Judge Not. Really?
Judging our neighbor; and the principle of subsidiarity.
Question: I have found that penitents often confess judging their neighbor. Is all judgment of our neighbor condemned by Christ?
Answer: In Matthew 7:11, Christ says: “Judge not that you be not judged.” This has led some people to think that all judgment is a sin. This is simply an impossible position. There is, of course, an intellectual act of judgment; for example, the whole is equal to the sum of its parts. This does not fall under the prohibition against judgment in any way, nor does the judgment a man makes concerning his own actions in his conscience.
Rather, our Lord is speaking of a judgment which is an act of the virtue of justice, a determination about what is right in either a theoretical or a practical way. It concerns the judgment of the actions of others. The standard of judgment proceeds from a person who has the virtue in question about which the judgment is made. Chaste men determine what chastity is, and so on.
Judgment, in the moral sense, is an act of the virtue of justice, and has been extended to refer to any determination about what is right. For such judgment to be morally good, it must be an act of reason (which is where judgment resides) and the person making the judgment, has to have a correct intention in making the judgment. Judgment, then, must be both an act of justice, because it presupposes a right intention, and an act of prudence, which ensures that a person has a right to judge in this case, and actually does so, given the circumstances. In justice, this means that there normally is a third party who acts as an umpire between both the parties involved.
Evil judging, then, refers to judgments which occur “going against the rightness of justice” or “beyond the judge’s authority”, or “based on uncertain evidence” (Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae, II-II, 60, 2, ad corp.). The prohibition in Matthew 7 refers to the last kind of judgment, the one based on uncertain evidence.
Thomas Aquinas teaches that, in the absence of clear evidence, doubts about the wickedness of another should always be interpreted for the best. This is because if one judges a good act to be an evil one, one commits an act of injustice. If, however, one judges an evil act to be good, one does not personally suffer any moral failure.
Nevertheless, one may judge another’s action to be evil from suspicions gained by one who has long experience of the moral actions of others based on personal experience. Aquinas quotes Aristotle: “Old people are very suspicious, for they have often experienced the faults of others” (Rhetoric, II, 13). Also, the degree of certainty necessary to make judgments in a court (known as moral certitude) is not the same as is necessary in scientific matters. This is because of the uncertainty of human acts which have a great number of circumstances connected to them. “Some kind of certainty is found in human acts, not, indeed, the certainty of a demonstration, but such as is befitting the matter in point, for instance when a thing is proved by suitable witnesses” (Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, 60, 3, ad 1).