael?  How is my pointing out (using numerous concrete instances, which you granted as valid) that there is a way of preaching and "applying" forgiveness that wrongly neglects justice "over-stressing justice"?  

On what grounds do you charge me with making justice rather than love and mercy the center?  How?  Where?

Michael Healy

#76, Jul 22, 2012 1:31am

[See #79 first]

Then Gomer seems to leave Hosea for good, a final rejection of him, despite all his loving mercy.  A friend might well have said to him, in justice, "This is probably a good thing; just let her go."  Then once again her new lover deserts her and she has to sell herself into slavery--rock bottom, yet it could be argued only what she deserves.  And Hosea doesn't just forgive her, her pursues her in love, in mercy, in desire to restore communion.  And, against anything she deserves, he buys her out of slavery and even restores her to the full honor of her position as his wife.  This seems finally to have reached her, to have melted her heart, to have turned her life around.

How did he have the strength to do this? By God's grace, God's commandment, and God's example (to each of us and to his chosen people in the OT).  God spoke to him (and to each of us) and said (Hos. 3:1):

Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband yet an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods.

Katie van Schaijik

#77, Jul 22, 2012 1:40am

Michael Healy

I still don't see why you don't see the example of the saints as more important than the examples of neurosis.  

Where do you get that idea that I see them as more important?!

They are only "more important" in terms of making the particular case I was making. If what I am "about" is uncovering an error and a defective approach, then I choose examples that show what I mean.

When you explain to your students what's wrong with Hume on causation, are you somehow suggesting that Hume is more important than Aristotle?

Michael Healy

#78, Jul 22, 2012 1:42am

[Links to #76]

This reminds me of Arturo's case originally cited by Janet and her interpretation of his actions:

I find the statements, "I had no choice" and "It's a commandment" impressive in their simplicity.  I think he is saying, "It is clear to me what God's will was.  In that case, I have no choice.  There is a commandment to forgive; therefore I forgive."

But it is also clear that this is what God does to his people, and to you and me individually, on a daily basis.  We really are obliged to do the same. 

THIS IS NOT NEUROSIS and no matter how many neurotic applications or false types of pressure in this direction are cited and carefully explained (as Katie has done excellently and with which I agree and have added further examples), we are still called to saintly forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation--and will be judged accordingly,  Thus it is not an insult to call this to mind to the offended one.  It has nothing to do with overlooking the offense or treating it like it didn't occur.  It has to do with the fact that the only missionary territory one has any control over is oneself.

Michael Healy

#79, Jul 22, 2012 1:56am

I started this post as preceding #76 [it got lost] and agreeing with Katie once again in all her arguments for justice, including in how she would respond to--per impossibile,Jules--her husband's infidelity.  I agree with each step of her descriptions.  But my point is that on a level above justice, on a level of "divine madness" not "irrational madness," not neurosis, there is also a logic of love.  Without it, a stress on justice can become inadequate and even inhuman.  

Consider the prophet Hosea, who repeatedly and in the midst of unrelieved agony over her infidelities, repeatedly takes back Gomer his wife.  Yet she again and again treats him with complete disrespect and goes back to her whoring.

Yet he continually forgives, welcomes her back with tender love, and reconciles.  Her repentance, such as it is, is in each case short-lived and she betrays him again--as the chosen people betray Yahweh, as we betray our Lord continually, yet he takes us back. 

Katie van Schaijik

#80, Jul 22, 2012 2:06am

Michael, I accdiently closed one of your posts!  I can't figure out how to fix it.   Sorry about that!  Jules can do it in the a.m.

A few more quick points, then I really must turn in.

1) Putting "human" in front of justice makes it sound suspect, instead of the way someone like me should behave, absent a very particular call and grace from God.

2) Hosea's case was so particular that I don't think it's helpful here. 

3) You don't seem to see that putting so strong an emphasis on stories of saints forgiving can contribute to the problem of "unprincipled forgiveness," since it tends to suggest to the offended person: "The saints, in your shoes, wouldn't insist on truth or make a stand for justice," which of course isn't valid, since no one knows what a saint would do in someone else's shoes.  Much less can he know what I, a non-saint, ought to do in mine.  How does an outsider know that God isn't calling me, inwardly, to take the stand I take?

He doesn't—unless my stand is objectively incompatible with truth and right. But you've agreed a call for truth and justice isn't incompatible with true forgiveness.

Michael Healy

#81, Jul 22, 2012 2:46am

I cannot see how the case of Hosea is anything other than central and clearly a loving mandate for each of us to follow without any need for "a very particular call and grace from God."  It specifically parallels God's patience with Israel as a paradigm for his treatment of each of us--which we are clearly called to emulate.  It anticipates the sacrifice of His own Son on the cross for us; we recall it every Good Friday in Jeremiah's Lamentations.  The validity of the claims of justice must be understood in the context of the deeper call to mercy and love--the very mercy and love we so desperately need (and in light of the cross confidently hope for) as we stand before the judgment seat of God.

Our Lord doesn't argue with the justice of those who want to stone the woman caught in adultery (as proscribed in the Law).  He simply says, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."  Elsewhere, "the measure with which you measure shall be measured unto you."  When we are shown such incredible mercy, should we not practise it?  Love (mercy) is not limited by justice.  It is a new way.

Katie van Schaijik

#82, Jul 22, 2012 8:31am

Hosea was chosen by God as a prophet of the Old Testament, to reveal to Israel His own divine love and fidelity in the face of Israel's infidelity.

God commanded him to marry a prositute.  We don't take that to mean that men should marry prosititutes.  

God filled his heart with burning love for his wayward wife, and commanded him to receive her back even after her repeated adulteries.  

This was a particular command given to a particular man, at a particular historical moment.  

It's no more a "mandate" that all of us stay married no matter what our spouse does than His command that Abram that he leave the land of his birth and "go to a land I will show you," is a mandate that we all move to Israel.

We imitate the prophets and the saints not by copying what they did under the promptings of divine grace in their unique circumstances, but by responding faithfully to the promptings of divine grace in our own unique circumstances.

It would be wrong for us to urge a woman whose husband abuses her to stay with him, in imitation of Hosea.

Michael Healy

#83, Jul 22, 2012 8:32pm

Goodbye and God Bless, again, as we pass in the night!

Patrick Dunn

#84, Jul 23, 2012 9:47am

I think the point about Hosea and considering that example from the two perspectives - one, as a general "loving mandate" that we're all meant to learn from and, two, as "a particular command given to a particular man, at a particular historical moment" - is important because it seems to me this touches upon a central consideration of personalism. 

I think it's safe to assume that the writer of Hosea meant for us (anyone, anywhere) to take something from that particular story about God's love and mercy and what that ought to mean for us (and so it cannot be reduced such that it is only a particular command given to a particular man, at a particular historical moment), and yet there is reason to take the particularity of such a story (and its limits) very seriously (and so how it ought to affect our own decision-making) just as we would Abraham, our Father in Fath, who was commanded by God to do something that no one today, taken generally, would believe to be a legitimate particular command from God given to a particular person, at his or her particular historical moment. 


Patrick Dunn

#85, Jul 23, 2012 9:54am

The quote that sometimes circulates on the homepage of this website from Jacques Maritain about admiring the saints but not imitating them  (if I am not mistaken - I can't find it at the moment) comes to mind here. 

My impression of Katie's view is that she tends to incorporate and thus value this particular aspect of personalisim in her view, like Maritain did, though not in exclusion of the examples from Scripture or the saints; while Michael's view tends to stress more heavily the examples from Scripture or the saints, such that they can almost provide norms to direct our decision-making to the extent that the more "personalistic" considerations that I find Katie taking into consideration consistently do not hold such a primacy of place. 

I do not mean to put words in people's mouths - that's just how I've understood what I've read here. 

The conversation seems to be now touching upon importance and meaning of personalism in light of Scripture and the saints.  This raises, it seems to me, enormously important questions and I'm grateful they're coming out.  It makes a huge difference how we 'read' and 'interpret' Scripture and the saints, especially in regards to how they inform our own lives.

Patrick Dunn

#86, Jul 23, 2012 10:49am

Katie touched upon this crucial point in an earlier post:

"There is a way of looking to the example of the saints, or of holding them up to others, that is not inspirational, but dysfunctional, just as there is a way of studying and “learning from” Aquinas that is not philosophical but anti-intellectual, or of quoting Scripture that isn’t a religious, but heretical."

I can offer a personal example: recently, I saw where a priest was trying to encourage those listening to him to greater generosity and fidelity to the Lord.  He talked specifically (and in something of an isolated context) about sleep/rest.  In the course of this, he quoted a saint (I forget which saint and I don't have the exact wording) who said, essentially, that there are two times/places for sleep/rest: in the grave and in eternity.  The message: give your all to the Lord now; don't be idle or lazy. 


Patrick Dunn

#87, Jul 23, 2012 10:55am

In the abstract, this is a good principle and could certainly prove useful to certain souls. But pastorally, I found the approach imprudent because someone (an individual listening to this, and desirous to be holy) could actually be lead into great spiritual and emotional or psychological desolation - and so away from God - because of the physical desolation of a lack of rest/proper self-care, self-love.  In trying to imitate the saint, and potentially having the impression that one's own proper rest is an indication of a failure of fidelity or zeal or generosity, one could actually take this abstract, generalized counsel and seek to apply it to one's own existential situation, and in the process actually be doing harm to one's communion with God.

It also could foster a kind of spiritualism or angelism (which doubtless has been a problem in the history of the Church with good-intentioned souls seeking to be holy) and/or a kind of dualism where God is only found and concerned with the "spiritual," while the body (or "nonspiritual") aspects of our selves is neglected or thought to be irrelevant.  This is a practical failure to realize the meaning of the Incarnation. 


Patrick Dunn

#88, Jul 23, 2012 10:58am

I just mean to show, I suppose, how crucial it is to bear in mind the insights of personalism (and, properly understood, subjectivism, individuality, etc.) as we also receive and seek to respond to the Gospel (and Scripture as a whole along with the lives of the Saints).

And I think it's one of the implicit fruits that is coming out of the somewhat separate discussion about forgiveness.

Janet Smith

#89, Jul 23, 2012 12:10pm

Patrick, Thanks for these posts.  Prudence is of the essence in knowing how to use examples from saints and Scripture.  Many make just the sloppy use of them that you note.

 It is also true that it is nearly impossible to nuance everything that one says about particularities that does not invite some further nuancing. That is not a bad thing, but it can be tedious.  It is impossible to provide enough caveats to avoid all misunderstanding.  One hopes readers will read one's words in the most plausible, reasonable and even charitable light (I am not saying you are not doing so (smile!)).  Some will misconstrue something because they are new to a discussion and aren't familiar with the territory; others will misconstrue something because it was imprecisely stated in the first place; others will misconstrue because they simply like to correct others and win (I have NEVER done that (not!)).  

This is a great site for deliberative discussion!

Dale Davidson

#90, Jul 29, 2012 2:54am

I find all the above comments regarding Arturo Martinez Sanchez to be fascinating and enlightening. I have the distinct advantage of being Arturo's personal friend so I can shed some light on his stance. Art Martinez, as he known here in Las Vegas, is a strong and principled Christian man. He is far from naive or reactive; he is a lifelong Roman Catholic follower of Christ who attended seminary as a young man. He is thoughtful and well educated. He met his wife, Yadira, while both were attending law school in Mexico. His forgiveness comes from a position of strength. No weakling, Art was an undefeated boxer in Mexico despite a childhood accident that cost him an eye. He is a boxing coach whom champions turn to for training. He has worked for years in the demanding trade of union electrician. He forgave the man who damaged him and killed his beloved wife and daughter as an act of worship and obedience to God. He simply believes that forgiveness is demanded of Christians. He has done so independent of Bryan Clay's remorse or lack thereof. The decision to forgive is between him and God. Period.

Dale Davidson

#91, Jul 29, 2012 3:14am

Interestingly, he forgave Clay without any expectation of relief from his personal pain. He's told me that he feels exactly the same as he did prior to publicly forgiving the killer...awful. He believes that he will always be sorrowful from now on and it will be years before his suffering will gradually subside. He loves his wife and daughter immensely and misses them terribly. He expects Bryan Clay to pay for his crimes here on earth but genuinely hopes that Clay will repent and find forgiveness through Christ. That is what he was referring to when he said that "if he kissed me on the cheek, I would kiss him back." He is speaking of a hope of remorse and repentance from this man. I asked him what he would say to Clay if he met him. He replied, "I forgive you. That's it." Art has a clear, uncluttered view of his Christian duty. It's popular to term it "radical obedience" nowadays. His is a breathtaking example of Christian love. I'm honored to know him.

Katie van Schaijik

#92, Jul 29, 2012 9:56am

He certainly sounds from your description like an exceptional man of faith.  May God bless and support him in his terrible trials!  And may Arturo's courageous fidelity to the the gospel bear 100-fold fruit for the Church.

Dale, thank you very much for the correction of my mistaken impression that he is a new Christian.  The fact that he's a life-long, ardent Catholic certainly alleviates risidual worries on my part that he might have been acting under the "excitement" of new conversion.

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