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The Summa Theologica by Saint Thomas Aquinas

We must now consider boasting and irony, which are parts of lying according to the Philosopher (Ethic. iv, 7). Under the first head, namely, boasting, there are two points of inquiry:

(1) To which virtue is it opposed?

(2) Whether it is a mortal sin?

Objection 1: It seems that boasting is not opposed to the virtue of truth. For lying is opposed to truth. But it is possible to boast even without lying, as when a man makes a show of his own excellence. Thus it is written (Esther 1:3,4) that Assuerus “made a great feast . . . that he might show the riches of the glory” and “of his kingdom, and the greatness and boasting of his power.” Therefore boasting is not opposed to the virtue of truth.

Objection 2: Further, boasting is reckoned by Gregory (Moral. xxiii, 4) to be one of the four species of pride, “when,” to wit, “a man boasts of having what he has not.” Hence it is written (Jer. 48:29,30): “We have heard the pride of Moab, he is exceeding proud: his haughtiness, and his arrogancy, and his pride, and the loftiness of his heart. I know, saith the Lord, his boasting, and that the strength thereof is not according to it.” Moreover, Gregory says (Moral. xxxi, 7) that boasting arises from vainglory. Now pride and vainglory are opposed to the virtue of humility. Therefore boasting is opposed, not to truth, but to humility.

Objection 3: Further, boasting seems to be occasioned by riches; wherefore it is written (Wis. 5:8): “What hath pride profited us? or what advantage hath the boasting of riches brought us?” Now excess of riches seems to belong to the sin of covetousness, which is opposed to justice or liberality. Therefore boasting is not opposed to truth.

On the contrary, The Philosopher says (Ethic. ii, 7; iv, 7), that boasting is opposed to truth.

I answer that, “Jactantia” [boasting] seems properly to denote the uplifting of self by words: since if a man wishes to throw [jactare] a thing far away, he lifts it up high. And to uplift oneself, properly speaking, is to talk of oneself above oneself [*Or ‘tall-talking’ as we should say in English]. This happens in two ways. For sometimes a man speaks of himself, not above what he is in himself, but above that which he is esteemed by men to be: and this the Apostle declines to do when he says (2 Cor. 12:6): “I forbear lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth in me, or anything he heareth of me.” In another way a man uplifts himself in words, by speaking of himself above that which he is in reality. And since we should judge of things as they are in themselves, rather than as others deem them to be, it follows that boasting denotes more properly the uplifting of self above what one is in oneself, than the uplifting of self above what others think of one: although in either case it may be called boasting. Hence boasting properly so called is opposed to truth by way of excess.

Reply to Objection 1: This argument takes boasting as exceeding men’s opinion.

Reply to Objection 2: The sin of boasting may be considered in two ways. First, with regard to the species of the act, and thus it is opposed to truth; as stated (in the body of the article and[3221] Q[110], A[2]). Secondly, with regard to its cause, from which more frequently though not always it arises: and thus it proceeds from pride as its inwardly moving and impelling cause. For when a man is uplifted inwardly by arrogance, it often results that outwardly he boasts of great things about himself; though sometimes a man takes to boasting, not from arrogance, but from some kind of vanity, and delights therein, because he is a boaster by habit. Hence arrogance, which is an uplifting of self above oneself, is a kind of pride; yet it is not the same as boasting, but is very often its cause. For this reason Gregory reckons boasting among the species of pride. Moreover, the boaster frequently aims at obtaining glory through his boasting, and so, according to Gregory, it arises from vainglory considered as its end.

Reply to Objection 3: Wealth also causes boasting, in two ways. First, as an occasional cause, inasmuch as a man prides himself on his riches. Hence (Prov. 8:18) “riches” are significantly described as “proud” [Douay: ‘glorious’]. Secondly, as being the end of boasting, since according to Ethic. iv, 7, some boast, not only for the sake of glory, but also for the sake of gain. Such people invent stories about themselves, so as to make profit thereby; for instance, they pretend to be skilled in medicine, wisdom, or divination.

Objection 1: It seems that boasting is a mortal sin. For it is written (Prov. 28:25): “He that boasteth, and puffeth himself, stirreth up quarrels.” Now it is a mortal sin to stir up quarrels, since God hates those that sow discord, according to Prov. 6:19. Therefore boasting is a mortal sin.

Objection 2: Further, whatever is forbidden in God’s law is a mortal sin. Now a gloss on Ecclus. 6:2, “Extol not thyself in the thoughts of thy soul,” says: “This is a prohibition of boasting and pride.” Therefore boasting is a mortal sin.

Objection 3: Further, boasting is a kind of lie. But it is neither an officious nor a jocose lie. This is evident from the end of lying; for according to the Philosopher (Ethic. iv, 7), “the boaster pretends to something greater than he is, sometimes for no further purpose, sometimes for the sake of glory or honor, sometimes for the sake of money.” Thus it is evident that it is neither an officious nor a jocose lie, and consequently it must be a mischievous lie. Therefore seemingly it is always a mortal sin.

On the contrary, Boasting arises from vainglory, according to Gregory (Moral. xxxi, 17). Now vainglory is not always a mortal sin, but is sometimes a venial sin which only the very perfect avoid. For Gregory says (Moral. viii, 30) that “it belongs to the very perfect, by outward deeds so to seek the glory of their author, that they are not inwardly uplifted by the praise awarded them.” Therefore boasting is not always a mortal sin.

I answer that, As stated above ([3222]Q[110], A[4]), a mortal sin is one that is contrary to charity. Accordingly boasting may be considered in two ways. First, in itself, as a lie, and thus it is sometimes a mortal, and sometimes a venial sin. It will be a mortal sin when a man boasts of that which is contrary to God’s glory—thus it is said in the person of the king of Tyre (Ezech. 28:2): “Thy heart is lifted up, and thou hast said: I am God”—or contrary to the love of our neighbor, as when a man while boasting of himself breaks out into invectives against others, as told of the Pharisee who said (Lk. 18:11): “I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican.” Sometimes it is a venial sin, when, to wit, a man boasts of things that are against neither God nor his neighbor. Secondly, it may be considered with regard to its cause, namely, pride, or the desire of gain or of vainglory: and then if it proceeds from pride or from such vainglory as is a mortal sin, then the boasting will also be a mortal sin: otherwise it will be a venial sin. Sometimes, however, a man breaks out into boasting through desire of gain, and for this very reason he would seem to be aiming at the deception and injury of his neighbor: wherefore boasting of this kind is more likely to be a mortal sin. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 7) that “a man who boasts for the sake of gain, is viler than one who boasts for the sake of glory or honor.” Yet it is not always a mortal sin because the gain may be such as not to injure another man.

Reply to Objection 1: To boast in order to stir quarrels is a mortal sin. But it happens sometimes that boasts are the cause of quarrels, not intentionally but accidentally: and consequently boasting will not be a mortal sin on that account.

Reply to Objection 2: This gloss speaks of boasting as arising from pride that is a mortal sin.

Reply to Objection 3: Boasting does not always involve a mischievous lie, but only where it is contrary to the love of God or our neighbor, either in itself or in its cause. That a man boast, through mere pleasure in boasting, is an inane thing to do, as the Philosopher remarks (Ethic. iv, 7): wherefore it amounts to a jocose lie. Unless perchance he were to prefer this to the love of God, so as to contemn God’s commandments for the sake of boasting: for then it would be against the charity of God, in Whom alone ought our mind to rest as in its last end.

To boast for the sake of glory or gain seen to involve an officious lie: provided it be do without injury to others, for then it would once become a mischievous lie.

IRONY* (TWO ARTICLES) [*Irony here must be given the signification of the Greek {eironia}, whence it is derived: dissimulation of one’s own good points.]

We must now consider irony, under which head there are two points of inquiry:

(1) Whether irony is a sin?

(2) Of its comparison with boasting.

Objection 1: It seems that irony, which consists in belittling oneself, is not a sin. For no sin arises from one’s being strengthened by God: and yet this leads one to belittle oneself, according to Prov. 30:1,2: “The vision which the man spoke, with whom is God, and who being strengthened by God, abiding with him, said, I am the most foolish of men.” Also it is written (Amos 7:14): “Amos answered . . . I am not a prophet.” Therefore irony, whereby a man belittles himself in words, is not a sin.

Objection 2: Further, Gregory says in a letter to Augustine, bishop of the English (Regist. xii): “It is the mark of a well-disposed mind to acknowledge one’s fault when one is not guilty.” But all sin is inconsistent with a well-disposed mind. Therefore irony is not a sin.

Objection 3: Further, it is not a sin to shun pride. But “some belittle themselves in words, so as to avoid pride,” according to the Philosopher (Ethic. iv, 7). Therefore irony is not a sin.

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Verb. Apost., Serm. xxix): “If thou liest on account of humility, if thou wert not a sinner before lying, thou hast become one by lying.”

I answer that, To speak so as to belittle oneself may occur in two ways. First so as to safeguard truth, as when a man conceals the greater things in himself, but discovers and asserts lesser things of himself the presence of which in himself he perceives. To belittle oneself in this way does not belong to irony, nor is it a sin in respect of its genus, except through corruption of one of its circumstances. Secondly, a person belittles himself by forsaking the truth, for instance by ascribing to himself something mean the existence of which in himself he does not perceive, or by denying something great of himself, which nevertheless he perceives himself to possess: this pertains to irony, and is always a sin.

Reply to Objection 1: There is a twofold wisdom and a twofold folly. For there is a wisdom according to God, which has human or worldly folly annexed to it, according to 1 Cor. 3:18, “If any man among you seem to be wise in this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise.” But there is another wisdom that is worldly, which as the same text goes on to say, “is foolishness with God.” Accordingly, he that is strengthened by God acknowledges himself to be most foolish in the estimation of men, because, to wit, he despises human things, which human wisdom seeks. Hence the text quoted continues, “and the wisdom of men is not with me,” and farther on, “and I have known the science of the saints” [*Vulg.: ‘and I have not known the science of the saints’].

It may also be replied that “the wisdom of men” is that which is acquired by human reason, while the “wisdom of the saints” is that which is received by divine inspiration.

Amos denied that he was a prophet by birth, since, to wit, he was not of the race of prophets: hence the text goes on, “nor am I the son of a prophet.”

Reply to Objection 2: It belongs to a well-disposed mind that a man tend to perfect righteousness, and consequently deem himself guilty, not only if he fall short of common righteousness, which is truly a sin, but also if he fall short of perfect righteousness, which sometimes is not a sin. But he does not call sinful that which he does not acknowledge to be sinful: which would be a lie of irony.

Reply to Objection 3: A man should not commit one sin in order to avoid another: and so he ought not to lie in any way at all in order to avoid pride. Hence Augustine says (Tract. xliii in Joan.): “Shun not arrogance so as to forsake truth”: and Gregory says (Moral. xxvi, 3) that “it is a reckless humility that entangles itself with lies.”

Objection 1: It seems that irony is not a less grievous sin than boasting. For each of them is a sin through forsaking truth, which is a kind of equality. But one does not forsake truth by exceeding it any more than by diminishing it. Therefore irony is not a less grievous sin than boasting.

Objection 2: Further, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. iv, 7), irony sometimes is boasting. But boasting is not irony. Therefore irony is not a less grievous sin than boasting.

Objection 3: Further, it is written (Prov. 26:25): “When he shall speak low, trust him not: because there are seven mischiefs in his heart.” Now it belongs to irony to speak low. Therefore it contains a manifold wickedness.

On the contrary, The Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 7): “Those who speak with irony and belittle themselves are more gracious, seemingly, in their manners.”

I answer that, As stated above ([3223]Q[110], AA[2],4), one lie is more grievous than another, sometimes on account of the matter which it is about—thus a lie about a matter of religious doctrine is most grievous—and sometimes on account of the motive for sinning; thus a mischievous lie is more grievous than an officious or jocose lie. Now irony and boasting lie about the same matter, either by words, or by any other outward signs, namely, about matters affecting the person: so that in this respect they are equal.

But for the most part boasting proceeds from a viler motive, namely, the desire of gain or honor: whereas irony arises from a man’s averseness, albeit inordinate, to be disagreeable to others by uplifting himself: and in this respect the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 7) that “boasting is a more grievous sin than irony.”

Sometimes, however, it happens that a man belittles himself for some other motive, for instance that he may deceive cunningly: and then irony is more grievous.

Reply to Objection 1: This argument applies to irony and boasting, according as a lie is considered to be grievous in itself or on account of its matter: for it has been said that in this way they are equal.

Reply to Objection 2: Excellence is twofold: one is in temporal, the other in spiritual things. Now it happens at times that a person, by outward words or signs, pretends to be lacking in external things, for instance by wearing shabby clothes, or by doing something of the kind, and that he intends by so doing to make a show of some spiritual excellence. Thus our Lord said of certain men (Mat. 6:16) that “they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast.” Wherefore such persons are guilty of both vices, irony and boasting, although in different respects, and for this reason they sin more grievously. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 7) that it is “the practice of boasters both to make overmuch of themselves, and to make very little of themselves”: and for the same reason it is related of Augustine that he was unwilling to possess clothes that were either too costly or too shabby, because by both do men seek glory.

Reply to Objection 3: According to the words of Ecclus. 19:23, “There is one that humbleth himself wickedly, and his interior is full of deceit,” and it is in this sense that Solomon speaks of the man who, through deceitful humility, “speaks low” wickedly.

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