Sins Of The Tongue – Fr. Belet – Part Two

SINS OF THE TONGUE:
The Backbiting Tongue

By

Father Belet, of the Diocese of Basle

Translated from the French, 1870 ed.

2. The terrible evils that backbiting breeds. Reparation of the damage it causes.

The thoughts of God are so very different from the thoughts of men. In the Old Testament, God says, “You shall not curse the deaf.” (1) Would it not have been better for Him to say, “You shall not curse those who hear well”? Why bother to take such precautions for the deaf? But the wisdom of the Lord has nothing in common with our boldness. “You shall not curse the deaf,” He says. Here is how Saint Gregory explains these words: “Backbiting someone who is deaf means backbiting one who is absent and cannot hear you. Just as a deaf man cannot hear or understand what is said, so it is with an absent person someone backbites. He cannot reply or rectify the errors of which he is the object.” (2)

(1) Lev 19:14
(2) Saint Gregory the Great. In prolog. III Past, Chapter 1, Ad Monit.

Therefore, one must not backbite the deaf. Not recognizing this rule, backbiters rashly shoot down the reputation of those who are absent. This is something they would never dare to do in the presence of the people they backbite.

We have already spoken at length about backbiting. We have treated its various species and its gravity. Now let us take a look at the importance of avoiding this defect even in small things, due to its unfortunate consequences, and above all at the necessity of repairing the reputation of other people: a very difficult thing as we shall see.

I.

A master too short on words with his servant, or a man with his neighbor, obviously proves that he feels little friendship or kindness towards him A religious once said, “If we do not cultivate them, two kinds of thoughts will stop bothering us by themselves: thoughts of fornication and thoughts of backbiting. When they call, do not answer them; whatever they say, pay them no heed. If you act otherwise, you may try to resist but you will not escape their clutches.”

And one must not only avoid backbiting when it attacks charity and justice directly, but even when it turns on light defects and weaknesses of little importance.

Even the worthiest of men are not always exempt from this sort of backbiting. Perhaps it is a lack of prudence or reflection, but even they take pleasure in relating the defects and faults of others to willing listeners. It would seem that we have taken this verse from La Fontaine as a motto:

I attempt to turn vice to ridicule,
Since I cannot attack it with the arms of Hercules.

And why be surprised? The human race has an instinctive propensity for criticizing other people’s behavior. We all carry the scarlet with which we paint everyone. Everything that seems blameworthy in our sight turns into vice at once, and it is all the greater in the proportion that we want to appear wiser and more religious. Saint Jerome says, “The passion of this evil has so infested the world that people who have totally renounced other vices still fall into this one. One might say it is the last trap the devil sets for them.” This rashness of judgment is often accompanied by envy, the sworn enemy of the happiness of others. The envious person tries to calm his bad temper by disparaging another man’s merits in every way imaginable; he suffers less when he sees others damaged by some defect.

Envy is often preceded by a secret pride, which spurs us to wish to be preferred above others, or at least to be their equal. For fear that our neighbor may rise too high and eclipse us, we craftily clip his wings.

We see that conversations which reveal good men’s imperfections often result in countless evils. Upon hearing his neighbor’s weaknesses related, more than one listener will be tempted to tell his friends, “Look at what he did, and everyone mistakes him for a little saint! If he committed that fault, he will certainly commit a lot more. I thought he was so virtuous, but I see him now; he has his faults too.”

Many people’s consciences are disturbed by such talk. If the slandered person’s reputation is not totally lost it is seriously damaged. Bonds of friendship and kindness are broken; the absent person who is spoken about will certainly be held in contempt.

And how can the accused defend himself when usually he is not even aware of the blows being struck against him, or at least of who their author is? That is how a man can be murdered and not even know it.

The sin is all the more serious when someone backbites people in honored positions, even in light matters, and even if they are guilty. “Even in your thoughts do not make light of the king, nor in the privacy of your bedroom revile him, because the birds of the air may carry your voice, a winged creature may tell what you say. (3)

(3) Eccl 10:20

You see, Holy Scripture tells us not only to avoid backbiting, it even commands us to banish it from our thoughts. You who backbite, do not think it suffices to tell your listeners, “Don’t reveal what I say, I beg of you, I confide this secret to your discretion.” You are no less guilty, and this behavior proves how simple you are. Pray tell, why do you ask him to keep silence? You are the one who should have kept silence first. If you do not want your words to leak out then keep them to yourself! You have not remained silent and you would shut other people’s mouths!

If you are in such a rush to pull the stopper out of the spigot, then what can you expect of others?

Saint Francis of Assisi had an extreme aversion to backbiting and slanderous accusations. His biographer Saint Bonaventure relates that one of his brothers said evil about another and leveled several accusations against him. The Saint told his assistant, “Father, go and examine this affair. If the accused is innocent punish his accuser so severely that it will give others an example, and he will remember it.” Saint Francis even wanted to remove the religious habit from a brother who had not been afraid to remove the cloak of another’s reputation, so that it would be done to him as he had done to others, and in this way he would be obliged to restore the reputation he had stolen.

II.

Backbiting drags a whole host of evils in its wake: it depraves anyone who listens to it, causes the backbiter to be considered a slanderer and incurs the hatred of his neighbor.

God has attached an enormous ball to this chain: the obligation of restoring the neighbor’s reputation. Saint Augustine’s words here are as true for backbiting as for money: “Non dimittitur peccatum nisi restituatur ablatum: No restoration, no pardon.” (4) It is a common principle among theologians (5) that restoring their neighbor’s reputation is obligatory not only for those who have revealed an imaginary crime of his, but also those who have revealed a true but secret crime. They are held to giving him at least an equivalent compensation: and they owe this compensation to the detriment not only of their own reputation, but also their life. Along with their neighbor’s reputation, they must repair all the harm he has incurred; and they must do so even if what they revealed is true. Since the thing is true, they are held to tell everyone who heard them not that they were lying, but that they were backbiting.

(4) Saint Augustine, Epistle 65, Ad Macedoniae

(5) Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part II, Section II, Question 62, Article 2.

Even if it were only for the inconvenience of being obliged to repair your neighbor’s reputation, backbiting should be avoided like the plague. How painful to have to retract what you said and undergo the shame of such a restoration! It is easy to return an item of clothing, a sum of money or personal property unjustly acquired; there are a thousand ways of doing it. But restoring a reputation, what a burden!

Now, the gravity of this sin lies precisely in the difficulty of repairing it. When an opinion has been revealed, it soon spreads all over, going through cities and empires, and a hitherto unknown person soon acquires a sad celebrity. But if you try and praise someone you have previously denigrated, you are wasting your time. What you said has taken root too strongly, and too many people know about it.

People believe evil first;
But when it comes to the good,
Then seeing is believing. (La Fontaine)

But you will say, “Backbiting flourishes everywhere, and no one ever makes restoration.” Ah that is precisely the evil I deplore! Do you think our worst habits can excuse our vices? Just because “everyone does it”, does that give you the right to do something? The vast number of fools is no praise for folly. Besides, it is false to say that reputations are never repaired. I would prefer to think it occurs only rarely. But I will admit that when there is any reparation, it is so slow, so late, so imperfect!

How rare it is for someone to return as much as he has stolen. Blind as we are, we prefer postponing everything to the supreme tribunal and awaiting the vengeance of the Lord, He who insists on justice with such severity that He prefers to remit what is due to Himself rather than what is due to others. Many people are obliged to restore after death all that they did not restore during their lifetime.

Saint Vincent Ferrer, a Spaniard, was one of the most remarkable brothers in Saint Dominic’s spiritual family. He spoke so eloquently that thousands of people flocked to hear him preach and Pope Calixtus III insured that his memory would ever remain. One day Saint Vincent was preaching on the duty of repairing our neighbor’s reputation. The respect due to such a great man obliges me to quote his words textually:

“The person who maliciously robs his neighbor’s reputation is held to restoring it on the same level as someone who steals. If what you said is secret even though it be true, you are obliged to restore his reputation. Otherwise you will not go to heaven.

“But how can I restore it? you may ask. You must tell everyone present when you spoke ill not to believe you, that you spoke out of wickedness. If the person you defamed knows about it you are duty bound to ask his forgiveness, etc. Many have been damned for such defamations because words pass and we forget having said them; they make no scruples over them and never think of confessing them.”

Thus spoke Saint Vincent, adding, “If someone neglects to do so while alive, after his death he will be obliged, despite himself, to make satisfaction to those who survive him.” He confirms this teaching with the following story:

“Two men had seriously outraged their neighbor’s reputation. One passed away and the other was still alive, along with the person who had been attacked. The dead man remained in the flames of purgatory for some time. After his deliverance, but before being admitted into heaven, he was commanded to completely repair the reputation of the person he had denigrated while alive. I know it is true that this soul returned to this world, for I am the man he defamed, and it is to me that he came to ask forgiveness.”

O God, if a reputation is such a fragile and delicate thing, why do we not fear to contract obligations we must fulfill even after death? “Thy word, O Lord, endureth forever; it is firm as the heavens… According to Thy ordinances they still stand firm: all things serve Thee”, (6) goods of both body and soul. Therefore, a good reputation is not to be scorned, for it is especially needed in fulfilling public duties. Thus it is also necessary to restore someone’s reputation if we rob it in bad faith even more necessary than restoring money.

(6) Ps 118:9

III.

Raphael Maffei relates that when Chinese warriors prepared for combat they entered with splendid apparel and elegant arms, carrying four swords on their harness and manipulating two at once with great skill.

But the backbiter’s tongue surpasses them by far. It carries not four swords, nor a hundred, nor six hundred, but thousands, for fear it will run out once it enters into combat. The backbiting tongue often lights such a conflagration that four thousand soldiers — what am I saying, four thousand? — forty thousand, even a hundred thousand will not suffice to put it out. A two-edged sword, a keen knife, a piercing arrow, a cane-stiletto, a sharp razor, and a quick biting tongue all bear a striking resemblance. Listen to the Psalmist: “They have bent their bow to shoot arrows.” As the bow strikes from far off and wounds a person unawares, the backbiting tongue attacks those who are absent and wreaks its havoc from a distance of many miles. Bending its bow in Germany, it strikes and wounds a Frenchman or a Spaniard in his own land. Its arrows fly across the sea, or rather they pierce all the way to heaven, for they attack God Himself and His Saints. “They set their mouthings in place of heaven,” (7) says David. It also penetrates the very bowels of the earth and rends the dead in their tombs, for David adds, “Their pronouncements pierce the earth.” It buries the living, and it digs the dead out of their tombs.

(7) Ps 72:9

The Psalmist goes on to say, “They scoff and speak evil; outrage from on high they threaten.” (8) When its fury is roused, a raging bull lifts its head and casts terrible eyes at its prey, aiming at him and rampaging against him with all its might. Thus does the backbiter move in with head held high; stifling the voice of his conscience, the things he has meditated in his heart spew from his mouth in contempt of every law of Christian charity.

(8) Ps 72:8

The backbiting tongue has chosen the very motto of Death as its own: “I spare no one!” Priest or judge, known or unknown, religious or worldling, friend or foe, none of that matters to him. The backbiter spares nothing and no one, not even his father and mother. Why is this so? Because he enjoys talking, so speaking evil gratifies him. He considers it a pleasure when he finds something to criticize in others. He is filled with joy when he can invent and relate things that do not even exist.

“O Lord,” cries David, “rescue my soul from the sword, my only one from the grip of the dog!” (9) Cassiodorus says that Saint Augustine declares, “The sword is the backbiter’s tongue, and the dog is the backbiter himself.” Why does David ask to be rescued from the grip of the dog? We could understand if he had said a bear or a lion, but why be so afraid of a dog?

(9) Ps 21:21

He is right after a fashion, however. The bear and the lion are naturally fierce, but a dog may often sidle peacefully up to you and suddenly bite your leg. If it is a bulldog, it will square off against you and attack your head. David knew this type of dog from experience. He knew Saul, Semeias, Absalom, Seba, Achitophel and Doeg; they were purebred dogs, which are the most troublesome by far.

IV.

Pliny relates the fact that the camel will drink only after disturbing the water with its hooves.” (10) That proud beast does not want to look at its deformed face and see it mirrored in the water. Men without credit, virtue or reputation often act like the camel. They attempt to blacken others’ reputation with backbiting so that they will not be the only ones called deformed. They have adopted this maxim of the Ephesians: “Let there be no superiority among us!” A servant’s laziness is never more visible than when a more active servant is working by his side. A virtuous man’s piety is never more evident than when he is next to a vain and godless man.

(10) Pliny, Historica naturalia, Book 8, Chapter 18.

Therefore, in order to avoid embarrassment over their corruption, men of vice try to sully others with their backbiting tongues. They think they look better when others are ugly and wrinkled. “Say whatever you like,” they declare, “the man you praise so highly is no holier than anyone else; the person you exonerate is no angel!” And when they have nothing to say, they state, “We could say lots of things about him, but we won’t stir up that swamp, please God! We will say nothing instead.”

Wretch, speaking that way is not keeping silence; it is a subtle form of backbiting! You murmur like this because that person’s behavior has nothing in common with yours. Why did the Pharisees pursue Jesus with their hatred? Because His life bore no resemblance to theirs. (11)Because of this they called Him a drinker, a violater of the Sabbath, loving people of evil life. David prophesied well of them when he said, “Those who repay evil for good harass Me for pursuing good… In return for My love they slandered Me, but I prayed.” (12) And Saint John Chrysostom cries, “You are a man, and you would spit an asp’s venom? You are a man, and you would become a raging beast? You have been given a mouth not to wound, but to heal.” Saint Augustine declares, “Since you get angry with others when they speak evil against you, get angry with yourself when you speak evil against someone else.” (13)

(11) Wis 12:15
(12) Ps 37:21; 108:4
(13) Saint Augustine, Homily 89, Ad Pop.

In olden times, the Lord commanded the prophet Isaias to announce, “Every knee shall be bowed to Me, and every tongue shall swear by My name.” (14) Backbiters, place your tongues beneath the sway of reason once again, that they may no longer wound people’s reputations, that they may refrain from the least detraction, that they may be silent over even the slightest defects. Follow Saint John Chrysostom’s advice: “Such is the nature of vipers that, as soon as they bite a man, they enter water at once. If they find no water, they die.” (15) Do likewise if you have poured the venom of detraction into someone’s ears and have spoken a thoughtless word that may wound your neighbor’s reputation. Cast yourself at once into the waters of penance; repent, and promise that you will be more watchful in the future. And if you are able to repair the damage your tongue has caused, then repair it. This is hard, no doubt but it is necessary. It is better to restore something you have taken than to perish with it.

(14) Is 45:24
(15) Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 3, In Matt

Traditional Catholic with a wife, 10 kids, 5 cats and 2 dogs. To learn why this lay person is running this blog rather than a priest, go here.

Pray For New Seminarians

It is the time of year when new seminarians are heading off.  From my local parish, Wesley Baker is heading to the FSSP’s Our Lady Of Guadalupe Seminary in Nebraska. 

Please keep Wesley in your prayers and all of the seminarians that are going to be heading off to become priest.  They will be under constant attack and they will need all of the prayers we can pray for them.

I would also like to point out that seminary isn’t free and if we want solid Traditional Catholic priests we need to try to help that as much as possible financially and with our prayers.

If you have the financial means, please remember to keep the traditional seminaries in mind and donate to help the seminarians.

To donate to the FSSP please click here

To donate to the IKC please click here

And if you don’t have the financial means, please consider saying a rosary or two or three for their intentions.

Traditional Catholic with a wife, 10 kids, 5 cats and 2 dogs. To learn why this lay person is running this blog rather than a priest, go here.

SINS OF THE TONGUE – Fr. Belet – Part One

SINS OF THE TONGUE:
The Backbiting Tongue

By

Father Belet, of the Diocese of Basle

Translated from the French, 1870 ed.

1. The nature of backbiting. Its various species. Its gravity.

In 1617 someone published a volume entitled, The Horseman’s Book: The Art of Riding, treating the use of bridles, whips, guides, and so on. Such a title is of a nature to give rise to sad thoughts. We have learned how to make bits, bridles, halters and pincers, and how to adapt them to a horse’s head or mouth; we have learned the art of directing these animals at will by means of a small bit. But we possess a tongue so ill-tempered that no bridle can curb it: this raging beast resists bits, halters and pincers alike, knocking down every obstacle in its path. It wants to be as free as a horse in the wild. Let us see what Saint James has to say on the subject: “We put bits into horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we control their whole body also. But no man can tame the tongue.” (1)

(1) Jas. 3:3-8

Without a doubt, the most poisonous tongue of all is the backbiter’s. It spits its deadly venom to the four winds. It is an evil known throughout the earth. One can never stigmatize and deplore it enough.

Therefore, we shall now study the nature of this evil, its various species, and the gravity of the evils it breeds.

I.

Therefore, what is backbiting or detraction?

Here is the definition given by Saint Thomas Aquinas: “Backbiting is denigration of a neighbor’s reputation by means of secret words.” (2) Indeed, a person may wound someone by word in two ways: openly and to his face (that is, by insulting him); and secretly, when he is absent — and that is backbiting.

(2) St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theoligica, Part II, Section II, Quest. 73, Art. I.

Palladius relates that someone once asked Saint Anthony, “What is backbiting?” and he replied, “It is every sort of wicked word we dare not speak in front of the person about whom we are talking.”

This is truly the nature of backbiters. They cannot do physical harm to those who are absent, so they strike at them with their tongue. Saint Thomas Aquinas says, “Destroying a person’s reputation is a very serious wrong.” (3) And Saint Bernard declares, “Backbiting is a great vice, a great sin, a great crime.” (4)

(3) Ibid. Part II, Section II, Question 83, Article 2.
(4) Saint Bernard, De modo bene vivendi, Chapter 33.

There are eight specific ways in which a man can backbite his neighbor:

1. When he gets carried away by vanity and imputes things against his neighbor that never happened, or when he adds to the truth imaginary circumstances that constitute either a lie or detraction.

2. When he brings a hidden or unknown fault to light. What he says is true, but he should not say it. He backbites, not by saying something untrue, but by wounding his neighbor’s reputation. This is a very common sin among us.

Now you might object, “Do you mean to say I can’t tell the truth ?” No, my friend. It is not permitted, unless you can do so without harming your neighbor. What you say is true, I admit, but it is hidden. The sinner has wounded his conscience in God’s sight, but he has not lost his reputation before men; therefore, you may not weaken or destroy it with your tongue. And even if the sin you reveal is not altogether secret but known only to a few, as long as it is not public knowledge, you are backbiting if you reveal it to someone who was unaware of it And thus you are harming your neighbor.

3. When he exaggerates a crime, be it true, or false. This is a danger to which we readily expose ourselves when we talk about the vices of others.

4. When he relates something about another person that is not evil in any way, but speaks as though his neighbor had done it for evil reasons and adds various explanations such as, “Yes, he did that, but not with God in mind… He’s not so pious as all that; he seeks to please men, he wants to stand out… You should know him, he’s a hypocrite.”

5. When a backbiter declares nothing but is happy to say, “I’ve heard it said that…” or, “There’s a rumor going around…” or when he relates something as if it were doubtful: “So-and-so might not be exactly what you think, I don’t think he is deserving of confidence. His neighbors never heard anything about his holiness, except that only since yesterday has he been rated among the devout.” Or again, when he praises with coldness and reticence. Aulu-Gelle says, “It is more shameful to be coldly and reservedly praised than harshly and bitterly accused.” All these ways of acting must be avoided with the greatest care, for people always seek evil more than good.

6. Backbiting is so subtle that anyone can defame another person with a simple gesture. He hears someone being praised for his integrity, piety or generosity, and he says, “Oh. you don’t know that fellow? I see right through him. Ask me anything about him, I know him inside out.” Or he raises an eyebrow and remains silent; he shakes his head; he turns his eyes so as to have it understood that the person being praised does not deserve it Sometimes a backbiter may keep his mouth shut and just turn his hand two or three times to indicate that the person in question is lightheaded and changes from hour to hour.

7. He can backbite not only with body language but also with silence. He may wickedly say nothing about the integrity or morals of his neighbor, especially when he is questioned about them or when his neighbor is accused of some crime.

8. Finally, a person is guilty of backbiting if he is publicly blamed for something he did, and he denies his guilt, thereby making his accuser pass for a liar. It is surely not an obligation to publicly admit a fault committed in secret. However, one should justify himself in some other way, saying, for instance, “Those are only words, they don’t prove anything. Whoever heard them may have been mistaken. Don’t believe everything you hear.” This way of speaking is far more acceptable than the first.

II.

That is how backbiting does its diabolical work. It changes costume so slickly, we can hardly recognize it. Malice is ingenious: It spots a beam where there is only a wisp of straw, an elephant where there is only a fly, a mountain high as the Alps where there is only a molehill. It turns dream into reality and taints the virtues of others so skilfully with its own colors that we mistake them for vices.

Look at the backbiter as he prepares to blacken someone’s reputation. He begins by looking severe and modest, lowering his gaze, heaving sighs and speaking in a slow, serious voice. He takes a host of curves and detours to conceal his deadly art. He goes the long way round before shooting his poison. “It grieves me that a man of his caliber should degrade himself to that point,” he says. “It’s not me who would have revealed his hidden crimes, but since everyone Some people spew detraction carelessly and bluntly, just as it comes to their mouth. Others try to conceal the malice they cannot hold in, beneath an appearance of lying modesty. They begin by heaving sad sighs, speaking slowly and gravely, knitting their brows. Detraction slips out with a plaintive air and as though despite themselves, in contrite and grieving tones: ‘I’m really at a loss with him. I don’t hate him, but all my words have been unable to correct him.’ Or else they say, ‘I knew all that perfectly well; I never mentioned it, but since others have, I can’t hide the truth. I admit it with deep sorrow, it is all too true.'”

When Esdras was pondering worriedly on how God governed the world, an Angel appeared to him and asked him three questions. Here is the first: “How do you think someone might be able to weigh fire? Attempt to do it Clever the man who can.” (5)

(5) Esdr 4:5

Now, every page of Holy Scripture depicts backbiting as a burning fire: “What chastisement will be inflicted on you, O treacherous tongue? Sharp arrows of a warrior with fiery coals of brushwood.” (6) “The tongue is a fire,” (7) says Saint James. Solomon says about the godless man, “A scoundrel is a furnace of evil, and on his lips there is a scorching fire.” (8) Indeed, compare the power and speed of fire to the power and speed of the tongue: there is a strong resemblance. When fire breaks its bounds and strikes out, it spreads desolation everywhere. So it is with the tongue: when it escapes from its prison and flies free, it does not return without having wreaked dreadful havoc.

(6) Ps 119:3
(7) Jas 3:6
(8) Prov 16:27

Therefore, the tongue is a fire, and it takes great wisdom to weigh it on an accurate scale. The wiser and more prudent a man is in everything, the more careful he is in measuring his words. “The words of the prudent are carefully weighed,” (9) says the son of Sirach. The wise man’s lips are like the two platters of a scale on which he weighs that fire. But how hard it is to weigh even sparks and wisps of straw! I call sparks the infinity of evils that spring from a single word of detraction. For backbiting harms not only one person, but many: the servants, children and friends of the person it denigrates.

(9) Sir 21:28.

A word spoken thoughtlessly or maliciously is often deadly not only to the one it strikes, but also to his wife, children and entire family. A single spark burns them all and puts them at a disadvantage. Who can say he weighs all his words properly? In the story of Tobias we read that Asmodeus, the prince of sensuality, thought he could weigh the flames of impurity. But where is the hand so refined that it can weigh all the sparks that escape from the backbiter’s mouth?

Then what is a wise man to do? He listens and holds words in his mouth when they try to fly out. As long as he keeps them in his throat, he can subject them to reason and good sense; but once they slip out, there is no way to make them return: they run, they fly, they go on an endless journey. “Fools’ thoughts are in their mouths, wise men’s words are in their hearts,” (10) says the Holy Spirit. A prudent man passes all he wants to say in his heart and he weighs it all before speaking it. This counsel of prudence was religiously observed by the Mother of the Saviour. As the Gospel tells us, “Mary kept in mind all these things, pondering them in Her heart.” (11)

(10) Sir 21:29
(11) Lk 2:51

III.

Sad to say, many people dislike this business of weighing words and deeds; so much so that Suidas rightly observes, “It is a weakness of righteous men that they cannot discern praiseworthy things in a vice-ridden man.” One day the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out thy staff and strike the dust of the earth, that it may be turned into gnats throughout the land of Egypt And gnats came upon man and beast The dust of the earth was turned into gnats throughout the land of Egypt.” (12) Concerning this, a certain author remarks that gnats are tiny but nervous creatures whose sting is very severe.

(12) Ex 8:16-17

Like gnats, backbiters’ words have spread throughout the land and infested every class of society, both sexes, every age and condition, rich and poor, servants and masters alike. Many men are not blasphemers, but few — hardly any — do not backbite. Behold: two righteous men meet and strike up a conversation; you can be sure that even absent individuals will get mixed into their discussion. Then our fine talkers will be obliged to turn their backs — despite themselves, it is true — and receive the blows lying in store for them.

There is practically no society or gathering in which people do not denigrate others who are absent, discharging their critical zeal upon them. Backbiting is a common, vulgar evil, and a horrible, deadly one. Our Lord is so kind that He made a promise saying, “Where two or three are gathered together for My sake, there am I in the midst of them.” (13) Understand this well, however: for His sake, and not for the devil’s sake. The devil is also in the midst of every company where two or three people backbite their neighbor. Saint Antiochus declares, “Backbiting is a devil that never rests.” (14) Therefore, let us follow Solomon’s advice: “Put away from you dishonest talk, deceitful speech put far from you.” (15) Backbiting offers immense dangers; it inflicts great harm and is very hard to heal.

(13) Mt 18:20
(14) Saint Antiochus, Homily 29, De detract
(15) Prov 4:24

It offers immense dangers, for the backbiter inflicts rash judgment on every comer. Intention is what makes for good actions; thus, a work may be excellent even though it might appear despicable. Intentions are not visible, and it is easy to think that something is wrong when it possesses all the qualities of virtue.

Look at the Pharisees. They were scandalized when they saw Jesus healing the sick on the Sabbath, frequenting the company of publicans and going out of His way for unvirtuous men. His holiest actions were turned into a subject for backbiting.

Backbiting is eminently destructive, for it robs a man of what is most precious to him: his reputation. That is why theologians are in unanimous agreement to say that it is more serious than stealing; for a sin is all the greater in that it deprives someone of a greater good. Robbing someone of his reputation is worse than stealing his money, according to the words of Solomon: “A good name is more desirable than great riches.” (16) Backbiting inflicts great harm for it shoots three arrows in a single round and deals a triple death. Saint Bernard assures us of this: “Is this tongue not that of a viper? It is surely very fierce, for it kills three victims with a single sting. Is it not a sharp spear, for it pierces three men in a single throw. The backbiter’s tongue is a sharp sword, a double and even a triple sword, like General Joab’s lance that pierced Absalom as he hung in the oak tree.”

(16) Prov 22:1

Yes, that’s what backbiting is. It pierces its author, his listener and their denigrated neighbor all at once. With one difference, however: the denigrated person is the least wounded of all. The only thing he can lose is his reputation, whereas the backbiter and his listener are wounded — and gravely wounded — even unto their soul.

The backbiter does the most harm to himself, for the stone he casts at another will almost always fall back upon his head. He does harm to his listener by pouring deadly poison into his ears, as Saint Bernard puts it and by infecting him not only with deadly opinions, but also with the poison of envy. Artabanus says, “Only one receives the insult but there are two who commit it.” (17) Finally, the backbiter does harm to those who are absent, delivering them up and betraying them with his insolent tongue.

(17) Artabanus, Apud Herod, Book 7.

Claude Paradin relates a fabulous tale contained in the chronicles of Lorraine, a tale thrice fabulous: (18)

(18) Claude Paradin, In symb. Hero. Number 39.

The virtues and fortune of the House of Lorraine are still documented today in the family’s ancient heralds, three birds pierced with a single arrow. Here is the story of their origin:

The famous hero Godefroy de Bouillon, Duke of Lorraine, was besieging the city of Jerusalem. He shot an arrow against the Tower of David and pierced three birds in a single shot:

Either because God willed it so, or as a result of chance.

Whatever the case, this event proved to be a forecast of the royal dignity reserved for his family. An examination of the coins and insignia of the House of Lorraine will convince anyone of its authenticity.

Whoever backbites someone shoots a flaming arrow and wounds three people at once: himself, his listener and his adversary. Rather, he commits a triple murder, for we all have three lives: the life of the soul, which is the fruit of grace; the life of the body, which we hold in common with animals; and our social life, which depends upon our good name. Now, the backbiter attacks these three lives. He attacks the life of soul and body in himself and in his listener, and he attacks the social life of the person he backbites. Such are the evils that backbiting breeds.

IV.

We mentioned in the above section that backbiting is an evil that is hard to heal. The Holy Spirit declares, “A man who has the habit of abusive language will never mature in character as long as he lives.” (19) When we are in the act of backbiting others, would we want to admit we are backbiting? A sick person who thinks he is well refuses to believe anyone who tells him he is sick and he scorns every remedy. So it is with wounds caused by backbiting. They are healed only with great difficulty; and though they may have been bandaged, they always leave a dreadful scar. Alexander the Great’s laudator used to say, “If you have an enemy, attack him vigorously with insults. He may be able to bandage his wounds, but a scar will always remain.” Thieves speak the same language: “Steal boldly. If you are obliged to pay it back it will never be everything.”

(19) Sir 23:20.

It is remarkable how hard it is for someone to rid himself of an error once it has lodged in his mind. A few words murmured in lowered tones pierce it like a nail driven into a piece of wood; try and pull it out, all your strength will hardly suffice. Once you penetrate someone’s mind with a false opinion, you will have a hard time changing it. In vain will you repeat a hundred times, “I was angry when I said that. I spoke thoughtlessly. Jealousy made me talk that way.” No matter what you say, the first opinion is imbedded too deeply for you to be able to pull it out in one try.

Serpents provide serum against snakebite; scorpions provide oil against the scorpion’s sting; dog hair acts against dogbite. But people wounded by a backbiter’s tongue can heal only with great difficulty, and always imperfectly, even though it be the very tongue which caused the wounds that tries to repair them, as Achilles’ lance healed Telephos, whom he had wounded.

Saint John Chrysostom paints an eloquent picture of the evils of backbiting. “What is the use of sparing birds and fishes if we eat our own brothers?” he says. Indeed, the backbiter rips his brother’s flesh with his teeth and tears his neighbor’s body to shreds. That is what Saint Paul wants to frighten us from when he says, “If you bite and devour one another, take heed or you will be consumed by one another.” (20)

(20) Gal 5:15

And to keep us from sidestepping this admonition, Saint John Chrysostom adds, “Do not tell me, ‘I would be a slanderer only if I lied. I am committing no slander if I tell the truth.’ Error! Speaking evil of others, even if the evil be true, is always a crime. Surely the publican was really a publican and a sinner; but he left cleansed of all his defilements because he was scorned by the Pharisee. You want to correct your brother? Weep, pray to God, warn him by speaking to his heart, advise and exhort him. That is how Saint Paul acted. ‘But backbiting is so sweet!’ you say. Yes, but not backbiting is sweeter still. The backbiter creates deadly anxiety for himself, he is constantly besieged by suspicion and fear. He repents, but too late; he bites his tongue, but in vain; he trembles, for as his words spread, they may cause him grave danger and expose those who repeat them to enmities which so easily could have been avoided.” (21)

(21) Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 3, Ad pop Antioch.

Therefore, let us eliminate every sort of backbiting, knowing full well that were we to eat ashes, all our austerities would be useless to us if we linger in this vice.

V.

Rufinus of Aquilea relates the following incident: Some brothers had been sent by their monastery to visit hermits living here and there in the desert. They came first to an elderly anchorite who gave them sincere and cordial hospitality. To relieve his road-weary visitors, he resolved to treat them as well as he could and openheartedly offer them all he had. Poverty can be generous in its way, not in what it gives but in the dispositions with which it gives. The old man wanted to show this religious magnificence so that his guests, seeing his liberality, would be at ease and freely receive what his charity was not embarrassed to give them. They said evening prayers after a very congenial supper, and then the old man bedded down his guests while he went to rest in another room.

To bring on drowsiness, our travelers began to talk. And one of them said, “What do you think? These hermits eat better than we do in our monastery… “The old man heard all these remarks. He was hurt because his guests were returning his kindness with calumny, but he kept silence. At dawn the next morning, the brothers said they were going to go and visit another hermit As he bid them goodbye, the old man said to them, “Give my greetings to the hermit who is my dear friend, and tell him simply this: ‘Take care not to sprinkle the oil.'”

The brothers repeated his message faithfully. The other hermit understood the recommendation at once, and he served his guests an extremely frugal table, the main meal consisting in dry bread, salt and a little vinegar: that was the substance of the banquet. Soon tiring of such cold hospitality, our travelers moved out that very night with as little fanfare as possible. (22)

(22) Rufinus of Aquilea, Pelagius, Book 10, No. 5.

My friends, stop slandering those who treat you with kindness. Learn to stop backbiting their generosity. The first hermit treated you as guests, but the second treated you as you deserved… as slanderers.

Let us confirm the above with these remarks from Saint Bernard: The backbiter proves, first, that he has no charity. And then, what is his purpose, if not to get others to detest and hate their neighbor? Therefore, the backbiting tongue wounds charity in everyone who listens to it. It kills and stifles charity as much as it can.

Ah, how rare those who order their life in such a way as not to take pleasure in denigrating the lives of others!

Traditional Catholic with a wife, 10 kids, 5 cats and 2 dogs. To learn why this lay person is running this blog rather than a priest, go here.

Vision of Hell

This is a repost that was first put on this blog three years ago.  It is a good reminder of the need to go to confession and staying in a state of Grace…

Clara’s vision of Annette in Hell – TESTIMONY

Clara and Annette, both single Catholics in their early twenties, worked adjacent to each other, employees of a commercial firm in Germany. Although they were never very close friends, they shared a courteous mutual regard which lead to an exchange of ideas and, eventually, of confidences.
Clara professed herself openly religious, and felt it her duty to instruct and admonish Annette when the latter appeared excessively casual or superficial in religious matters.  In due course, Annette married and left the firm. The year was 1937.
Clara spent the autumn of that year on holiday at Lake Garda. About the middle of September she received a letter from her mother: ‘Annette . . . Instead. She was the victim of an auto accident was buried yesterday at Wald-Friedhof. Clara was frightened since she knew her friend was not very religious. Was she prepared to appear before God? Dying suddenly, what had happened to her?
The next day she attended Mass, received Holy Communion, and prayed fervently for her friend.The following night, at ten minutes after midnight, the vision took place .
 satan78921CLARA
Clara, do not pray for me ! I am in hell
Clara, do not pray for me! I am in hell. If I tell you this and speak at length about it, do not think it is because of our friendship. We here do not love anyone. I do this as under constraint. In truth, I should like to see you too come to this state where I must remain forever.”

Perhaps that angers you, but here we all think that way. Our wills are hardened in evil, in what you call ‘evil’. Even when do something ‘good’, as I do now – opening your eyes about hell, it is not because of a good intention.Do you still remember our first meeting four years ago at . . .? You were then 23 and had been there already half a year. Because I was a beginner, you gave me some helpful advice. Then I praised your love of your neighbor. Ridiculous! Your help was mere coquetry. Here we do not acknowledge any good in anybody.”

”Do you remember what I told you about my youth? Now I am painfully compelled to fill in some of the gaps.” According to the plan of my parents, I should not have existed. A ‘misfortune’ brought about my conception. My two sisters were 14 and 15 when I was born.”

Would that I had never existed! Would that I could now annihilate myself! Escape these tortures! No pleasure would equal that with which I would abandon my existence, as a garment of ashes which is lost in nothingness. But I must continue to exist as I chose to make myself as a ruined person.”

When father and mother, still young, left the country ‘or the city, they had lost touch with the Church and were keeping company with irreligious people. They had met at a dance, and after a year and a half of companionship they ‘had’ to get married.”  As a result of the nuptial ceremony, so much holy water remained on them that my mother attended Sunday Mass a couple of times a year. But she never taught me to pray, Instead, she was completely taken up with the daily cares of life, although our situation was not bad.”

“I refer to prayer, Mass, religious instruction, holy water, church with a very strong repugnance. I hate all that, as I hate those who go to church, and in general every human being and everything.”

“From a great many things do we receive torture every knowledge received at the hour of death, every remembrance of things lived or known is, for us, a piercing flame. In each remembrance, good and bad, we see the way in which grace was present the grace we despised or ignored. What a torture is this !” ‘‘We do not eat, we do not sleep, we do not walk. Chained with howling and gnashing of teeth. we look appalled at our ruined life, hating and suffering.”

“Do you hear ? We here drink hatred like water. Above all we hate God. With great reluctance do I force myself to make you understand.” The blessed in heaven must love God because they see Him without veil, in all His dazzling beauty. That makes their bliss indescribable. We know this and the knowledge makes us furious.”

“Men on earth, who know God from nature and from revelation, can love Him., but they are not compelled to do so. The believer I say this with gnashing of teeth who contemplates Christ on the cross, with arms extended, will end by loving Him.”

“But he whom God approaches only in the final storm, as punisher, as just avenger, because He was rejected by him, such a person cannot but hate Him with all the strength of his wicked will. We died with willful resolve to be separated from God.”

“Do you now understand why hell lasts forever? It is because our wills were fixed for eternity at the moment of death. We had made our final choice. Our obstinacy will never leave us.”

Under compulsion, I must add that God is merciful even towards us. I affirm many things against my will and must choke the torrent of abuses I should like to vomit out.” God was merciful to us by not allowing our wicked wills to exhaust themselves on earth as we should have been prepared to do. This would have increased our faults and our pains. He caused us to die before our time, as in my case, or had other mitigating circumstances intervene.”

Now He shows Himself merciful towards us by not compelling a closer approach than that afforded in this remote inferno. Every step bringing us closer to God would cause us a greater pain than that which a step closer to a burning furnace would cause you.”

“You were scared when once, during a walk, I told you that my father, a few days before my first Communion, had told me: ‘My little Annette, the main thing is your beautiful white dress, all the rest is just make-believe.” “Because of your concern, I was almost ashamed. Now I sneer at it.”

The important thing is that we were not allowed to receive Communion until the age of 12. By then I was already absorbed in worldly amusements and found it easy to set aside, without scruple, the things of religion. Thus, I attached no great importance to my first Communion.”

“We are furious that many children go to Communion at the age of seven. We do all we can to make people believe that children have insufficient knowledge at that age. They must first commit some mortal sins. Then the white Particle will not do so much damage to our cause as when faith, hope and charity, these things! received in Baptism, are still alive in their hearts . “Marta K and you induced me to enter The Association of the Young Ladies”. The games were amusing. As you know, I immediately took a directive part. I liked it.” “I also liked the picnics. I even let myself be induced to go to confession and Communion sometimes.” “Once you warned me. Anne, if you do not pray, you go to perdition’. “I used to pray very little indeed, and even this unwillingly.”

“You were then only too right. All those who burn in hell did not pray or did not pray enough.” “Prayer is the first step towards God. And it is the decisive step. Especially prayer to her who is the Mother of Christ, whose name we never pronounce. “Devotion to her rescues from the devil numberless souls whom sin would infallibly give to him.”

“I continue my story, consumed with rage and only because I have to. To pray is the easiest thing man can do on earth. And God has tied up the salvation of each one exactly to this very easy thing.” “

To him who prays with perseverance little by little God gives so much light, so much strength, that even the most debased sinner will at the end come back to salvation.”

“During the last years of my life I did not pray any more, so I lacked those graces without which nobody can be saved.” “Here we no longer receive graces. Moreover, should we receive them we would cynically refuse them. All the fluctuations of earthly existence have ceased in this other life.”

For years I was living far away from God. For, in the last call of Grace I decided against God.” “I never believed in the influence of the devil. And now I affirm that he has strong influence on the persons who are in the condition in which I was then. Only many prayers, others’ and mine own united with sacrifices and penances, could have snatched me from his grip. And even this only little by little. If there are only few externally obsessed, there are very many internally possessed,

The devil cannot steal the free will from those who give themselves to his influence. But in punishment of their, so to speak, methodical apostasy from God, He allows the devil to nest in them. I hate the devil too. And yet I am pleased about him, because he tries to ruin all of you, he and his satellites, the spirits fallen with him at the beginning of time.

There are millions of them. They roam around the earth, as thick as a swarm of flies, and you do not even notice it. It is not reserved to us damned to tempt you; but to the fallen spirits. In truth every time they drag down here to hell a human soul their own torture is increased. But what does one not do for hatred?”

“Deep down I was rebelling against God. You did not understand it; you thought me still a Catholic. I wanted, in fact, to be called one; I even used to pay my ecclesiastical dues. Maybe your answers were right sometimes On me they made no impression! Since you must not be right Because of these counterfeited relationships between the two of us our separation on the occasion of my marriage was of no consequence to me. . Before the wedding I went to confession and Communion once more. It was a precept my husband and I thought alike on this point. Why not comply with this formality? So we complied with this, as with the other formalities.”

‘Our married life, in general, was spent in great harmony. We were of the same idea in everything. In this too that we did not want the burden of children. In truth, my husband would have liked to have one, no more, of course. In the end I succeeded in dissuading him even from this desire.

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Dresses, luxurious furniture, of entertainment, and trips by car and similar things were more important for me

Dresses, luxurious furniture, places of entertainment, picnics and trips by car and similar things were more important for me. It was a year of pleasure on earth, the one that passed from my marriage to my sudden death. Internally, of course, I was never happy, although externally at ease. There was always something indeterminate inside that gnawed at me. “Unexpectedly I had an inheritance from my aunt, Lotte. My husband succeeded in increasing his wages to a considerable figure. And so I was able to furnish our new home in an attractive way. Religion did not show its light but from afar off, pale, feeble and uncertain.”

“I used to give free vent to my ill humor about some medieval representations of hell in cemeteries or elsewhere, in which the devil is roasting souls in red burning coals, while his companions with long tails, drag new victims to him. Clara! One can be mistaken in depicting hell, but never can one exaggerate. I tell you: the fire of which the Bible speaks, does not mean the torment of the conscience. Fire is fire! What He said: Away from Me, you accursed ones, into eternal fire, is to be understood literally. Literally! How can the spirit be touched by material fire? you will ask.

How can your soul suffer on earth when you put your finger on the flame? In fact the. soul does not burn; and yet what torture all the individual feels!”

‘Our greatest torture consists in the certain knowledge that we shall never see God. How can this torture us so much, since on earth we are so indifferent? As long as the knife lies on the table it leaves you cold. You see how keen it is, but you do not feel it. Plunge the knife into the flesh and you will start screaming in pain. Now we feel the loss of God; before we only thought of it. Not all the souls suffer to the same degree.

With how greater wickedness and how more systematically one has sinned, the more weighs on him the loss of God and the more the creature he abused is choking him. The lost Catholics suffer more than those of other religions, because they, mostly, received and despised more graces and more light. He who knew more suffers more cruelly than he who knew less. He who sinned out of malice suffers more keenly than he who sinned out of weakness. But nobody suffers more than he deserves. Oh, if that were not true, I should have a motive to hate!”

“My death happened this way . . . “A week ago; I am speaking according to your reckoning, because according to the pain, I could very well say that it is already in years that I am burning in hell. A week ago, then, my husband, and I, on a Sunday, went on a picnic, the last one for me. The day was glorious. I felt very well. A sinister sense of pleasure that was with me all the day long, invaded me. When lo, suddenly, during the return, my husband was dazzled by a car that was coming full speed. He lost control.”

Jesses! (misspelling of JESUS, used frequently by some people of German language) escaped from my lips with a shivering. Not as a prayer, but as a shout. A lacerating pain took hold of the whole of me. (In comparison with the present one only a trifle). Then I lost consciousness. Strange. That morning this thought had come to me in an inexplicable way: ‘You could go to Mass once more’. It seemed like the last call of Love.”

“Clear and resolute, my ‘NO’ cut off that train of thought. You will know already what happened after my death. The lot of my husband and that of my mother, what happened to my corpse and the proceedings of my funeral are known to me through some natural knowledge we have here. What happens on earth we know only obscurely. But we know what touches us closely. So I see also where you are living.” I myself awoke from the darkness suddenly, in the instant of my passing. I saw myself as flooded by a dazzling light. It was in the same place where my dead body was lying.

It was like a theater , when suddenly the lights in the hall are put out, the curtains are rent aside and an unexpected scene, horribly illuminated appears. The scene of my life.” My soul showed itself to me as in a mirror; all the graces despised from my youth until my last ‘NO’ to God. I felt myself like an assassin, to whom his dead victim is shown during his trial at court. Should I repent? Never! Should I feel ashamed? Never!”

However I could not even stand before the eyes of God rejected by me. There was only one thing for me: flight! As Cain fled from the dead body of Abel, so my soul rushed from that sight of horror.”  “This was the particular judgment: the invisible Judge said: ‘Away from Me’. Then my soul, as a yellow brimstone shadow, fell headlong into the place of eternal torture.”

pekloohen_hell_inferno

Traditional Catholic with a wife, 10 kids, 5 cats and 2 dogs. To learn why this lay person is running this blog rather than a priest, go here.

Self-Abasement In The Sight Of God – Thomas À Kempis

I WILL speak to my Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. If I consider myself anything more than this, behold You stand against me, and my sins bear witness to the truth which I cannot contradict. If I abase myself, however, if I humble myself to nothingness, if I shrink from all self-esteem and account myself as the dust which I am, Your grace will favor me, Your light will enshroud my heart, and all self-esteem, no matter how little, will sink in the depths of my nothingness to perish forever.

It is there You show me to myself—what I am, what I have been, and what I am coming to; for I am nothing and I did not know it. Left to myself, I am nothing but total weakness. But if You look upon me for an instant, I am at once made strong and filled with new joy. Great wonder it is that I, who of my own weight always sink to the depths, am so suddenly lifted up, and so graciously embraced by You. It is Your love that does this, graciously upholding me, supporting me in so many necessities, guarding me from so many grave dangers, and snatching me, as I may truly say, from evils without number. Indeed, by loving myself badly I lost myself; by seeking only You and by truly loving You I have found both myself and You, and by that love I have reduced myself more profoundly to nothing.

For You, O sweetest Lord, deal with me above all my merits and above all that I dare to hope or ask. May You be blessed, my God, for although I am unworthy of any benefits, yet Your nobility and infinite goodness never cease to do good even for those who are ungrateful and far from You. Convert us to You, that we may be thankful, humble, and devout, for You are our salvation, our courage, and our strength.

The Eight Chapter – Book Three

Traditional Catholic with a wife, 10 kids, 5 cats and 2 dogs. To learn why this lay person is running this blog rather than a priest, go here.