Rorate Caeli

The hardest mortification: that of one's own judgment

I have never met with anyone who did not value his own judgment, except two persons who confessed to me that they had no judgment. And once one of these having come to see me, said to me, "Sir, I beg of you to tell me a little about such a thing; for I have no judgment to understand it;" which astonished me greatly.

We have in our own age a very remarkable example of the mortification of private judgment. It is that of a great doctor, much renowned, who composed a book entitled, "On Dispensations and Commands," which, falling one day into the hands of the Pope, he judged that it contained some erroneous propositions. He wrote to this doctor that he should erase them from his book. This doctor, upon receiving the order, submitted his judgment so absolutely, that he would not justify himself by explaining the matter, but, on the contrary, he believed that he was wrong, and had let himself be deceived by his own judgment: and, going into the pulpit, he read aloud what the Pope had written to him, took his book and tore it to pieces, and then said aloud that the Pope's judgment on this matter had been most just; that he approved with all his heart of the paternal censure and correction that he had deigned to give him, as being very just, and very mild to him, who deserved to be severely punished, and that he was greatly astonished how he could have been so blind as to let his own judgment mislead him in a thing so manifestly wrong.

He was by no means obliged to do this, because the Pope had not commanded it, but only that he should strike out of his book a certain thing which had not seemed good; for what is very remarkable, it was not heretical, nor so manifestly erroneous but that it might have been defended. He showed great virtue on this occasion, and an admirable mortification of his own judgment.

One often enough sees the senses mortified, because our own will is employed in mortifying them, and it would be a shameful thing to show ourselves rebellious against obedience; what would be said of us? But one very rarely finds the judgment well mortified. To make ourselves allow that what is commanded is good, to love it, to esteem it as a thing that is good and useful for us beyond all others, it is against this that the judgment rebels. For there are many who say, "I will certainly do as you tell me, but I see very well that it would be better otherwise." Alas, what are you doing, in thus fostering your judgment? No doubt it will intoxicate you; for there is no difference between an intoxicated person and one who is full of his own judgment.

Saint Francis de Sales
Les Entretiens (Conferences at the Visitation of Annecy)


  1. Jacques Perrière1:41 PM

    Yeah, so true.
    Where did I read that no one wants to admit he is an idiot?
    One would better admit to be adulteress, vicious, greedy, pompous, liar, cheater, thief. But idiot? Or wrong? No no. Impossible. :-)
    Since the "You shall be like gods", the most common thought is "I am right".

  2. Benedicta1:50 PM

    Ah Good St Francis de Sales! I smile at your remarks because I am guilty of these faults... sometimes if not all the times. Thank you for this excellent post.

  3. The application of this lesson to certain controversies familiar in these parts is perhaps too obvious to mention.

  4. Know thyself--Socrates

    To judge others is a sin, but to judge oneself is essential before confession, and before we go before the JUST JUDGE.

  5. St. Francis of Assisi has also been quoted as saying something along the lines of: "No one is truly free who is attached to the purse-strings of his own opinion."

  6. Very well said! I think that is why there are so many lawsuits, no one wants to be wrong. Thanks for the excellent post!

  7. cyrillist3:56 PM

    "This saying is hard, and who can hear it?" ;-) (John 6:61)

    All that time between the promulgation of the NO and the issuance of Summorum Pontificum, we were told incessantly by countless Church superiors that the TLM had been abrogated. It would appear that the kind of obedience extolled by St. Francis would have required absolute submission to these statements, and consequent abandonment of the old rite. Yet if the old rite had been abandoned wholesale, how likely would it have been that it would ever have been freed up by the moto proprio? God certainly could have brought good out of the evil of disobedience, but I find it very hard to accept that disobedience was an unalloyed evil in this case.

    Well, nobody said that salvation would be easy...

  8. +Cordileone (not)6:58 PM

    "No doubt it will intoxicate you; for there is no difference between an intoxicated person and one who is full of his own judgment." When you're driving there is...

  9. Peter7:57 PM

    This, in modern times, raises the old question : Quis custodiet ?

    The answer for Catholics is the same now as it was then : Why, the Pope, of course !

    Yes, the Pope, but that doesn't include the Curia, bishops, Vatican II, theologians, liturgists, journalists, and other upstarts who have, in the old phrase, "risen without trace".

  10. greatwhitemale11:16 PM

    Saint Francis had the luxury of living in the age of Pope St Pius V and the counter reformation. The enemies of the Church were mostly on the outside. The circumstances are different today and it's more a question of holding on to tradition.

  11. Martyjo11:59 PM

    I don't know about being intoxicated with my own judgment but some people have told me that I'm intoxicated with the exuberance of my own verbosity!

    Seriously, though, surely the saints were speaking of judgment expressed inappropriately, not per se.

    Two questions come to mind here. The first is this: Are the Church's legitimate authorities bound not to express their own theological judgment in contradiction to divine truths upheld by the magisterium of the ages? The other is: If they do express contrary judgments, is the lowly Catholic permitted to express his judgment in light of Church teaching that they have seriously erred?

    There must surely be a distinction between those who judge to the detriment of theological orthodoxy and those who judge in its defence.

    So here's my judgment in the matter: We are not permitted to judge souls and we are not permitted to judge contrary to faith or to a lawful command from a superior. We are obliged, however, to judge events weighed in the light of established Church teaching and to express this judgment if the defence of truth requires it. Otherwise we would all be drones bound to blind obedience, constrained to obey the commands and judgments of men even when these are unlawful before God.

    I think that's why the saints spoke more of mortifying our judgments rather than suppressing them altogether. There is such a thing as wise and noble judgment, but it must be grounded in humility and formed on the solid ground of the Church's consistent magisterial teaching.

    If only there had been more of this kind of judgment after Vatican II. It would certainly have halted many of the abuses that have led to the present crisis of faith in the Church.

  12. Thank you for this post.

  13. greatwhitemale: Don't assume that the Counter-Reformation was so clear-cut at the time. St Charles Borromeo, for instance, made plenty of enemies in the Milanese religious orders he tried to reform (one of the Humiliati shot him during Mass, but didn't manage to kill him). No period in Church history has been ideal, because the Church remains full of sinners, most of whom aren't very good at surrendering their own judgement...

  14. Iratus8:29 AM

    Any discussion of this topic is incomplete without a lot of reference to St. Philip Neri. I'm astounded to see no mention of or quotation from him. For example:

    "The sanctity of a man lies in the breadth of three fingers, [the forehead,] that is to say, in mortifying the understanding, which would fain reason upon things."

    Had there been no Saint Philip, St.Francis de Sales could never have been impressed by his example. And there might never have been a French Oratory. Saint Philip is an ideal example of the influence for good a single Saint can have.

  15. notgiven3:41 PM


  16. Doc Kimble11:46 PM

    King David has always impressed me with his mortifications, and he "...meditated on God's Law, day and night."

  17. Bye bye, "Barona"! Works so well with 'My Sharona . . .'

    Frankly, in these times, St. Francis just might modify his point. Because we hide behind this idea as often as we are truly mortified. Any martyr was tempted at least once to dodge his opinion that it was better to die for Christ than to tolerate the worship of a false god. Our opinion works for the good, too. Yesterday's matins had this to say on the subject of silence in the face of sin, from Psalm 105:

    "But they provoked Him at the waters of contradiction, * and Moses was afflicted on their account, for they embittered the man's spirit. And he broke off the utterance of his lips, * and they did not annihilate the nations as the Lord had commanded them."

    It was Moses' silence that was bad. And so is ours if we use this quote of St. Francis to justify our own silence in the face of apostacy. We too have some annihilating to do, and apparently many of us will clutch at any pretext to avoid it.


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