18

In connection with my questions about the meaning of Pope Francis’s, remarks - 'Who am I to judge?' / 'You can add more water to the beans'. I found the following statement in a New York Times (July 30) article - “A Papal surprise: Humility"

Many will see Pope Francis’s remarks, like Cardinals Dolan’s, as simply a retooled version of “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” When applied to homosexuality, that paradigm has always been unstable: the “sin” in question is not some isolated misstep, like lying on a tax return or tweeting a picture of your crotch. It’s about the fundamental relationships around which people organize their lives.”

The phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is well-known in our country (Japan) too, and often quoted by educators, men of religion, and the knowledgeable in argument on criminal cases worthy of sympathy with the accused's background.

I was in understanding this phrase was derived from the Bible, like "Love your enemies" as commanded by Jesus, up until today. But wikipedia says it’s not from the bible. Then, what is the source of this popular adage?

2
  • Tangentailly, the reference that they're trying to make re "tweeting" (which should be capitalized) doesn't really work, now that Anthony Wiener has made it apparent that this is something around which he organizes his life. (More simply - it's an ongoing pattern of behavior, not a 'one-off' act.)
    – hunter2
    Aug 1, 2013 at 4:50
  • Is this a question about the English words used in this sentence, or about the idea it expresses, which can be, and has been, equally well expressed in many other languages? See: Should this question about the meaning of "a friend to all is a friend to none" be reopened?.
    – jsw29
    Dec 23, 2023 at 16:57

7 Answers 7

19

It is from the writings of St. Augustine:

His Letter 211 (c. 424) contains the phrase Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which translates roughly to "With love for mankind and hatred of sins." The phrase has become more famous as "love the sinner but hate the sin" or "hate the sin and not the sinner" (the latter form appearing in Mohandas Gandhi’s 1929 autobiography).

5
  • That's one source of the basic concept (which would obviously have been doing the rounds centuries if not millenia before), but it doesn't really mean anything in relation to OP's question unless we consider it in the light of someone's later translation into a form reasonably close to the modern English version. Jul 31, 2013 at 4:34
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers Yoichi Oishi did mention in his question that he thought the source of this adage was the Bible, but then he learned it wasn't. Therefore, I tried to answer the question in that context: where was the ultimate source of the expression, not when was it first written or said in English with that exact phrasing.
    – ghoppe
    Jul 31, 2013 at 15:42
  • John 3 16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. That looks like pretty much the same idea to me. Jul 31, 2013 at 17:08
  • 2
    Even closer, perhaps, Jude 23 Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgement. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. Jul 31, 2013 at 17:10
  • In translations that include its context, I usually see Augustine's phrase translated as "with love for the persons [who are sinning] and hatred of the sins." Here's the surrounding sentence: "Moreover, what I have now said in regard to abstaining from wanton looks should be carefully observed, with due love for the persons and hatred of the sin, in observing, forbidding, reporting, proving, and punishing of all other faults."
    – Vectornaut
    Dec 18, 2023 at 23:41
13

Alexander Pope in the poem "Eloise to Abelard" (1717) uses a similar formulation:

Of all affliction taught a lover yet,

'Tis sure the hardest science to forget!

How shall I lose the sin, yet keep the sense,

And love the' offender, yet detest the' offence?

How the dear object from the crime remove,

Or how distinguish penitence from love?

Another invocation of "love the sin, hate the sinner" occurs in William Mason's notes to John Bunyan's hugely influential (in English culture) book, The Pilgrim's Progress, Part II (1684/1786):

Here is the mystery of God's grace, the mystery of precious faith; that, however hateful sin is in the sight of a holy God, however full of sin the sinner is, yet he can love the sinner, as much as he loaths his sin. Why? because he views his elect sinners, in Christ the Son of his love, by whom a perfect atonement is made for sin, his precious blood cleanses their souls from all sin and presents them without spot of sin before God.

Mason wrote his notes to The Pilgrim's Progress sometime between 1777 and 1786 (when a version of Bunyan's book containing Mason's annotations first appeared). In an earlier version of this answer, I had attributed the quoted language above to Bunyan; but as Mr. Bultitude points out in a comment below, the words are entirely Mason's.

A more coherent discussion of the distinction between sin and sinner appears in Isaac Watts, "The abuse of the passions in religion" in Discourses of the Love of God (1729):

There is another Instance of the Abuse of the Passions, which is very near a-kin to this [namely, zeal turned into wrath and fury], and may stand in the next Rank; and that is, when we behold the Vices of Men with holy Aversion and Hatred, and immediately transfer this Hatred to their Persons, whereas we ought to pity and pray for them : Or when we see a Fellow-Christian fall into Sin, and because we hate the Sin, we hate the Sinner too, and suffer our Hatred to grow into Disdain and irreconcilable Enmity, and that even tho' the Offender has given Signs of sincere Repentance. This is not Christian Zeal, but human Corruption; and such criminal Indulgence of the Passions, which ought to be mortified, if ever we should be Imitators of the holy Jesus : He hated even the least Sin, but loved and saved the greatest of Sinners, and delighted to receive Penitents to his Love.

5
  • 2
    It should be noted that the Pilgrim's Progress quote is actually by the editor of that edition, William Mason, and not by Bunyan. Feb 12, 2016 at 22:34
  • 2
    @Mr. Bultitude: Thank you for pointing out that distinction. I'm going to have to rework my answer to avoid misrepresenting Bunyan as the author.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 13, 2016 at 0:58
  • 1
    @Mr. Bultitude: I've corrected the erroneous attribution to Bunyan of Martin's work. Thank you again for alerting me to this serious factual error in my original answer.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 13, 2016 at 2:13
  • 1
    Thank you for doing so; but the answer now says "Martin" when I'm pretty sure it should say "Mason." Feb 25, 2016 at 20:18
  • 2
    @Mr. Bultitude: Fixed. I don't know about you, but I'm at the point where I don't trust anything I say in this answer.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 25, 2016 at 23:57
10

The basic sentiment has been expressed in various ways since long before anything meaningfully resembling modern English, but here's what I can find leading up to the modern form...

Hymn 270 in John Wesley's A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists (1780) ends with...

To hate the sin with all my heart,
But still the sinner love.

That doesn't seem to have been repeated or refined in print until the mid 1820s, when within the space of a decade or so the pithy modern form suddenly began appearing everywhere. The earliest I can find juxtaposing the actual words love the sinner and hate the sin is Sacred Melodies: Preceded by an Admonitory Appeal to Lord Byron, with Other Small Poems (1824) by Mrs Isaac Henry Robert Mott...

I love the sinner, hate the sin

2

King David, Psalms 104:35, wrote יתמו חטאים מן הארץ. This is usually translated into something on the lines of "Let sinners cease out of the earth". However:

  1. Grammatically this is correct, but it is an irregular way of writing the word חטאים - sinners. Though through use of grammar (vowel signs, emphasis) the meaning is sinners, the simple writing of the word is identical to sins.

  2. In addition, the second part of the verse - ורשעים עוד אינם - "and let the wicked be no more" is redundant. No sinners = no wicked, so why the repetition?

The Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Brachot 10) tells of Rabbi Meir, who was harassed by wicked people and at first wanted to pray for them to die. His wife quoted the two notions above and helped him understand their central idea - we wish for the sins, not the sinners themselves, to cease. When the sins cease, then as a matter of course the wicked will be no more (i.e., they won't be wicked, since they will have no sin). Rabbi Meir ended up praying for them to rectify their ways - and they did.

In a sense, you may say it is bible (old testament) based.

2
  • You ask "why the repetition?" in Psalms? Far more unusual would be a psalm without repetitious stating of the same thing in two ways.
    – GEdgar
    Aug 1, 2013 at 11:46
  • Rather "what is the meaning of the repetition?". Jewish commentaries through out the bible tend to seek the nuances and explain repetition as adding meaning or teaching something new.
    – JNF
    Aug 1, 2013 at 18:47
2

The Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 64, verse 11: "...hate their evil ways and love the brothers." This was written around 530 AD. It may not be the earliest, but it is very early and very close to the current saying. Quote is from the St. Meinrad translation of The Holy Rule.

0

Augustine's phrase Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum is an early origin for what became "love the sinner, hate the sin," but the phrasing as we know it may have entered English in the 17th century. For this answer, I will trace the two expressions "love the sinner" and "hate the sin" (and particularly the apposition of sinner and sin) to early citations in English. In other words, what is the more literal origin in English?

The Earliest Possible

The phrasing would not have been possible in English before the 14th century, when sinner first enters the lexicon (Oxford English Dictionary). My searches of the Middle English Corpus for sin/ner and variants (syn, synner) yielded no viable results, including in contexts like The Canterbury Tales (Tale of Melibee, Parson's Tale) where both sin and sinner are used. I suspect the phrasing was not extant in Middle English.

After this, I used Early English Books Online, a corpus of pre-1700 printed texts, to see what I could find. To help narrow the results, I searched for "love the sinner" with sin as a collocation as well as "hate the sin" with sinner as a collocation. I mostly turned up printed sermons as results, and I sifted through them to find the results that worked.

Searching for "Love the Sinner"

In The Certainty of the Future Judgment (1684), Matthew Bryan asserts in a sermon the following:

Be∣lieve it, 'tis the sin we hate, while we reprove, but yet love the Sinner.

Finding the origin of the phrase in sermons seems promising, as sermons often use formulaic language to drive a point home, and the sin/sinner repetition is quite a formula. Early English Books Online turns up one earlier example of love the sinner where sin is also in the mix:

Now here is the love of God first to man, which love being received, as in the Light it is manifested, then man comes to be drawn with the love of God, to love God again, and this is perfect love, with which love the sinner is sought, and for sin reproved, where∣in the Lord God doth make known his own compassion to a sin∣ner, and doth manifest, That he would not the death of a sinner, but hath given his onely begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting Life. (The Standing Truth, William Smith, 1663)

Searching for "Hate the Sin"

In The Soules Progresse to the Celestiall Canaan, or Heavenly Jerusalem (1639) by John Welles of Beccles, he makes the earliest appeal to hating the sin but doing something with the sinner that I can find:

if in our friends wee ought to admonish them, and tell them of their fault; if in our enemies, we must hate the sin, but pity the sinner, and labour if it be possible, his conversion, but not his imi∣tation

Meanwhile, in Paraphrastical Meditations Upon Isaiah 55 & Psalm 51 (1649) by John Barford, he has something very close to the target phrasing:

Wee must hate the sin but not the sinner.

And in the same year, the same phrasing appears in A Clavis to the Bible (1649) by John Trapp, while Trapp is commenting on Deuteronomy 25:

There is an honour due to all men, 1 Pet. 2.17. and though we must hate the sin, yet not the sinner.

Conclusions

The phrasing begins to show up in the Early English Books Online corpus by 1639, and there are several results in a similar spirit up to the end of the corpus in 1700. Based on these results, I would guess that hate the sin, love the sinner or similar phrasing was established rhetoric by the middle of the century. Because religious rhetoric of the era was often spoken, the phrasing possibly had a history of being spoken for decades before the first attestation in print.

-1

"Love the sinner, hate the sin;" I've heard in the context of a Christian's proper attitude toward sin and judgment, not to judge but to correct fraternally. It is correct that it's as old as Christianity itself. It's like a tool to help us remember to distinguish person from action. It is related to the Christian's calling to love their enemies, forgive offenses, and not to judge. The basis for it is Christ's own teachings, who gave his life over to sinners in God's plan of redemption, by which everyone obtains forgiveness of their sins through believing in his name. A Christian ought to hate sin in himself and others, as not only that which separates us from God, but also which personally cost Jesus so much.

1
  • Unfortunately the phrase is nowadays mostly used by homophobes who declare people they hate to be “sinners” and lie about how they really feel.
    – gnasher729
    Dec 24, 2023 at 0:14

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