“Pursue peace with all men. . .” — Heb. 12:14a
Recently, Google has begun to put Benedict Pictet’s work, Morale Chretienne, on their collection. It looks like it will be a very valuable and helpful work. The one volume that is already available discusses various issues of the 2nd table of the law. I have put together a translation of his discussion of Christian civility. I believe that there are many valuable points in this short discussion that are both thought-provoking and convicting.
“On Christian Civility” by Benedict Pictet from his book on Christian ethics.
Since God has ordained men to live in society and since He Himself assembles them in that society, He wants them also to respect the bond that unites them according to His order. Conversely, He also wants them to avoid with extreme care every occasion that tends to break that bond and so commands that they conserve the peace amongst themselves and prefer one another in honor. Thus, God has bound us to be honest and civil towards one another.
Civility is this virtue that teaches everyone to do nothing and to say nothing that would offend the well-being of society; to give way to others as much as the order of the world can allow it; to prefer others over oneself; to greet them; to visit them; and to give them all the signs of esteem and honor that one can legitimately give to them.
The rules of civility are:
- To exactly observe all that custom has established as civil or as uncivil and to practice the former with care, avoid the latter, and to follow the example of those who are wisest [in these matters].
- To accommodate oneself to the places and the nations in which one lives and to the persons to whom one speaks.
- To relate to each person according to the position that they occupy in the world and according to the position that you occupy.
- To despise no one.
- To honor everyone according to their merit and according to the customs of the places in which one lives.
But we must be careful as someone has noted well that “our civility must be different than that of the people of world. Namely, it should be completely true and sincere and should not be merely on the surface or flattering. It should not be filled with words, compliments, and praises. It should not take away a considerable amount of our time. It should not be a source of amusement and making ourselves useless. It should inspire piety and demonstrate modesty and show men the goodness and sweetness of Jesus Christ. The purpose of civility is only to inspire them in their departure from and aversion for the spirit of the world and to bring them to lead a life that is completely Christian.”
In order for our civility to be truly Christian, it must be founded in a principle of charity and love of our neighbor. This is what distinguishes the civility of the people of the world who are only civil:
- Either to pass as persons who have received an honest education, have good manners, and are polite and so that they will not be regarded as savages.
- Or to not attract to themselves any of the unwelcome problems that incivilities cause.
- Or that everyone would look up to them and seek after them.
- Or that others might give them civility in exchange for civility.
- Or because they have nothing to do.
The vice that is opposed to this virtue of civility is called incivility or rudeness. There are various degrees of it that are not necessary to recount here. I will only remark that ordinarily incivility is the most common source of misunderstandings, hatred, and quarrels, since people cannot stand it when others despise them or neglect them. Of all the offenses that someone can do to people, contempt is the one that people feel most strongly and that they can scarcely ever pardon.
O God, who wants all men to live together on the earth, make me careful to avoid all that can break the cord that unites me with other men. Regulate all my words and all my actions so that they may be agreeable to my brothers. Do not allow me by uncivil and rude conduct to attract their hatred and contempt. But also do not allow me to offend You while trying to please them. Cause me above everything else to think about how I might make myself agreeable in your eyes in order one day to rejoice in your glory. Amen.