St. Thomas Aquinas

The Summa Theologica

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

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Question: 74 [ << | >> ]

OF TALE-BEARING [*'Susurratio,' i.e. whispering] (TWO ARTICLES)

Deinde considerandum est de susurratione. Et circa hoc quaeruntur duo. We must now consider tale-bearing: under which head there are two points of inquiry:
Primo, utrum susurratio sit peccatum distinctum a detractione. (1) Whether tale-bearing is a sin distinct from backbiting?
Secundo, quod horum sit gravius. (2) Which of the two is the more grievous?

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Whether tale-bearing is a sin distinct from backbiting?

Ad primum sic proceditur. Videtur quod susurratio non sit peccatum distinctum a detractione. Dicit enim Isidorus, in libro Etymol., susurro de sono locutionis appellatur, quia non in facie alicuius, sed in aure loquitur, detrahendo. Sed loqui de altero detrahendo ad detractionem pertinet. Ergo susurratio non est peccatum distinctum a detractione. Objection 1: It would seem that tale-bearing is not a distinct sin from backbiting. Isidore says (Etym. x): "The susurro [tale-bearer] takes his name from the sound of his speech, for he speaks disparagingly not to the face but into the ear." But to speak of another disparagingly belongs to backbiting. Therefore tale-bearing is not a distinct sin from backbiting.
Praeterea, Levit. XIX dicitur, non eris criminator nec susurro in populis. Sed criminator idem videtur esse quod detractor. Ergo etiam susurratio a detractione non differt. Objection 2: Further, it is written (Lev. 19:16): "Thou shalt not be an informer [Douay: 'a detractor'] nor a tale-bearer [Douay: 'whisperer'] among the people." But an informer is apparently the same as a backbiter. Therefore neither does tale-bearing differ from backbiting.
Praeterea, Eccli. XXVIII dicitur, susurro et bilinguis maledictus erit. Sed bilinguis videtur idem esse quod detractor, quia detractorum est duplici lingua loqui, aliter scilicet in absentia et aliter in praesentia. Ergo susurro est idem quod detractor. Objection 3: Further, it is written (Ecclus. 28:15): "The tale-bearer [Douay: 'whisperer'] and the double-tongued is accursed." But a double-tongued man is apparently the same as a backbiter, because a backbiter speaks with a double tongue, with one in your absence, with another in your presence. Therefore a tale-bearer is the same as a backbiter.
Sed contra est quod, Rom. I, super illud, susurrones, detractores, dicit Glossa, susurrones, inter amicos discordiam seminantes; detractores, qui aliorum bona negant vel minuunt. On the contrary, A gloss on Rm. 1:29,30, "Tale-bearers, backbiters [Douay: 'whisperers, detractors']" says: "Tale-bearers sow discord among friends; backbiters deny or disparage others' good points."
Respondeo dicendum quod susurratio et detractio in materia conveniunt, et etiam in forma, sive in modo loquendi, quia uterque malum occulte de proximo dicit. Propter quam similitudinem interdum unum pro alio ponitur, unde Eccli. V, super illud, non appelleris susurro, dicit Glossa, idest detractor. Differunt autem in fine. Quia detractor intendit denigrare famam proximi, unde illa mala de proximo praecipue profert ex quibus proximus infamari possit, vel saltem diminui eius fama. Susurro autem intendit amicitiam separare, ut patet per Glossam inductam, et per id quod dicitur Prov. XXVI, susurrone subtracto, iurgia conquiescunt. Et ideo susurro talia mala profert de proximo quae possunt contra ipsum commovere animum audientis, secundum illud Eccli. XXVIII, vir peccator conturbabit amicos, et in medio pacem habentium immittit inimicitiam. I answer that, The tale-bearer and the backbiter agree in matter, and also in form or mode of speaking, since they both speak evil secretly of their neighbor: and for this reason these terms are sometimes used one for the other. Hence a gloss on Ecclus. 5:16, "Be not called a tale-bearer [Douay: 'whisperer']" says: "i.e. a backbiter." They differ however in end, because the backbiter intends to blacken his neighbor's good name, wherefore he brings forward those evils especially about his neighbor which are likely to defame him, or at least to depreciate his good name: whereas a tale-bearer intends to sever friendship, as appears from the gloss quoted above and from the saying of Prov. 26:20, "Where the tale-bearer is taken away, contentions shall cease." Hence it is that a tale-bearer speaks such ill about his neighbors as may stir his hearer's mind against them, according to Ecclus. 28:11, "A sinful man will trouble his friends, and bring in debate in the midst of them that are at peace."
Ad primum ergo dicendum quod susurro, inquantum dicit malum de alio, dicitur detrahere. In hoc tamen differt a detractore, quia non intendit simpliciter malum dicere; sed quidquid sit illud quod possit animum unius turbare contra alium, etiam si sit simpliciter bonum, et tamen apparens malum, inquantum displicet ei cui dicitur. Reply to Objection 1: A tale-bearer is called a backbiter in so far as he speaks ill of another; yet he differs from a backbiter since he intends not to speak ill as such, but to say anything that may stir one man against another, though it be good simply, and yet has a semblance of evil through being unpleasant to the hearer.
Ad secundum dicendum quod criminator differt et a susurrone et a detractore. Quia criminator est qui publice aliis crimina imponit, vel accusando vel conviciando, quod non pertinet ad detractorem et susurronem. Reply to Objection 2: An informer differs from a tale-bearer and a backbiter, for an informer is one who charges others publicly with crimes, either by accusing or by railing them, which does not apply to a backbiter or tale-bearer.
Ad tertium dicendum quod bilinguis proprie dicitur susurro. Cum enim amicitia sit inter duos, nititur susurro ex utraque parte amicitiam rumpere, et ideo duabus linguis utitur ad duos, uni dicens malum de alio. Propter quod dicitur Eccli. XXVIII, susurro et bilinguis maledictus, et subditur, multos enim turbant pacem habentes. Reply to Objection 3: A double-tongued person is properly speaking a tale-bearer. For since friendship is between two, the tale-bearer strives to sever friendship on both sides. Hence he employs a double tongue towards two persons, by speaking ill of one to the other: wherefore it is written (Ecclus. 28:15): "The tale-bearer [Douay: 'whisperer'] and the double-tongued is accursed," and then it is added, "for he hath troubled many that were peace."

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Whether backbiting is a graver sin than tale-bearing?

Ad secundum sic proceditur. Videtur quod detractio sit gravius peccatum quam susurratio. Peccata enim oris consistunt in hoc quod aliquis mala dicit. Sed detractor dicit de proximo ea quae sunt mala simpliciter, quia ex talibus oritur infamia vel diminuitur fama, susurro autem non curat dicere nisi mala apparentia, quae scilicet displiceant audienti. Ergo gravius peccatum est detractio quam susurratio. Objection 1: It would seem that backbiting is a graver sin than tale-bearing. For sins of word consist in speaking evil. Now a backbiter speaks of his neighbor things that are evil simply, for such things lead to the loss or depreciation of his good name: whereas a tale-bearer is only intent on saying what is apparently evil, because to wit they are unpleasant to the hearer. Therefore backbiting is a graver sin than tale-bearing.
Praeterea, quicumque aufert alicui famam, aufert ei non solum unum amicum, sed multos, quia unusquisque refugit amicitiam infamium personarum; unde contra quendam dicitur, II Paralip. XIX, his qui oderunt dominum amicitia iungeris. Susurratio autem aufert unum solum amicum. Gravius ergo peccatum est detractio quam susurratio. Objection 2: Further, he that deprives. a man of his good name, deprives him not merely of one friend, but of many, because everyone is minded to scorn the friendship of a person with a bad name. Hence it is reproached against a certain individual [*King Josaphat] (2 Paralip 19:2): "Thou art joined in friendship with them that hate the Lord." But tale-bearing deprives one of only one friend. Therefore backbiting is a graver sin than tale-bearing.
Praeterea, Iac. IV dicitur, qui detrahit fratri suo, detrahit legi; et per consequens Deo, qui est legislator, et sic peccatum detractionis videtur esse peccatum in Deum, quod est gravissimum, ut supra habitum est. Peccatum autem susurrationis est in proximum. Ergo peccatum detractionis est gravius quam peccatum susurrationis. Objection 3: Further, it is written (James 4:11): "He that backbiteth [Douay:,'detracteth'] his brother... detracteth the law," and consequently God the giver of the law. Wherefore the sin of backbiting seems to be a sin against God, which is most grievous, as stated above (Question [20], Article [3]; FS, Question [73], Article [3]). On the other hand the sin of tale-bearing is against one's neighbor. Therefore the sin of backbiting is graver than the sin of tale-bearing.
Sed contra est quod dicitur Eccli. V, denotatio pessima super bilinguem, susurratori autem odium et inimicitia et contumelia. On the contrary, It is written (Ecclus. 5:17): "An evil mark of disgrace is upon the double-tongued; but to the tale-bearer [Douay: 'whisperer'] hatred, and enmity, and reproach."
Respondeo dicendum quod, sicut supra dictum est, peccatum in proximum tanto est gravius quanto per ipsum maius nocumentum proximo infertur, nocumentum autem tanto maius est quanto maius est bonum quod tollitur. Inter cetera vero exteriora bona praeeminet amicus, quia sine amicis nullus vivere posset, ut patet per philosophum, in VIII Ethic. Unde dicitur Eccli. VI, amico fideli nulla est comparatio, quia et optima fama, quae per detractionem tollitur, ad hoc maxime necessaria est ut homo idoneus ad amicitiam habeatur. Et ideo susurratio est maius peccatum quam detractio, et etiam quam contumelia, quia amicus est melior quam honor, et amari quam honorari, ut in VIII Ethic. philosophus dicit. I answer that, As stated above (Question [73], Article [3]; FS, Question [73], Article [8]), sins against one's neighbor are the more grievous, according as they inflict a greater injury on him: and an injury is so much the greater, according to the greatness of the good which it takes away. Now of all one's external goods a friend takes the first place, since "no man can live without friends," as the Philosopher declares (Ethic. viii, 1). Hence it is written (Ecclus. 6:15): "Nothing can be compared to a faithful friend." Again, a man's good name whereof backbiting deprives him, is most necessary to him that he may be fitted for friendship. Therefore tale-bearing is a greater sin than backbiting or even reviling, because a friend is better than honor, and to be loved is better than to be honored, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. viii).
Ad primum ergo dicendum quod species et gravitas peccati magis attenditur ex fine quam ex materiali obiecto. Et ideo ratione finis susurratio est gravior, quamvis detractor quandoque peiora dicat. Reply to Objection 1: The species and gravity of a sin depend on the end rather than on the material object, wherefore, by reason of its end, tale-bearing is worse than backbiting, although sometimes the backbiter says worse things.
Ad secundum dicendum quod fama est dispositio ad amicitiam, et infamia ad inimicitiam. Dispositio autem deficit ab eo ad quod disponit. Et ideo ille qui operatur ad aliquid quod est dispositio ad inimicitiam, minus peccat quam ille qui directe operatur ad inimicitiam inducendam. Reply to Objection 2: A good name is a disposition for friendship, and a bad name is a disposition for enmity. But a disposition falls short of the thing for which it disposes. Hence to do anything that leads to a disposition for enmity is a less grievous sin than to do what conduces directly to enmity.
Ad tertium dicendum quod ille qui detrahit fratri intantum videtur detrahere legi inquantum contemnit praeceptum de dilectione proximi. Contra quod directius agit qui amicitiam disrumpere nititur. Unde hoc peccatum maxime contra Deum est, quia Deus dilectio est, ut dicitur I Ioan. IV. Et propter hoc dicitur Prov. VI, sex sunt quae odit dominus, et septimum detestatur anima eius, et hoc septimum ponit eum qui seminat inter fratres discordiam. Reply to Objection 3: He that backbites his brother, seems to detract the law, in so far as he despises the precept of love for one's neighbor: while he that strives to sever friendship seems to act more directly against this precept. Hence the latter sin is more specially against God, because "God is charity" (1 Jn. 4:16), and for this reason it is written (Prov. 6:16): "Six things there are, which the Lord hateth, and the seventh His soul detesteth," and the seventh is "he (Prov. 6:19) that soweth discord among brethren."

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