Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”
“But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”—Hearing of these terrifying events, our Lord uses this occasion to draw his listeners to repentance. He does this through inciting fear in their hearts, lest a similar calamity should befall them; or what is worse, lest, dying in sin, they should be punished with the fires of hell. So, Cornelius a’ Lapide interprets the passage: “Christ made a wise use of this occasion, and drew from it an argument to rouse them to repentance, lest a similar vengeance should fall upon them.” He then adds, “God, then, orders these events for the chastisement and correction of man, that others, seeing their neighbors killed by the fall of a tower or some other sudden accident, may fear lest something similar happen to themselves, and so may repent and reconcile themselves to God, lest they be overwhelmed by His judgments and condemned to Gehenna” (Commentary on Luke).
Seeing that it is by fear of punishments that God rouses man to repentance, we must consider fear: first insofar as it is a passion of the irascible appetite, then of the divisions of fear, and finally of the Gift of the Holy Spirit which is fear of the Lord.
Fear, considered as a passion, belongs to the sensitive appetite and, more specifically, to the irascible appetite which are related to evils (ST I-II, q.41, a.1). Now the object of fear is not properly present evils (since this is the object of sorrow), but rather future evils (ST I-II, q.41, a.2).
Although fear properly regards evil, yet it may also secondarily regard good insofar as a particular evil is the deprivation of some good, or insofar as some good is the cause a particular evil. In this second sense God, who is supremely good, is feared insofar as he inflicts punishment on the unrighteous (ST I-II, q.42, a.1). Properly speaking, sin itself is not the object of fear, since fear regards a future evil which is beyond the power of man to easily overcome, but sinning is entirely under man’s power and therefore cannot be the object of fear. However, one may fear those extrinsic occasions and temptations by which one is led into sin, since these are beyond man’s power and are not easily resisted (ST I-II, q.42, a.3).
Thus, the two events related to Christ in the Gospel (the deaths of the Galileans and of those crushed by the tower at Siloam) give rise to fear, considered as a passion of the irascible appetite. For, upon hearing these events, many feared lest they should suffer likewise. Our Savior then directs his hearers to the fear of God.
The Fear of God: First we must consider whether God is to be feared, then the divisions of the fear of God, and finally the Gift of fear.
Considered in himself, God cannot be the object of fear, since he is supremely good, while fear is directed toward future evils. However, because God is the cause of punishment, which though absolutely speaking is a good (insofar as it is ordered to divine justice) is nevertheless a particular evil for those punished, he may be feared on account of this particular future evil (damnation) which he may inflict (ST II-II, q.19, a.1).
The fear of God may be divided into two parts: there is a fear of God on account of which a man withdraws from the Lord and this is called either human fear if it is caused by fear of persecutions which others will inflict upon him, or worldly fear if it fears the punishment of God only insofar it means the loss of earthly pleasures.
Yet there is another fear by which man turns to God and adheres to him. This fear is divided into three parts: first there is servile fear, then initial fear, and finally filial fear. By servile fear, man fears God because of the punishments he may inflict. By filial fear, man fears God lest he should offend him. By initial fear man fears God both on account of the future punishments which God will inflict upon the damned and also he fears lest he should offend God—this fear is mid-way between the other two (ST II-II, q.19, a.2)
While worldly or human fear is always sinful, since by it we shrink away from God (ST II-II, q.19, a.3); filial, initial, and even servile fear are good, since they induce man to draw close to God.
Servile Fear: On account of its servility, servile fear may be evil, since servitude is opposed to freedom. Thus, insofar as servile fear moves a person not through love but through servility (moving one from without), servile fear is evil. Yet, servitude is not essential part of servile fear since, though a man fear God on account of the threat of future punishment, he may nevertheless direct himself to God as his last end, so that punishment would not be considered the greatest evil. Thus, so long as God is recognizes as man’s greatest good and, therefore, punishment itself is not considered to be man’s greatest evil (for loss of God is the greatest evil to man), servile fear will co-exist with charity and aid in drawing a man closer to God (ST II-II, q.19, a.4).
Filial fear, on the other hand, is the holiest type of fear, for it is directed not toward punishment, but toward fault. Hence, by filial fear, a man shrinks away from sin since he desires not to offend the God whom he loves, and because he desires to draw close to God which entails separation from sin (ST II-II, q.19, a.5).
The fear which is a Gift of the Holy Spirit is certainly not worldly or human fear, but neither is it servile fear. For although servile fear is, according to its essence, good and given by the Holy Spirit, it is nevertheless not the perfection of fear (moreover, servile fear is able to co-exist with sin, but the Gifts of the Holy Spirit do not exist in one who is in mortal sin). Therefore, we conclude that filial fear is the Gift of the Holy Spirit. As the Gifts perfect the soul’s powers, rendering man more amiable to the movement of the Spirit, the Gift of Fear is considered as the first of the Gifts in ascending order. For by this Gift a man reveres God and avoids separating himself from him—in this way, Fear of God removes from man any resistance to the movement of the Holy Spirit (ST II-II, q.19, a.9).
Whether the fear of God co-exists with charity? and Whether there will be the fear of God in heaven? In this regard we must first consider servile fear and then filial fear.
Because servile fear is given by the Holy Spirit, therefore it is not opposed to charity. For servile fear causes man to shrink from the punishments and this may be in any of three ways: a man may shrink from punishment because he places his own good as his supreme last end, and this would be contrary to charity; in another way, a many may shirk from punishment on account of self-love which is nevertheless directed also to God (as when he loves himself in God and for the sake of God), and this is not contrary to charity; finally, a many may fear punishment insofar as it entails separation from God, and in this respect it is included in charity. Hence, while it is correct to say that servile fear, considered as servile, does not remain with charity; it nevertheless remains as to its essence insofar as by servile fear a man fears the supreme punishment of the loss of God and so adheres to him all the more closely so that he should never lose his Lord (ST II-II, q.19, a.6).
Filial fear, on the other hand, not only co-exists with charity, but in fact increases as charity increases. Since, by filial fear a man fears to offend God lest he should be separated from him whom he loves. Thus, as the love of God increases, so does man’s desire to be united with him increase; and, thus, filial fear, by which a man fears lest he be separated from God through sin, increases with love (ST II-II, q.19, a.10). From this it is clear that, as charity is perfected in heaven, likewise filial fear will be perfected in heaven as well. Servile fear, however, will in no way exist in heaven, since the blessed do not fear punishment as they have attained perfect beatitude. Indeed, even filial fear which remains will be transformed since the saints cannot sin (as they are wholly consumed with the love of God) and so will not fear lest they should be separated from God.
Nevertheless, filial fear will remain insofar as the saints, seeing the very essence of God, will be filled with wonder and awe at his supereminence and incomprehensibility (ST II-II, q.19, a.11).