Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION LXXII.: OF INJURIOUS LANGUAGE OUT OF COURT, AND FIRST OF CONTUMELY. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION LXXII.: OF INJURIOUS LANGUAGE OUT OF COURT, AND FIRST OF CONTUMELY. - St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2) 
Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas. A Translation of the Principal Portions of the Second part of the Summa Theologica, with Notes by Joseph Rickaby, S.J. (London: Burns and Oates, 1892).
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OF INJURIOUS LANGUAGE OUT OF COURT, AND FIRST OF CONTUMELY.
Article I.—Does contumely consist in words?
R. Contumely implies the dishonouring of another, which may be done in two ways. Seeing that honour follows upon excellence, one way of dishonouring another is to rob him of the excellence for which he was honoured: which is done by sins of deed. Another way is when one brings that which makes against the honour of another to the notice of the party himself and of others: which is done by signs. But as Augustine says: “Other signs are few, compared with words: for words amongst men bear the principal part in signifying all the thoughts of the mind.” And therefore contumely, properly speaking, consists in words. Still because in sundry deeds also there is a certain signification, the name of contumely is extended also to deeds.
§ 1. It is the greater contumely, if one tells another his defect before many; and yet, if he tells it him in private it may be contumely, inasmuch as the speaker acts unjustly against the reverence due to his hearer.
Article II.—Is contumely a mortal sin?
R. Words as mere sounds do not hurt any, but only inasmuch as they signify something, which signification proceeds from the interior disposition of the speaker. And therefore in sins of word the great point to consider is the interior disposition with which the words are uttered. Since then contumely essentially involves a certain dishonour, if the speaker’s intention is fixed on taking away the honour of the hearer by the words that he utters, this properly and in itself is to utter contumely; and that is a mortal sin no less than theft or robbery, for a man loves his honour not less than his property. But if one has spoken a word of contumely to another with no purpose of dishonouring him, but perhaps for his correction or for some other end, that is not uttering contumely formally and in itself, but incidentally and materially, inasmuch as the speaker says that which may be contumely: hence this may be sometimes a venial sin, sometimes no sin at all. Discretion however is needed in the matter to use such words moderately: because the reproach might be so severe as that the incautious utterance of it would take away the honour of the person assailed; and then a man might sin mortally, even though he did not intend the dishonour of the other; as one who striking another in jest should do him grievous hurt would not be free from blame.
§ 1. It is witty to utter some slight taunt, not to dishonour or grieve the person at whom it is levelled, but rather for amusement and joke; and this may be without sin, if due circumstances are observed. But if one shrinks not from aggrieving him at whom he levels his wit, provided only he can raise a laugh,—that is vicious.
Article III.—Ought a man to bear the contumelies put upon him?
R. As patience is necessary in what is done against us, so also in what is said against us. But the precepts of patience in what is done against us are to be kept “in readiness of heart,” as Augustine says on the Lord’s precept: “If one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other:”1 that is to say, a man should be prepared so to behave, if there be occasion. But he is not bound always actually to behave so; for neither did the Lord Himself do that; but when He had received a blow, He said: “Why strikest thou me?”2 And therefore the same is also to be understood as regards contumelious words, when they are spoken to us. For we are bound to have our heart in readiness to bear contumelies, if it be expedient. Sometimes however we must rebut the contumely put upon us, for two reasons chiefly: the one is the good of him who offers the contumely, that his boldness may be checked and he may not try such things on again, according to the text: “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he imagine himself to be wise;”1 the other is for the good of the many, whose advancement is hindered by the contumelies put on us. Hence Gregory says: “They whose life is set up for an example to imitate ought, if they can, to restrain the utterances of them that disparage them, lest those who might otherwise have listened refuse now to hear their preaching, and so remain in their evil ways and scorn a good life.”
§ 2. The greed of private honour is not so much to be dreaded in the repressing of contumelies offered to another as in the rebutting of what is levelled at ourselves. The former seems rather to be a course dictated by charity.
§ 3. If a man were to hold his peace on purpose to provoke his assailant to anger, that would be an act of vindictiveness; but if he holds his peace as wishing to give place to anger, it is praiseworthy. Hence it is said: “Strive not with a man that is full of tongue, and heap not wood on his fire.”2
[1 ]St. Matt. v. 39.
[2 ]St. John xvii. 23.
[1 ]Prov. xxvi. 5.
[2 ]Ecclus. viii. 4.