When can you judge another? The short answer is that you can never judge another’s intention, but you are required to judge the object of another’s deeds when he interacts with you or tries to teach you. You are especially required to judge the object of another’s deeds when his attempts at influencing you will affect your salvation or the salvation of those who are entrusted to you.
Consider some quotes from Our Lord and the saints:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.—Mt 7:1-6
When some monks planned to discipline a brother who was guilty of sin, they were reminded of this basic rule of non-judgement by the acted parable of one of the most loved and respected of the hermits: They assembled the brothers, and sent a message to Moses telling him to come. But he would not come. Then the presbyter sent again saying, ‘Come, for the gathering of monks is waiting for you.’ Moses got up and went. He took with him an old basket which he filled with sand and carried it on his back. They went to meet him and said, ‘What does this mean, abba?’ He said, ‘My sins run out behind me and I do not see them and I have come here today to judge another.’—Lives of the Desert Fathers.
When you can’t excuse the action itself, make an excuse for the intention, if possible, by ignorance or carelessness.—St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
St. Thomas writes in his section on judgment: “Our Lord forbids rash judgment which is about the inward intention” and “He forbids judgment about Divine things which we ought not to judge” and “He forbids the judgment which proceeds not from benevolence but from bitterness of heart.” He also encourages us to give others the benefit of the doubt: “He who interprets doubtful matters for the best, may happen to be deceived more often than not; yet it is better to err frequently through thinking well of a wicked man, than to err less frequently through having an evil opinion of a good man, because in the latter case an injury is inflicted, but not in the former.”
But St. Thomas Aquinas also added there that if there were ever a public threat to others’ bodies or souls, the authorities have an “urgent necessity for the judge to pronounce judgment because it is his duty.” Even the average-Christian is sometimes called to reprove the sinner. St. Thomas writes, “By this commandment, Judge not, that you be not judged, Our Lord does not forbid Christians to reprove others from kindly motives, but that the Christian should not despise another Christian by boasting in his own righteousness or by hating and condemning others for the most part on mere suspicion.” He adds: “The spiritual man, by reason of the habit of charity, has an inclination to judge aright of all things according to the Divine rules. And it is in conformity with these that he pronounces judgment through the gift of wisdom, even as the just man pronounces judgment through the virtue of prudence conformably with the ruling of the law.”
Fast-forward to today’s volatile issues. When a conservative man says his opinion on any controversial topic (in real-life or online) you can be sure that some boring leftist will reply with the only Bible verse they know: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”—Mt 7:1. However, notice that the leftist is never aware that just a few verses later Our Lord says “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”—Mt 7:6. To me, that sounds very clear that Jesus expects us to judge who are “holy” and who are “dogs.” Or, at least if we can not judge the intention, we still can judge the deed. Why?
Consider a married couple has five teenage daughters and the next-door couple has five teenage sons. The father of the girls may not judge the intentions of his neighbor’s boys, but he would be extremely negligent in his own vocation in raising daughters if he didn’t occasionally keep an eye on the neighbor-boys’ public deeds in the neighborhood, especially around or towards girls. Being vigilant for one’s daughters’ chastity should have nothing to do with judging boys’ intentions, but it may have a lot to do with judging boys’ actions, especially public actions.
Such vigilance is also true in these current issues of Church and State. I read and watch a lot about world and Church history. I’m fully aware there were evil times long before our times. But I’m convinced we live in the days of the slimiest criminals in Church and State leadership, capable of winning the masses not through a screaming M.O à la Hitler, but a smily and sneaky and slimy M.O. We have the weakest and most charming villains of all of world-history deceiving many weak-minded people who have been brainwashed by the left.
How do we teach vigilance against these angels of darkness clothed in light?
You might be surprised to know that the answer is prudence. Prudence is not “prudishness” or “wimpy-ness.” Prudence has been described by the great 20th-century Thomist, Joseph Pieper, as “common-sense” and the corresponding gift of the Holy Spirit of counsel as “supernaturalized common-sense.” According to St. Thomas Aquinas himself, prudence includes a part called “caution” which is the ability to wisely avoid evil. Of course, not all evils can be avoided even by the saints, but St. Thomas wisely says that “by exercising prudence he is able to prepare against all the surprises of chance, so as to suffer less harm thereby.” Also in the Summa there, “circumspection” is similar to what the military calls “situational awareness.” This is just as true for spiritual warfare as much as physical warfare. (We seem to be seeing a lot of “surprises of chance” from the globalists in Davos and their de-facto chaplains in Rome. We need “situational awareness” against them all.)
Therefore, prudence (common-sense) helps us to avoid people that would lead us to into evil (either material evil or sin.) We ask for an increase in the Holy Spirit’s gift of counsel (supernaturalized common-sense) for God and His angels to help us side-step even more of these “surprises by chance.” Again, these could be temptations or even tricks of an enemy. This is extremely important in a time of such smily, slimy criminals who employ high-level deceit in saying things like, “It’s an act of love to take the vaccine” or low-level deceit like, “Saying to me not to wear yoga pants is judging me and Jesus told you Christians not to judge others.”
Indeed, we truly need to study the Church Fathers and pray for the Holy Spirit’s gift of counsel to see past such deceit, all the while maintaining charity and forgiveness in our hearts for our enemies.
In short, anything that does not affect your salvation or the salvation of those who fall under your particular vocation (so I’m obviously not suggesting you refrain from correcting or disciplining your children or fail to protect your family from predators or heretics) should generally be ignored. We are all overwhelmed in high-quantity and high-information interactions these days. After you have determined which leaders and teachers to trust, and once you have a pretty good grasp of when to get involved on saving another’s body or soul, the most important line from today’s blog (probably worth memorizing) for every-day living, family-forgiveness and community-peace comes from St. Bernard:
When you can’t excuse the action itself, make an excuse for the intention, if possible, by ignorance or carelessness.