24 June 2011


An excerpt from,
Sins of the Tongue: The Backbiting Tongue
by Father Belet, of the Diocese of Basle
Translated from the French, 1870 ed.

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

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

2. When he brings a hidden or unknown fault to light. What he says is true, but he should not say it. He backbites, not by saying something untrue, but by wounding his neighbor's reputation. This is a very common sin among us.Now you might object, "Do you mean to say I can't tell the truth ?" No, my friend. It is not permitted, unless you can do so without harming your neighbor. What you say is true, I admit, but it is hidden. The sinner has wounded his conscience in God's sight, but he has not lost his reputation before men; therefore, you may not weaken or destroy it with your tongue. And even if the sin you reveal is not altogether secret but known only to a few, as long as it is not public knowledge, you are backbiting if you reveal it to someone who was unaware of it And thus you are harming your neighbor.

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

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

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

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

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

8. Finally, a person is guilty of backbiting if he is publicly blamed for something he did, and he denies his guilt, thereby making his accuser pass for a liar. It is surely not an obligation to publicly admit a fault committed in secret. However, one should justify himself in some other way, saying, for instance, "Those are only words, they don't prove anything. Whoever heard them may have been mistaken. Don't believe everything you hear." This way of speaking is far more acceptable than the first.II.That is how backbiting does its diabolical work. It changes costume so slickly, we can hardly recognize it. Malice is ingenious: It spots a beam where there is only a wisp of straw, an elephant where there is only a fly, a mountain high as the Alps where there is only a molehill. It turns dream into reality and taints the virtues of others so skilfully with its own colors that we mistake them for vices."