It Can Be Wrong to Turn the Other Cheek
Liberalism and Progressivism spread that Catholic Charity always demands us not to reply to any offense our enemies make against us, no matter what. If we act otherwise, we would be disobedient to the precept of Our Lord who told us to “offer the other cheek.” This groundless generalization of that wise precept does not fit with the traditional interpretation made by the ordinary Magisterium of the Church.
Today we bring to our readers a text by the famous moralist Fr. Victor Catherein, SJ, (1845- 1931), which reflects well the teachings of the Church on this topic. He tells us that self-defense and the proper punishment of the aggressor are included in the interpretation of that precept.
The Divine Master says: “But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other” (Matt 5:39).
This precept, as noted by both St. Augustine (Ep. 138 ad Marcel, Migne, PL 33, 530) and St. Thomas (Summa Theologiae II,II, q. 40, a.1, ad 2), deals only with the interior disposition of the person who is offended. We should not take revenge, but suffer the offenses and be disposed to not defend ourselves from any aggression if there is nothing on our part, the aggressor’s part or that of the common good that demands that we act differently.
Indeed, when Christ stood before the high priest Annas, he did not offer the other cheek when one of the servants standing by slapped His Face (John 18:22-23). He also did not return the aggression, but simply defended Himself, so that no one could judge that He had lacked due respect for the high priest.
Many times the position of the one being offended requires that he defend himself from the aggression or that he have recourse to the authority to obtain due satisfaction for the unjust wrong made against him. Other times, public security demands that injustices be punished. Finally, the good of the aggressor himself sometimes requires that he be punished, as St. Augustine teaches us when he says: “We should act with beneficial rigor against recalcitrant persons, because he who loses the liberty to practice evil is more easily conquered for the good. Nothing is more unfortunate than the happiness of sinners, which allows them to do wrong with impunity and confirms them in their bad will” (Ep. 138 ad Marcel, Migne, PL, 33, 531).
(Christian Humility, Petrópolis: Vozes, 1925, p. 140)