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Against speaking badly of others for any reason

3 min • Digitized on December 28, 2021

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 97
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley


There is no kind of disposition more displeasing to men than one which is obstinate and contradictory. People of this sort are pests of conversation, firebrands in social intercourse, sowers of discord. Like hedgehogs and horse-chestnuts, they have prickles all over them, and cannot be handled.

On the other hand, a gentle, pliable, condescending disposition, which is ready to give way to others, is a living charm. It is like the honeycomb which attracts every sort of fly; it becomes everybody’s master, because it makes itself everybody’s servant; being all things to all men, it wins them all.

People of a peevish, morose disposition soon find themselves left alone in a mighty solitude; they are avoided like thistles which prick whoever touches them.

Our Blessed Father always spoke with the highest praise of the dictum of St. Louis, that we should never speak evil of anyone, unless when by our silence we should seem to hold with him in his wrong-doing, and so give scandal to others.

The holy King did not inculcate this from motives of worldly prudence, which he detested; nor was he following the maxim of that pagan Emperor, who declared that no one, in quitting the presence of his Sovereign, should ever be suffered to go away dissatisfied, a saying dictated by cunning and with the object of teaching his fellow-potentates to win men by fair words.

No, St. Louis was travelling by a very different road, and spoke in a truly Christian spirit, desiring only to hinder disputes and contentions, and to follow the advice af St. Paul, who wishes that we should avoid contentions and strivings. [Titus iii. 9.]

But if, when it is in our power to do so, we do not openly condemn the fault or error of another, will not that be a sort of connivance at, and consequently a participation in, the wrong-doing? Our Blessed Father answers that difficulty thus:

When it is a question of contradicting another, and of setting your opinion against his, it must be done with the utmost gentleness and tact, and without any desire to wound the feelings of the other; for nothing is gained by taking things ill-temperedly.

If you irritate a horse by teasing him he will, if he has any mettle, take the bit between his teeth and carry you just where he pleases. But when you slacken the rein he stops and becomes tractable.

So it is with the mind of another; if you force it to assent, you humble it; if you humble it, you irritate it; if you irritate it, you utterly lose hold of it. The mind may be persuaded; it cannot be constrained; to force it to believe is to force it from all belief.

Is mildness come upon us? says David; then are we corrected. [Psalm lxxxix. 10.] The Spirit of God, gentle and sweet, is in the soft refreshing zephyrs, not in the whirlwind, nor in the tempest. It is God’s enemy, the devil, who is called a spirit of contradiction; and such human beings as imitate him share his title.

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