Calumny and Detraction

Both calumny and detraction unjustly damage a person’s reputation by revealing a fault. The calumniator knows the accusation to be false, whereas the detractor believes it to be true. Here is what four Franciscan saints have to say about detraction:

St. Francis of Assisi describes the sin quite vividly: “The sin of detraction is the impediment to the very source of piety and grace; it is abominable in the sight of God, because the detractor feeds on the blood of the souls which he has murdered with the sword of his tongue.”

He argues that “the malice of the detractor is far greater than that of the thief, because the law of Christ, which is fulfilled by showing mercy, commands us to desire more ardently the salvation of the soul than the safety of the body.”

He further states: “The tongue is the instrument of life and death to man, not on account of the food it takes, but on account of the words it utters.”

St. Leonard of Port Maurice gives this advice on dealing with detractors: “Detraction is the poison of conversation. Never let any one who is given to this fault meet with any applause or approbation from you. On the contrary, do what you can to justify your neighbour, or else show your displeasure by a significant silence, or by turning the conversation, where this is practicable.”

St. Francis exhorts us: “Be modest, showing kindness to all, never judging or condemning anybody. And, as our Lord says, let us not pay attention to the small sins of others, but rather ponder on our own in the bitterness of our hearts.”

St. Bonaventure adds: “Beware of ever repeating what you have heard of others, unless it be something very edifying.”

Finally, the learned St. Antony of Padua offers this useful advice: “Use your ears oftener than your tongue. One often repents of having spoken, and scarcely ever of having been silent.”

Quotations from Flowers from the Garden of Saint Francis for Every Day of the Year (London: Burns and Oates, 1882).

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