QUESTION 115: OF FLATTERY
We must now consider the vices opposed to the aforesaid virtue: (1)
Flattery, and (2) Quarreling. Concerning flattery there are two points of
(1) Whether flattery is a sin?
(2) Whether it is a mortal sin?
Article 1: Whether flattery is a sin?
Objection 1: It seems that flattery is not a sin. For flattery consists in
words of praise offered to another in order to please him. But it is not
a sin to praise a person, according to Prov. 31:28, "Her children rose up
and called her blessed: her husband, and he praised her." Moreover, there
is no evil in wishing to please others, according to 1 Cor. 10:33, "I . .
. in all things please all men." Therefore flattery is not a sin.
Objection 2: Further, evil is contrary to good, and blame to praise. But it is
not a sin to blame evil. Neither, then, is it a sin to praise good, which
seems to belong to flattery. Therefore flattery is not a sin.
Objection 3: Further, detraction is contrary to flattery. Wherefore Gregory
says (Moral. xxii, 5) that detraction is a remedy against flattery. "It
must be observed," says he, "that by the wonderful moderation of our
Ruler, we are often allowed to be rent by detractions but are uplifted by
immoderate praise, so that whom the voice of the flatterer upraises, the
tongue of the detractor may humble." But detraction is an evil, as stated
above (Question , Articles ,3). Therefore flattery is a good.
On the contrary, A gloss on Ezech. 13:18, "Woe to them that sew cushions
under every elbow," says, "that is to say, sweet flattery." Therefore
flattery is a sin.
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article , ad 3), although the
friendship of which we have been speaking, or affability, intends chiefly
the pleasure of those among whom one lives, yet it does not fear to
displease when it is a question of obtaining a certain good, or of
avoiding a certain evil. Accordingly, if a man were to wish always to
speak pleasantly to others, he would exceed the mode of pleasing, and
would therefore sin by excess. If he do this with the mere intention of
pleasing he is said to be "complaisant," according to the Philosopher
(Ethic. iv, 6): whereas if he do it with the intention of making some
gain out of it, he is called a "flatterer" or "adulator." As a rule,
however, the term "flattery" is wont to be applied to all who wish to
exceed the mode of virtue in pleasing others by words or deeds in their
ordinary behavior towards their fellows.
Reply to Objection 1: One may praise a person both well and ill, according as one
observes or omits the due circumstances. For if while observing other due
circumstances one were to wish to please a person by praising him, in
order thereby to console him, or that he may strive to make progress in
good, this will belong to the aforesaid virtue of friendship. But it
would belong to flattery, if one wished to praise a person for things in
which he ought not to be praised; since perhaps they are evil, according
to Ps. 9:24, "The sinner is praised in the desires of his soul"; or they
may be uncertain, according to Ecclus. 27:8, "Praise not a man before he
speaketh," and again (Ecclus. 11:2), "Praise not a man for his beauty";
or because there may be fear lest human praise should incite him to
vainglory, wherefore it is written, (Ecclus. 11:30), "Praise not any man
before death." Again, in like manner it is right to wish to please a man
in order to foster charity, so that he may make spiritual progress
therein. But it would be sinful to wish to please men for the sake of
vainglory or gain, or to please them in something evil, according to Ps.
52:6, "God hath scattered the bones of them that please men," and
according to the words of the Apostle (Gal. 1:10), "If I yet pleased men,
I should not be the servant of Christ."
Reply to Objection 2: Even to blame evil is sinful, if due circumstances be not
observed; and so too is it to praise good.
Reply to Objection 3: Nothing hinders two vices being contrary to one another.
Wherefore even as detraction is evil, so is flattery, which is contrary
thereto as regards what is said, but not directly as regards the end.
Because flattery seeks to please the person flattered, whereas the
detractor seeks not the displeasure of the person defamed, since at times
he defames him in secret, but seeks rather his defamation.
Article 2: Whether flattery is a mortal sin?
Objection 1: It seems that flattery is a mortal sin. For, according to
Augustine (Enchiridion xii), "a thing is evil because it is harmful." But
flattery is most harmful, according to Ps. 9:24, "For the sinner is
praised in the desires of his soul, and the unjust man is blessed. The
sinner hath provoked the Lord." Wherefore Jerome says (Ep. ad Celant):
"Nothing so easily corrupts the human mind as flattery": and a gloss on
Ps. 69:4, "Let them be presently turned away blushing for shame that say
to me: 'Tis well, 'Tis well," says: "The tongue of the flatterer harms
more than the sword of the persecutor." Therefore flattery is a most
Objection 2: Further, whoever does harm by words, harms himself no less than
others: wherefore it is written (Ps. 36:15): "Let their sword enter into
their own hearts." Now he that flatters another induces him to sin
mortally: hence a gloss on Ps. 140:5, "Let not the oil of the sinner
fatten my head," says: "The false praise of the flatterer softens the
mind by depriving it of the rigidity of truth and renders it susceptive
of vice." Much more, therefore, does the flatterer sin in himself.
Objection 3: Further, it is written in the Decretals (D. XLVI, Cap. 3): "The
cleric who shall be found to spend his time in flattery and treachery
shall be degraded from his office." Now such a punishment as this is not
inflicted save for mortal sin. Therefore flattery is a mortal sin.
On the contrary, Augustine in a sermon on Purgatory (xli, de Sanctis) reckons among slight sins, "if one desire to flatter any person of higher standing, whether of one's own choice, or out of necessity."
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article ), a mortal sin is one that
is contrary to charity. Now flattery is sometimes contrary to charity and
sometimes not. It is contrary to charity in three ways. First, by reason
of the very matter, as when one man praises another's sin: for this is
contrary to the love of God, against Whose justice he speaks, and
contrary to the love of his neighbor, whom he encourages to sin.
Wherefore this is a mortal sin, according to Is. 5:20. "Woe to you that
call evil good." Secondly, by reason of the intention, as when one man
flatters another, so that by deceiving him he may injure him in body or
in soul; this is also a mortal sin, and of this it is written (Prov. 27:6): "Better are the wounds of a friend than the deceitful kisses of an
enemy." Thirdly, by way of occasion, as when the praise of a flatterer,
even without his intending it, becomes to another an occasion of sin. In
this case it is necessary to consider, whether the occasion were given or
taken, and how grievous the consequent downfall, as may be understood
from what has been said above concerning scandal (Question , Articles ,4). If,
however, one man flatters another from the mere craving to please others,
or again in order to avoid some evil, or to acquire something in a case
of necessity, this is not contrary to charity. Consequently it is not a
mortal but a venial sin.
Reply to Objection 1: The passages quoted speak of the flatterer who praises another's sin. Flattery of this kind is said to harm more than the sword of the persecutor, since it does harm to goods that are of greater consequence. namely, spiritual goods. Yet it does not harm so efficaciously, since the sword of the persecutor slays effectively, being a sufficient cause of death; whereas no one by flattering can be a sufficient cause of another's sinning, as was shown above (Question , Article , ad 3; FS, Question , Article , ad 3; FS, Question , Article ).
Reply to Objection 2: This argument applies to one that flatters with the
intention of doing harm: for such a man harms himself more than others,
since he harms himself, as the sufficient cause of sinning, whereas he is
only the occasional cause of the harm he does to others.
Reply to Objection 3: The passage quoted refers to the man who flatters another
treacherously, in order to deceive him.