Inimici Domini, Inimici Mei


I have no enemies. My Lord has commanded me to forgive those who have trespassed against me, and so I have done. A forgiven transgression is no longer warrant for enmity; thus, I have no enemies.

Now, I cannot stop others from considering me their enemy or holding themselves out as my enemy, but, for my part, even such men as hate me — regardless of the presence or absence of cause — I do not count as enemies. They may harbor ill will or intend me harm (and I know that many of them do), but this still does not make them my enemies. Certainly, they are adversaries, and, just as certainly, I will oppose them, but I do not hate them for the ill will or even for the intended harm.

However, ‘enemy’ in this usage most assuredly means personal enemy — inimicus —, which is the sort of enemy of which Christ speaks when He commands us to forgive our enemies and to pray for them. It should be obvious, but perhaps it is not, that we cannot forgive those trespasses committed against others; we can forgive only those trespasses committed against ourselves. Even more clearly: We certainly cannot forgive those trespasses committed against God. It is sin to attempt to be more ‘moral’ than God.

Additionally, two related, but distinct, issues are often conflated in this matter: forgiving of transgression and commuting or pardoning of the punishment for the crime. If a man strikes your wife, you are to forgive him his transgression against you, but you are also bound to defend your wife, with violence if necessary (it would be in such a scenario). You must forgive the transgression, but you must also punish the crime (in this case, you personally must punish the crime in the moment and the magistrate must later punish the crime in the interests of justice, society, et cetera). On the other hand, if a man blasphemes God, you must not forgive him, for God is the wronged party, not you, and the crime must be punished; depending upon the circumstances and the sort of blasphemy, the man may be able to repent and his transgression be forgiven in and by the blood of Christ (i.e., by God, the wronged party).

This, then, highlights a second sort of enemy, for God’s enemies are not your enemies — they are not personal enemies; they are hostes — essentially, public enemies. You are in no position to forgive the personal enemies of another man and you are similarly in no position to forgive the (public) enemies of a nation or other such entity[1]. In fact, it is ludicrous even to propose that one should ‘forgive’ public enemies. Would you stand up in the middle of an active battle and declare ‘forgiveness’ to the enemy soldiers? The public enemy (the hostis) is not the personal enemy (the inimicus), and to treat them interchangeably is not only wrong and foolish, but wicked — it is sin. Just as one has different duties with regard to different persons, so one also has different duties with regard to different enemies. The personal enemy must be forgiven, but the public enemy must be opposed to the bitter end. To fail to forgive one’s personal enemies is sin; to fail to oppose one’s public enemies is also sin. Pacifism is morally impermissible.

Obviously, one does not ‘have’ public enemies in the same sense that one ‘has’ personal enemies (or would have, anyway, if one did not properly forgive them from the heart), but one does, nevertheless, have public enemies. When one’s rightful sovereign or master has enemies, one is morally obligated to make those enemies his own. They do not thereby become one’s personal enemies (for, again, one cannot forgive the enemies of another), but they do not become something entirely other from what a personal enemy would be. These public enemies are to be regarded as hostile and opposed. This is a matter of duty and is thus required; it is not a matter of preference, which would be optional. Thus, the Christian does in fact have a great many enemies, for there are many who oppose the Lord and thereby become His enemies, and He is assuredly our rightful master. We forgive and pray for our inimici, but we also oppose and hate our hostes.

I have no enemies; I have many enemies.

  1. Unless you are the rightful sovereign, but then I should not need to tell you such things. ↩︎