Beware…Lest You Cause Another to Stumble

“It is inevitable that there will be scandals, but woe to him who causes them!” (Lk 17:1).

Newsroom (12/09/2021 18:45, Gaudium Press) As we read the life of Our Lord in the Gospels, countless times we find Him using the expression “Woe!” We know from a study of Sacred Scripture that when the Divine Master speaks this simple word, He is issuing a sentence and censuring a certain behaviour, as when He said: “Woe to him who causes scandal!”

The word scandal comes from the Latin ‘scandalum’, meaning to stumble, or that which is the cause of error or sin.[1]

The Magisterium of the Church teaches us that scandal is the attitude or behaviour that leads or influences others to do evil. He who scandalizes becomes a temptation to his neighbour, for he attacks virtue and righteousness, and can even drag his brother down to spiritual death.[2]

The different levels of the gravity of scandal

Scandal has different degrees of seriousness. In the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas makes it clear that, in the first place, such action is always a sin for he who commits it, either because the act is sinful or because it has the appearance of sin.[3] Thus we can understand the reason for Our Lord attaching so much importance to these acts: “It would be better for a millstone to be tied around his neck and he should be thrown into the sea!” (Lk 17:2).

If scandal proceeds from a sinful act, it becomes clear to those around us. Even the conscience of the sinner accuses him. However, it is necessary to consider the second case mentioned by the Angelic Doctor: when it is obvious to others that an act is evil, but not always obvious to the one who committed it.

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This is the case, for example, with those who encourage improper fashions and styles. There are those who will accept and praise these styles – those who have already adjusted their consciences over the long term by accepting this evil and unfortunately even calling it a good thing.

Of course, there are upright souls who will not give in to such fashions, who reject them because they have seen them as an occasion of falling or stumbling. In this case, he who was the instrument of this temptation commits the scandal, even if he had no intention of doing so.

According to sound doctrine, the gravity of the act will be judged in several ways: First, if by action or even by omission it deliberately leads the other to a grave fault,[4] for otherwise it would be a venial sin.

Secondly, the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who suffer it aggravates it still more. Hence the Divine Master says: “Woe to him who scandalizes one of these little ones…” (Mt 18:6). (Mt 18,6).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the gravity of such a deed is greater when it is committed by those who, by nature or function, are in a position to teach and educate others.[6] How do those in positions of leadership scandalize others? The Catechism of the Catholic Church answers: “by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion.

In this century in which sin is increasingly widespread and scandals are committed at every turn, what should our attitude be as children of Holy Church? To simply accept this as the way things are now? No, not at all!

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In the Fifth century, St. Augustine’s advice was as follows: “When you see that many people not only do these things but also try to justify themselves and advise others to do the same, stand firm in the practice of the law of God and do not follow these transgressors. Indeed you will not be judged according to their opinion of you, but according to God’s Law.”[8]

To measure all the consequences of our every action is impossible – especially since the vast majority of them take place in the supernatural world, witnessed only by God.

And since the Creator has seen all of our actions, they will not be dismissed, but instead used either in our defense or accusation on the last day. Thus, following the advice of St. Augustine, let us never give in to such attitudes, and let us not worry about the opinions of others: we will not be judged by them but by the Supreme Judge.

By Guilherme Maia

Compiled by Sandra Chisholm

[1] Cf. CUNHA, Antônio Geraldo da. Etymological dictionary of the Portuguese language. Rio de Janeiro: Lexikon, 2010, p. 257.

[2] Cf. ECC 2284.

[3] Cf. S. Th. II-II, q. 43, a. 2, c.

[4] Cf. ECR 2284.

[5] Cf. S. Th. II-II, q. 43, a. 4, c.

[6] Cf. ECR 2285.

[Cf. ECR 2286.

[Cf. La catequesis de los principiantes XXV, 48.

 

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