QUESTION 74: OF TALE-BEARING
We must now consider tale-bearing: under which head there are two points
(1) Whether tale-bearing is a sin distinct from backbiting?
(2) Which of the two is the more grievous?
Article 1: Whether tale-bearing is a sin distinct from backbiting?
Objection 1: It would seem that tale-bearing is not a distinct sin from
backbiting. Isidore says (Etym. x): "The susurro [tale-bearer] takes his
name from the sound of his speech, for he speaks disparagingly not to the
face but into the ear." But to speak of another disparagingly belongs to
backbiting. Therefore tale-bearing is not a distinct sin from backbiting.
Objection 2: Further, it is written (Lev. 19:16): "Thou shalt not be an
informer [Douay: 'a detractor'] nor a tale-bearer [Douay: 'whisperer']
among the people." But an informer is apparently the same as a backbiter.
Therefore neither does tale-bearing differ from backbiting.
Objection 3: Further, it is written (Ecclus. 28:15): "The tale-bearer [Douay:
'whisperer'] and the double-tongued is accursed." But a double-tongued
man is apparently the same as a backbiter, because a backbiter speaks
with a double tongue, with one in your absence, with another in your
presence. Therefore a tale-bearer is the same as a backbiter.
On the contrary, A gloss on Rm. 1:29,30, "Tale-bearers, backbiters
[Douay: 'whisperers, detractors']" says: "Tale-bearers sow discord among
friends; backbiters deny or disparage others' good points."
I answer that, The tale-bearer and the backbiter agree in matter, and
also in form or mode of speaking, since they both speak evil secretly of
their neighbor: and for this reason these terms are sometimes used one
for the other. Hence a gloss on Ecclus. 5:16, "Be not called a
tale-bearer [Douay: 'whisperer']" says: "i.e. a backbiter." They differ
however in end, because the backbiter intends to blacken his neighbor's
good name, wherefore he brings forward those evils especially about his
neighbor which are likely to defame him, or at least to depreciate his
good name: whereas a tale-bearer intends to sever friendship, as appears
from the gloss quoted above and from the saying of Prov. 26:20, "Where
the tale-bearer is taken away, contentions shall cease." Hence it is that
a tale-bearer speaks such ill about his neighbors as may stir his
hearer's mind against them, according to Ecclus. 28:11, "A sinful man
will trouble his friends, and bring in debate in the midst of them that
are at peace."
Reply to Objection 1: A tale-bearer is called a backbiter in so far as he speaks
ill of another; yet he differs from a backbiter since he intends not to
speak ill as such, but to say anything that may stir one man against
another, though it be good simply, and yet has a semblance of evil
through being unpleasant to the hearer.
Reply to Objection 2: An informer differs from a tale-bearer and a backbiter, for
an informer is one who charges others publicly with crimes, either by
accusing or by railing them, which does not apply to a backbiter or
Reply to Objection 3: A double-tongued person is properly speaking a tale-bearer.
For since friendship is between two, the tale-bearer strives to sever
friendship on both sides. Hence he employs a double tongue towards two
persons, by speaking ill of one to the other: wherefore it is written
(Ecclus. 28:15): "The tale-bearer [Douay: 'whisperer'] and the
double-tongued is accursed," and then it is added, "for he hath troubled
many that were peace."
Article 2: Whether backbiting is a graver sin than tale-bearing?
Objection 1: It would seem that backbiting is a graver sin than tale-bearing.
For sins of word consist in speaking evil. Now a backbiter speaks of his
neighbor things that are evil simply, for such things lead to the loss or
depreciation of his good name: whereas a tale-bearer is only intent on
saying what is apparently evil, because to wit they are unpleasant to the
hearer. Therefore backbiting is a graver sin than tale-bearing.
Objection 2: Further, he that deprives. a man of his good name, deprives him
not merely of one friend, but of many, because everyone is minded to
scorn the friendship of a person with a bad name. Hence it is reproached
against a certain individual [*King Josaphat] (2 Paralip 19:2): "Thou art
joined in friendship with them that hate the Lord." But tale-bearing
deprives one of only one friend. Therefore backbiting is a graver sin
Objection 3: Further, it is written (James 4:11): "He that backbiteth
[Douay:,'detracteth'] his brother . . . detracteth the law," and
consequently God the giver of the law. Wherefore the sin of backbiting
seems to be a sin against God, which is most grievous, as stated above
(Question , Article ; FS, Question , Article ). On the other hand the sin of tale-bearing
is against one's neighbor. Therefore the sin of backbiting is graver than
the sin of tale-bearing.
On the contrary, It is written (Ecclus. 5:17): "An evil mark of disgrace
is upon the double-tongued; but to the tale-bearer [Douay: 'whisperer']
hatred, and enmity, and reproach."
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article ; FS, Question , Article ), sins
against one's neighbor are the more grievous, according as they inflict
a greater injury on him: and an injury is so much the greater, according
to the greatness of the good which it takes away. Now of all one's
external goods a friend takes the first place, since "no man can live
without friends," as the Philosopher declares (Ethic. viii, 1). Hence it
is written (Ecclus. 6:15): "Nothing can be compared to a faithful
friend." Again, a man's good name whereof backbiting deprives him, is
most necessary to him that he may be fitted for friendship. Therefore
tale-bearing is a greater sin than backbiting or even reviling, because a
friend is better than honor, and to be loved is better than to be
honored, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. viii).
Reply to Objection 1: The species and gravity of a sin depend on the end rather
than on the material object, wherefore, by reason of its end,
tale-bearing is worse than backbiting, although sometimes the backbiter
says worse things.
Reply to Objection 2: A good name is a disposition for friendship, and a bad name
is a disposition for enmity. But a disposition falls short of the thing
for which it disposes. Hence to do anything that leads to a disposition
for enmity is a less grievous sin than to do what conduces directly to
Reply to Objection 3: He that backbites his brother, seems to detract the law, in
so far as he despises the precept of love for one's neighbor: while he
that strives to sever friendship seems to act more directly against this
precept. Hence the latter sin is more specially against God, because "God
is charity" (1 Jn. 4:16), and for this reason it is written (Prov. 6:16):
"Six things there are, which the Lord hateth, and the seventh His soul
detesteth," and the seventh is "he (Prov. 6:19) that soweth discord among