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How Great is the Sin of Blasphemy?
Extracts from St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, 'Preaching'
'Even as God is praised in His saints, in so far as praise is given to the works which God does in His saints, so does blasphemy against the saints, redound, as a consequence, against God.'
St. Thomas Aquinas
Let us now say something on the enormity of any blasphemy.
In the Old Law, God ordained that every blasphemer should be banished from the city and the camp, and that he should be stoned by all the people. Bring the blasphemer without the camp. . . and let all the people stone him.
Not very long ago, when a man uttered a blasphemy in Venice, an officer was sent from the court to seize the blasphemer in his own house; his tongue was cut out.
Even at the present day, the penalty sanctioned by the King of Naples against blasphemy is, to brand the forehead of the blasphemer with a red-hot iron, and then to send him to the galleys; but the penalty is not often inflicted, because human motives prevent the witnesses from giving testimony against blasphemers.
To accuse a blasphemer through hatred of his person is not right; but it is a good and holy act to convict blasphemers, in order that the accursed vice of blasphemy, and the scandal that it gives to those who hear it, may be abolished by the infliction of chastisement.
I say the scandal; for children, by listening to the blasphemies of grown-up persons, learn to become blasphemers.
What a misery to see so many little ones who know nothing about the things of God and yet know very well how to curse St. Peter or St. Mark. St. Peter! St. Mark!
What evil have these saints done you, that you should blaspheme them? You quarrel with your wife, your master, or with a servant, and you assail the saints! The saints continually pray to God for us; and will you blaspheme them? I wonder that the earth does not open and swallow up the blasphemer! Some are found to blaspheme him who keeps them in existence! Instead of thanking God for preserving their life, and not sending them to hell, they blaspheme his divine Majesty.
Every blasphemy uttered against a saint or a holiday is a most grievous sin. St. Jerome says that compared with blasphemy, every sin is small. St. John Chrysostom says that when a person blasphemes, his mouth should be instantly closed. The holy Doctor says: "Strike him on the mouth; bruise it so that he cannot speak." Blasphemers are worse than the damned, for they blaspheme the author of their torments, but you blaspheme your benefactor.
Oh! what frightful chastisements have I seen inflicted by God on blasphemers!
In the kingdom of Naples a man who had blasphemed the crucifix of a certain place suddenly fell dead as he was passing before the crucifix. Not many years ago, in another place (I have spoken with a person who was present), a coachman blasphemed a saint, and was immediately upset into the water; the pole of the carriage pressed on his neck, and he was drowned.
But if a blasphemer escapes chastisement in this life he shall be punished all the more in the next. Our Lord showed St. Frances of Rome the special and horrible torments of the tongue that blasphemers suffer in hell.
Exhortation to Blasphemers
My brother, if you have been hitherto in the habit of blaspheming, endeavor now with all your strength to get rid of that accursed vice. What profit do you derive from your accursed blasphemies? You gain nothing by them; on the contrary they keep you always in beggary. You receive no pleasure from them; what pleasure can you feel in cursing holy things? You receive no honor from them, but infamy; blasphemers are avoided and hated, even by their fellow blasphemers.
But I want you to understand that unless during this mission you renounce this vice, you will never get rid of it. It increases with years, because with years your sorrows and infirmities increase; and thus acts of impatience become more frequent. Thus, you will take this vice with you to the grave.
A blasphemer, who had been sentenced to be hanged, the moment he was thrown off the gibbet, gave way to the bad habit he had contracted, burst out into a blasphemy against a saint, and so ended his life. A coachman, who had the habit of this vice, blasphemed at the hour of his death, and died miserably.
Make now a good confession; make a firm resolution during this mission to blaspheme no more. And for the future say every morning, as soon as you rise, three "Hail Marys," in honor of the Blessed Virgin, that she may obtain for you the grace to be delivered from so horrible a vice.
And when you meet with any occasion of impatience, accustom yourself to curse the devil or your sins, and leave the saints alone. Banish forever from your mouth the curse and imprecation, and say instead: Mary, pray for me; Virgin Mary, give me patience and strength. In the beginning you will have great trouble in conquering yourselves, and shaking off the habit of blaspheming. But when the habit is once overcome, you will, by God's assist ance, easily abstain altogether from this vice.
But that you may conceive a greater horror of blasphemy, listen to the vengeance that God once inflicted on a blasphemer. Cardinal Baronius relates in his Annals that an inhabitant of Constantinople, after having uttered a blasphemy, went to take a bath. After washing, he suddenly rushed out of the bath, crying out that he was a dead man, at the same time lacerating his legs with his nails, and tearing the flesh off his arms with his teeth. He was seized, and wrapped up in a sheet; but this, instead of mitigating, only increased his tortures, so they took it away again; but his skin adhered to it, and came away with it, and thus the miserable man died, and became the prey of the devils, who carried him off to be tormented forever in hell.
St. Gregory also relates in his dialogues that a child five years old, the son of a Roman nobleman, by listening to the blasphemies of the servants, contracted a habit of blaspheming, and was not corrected for it by his father. One evening, after having been guilty of several blasphemies during the day, he was suddenly seized with terror in the presence of his father, and began to cry out: Oh! look at those black men, who want to take me away with them! He threw himself in the arms of his father, and began as usual to blaspheme, and so expired in the act. Woe to you, O fathers! who do not correct your children when they blaspheme; and still greater woe, if you give them bad example by blaspheming in their presence.