And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is placed among our members, which defileth the whole body, and inflameth the wheel of our nativity, being set on fire by hell.
The entire chapter is about the sins of the tongue and I suggest it be read in full.
A previous post focused on the sins of others and the sin of detraction is in particular. Detraction is a grave sin which is merely words. One does not materially destroy, move, or change anything. Nothing is physically done. It is just expression of one's thoughts. It seems harmless, however, the faculty of speech (which includes any rational expression even those not spoken) is found in humanity. While other creatures communicate in some fashion, only a rational human being can use language properly. All else is imitation, irrational, or otherwise lacking true linguistic ability. Evils involving speech therefore are particular to rational beings. Beasts and the irrational cannot curse, blaspheme, or commit the evil we can by expression.
Furthermore, due to the fall, we are prone to many errors. The ease of speech and the fact it is a very common human social activity makes it possible to grievously sin without much restriction.Controlling one's speech is essential, and can be difficult. Without care from the beginning, we are liable to have developed less desirable and perhaps very bad habits.
There are many types of sins possible in speech. Distinguishing them and understanding their exact definition can be difficult. In most cases, silence is better. Rarely are we compelled to speak to the extent that I think for the purpose of reflecting on the sinfulness of a given speech it is better to consider whether or not there is a real duty to speak is better than considering whether something would be a sin or not.
There are particular distinctions which may be useful to understand.
Blasphemy can be done in several ways, all of which are evil. They all deny, reduce, or pervert the proper honour towards what is good. Blasphemy is against God, but it is often committed against those under God, ie, blasphemy directed as the Saints. Blasphemy is against the proper praise of God.
Boasting is an expression of vainglory where one raises oneself up improperly. Care must be taken to examine the reason for expressing any sort of praise of oneself. It would be boasting to state how well one avoids sin and how laudable one's actions are, but it would not be boasting to refute an error of someone stating that a sinful act is good because "everyone does it" by (truthfully) bearing witness to the faith by stating that oneself does not engage in that activity.
Calumny is like detraction except that calumny is a false statement. This is slander. Like detraction, the measure is what one believes. If one believes what one is saying is true, then it is not calumny (but it could be detraction).
Cursing (malediction) is a word with overuse to the extent it is meaningless by itself. However, malediction is in the context of moral insight to call evil upon what is good. This is to express desire that something suffers evil. Cursing is not always sinful, but in the times when it is appropriate to call down evil, it is very specific to the situation and what is desired to be harm. To curse sin for example would be good. To desire sin to be removed from us, to be reduced, and be destroyed is the motivation for this blog.
Detraction has been addressed but it is communicating the sin of another to another who did not know. The veracity of speech does not mean it cannot be sinful. One can sin against justice, charity, and other virtues by misusing the faculty of speech.
Flattery is excessive pleasing of others. This has several forms such as just a desire to please another to desire to please another so one may profit in some way from it. Care must be taken to avoid essentially worshiping others.
Insult or Reviling is to wound the honour of another. Reviling is often the result of anger, desire for revenge. Even in the face of evil, evil is not permitted. To use desire for good as a basis for evil is a common start of many sins.
Lying is against truth.Swearing is to call God to witness one's statement. This is not always sinful, but it is a very solemn thing not to be done lightly and of course not to be done when one intends to violate the oath.
Each sin of the tongue could be a topic for itself and some are already and some may be in the future, but the purpose of the list is to demonstrate the gravity of the sins of the tongue.
Several scripture passages are very revealing on what is good (and evil):
In like manner these men also defile the flesh, and despise dominion, and blaspheme majesty. When Michael the archangel, disputing with the devil, contended about the body of Moses, he durst not bring against him the judgment of railing speech, but said: The Lord command thee. But these men blaspheme whatever things they know not: and what things soever they naturally know, like dumb beasts, in these they are corrupted.
Saint Michael opposing Satan is used as an example of good acts. The lack of railing (reviling) is noted because not only is it what is proper, it is what humans often fail to do. Saint Michael, who is an angel of God, in combating the acts of a fallen angel which was consumed with hate, pride, revenge, and all evil possible for a created being was not subjected to insults or outbursts from Saint Michael.
The highest example is found in Our Lord Jesus Christ:
1 Peter 2:21-24
For unto this are you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow his steps. Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth. Who, when he was reviled, did not revile: when he suffered, he threatened not: but delivered himself to him that judged him unjustly. Who his own self bore our sins in his body upon the tree: that we, being dead to sins, should live to justice: by whose stripes you were healed.
And consider the Gospel:
And Herod, seeing Jesus, was very glad; for he was desirous of a long time to see him, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to see some sign wrought by him. And he questioned him in many words. But he answered him nothing. And the chief priests and the scribes stood by, earnestly accusing him. And Herod with his army set him at nought, and mocked him, putting on him a white garment, and sent him back to Pilate.
Hopefully, the perfection of Christ can show us our shortcomings so we may reach out to God to accept the grace which has been given to us and repent our sins. It is easy to be deluded in thinking we are good when we constantly fall short. It is easy to think we are justified, when we are in fact motivated by vainglory, anger, or other evils.
Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth: and a door round about my lips. Incline not my heart to evil words; to make excuses in sins.