Do I not hate those who hate you,
abhor those who rise against you?
I hate them with a perfect hate,
and they are foes to me.
With the anniversary of the martyrdom of the second-century Roman priest St. Valentine coming up, we hear a lot of talk about love. But what about hate?
The Psalmist, in one of several passages excised from the Liturgy of the Hours, shows forth his utter contempt for the enemies of God. At the time, when the kingdom of Israel was fighting to survive among several hostile nations and even factions within itself, the people who rose up against God were seeking to take the life of this psalm’s composer. Today, however, the word “hate” is often employed to undermine the Gospel: Christians, because of violence in the Bible, are continually accused of hate-mongering; preaching the truth about love, marriage, and human nature is often denounced or even prosecuted as “hate speech”; and Fundamentalist protesters bearing signs that read “God hates [insert group here]” only add to the charges. With this in mind, how can hatred be justified, and what can make the Psalmist’s “perfect hate” actually a form of love?
When we consider the nature of hatred, as one of the passions within the body and the soul, we see that it is directly opposed to love, but also that it cannot exist without love. For example, it is impossible to love and hate the same movie. I can say I hated the recent Hobbit films because I loved the book and found the movies to be lacking in the book’s goodness. Love and hate often come together with regard to a limited good, so that willing that good for someone is also willing that someone else be deprived of it: thus if I wish for Ohio State to win the Big Ten championship, I necessarily also wish that Michigan may not win it. (Nothing personal against the team up north, but there can only be one winner.)
However, the salvation of our souls is not a zero-sum game, for eternal life is an unlimited good. In fact, if we love God and wish our own salvation, then we necessarily wish for our neighbors to be saved, for “if anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 John 4:20). Even those who turn against God and oppose us demand our love, as Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you: love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5:43-44).
To love our enemies, then, means to love who they are (namely, persons made in the image and likeness of God). It means to wish them well and, on a heroic level, to do good for them. Yet with this love comes a concomitant hatred, namely, for the obstacles to our enemies’ true flourishing, that is, their sins, by which they love some lesser good more than God. As St. Thomas Aquinas explains:
Consequently it is lawful to hate the sin in one’s brother, and whatever pertains to the defect of Divine justice, but we cannot hate our brother’s nature and grace without sin. Now it is part of our love for our brother that we hate the fault and the lack of good in him, since desire for another’s good is equivalent to hatred of his evil (ST II-II.34.3).
Moreover, advising our neighbors to cease from sin and return to friendship with God, that is, fraternal correction, is an act of charity and mercy. St. Thomas, following Cicero, even classifies vengeance as a virtue in this circumstance, “with the intention, not of harming, but of removing the harm done” (ST II-II.108.2). As we Dominicans read in the Rule of St. Augustine, when admonishing our brothers in community, we should always “let love of the sinner be united to hatred for his sin.”
Thus we should not hate our enemies (and the enemies of God) in themselves, but hate what it is that makes them enemies. This is the “perfect hate” of which the Psalmist speaks, perfect because it goes hand in hand with love of neighbor, hating whatever prevents him or her from achieving the ultimate goal of eternal life with God. Let us not fall prey to hating those who oppose us, but rather, as Pope Francis exhorts,
At least let us say to the Lord: “Lord, I am angry with this person, with that person. I pray to you for him and for her.” To pray for a person with whom I am irritated is a beautiful step forward in love, and an act of evangelization. Let us do it today! Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the ideal of fraternal love! (Evangelii Gaudium 101)
Image: John Everett Millais, Victory O Lord! (Moses, Aaron, and Hur at the Battle of Rephidim)