This is a misunderstood concept today.  We must recover a proper sense of “tolerance”.

Liberals have there version, usually involving something like, in the political sphere today “If you don’t conform to my will, then you are a racist.”  In the Church it might be something like “If you don’t agree with my denial of the Church’s teaching on X, then you are a homophobe/misogynist/meanie.”  Liberals – and often also young skulls full of mush – think that “tolerance” means that we must accept and even affirm their position, regardless of the ramifications.

I recommend an interesting piece by the talented writer (and Dante scholar) Anthony Esolen.  HERE.

A snippet:

What’s not so often acknowledged is that tolerance implies reciprocity from the person whose behavior is tolerated. For tolerance of wrongdoing is freely given; it is an act of graciousness, and not the paying of a debt. Therefore it rests with the offender, at the very least, to refrain from aggravating the burden of tolerance.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Our Catholic Identity, The Drill and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. JerryS says:

    Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions. –G.K. Chesterton

  2. dominic1955 says:

    Amen to that article. You will never find more intolerant, small-minded, selfish, hate-filled people than the self-proclaimed Tolerant.

  3. Maria says:

    By Fulton J Sheen, 1931, The Curse of Broadmindedness

    “There is no other subject on which the average mind is so much confused as the subject of tolerance and intolerance …
    Tolerance applies only to persons, but never to principles. Intolerance applies only to principles, but never to persons.”

  4. Andrew says:

    St. Augustine says in his commentaries on the psalms, psalm 31: Tolerantia quae dicitur … non est nisi in malis. (Tolerance pertains only to things that are bad). We tolerate things that are adverse, things we cannot avoid without incurring some greater adversity.

    Cardinal Ottaviani in his Institutiones Juris Publici Ecclesiastici, vol. II, n. 272 writes: “Neque quis dicitur tolerare aliquid si illud protegat, foveat atque tueatur.” (No one is said to tolerate something which they wish to protect, favor, or preserve.)

    The word “tolerance” is being twisted these days to mean something opposed to injustice and prejudice. “Tolerance” in popular usage is now a positive virtue: something to strive for.
    Thank the Lord for the clarity of Latin. The definition of “tolerare” is “patienter ferre” that is “to patiently bear”. Tolerance is a patient bearing of bad things for the sake of some greater good.

  5. teomatteo says:

    So … to be tolerant you have to disagree with a behavior. So if you’re a “tolerant person” you are a disagree-er. No?

  6. Pingback: TOLERANCE | ourladyofgracemonastery

  7. Shonkin says:

    “What’s not so often acknowledged is that tolerance implies reciprocity from the person whose behavior is tolerated.”
    This is something to consider when we are urged to “tolerate” the bahavior of Muslim mobs.

  8. Legisperitus says:

    Toleration has its limits.

    As we see whenever a hostile government decides it won’t tolerate the practice of the Catholic Faith any longer.

  9. Pingback: Did You See What Father Z Did There Again? - Catholic Bandita

  10. Pledger says:

    Sadly, we’ve merged two words that have two very distinct meanings into one…Tolerance and Acceptance.

  11. scotus says:

    How many people reading this would understand the following sentence;
    If you have any issues with this (camera/television/computer, or whatever) just bring it back and we’ll deal with them.

    Yes? You understood the sentence? Then you are one of millions of people who have been persuaded to use the word ‘issue’ where the word ‘problem’ should be used. An issue and a problem are not the same thing. But somebody somewhere started to use ‘issue’ to mean ‘problem’ and somehow the rest of the world has copied him/her.

    So it is with ‘tolerance’ We can go back to the original meaning of ‘tolerance’ and ask people to use it in that way just as I would like people to use the word ‘issue’ in its original meaning. But some people have decided to use the word ‘tolerance’ in a new way and most (?) people seem to have copied them.

    So, if you want people to use the word ‘tolerance’ in its original meaning rather than the modern meaning could you please use the word ‘issue’ in its original meaning while you are at it.

  12. jessicahoff says:

    Tolerance of only that which one finds tolerable is a liberal vice.

  13. Imrahil says:

    Interesting it is indeed… but I would not agree with him on many issues.

    I indeed do not acknowledge that tolerance conceptually implies reciprocity from the person whose behavior is tolerated. That simply is not within the concept of tolerance. Justice is reciprocal. Charity, if you will, is perhaps somewhat reciprocal. Tolerance is not reciprocal. Tolerance means (as Mr. Esolen shrewdly discusses) bear with a something you dislike. Now whether we do tolerate something or not, is a question which by no means can easily dismissed with an “always yes”. But when we do not tolerate something, we do not tolerate it; let us not evade the question with a redefinition of the word tolerance. Of course Mr. Esolen is right that you’re generally more tolerant with one who actually is reciprocal tolerant, but that has nothing to do with the concept of tolerance; merely with the question “how tolerant am I?”.

    Hence, I can only see in Mr. Esolen’s writing a description of some things which to tolerate, and other things which either not to tolerate, or tolerate with a special grudge.

    May I also say that his standard of things not to be tolerated is an indeed harsh, some might also say world-foreign, as in: refusing to shake hands with the adulterous girlfriend; not buying at a convenience store which publicly (as opposed to under-the-counter) sells Playboy. That seems to amount to emigrate-from-the-world, at least to my eyes. At the very least, it is certain to bring you into the situation when you can only uphold friendships with those who share your opinion already, being labelled “intolerant” by the rest. Understand me right: that may (or may not) be good; only it doesn’t seem to make sense to me to treat such directives as explanations of what is tolerance.

    On the other hand, we must be clear that tolerance is not always good. It has limits; “who is open for everything is not quite leakproof” (“not quite leakproof” being a German expression for “nuts”), as Franz Josef Strauß and Dr. Edmund Stoiber famously remarked.

  14. Paulus1988 says:

    I would like to recommend for your study the following study by a rigorous Thomist from the Catholic University of Lublin, Poland.

    To whet your appetite, here is the conclusion:

    The ethics of tolerance is the foundation of post-modern ethics. Postmodern ethics
    gathers together most of the destructive philosophical positions in western philosophy
    and it lies at the base of contemporary European culture. Post-modernism is postliberalism
    and post-socialism. It has an aversion to the western heritage, especially
    Christianity. All the more as Christians we must work to save the ethics of the good, if
    morality is to be truly morality, and freedom is to be truly freedom. We must recognize
    true tolerance, which has persons and the good of persons as its object, and never confuse
    it with indifference, which is only a step away from hatred for our neighbor.

    Fr. Paul McDonald

  15. amenamen says:

    Thank you, Andrew, for the quote from St. Augustine (Tolerance pertains only to things that are bad).

    The most terrible misuse of the word “tolerance” has been its use as a substitute for “love.” It is never right, it seems to me, to say that we should “tolerate” a person, but rather that we should (sometimes, for good reasons) tolerate his faults, his sins, his shortcomings, his errors. But the person himself should be “loved”, not “tolerated.” Should we “tolerate” people of other races, nationalities or religions? It seems to me, no; rather we should “love” them.” The differences (such as skin-color or culture, or religious beliefs or political opinions) may even be “loved”, when they are good, or “tolerated” if they are evil.

    Jesus, “qui tollit pecatta mundi”, loves sinners, but he bears our sins.

  16. Giuseppe says:

    Esolen is a talented writer and a clear thinker. The world in which he wants to live does not exist. I was struck that he argues that the public should reciprocate his willingness to be tolerant by hiding anything that might offend his belief system. It is a version of what I terrifies me in the recent Muslim protests: the right ‘not to be offended’.

    “It follows too that if the public parading of a wrong is an offense against tolerance, so is the public declaration of a propensity to engage in the wrong. Every person alive is beset by temptations. We may utter them to our confessors, or, less often, to our best friends on condition of secrecy, or to our spouses, when it would not cause needless pain. Beyond that, we assist the tolerance of our neighbors by keeping our serpents to ourselves.”

    The same-sex attracted, non-Roman Catholic American has to hide his sexual orientation to avoid causing Esolen needless pain? The divorced non-Roman Catholic American man cannot hold hands with his new wife on their front porch to avoid offense? Where will he live – a Roman Catholic Saudi Arabia?

  17. Scarltherr says:

    Giuseppe, I believe you are not seeing the problem as outlined in the article. The person with same-sex attraction has been granted, in the name of tolerance, the right to not be offended by my Catholicism. I, in the name of tolerance, am called a bigot if I suggest that a student’s sexual orientation, of any kind, has no place as a topic in my university classroom. (I teach public speaking.) I tell all of my students they do not have the right to not be offended. Unfortunately, that’s the best we seem to be able to achieve in our ‘tolerant’ culture.

  18. The Masked Chicken says:

    Prof. Esolen wrote:

    “What’s not so often acknowledged is that tolerance implies reciprocity from the person whose behavior is tolerated.”

    I think this statement is a bit overreaching. Christ tolerated to be put to death; He tolerated the rough handling of his crucifiers; He tolerated the shame of being thought unjust. There was no reciprocity among His crucifiers.

    Tolerance is the acceptance of an evil for a temporary period so that a greater good may flourish. Tennis players tolerate the pain in their shoulders, for example, so that they may become good tennis players. Christ tolerated the crucifixion so that he might redeem the world.

    Tolerance is derived from the virtue of clemency, which St. Thomas defines as (ST II.II.157.2; also, c.f. ST. II.II.11.3):

    On the contrary, According to the aforesaid definition of Seneca (Objection 1) “clemency is leniency of a superior towards an inferior”: whereas meekness is not merely of superior to inferior, but of each to everyone. Therefore meekness and clemency are not absolutely the same.

    One allows a person who is sinning (and, hence in a morally inferior position) to continue for a time with the express purpose of bringing about a higher good, which is the end of all charity.

    However, just as there is a hierarchy of ends, there is also a hierarchy of laws: the Eternal (or Divine) Law, followed by the Natural Law, followed by Human Laws. As St. Thomas further notes about this hierarchy (ST. I.II.91.4)

    On the contrary, David prayed God to set His law before him, saying (Psalm 118:33): “Set before me for a law the way of Thy justifications, O Lord.”

    I answer that, Besides the natural and the human law it was necessary for the directing of human conduct to have a Divine law. And this for four reasons. First, because it is by law that man is directed how to perform his proper acts in view of his last end. And indeed if man were ordained to no other end than that which is proportionate to his natural faculty, there would be no need for man to have any further direction of the part of his reason, besides the natural law and human law which is derived from it. But since man is ordained to an end of eternal happiness which is inproportionate to man’s natural faculty, as stated above (Question 5, Article 5), therefore it was necessary that, besides the natural and the human law, man should be directed to his end by a law given by God.

    Secondly, because, on account of the uncertainty of human judgment, especially on contingent and particular matters, different people form different judgments on human acts; whence also different and contrary laws result. In order, therefore, that man may know without any doubt what he ought to do and what he ought to avoid, it was necessary for man to be directed in his proper acts by a law given by God, for it is certain that such a law cannot err.

    Thirdly, because man can make laws in those matters of which he is competent to judge. But man is not competent to judge of interior movements, that are hidden, but only of exterior acts which appear: and yet for the perfection of virtue it is necessary for man to conduct himself aright in both kinds of acts. Consequently human law could not sufficiently curb and direct interior acts; and it was necessary for this purpose that a Divine law should supervene.

    Fourthly, because, as Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 5,6), human law cannot punish or forbid all evil deeds: since while aiming at doing away with all evils, it would do away with many good things, and would hinder the advance of the common good, which is necessary for human intercourse. In order, therefore, that no evil might remain unforbidden and unpunished, it was necessary for the Divine law to supervene, whereby all sins are forbidden.

    And these four causes are touched upon in Psalm 118:8, where it is said: “The law of the Lord is unspotted,” i.e. allowing no foulness of sin; “converting souls,” because it directs not only exterior, but also interior acts; “the testimony of the Lord is faithful,” because of the certainty of what is true and right; “giving wisdom to little ones,” by directing man to an end supernatural and Divine.

    Thus, in each case it for the superior to tolerate the behavior of the inferior: God tolerates sin for a time; man tolerates hunger for a time, and so on.

    Now, here is the central flaw in the modern political use of the word tolerance: modern tolerance is seen a the morally inferior demanding clemency from a morally superior, which is precisely contrary to reason. The modern use of the word tolerance is a type of lie. The person demanding tolerance (and tolerance cannot, cannot be demanded) pretends to have the right to the acceptance of his evil behavior. This makes an evil behave as a good and is contradictory. Now, whatever is contradictory has no truth valuation in it, so the modern political use of tolerance is devoid of any real meaning. Where there is a contradiction, the Principle of Explosion in logic allows any statement to be made without any ability to distinguish its real truth. Thus, if an vicious person demands tolerance of a virtuous person in one instance and is successful in perpetrating the lie behind the act (that evil is really good), then that person gains the right to demand tolerance of any behavior. The logic is clear.

    Scotus, above, is right to a certain extent. Some words can undergo a phenomenon known as Linguistic Broadening and so morph into different meanings, but the word, “tolerance,” cannot precisely because it is anchored to an eternal, immutable hierarchy of good and evil.

    What people who demand tolerance really want is to be God, since only He can truly define what is good and what is evil so as to define the correct relationships between the tolerator and the tolerated.

    This is not only unreasonable, but, in a sense, insane. Consider Adrian Monk (to speak of the slightly off-kilter). Captain Stottlemeyer tolerates his OCD both because he knows it will be helpful in Monk’s healing, but also because it allows Monk to solve crimes and contribute to the commonweal, even though he must do so suffering from his illness. Now, Adrian can whine and plead that his behavior be accepted, but if he demanded for it to be accepted on the grounds that he is the one who’s behavior is sane without proof (even though he knows its not) and that Stottlemeyer’s is not, then there would be no grounds for any sort of working relationship except under exceptional circumstances. A person with Alzheimer’s might insist that the tv is a radio and insist that that you agree, but in this case, there is defect in knowledge and there is no real breakdown in reason, since only one person has it to any extent.

    Just so, a homosexual may ask that we tolerate his disorder, but he may not demand it. That violates reason, which is ordered by the Divine Law. The problem with Shari’a Law is even worse, because Islam claims to have a different Divine Law than Christians (equally given by God, so they claim) and so the plea for tolerance, ironically, is made to two different perceived actions of God, with both sides claiming to be morally superior, so that each tolerates as his concept of the Divine Law warrants.

    Of course, there is only one God and only one Divine Law, so one side, again, is involved in a contradiction, claiming an evil is a good. This is the most difficult case for tolerance, because it is a matter of heresy and heresy and heretics, according to St. Thomas (ST. II.II.11.3) ought not to be tolerated, except for a short time:

    On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but “after the first and second admonition,” as the Apostle directs:

    One may argue that since all men are sinners shouldn’t all men be tolerant, since we are all in an inferior position due to our sins? Yes and No. Not all men are in sin at all times. It is for those not in sin at the moment to exercise the most charity. If both men are thieves, who can expect tolerance or the other’s thieving? On the other hand, if one thief tolerates the other, is not the light of grace momentarily sparking in him, however imperfectly.

    Sorry for going on so long. Tolerance is so misunderstood, today, but what is even more misunderstood is its remedy. Even if a human agency passes a law of tolerance on an immoral act, it has, from eternity been overruled. While one may tolerate the defective law for a time, if that tolerance gives the appearance that the law is properly ordered and a good, then the tolerator is causing scandal beyond a certain point by making those he knows think that an evil is a good. The cure for tolerance is, therefore, a proper tolerance, which is intolerance to any tolerance that has no rights. If fathers in the 1950’s could have seen what would come to pass for good television programming, today, by the tolerance of the viewing audience, they would have smashed every television in sight. To remedy a false application of tolerance, the rule is simple: start putting your foot down while the view is still black-and-white and never let it veer of into the varieties of color.

    The Chicken

    P. S. Again, sorry for going on so long. I have been somewhat out of it, today, and writing forces me to be organized for a time. Your tolerance is appreciated.

  19. Imrahil says:

    Dear @amenamen,

    I do not think “tolerance” has really substituted love.

    Finish a discussion with the words “I’ll tolerate you, despite what you’re saying, despite perhaps even what you’re doing”. Do not speak about tolerating a third person (where it has sometimes gotten that touch of acceptance which in precise meaning it does not have), but actually tell somebody you tolerate him. I do guess he won’t be amused; and rightly, given the etymology.

  20. Bea says:

    One of my sons has this bumper sticker on his car


    Aha, JerryS so that’s where the bumper sticker quote came from.

    Wish I knew where this quote came from, maybe some of you know:
    “When one has such an open mind your brains may fall out”

  21. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:


    Is it perhaps a variant on ?(Chesterton’s) An open mind is like an open mouth: it wants to close on something solid.

  22. Giuseppe says:

    @Scarltherr re. “The person with same-sex attraction has been granted, in the name of tolerance, the right to not be offended by my Catholicism.”

    The person with same-sex attraction, especially the non-Roman Catholic, has the right to be offended by Roman Catholicism — indeed, should be terrified by it. The natural law philosophy of Roman Catholicism gives a comfortable same-sex attracted person no comfort or solace — it gives them clarity and a challenge to repentance. Freaks of nature, practitioners of sin both in thought and deed, playthings of a Creator (as some genuinely feel cursed like Job), why should they feel comfort or solace in Roman Catholicism unless they renounce same-sex attraction and activity?

    However, the widespread acceptance of same-sex attraction and activity, the normalization of same-sex attraction and couples in most of Western society, the medical-institutional depathologizing of same-sex attraction and activity, and the increasing prevalence of open same-sex attracted individuals in most families, combined with ongoing reiteration of Roman Catholic natural law philosophy, will continue to result in fewer, but more devout, practicing Roman Catholics. The pre-Same-sex-rights Latin Mass in its clarity is a rallying cry for purists.

    Same-sex attraction-tolerant Glory and Praise Catholics, Baptism-only or Wedding-only Catholics, liberal Catholics — all might as well be secular/Episcopal (with a nice English-language liturgy, cf. Anglicanorum coetibus) using Episcopal churches as event spaces for big events (christening, wedding, funeral) and not as sacramental spaces.

    (I’ve made a point of using ‘same-sex attracted’ instead of ‘gay’ so as not to offend Father Z, as I know this is a pet peeve of his, although ‘gay’ is much easier to type.)

  23. Horatius says:

    I think the gist of Esolen et al. is that tolerance is practiced, with political correctness in full swing, albeit sometimes masked, very imperfectly, the bias tilting against Catholics. A true tolerance would tolerate them, us. Tolerance is a virtue which only goes so far, however–how far, I am not really sure, but it is clearly a political virtue. I am interested in truth, however, which will set us free.

  24. frjim4321 says:

    However, the widespread acceptance of same-sex attraction and activity, the normalization of same-sex attraction and couples in most of Western society, the medical-institutional depathologizing of same-sex attraction and activity, and the increasing prevalence of open same-sex attracted individuals in most families, combined with ongoing reiteration of Roman Catholic natural law philosophy, will continue to result in fewer, but more devout, practicing Roman Catholics. The pre-Same-sex-rights Latin Mass in its clarity is a rallying cry for purists.

    I don’t know what the evidence for this is, but is sounds like more of the “smaller, purer church” doctrine that has been floating around of late.

  25. guans says:

    Fr Corapi (bless his heart) said something to the effect that we tolerate the good.
    We do not tolerate evil.

  26. Imrahil says:

    Bless his heart indeed, but we cannot tolerate the good. The good we must love; it’d be an insult to the good to tolerate it. The only logically possible object of tolerance is evil.

    That is not saying that all evil, or indeed any evil, is to be tolerated. (The answer ad 1 is no, ad 2 is yes, but that’s a different discussion.)

  27. SKAY says:

    Considering the fact that putting the word God back into the Democrat Party platform was booed by their party delegates, will President Obama and Sec. of State Clinton spend $70,000 appearing in a video apoligizing to Christians for this?
    I think we will be lectured instead by the words “art”, “tolerance” and especially “intolerance”.

  28. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    The good we must love; it’d be an insult to the good to tolerate it. The only logically possible object of tolerance is evil.

    Surely not? We tolerate that which we dislike, which need not be evil: others’ idiosyncrasies, for example. Such things we are surely bound to tolerate out of charity?

  29. Giuseppe says:

    @frjim4321 re. “I don’t know what the evidence for this is, but is sounds like more of the ‘smaller, purer church’ doctrine that has been floating around of late.”

    There is no evidence for this. It was my extrapolation of the type of world that Esolen wants, where non-Roman Catholics have to hide anything he views as sinful from him to show that they are reciprocating his tolerance. From that, I imagined that the list of people (paraders of sinful proclivities) one should avoid (as they are not likely to change their proclivities to please Esolen) would result in a drastic thinning of the ranks of Roman Catholicism. It was all conjecture on my part, not evidence-based.

  30. Sissy says:

    “Tolerance” is one of the Orwellian double-speak words that no longer means what we think. What the left wants isn’t tolerance, at all. They want validation, affirmation, and celebration of their non-normative beliefs and behaviors.

  31. SKAY says:

    “A suicide bomber who tried to ram an explosives-packed car into a Nigerian church on Sunday killed a woman and an eight-year-old boy, while wounding dozens more, the Red Cross and police said.

    The attacker targeted the St. John’s Catholic Church in the northern city of Bauchi, where tight security was imposed after a wave church bombings claimed by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram.”

    Christians -Catholics in particular- are told by the intolerant that we must tolerate the intolerant if we do not want to be called intolerant.
    It is Orwellian.

  32. Indulgentiam says:

    Tolerance and it’s Siamese twin–
    Inclusion:  The manner in which the support and loyalty of minority Identity Groups is guaranteed;  The assignment of political favors according to the generally accepted visual and behavioral stereotypes associated with gender, racial, and sexual  Identity Groups.  In pursuit of the minority, gay, feminist, and ethnic “voting blocks,” Liberals claim to represent the interests of all these Victim Communities.  To this end,  PC thug organizations like NOW, NAACP, LaRAZA, UAW, the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, AFSME and NAMBLA line up to be seen with Liberals in the hope that voters will believe that every person of every stripe and perversity has a place in the Democratic Party.                   

    It’s absolutely forbidden to point out that this is just Cosmetic Diversity, that these different faces and genders are all America-hating Third Way Sociologist Parliamentary Utopians in the first place, that there is no room at all for truly differing opinions, no room for Intellectual Diversity.  It’s just as semantically illegal to admit that Liberal Inclusion is Politically Corrected Selective Inclusion.  There’s no inclusion whatsoever for Gun Owners, Right-Wing Christians, heterosexuality advocates, Republicans, Conservatives, Fat Cats, Corporations, Oppressors, Multi-National Companies, or Angry White Men.  They’re the enemies of Liberalism, and there are no seats for them at the Democratic table.  C 
    The Liberal Lexicon
    A Conservative’s Dictionary of Libberish     

    There is this Overton’s window, creeping normalcy quality to the proponents of modernists tolerance that is just plain eerie. 


  33. AnnAsher says:

    What about tolerance for me when passing peace disturbs my peace? Tolerance should be on the list of banned words.

  34. Imrahil says:

    Dear @(X)MCCLXIII,

    sure, these things which we tolerate are not evil. And we expect unbelievers to (at least) tolerate our Catholicism, which is the very reverse of evil. But we tolerate things we dislike, and we dislike for reason of an (at least seeming) evil.

    I admit however that a distinction can be made between tolerance from charity (as for an idiosyncrasy) and tolerance primarily from prudence (as for a sin).

    Also, most of the disliking of idiosyncrasies (and the kind) comes with at least the excuse that the act disliked is a moral wrong, which is why I perhaps not thought of that. (Needless to say that this excuse may be quite incorrect.)

Comments are closed.