St. Thomas Aquinas

The Summa Theologica

(Benziger Bros. edition, 1947)
Translated by
Fathers of the English Dominican Province


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Deinde considerandum est de detractione. Et circa hoc quaeruntur quatuor.    We must now consider backbiting, under which head there are four points of inquiry:
Primo, quid sit detractio.     (1) What is backbiting?
Secundo, utrum sit peccatum mortale.     (2) Whether it is a mortal sin?
Tertio, de comparatione eius ad alia peccata.     (3) Of its comparison with other sins;
Quarto, utrum peccet aliquis audiendo detractionem.     (4) Whether it is a sin to listen to backbiting?


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Question: 73  [<< | >>]
Article: 1  [<< | >>]

Whether backbiting is suitably defined as the blackening of another's character by secret words?

Ad primum sic proceditur. Videtur quod detractio non sit denigratio alienae famae per occulta verba, ut a quibusdam definitur. Occultum enim et manifestum sunt circumstantiae non constituentes speciem peccati, accidit enim peccato quod a multis sciatur vel a paucis. Sed illud quod non constituit speciem peccati non pertinet ad rationem ipsius, nec debet poni in eius definitione. Ergo ad rationem detractionis non pertinet quod fiat per occulta verba.   Objection 1: It would seem that backbiting is not as defined by some [*Albert the Great, Sum. Theol. II, cxvii.], "the blackening of another's good name by words uttered in secret." For "secretly" and "openly" are circumstances that do not constitute the species of a sin, because it is accidental to a sin that it be known by many or by few. Now that which does not constitute the species of a sin, does not belong to its essence, and should not be included in its definition. Therefore it does not belong to the essence of backbiting that it should be done by secret words.
Praeterea, ad rationem famae pertinet publica notitia. Si igitur per detractionem denigretur fama alicuius, non poterit hoc fieri per verba occulta, sed per verba in manifesto dicta.   Objection 2: Further, the notion of a good name implies something known to the public. If, therefore, a person's good name is blackened by backbiting, this cannot be done by secret words, but by words uttered openly.
Praeterea, ille detrahit qui aliquid subtrahit vel diminuit de eo quod est. Sed quandoque denigratur fama alicuius etiam si nihil subtrahatur de veritate, puta cum aliquis vera crimina alicuius pandit. Ergo non omnis denigratio famae est detractio.   Objection 3: Further, to detract is to subtract, or to diminish something already existing. But sometimes a man's good name is blackened, even without subtracting from the truth: for instance, when one reveals the crimes which a man has in truth committed. Therefore not every blackening of a good name is backbiting.
Sed contra est quod dicitur Eccle. X, si mordeat serpens in silentio, nihil eo minus habet qui occulte detrahit. Ergo occulte mordere famam alicuius est detrahere.   On the contrary, It is written (Eccles. 10:11): "If a serpent bite in silence, he is nothing better that backbiteth."
Respondeo dicendum quod sicut facto aliquis alteri nocet dupliciter, manifeste quidem sicut in rapina vel quacumque violentia illata, occulte autem sicut in furto et dolosa percussione; ita etiam verbo aliquis dupliciter aliquem laedit, uno modo, in manifesto, et hoc fit per contumeliam, ut supra dictum est; alio modo, occulte, et hoc fit per detractionem. Ex hoc autem quod aliquis manifeste verba contra alium profert, videtur eum parvipendere, unde ex hoc ipso exhonoratur, et ideo contumelia detrimentum affert honori eius in quem profertur. Sed qui verba contra aliquem profert in occulto, videtur eum vereri magis quam parvipendere, unde non directe infert detrimentum honori, sed famae; inquantum, huiusmodi verba occulte proferens, quantum in ipso est, eos qui audiunt facit malam opinionem habere de eo contra quem loquitur. Hoc enim intendere videtur, et ad hoc conatur detrahens, ut eius verbis credatur. Unde patet quod detractio differt a contumelia dupliciter. Uno modo, quantum ad modum proponendi verba, quia scilicet contumeliosus manifeste contra aliquem loquitur, detractor autem occulte. Alio modo, quantum ad finem intentum, sive quantum ad nocumentum illatum, quia scilicet contumeliosus derogat honori, detractor famae.   I answer that, Just as one man injures another by deed in two ways—openly, as by robbery or by doing him any kind of violence—and secretly, as by theft, or by a crafty blow, so again one man injures another by words in two ways—in one way, openly, and this is done by reviling him, as stated above (Question [72], Article [1])—and in another way secretly, and this is done by backbiting. Now from the fact that one man openly utters words against another man, he would appear to think little of him, so that for this reason he dishonors him, so that reviling is detrimental to the honor of the person reviled. On the other hand, he that speaks against another secretly, seems to respect rather than slight him, so that he injures directly, not his honor but his good name, in so far as by uttering such words secretly, he, for his own part, causes his hearers to have a bad opinion of the person against whom he speaks. For the backbiter apparently intends and aims at being believed. It is therefore evident that backbiting differs from reviling in two points: first, in the way in which the words are uttered, the reviler speaking openly against someone, and the backbiter secretly; secondly, as to the end in view, i.e. as regards the injury inflicted, the reviler injuring a man's honor, the backbiter injuring his good name.
Ad primum ergo dicendum quod in involuntariis commutationibus, ad quas reducuntur omnia nocumenta proximo illata verbo vel facto, diversificat rationem peccati occultum et manifestum, quia alia est ratio involuntarii per violentiam, et per ignorantiam, ut supra dictum est.   Reply to Objection 1: In involuntary commutations, to which are reduced all injuries inflicted on our neighbor, whether by word or by deed, the kind of sin is differentiated by the circumstances "secretly" and "openly," because involuntariness itself is diversified by violence and by ignorance, as stated above (Question [65], Article [4]; FS, Question [6], Articles [5],8).
Ad secundum dicendum quod verba detractionis dicuntur occulta non simpliciter, sed per comparationem ad eum de quo dicuntur, quia eo absente et ignorante, dicuntur. Sed contumeliosus in faciem contra hominem loquitur. Unde si aliquis de alio male loquatur coram multis, eo absente, detractio est, si autem eo solo praesente, contumelia est. Quamvis etiam si uni soli aliquis de absente malum dicat, corrumpit famam eius, non in toto, sed in parte.   Reply to Objection 2: The words of a backbiter are said to be secret, not altogether, but in relation to the person of whom they are said, because they are uttered in his absence and without his knowledge. On the other hand, the reviler speaks against a man to his face. Wherefore if a man speaks ill of another in the presence of several, it is a case of backbiting if he be absent, but of reviling if he alone be present: although if a man speak ill of an absent person to one man alone, he destroys his good name not altogether but partly.
Ad tertium dicendum quod aliquis dicitur detrahere non quia diminuat de veritate, sed quia diminuit famam eius. Quod quidem quandoque fit directe, quandoque indirecte. Directe quidem, quadrupliciter, uno modo, quando falsum imponit alteri; secundo, quando peccatum adauget suis verbis; tertio, quando occultum revelat; quarto, quando id quod est bonum dicit mala intentione factum. Indirecte autem, vel negando bonum alterius; vel malitiose reticendo.   Reply to Objection 3: A man is said to backbite [detrehere] another, not because he detracts from the truth, but because he lessens his good name. This is done sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. Directly, in four ways: first, by saying that which is false about him; secondly, by stating his sin to be greater than it is; thirdly, by revealing something unknown about him; fourthly, by ascribing his good deeds to a bad intention. Indirectly, this is done either by gainsaying his good, or by maliciously concealing it, or by diminishing it.


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Question: 73  [<< | >>]
Article: 2  [<< | >>]

Whether backbiting is a mortal sin?

Ad secundum sic proceditur. Videtur quod detractio non sit peccatum mortale. Nullus enim actus virtutis est peccatum mortale. Sed revelare peccatum occultum, quod, sicut dictum est, ad detractionem pertinet, est actus virtutis, vel caritatis, dum aliquis fratris peccatum denuntiat eius emendationem intendens; vel etiam est actus iustitiae, dum aliquis fratrem accusat. Ergo detractio non est peccatum mortale.   Objection 1: It would seem that backbiting is not a mortal sin. For no act of virtue is a mortal sin. Now, to reveal an unknown sin, which pertains to backbiting, as stated above (Article [1], ad 3), is an act of the virtue of charity, whereby a man denounces his brother's sin in order that he may amend: or else it is an act of justice, whereby a man accuses his brother. Therefore backbiting is not a mortal sin.
Praeterea, super illud Prov. XXIV, cum detractoribus non commiscearis, dicit Glossa, hoc specialiter vitio periclitatur totum genus humanum. Sed nullum peccatum mortale in toto humano genere invenitur, quia multi abstinent a peccato mortali, peccata autem venialia sunt quae in omnibus inveniuntur. Ergo detractio est peccatum veniale.   Objection 2: Further, a gloss on Prov. 24:21, "Have nothing to do with detractors," says: "The whole human race is in peril from this vice." But no mortal sin is to be found in the whole of mankind, since many refrain from mortal sin: whereas they are venial sins that are found in all. Therefore backbiting is a venial sin.
Praeterea, Augustinus, in homilia de igne Purg., inter peccata minuta ponit, quando cum omni facilitate vel temeritate maledicimus, quod pertinet ad detractionem. Ergo detractio est peccatum veniale.   Objection 3: Further, Augustine in a homily On the Fire of Purgatory [*Serm. civ in the appendix to St. Augustine's work] reckons it a slight sin "to speak ill without hesitation or forethought." But this pertains to backbiting. Therefore backbiting is a venial sin.
Sed contra est quod Rom. I dicitur, detractores, Deo odibiles, quod ideo additur, ut dicit Glossa, ne leve putetur propter hoc quod consistit in verbis.   On the contrary, It is written (Rm. 1:30): "Backbiters, hateful to God," which epithet, according to a gloss, is inserted, "lest it be deemed a slight sin because it consists in words."
Respondeo dicendum quod, sicut supra dictum est, peccata verborum maxime sunt ex intentione dicentis diiudicanda. Detractio autem, secundum suam rationem, ordinatur ad denigrandam famam alicuius. Unde ille, per se loquendo, detrahit qui ad hoc de aliquo obloquitur, eo absente, ut eius famam denigret. Auferre autem alicui famam valde grave est, quia inter res temporales videtur fama esse pretiosior, per cuius defectum homo impeditur a multis bene agendis. Propter quod dicitur Eccli. XLI, curam habe de bono nomine, hoc enim magis permanebit tibi quam mille thesauri magni et pretiosi. Et ideo detractio, per se loquendo, est peccatum mortale. Contingit tamen quandoque quod aliquis dicit aliqua verba per quae diminuitur fama alicuius, non hoc intendens, sed aliquid aliud hoc autem non est detrahere per se et formaliter loquendo, sed solum materialiter et quasi per accidens. Et si quidem verba per quae fama alterius diminuitur proferat aliquis propter aliquod bonum vel necessarium, debitis circumstantiis observatis, non est peccatum, nec potest dici detractio. Si autem proferat ex animi levitate, vel propter aliquid non necessarium, non est peccatum mortale, nisi forte verbum quod dicitur sit adeo grave quod notabiliter famam alicuius laedat, et praecipue in his quae pertinent ad honestatem vitae; quia hoc ex ipso genere verborum habet rationem peccati mortalis. Et tenetur aliquis ad restitutionem famae, sicut ad restitutionem cuiuslibet rei subtractae, eo modo quo supra dictum est, cum de restitutione ageretur.   I answer that, As stated above (Question [72], Article [2]), sins of word should be judged chiefly from the intention of the speaker. Now backbiting by its very nature aims at blackening a man's good name. Wherefore, properly speaking, to backbite is to speak ill of an absent person in order to blacken his good name. Now it is a very grave matter to blacken a man's good name, because of all temporal things a man's good name seems the most precious, since for lack of it he is hindered from doing many things well. For this reason it is written (Ecclus. 41:15): "Take care of a good name, for this shall continue with thee, more than a thousand treasures precious and great." Therefore backbiting, properly speaking, is a mortal sin. Nevertheless it happens sometimes that a man utters words, whereby someone's good name is tarnished, and yet he does not intend this, but something else. This is not backbiting strictly and formally speaking, but only materially and accidentally as it were. And if such defamatory words be uttered for the sake of some necessary good, and with attention to the due circumstances, it is not a sin and cannot be called backbiting. But if they be uttered out of lightness of heart or for some unnecessary motive, it is not a mortal sin, unless perchance the spoken word be of such a grave nature, as to cause a notable injury to a man's good name, especially in matters pertaining to his moral character, because from the very nature of the words this would be a mortal sin. And one is bound to restore a man his good name, no less than any other thing one has taken from him, in the manner stated above (Question [62], Article [2]) when we were treating of restitution.
Ad primum ergo dicendum quod revelare peccatum occultum alicuius propter eius emendationem denuntiando, vel propter bonum publicae iustitiae accusando, non est detrahere, ut dictum est.   Reply to Objection 1: As stated above, it is not backbiting to reveal a man's hidden sin in order that he may mend, whether one denounce it, or accuse him for the good of public justice.
Ad secundum dicendum quod Glossa illa non dicit quod detractio in toto genere humano inveniatur, sed addit, paene. Tum quia stultorum infinitus est numerus, et pauci sunt qui ambulant per viam salutis. Tum etiam quia pauci vel nulli sunt qui non aliquando ex animi levitate aliquid dicunt unde in aliquo, vel leviter, alterius fama minoratur, quia, ut dicitur Iac. III, si quis in verbo non offendit, hic perfectus est vir.   Reply to Objection 2: This gloss does not assert that backbiting is to be found throughout the whole of mankind, but "almost," both because "the number of fools is infinite," [*Eccles. 1:15] and few are they that walk in the way of salvation, [*Cf. Mt. 7:14] and because there are few or none at all who do not at times speak from lightness of heart, so as to injure someone's good name at least slightly, for it is written (James 3:2): "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man."
Ad tertium dicendum quod Augustinus loquitur in casu illo quo aliquis dicit aliquod leve malum de alio non ex intentione nocendi, sed ex animi levitate vel ex lapsu linguae.   Reply to Objection 3: Augustine is referring to the case when a man utters a slight evil about someone, not intending to injure him, but through lightness of heart or a slip of the tongue.


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Article: 3  [<< | >>]

Whether backbiting is the gravest of all sins committed against one's neighbor?

Ad tertium sic proceditur. Videtur quod detractio sit gravius omnibus peccatis quae in proximum committuntur. Quia super illud Psalm., pro eo ut me diligerent, detrahebant mihi, dicit Glossa, plus nocent in membris detrahentes Christo, quia animas crediturorum interficiunt, quam qui eius carnem, mox resurrecturam, peremerunt. Ex quo videtur quod detractio sit gravius peccatum quam homicidium, quanto gravius est occidere animam quam occidere corpus. Sed homicidium est gravius inter cetera peccata quae in proximum committuntur. Ergo detractio est simpliciter inter omnia gravior.   Objection 1: It would seem that backbiting is the gravest of all sins committed against one's neighbor. Because a gloss on Ps. 108:4, "Instead of making me a return of love they detracted me," a gloss says: "Those who detract Christ in His members and slay the souls of future believers are more guilty than those who killed the flesh that was soon to rise again." From this it seems to follow that backbiting is by so much a graver sin than murder, as it is a graver matter to kill the soul than to kill the body. Now murder is the gravest of the other sins that are committed against one's neighbor. Therefore backbiting is absolutely the gravest of all.
Praeterea, detractio videtur esse gravius peccatum quam contumelia quia contumeliam potest homo repellere, non autem detractionem latentem. Sed contumelia videtur esse maius peccatum quam adulterium, per hoc quod adulterium unit duos in unam carnem, contumelia autem unitos in multa dividit. Ergo detractio est maius peccatum quam adulterium, quod tamen, inter alia peccata quae sunt in proximum, magnam gravitatem habet.   Objection 2: Further, backbiting is apparently a graver sin than reviling, because a man can withstand reviling, but not a secret backbiting. Now backbiting is seemingly a graver sin than adultery, because adultery unites two persons in one flesh, whereas reviling severs utterly those who were united. Therefore backbiting is more grievous than adultery: and yet of all other sins a man commits against his neighbor, adultery is most grave.
Praeterea, contumelia oritur ex ira, detractio autem ex invidia, ut patet per Gregorium, XXXI Moral. Sed invidia est maius peccatum quam ira. Ergo et detractio est maius peccatum quam contumelia. Et sic idem quod prius.   Objection 3: Further, reviling arises from anger, while backbiting arises from envy, according to Gregory (Moral. xxxi, 45). But envy is a graver sin than anger. Therefore backbiting is a graver sin than reviling; and so the same conclusion follows as before.
Praeterea, tanto aliquod peccatum est gravius quanto graviorem defectum inducit. Sed detractio inducit gravissimum defectum, scilicet excaecationem mentis, dicit enim Gregorius, quid aliud detrahentes faciunt nisi quod in pulverem sufflant et in oculos suos terram excitant, ut unde plus detractionis perflant, inde minus veritatis videant? Ergo detractio est gravissimum peccatum inter ea quae committuntur in proximum.   Objection 4: Further, the gravity of a sin is measured by the gravity of the defect that it causes. Now backbiting causes a most grievous defect, viz. blindness of mind. For Gregory says (Regist. xi, Ep. 2): "What else do backbiters but blow on the dust and stir up the dirt into their eyes, so that the more they breathe of detraction, the less they see of the truth?" Therefore backbiting is the most grievous sin committed against one's neighbor.
Sed contra, gravius est peccare facto quam verbo. Sed detractio est peccatum verbi, adulterium autem et homicidium et furtum sunt peccata in factis. Ergo detractio non est gravius ceteris peccatis quae sunt in proximum.   On the contrary, It is more grievous to sin by deed than by word. But backbiting is a sin of word, while adultery, murder, and theft are sins of deed. Therefore backbiting is not graver than the other sins committed against one's neighbor.
Respondeo dicendum quod peccata quae committuntur in proximum sunt pensanda per se quidem secundum nocumenta quae proximo inferuntur, quia ex hoc habent rationem culpae. Tanto autem est maius nocumentum quanto maius bonum demitur. Cum autem sit triplex bonum hominis, scilicet bonum animae et bonum corporis et bonum exteriorum rerum, bonum animae, quod est maximum, non potest alicui ab alio tolli nisi occasionaliter, puta per malam persuasionem, quae necessitatem non infert, sed alia duo bona, scilicet corporis et exteriorum rerum, possunt ab alio violenter auferri. Sed quia bonum corporis praeeminet bono exteriorum rerum, graviora sunt peccata quibus infertur nocumentum corpori quam ea quibus infertur nocumentum exterioribus rebus. Unde inter cetera peccata quae sunt in proximum, homicidium gravius est, per quod tollitur vita proximi iam actu existens, consequenter autem adulterium, quod est contra debitum ordinem generationis humanae, per quam est introitus ad vitam. Consequenter autem sunt exteriora bona. Inter quae, fama praeeminet divitiis, eo quod propinquior est spiritualibus bonis, unde dicitur Prov. XXII, melius est nomen bonum quam divitiae multae. Et ideo detractio, secundum suum genus, est maius peccatum quam furtum, minus tamen quam homicidium vel adulterium. Potest tamen esse alius ordo propter circumstantias aggravantes vel diminuentes.   I answer that, The essential gravity of sins committed against one's neighbor must be weighed by the injury they inflict on him, since it is thence that they derive their sinful nature. Now the greater the good taken away, the greater the injury. And while man's good is threefold, namely the good of his soul, the good of his body, and the good of external things; the good of the soul, which is the greatest of all, cannot be taken from him by another save as an occasional cause, for instance by an evil persuasion, which does not induce necessity. On the other hand the two latter goods, viz. of the body and of external things, can be taken away by violence. Since, however, the goods of the body excel the goods of external things, those sins which injure a man's body are more grievous than those which injure his external things. Consequently, among other sins committed against one's neighbor, murder is the most grievous, since it deprives man of the life which he already possesses: after this comes adultery, which is contrary to the right order of human generation, whereby man enters upon life. In the last place come external goods, among which a man's good name takes precedence of wealth because it is more akin to spiritual goods, wherefore it is written (Prov. 22:1): "A good name is better than great riches." Therefore backbiting according to its genus is a more grievous sin than theft, but is less grievous than murder or adultery. Nevertheless the order may differ by reason of aggravating or extenuating circumstances.
Per accidens autem gravitas peccati attenditur ex parte peccantis, qui gravius peccat si ex deliberatione peccet quam si peccet ex infirmitate vel incautela. Et secundum hoc peccata locutionis habent aliquam levitatem, inquantum de facili ex lapsu linguae proveniunt, absque magna praemeditatione.    The accidental gravity of a sin is to be considered in relation to the sinner, who sins more grievously, if he sins deliberately than if he sins through weakness or carelessness. In this respect sins of word have a certain levity, in so far as they are apt to occur through a slip of the tongue, and without much forethought.
Ad primum ergo dicendum quod illi qui detrahunt Christo impedientes fidem membrorum ipsius, derogant divinitati eius, cui fides innititur. Unde non est simplex detractio, sed blasphemia.   Reply to Objection 1: Those who detract Christ by hindering the faith of His members, disparage His Godhead, which is the foundation of our faith. Wherefore this is not simple backbiting but blasphemy.
Ad secundum dicendum quod gravius peccatum est contumelia quam detractio, inquantum habet maiorem contemptum proximi, sicut et rapina est gravius peccatum quam furtum, ut supra dictum est. Contumelia tamen non est gravius peccatum quam adulterium, non enim gravitas adulterii pensatur ex coniunctione corporum, sed ex deordinatione generationis humanae. Contumeliosus autem non sufficienter causat inimicitiam in alio, sed occasionaliter tantum dividit unitos, inquantum scilicet per hoc quod mala alterius promit, alios, quantum in se est, ab eius amicitia separat, licet ad hoc per eius verba non cogantur. Sic etiam et detractor occasionaliter est homicida, inquantum scilicet per sua verba dat alteri occasionem ut proximum odiat vel contemnat. Propter quod in epistola Clementis dicitur detractores esse homicidas, scilicet occasionaliter, quia qui odit fratrem suum, homicida est, ut dicitur I Ioan. III.   Reply to Objection 2: Reviling is a more grievous sin than backbiting, in as much as it implies greater contempt of one's neighbor: even as robbery is a graver sin than theft, as stated above (Question [66], Article [9]). Yet reviling is not a more grievous sin than adultery. For the gravity of adultery is measured, not from its being a union of bodies, but from being a disorder in human generation. Moreover the reviler is not the sufficient cause of unfriendliness in another man, but is only the occasional cause of division among those who were united, in so far, to wit, as by declaring the evils of another, he for his own part severs that man from the friendship of other men, though they are not forced by his words to do so. Accordingly a backbiter is a murderer "occasionally," since by his words he gives another man an occasion for hating or despising his neighbor. For this reason it is stated in the Epistle of Clement [*Ad Jacob. Ep. i], that "backbiters are murderers," i.e. occasionally; because "he that hateth his brother is a murderer" (1 Jn. 3:15).
Ad tertium dicendum quod quia ira quaerit in manifesto vindictam inferre, ut philosophus dicit, in II Rhet., ideo detractio, quae est in occulto, non est filia irae, sicut contumelia; sed magis invidiae, quae nititur qualitercumque minuere gloriam proximi. Nec tamen sequitur propter hoc quod detractio sit gravior quam contumelia, quia ex minori vitio potest oriri maius peccatum, sicut ex ira nascitur homicidium et blasphemia. Origo enim peccatorum attenditur secundum inclinationem ad finem, quod est ex parte conversionis, gravitas autem peccati magis attenditur ex parte aversionis.   Reply to Objection 3: Anger seeks openly to be avenged, as the Philosopher states (Rhet. ii, 2): wherefore backbiting which takes place in secret, is not the daughter of anger, as reviling is, but rather of envy, which strives by any means to lessen one's neighbor's glory. Nor does it follow from this that backbiting is more grievous than reviling: since a lesser vice can give rise to a greater sin, just as anger gives birth to murder and blasphemy. For the origin of a sin depends on its inclination to an end, i.e. on the thing to which the sin turns, whereas the gravity of a sin depends on what it turns away from.
Ad quartum dicendum quod quia homo laetatur in sententia oris sui, ut dicitur Prov. XV, inde est quod ille qui detrahit incipit magis amare et credere quod dicit; et per consequens proximum magis odire; et sic magis recedere a cognitione veritatis. Iste tamen effectus potest sequi etiam ex aliis peccatis quae pertinent ad odium proximi.   Reply to Objection 4: Since "a man rejoiceth in the sentence of his mouth" (Prov. 15:23), it follows that a backbiter more and more loves and believes what he says, and consequently more and more hates his neighbor, and thus his knowledge of the truth becomes less and less. This effect however may also result from other sins pertaining to hate of one's neighbor.


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Question: 73  [<< | >>]
Article: 4  [<< | >>]

Whether it is a grave sin for the listener to suffer the backbiter?

Ad quartum sic proceditur. Videtur quod audiens qui tolerat detrahentem non graviter peccet. Non enim aliquis magis tenetur alteri quam sibi ipsi. Sed laudabile est si patienter homo suos detractores toleret, dicit enim Gregorius, super Ezech. Homil. IX, linguas detrahentium, sicut nostro studio non debemus excitare, ne ipsi pereant; ita per suam malitiam excitatas debemus aequanimiter tolerare, ut nobis meritum crescat. Ergo non peccat aliquis si detractionibus aliorum non resistat.   Objection 1: It would seem that the listener who suffers a backbiter does not sin grievously. For a man is not under greater obligations to others than to himself. But it is praiseworthy for a man to suffer his own backbiters: for Gregory says (Hom. ix, super Ezech): "Just as we ought not to incite the tongue of backbiters, lest they perish, so ought we to suffer them with equanimity when they have been incited by their own wickedness, in order that our merit may be the greater." Therefore a man does not sin if he does not withstand those who backbite others.
Praeterea, Eccli. IV dicitur, non contradicas verbo veritatis ullo modo. Sed quandoque aliquis detrahit verba veritatis dicendo, ut supra dictum est. Ergo videtur quod non semper teneatur homo detractionibus resistere.   Objection 2: Further, it is written (Ecclus. 4:30): "In no wise speak against the truth." Now sometimes a person tells the truth while backbiting, as stated above (Article [1], ad 3). Therefore it seems that one is not always bound to withstand a backbiter.
Praeterea, nullus debet impedire id quod est in utilitatem aliorum. Sed detractio frequenter est in utilitatem eorum contra quos detrahitur, dicit enim pius Papa, nonnunquam detractio adversus bonos excitatur, ut quos vel domestica adulatio vel aliorum favor in altum extulerat, detractio humiliet. Ergo aliquis non debet detractiones impedire.   Objection 3: Further, no man should hinder what is profitable to others. Now backbiting is often profitable to those who are backbitten: for Pope Pius [*St. Pius I] says [*Append. Grat. ad can. Oves, caus. vi, qu. 1]: "Not unfrequently backbiting is directed against good persons, with the result that those who have been unduly exalted through the flattery of their kindred, or the favor of others, are humbled by backbiting." Therefore one ought not to withstand backbiters.
Sed contra est quod Hieronymus dicit, cave ne linguam aut aures habeas prurientes, aut aliis detrahas, aut alios audias detrahentes.   On the contrary, Jerome says (Ep. ad Nepot. lii): "Take care not to have an itching tongue, nor tingling ears, that is, neither detract others nor listen to backbiters."
Respondeo dicendum quod, secundum apostolum, ad Rom. I, digni sunt morte non solum qui peccata faciunt, sed etiam qui facientibus peccata consentiunt. Quod quidem contingit dupliciter. Uno modo, directe, quando scilicet quis inducit alium ad peccatum, vel ei placet peccatum. Alio modo, indirecte, quando scilicet non resistit, cum resistere possit, et hoc contingit quandoque non quia peccatum placeat, sed propter aliquem humanum timorem.   I answer that, According to the Apostle (Rm. 1:32), they "are worthy of death . . . not only they that" commit sins, "but they also that consent to them that do them." Now this happens in two ways. First, directly, when, to wit, one man induces another to sin, or when the sin is pleasing to him: secondly, indirectly, that is, if he does not withstand him when he might do so, and this happens sometimes, not because the sin is pleasing to him, but on account of some human fear.
Dicendum est ergo quod si aliquis detractiones audiat absque resistentia, videtur detractori consentire, unde fit particeps peccati eius. Et si quidem inducat eum ad detrahendum, vel saltem placeat ei detractio, propter odium eius cui detrahitur, non minus peccat quam detrahens, et quandoque magis. Unde Bernardus dicit, detrahere, aut detrahentem audire, quid horum damnabilius sit, non facile dixerim. Si vero non placeat ei peccatum, sed ex timore vel negligentia vel etiam verecundia quadam omittat repellere detrahentem, peccat quidem, sed multo minus quam detrahens, et plerumque venialiter. Quandoque etiam hoc potest esse peccatum mortale, vel propter hoc quod alicui ex officio incumbit detrahentem corrigere; vel propter aliquod periculum consequens; vel propter radicem, qua timor humanus quandoque potest esse peccatum mortale, ut supra habitum est.    Accordingly we must say that if a man listens to backbiting without resisting it, he seems to consent to the backbiter, so that he becomes a participator in his sin. And if he induces him to backbite, or at least if the detraction be pleasing to him on account of his hatred of the person detracted, he sins no less than the detractor, and sometimes more. Wherefore Bernard says (De Consid. ii, 13): "It is difficult to say which is the more to be condemned the backbiter or he that listens to backbiting." If however the sin is not pleasing to him, and he fails to withstand the backbiter, through fear negligence, or even shame, he sins indeed, but much less than the backbiter, and, as a rule venially. Sometimes too this may be a mortal sin, either because it is his official duty to cor. rect the backbiter, or by reason of some consequent danger; or on account of the radical reason for which human fear may sometimes be a mortal sin, as stated above (Question [19], Article [3]).
Ad primum ergo dicendum quod detractiones suas nullus audit, quia scilicet mala quae dicuntur de aliquo eo audiente, non sunt detractiones, proprie loquendo, sed contumeliae, ut dictum est. Possunt tamen ad notitiam alicuius detractiones contra ipsum factae aliorum relationibus pervenire. Et tunc sui arbitrii est detrimentum suae famae pati, nisi hoc vergat in periculum aliorum, ut supra dictum est. Et ideo in hoc potest commendari eius patientia quod patienter proprias detractiones sustinet. Non autem est sui arbitrii quod patiatur detrimentum famae alterius. Et ideo in culpam ei vertitur si non resistit, cum possit resistere, eadem ratione qua tenetur aliquis sublevare asinum alterius iacentem sub onere, ut praecipitur Deut. XXII.   Reply to Objection 1: No man hears himself backbitten, because when a man is spoken evil of in his hearing, it is not backbiting, properly speaking, but reviling, as stated above (Article [1], ad 2). Yet it is possible for the detractions uttered against a person to come to his knowledge through others telling him, and then it is left to his discretion whether he will suffer their detriment to his good name, unless this endanger the good of others, as stated above (Question [72], Article [3]). Wherefore his patience may deserve commendation for as much as he suffers patiently being detracted himself. But it is not left to his discretion to permit an injury to be done to another's good name, hence he is accounted guilty if he fails to resist when he can, for the same reason whereby a man is bound to raise another man's ass lying "underneath his burden," as commanded in Dt. 21:4 [*Ex. 23:5].
Ad secundum dicendum quod non semper debet aliquis resistere detractori arguendo eum de falsitate, maxime si quis sciat verum esse quod dicitur. Sed debet eum verbis redarguere de hoc quod peccat fratri detrahendo, vel saltem ostendere quod ei detractio displiceat per tristitiam faciei; quia, ut dicitur Prov. XXV, ventus Aquilo dissipat pluvias, et facies tristis linguam detrahentem.   Reply to Objection 2: One ought not always to withstand a backbiter by endeavoring to convince him of falsehood, especially if one knows that he is speaking the truth: rather ought one to reprove him with words, for that he sins in backbiting his brother, or at least by our pained demeanor show him that we are displeased with his backbiting, because according to Prov. 25:23, "the north wind driveth away rain, as doth a sad countenance a backbiting tongue."
Ad tertium dicendum quod utilitas quae ex detractione provenit non est ex intentione detrahentis, sed ex Dei ordinatione, qui ex quolibet malo elicit bonum. Et ideo nihilo minus est detractoribus resistendum, sicut et raptoribus vel oppressoribus aliorum, quamvis ex hoc oppressis vel spoliatis per patientiam meritum crescat.   Reply to Objection 3: The profit one derives from being backbitten is due, not to the intention of the backbiter, but to the ordinance of God Who produces good out of every evil. Hence we should none the less withstand backbiters, just as those who rob or oppress others, even though the oppressed and the robbed may gain merit by patience.

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