CHAPTER V The second degree of Truth -- wherein consciousness of our own shortcomings makes us merciful to those of other people. Thus in this, the first degree of Truth, the Prophet is so humbled that he says in another Psalm, In thy truth thou hast humbled me. (1) He may then reasonably conclude that the wretched condition in which he finds himself to be, is that of mankind in general. And as he thus passes into the second degree, he may say in his ecstasy, Every man is a liar. (2) And in what does this ecstasy consist? Is it not without doubt due to the fact that in his detachment from himself and attachment to truth, he pronounced his own condemnation? So in that ecstatic condition he may say, not in anger or insult but with pity and regret, Every man is a liar. And why is every man a liar? Every man is weak, every man is poor and powerless, since none can save himself or any one else. In much the same sense is it said, Vain is the horse for safety, (3) not because the horse deceives anyone but because the rider deceives himself if he relies on the horse's strength. So very man is said to be false, that is, fragile and fickle, because no one can hold out any assurance of safety to himself or to others, and any one who puts his trust in man is more likely to receive condemnation. Thus the humble Prophet, proceeding under the guidance of Truth, observes in other people what he mourns in himself; where he finds knowledge he will also find sorrow, and so may say broadly but truly, Every man is a liar. Now note how widely different was the tone of that haughty Pharisee. What was the purport of his ill-considered utterance? (4) God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men. (5) While he is strangely satisfied with himself, he is offensively rude to others. David takes quite another line. He says Every man is a liar. He will make no exceptions which might be misleading, for he knows that all have sinned and all do need the glory of God. (6) 1. Ps. cxix. (Vulg. cxviii) 75.
2. Ps. cxvi. (Vulg. cxv) 11.
3. Ps. xxxiii. 16 (Vulg. xxii. 17) .
4. Lit. 'What did he bring forth in his ecstasy'. St. Bernard here applies to the Pharisee the same word which he had before -used of the Psalmist.
5. Luke xviii. 11.
6. Rom. iii, 23. The Pharisee, while condemning others claims exemption for himself alone. The Prophet does not exempt himself from the general guilt, lest he be excluded from mercy. The Pharisee stifles mercy by his disclaimer of guilt. The Prophet asserts, of himself as of every one, Every man is false. The Pharisee endorses this of all except himself, when he says,I am not as the rest of men. And he returns thanks not that he is good, but that he stands alone -- not so much for his own merits as for the ill which he sees in others. He has not yet cast out the beam out of his own eye, but he reckons up the motes in the eyes of his brethren -- for he adds, unjust, extortioners. I think that this diversion from the subject may not have been without its value, if it has enabled you to appreciate the difference between these two utterances. Let us now return to the main subject. If truth thus compels men to look into themselves and so to learn their own worthlessness, it follows as an inevitable consequence that all those things which have hitherto given them pleasure -- yea, even their own selves -- should become distasteful to them. For as they sit in judgment upon themselves, they cannot fail to see themselves in a light in which they are ashamed to be seen even by their own eyes. Their present condition displeases them and they long to be what they are not -- a result which they distrust their power to achieve. Yet they find their consolation in the fact that their judgment of themselves has been stern and severe; and they hope that their love of truth and their hunger and thirst after righteousness -- even to the point of self-contempt -- will enable them to exact a strict satisfaction for the past and to effect a real amendment in the future. But when they perceive their incapacity for any adequate and extensive reform, and realize that when they have done all that is commanded they must still call themselves unprofitable servants, they fly from justice to mercy. And that they may obtain this they follow the advice given by Truth, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (1) This then is the second degree of truth, the one in which men look for it in their neighbours -- when from the realization of their own shortcomings they discover those of other people and learn from their own painful experience to sympathize with those who suffer. 1. Matt. v. 7.