Correcting Prelates?

Article 3. Whether fraternal correction belongs only to prelates?

Objection 1. It would seem that fraternal correction belongs to prelates alone. For Jerome [Origen, Hom. vii in Joan.] says: "Let priests endeavor to fulfil this saying of the Gospel: 'If thy brother sin against thee,'" etc. Now prelates having charge of others were usually designated under the name of priests. Therefore it seems that fraternal correction belongs to prelates alone.

Objection 2. Further, fraternal correction is a spiritual alms. Now corporal almsgiving belongs to those who are placed above others in temporal matters, i.e. to the rich. Therefore fraternal correction belongs to those who are placed above others in spiritual matters, i.e. to prelates.

Objection 3. Further, when one man reproves another he moves him by his rebuke to something better. Now in the physical order the inferior is moved by the superior. Therefore in the order of virtue also, which follows the order of nature, it belongs to prelates alone to correct inferiors.

On the contrary, It is written (Dist. xxiv, qu. 3, Can. Tam Sacerdotes): "Both priests and all the rest of the faithful should be most solicitous for those who perish, so that their reproof may either correct their sinful ways. or, if they be incorrigible, cut them off from the Church."

I answer that, As stated above (Article 1), correction is twofold. One is an act of charity, which seeks in a special way the recovery of an erring brother by means of a simple warning: such like correction belongs to anyone who has charity, be he subject or prelate.

But there is another correction which is an act of justice purposing the common good, which is procured not only by warning one's brother, but also, sometimes, by punishing him, that others may, through fear, desist from sin. Such a correction belongs only to prelates, whose business it is not only to admonish, but also to correct by means of punishments.

Reply to Objection 1. Even as regards that fraternal correction which is common to all, prelates have a grave responsibility, as Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i, 9): "for just as a man ought to bestow temporal favors on those especially of whom he has temporal care, so too ought he to confer spiritual favors, such as correction, teaching and the like, on those who are entrusted to his spiritual care." Therefore Jerome does not mean that the precept of fraternal correction concerns priests only, but that it concerns them chiefly.

Reply to Objection 2. Just as he who has the means wherewith to give corporal assistance is rich in this respect, so he whose reason is gifted with a sane judgment, so as to be able to correct another's wrong-doing, is, in this respect, to be looked on as a superior.

Reply to Objection 3. Even in the physical order certain things act mutually on one another, through being in some respect higher than one another, in so far as each is somewhat in act, and somewhat in potentiality with regard to another. On like manner one man can correct another in so far as he has a sane judgment in a matter wherein the other sins, though he is not his superior simply.

Article 4. Whether a man is bound to correct his prelate?

Objection 1. It would seem that no man is bound to correct his prelate. For it is written (Exodus 19:12): "The beast that shall touch the mount shall be stoned," [Vulgate: 'Everyone that shall touch the mount, dying he shall die.'] and (2 Samuel 6:7) it is related that the Lord struck Oza for touching the ark. Now the mount and the ark signify our prelates. Therefore prelates should not be corrected by their subjects.

Objection 2. Further, a gloss on Galatians 2:11, "I withstood him to the face," adds: "as an equal." Therefore, since a subject is not equal to his prelate, he ought not to correct him.

Objection 3. Further, Gregory says (Moral. xxiii, 8) that "one ought not to presume to reprove the conduct of holy men, unless one thinks better of oneself." But one ought not to think better of oneself than of one's prelate. Therefore one ought not to correct one's prelate.

On the contrary, Augustine says in his Rule: "Show mercy not only to yourselves, but also to him who, being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger." But fraternal correction is a work of mercy. Therefore even prelates ought to be corrected.

I answer that, A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which requires correction.

Now an act which proceeds from a habit or power extends to whatever is contained under the object of that power or habit: thus vision extends to all things comprised in the object of sight. Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect. Hence the Apostle says (1 Timothy 5:1): "An ancient man rebuke not, but entreat him as a father." Wherefore Dionysius finds fault with the monk Demophilus (Ep. viii), for rebuking a priest with insolence, by striking and turning him out of the church.

Reply to Objection 1. It would seem that a subject touches his prelate inordinately when he upbraids him with insolence, as also when he speaks ill of him: and this is signified by God's condemnation of those who touched the mount and the ark.

Reply to Objection 2.
To withstand anyone in public exceeds the mode of fraternal correction, and so Paul would not have withstood Peter then, unless he were in some way his equal as regards the defense of the faith. But one who is not an equal can reprove privately and respectfully. Hence the Apostle in writing to the Colossians (4:17) tells them to admonish their prelate: "Say to Archippus: Fulfil thy ministry [Vulgate: 'Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.' Cf. 2 Timothy 4:5." It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter's subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, "Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects."

Reply to Objection 3. To presume oneself to be simply better than one's prelate, would seem to savor of presumptuous pride; but there is no presumption in thinking oneself better in some respect, because, in this life, no man is without some fault. We must also remember that when a man reproves his prelate charitably, it does not follow that he thinks himself any better, but merely that he offers his help to one who, "being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger," as Augustine observes in his Rule quoted above.
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