Sunday, February 20, 2011

Whoever said, "Thou shalt hate thy enemy"?

Joshua destroys the Lord's enemies

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Matthew 5:38-48
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies.
Christ our God demonstrates his divine authority in the Sermon on the Mount by giving a New Law which fulfills what had come before. This Law is given with that same authority with which the Old Law had been given to Moses – it is the authority of God who reveals. The Lord speaks with this authority saying, You have heard that it was said … But I say to you …. No mere man could ever speak with such boldness!
And yet we may wonder if Christ does not, in some way, contradict himself – for in giving the New Law he seems to abolish what came before; but he had recently said, Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets (Matthew 5:17). If our Savior came not to destroy but to fulfill the Old Covenant, we may find some difficulty in the command to love one’s enemies. If, in the Old Law, hatred of enemies was commanded (thou shalt hate thy enemy), it would seem that Christ abolishes the Law when he tells us, Love your enemies.
We must ask, whoever said thou shalt hate thy enemy? Was this commanded anywhere in the Law of Moses?

Did God command the Jews to hate their enemies?
Some will point to Deuteronomy 25, 19, Thou shalt blot out his name from under heaven – when God commanded Joshua and the Hebrews utterly to destroy the impious Canaanites, and to seize their land. However, we note that though the Law commanded their annihilation, it did not command that this killing be done out of hatred. Indeed, whatever violence and war was commanded by God in the ancient times, it was surely to be carried out in a true spirit of love – principally love for God, but even love for neighbor as well: Just as a judge might order a guilty person to be put to death, not because he hated him, but he may even condemn one whom he loved. [obviously, there is much to be considered in regard to the holy wars and genocides of the Old Testament; but it is enough here to assert that God has nowhere commanded the hatred of enemies, even if he had commanded their destruction]
Rather, even in the Old Testament, we are told to love our enemies (for this love will be our vindication and their destruction) – If thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat: if he thirst, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap hot coals upon his head, and the Lord will reward thee (Proverbs 25:21-22). Constantly, the Law and the Prophets remind us that vindication is the Lord’s, we are not to seek it out for ourselves.
Who did say, Thou shalt hate thy enemy?
Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide follows the Glossa Ordinaria (the greatest Scripture commentary of the pre-scholastic period) – “I maintain, therefore, that this saying was not in the Law, but was said by the Scribes who interpreted the Law. For they, because they found in Lev. xix. 18, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour,’ or ‘thy friend,’ as the Vulgate translates, inferred from thence that they should hate their enemies. Wherefore Christ here corrects this interpretation of theirs, and explains the Law, that by neighbour or friend every man is meant, even a foreigner, a Gentile, and an enemy. For all men are neighbours, through their first forefather, Adam, and brethren one of another. We are also brethren through our second Father, Christ, through whom we have been born again, and, as it were, created anew in the likeness of God, and called to the common inheritance of God, our Father in heaven. So S. Jerome, Augustine, Theophylact, and others.”
Hence, Christ here abolishes the false teachings of the Scribes who had misinterpreted the Law and corrupted the original meaning of the Scriptures.
Do Christians hate their enemies?
On the other hand, St. Augustine offers a most interesting rebuttal to those who would follow the example of Marcion and speak as though the Old Law were evil and filled with ignorance, but that the New Law is all good and completely abolishes what had come before. (the following is taken from the Catena Aurea of St. Thomas Aquinas)
“Aug., cont. Faust., xix, 24: I ask the Manichaeans why they would have this peculiar to the Mosaic Law, that was said by them of old time, thou shalt hate thy enemy? Has not Paul said of certain men that they were hateful to God? We must enquire then how we may understand that, after the example of God, to whom the Apostle here affirms some men to be hateful, our enemies are to be hated; and again after the same pattern of Him Who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, our enemies are to be loved.
Here then is the rule by which we may at once hate our enemy for the evil’s sake that is in him, that is, his iniquity, and love him for the good’s sake that is in him, that is, his rational part. This then, thus uttered by them of old, being heard, but not understood, hurried men on to the hatred of men, when they should have hated nothing but vice.
Such the Lord corrects as He proceeds, saying, I say unto you, Love your enemies. He who had just declared that He came not to subvert the Law, but to fulfill it, by bidding us love our enemies, brought us to the understanding of how we may at once hate the same man for his sins whom we love for his human nature.”
Hence, even in the Christian dispensation there is a certain sense in which we are to “hate” the enemies of God and the Church – we love them for their humanity, but he hate them for their vice. Nevertheless, the true victory is won by the conversion of our enemies, rather than their destruction.


Timmccmd said...


This is a hard subject to tackle. I am reminded of being taught by a nun, one of my favorite teachers, to 'love the sinner, hate the sin.' I always took to heart that the person, a creature of God's making and imbued with His Spirit, couldn't be hated; the sin(s) though could be. And I laud your last sentence re working/praying to turn sinnes back.

It does spill over, with the Biblical references you made re some of the wars during the OT, of how is a just war defined; how can such co-exist with the admonition to love one's enemies.

As with much of the Salvation journey, perhaps we cannot fully rationalize this either (as with other aspects of the challenges of living one's Faith) since none of us have ever known the mind of God.

This subject is so difficult; yet hasn't sparked the controversy (from other readers) of the Planned Parenthood lying issue maelstrom.

Gregory DiPippo said...

Reginaldus, there is an excellent discussion of this very topic in The Bible As It Was, by James L. Kugel (Belknap, Cambridge Mass., 1997) pp. 455-457, a very interesting and well-written book on the subject of ancient Biblical interpretation.

Regine said...

Fr. Reginaldus,
I only have sufficient knowledge of the Bible, but I just want to make a comment on the fact that behind the statement of Jesus, "You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies" , seem to stem from the first line, verse 38: 'You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth..." or the law of revenge (retaliation), lex taliones. Jesus, I think, is saying that reacting with vengeance will only escalate things, and will just lead to deeper hatred and more violence as one faction tries to oudo the other, like Lamech (Genesis 4:24) who bragged about having avenged himself seventy-seven times. What Jesus seems to be doing here is to elevate the OT sense of justice into something that would be more restorative and more healing, the way that he wanted us to see the patient and generous love of the Father.

Just like what is happening now where we see the violence that is happening in the Arab world by people who are fed up with increasing injustice and wickedness; where the powerful are becoming richer and the vast majority becoming poorer, how does one deal with all these?. And even here in the United States, where there is an increasing feeling of injustice being done to the citizens by those who govern them, violence seems to be the proper course. Hence we begin to question if this is really the way God wants us to deal with our problems. Yet, understandably, behind it all is the feeling of frustration. God never commanded to hate our enemies, not even in Deuteronomy. The big question I feel is: what do we do? Is it enough that we, here, right now, in this blog, be content to just discuss these so-called enigma? Or does it ask more from us? We all can get into theoritical discussion of Jesus' statement, and we can agree and disagree about this, but my honest question, as a lay person, to you who are very knowledgeable with the ways of God, and the Magesterium is: What is being asked of us so we can properly seek the solutions to these very real problems, and at the same time, uphold our love for those we deem as our oppressors? This does not mean that no good will be coming out of all these confusions, and that God will not be in control. But what is asked of us
and how do we do it?

I personally would welcome your thoughts by which we can apply Jesus' admonition on this particular topic. Thank you, Father.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I also find it interesting (and a little bit distressing) that people are so much more excited about trifles (like whether or not Lila lied) than about theology... oh, well; such is the human condition -- I myself can tend to get caught up in the bustle of the news...

@Gregory DiPippo, Thanks for the tip about Kugel's book.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You asked: "What is being asked of us so we can properly seek the solutions to these very real problems, and at the same time, uphold our love for those we deem as our oppressors?"

The answer must lie in loving our neighbor, and especially the neighbor that is our "enemy" ...
This is the wisdom of the saints (especially Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta) -- you will never be able to solve the world's problems until you learn to love those in your midst.

In other words, we ought not be so concerned about whether we love Mubarek (obviously, we ought to love him), but it is imperative to our salvation that we love the co-worker who annoys us.
Certainly, we must love both; we must love all people -- but if we can't love the annoying co-worker, we will never love the poor of Calcutta. If we do not help the beggar in our home town, we will never be able to love Mubarek (or the protesters).

I hope that this makes some sense -- love is concrete and must be expressed in the circumstances of our daily life.

Peace to you. By perseverance you will save your soul! +

Anonymous said...

You are right Regine, the answer is to love our enemies! Our government needs to stand up and say to world that we do not hate the muslims, the terrorists, the fascists, but that we love them. If they would get up and annouce this publicly, many things would change.
Thanks, Timothy2

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