Listers, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there are sins that cry out to heaven. “The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are ‘sins that cry to heaven': the blood of Abel, the sin of the Sodomites, the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt, the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan, injustice to the wage earner.”1 Traditionally, these sins have been categorized as four distinct heinous acts: willful murder, the sin of Sodom, oppression of the poor, and defrauding laborers of their wages.

A selection of "Dante and Virgil in Hell," by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

A selection of “Dante and Virgil in Hell,” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

1. Willful Murder

And the Lord said to Cain: Where is thy brother Abel? And he answered, I know not: am I my brother’ s keeper? And he said to him: What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth to me from the earth. – Gen. 4:9-10

The murder of Abel stands as the paradigmatic example of “willful murder.”2 Note that Abel’s blood cried to God from the earth, hence the necessary phrasing for this sin to be included in this dire category. The boundaries of this sin are often questioned; for example, what of so-called justified killings in war? The Angelic Doctor’s catechesis on war is listed in the Summa Theologica under Charity and among those things contrary to Peace. In Article I, Whether it is always sinful to wage war?, St. Thomas Aquinas states:

First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them.

And just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that common weal against internal disturbances, when they punish evil-doers, according to the words of the Apostle (Romans 13:4): “He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil”; so too, it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies. Hence it is said to those who are in authority (Psalm 81:4): “Rescue the poor: and deliver the needy out of the hand of the sinner”; and for this reason Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 75): “The natural order conducive to peace among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority.”

Drawing from the authority of St. Augustine, the Angelic Doctor makes a distinction between murder and justified killings in both capital punishment and war. Though this “realist” tradition is certainly a subject in and of itself, the takeaway is that Sacred Tradition has always maintained a distinction between the just and unjust taking of a human life.

A second point of emphasis under “willful murder” is that it encompasses abortion. Though abortion is often spoke of in the Church, it is not always thought of as a sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance. Abortion is also not a new issue. The Early Church Fathers were quite clear on the subject.

You shall not kill the child by obtaining an abortion. Nor, again, shall you destroy him after he is born.
St. Barnabas (“Epistle of St. Barnabas,” c. 70-100 A.D.)

You shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill one who has been born.
The Didache [The Teaching Of The Twelve Apostles] (c. 80-140 A.D.)

While modernity claims the murder of the unborn is a “right,” it remains a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance. Additional Early Church quotes may be found at The Early Church on Abortion: 8 Quotes Before AD 400.

 

 

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Martin.

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Martin.

2. The Sin of Sodom

And the Lord said: The cry of Sodom and Gomorrha is multiplied, and their sin is become exceedingly grievous. I will go down and see whether they have done according to the cry that is come to me: or whether it be not so, that I may know. – Gen. 18:20-21

The “Sin of Sodom” is described as “carnal sin against nature, which is a voluntary shedding of the seed of nature, out of the due use of marriage, or lust with a different sex.”3 Given modernity’s substitution of God and Nature with the will of the individual as an autonomous moral universe, sodomy – more specifically active homosexuality, not orientation – has become part of the new post-Christian norm. Neither Divine Law nor Natural Law form an external guide for the modern man; thus, the only boundary of autonomous individual is the autonomy of another. The boundary for what is and is not moral appears to be consent. Consequently, moral dialogue has been flattened to mere platitudes, e.g., this isn’t hurting anyone, it’s my body and my choice, love is love. Many often comment on the modern West’s apparent lack of morality, but few comment on the fact the West has lost the vocabulary to even discuss on morality.4

A few distinctions. First, the issue of same-sex marriage is not a religious issue, it is a rational and philosophical one. Considerations of marriage as a natural institution, the moral import of natural law, and the harmony between unity and procreation in sex are all within the purview of the natural virtues and reason; however, as geology and astronomy may both tell us the Earth is round, so too can the two sciences of theology and philosophy tell us the same thing.5 For example, no one holds that the commandment thou shall not murder was unknown before God revealed it on Mt. Sinai. It was revelation confirming reason, a demonstration of the greater truth that grace perfects nature.

The discussion for this list is less about same-sex marriage and more about a proper interpretation of Scripture. It is a conversation about those who do see Sacred Scripture as a moral authority, but attempt to harmonize their modernist views on sexuality with the Holy Bible. Typically, this leads to “new” interpretations of Scriptures on homosexuality. These interpretations are often weak and out of context, but since they serve the end that people want people follow them. A tenuous intellectual argument will always serve as long as it achieves the end people desire, especially if that end is wrapped in autonomy and sexual gratification.

On the Interpretation of Hospitality Violations

Those who argue that Sodom and Gomorrah should be understood outside any homosexual context often submit that the divine judgment of those cities was due to violations of Ancient Near East hospitality laws. In The Sin of Sodom & Gomorrah is not about Hospitality, the good Msgr. Pope offers a strong rebuttal. In part:

First there is a text from Ezekiel:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. (Ezekiel 16:49-50)

Now this is the text used most often by those who deny any homosexual context in the sin of Sodom. And, to be fair, it does add a dimension to the outcry God hears. There are clearly additional sins at work in the outcry: pride, excess or greed, and indifference to the poor and needy. But there are also mentioned here unspecified “abominations.” The Hebrew word is תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה (tō·w·‘ê·ḇāh) which refers to any number of things God considers especially detestable, such as worshiping idols, immolating children, wrongful marriage and also homosexual acts. For example, Leviticus 18:22 uses the word in this context: Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination.6

But of itself, this text from Ezekiel does remind us that widespread homosexuality is not the only sin of Sodom. And while the abomination mentioned here may not be specified exactly, there is another Scriptural text that does specify things more clearly for us. It is from the Letter of Jude:

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. (Jude 7-8)

And thus it is specified that the central sin of Sodom involved “sexual immorality (ἐκπορνεύσασαι) and perversion (ἀπελθοῦσαι ὀπίσω σαρκὸς ἑτέρας – literally having departed to strange or different flesh).” And this would comport with the description of widespread homosexual practice in Sodom wherein the practitioners of this sin are described in Genesis 19 as including, “all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old.”

Hence we see that, while we should avoid seeing the sin of Sodom as only widespread homosexual acts (for what city has only one sin?), we cannot avoid that the Scriptures do teach that homosexual acts are central to the sins of Sodom which cry to heaven for vengeance, and for which God saw fit to bring a fiery end.

Genesis 19 speaks plainly of the sin, Ezekiel 16 broadens the description but retains the word “abomination,” and Jude 7 clearly attests to sexual perversion as being the central sin with which Sodom and Gomorrah were connected.

One of the takeaways from the good monsignor’s commentary is that sexual perversion is not the only sin of which Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty. Many allow themselves to be confused by arguments that attempt to replace the primary sin (sexual perversion in a homosexual context) with the secondary sins.7 And while the discussion here is not necessarily why homosexuality is a sin that cries to heaven, it should serve to clarify that it is impossible to read the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative outside a homosexual context. 

 

"The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision of society."

“The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision of society.”

3. Oppression of the Poor

Now after a long time the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel groaning, cried out because of the works: and their cry went up unto God from the works. And he heard their groaning, and remembered the covenant which he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And the Lord looked upon the children of Israel, and he knew them. – Ex. 2:23

“If we don’t love the poor, and do all we can to improve their lot, we’re going to go to Hell.” – Archbishop Chaput

Catholic Social Teaching holds as one of its seven themes an “Option for the Poor and the Vulnerable.” The issues encompassed by this theme are traditionally: “social programs for the poor and downtrodden, care for orphans, care for widows, and creating a well-ordered society where the least of us is protected and given the ability to improve his own lot.”8 As biblical evidence of this theme, Catholic Charities USA lists several Holy Scriptures that demonstrate the Lord’s predilection toward the poor.9 In these selected verses, note how hostile the Lord is toward those who oppress the poor.

You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans. If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him.
Exodus 22:20-24

Happy those concerned for the lowly and poor; when misfortune strikes, the LORD delivers them. The LORD keeps and preserves them, makes them happy in the land, and does not betray them to their enemies.
Psalm 41:1-3

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgment, and show kindness and compassion toward each other. Do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the alien or the poor; do not plot evil against one another in your hearts.
Zechariah 7:9-10

There is an undeniable connection between a Catholic’s treatment of the poor and their salvation. SPL has taken up this issue in detail in the list  The Poor and our Salvation: 5 Thoughts. The following is more biblical evidence of this connection:

Injure not the poor because they are poor, nor crush the needy at the gate; For the LORD will defend their cause, and will plunder the lives of those who plunder them.
Proverbs 22:22-23

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.
Prov 14:31

Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.
Prov 21:13

Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.
Prov 28:27

Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow. Then all the people shall say, Amen!
Deuteronomy 27:19

He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.
Prov 19:17

The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.
Prov 29:7

Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
Isaiah 1:17

‘He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the LORD.
Jeremiah 22:16

You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans. If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him.
Exodus 22:20-24

The issue of our salvation and the poor cannot be described as an exclusively Old Testament issue either. While there are less verses, the potency of the verses is no less acute. The Lord’s predilection for the poor remains, and our treatment of the poor has a direct effect on our relationship with God.

Cornelius stared at him in fear. ‘What is it, Lord?’ he asked. The angel answered, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.’
Acts 10:4

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James 1:27

One of the clearest indications of a direct link between the poor and our salvation is found in the Gospel of St. Matthew 25. There Christ speaks to both the redeemed and the damned, and to the damned he states, “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'” The matter is one of eternal importance as the passage concludes,  “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” The overwhelming biblical evidence of this sin that cries to heaven for vengeance seems to also assert that the exact opposite happens as well – our proper treatment of the poor cries up to heaven in thanksgiving.

Regardless of whether they are cries for vengeance or cries of thanksgiving, the cries will be heard on our day of judgment.

 

Chinese contract laborers on a sugar plantation in Hawaii. 19th Century.

Chinese contract laborers on a sugar plantation in Hawaii. 19th Century.

4. Defrauding Laborers of their Wages

Behold the hire of the labourers, who have reaped down your fields, which by fraud has been kept back by you, crieth: and the cry of them hath entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have feasted upon earth: and in riotousness you have nourished your hearts, in the day of slaughter. – James 5:4

Like oppressing the poor, this grave sin is also expressed in a positive manner as a theme of Catholic Social Teaching. Articulated as the “Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers,” the theme states, “The economy must serve the people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation.”10 Furthermore, “Workers, employers, and unions should not only advance their own interests, but also work together to advance economic justice and the well-being of all.”11 Turning again to Catholic Charities USA, the following verses are taken from their explanation of the dignity of work and the rights of workers.12

My son, rob not the poor man of his livelihood; force not the eyes of the needy to turn away. A hungry man grieve not, a needy man anger not; Do not exasperate the downtrodden; delay not to give to the needy. A beggar in distress do not reject; avert not your face from the poor. From the needy turn not your eyes, give no man reason to curse you; For if in the bitterness of his soul he curse you, his Creator will hear his prayer. Endear yourself to the assembly; before a ruler bow your head. Give a hearing to the poor man, and return his greeting with courtesy; Deliver the oppressed from the hand of the oppressor; let not justice be repugnant to you. To the fatherless be as a father, and help their mother as a husband would; Thus will you be like a son to the Most High, and he will be more tender to you than a mother.
Sirach 4:1-10

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who are laboring among you and who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you, and to show esteem for them with special love on account of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all. See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good (both) for each other and for all. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-18

Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.
1Timothy 6:17-19

Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance. Be patient, therefore, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.
James 5:1-8

One of the greatest examples of Holy Mother Church standing up for a just economy is in its response to the Industrial Revolution in the West, more specifically in Pope Leo XIII’s famous Rerum Novarum. The encyclical is often touted as jump starting what is now commonly known as Catholic Social Teaching.

************************************

  1. Sins that Cry for Vengeance: CCC 1867 []
  2. All verses are taken from the Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible Translation. []
  3. Douay Catholic Catechism of 1649, Q. 928 – Thank you to Taylor Marshal for posting this excerpt on his blog. Marshall makes the point that America has failed “four for four” on these sins that cry out to heaven. []
  4. Moral Vocabulary: When he was Archbishop of Denver, His Excellency Chaput gave a talk that incorporated the problem of the lost moral vocabulary. Repentance & Renewal, 2010. []
  5. Theology as a Science: For an introduction to understanding Sacred Doctrine as the Queen of the Sciences and how she orders those sciences, see Queen of the Sciences and Queen of the Sciences II. []
  6. SPL Note on Leviticus & Homosexuality: When Lev. 18:22 is cited as an undeniable condemnation of homosexuality in Scripture, it is often met with certain sophist rebuttals, e.g., Leviticus also outlaws shaving, tattoos, and eating pork. First note that these statements are an assertion, not an argument. The underlying argument that is needed on both sides is how one decides what is still valid law and what is not. In short, as Catholics we know that the OT is perfected in the NT and the NT is foreshadowed in the OT; thus, we see in Scripture Christ’s intent to perfect the law, not abolish it. Certain laws, however, demand a change in order to be perfected. For example, the OT law of circumcision was perfected in the Sacrament of Baptism. The Levitical laws on purity are a subject we see both St. Peter and St. Paul address. Homosexuality, on the other hand, was restated as a sin by St. Paul. In reverse, one could always ask those who use this argument against Leviticus what their hermeneutic for understanding the OT and NT is. It will, inevitably, be their own autonomous will. For more see Catholic Answers on the subject. []
  7. Further Commentary on the Hospitality View: In addition to Msgr. Pope’s article, Catholic Answers addresses it in their treatment of homosexuality in general and Fr. Longenecker comments on it in his article The Sin of SodomIn related studies, the good Msgr. Pope has written about the wrath of God and several other articles on homosexuality (Biblical Teaching on Homosexuality, the “Lost Generation of the Church,” and a Pastor’s Attempt to Teaching the Bible on Homosexuality). Catholicism holds that the laws of the State are drawn from the laws of nature, and the laws of nature are distinct from the divine laws in Scripture. To understanding the relationship of laws and the context in which Catholicism advocates for the legal defense of natural marriage, see Think like a Catholic – 7 Questions on the Four Laws. A collection of Catholic documents on sexuality and the pastoral care of homosexually oriented person is found at 5 Catholic Documents on Family, Sex, and Homosexuality. Those who still question the traditional interpretation of the Church on homosexuality may reference Early Church: 12 Quotes on Homosexuality & Other Sexual Sins. []
  8. 7 Themes of Catholic Social Teaching []
  9. Catholic Charities USA: More Scriptures in support of the poor. []
  10. 7 Themes of Catholic Social Teaching []
  11. Id. []
  12. Catholic Charities USA: Holy Scriptures on the Dignity of Work. []