How a soul, elevated by desire of the honor of God, and of the salvation of her neighbors, exercising herself in humble prayer, after she had seen the union of the soul, through love, with God, asked of God four requests. The soul, who is lifted by a very great and yearning desire for the honor of God and the salvation of souls, begins by exercising herself, for a certain space of time, in the ordinary virtues, remaining in the cell of self-knowledge, in order to know better the goodness of God towards her.

This she does because knowledge must precede love, and only when she has attained love, can she strive to follow and to clothe herself with the truth. But, in no way, does the creature receive such a taste of the truth, or so brilliant a light therefrom, as by means of humble and continuous prayer, founded on knowledge of herself and of God; because prayer, exercising her in the above way, unites with God the soul that follows the footprints of Christ Crucified, and thus, by desire and affection, and union of love, makes her another Himself. Christ would seem to have meant this, when He said: To him who will love Me and will observe My commandment, will I manifest Myself; and he shall be one thing with Me and I with him.

In several places we find similar words, by which we can see that it is, indeed, through the effect of love, that the soul becomes another Himself. That this may be seen more clearly, I will mention what I remember having heard from a handmaid of God, namely, that, when she was lifted up in prayer, with great elevation of mind, God was not wont to conceal, from the eye of her intellect, the love which He had for His servants, but rather to manifest it; and, that among other things, He used to say: “Open the eye of your intellect, and gaze into Me, and you shall see the beauty of My rational creature. And look at those creatures who, among the beauties which I have given to the soul, creating her in My image and similitude, are clothed with the nuptial garment (that is, the garment of love), adorned with many virtues, by which they are united with Me through love. And yet I tell you, if you should ask Me, who these are, I should reply” (said the sweet and amorous Word of God) “they are another Myself, inasmuch as they have lost and denied their own will, and are clothed with Mine, are united to Mine, are conformed to Mine.”

It is therefore true, indeed, that the soul unites herself with God by the affection of love. So, that soul, wishing to know and follow the truth more manfully, and lifting her desires first for herself — for she considered that a soul could not be of use, whether in doctrine, example, or prayer, to her neighbor, if she did not first profit herself, that is, if she did not acquire virtue in herself — addressed four requests to the Supreme and Eternal Father. The first was for herself; the second for the reformation of the Holy Church; the third a general prayer for the whole world, and in particular for the peace of Christians who rebel, with much lewdness and persecution, against the Holy Church; in the fourth and last, she besought the Divine Providence to provide for thing 15 How the desire of this soul grew when God showed her the neediness of the world.

This desire was great and continuous, but grew much more, when the First Truth showed her the neediness of the world, and in what a tempest of offense against God it lay. And she had understood this the better from a letter, which she had received from the spiritual Father of her soul, in which he explained to her the penalties and intolerable dolor caused by offenses against God, and the loss of souls, and the persecutions of Holy Church.

All this lighted the fire of her holy desire with grief for the offenses, and with the joy of the lively hope, with which she waited for God to provide against such great evils. And, since the soul seems, in such communion, sweetly to bind herself fast within herself and with God, and knows better His truth, inasmuch as the soul is then in God, and God in the soul, as the fish is in the sea, and the sea in the fish, she desired the arrival of the morning (for the morrow was a feast of Mary) in order to hear Mass. And, when the morning came, and the hour of the Mass, she sought with anxious desire her accustomed place; and, with a great knowledge of herself, being ashamed of her own imperfection, appearing to herself to be the cause of all the evil that was happening throughout the world, conceiving a hatred and displeasure against herself, and a feeling of holy justice, with which knowledge, hatred, and justice, she purified the stains which seemed to her to cover her guilty soul, she said: “O Eternal Father, I accuse myself before You, in order that You may punish me for my sins in this finite life, and, inasmuch as my sins are the cause of the sufferings which my neighbor must endure, I implore You, in Your kindness, to punish them in my person.”

How finite works are not sufficient for punishment or recompense without the perpetual affection of love. Then, the Eternal Truth seized and drew more strongly to Himself her desire, doing as He did in the Old Testament, for when the sacrifice was offered to God, a fire descended and drew to Him the sacrifice that was acceptable to Him; so did the sweet Truth to that soul, in sending down the fire of the clemency of the Holy Spirit, seizing the sacrifice of desire that she made of herself, saying: “Do you not know, dear daughter, that all the sufferings, which the soul endures, or can endure, in this life, are insufficient to punish one smallest fault, because the offense, being done to Me, who am the Infinite Good, calls for an infinite satisfaction? However, I wish that you should know, that not all the pains that are given to men in this life are given as punishments, but as corrections, in order to chastise a son when he offends; though it is true that both the guilt and the penalty can be expiated by the desire of the soul, that is, by true contrition, not through the finite pain endured, but through the infinite desire; because God, who is infinite, wishes for infinite love and infinite grief. Infinite grief I wish from My creature in two ways: in one way, through her sorrow for her own sins, which she has committed against Me her Creator; in the other way, through her sorrow for the sins which she sees her neighbors commit against Me.

Of such as these, inasmuch as they have infinite desire, that is, are joined to Me by an affection of love, and therefore grieve when they offend Me, or 16 see Me offended, their every pain, whether spiritual or corporeal, from wherever it may come, receives infinite merit, and satisfies for a guilt which deserved an infinite penalty, although their works are finite and done in finite time; but, inasmuch as they possess the virtue of desire, and sustain their suffering with desire, and contrition, and infinite displeasure against their guilt, their pain is held worthy. Paul explained this when he said: If I had the tongues of angels, and if I knew the things of the future and gave my body to be burned, and have not love, it would be worth nothing to me. The glorious Apostle thus shows that finite works are not valid, either as punishment or recompense, without the condiment of the affection of love.”

How desire and contrition of heart satisfies, both for the guilt and the penalty in oneself and in others; and how sometimes it satisfies for the guilt only, and not the penalty. “I have shown you, dearest daughter, that the guilt is not punished in this finite time by any pain which is sustained purely as such. And I say, that the guilt is punished by the pain which is endured through the desire, love, and contrition of the heart; not by virtue of the pain, but by virtue of the desire of the soul; inasmuch as desire and every virtue is of value, and has life in itself, through Christ crucified, My only begotten Son, in so far as the soul has drawn her love from Him, and virtuously follows His virtues, that is, His Footprints. In this way, and in no other, are virtues of value, and in this way, pains satisfy for the fault, by the sweet and intimate love acquired in the knowledge of My goodness, and in the bitterness and contrition of heart acquired by knowledge of one’s self and one’s own thoughts. And this knowledge generates a hatred and displeasure against sin, and against the soul’s own sensuality, through which, she deems herself worthy of pains and unworthy of reward.”

The sweet Truth continued: “See how, by contrition of the heart, together with love, with true patience, and with true humility, deeming themselves worthy of pain and unworthy of reward, such souls endure the patient humility in which consists the above-mentioned satisfaction. You ask me, then, for pains, so that I may receive satisfaction for the offenses, which are done against Me by My Creatures, and you further ask the will to know and love Me, who am the Supreme Truth. Wherefore I reply that this is the way, if you will arrive at a perfect knowledge and enjoyment of Me, the Eternal Truth, that you should never go outside the knowledge of yourself, and, by humbling yourself in the valley of humility, you will know Me and yourself, from which knowledge you will draw all that is necessary. No virtue, my daughter, can have life in itself except through charity, and humility, which is the foster-mother and nurse of charity. In self-knowledge, then, you will humble yourself, seeing that, in yourself, you do not even exist; for your very being, as you will learn, is derived from Me, since I have loved both you and others before you were in existence; and that, through the ineffable love which I had for you, wishing to re-create you to Grace, I have washed you, and re-created you in the Blood of My only-begotten Son, spilt with so great a fire of love.

This Blood teaches the truth to him, who, by self-knowledge, dissipates the cloud of self-love, and in no other way can he learn. Then the soul will inflame herself in this knowledge of Me with an 17 ineffable love, through which love she continues in constant pain; not, however, a pain which afflicts or dries up the soul, but one which rather fattens her; for since she has known My truth, and her own faults, and the ingratitude of men, she endures intolerable suffering, grieving because she loves Me; for, if she did not love Me, she would not be obliged to do so; whence it follows immediately, that it is right for you, and My other servants who have learnt My truth in this way, to sustain, even unto death, many tribulations and injuries and insults in word and deed, for the glory and praise of My Name; thus will you endure and suffer pains. Do you, therefore, and My other servants, carry yourselves with true patience, with grief for your sins, and with love of virtue for the glory and praise of My Name.

If you act thus, I will satisfy for your sins, and for those of My other servants, inasmuch as the pains which you will endure will be sufficient, through the virtue of love, for satisfaction and reward, both in you and in others. In yourself you will receive the fruit of life, when the stains of your ignorance are effaced, and I shall not remember that you ever offended Me. In others I will satisfy through the love and affection which you have to Me, and I will give to them according to the disposition with which they will receive My gifts. In particular, to those who dispose themselves, humbly and with reverence, to receive the doctrine of My servants, will I remit both guilt and penalty, since they will thus come to true knowledge and contrition for their sins.

So that, by means of prayer, and their desire of serving Me, they receive the fruit of grace, receiving it humbly in greater or less degree, according to the extent of their exercise of virtue and grace in general. I say then, that, through your desires, they will receive remission for their sins. See, however, the condition, namely, that their obstinacy should not be so great in their despair as to condemn them through contempt of the Blood, which, with such sweetness, has restored them. “What fruit do they receive? “The fruit which I destine for them, constrained by the prayers of My servants, is that I give them light, and that I wake up in them the hound of conscience, and make them smell the odor of virtue, and take delight in the conversation of My servants. “Sometimes I allow the world to show them what it is, so that, feeling its diverse and various passions, they may know how little stability it has, and may come to lift their desire beyond it, and seek their native country, which is the Eternal Life.

And so I draw them by these, and by many other ways, for the eye cannot see, nor the tongue relate, nor the heart think, how many are the roads and ways which I use, through love alone, to lead them back to grace, so that My truth may be fulfilled in them. I am constrained to do so by that inestimable love of Mine, by which I created them, and by the love, desire, and grief of My servants, since I am no despiser of their tears, and sweat, and humble prayers; rather I accept them, inasmuch as I am He who give them this love for the good of souls and grief for their loss. But I do not, in general, grant to these others, for whom they pray, satisfaction for the penalty due to them, but, only for their guilt, since they are not disposed, on their side, to receive, with perfect love, My love, and that of My servants.

They do not receive their grief with bitterness, and perfect contrition for the sins they have committed, but with imperfect love and contrition, wherefore they have not, as others, remission of the penalty, but only of the guilt; because such complete satisfaction 18 requires proper dispositions on both sides, both in him that gives and him that receives. Wherefore, since they are imperfect, they receive imperfectly the perfection of the desires of those who offer them to Me, for their sakes, with suffering; and, inasmuch as I told you that they do receive remission, this is indeed the truth, that, by that way which I have told you, that is, by the light of conscience, and by other things, satisfaction is made for their guilt; for, beginning to learn, they vomit forth 19 How very pleasing to God is the willing desire to suffer for Him.

“Very pleasing to Me, dearest daughter, is the willing desire to bear every pain and fatigue, even unto death, for the salvation of souls, for the more the soul endures, the more she shows that she loves Me; loving Me she comes to know more of My truth, and the more she knows, the more pain and intolerable grief she feels at the offenses committed against Me. You asked Me to sustain you, and to punish the faults of others in you, and you did not remark that you were really asking for love, light, and knowledge of the truth, since I have already told you that, by the increase of love, grows grief and pain, wherefore he that grows in love grows in grief.

Therefore, I say to you all, that you should ask, and it will be given you, for I deny nothing to him who asks of Me in truth. Consider that the love of divine charity is so closely joined in the soul with perfect patience, that neither can leave the soul without the other. For this reason (if the soul elect to love Me) she should elect to endure pains for Me in whatever mode or circumstance I may send them to her. Patience cannot be proved in any other way than by suffering, and patience is united with love as has been said. Therefore bear yourselves with manly courage, for, unless you do so, you will not prove yourselves to be spouses of My Truth, and faithful children, nor of the company of those who relish the taste of My honor, and the salvation of souls.” How every virtue and every defect is obtained by means of our neighbor. “I wish also that you should know that every virtue is obtained by means of your neighbor, and likewise, every defect; he, therefore, who stands in hatred of Me, does an injury to his neighbor, and to himself, who is his own chief neighbor, and this injury is both general and particular.

It is general because you are obliged to love your neighbor as yourself, and loving him, you ought to help him spiritually, with prayer, counseling him with words, and assisting him both spiritually and temporally, according to the need in which he may be, at least with your goodwill if you have nothing else. A man therefore, who does not love, does not help him, and thereby does himself an injury; for he cuts off from himself grace, and injures his neighbor, by depriving him of the benefit of the prayers and of the sweet desires that he is bound to offer for him to Me.

Thus, every act of help that he performs should proceed from the charity which he has through love of Me. And every evil also, is done by means of his neighbor, for, if he do not love Me, he cannot be in charity with his neighbor; and thus, all evils derive from the soul’s deprivation of love of Me and her neighbor; whence, inasmuch as such a man does no good, it follows that he must do evil. To whom does he evil? First of all to himself, and then to his neighbor, not against Me, for no evil can touch Me, except in so far as I count done to Me that which he does to himself. To himself he does the injury of sin, which deprives him of grace, and worse than this he cannot do to his neighbor. Him he injures in not paying him the debt, which he owes him, of love, with which he ought to help him by means of prayer and holy desire offered to Me for him.

This is an assistance which is owed in general to every rational creature; but its usefulness is more particular when it is done to those who are close at hand, under your eyes,  as to whom, I say, you are all obliged to help one another by word and doctrine, and the example of good works, and in every other respect in which your neighbor may be seen to be in need; counseling him exactly as you would yourselves, without any passion of self-love; and he (a man not loving God) does not do this, because he has no love towards his neighbor; and, by not doing it, he does him, as you see, a special injury. And he does him evil, not only by not doing him the good that he might do him, but by doing him a positive injury and a constant evil. In this way sin causes a physical and a mental injury.

The mental injury is already done when the sinner has conceived pleasure in the idea of sin, and hatred of virtue, that is, pleasure from sensual self-love, which has deprived him of the affection of love which he ought to have towards Me, and his neighbor, as has been said. And, after he has conceived, he brings forth one sin after another against his neighbor, according to the diverse ways which may please his perverse sensual will. Sometimes it is seen that he brings forth cruelty, and that both in general and in particular. “His general cruelty is to see himself and other creatures in danger of death and damnation through privation of grace, and so cruel is he that he reminds neither himself nor others of the love of virtue and hatred of vice.

Being thus cruel he may wish to extend his cruelty still further, that is, not content with not giving an example of virtue, the villain also usurps the office of the demons, tempting, according to his power, his fellow-creatures to abandon virtue for vice; this is cruelty towards his neighbors, for he makes himself an instrument to destroy life and to give death. Cruelty towards the body has its origin in cupidity, which not only prevents a man from helping his neighbor, but causes him to seize the goods of others, robbing the poor creatures; sometimes this is done by the arbitrary use of power, and at other times by cheating and fraud, his neighbor being forced to redeem, to his own loss, his own goods, and often indeed his own person. “Oh, miserable vice of cruelty, which will deprive the man who practices it of all mercy, unless he turn to kindness and benevolence towards his neighbor! “Sometimes the sinner brings forth insults on which often follows murder; sometimes also impurity against the person of his neighbor, by which he becomes a brute beast full of stench, and in this case he does not poison one only, but whoever approaches him, with love or in conversation, is poisoned. “Against whom does pride bring forth evils?

Against the neighbor, through love of one’s own reputation, whence comes hatred of the neighbor, reputing one’s self to be greater than he; and in this way is injury done to him. And if a man be in a position of authority, he produces also injustice and cruelty and becomes a retailer of the flesh of men. Oh, dearest daughter, grieve for the offense against Me, and weep over these corpses, so that, by prayer, the bands of their death may be loosened! “See now, that, in all places and in all kinds of people, sin is always produced against the neighbor, and through his medium; in no other way could sin ever be committed either secret or open. A secret sin is when you deprive your neighbor of that which you ought to give him; an open sin is where you perform positive acts of sin, as I have related to you. It is, therefore, indeed the truth that every sin done against Me, is done through the medium of the neighbor.”

How virtues are accomplished by means of our neighbor, and how it is that virtues differ to such an extent in creatures. “I have told you how all sins are accomplished by means of your neighbor, through the principles which I exposed to you, that is, because men are deprived of the affection of love, which gives light to every virtue. In the same way self-love, which destroys charity and affection towards the neighbor, is the principle and foundation of every evil. All scandals, hatred, cruelty, and every sort of trouble proceed from this perverse root of self-love, which has poisoned the entire world, and weakened the mystical body of the Holy Church, and the universal body of the believers in the Christian religion; and, therefore, I said to you, that it was in the neighbor, that is to say in the love of him, that all virtues were founded; and, truly indeed did I say to you, that charity gives life to all the virtues, because no virtue can be obtained without charity, which is the pure love of Me.

“Wherefore, when the soul knows herself, as we have said above, she finds humility and hatred of her own sensual passion, for she learns the perverse law, which is bound up in her members, and which ever fights against the spirit. And, therefore, arising with hatred of her own sensuality, crushing it under the heel of reason, with great earnestness, she discovers in herself the bounty of My goodness, through the many benefits which she has received from Me, all of which she considers again in herself. She attributes to Me, through humility, the knowledge which she has obtained of herself, knowing that, by My grace, I have drawn her out of darkness and lifted her up into the light of true knowledge. When she has recognized My goodness, she loves it without any medium, and yet at the same time with a medium, that is to say, without the medium of herself or of any advantage accruing to herself, and with the medium of virtue, which she has conceived through love of Me, because she sees that, in no other way, can she become grateful and acceptable to Me, but by conceiving, hatred of sin and love of virtue; and, when she has thus conceived by the affection of love, she immediately is delivered of fruit for her neighbor, because, in no other way, can she act out the truth she has conceived in herself, but, loving Me in truth, in the same truth she serves her neighbor.

“And it cannot be otherwise, because love of Me and of her neighbor are one and the same thing, and, so far as the soul loves Me, she loves her neighbor, because love towards him issues from Me. This is the means which I have given you, that you may exercise and prove your virtue therewith; because, inasmuch as you can do Me no profit, you should do it to your neighbor. This proves that you possess Me by grace in your soul, producing much fruit for your neighbor and making prayers to Me, seeking with sweet and amorous desire My honor and the salvation of souls. The soul, enamored of My truth, never ceases to serve the whole world in general, and more or less in a particular case according to the disposition of the recipient and the ardent desire of the donor, as I have shown above, when I declared to you that the endurance of suffering alone, without desire, was not sufficient to punish a fault.

“When she has discovered the advantage of this unitive love in Me, by means of which, she truly loves herself, extending her desire for the salvation of the whole world, thus coming to the aid of its neediness, she strives, inasmuch as she has done good to herself by the conception of virtue, from which she has drawn the life of  grace, to fix her eye on the needs of her neighbor in particular. Wherefore, when she has discovered, through the affection of love, the state of all rational creatures in general, she helps those who are at hand, according to the various graces which I have entrusted to her to administer; one she helps with doctrine, that is, with words, giving sincere counsel without any respect of persons, another with the example of a good life, and this indeed all give to their neighbor, the edification of a holy and honorable life.

These are the virtues, and many others, too many to enumerate, which are brought forth in the love of the neighbor; but, although I have given them in such a different way, that is to say not all to one, but to one, one virtue, and to another, another, it so happens that it is impossible to have one, without having them all, because all the virtues are bound together. Wherefore, learn, that, in many cases I give one virtue, to be as it were the chief of the others, that is to say, to one I will give principally love, to another justice, to another humility, to one a lively faith, to another prudence or temperance, or patience, to another fortitude.

These, and many other virtues, I place, indifferently, in the souls of many creatures; it happens, therefore, that the particular one so placed in the soul becomes the principal object of its virtue; the soul disposing herself, for her chief conversation, to this rather than to other virtues, and, by the effect of this virtue, the soul draws to herself all the other virtues, which, as has been said, are all bound together in the affection of love; and so with many gifts and graces of virtue, and not only in the case of spiritual things but also of temporal. I use the word temporal for the things necessary to the physical life of man; all these I have given indifferently, and I have not placed them all in one soul, in order that man should, perforce, have material for love of his fellow. I could easily have created men possessed of all that they should need both for body and soul, but I wish that one should have need of the other, and that they should be My ministers to administer the graces and the gifts that they have received from Me.

Whether man will or no, he cannot help making an act of love. It is true, however, that that act, unless made through love of Me, profits him nothing so far as grace is concerned. See then, that I have made men My ministers, and placed them in diverse stations and various ranks, in order that they may make use of the virtue of love. “Wherefore, I show you that in My house are many mansions, and that I wish for no other thing than love, for in the love of Me is fulfilled and completed the love of the neighbor, and the law observed. For he, only, can be of use in his state of life, who is bound to Me with this love.” How virtues are proved and fortified by their contraries. “Up to the present, I have taught you how a man may serve his neighbor, and manifest, by that service, the love which he has towards Me. “Now I wish to tell you further, that a man proves his patience on his neighbor, when he receives injuries from him.

“Similarly, he proves his humility on a proud man, his faith on an infidel, his true hope on one who despairs, his justice on the unjust, his kindness on the cruel, his gentleness and benignity on the irascible. Good men produce and prove all their virtues on their neighbor, just as perverse men all their vices; thus, if you consider  well, humility is proved on pride in this way. The humble man extinguishes pride, because a proud man can do no harm to a humble one; neither can the infidelity of a wicked man, who neither loves Me, nor hopes in Me, when brought forth against one who is faithful to Me, do him any harm; his infidelity does not diminish the faith or the hope of him who has conceived his faith and hope through love of Me, it rather fortifies it, and proves it in the love he feels for his neighbor.

For, he sees that the infidel is unfaithful, because he is without hope in Me, and in My servant, because he does not love Me, placing his faith and hope rather in his own sensuality, which is all that he loves. My faithful servant does not leave him because he does not faithfully love Me, or because he does not constantly seek, with hope in Me, for his salvation, inasmuch as he sees clearly the causes of his infidelity and lack of hope. The virtue of faith is proved in these and other ways. Wherefore, to those, who need the proof of it, My servant proves his faith in himself and in his neighbor, and so, justice is not diminished by the wicked man’s injustice, but is rather proved, that is to say, the justice of a just man. Similarly, the virtues of patience, benignity, and kindness manifest themselves in a time of wrath by the same sweet patience in My servants, and envy, vexation, and hatred demonstrate their love, and hunger and desire for the salvation of souls.

I say, also, to you, that, not only is virtue proved in those who render good for evil, but, that many times a good man gives back fiery coals of love, which dispel the hatred and rancor of heart of the angry, and so from hatred often comes benevolence, and that this is by virtue of the love and perfect patience which is in him, who sustains the anger of the wicked, bearing and supporting his defects.

If you will observe the virtues of fortitude and perseverance, these virtues are proved by the long endurance of the injuries and detractions of wicked men, who, whether by injuries or by flattery, constantly endeavor to turn a man aside from following the road and the doctrine of truth. Wherefore, in all these things, the virtue of fortitude conceived within the soul, perseveres with strength, and, in addition proves itself externally upon the neighbor, as I have said to you; and, if fortitude were not able to make that good proof of itself, being tested by many contrarieties, it would not be a serious virtue founded in truth.”

St. Thérèse’s “Act of Oblation to Merciful Love”

St. Thérèse’s “Act of Oblation to Merciful Love”



Offering of myself
as a Victim of Holocaust
to God’s Merciful Love

O My God! Most Blessed Trinity, I desire to Love You and make you Loved, to work for the glory of Holy Church by saving souls on earth and liberating those suffering in purgatory. I desire to accomplish Your will perfectly and to reach the degree of glory You have prepared for me in Your Kingdom. I desire, in a word, to be saint, but I feel my helplessness and I beg You, O my God! to be Yourself my Sanctity!

Since You loved me so much as to give me Your only Son as my Savior and my Spouse, the infinite treasures of His merits are mine. I offer them to You with gladness, begging You to look upon me only in the Face of Jesus and in His heart burning with Love.

I offer You, too, all the merits of the saints (in heaven and on earth), their acts of Love, and those of the holy angels. Finally, I offer You, O Blessed Trinity! the Love and merits of the Blessed Virgin, my Dear Mother. It is to her I abandon my offering, begging her to present it to You. Her Divine Son, my Beloved Spouse, told us in the says of His mortal life: “Whatsoever you ask the Father in my name he will give it to you!” I am certain, then, that You will grant my desires; I know, O my God! that the more You want to give, the more You make us desire. I feel in my heart immense desires and it is with confidence I ask You to come and take possession of my soul. Ah! I cannot receive Holy Communion as often as I desire, but, Lord, are You not all-powerful? Remain in me as in a tabernacle and never separate Yourself from Your little victim.

I want to console You for the ingratitude of the wicked, and I beg of you to take away my freedom to displease You. If through weakness I sometimes fall, may Your Divine Glance cleanse my soul immediately, consuming all my imperfections like the fire that transforms everything into itself.

I thank You, O my God! for all the graces You have granted me, especially the grace of making me pass through the crucible of suffering. It is with joy I shall contemplate You on the Last Day carrying the sceptre of Your Cross. Since You deigned to give me a share in this very precious Cross, I hope in heaven to resemble You and to see shining in my glorified body the sacred stigmata of Your Passion.

After earth’s Exile, I hope to go and enjoy You in the Fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for Your Love Alone with the one purpose of pleasing You, consoling Your Sacred Heart, and saving souls who will love You eternally.

In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your Love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown but You, my Beloved!

Time is nothing in Your eyes, and a single day is like a thousand years. You can, then, in one instant prepare me to appear before You.

In order to live in one single act of perfect Love, I OFFER MYSELF AS A VICTIM OF HOLOCAUST TO YOUR MERCIFUL LOVE, Asking You to consume me incessantly, allowing the waves of infinite tenderness shut up within You to overflow into my soul, and that thus I may become a martyr of Your Love, O my God!

May this martyrdom, after having prepared me to appear before You, finally cause me to die and may my soul take its flight without any delay into the eternal embrace of Your Merciful Love.

I want, O my Beloved, at each beat of my heart to renew this offering to You an infinite number of times, until the shadows having disappeared I may be able to tell You of my Love in an Eternal Face to Face!

Marie, Françoise, Thérèse of the Child Jesus
and the Holy Face, unworthy Carmelite religious.

This 9th day of June,
Feast of the Most Holy Trinity,
In the year of grace, 1895


Source: Story of A Soul, translated by Fr. John Clarke, O.C.D. Copyright (c) 1976 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, ICS Publications, 2131 Lincoln Road, N.E., Washington, DC 20002 U.S.A., pp. 276-278.

Sins Of The Tongue – Fr. Belet – Part Four

The Backbiting Tongue


Father Belet, of the Diocese of Basle

Translated from the French, 1870 ed.

4. Listening to backbiters is a great sin.

Certain experiments prove that magnets possess a mysterious and wonderful power. According to Jerome Cardan, if you rub a dagger with a magnet, those it pierces afterwards will not feel it: “In the home of Dr. Lawrence Guascus I saw a needle or a metal point rubbed with a magnet; one could then stick the needle or point into any part of the body without causing any pain. This seemed incredible to me, and I wanted to make sure it was true. So I took a needle, rubbed it with a magnet and stuck it into my arm. I felt the needle’s presence when it had penetrated completely, but I felt no pain whatsoever. In order to be really sure I turned the needle, still stuck in my arm, in every direction. But I felt nothing and shed not a drop of blood. Afterwards, only the point where the needle had entered could be seen.” Cardan adds that Alexander of Verona was the first to perform this experiment, in Milan: he rubbed a sword with oil in order to be able to wound and heal whoever he wished without any pain.

Backbiting resembles that dagger perfectly. You thrust it in, it enters and causes a wound to three people at once: the backbiter, his listener and the person he backbites. The most seriously wounded one of all, the backbiter, feels absolutely nothing.

But we have already talked about him in the preceding chapter. Let us now take a look at his listener.

We will show what an enormous sin is committed, not only by backbiters, but by those who listen to them willingly, and we will enlighten the backbiter and his listeners at the same time.


Homer, the prince of poets, relates how Ulysses acted with his seafaring companions. That prudent fellow knew that the sweet, languorous siren’s song usually softened men and then lured them into the depths of the sea. To safeguard himself and his friends on their way through this hazardous zone, he had them stop their ears with wax and bind him to the ship’s mast until the moment of danger had passed. Thus there are dangers for the ears as well as for the eyes, and one must make sure that they are hermetically sealed.

It is nothing new to encircle fields and gardens with hedges, but it may seem strange to do so for our ears. Yet the Holy Spirit judges it necessary. “Hedge in your ears with thorns,” He says, “listen not to the wicked tongue, and make doors and bars to thy mouth.” (1) The Holy Spirit does not want this hedge protecting our ears to be a flower hedge, but a spiny thorn hedge, to keep the backbiter away.

(1) Sir 28:28

Hedges protect fields against animals and gardens against thieves. So must we have thorns to guard our ears against backbiters. When they come near, they run into brambles when you show absolute disapproval of what they say. Take heed not to lend an ear and listen willingly to them. On the contrary, let them see that you do not care for this sort of conversation. For if you listen willingly to everything others whisper in your ear, what sort of people will you be compared to?

Two dogs gnawing on the same bone is a rare sight, practically a phenomenon. Now, if you see a backbiter and his listener in perfect agreement, the one to speak and the other to give ear, would you not say that they look exactly like two dogs gnawing on the same bone? Two evil people who analyze the behavior of a good man weigh him, sift him and grind him with their words. This is truly the equivalent of chewing bones and cracking them between one’s teeth.

Saint Bernard discusses the gravity of the sin that both the backbiter and his listener commit. “I would have difficulty deciding which of them is more damnable,” he says, “he who backbites or he who listens to the backbiter. Even if we excuse it as wit or banter, every jesting word must be banished not only from our mouth, but also from our ears.” (2) Another man has cleverly remarked, “The devil dances in the backbiter’s mouth and in his listener’s ear.” If you lend a favorable ear to a gossiper and spur him on to speak, you incite him to proceed with still greater freedom, boldness and excess. “The burglar who holds the bag and the thief who slips in the spoils are equally guilty,” says the proverb. The perpetrator and the consenter are both deserving of the same punishment; the same is true of the backbiter and his listener. Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches, “He who hears someone backbiting and does not oppose him appears to approve the author, thus participating in his sin.” (3) Saint Jerome speaks in the same vein: “Beware that your restless ears and tongue do not listen to or engage in backbiting.” (4)

(2) Saint Bernard, De consideratione, Book 2, Chapter 13
(3) Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part II, Section II, Question 83, Article 2.
(4) Saint Jerome, Epistolora ad Nepotium, ad Rustic

“I don’t backbite,” you may say, “but how can I stop others from talking?” Look at what sort of pretexts we invent to excuse our sins! Tell me then: If you were passing in front of someone’s house, and his dog came running after you barking and ready to bite you, would you be pleased if his master’s servant did not prevent him? And if he even encouraged the dog to press on after you, would you be able to contain your indignation? Now let’s change the circumstances: When you listen quietly to a backbiter, you are not only letting this dog attack passers-by and bite them, but you are urging him on, for you lend credence to what he says.


“Well, who would ever dare to interrupt someone who is speaking?” you may ask. Listen, and Saint John Chrysostom will answer your question: “I must not limit myself to addressing backbiters, but also implore their listeners to stop their ears and walk in the footsteps of the holy king, who said, ‘Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, his enemy will I become.’ (5) Tell the person who comes to you and speaks about others, ‘Are you here to praise someone and raise him in my esteem? Then gladly will I give ear and savor all your sweet conversation. But if you intend to speak ill, let me stop you right now; I cannot stand filth and stench. What have I to gain by knowing that someone is evil? Would I not be losing something instead? Talk to him yourself, and let us mind our own business.’ ” (6)

(5) Ps 100:5
(6) Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 3, Ad pop. Antioch.

If you follow Saint John Chrysostom’s advice and shut the backbiter’s mouth in this manner, he will either keep silence or praise the person he came to denigrate. If, on the contrary, you pretend not to notice, and if you do not have the courage to reproach him, you are acting with modesty, I admit; but this is inopportune, and both you and your neighbor will suffer as a consequence.

Saint Augustine, an exemplary bishop, detested backbiters so strongly that he posted the following words on the wall of his dining room as a warning to his guests:

Quisquis amat dictis absentum rodere famam,
Hanc mensam vetitam noverit esse sibi

That is, “People who take pleasure in defaming the reputation of absentees are not welcome at this table.” An excellent maxim for your dining room! This bishop castigated the perverse habit which prevails in meetings, circles and banquets, of gathering information about those who are absent. How often have you heard people say, “He’s got his weak points, you know!… He’s certainly a remarkable person, but his behavior is anything but moral… That preacher speaks divinely; too bad he doesn’t practice what he preaches… That man had every opportunity, but he never learned how to take advantage of them… That person is a veritable paragon of justice, but all he ever thinks about is his pocketbook — money is his only god.” Unfortunately…

Those who have the most laughable behavior
Are always the first to backbite others.

Thus they amuse themselves by making a sport out of detraction and biting their neighbor. That is why, wishing to banish it from his house, Saint Augustine always had someone read at his table, thereby feeding the soul while feeding the body.

One day, however, relates Possadius in an eyewitness account, Saint Augustine had at his table several illustrious guests who forgot the holy bishop’s maxim. Since they were talking too freely about their neighbor, he told them outright “My lords and brothers, stop your conversation or leave this table. Otherwise, I shall have to retire to my room.”

Saint John the Almsgiver, Patriarch of Alexandria, so remarkable for his charity, provides us with a similar example. As soon as he heard anyone backbiting, he would warn him or artfully turn the conversation in another direction. If the backbiter carried on, the patriarch would fall silent and jot down his name. After the person had left, he would give his chamberlain orders to deny that man entry in the future. Saint Jerome rightly observes, “Where there are no listeners, there are no backbiters: the combat will close for want of combatants.” (7)

(7) Saint Jerome, Ad Celant.

King Edmund of England held Bishop Dunstan in high esteem, admiring his virtue and learning alike, and he habitually consulted him in important matters. The king loved the vigor with which he defended justice.

The devil waxed exceedingly jealous over this state of affairs. Hoping to sunder the harmony of these two souls, he conspired with certain men who despised Dunstan, although they feigned friendship and deference. First they assailed the ears of the king, striving to blacken the bishop’s reputation by crafty insinuation. Soon they began backbiting Dunstan openly and moving the king to hatred with sweet flattery, then denigrating the bishop without mercy. They succeeded so well with the credulous king that Dunstan’s entry was forbidden in the royal court.

Several days later, the king went hunting in the forest. The wildwood was situated on a mountain rimmed with dreadful bluffs. From the very start of the hunt, the first sizeable prey was a handsome stag, worthy of the king’s skill. As the king and his sons pursued it, the animal fled towards the cliff and leaped off, followed by the baying hounds. The king and his mount came upon the fatal precipice at full tilt.

Faced with sudden death, Edmund thought of Saint Dunstan and implored God to save his life in consideration of the holy bishop’s innocence. Imminent danger often wakens lightning inspirations, and frequently the Lord answers with equally blinding speed. At that very moment, the king’s horse was brought to an astonishing halt. The king returned to his castle at once. Speaking to the royal household with mingled joy and dread, he related the wonder that had just been wrought in his favor. “I am twice beholden for my life,” he declared. “I owe it both to God and to His friend Dunstan.”

King Edmund called for the bishop immediately and received him with great honor, asking his forgiveness for having believed the backbiters’ words, and swearing faithful friendship to the end of his days.

This illustrious example shows us how those who lend an ear to backbiting must repair the reputation of others. You can find thousands and hundreds of thousands of backbiters, but where can you find a single person who will restore a reputation unjustly stolen?


People who listen to backbiting can be classified in two different groups. First there are those who hear it reluctantly, and not without certain pangs of conscience. These people are guilty of nothing; they even deserve a reward from God, especially if they express their disapproval with unmistakable hints.

Others remain silent, however, letting no one see whether they agree or not with what is said. When they are blamed for this not very praiseworthy silence, they usually excuse themselves by saying, “I won’t shut anyone’s mouth. Let others say what they like, I wash my hands. I’m not responsible for criticizing everything people say.”

These pacifists are just cleverly fooling themselves. Do they mean that it does not displease them to hear someone outraging their neighbor’s reputation and offending God? Let them know this: they commit a serious sin when they remain silent on hearing such words, especially if they have some authority over the offender. Not resisting error is approving it; not defending the truth when one is able, is oppressing it. If you are content to say nothing when you hear ill spoken of others, people will hardly believe you do not keep bad company yourself.

Other people do not only listen to backbiters, they spur them on to continue their stories by their eagerness in hearing them. They say, “Finish relating the details of what you started saying about that person; I’m anxious to hear the truth. I had already heard something about it, but it was still a bit vague. Tell me everything!”

Still others softly entice and incite backbiters, saying, “People are saying such things about you, and you remain silent? How strange!” This provides a perfect occasion for the backbiter to freely give vent to all the bile that is in his heart. Those people are the guiltiest of all, for they take delight in the evil they hear spoken about others.

Thus, both the backbiter and his listener have got the devil in them, one in his mouth and the other in his ear.

Normally, people who are so credulous as to believe all they hear spoken in this manner will quickly manifest anger and impatience, heaping word upon word, insult upon insult, outrage upon outrage. From this stem unending arguments and enmities: the bonds that hold men together are broken, charity is snuffed out, sincere affection and mutual trust vanish. From this also stems an unbridled desire to do harm, urging us to reveal the weaknesses of others. Hidden beneath a cloak of kindness, we disguise vice with a semblance of honesty and start thinking that it is no longer vice.

Such is not the case, and these words of Saint Bernard will always be true: “Backbiters and their listeners are guilty of the same sin.” (8) When you speak ill of others, or even when you listen to someone backbiting, you should get just as angry with yourself as when someone else backbites you. The man who drinks poison counselled by an evil tongue will die. Therefore, let us teach backbiters these three lessons:

(8) Saint Bernard, De inter. Dom, Chapter 42, and Serm. De tripl. Custod.


Lesson I: Look at yourself and discover your own wretchedness.

Why waste your time with the affairs of others? Take care of your own instead. Who ever named you a reporter of the lives and deeds of others? Curious and absurd man, why do you set foot in other people’s gardens? Find out what is going on in your own house instead, and say with La Fontaine:

Happy the man who stays at home,
Occupied with governing his own desires.

You may have heard about the porbeagle, or white shark. When safe inside its nest, it draws its eyes into a sac; when it leaves, they reappear on its forehead. It is blind at home and clear-eyed outside. As Socrates once stated concerning an aged man:

He knows everything from afar,
But he sees nothing nigh.

This occurs with many elderly people: show them an object close up, and they cannot see any details; draw it back and they see it better. Thus are many people shocked by the petty sins of others, whereas they are perfectly indulgent regarding their own serious faults. One might say:

The sovereign Maker
Created us all beggars in the same way,
Those of times past and those of today.
For our own faults He made the pocket in the back,
And the one in the front for others who slack.

So then, move the back pocket round in front And if you examine it well, no doubt you will find the defect you are complaining about. All of life’s woes stem from the fact that each person flatters himself, and makes himself as much an enemy of others as a selfish friend of himself. We pluck out the straw from our neighbor’s eye, and we do not see the beam in our own. Like the eye, which does not see the defects of the cheek because it is so close, we are perfectly blind regarding our own weaknesses. Very clever in discerning the slightest imperfections in others, we walk right by our own like blind people, although they are so close we could touch them. And the more sensitive we are when someone speaks ill of us, the bolder we are and the more pleasure we take in glutting ourselves on our neighbor’s vices. We take delight in plunging our eyes and teeth into others’ moral behavior. “They devise a wicked scheme, and conceal the scheme they have devised.” (9) The back pocket is for our own defects, and the front pocket for the defects of others. We do not see the pocket that lies behind our back.

(9) Ps 63:6

Solomon speaks well of men of this caliber. “There is a group that is pure in its own eyes, yet is not purged of its filth,” (10) he says. If an earthen pot were blackened with soot and looked in the mirror, it would not say to the smoked-up kettle, “Woe to you, you are all black!”

(10) Prov 30:12

Christian law speaks in the same manner. When Jesus Christ said, “Let those who believe they are without sin cast the first stone against this woman accused of adultery,” (11) no one dared to be the first. Christians, let us do likewise. If we look at what is going on inside ourself and take care of our own business, we will find no one who better deserves to have stones cast at him than ourself. But the crafty devil catches us one way or the other: either we commit sin ourself, or we accuse those who do. Saint John of the Ladder explains it thus: “The devil tempts us to commit sin; and when he does not succeed, he points scornfully at those who have fallen.” We do not understand our task very well when we neglect our own nettle-choked garden and go to pull up weeds in someone else’s flower bed. Look my friend, stay in your own garden! There are enough burdocks, tares and nettles to weed out right there. Take a hard look at yourself and you will no longer see defects in others. Saint Bernard says, “If you examine yourself well, you will never backbite others.” (12)

(11) Jn 8:7
(12) Saint Bernard, De inter. Dom, Chapter 42

Lesson II: Change the subject.

If you are being chased by a mad bull, throw a coat over his head; while he is wrestling with the coat, run away as fast as you can. When you hear someone backbiting, the best thing you can do is throw a coat in his face — that is, confront his language by changing the subject. And it is not always necessary to take great precautions and act with circumspection, either. Sometimes you can put a sudden halt to a conversation.

Thomas More, the glory of England, renowned for his holiness and learning alike, gave the finest example in everything. No matter where he was, as soon as he heard someone speaking rashly about his neighbor and insulting people who were absent, he would strive to change the conversation. “No matter what one may think,” he would say, “that house is exceedingly well built. Certainly, the one who constructed it has proven that he knew what he was doing.” Thus would he punish or disconcert backbiters.

Plutarch relates that Alcibiades, one of the wisest and greatest men of Ancient Greece, once learned that people were spreading unkind stories about him. He had the idea of replacing them with other stories which, if not better, were at least more innocent. Having recently purchased a magnificent dog, he cut off its tail and let it run rampant through the streets of the city. Some of his friends got upset over this and reproached this great man for doing such a ridiculous thing. “Don’t get angry,” said Alcibiades in his sweetest voice. “The only reason I did it was so that people could aim their malicious zeal at a petty brute. Let them talk about Alcibiades’ dog as much as they like, as long as Alcibiades himself can escape their teeth.” If a tiger kidnaps a little dog, just give it a mirror and it will quickly forget all about the dog.

Shrewd enough to realize how hard it is for a man in the public eye to escape evil tongues, Alcibiades offered the people of Athens an insignificant creature on which to exercise their petulance in a more harmless manner.

Men with sober tongues should imitate Alcibiades’ example in order to silence hissing backbiters. If you cannot interrupt the conversation, at least try and temper it. Presume the good intentions of those who are absent by saying, “We never really know all the extenuating circumstances. Rumor always swells things way out of proportion.” Thus you will dash cold water on an intemperate tongue and moderate the backbiter’s passion, and possibly even change the course of the conversation.

Lesson III: Withdraw from backbiters’ deadly conversations.

Freeze their tongue with a sudden departure, so at least they know that you disapprove of such language. That is Saint Jerome’s advice: “If you hear someone speaking ill of another, cast him far from you like a serpent; so that, overcome by shame, he will learn to be silent regarding the actions of others.” (13) He learned this from Saint Paul, who says, “I write to you not to associate with one who is called a brother, if he is immoral, or covetous, or an idolater or evil-tongued.” (14)

(13) Saint Jerome, In Reg. Mon, Chapter 22
(14) I Cor 5:11

Cassian relates having seen an elder called Machetus who had obtained a very singular grace from God: as long as people were talking about the things of God he would not feel sleepy, even if the conversation lasted night and day; but if, on the contrary, people were speaking useless words or beginning to backbite their neighbor, he would fall asleep at once.

Those who do not want to imitate this elder, who cannot fall asleep or do not want to, should at least show that they are Christians by indicating their displeasure with some sign. They should do this right at the start of the conversation, when a bucket of water will suffice to put the fire out. For you will have a hard time mastering the fire once it has become a conflagration. “The north wind drives away rain, as does a sad countenance a backbiting tongue.” (15) And Saint Jerome adds, “if you listen to a backbiter with a happy look you encourage him to continue backbiting; he shakes the coals, and then you add the wood. If, on the contrary, you listen to him with a sad, unhappy look he will learn to spare his words when he sees that you are not listening to him willingly. If you do not do this, you show that you are a false brother of the one who is backbiting, or that you are a cowardly friend.”

(15) Prov 25:23


My friends, by acting otherwise — by showing less care for others’ reputation than for our own — we violate the law of Our Lord, who tells us to love our neighbor as ourself. The person who sets fire to his neighbor’s house is sinful, but so is the man who warms himself by the heat of the burning house. If he is not an enemy, then let him carry some water to put out the fire. In the same way, we do harm not only by backbiting others, but also by not stopping those who backbite, encouraging them with praise and applause. A sincere friend not only avoids backbiting, but also does everything he can to bring it to a halt. A devoted brother hides his brother’s dishonorable vices from others, revealing them only to those who are able to remedy them.

Apelles depicted King Antigone as a person with only one eye. However, he also disposed the king’s portrait at an angle whereby his physical defects might be attributed to the painting, showing only that part of his face which could not be seen to disadvantage. (16)

(16) Phil., Hist. Nat. lib, Book 35, Chapter 10

Such are the portraits drawn by a truly Christian hand. It neglects anything vicious in the face of another and shows only whatever is worthy of being seen.

Plato imitated Apelles perfectly, not by hand or brush, but by his care in hiding the vices of others. Someone came to inform him that his disciple Xenocrates had been telling all sorts of malicious stories about him. Plato, careful to avoid believing this badly motivated report, replied, “It is highly improbable.” Since the accuser insisted with every appearance of truth, Plato added, “I cannot believe that I am not loved by someone I love so much.” It availed nothing for the accuser to swear that what he said was true. Not wanting to test whether the man was lying, Plato simply said, “Xenocrates would not have spoken thus unless he thought he were doing me a favor.” (17)

(17) Valer., Book 4, Chapter 1.

That is how we should attenuate and cover the vices of others, instead of exaggerating and proclaiming them everywhere. Solomon advises us, “Do not give heed to every word that is spoken.” (18) And Saint Bernard confirms what he wrote on this subject by saying, “Backbiters pour poison into the ears of those who listen to them.” (19) Both the backbiter and his complacent listener commit sin. If a man with a perfidious tongue advises someone to swallow poison, that person will die. The backbiter furtively robs you of the virtue of charity, and he makes your fraternal love grow cold without your even being aware of it.

(18) Eccl 7:22
(19) Saint Bernard, De modo bene vivendi, Chapters 17 and 37; Serm. De Tripl.

In order to arm himself against this trap, Emperor Constantine said that even if he saw the Head of Christianity commit an atrocious act, not only would he not reveal it, but he would cover it with his cloak. Let us do likewise. Let us keep a mutual watch over our reputations and flee even the shadow of backbiting like the plague, according to the formal exhortation of the great Apostle Saint James, “Brethren, do not speak against one another,” (20) for God will treat us as rigorously as we have treated others. The person who refuses to cover the weaknesses of others will see his own crimes come to the light of day. Do you want others to keep silence regarding your miseries? Then keep silence regarding theirs; put a lock over your mouth and a brake on your tongue. Praise everyone as much as you can. If you cannot, then abstain from condemning them. If you encounter only enormous vices and no virtues, say not a word. If others mention them, change the subject. If you consider it impolite to sharply interrupt the conversation of people older than you, then keep silence. If they ask you what you think about it, be indulgent and temper any excess in their actions by the mildness of your words. Mildness is never lacking to those who seek it.

(20) Jas 4:11

If someone relates certain things you have witnessed, limit yourself to talking about human weakness, and celebrate the virtues of the man whose vices they expose. Say, “Even the greatest men have done things that need to be forgiven.” If they continue condemning your neighbor, see if there is not something praiseworthy in him; and instead of his defects, bring out his virtues, even if he is an enemy. It is surprising how such praise can help to calm hatred and heal wounded friendships. Even those who condemn you for it will secretly approve you and begin loving you for praising their enemy.

Before concluding this treatise on backbiting, which is a vice we can never sufficiently detest let us relate a memorable story:

Two people attached to religion by special bonds were close friends. Unfortunately, one of them had such a venomous tongue that he spared no one in his attacks. When this man was laid low by a serious illness, his friend advised him to think about his salvation and do penance to expiate the sins of his life. But it was as if he were preaching to a deaf man. “Well then,” said the friend, “at least let us make a pact, a pact that will endure beyond the grave. If you die before I do, you will appear to me within a month unless God opposes the idea, and you will teach me the mysteries of the other life.”

To reward the constancy of his friend, the sick person promised he would do it; and God was not opposed. Some time after his death the backbiter emerged from hell all covered with flames and came to see his friend. Recognizing his deceased friend at once, the man was seized with such trembling that he was unable to speak a word or even look upon the flaming ghost.

But the spirit spoke and said, “it is I, your friend, condemned to eternal hellfire. I was brought to the tribunal of the Sovereign Judge at the very moment of my death, and my accusers were all the people I had dishonored by my tongue. Since I could neither deny nor excuse what they accused me of, the Judge — alas! thrice alas! –sentenced me to eternal damnation!” (21)

(21) Fr. John Major. S. J., Theologia Specul. exempl, p. 264.

If such torments are reserved for backbiters, Saint Augustine is certainly not wrong in saying, “When the devil cannot devour someone by leading him into evil, he attempts to defile his reputation in order to weigh him down beneath the outrages of men and the backbiting of evil tongues, and thus draw him into his clutches.” (22)

(22) Saint Augustine, Epistle 137

“Guard against profitless grumbling, and from calumny withhold your tongues; for a stealthy utterance does not go unpunished.” (23)

(23) Wis 1:11

“Which of you desires life, and takes delight in prosperous ways? Keep your tongue from evil,” (24) and especially from backbiting. As much as you will have spared the reputation of others, so much will you spare both your own reputation and your own life.

(24) Ps 33:13-14

Sins Of The Tongue – Father Belet – Part Three

The Backbiting Tongue


Father Belet, of the Diocese of Basle

Translated from the French, 1870 ed.

3. Appropriate names for backbiters. Usual chastisements to which they expose themselves.

Plutarch says that nature has thought of everything: it has given man two ears and only one tongue, since he should listen more than speak. Such was the opinion of a sage formed in the school of Christ: Saint James says, “Let every man be swift to hear and slow to speak.” (1) The tongue is a member hard to govern; it rarely moves without harming itself or others. Anarcharsis the philosopher states, “It is better to trespass with your feet than with your tongue.” We are rarely sorry for keeping silence and often sorry for speaking. The poet Ausonius declares, “You harm no one by your silence, but by your words.”

(1) Jas 1:19

Xenocrates confirmed this truth by his example. As he listened without a word to a conversation in which his neighbor incurred detraction, someone asked him why he alone maintained a stubborn silence. He answered, “I have often regretted speaking in public, but never not speaking.” This quiet reply closed the mouth over those evil tongues.

We have treated the vice of backbiting, its various species and its gravity. We have demonstrated how difficult it is, though necessary, to restore our neighbor’s reputation. Let us now draw the true portrait of a backbiter.


We do no one harm in saying that a spade is a spade, and a cat is a cat. We should call all things by their name.

Now, backbiters have as many names as species. They attack first this person and then that one, putting on a fox skin today and a lion skin tomorrow. Among all the splendid names that apply to flatterers, only one applies to backbiters:

1. Backbiters are dogs. Scripture tells us, “Like an arrow lodged in a dog’s thigh is gossip in the heart of a fool.” (2) A dog will have no rest till he is rid of something lodged in his flank. So it is with a backbiter: as soon as he sees anything with his curious eyes or hears anything with his long ears, he broadcasts it everywhere.

(2) Sir 19:12

The food most suited to dogs is dry bread and bones. But dogs with faces of men eat not only bones; like famished wolves, they need flesh… human flesh. When Job was struck down he said, “Why do you hound me as though you were God, and insatiably prey upon me?” (3) I see you gnashing your teeth like dogs. You insult me; and you bite, devour and swallow my reputation and good name.

(3) Job 19:22

Saint Gregory declares, “There is no doubt that those who indulge in backbiting others, feed on their flesh.” (4) Making himself equal to God, the backbiter pretends to examine hearts and discern the most secret things in man, even his intentions. He would wrest God’s sword from His hand if he could. The backbiter is so fond of human flesh he often spares not even his own relatives.

(4) Saint Gregory, Moral, Book 14, Chapter 14.

After Actaeon had been turned into a deer by the goddess Artemis, his dogs attacked him. He fought like a madman and cried out in vain:

My name is Actaeon, recognize your master! (5)

(5) Ovid, Metamorphosis, Book 3.

But none of the dogs would recognize him as Actaeon. Such are backbiters. They know neither father nor mother; they tear into everyone. Their main activity consists in biting the first comer. The prophet Ezechiel predicted, “Fathers shall eat their sons in the midst of thee, and sons shall eat their fathers.” (6) And Jeremias adds, “Everyone shall eat the flesh of his friend.” (7) With a single bite, the backbiter tears into bishop, archbishop or pope, king or emperor. Though he should be satisfied with beef or mutton on fast days, he must absolutely have human flesh. With his bloody mouth, the backbiter streaks through the public square like a dog. Beware of the dog! Run from him when he barks, “Come along with us! Let us lie in wait for the honest man; let us, unprovoked, set a trap for the innocent; let us swallow them up like hell, alive and in the prime of life, like those who go down into the pit!” (8)

(6) Ez 5:10
(7) Jer 19:9
(8) Prov 1:11-12

2. The sea urchin, armed with points which it uses as feet, is the terror of every fish. Likewise, the backbiter is armed with thorny spines inside and out. No matter where you touch him, beware! Beware of his traps, or you will get caught by his hook! There’s the sea urchin: the backbiter is coming! If you ask him “What’s new?” he will answer you at once, “So-and-so got drunk yesterday. Someone else was gambling with infernal passion. I saw this man entering a house of ill-repute; that one is always fighting; and that other one cheated a salesman out of twenty dollars.” These are the barbs of that sea urchin, these are his words. Therefore, he is the terror of every man. For the Holy Spirit says, “A man full of tongue is terrible in his city, and he that is rash in his word shall be hateful.” (9)

(9) Sir 9:25

3. The backbiter is a beetle and a leech. Saint John Chrysostom remarks, “Everyone flees a backbiter like unhealthy mud, like a leech that feeds on blood, a beetle that feeds in the mire — that is, on others’ defects.” As for you, act like bees: gather flowers from thorns and use them to make your honey.

Guillaume Perald says, “The mouth of the backbiter and slanderer is the basin the devil uses to wash his hands.” That basin contains not holy water, but the impure water of detraction. The devil pours this filthy water onto many; not on their face, true, but on their back. For the backbiter harms people who are absent, not present, just as the leech draws blood from behind. Now, let all who are in the habit of backbiting others learn that oftentimes those who reveal the crimes of others are more sinful than those who commit them.

4. The backbiter resembles a hog. When it enters a garden, a hog does not run into the flowers, but into the manure. The backbiter does not seek to edify, but scandalize; he feeds off forbidden objects.

When Balaam refused to curse Israel, King Balac told him angrily, “Come with me to another place from which you can see only some and not all of Israel, and from there curse it for me.” (10) The king thought the great throng of people was preventing Balaam from cursing it. It is characteristic of backbiters to criticize only a part of what others have done. If they said what their neighbor did before or afterwards, they would be giving their listeners a very different opinion of him.

(10) Num 23:13

Besides, is anything in this world free from all imperfection, safe from all criticism?

The moon is a magnificent heavenly body, but it does have its craters. The sun is far nobler and brighter than the moon, yet it is not perfect in every point. (11) In order to be mistaken as little as possible, look at something on the whole, and its collective symmetry will justify its less perfect parts.

(11) Christopher Scheiner, De macul sol

5. The backbiter resembles the lion and the hyena. Someone once asked Theocritus, “What is the most ferocious animal of all?” and he replied, “In the mountains and forests, I think it is lions and bears. In the cities and towns, it is money-lenders and backbiters.” (12) And since they do not spare even the dead, it is only fitting to compare them to the hyena. Like the wolf, the hyena is so avid for human flesh that it digs into graves and unburies corpses in order to eat their flesh.

(12) Aristotle, De animal, Book 7, Chapter 4

The discreet and prudent man must take great care to safeguard his reputation from the tongues of others. If he knows something blameworthy about others, he should bury it in silence as in good ground. But the backbiter drags the nauseating, rotten flesh of corpses out of their tombs, bringing hidden vices to light and reminding us of crimes that should be forgotten. He resembles the lion and the hyena.

6. The backbiter is a counterfeiter and a thief. He wears down coins so that no one wants them any more. “Lets get rid of this coin,” people say. “It is eaten away, it is no longer any good.” This is how backbiting tongues, with the traps they set, prevent so many from emerging from their tombs; or if they do come out they force them back into their former darkness as soon as they spy an occasion to attack their reputation or fortune.

Many who would behave like honest men and Christians have been bitten so hard by backbiters and so blackened by wicked words that people always find something wrong with them. Emperor Vespasian ordered backbiters and gossipers flogged with rods and then sent into exile. Augustus wanted them burned alive. Antoninus wanted them put to death. For, according to Solomon, it is backbiting “that men find abominable.” (13)

(13) Prov 24:9

True, it is not the worst of evils to be loathed by all, since Christ told His Apostles they would be hated by all men, adding that it would be for His name’s sake.” (14) The backbiter, however, is hated not only by all men, but by God Himself. Saint Paul says, “Detractors are hateful to God.” (15) Follow the advice of Solomon: “Have nothing to do with backbiters, for their destruction arises suddenly, and who can measure their ruin?” (16)

(14) Mt 10:22
(15) Rom 1:30
(16) Prov 24:21-22


Finally — and this is the most appropriate name, more appropriate than any other — the backbiter is a serpent.

The Book of Ecclesiastes says, “If a serpent bites in silence, the hidden backbiter is no less loathsome.” (17) This expression, “bites in silence”, illustrates the genius of backbiting perfectly. Theologians recognize a difference between backbiting and insult: an insult wounds and outrages one who is present; backbiting attacks those who are absent and seeks to weaken their reputation.

(17) Eccl 10:11

Of all the animals, the serpent is the only one the Lord cursed. And among the great multitude of men, if there be any that God especially loathes and detests, it is the backbiter. There are serpents that kill their own mother in order to live; before harming others, the backbiter is of serious detriment to himself and his loved ones. And just as a single snakebite is so infectious that it poisons the entire body, the backbiter uses few words to rob others of their reputation and sometimes their life. The backbiter makes himself the equal of the devil, who justly received the name of serpent. The backbiter poses as a denunciator of his brothers; and when he cannot accuse them, he slanders them. Here is how the poet of Venusia depicts the varicolored skin of the backbiter, similar to the serpents:

“To tear apart an absent friend; to not defend him when he is attacked; to work at inciting indiscreet laughter and to build your reputation on an attitude of mockery; to invent happenings; to betray confidential secrets: such is the behavior of a despicable person. Romans, beware of such a man!” (18)

(18) Horace, Satires, Book 1, Satire 4

Saint Bernard says, “Run from a backbiter as you would run from a serpent.” (19) Serpents do not store venom in their tail. They reserve it in a little sac beneath the tongue or in the hollow of their teeth. Most snakes inject their venom with their bite. Others eject it by spitting; for this reason, Avicenna refers to them as spitting serpents. Like these serpents, backbiters conceal deadly venom beneath their tongues, spitting it out as they speak. Although the deceptively small mouth of this species of viper leaves barely a trace of its bite, it deals out death.

(19) Saint Bernard, De modo bene vivendi, Sermon 17

Cleopatra had a horror of swords and wounds. When she requested a quick and easy death, she was killed by a snakebite. The backbiter often delivers great blows while making little noise. The wounds he leaves are scarcely visible, but he inflicts mortal damage to the reputation of others.

Beware of him! Run from him! The backbiter is deadlier than a snake in the grass, and there is practically no remedy for his venom. Such was the chastisement with which the Lord once threatened the Hebrews. “For behold, I will send among you serpents against which there is no charm: and they shall bite you.” (20) According to the Roman philosopher Seneca, a snake is easier to handle when it is very cold. (21) Its poison is still potent, no doubt, but the snake is too numb. If we lend credence to Elianus and Pliny, serpents at the mouth of the Euphrates River are very dangerous to foreigners but not to natives of the region; the serpents of Syria, especially those by the Euphrates, will not harm Syrians in their sleep. Syrians, the Psyllae in Africa, the Ophites of Cyprus and Hellespont, and the Marsi in Italy are all anguigenous, and they have no fear of any serpent. The Egyptians even tame asps.

(20) Jer 8:17

(21) Seneca, Epistle 42

It is not so with the backbiter’s tongue. Nothing can temper it and everyone fears it, natives and foreigners alike. It attacks, bites and kills everyone, friend or foe, good or evil, asleep or awake. Saint John Chrysostom states, “A person who backbites performs the devil’s work. Backbiting is an unruly demon.”


“God is all feet all hands, all eyes,” says Saint Augustine. And I would add that He is also all ears; for nothing escapes Him, and “detractors are hateful to God”. Do not attempt to excuse yourself by hedging, “That’s what people are saying, and they are convinced. I’m just telling you what I heard.” My friend, it is illegal to resell adulterated or stolen merchandise. You heard something? Well, act as though you had not. This is advice of the son of Sirach: “Let anything you hear die within you; rest assured, it will not make you burst.” (22)

(22) Sir 19:10


Do not excuse yourself by saying, “But these are only petty sins,” for a little spark is often enough to produce a conflagration. This is always true with the backbiting tongue. You say they are petty sins. So if you knew more serious things, wouldn’t you say them? No, wounding your neighbor’s reputation, even lightly, is no little thing. Killing someone with the pen is no less a homicide than killing him with the sword.

Cassian was killed by the hand of a child and pierced with little wounds, but he was no less dead than if he had fallen beneath the hand of Hector or Achilles. The weaker the hand that strikes, the slower the death and the more painful the torment. The smaller the pinpricks of backbiting may seem, the more dangerous the wounds they make. God never lets them go unpunished. Scripture tells us, “He who speaks against his brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law.” (23)

(23) Jas 4:11

Thomas of Cantimpre, the coadjutor of the Bishop of Cambrai, declares that with his own eyes he saw how horrible and surprising was the vengeance reserved for this vice: “I once knew a religious man (sacerdotem), more religious in name than in deed, whose tongue reached such a point of shamelessness that his only pleasure lay in covering others with infamy and in relating every lie one can imagine. Finding himself at death’s door, he was whipped into such a frenzy that he began beating himself and tearing his tongue with his teeth, thus showing everyone that his tongue was the real cause of his torment.” The Book of Ecclesiastes says, “Be not hasty in your utterance. God is in heaven and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few.” (24) You have not yet gone to that land beyond the blue. Nor shall you enter it if you do not amend your vicious ways; you will fall into the pit of fire. Do you want to save your soul? Then hold your tongue and swear off the passion of backbiting.

(24) Eccl 5:1

There was another religious in England, a monk more by his habit than by his habits, rather like the one we just mentioned. His backbiting tongue had such a hard bite that he slashed everyone he met. He was about to die, and his brothers implored him to think seriously about the journey he was about to make, since it was a matter of eternity. “Spare your exhortations,” he said, “they are totally useless!” They spoke to him of divine mercy, trying to get him to trust in God, using every possible means to lift his thoughts to the things of heaven. The dying man stuck his tongue out and tapped it with his hand, saying, “This evil tongue is what has damned me!” Scarcely had he spoken these words when his tongue suddenly swelled so greatly that it was impossible for him to return it into his mouth. Thus, while breathing his last, this unfortunate man taught us with his dreadful example to learn from others’ mistakes and watch what we say. (25)

(25) Fr. John Major, S. J., Theologia Specul exempl. P. 265

“He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from trouble.” (26)

(26) Prov 21:23


Sins Of The Tongue – Fr. Belet – Part Two

The Backbiting Tongue


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.


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.


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


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.


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