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Twenty-five lashes

Grandad warned me gravely in the truck on the way over. He said that his neighbor, "Red", one of the retired officers with whom he worked at L.A.P.D., sometimes used very bad language, but that I was never to talk that way. My grandfather was a man of steel in many ways - an MP in the Second World War, twenty years of police work in Los Angeles, a U.S. Deputy Marshall, and finally a district court judge in northern California. He'd seen the very worst of humanity, and yet I don't ever remember him swearing. Perhaps he was used to watching his language around the grandchildren. He died in 1978, one of the last best men of the Old Republic.

Little did Grandad know, the language in my own home and school, in the films I watched and the books I read, was far worse than anything I ever heard from his neighbor.

Colonel Washington has observed that the men of his regiment are very profane and reprobate. He takes this opportunity to inform them of his great displeasure at such practices and assures them that if they do not leave them off, they shall be severely punished. The officers are desired, if they hear any man swear or make use of an oath or execration, to order the offender twenty-five lashes immediately, without court-martial. For the second offense, he will be more severely punished.

That's right, twenty-five lashes for swearing, without court-martial, under Colonel Washington's command. They say the past is another country, and that's certainly how it looks from here.

The ancients understood that there is great power in words, especially the spoken word. Much superstition developed around this power, but the power itself cannot be denied. For Christians, the Holy Name repels demons and opens the soul to the grace. Exorcists report that tormented spirits always spew the vilest obscenities before leaving their victims. There is power in words.

Western nominalism was, in part, an attempt to escape that power. Today, many use filthy and blasphemous language in defiance of that power, as if to prove that such power did not exist, though hardly anyone claims it does anymore. Rebellion continues long after the enemy is routed.

Comments (29)

"There is power in words. Western nominalism was, in part, an attempt to escape that power. Today, many use filthy and blasphemous language in defiance of that power, as if to prove that such power did not exist, though hardly anyone claims it does anymore. Rebellion continues long after the enemy is routed."

Good grief, Jeff. Get a new bogeyman, and start telling the truth.

Nominalism is not to blame for profanity. Profanity was around long before nominalism ever showed up. Why, it's been known to occur even among nominalism's most consistent and strident opponents. Further, please do name for me half a dozen early nominalists who were trying to escape the power of words. I honestly cannot think of single nominalist for whom that was the motivation behind his or her theory of language, meaning, and reference, such that (in the words of your false assertion) "Nominalism was, in part, an attempt to escape that power."

You also grossly exaggerate when you assert that when people employ filthy talk they are defying the power of words. It's because they think their words will produce an effect, an effect that arises from the very power of words, that they employ such language. I honestly have never heard any one who employs profanity say that they do so because they deny "There is power in words." As an ex-Marine, I have heard a fair bit of swearing. I have never heard a swearer explain of justify his or her language on that basis. Never.

One begins to think that you do not respect the power of words when you utter patent falsehoods against others and their motivations, even others who have been dead for many centuries, whose thoughts are not open to you, but about whom you falsely pontificate concerning their inner lives.

I have also thought it unfortunate that the otherwise fine spy novels of W. F Buckley were marred by his indulgence in avoidable descriptions of characters having sex.

I could only take 30min of the movie "Kick-Ass" and that was very generous - it was supposed to be a superhero movie. The language and obscenity was so bad I'm going to believe something of the writers/and or directors' motivations - malice.

Floggin's too good for 'em, especially given the rating and its target audience.

Bauman, I think that was a considerable overreaction on your part. I don't know if I would finger nominalism as the prime culprit for our society's vulgarity, but it certainly has contributed to the problem. In any case, Jeff's brief remarks hardly warrant so heated a comment.

Anecdotally, I think there are quite a number of people, particularly among Christians, who _would_ defend bad language on the grounds that it's "only words"--in other words, on nominalist grounds. I imagine that twenty-five years ago I might have done so myself, probably giving it a spin having to do with some sort of mild cultural relativism. ("Within your sub-culture those may be bad words, but they aren't elsewhere.") Anti-fundamentalism and reaction against what is seen as fundamentalism play a role here, too. The idea in an anti-fundamentalist use of bad language is a combination of "it's only words" with "and those silly fundies are really hung up about mere words" with "let's shock 'em to make 'em grow up." I read an article about a prominent Christian college a few years ago in which the author said that someone he'd been talking to said something to the effect that the students needed to be taught (or were learning) that they were allowed to use a certain swear word. The author said he wished the students would learn that they are allowed _not_ to use that word. Perhaps the nominalist defense of bad language is a "high-brow" phenomenon, but it would surprise me if it doesn't have a "low-brow" version, one which the high schools encourage. Even "everybody talks that way" has a tinge about it of "it doesn't matter; it's just what we do."

There are enough teachings in scripture about guarding our words that we need to be mindful of our language. The Lord said that man is made impure by what comes out of him because it comes from his heart. Therefore, if one can cuss like a sailor with ease, it should give them pause about the state of their own heart and soul.

War does summon the best and the worst, doesn't it?

There is heroism; and there is the dehumanising degradation leading to profanity; and worse.

Here is Paul Fussell, "Wartime," on such matters (See Chapter 7):


The nominalists rejected the realist error of reification, of making non-things into things. Nominalism had nothing at all to do then with rejecting or evading the power of words, or now with vulgarity.

Jeff's comments were scandalously false and slanderous of other Christians, both past and present. They deserve far more reaction than I gave them.

Oh, come, Michael. I know today is Michaelmas, but must you really make a fight out of defending all nominalists, past, present, and future? Surely you realize that the term has a meaning that most of us understand of being dismissive of the importance of word meanings or of things as "mere words" when they aren't "mere words."

Thank you, Paul and Lydia. My guess is that I dared to mention one of Michael Bauman's sacred cows in an unfavorable light, and his revenge is exposing me as someone who is ignorant of the history of nominalist thought, its nuances and exponents through the centuries. Mission accomplished, I am indeed so ignorant.

It's rich, though, for someone who has recently outed himself as a pure consequentialist to lecture me or anyone on the virtues of "telling the truth".

I do stand by my statement, that "nominalism was, in part, an attempt to escape that power" - the power of words. The power of words derives from the reality they represent; to deny the reality behind the words is to deny their power. Few people who blaspheme really believe their own blasphemies or expect any consequences: they are "mere words". Few people who say "f-you" truly wish to participate in gang-raping their adversary: they are "mere words".

Michael Bauman's point, that people use these words in order to produce an effect, is also correct - but from whence comes the effect? The desired effect, in the mind of the person employing the blasphemies or obscenities, is not supposed to derive from anything real: the effect is the result of the hearer's belief in the reality being signified. Shock is only possible if there are still people around who believe that words mean things.

So, when everyone is a nominalist (in the pedestrian sense, please), why do people still talk this way? They do so because they are divided and duplicitous. No one is truly a thoroughgoing nominalist, just as no one is truly a thoroughgoing relativist. It's just impossible to live this way. The nominalist and the relativist understand, on some level, that something called reality is always threatening to spoil their fun, and it must be continually mocked in order to be effectively suppressed. The war is never over.

I admit that when I am tempted to swear it is because I want to use the words against someone or something else. It's an expression of anger. When I replace the swear word or use of God's name in vain in my mind or in usage with some completely harmless euphemism (such as "oh, my goodness") I'm never satisfied with it, because it doesn't feel like a weapon to be used in anger anymore. This is precisely a sign that there was something wrong with the impulse in the first place.

This is precisely a sign that there was something wrong with the impulse in the first place.

Hence my point about words and the content of one's heart above...


Blasphemy and sacrilege are never justifiable. And without question, everyday language has become way, way too coarse. E.g. I'm quite sick of hearing F-bombs peppering the conversation of young people in every conceivable circumstance, and have had firmly to tell some of them to shut up when they are around my kids, or outside my office.

All the same, there are occasions when a little salty language is useful and even fitting. Slightly to change the metaphor, it's like red pepper -- not to everyone's taste, never to be used in great quantities, but something which can add a little zest here and there.

And while I hate nominalism with a passion, I don't see how it has anything to do with the excessive coarseness of today's speech. (Directly, anyway -- obviously it has something to do with a general decline of moral understanding, and thus a decline in understanding of what is fitting when and where. But I see no special connection to coarse speech per se.)

A kind of Platonic or Puritanical other-worldliness, on the other hand, might have something to do with the opposite, "butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth" extreme. As, I have noted before, it does elsewhere.

I don't know how non-Christians justify their coarse language, because I've never asked them. But as I mentioned, I do think that a cousin of nominalism is relevant to certain Christian justifications. The "argument" (if we can dignify it with that term) is that since these are _just words_ it's Pharasaical to ask that they not be used or to consider them offensive. Sometimes this gets connected to sola scriptura. (I don't know what Catholics say at this point.) In other words, since the Bible doesn't contain a list of words we shouldn't use (never mind all that stuff about controlling the tongue and letting your speech always be gracious), anyone who has any "hang-ups" about coarse language is a Pharisee, adding to God's commands.

When I replace the swear word or use of God's name in vain in my mind or in usage with some completely harmless euphemism (such as "oh, my goodness") I'm never satisfied with it, because it doesn't feel like a weapon to be used in anger anymore.

Lydia, my experience is a little different: If I have been careful for a good while and successfully avoided actual vulgarities, in my upset moments I am generally satisfied with some made-up words that literally have no meaning whatsoever, but sound like they ought to be swear words: GarFUNdlebunch, for example. If, on the other hand, I have been weak and lazy on maintaining watch over my tongue, I find that don't feel satisfied without actual vulgarities - or, at least, those words seem to be the first choice at such moments. I have heard that the term "wooden swearing" is used to describe made-up nonsense words that take the place of actual swear words, and that a proper Christian considers even wooden swearing to represent a failure of Christian virtues such as patience and humility. I cannot imagine Christ, for example, using wooden swearing when having a nail pierce his hand, or having Peter (for the umpteenth time) screw up in yet another situation.

My children seem to enjoy camping so much because it expands their vocabularity - like Calvin & Hobbes. I guess that means they enjoy in it exact inverse relationship to how I enjoy it.

I have heard that the term "wooden swearing" is used to describe made-up nonsense words

Actually, I think the phrase "wooden swearing" means kicking something, like a wooden box. I should look it up. But that kind of fits your point, too, because one can't imagine Jesus kicking something after pounding his thumb.

A study was reported this week that young children are becoming more potty-mouthed because of the example of their parents.

I know these are long, but they are germane to the topic of the thread, so, with the blogmeister's indulgence, I offer these: excerpts from two sermons by the Cure d'Ars [Anger Does not Travel Alone and All that You Say Over and Above These is of Evil], which may be found, here:


...Alas! If I have said that there are women who are unfortunate because they have husbands who are irritable and bad tempered, there are husbands who are no less unfortunate in having wives who do not know how to say a single gracious word, whom nothing can interest or absorb, except themselves. And what unhappiness results in that household where neither the one nor the other wants to give way! There are nothing but disputes, quarrels, and recriminations. Oh, dear God, is not this a real Hell? Alas, what training for the children of such homes! What lessons in wisdom and sweetness of temper can they receive? St. Basil tells us that anger makes a man resemble the Devil because it is only the Devil who is capable of giving way to these kinds of excesses.... And I would add that anger never travels alone. [It] is always accompanied by plenty of other sins....

You have heard an angry father using bad language, uttering imprecations and curses. Very well, then. Listen to his children when they are angry -- the same vile words, the same imprecations, and all the rest of it. Thus the vices of the parents -- like their good qualities -- pass to their children, but in more pronounced fashion. Cannibals kill only strangers, to eat them, but among Christians there are fathers and mothers who, in order to gratify their passions, desire the death of those to whom they have given life and who consign to the Devil those whom Jesus Christ redeemed with His precious Blood. How many times does one not hear those fathers and mothers who have no religion saying: "This cursed child.... You make me sick.... I wish you were miles away.... This so-and-so of a child....

These little brats.... This demon of a child...." And so on.

Oh, dear Lord, that such ugly and evil phrases should fall from the lips of fathers and mothers who should desire nothing but benedictions from Heaven upon their poor little children.

If we encounter so many children who are wild and undisciplined, without religion, bad tempered and stunted in their souls, we need not -- at least in the great majority of cases-search for the cause beyond the curses and bad tempers of the parents.

What, then, must we think of the sin of those who curse themselves in moments of worry and difficulty? This is an appalling crime which is contrary to nature and to grace, for both nature and grace inspire us with love for ourselves. Those who curse themselves are like insane people who die by their own hands. It is even worse than that. Often they lay the blame upon their own souls, saying: "Let God damn me! I wish the Devil would carry me off! I'd rather be in Hell than the way I am."

Oh, miserable creature, says St. Augustine, may God not take you at your word, for if He did, you would go to vomit the poison of your spleen in Hell. Oh, Lord, if a Christian but so thought of what he said.... How wretched indeed is the man who is the victim of anger! Will anyone ever be able to understand his mentality?

...But what should we do then? This is what we should do. We should make use of all the annoyances that happen to us to remind ourselves that since we are in revolt against God, it is but just that other creatures should revolt against us. We should never give others occasion to curse us.... If something irritating or troublesome happens, instead of loading with curses whatever is not going the way we want it to, it would be just as easy and a great deal more beneficial for us to say: "God bless it!"

Imitate the holy man Job, who blessed the name of the Lord in all the troubles which befell him, and you will receive the same graces as he did.... This is what I desire for you.


John Chrysostom tells us: If it is already a great crime to swear to something true, what is the enormity of the crime of the man who swears falsely to confirm a lie? The Holy Ghost tells us that he who utters lies will perish. The Prophet Zacharias assures us that the curse will come to the house of the person who swears to confirm a lie and that it will remain thereon until that house is overthrown and destroyed. St. Augustine tells us that perjury is a fearful crime and a ferocious beast which creates appalling havoc. And what about the people who even add to this sin? For there are those who will couple with their perjury an oath of execration by saying such things as: "If that is not true, may I never see the face of God! .... May God damn me! .... May the Devil make away with me! ....

Unhappy creatures! If the good God were to take you at your word, where would you be? For how many years already would you have been burning in the flames of Hell? Tell me, my children, can you really imagine that a Christian could deliberately be guilty of such a crime, of such horror? No, my dear brethren, no, it is inconceivable conduct on the part of a Christian.

You must examine your consciences as to whether you have had the determination to swear or to take a false oath and how many times you have had this thought -- that is to say, how many times you have been disposed to do it. A great number of Christians do not give even a thought to this, although it is a serious sin.

Yes, you will say to me, I thought of it, but then I did not do it But your heart did it, and since you were in the disposition to do it, you were guilty in the eyes of God. Alas, poor religion how little is known of you! We encounter in history a striking example of the punishment of those who swear false oaths. In the time of St. Narcissus, Bishop of Jerusalem, three young libertines, who were abandoned to impurity, horribly calumniated their holy bishop, accusing him of crimes of which they themselves were guilty.

They went before the judges and said that their bishop had committed such and such a sin, and they confirmed their testimony with the most appalling oaths.

The first said: "If I am not speaking the truth, let me be smothered."

The second: "If that is not true, I would be burned alive."

The third: "If that is not true, let me lose my eyes."

The justice of God was not slow in punishing them. The first was smothered and died horribly. In the case of the second, his house was set on fire by a burning brand from a bonfire in the town, and he was burned alive. The third, although he was punished, was happier than the others: he recognised his sin, did penance for it, and wept so much that he lost his sight Here is another example which is no less striking. We read in the history of the reign of St. Edward, King of England, that the Count Gondevin, who was the king's father-in-law, was so jealous and so proud that he could not get along with anyone in the king's court. One day the King accused him of having had a hand in his brother's death.

"If that is so," replied the Count, "may this piece of bread choke me."

With an open mind, the King took the piece of bread and made the Sign of the Cross over it. The other tried to eat the bread, but it stuck in his throat and choked him, and he died on the spot. You will agree with me, my dear brethren, after hearing these terrifying examples, that this sin must be very dreadful in the eyes of God for Him to want to punish it in so terrible a way.

Yet there are fathers and mothers, masters and mistresses, who at every moment of the day have these words on their lips: "Oh, what a dirty little swine! .... Ah, you little beast! .... Oh, you fool! .... I wish you'd die here and now, you annoy me so much! .... You couldn't be far enough away from me for my liking! .... You'll have a lot to answer for! ...."

(And, while I think of it, being foul-mouthed has a very close connection with cursing, too.) Yes, my dear brethren, there are parents who have so little religion that such words are always on their lips. Alas, how many poor children are weak and feeble of soul, sour -- vicious even -- as a result of the curses that their fathers and mothers laid upon them! We read in history that there was a mother who said to her child: "I wish you were dead, you are annoying me so much."

This unfortunate child fell dead at her feet.

Another mother said to her son: "May the Devil take you!"

The child disappeared without anyone knowing where he had gone or what had become of him. Dear God, what tragedy! Tragedy for the child and for the mother! There once lived a man well respected for his steady living who, returning one day from a journey, called his servant in a very offhand manner, saying to him: "Here, you, you old devil of a valet! Come and get my boots off!" Immediately his boots began to draw themselves off without anyone touching them.

He was absolutely terrified and started to cry out: "Go away, Satan! It wasn't you I called, but my valet!"

So much did he cry out that the Devil fled there and then and his boots stayed half pulled off. This instance shows us, my dear brethren, how closely the Devil hovers around us, waiting to cheat us and cause us to lose our souls whenever the opportunity presents itself. It was for this reason that, as we see, the first Christians had such a horror of the Devil that they did not even dare to pronounce his name. You should take great care, then, never to say it yourself and never to allow your children or your servants to say it either. If you do hear them saying is you must reprove them until you see that they have given up the habit altogether.

...There are still others who swear or promise to do something or to give something to another without having the slightest intention of doing or giving it. Before they promise something, they had better consider whether they will be able to fulfil it.

You should never say, before promising something, "If I don't do that now, may I never see God .... may I never stir from this place."

Take care, my brethren! These sins are more horrible than you will ever understand. If, for example, during a fit of anger, you vowed to be revenged, it is quite clear that not only should you not do such a thing but that, on the contrary, you should ask pardon from God for having such a thought. The Holy Ghost tells us that anyone who swears will be punished....

Now, you may ask me, what is to be understood by that word blasphemy? .... This, my dear children, is so horrible a sin that it would not seem possible that Christians should ever have the courage to commit it. Blasphemy is a word which connotes the hating and cursing of infinite beauty, which explains why this sin directly attacks God. St. Augustine tells us: "We blaspheme when we attribute to God anything which is not an attribute of God or which is not in keeping with Him, or if we dare to take from what would be in keeping with Him, or, finally, if we attribute to ourselves that which is in keeping with God and which belongs to Him alone."

I tell you, therefore, that we blaspheme: 1. When we say that God is not just in making some people so rich that they have everything in abundance while so many others are so wretched that they have difficulty in getting bread to eat.

2. When we say that He is not as good as people say, since He allows so many people to remain weak and despised by others while there are some who are loved and respected by everyone.

3. Or if we say that God does not see everything, that He does not know what is going on in the world.

4. If we say: "If God shows mercy to So-and-So, He is not just because that man has done too much harm."

5. Or again, when we come up against some loss or setback and we lose our temper with God and say such things as: "Ah, but I certainly have bad luck! God cannot do any more to me! I believe that He does not even know I am in the world, or if He does know, it is only so that He can make me suffer!"

It is also blasphemy to criticise the Blessed Virgin and the Saints by saying such things as: "That one has not much power! I don't know how many prayers I have said to him (or her), and I have never got anything."

St. Thomas tells us that blasphemy is an insulting and outrageous utterance against God or the saints. This may be done in four ways: 1. By affirmation, as when we say: "God is cruel and unjust to allow me to suffer so many wrongs, to allow anyone to calumniate me like that, to allow me to lose that money or this lawsuit. I am very unfortunate! Everything is going wrong with me. I cannot have anything, while everything is going well with other people."

2. It is blasphemy to say that God is not all-powerful and that one can do anything without Him. It was blasphemy for Sennacherib, the King of the Assyrians, to besiege the town of Jerusalem, saying that in spite of God he would take the town.

He mocked at God, saying that He was not powerful enough to stop him from entering the town and putting it to fire and the sword. But God, in order to punish this wretched man and to show him that He was indeed all-powerful, sent an angel who in one single night killed one hundred and eighty thousand of his men. On the following morning, when the King saw his army massacred and did not know by whom, he was terrified and fled to Nineveh, where he himself was killed by his own two children.

3. It is blasphemy to bestow upon some creature that which is due God alone, like those unhappy creatures who will say to some sinful creature, who is the object of their passions: "I love you with all the fervour of my heart.... I worship you.... l adore you." This is a sin which provokes horror, and yet is at least common enough in practice.

4. It is horrible blasphemy to damn something in the name of God.

This sin of blasphemy is so great and so hideous in the eyes of God that it draws down all sorts of evils upon the world. The Jews had such a horror of blasphemies that when they heard anyone blaspheming, they rent their garments. They did not dare even to pronounce the word but called it "Benediction."

The holy man Job had such fear that his children had blasphemed that he offered sacrifices to God in case they had....

St. Augustine says that those who blaspheme Jesus Christ in Heaven are more cruel than those who crucified Him on earth.

The bad thief blasphemed Jesus Christ when He was on the Cross, saying: "If thou be Christ, save thyself and us." The Prophet Nathan said to King David: "Because thou hast given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, for this thing, the child that is born to thee shall surely die." God tells us that whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall die. We read in Holy Scripture that the people brought a man to Moses who had blasphemed. Moses consulted the Lord, who told him that he must have the man brought to a field and put to death, that is to say, stoned to death.

We can say that blasphemy is truly the language of Hell. St. Louis, King of France, had such a horror of this sin that he ordained that all blasphemers should be branded on the forehead. An important person from Paris, who had blasphemed, was brought to the King and several people interceded for him, but the King said that he would die himself in order to wipe out this dreadful sin, and he ordered that the man should be punished. The tongues of those who were wicked enough to commit this crime were cut out by order of the Emperor Justin.

During the reign of Robert, the kingdom of France was overwhelmed by all kinds of evils, and God revealed to a Saint that while the blasphemies continued, the chastisements would continue, too. A law was enacted which condemned all those who blasphemed to have their tongues pierced with a red-hot iron for the first offence and ordered that on the second offence they should be executed.

Be warned, my dear brethren, that if blasphemy reigns in your homes, all therein will perish. St. Augustine tells us that blasphemy is an even greater sin than perjury because, as he says, by perjury we take the name of God in witness of something which is false, whereas in blasphemy we are saying something false of God. What a crime is this! And who amongst us has ever fully understood it? St. Thomas, again, tells us that there is another kind of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost which can be committed in three ways: 1. By attributing to the Devil the works of Almighty God, as did the Jews when they said that Jesus Christ drove out devils in the name of the prince of devils, as did the tyrants and persecutors who attributed to the Devil and to magic the miracles performed by the saints.

It is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, St. Augustine tells us, to die in final impenitence. Impenitence is a spirit of blasphemy, since the remission of our sins is achieved through love, which is the Holy Ghost.

3. We blaspheme when we perform actions which are directly opposed to the goodness of God -- as when we despair of our salvation and yet are not willing to take the necessary steps to obtain it; as when we are angered because others receive more graces than we do. Take great care never to allow yourselves to fall into these kinds of sins because they are so very horrible! In this way we look upon Almighty God as unjust because He gives more to others than He does to us.

Have you never blasphemed, my dear brethren, by saying that Providence is only for the rich and the wicked? If something went wrong with your affairs, have you not blasphemed by saying: "But what did I do to God more than anyone else that I should have so much to put up with?"

What have you done, my friend? Lift up your eyes and you will see Him whom you have crucified. Have you not blasphemed, also, by saying that you were tempted beyond measure, that you could not do otherwise, that this was your lot? ....

Well, my dear brethren, did you never think along these lines?

.... So it is God who would have had you vicious, bad tempered, violent .... fornicators, adulterers, blasphemers! You do not believe in Original Sin, which dragged men down from the state of uprightness and justice in which we were all at first created!

It is stronger than you are.... But, my friends, did religion never come, then, to your aid to help you to understand all the corruption of Original Sin? And yet you dare, wretched sinner, to blaspheme against Him Who gave religion to you as the greatest gift which He could make you! Have you not also blasphemed against the Blessed Virgin and the saints? Have you not laughed at their virtues, at their penances and their miracles? Alas! In this evil century how many impious people do we not find who carry their impiousness to the point of actually scoffing at the Saints, who are in Heaven, and the just, who are on earth? How many are there who make fun of the austerities which the Saints practiced and who neither wish to serve God themselves nor tolerate that anyone else should serve Him either? Look again, my dear brethren, and see if you have uttered your swearing and your blasphemy to children. Unhappy people, what chastisements await you in the next life! What is the difference, you may ask me, between blasphemy and the repudiation of God? There is a very big difference, my dear brethren, between blasphemies and repudiations of God.

Now in speaking about repudiation, I do not want to talk about those people who repudiate God by abandoning the true religion. We call such people renegades or apostates. But I do want to talk about those people who, when they are speaking, have the dreadful habit, whether in sudden vexation or real passion, of attacking the holy name of God. For example, someone who has lost on a sale or on a gamble will inveigh against God as if he wanted to convince himself that God was the cause of his misfortune. If something happens to you, it seems that God should bear the brunt of all the fury of your resentment, as if God were the cause of your loss or of the accident which befell you. Unhappy sinner! He Who created you from nothing, Who preserves you, and Who fills you continually with blessings and gifts -- it is He whom you dare just the same to mock, to profane His holy name and to repudiate, while He, if He had been swayed solely by His justice, would long ago have consigned you to the flames of Hell.

We see that anyone who has the misfortune to commit these very grave sins usually comes to a bad end. There is an account of a man who was very ill and reduced to dire want. A missionary went to his home to see him and to hear his Confession, and to him the sick man said: "Father, God is punishing my outbursts of anger and rages, my blasphemies, and my repudiations of Him. I have been ill for quite a long time. I am very poor; all my wealth has come to a bad end. My children despise and abandon me; they are worthless because of the bad example I have given them. Already now for quite some time I have been suffering, lying here on this wretched bed. My tongue is all diseased and I cannot swallow anything without experiencing terrible agony. Alas, Father, I am very much afraid that after all this suffering in this world, I will still have to suffer in the next."

We see even in our own day that all those people who swear and profane the holy name of God almost always come to bad ends. Take good heed, my dear brethren, if you have this evil habit. You had better correct it, for fear that if you do not do penance for it in this world, you will be doing it in Hell. Never lose sight of the fact that your tongue should be employed in praying to God and in singing His praises. If you have the evil habit of swearing, you should often, in order to purify your lips, say the holy name of Jesus with great respect.

Now perhaps you will ask me what is understood by cursing and the uttering of imprecations. It means, my dear brethren, cursing a person or a thing or an animal in moments of anger or despair. It is wishing to destroy him or to make him suffer. The Holy Ghost tells us that the person who has the ready curse in his mouth should greatly fear, lest God should grant him what he desires. There are some who have the Devil always on their tongues, who consign to him everything which annoys them.

When they are at work, if an animal does not go the way they want it to, they will curse it and consign it to the Devil. There are others who, when the weather or the children do not behave as they would wish, call down maledictions upon one or the other.... Do not ever forget that the Holy Ghost tells us that a curse uttered irresponsibly or carelessly will fall upon someone. St. Thomas tells us that if we utter a curse against someone, the sin is mortal if we desire whatever it is we say to happen to that person. St. Augustine tells us that a mother cursed her children -- there were seven of them. They were all possessed by the Devil. Many children, who have been cursed by their parents, have been delicate and wretched throughout their lives. We read that there was once a mother whose daughter had put her into such a temper that she cried out: "I wish your arm would wither on you!" In fact, this child's arm did wither, almost immediately.

Married people should take great care never to utter these dreadful sayings to each other. There are some who, if they are unhappy in their homes, will curse their wives, their children, their parents, and all who in any way have any part in the marriage. Alas, my friends, the whole source of your unhappiness lies in yourself because you entered into marriage with a conscience quite steeped in sin. Think about that before Almighty God, and you will see that it is, in fact, the truth. Workers should never curse their work or those who make them work.

Besides, in any event, your imprecations will not make your affairs go any the better. On the contrary, if you have some patience, if you know how to offer up all your difficulties to God, you will bring yourself much nearer to Heaven.

Have you not also cursed the tools which serve you in your work, invoking maledictions upon them, your animals, and so on? That is the sort of thing, my dear brethren, which draws down all sorts of evils upon your animals, upon your labours, and upon your lands, which are often ravaged by hailstorms, by drenching rains, and by frosts. Have you not indeed cursed yourselves: "Ah! I wish I had never seen the light of day.... I wish I had been born dead.... I wish I were back in oblivion."

Alas! These are terrible sins, and quite a large number of people never accuse themselves of them in Confession or ever think about them. I will tell you yet again that you must never curse your children, your animals, your work, or the weather because in cursing all these things, you are cursing what Almighty God does by His holy will. Children should take care never to give occasion to their parents to curse them, which is the greatest of all evils. Often a child who is cursed by his parents is cursed by Almighty God. When someone has done something to you which has angered you very much, now instead of wishing him to the Devil, you would do far more good by saying to him: "May God bless you!" Then you would be a genuinely good servant of God who returns good for evil. In connection with this Commandment, there yet remains to be said something in the matter of the vows which people make. You should be very careful never to make vows without taking proper counsel beforehand. There are some people who, when they are ill, dedicate themselves to all the saints and then later on do not go to the trouble to fulfil their promises. You should also be careful that you make these vows properly, that is to say, while you are in a state of grace. What a number of sins are committed in the matter of these vows! And the whole business, instead of pleasing God, can only offend Him! If you were to ask me why it is that there are nowadays so many who swear, who take false oaths, who utter frightful curses and imprecations and repudiate God, I would reply that these same people, who give themselves up to such horrible practices, are those who have neither faith, nor religion, nor conscience, nor virtue. These are the people who, to a certain extent, are abandoned by God. How much happier we should be if we had the good fortune to employ our tongues, which have been consecrated to God by holy Baptism, solely in prayer to God, Who is so good, so benevolent, and to sing His praises! Since it is for that purpose that God has given us a tongue, let us try, my dear brethren, to consecrate it to Him, so that after this life we shall have the happiness of going to Heaven to bless Him for all eternity. This is what I desire for you.

To The Masked Chicken:

Thanks for posting these!

To Ed Feser:

Well, I'm not going to die on a hill defending my own pedestrian understanding of nominalism. The last word is yours. You also wrote:

All the same, there are occasions when a little salty language is useful and even fitting. Slightly to change the metaphor, it's like red pepper -- not to everyone's taste, never to be used in great quantities, but something which can add a little zest here and there.

I quite agree. However, I don't trust 99% of people to draw the lines in the right places, so I hesitate to promote the idea. It's best to have a customary prohibition that is understood by all, and let the envelope-pushers take their chances.

Fair enough, Jeff.

one can't imagine Jesus kicking something after pounding his thumb.

That won't happen because he would foresee the pounding and thus avoid it. :~)

I cannot imagine Christ, for example, using wooden swearing when having a nail pierce his hand

So what? I can't imagine, or at least won't let myself imagine, Christ doing all sorts of things: wearing a clown suit, enaging in marital relations, eating a corn dog, machine-gunning invading communist hordes, going to the toilet, cleaning out His nose, dancing the hokey-pokey, etc. etc. And yet none of these things is morally problematic. The reason we shouldn't dwell too much on the idea of Christ doing these things has to do with His unique dignity and special circumstances (e.g. His having been unmarried), and does not by itself tell us anything about whether they are allowable for us. Same with pseudo-cussing, or even actual cussing.

Lydia, if "Goodness gracious!" and the like are unsatisfying as alternatives to a good cuss-word (as, of course, they are -- that's why cuss-words exist), you might consider renting the movie Johnny Dangerously , in which one particular character continually utters nonsensical but absolutely filthy-sounding pseudo-cusswords: "You farging bastich," "icehole," "corksucker," etc. Give 'em a try!

BTW, my view doesn't rest on the claim that cuss-words are "just words," as if words qua words are unimportant. (E.g. words referring to God are extremely important and should never be used disrespectfully.) Rather, it rests on, among other things, the fact that there is nothing any more intrinsically wrong with saying "s**t" than there is anything intrinsically wrong in saying "excrement" or "feces." So, what can make it wrong to use such langauge has instead to do with circumstances, and I maintain that there is no good reason to think that circumstances always rule out such usage or never can justify it. Certainly I have never seen any good reasons for such a claim put forward.

Thanks but no thanks for the suggestions, Ed. The fact that they're utterly filthy sounding is, of course, the problem. I do use euphemisms. You'll see Andy Griffith-type euphemisms all through my writing and speech: Gee, darn, doggone, and the like. But a euphemism _for_ a really filthy word that _recalls to mind_ a pornographic word is a problem for that very reason, IMO.

I know -- I wasn't seriously suggesting it!

Btw, I think you have a good point about picturing Jesus doing something. That test can be misleading for the reason you suggest.

One of the main reasons for indulging in such expressions is to register (and, probably, evoke in others) a level of repudiation of some evil in your life. A gun safe falls on your foot, and you yell "Damnation."

According to the saints, even the small, momentary, and non-deliberated repudiation in your soul to the pain you suffer is finally NOT consistent with Christian perfection. In Christian perfection, you receive each evil that actually befalls you as God's own will for you in that moment, and therefore to be fully embraced interiorly as a measure of God's love for you. When you break out with an exclamation that invokes cussing, vulgarity, obscenity, blasphemy, or anything of the sort, you are indulging in your will a repudiation of the pain as something to be rejected rather than something to be accepted or embraced. THAT's the reason I raised the image of Christ using such words when he was on the receiving end of something: such usage would imply a defect of Christian perfection as it applies to all Christians (not the perfections that apply solely to him in his special character).

I suppose that there are some situations where the above might not be descriptive. Would Christ have utilized sulphurous adjectives while he was driving the money-changers out of the Temple? They certainly deserved some kind of evil names. And His very activity consisted of a repudiation of evil - but in this case, a moral evil to be driven away, rather than a physical evil to be suffered.

Ed, I am not too happy with your characterization: the fact that there is nothing any more intrinsically wrong with saying "s**t" than there is anything intrinsically wrong in saying "excrement" or "feces."

Although the denotation of "S**t" is identical to that of "excrement", the connotation is not. This applies even more for the word "F**k", and its replacement "intercourse". In the latter case, f*** confers a connotation of an activity performed specifically without attention to human norms of behavior, and therefore of necessity refers to an action degraded in a human context. Now, that itself doesn't make it intrinsically wrong to use f***, that's not my conclusion. There may be a situation where that actually is the most appropriate description of the event taking place. But since in 99 % of the places where it is used, it is not used as a perfectly literal and perfectly accurate descriptive, it is being used on account of its connotation presenting something different from what ought to be a humanly dignified action, its usage in the other 1 % can hardly take place without cognition of the weight of the other 99%.

Small facts tell more about a culture than many entire books.

Another favorite of mine on a related incident:

In the late nineteenth century, onetime Presiding Episcopal Bishop Daniel Tuttle thrashed a stage driver for swearing in the presence of a woman.

David T. Courtwright's "Violent Land" recounts how this commanded cowboys' respect:

ranchers, miners, and even an occasional sporting man, traveled from miles around to have a look at the fighting clergyman.

Our age finds such violence in response to "mere" words shocking (or alluring, for a particular kind of trad). What changed?

I see how it works.

When a realist falsely claims that nominalists are running from the power of words and attaches multiple insults to his falsehood, and when nominalists defend themselves against those falsehoods and insults, the defenders of realism themselves then run from the power of words, as if the falsehoods and insults didn't really matter, and they claim that the nominalist is just overreacting in defense of a sacred cow.

That sounds to me like one more realist invention of something unreal. After centuries of such inventions, perhaps these fictions have become a realist habit of mind.

Honestly, Michael, your continual pushing here has made it impossible for me to resist the temptation to ask: If you are so concerned to defend nominalists, past, present, and future, do the nominalists who convicted and burned Jan Hus (an early light of Protestantism *and a realist*) count among those you so hotly defend?


Defending nomimalism from false accusations isn't the same as defending nominalists against all things that all nominalists have done. I have never heard of a person who defends all nominalists or who defends nominalism on all points. If you think that's what I'm doing then you are radically misreading me. Who but you said anything about defending "nominalists, past, present, and future"? When the accusations against nominalism are false, we ought to resist them. When they are true, we ought to support them. What Jeff said about nominalism and nominalists in his original post was patently false and gratuitous.

And on what possible basis do you say that the Catholic officials at the Council of Constance were nominalists, and that Hus (a resolute follower of Wycliffe) was condemned for his realism or for any implication that arose from his realism, or that his realism was instrumental in his condemnation? He wasn't condemned for realism (or by nominalists). He was condemned for his ecclesiology, his denial that the papacy was a divinely instituted office, and for his view of the eucharist, among other things.

From anglican.org:

"Meanwhile, Huss had begun to denounce various church abuses in his sermons. His disputes with authority did not concern basic theological issues, but rather matters of church discipline and practice. The custom had arisen, at celebrations of the Lord's Supper, of distributing the consecrated bread to all Christians in good standing who desired to receive it, but restricting the chalice to the celebrant alone. Huss denounced this restriction as contrary to Holy Scripture and to the ancient tradition of the Church. He also held that Church officials ought to exercise spiritual powers only, and not be earthly governors. In 1412 his archbishop excommunicated him, not for heresy, but for insubordination. (The real problem was that Huss supported one papal claimant and the archbishop another. Huss's candidate was ultimately declared to be the true pope.) Matters came to a head when one claimant (later declared unfit) proclaimed a sale of indulgences to raise money for a war against his rivals. Huss was horrified at the idea of selling spiritual benefits to finance a war between two claimants to the title "Servant of the Servants of God," and said so.

In 1414 he was summoned to the Council of Constance, with the Emperor guaranteeing his personal safety even if found guilty. He was tried, and ordered to recant certain heretical doctrines. He replied that he had never held or taught the doctrines in question, and was willing to declare the doctrines false, but not willing to declare on oath that he had once taught them. The one point on which Huss could be said to have a doctrinal difference with the Council was that he taught that the office of the pope did no exist by Divine command, but was established by the Church that things might be done in an orderly fashion (a view that he shared with Thomas More). The Council, having just narrowly succeeded in uniting Western Christendom under a single pope after years of chaos, was not about to have its work undone. It accordingly found him guilty of heresy, and he was burned at the stake on 6 July 1415."

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