Other counsels touching Discourse

Jun 29th, 2021 • 4 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 188:

Chapter XXX.

Other counsels touching Discourse

Let your speech be meek, frank, open, and sincere, without the least mixture of equivocation, artifice, or dissimulation; for, although it may not be advisable to tell all that is true, yet it is never allowable to speak against the truth. Accustom yourself, therefore, never to tell a deliberate lie, either by way of excuse or otherwise; remembering always that God is the God of truth. Should you tell a lie unawares, fail not to correct it on the spot by some explanation or reparation: an honest excuse has always more grace and force to bear one harmless than a lie.

Though one may sometimes prudently disguise the truth by some artifice of words, yet it must never be done but when the glory and service of God manifestly require it; in any other case such artifices are dangerous. “Thy Holy Spirit will have nothing to do with the deceitful.” (Wisd. i.) No artifice is so good and desirable as plain dealing: worldly prudence or artifice belongs to the children of the world, but the children of God walk uprightly and their hearts are without guile. “He that walketh sincerely,” says the wise man, “walketh confidently” (Prov. x. 9). Lying, double-dealing, and dissimulation are always signs of a weak and mean spirit.

St. Augustine has said, in the Fourth Book of his Confessions: “That his soul and that of his friend were but one soul; and that he had a horror of his life after the death of his friend, because he was not willing to live by halves; and yet that, for the same cause he was unwilling to die, lest his friend should die wholly.” These words seemed to him afterwards so artificial and affected, that he recalled them, and censured them in his Book of Retractations. Observe, Philothea, the tenderness of that holy soul with respect to the least artifice in his words.

Fidelity, plainness, and sincerity of speech are the greatest ornaments of a Christian life. “I will take heed,” says David, “of my ways, that I offend not with my tongue” (Ps. xxxviii.); and again: “Set, O Lord, a watch before my mouth, and a door round about my lips.” (Ps. cxi.)

It was the advice of St. Louis, in order to avoid contention, not to contradict anyone in discourse, unless it were either sinful, or some great prejudice to acquiesce with him; but should it be necessary to contradict, or oppose our own opinion to that of another, we must do it with such mildness and dexterity as not to exasperate his spirit, for nothing is ever gained by harshness and violence.

To speak little (a practice so much recommended by all wise men), is not to be understood that we should utter but few words, but that we should not speak unprofitable words; for in speaking the quantity should not be considered so much as the quality of the words; but, in my opinion, we ought to fly both extremes. For to be too reserved, and to refuse to join in conversation, looks like disdain or a want of confidence; and, on the other hand, constant talking, so that others are not afforded either leisure or opportunity to speak when they desire to do so, is a mark of shallowness and levity.

St. Louis condemned whispering in company, and particularly at table, lest it should give others occasion to suspect that some evil was spoken of them. He said: “He that is at table, in good company, and has something to say that is merry and pleasant, should speak it so that all the company may hear him, but if it be a thing of importance let him keep silent.”

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