PROFANITY is not a specific sin. Under this general head come all
blasphemy, false, rash, unjust and unnecessary oaths, rash and violated
vows, and cursing:--called profanity, because in each case the name of
God is profaned, that is to say, is made less holy, by its application
to unworthy objects and in unbecoming circumstances; profanity, because
it has to do with the Holy Name, and not profanation, which looks to
sacred things. Although language lends itself to many devices and is
well nigh inexhaustible in its resources, this category of sins of
profanity embraces about all modes of offending against the Holy Name,
and consequently against the Second Commandment.
We have already examined the different species of profanity. But it is
not always easy to classify certain utterances and expressions that
savour of profanity, to determine the specific nature of their malice,
especially the guilt incurred by the speaker. First of all, the terms
used are often distorted from their original signification, or require
that words left understood be supplied; as they stand, they are often
as meaningless to the speaker as to the general uninitiated public. To
get at the formal malice of such utterances is still more difficult,
for it becomes necessary to interpret the intentions of the speaker.
Thus, in one case, words that contain no evident insult to God may be
used with all the vehemence of profanity, to which guilt is certainly
attached; in another, the most unholy language may be employed in
ignorance of its meaning, with no evil intent, the only danger of
malice being from habit, passion or scandal.
This brings us to consider certain ejaculatory or exclamatory
expressions such as: God! good God! Lord! etc., employed by persons of
very different spiritual complexion. Evidently, these words may be
employed in good and in evil part; whether in one or the other, depends
on the circumstances of their using. They may proceed from piety and
true devotion of the heart, out of the abundance of which the mouth
speaks. Far from being wrong, this is positively good and meritorious.
If this is done through force of habit, or is the result of levity,
without the least interior devotion or affection, it is a mitigated
form of profanity. To say the least, no honor accrues to God from such
language and such use of His name; and where He is concerned, not to
honor Him is dangerously near dishonoring Him. If contempt of God or
scandal result from such language, the offense may easily be mortal.
Finally, excited feelings of passion or wrath vent themselves in this
manner, and here it is still more easy to make it a grievous offending.
About the only thing that can excuse from fault is absolute
Again, without implying any malediction, prescinding altogether from
the supernatural character of what they represent, as ejaculations
only, we come across the use of such words as hell, devil, damnation,
etc. Good ethics condemn such terms in conversation; hearing them used
people may be scandalized, especially the young; if one uses them with
the mistaken idea that they contain blasphemy, then that one is
formally guilty of blasphemy; finally, it is vulgar, coarse and
unmannerly to do so. But all this being admitted, we do not see any
more moral iniquity in the mention of these words than of their
equivalents: eternal fire, Satan, perdition, etc. We do not advise or
encourage the use of such terms, but it sometimes jars one's sense of
propriety to see people hold up their hands in holy horror at the sound
of these words, as if their mention were something unspeakably wicked,
while they themselves would look fornication, for instance, straight in
the face without a shudder or a blush.
Profanity is certainly a sin, sometimes a grievous sin; but in our
humble opinion, the fiat of self-righteous Pharisaism to the contrary
notwithstanding, it is a few hundred times oftener no sin at all, or a
very white sin, than the awful crime some people see in it. If a fellow
could quote classical "Mehercule," and Shakespearean cuss-words, he
would not perhaps be so vulgar as to say "hell." But not having such
language at his command, and being filled with strong feelings that
clamor for a good substantial expression, if he looks around and finds
these the strongest and only available ones, and uses them,--it is
necessity and human nature, we wot, more than sacrilegious profanity.
It were better if his speech were aye, aye and nay, nay; but it does
not make it look any better to convict him of the blackest sin on the
calendar just because he mentioned a place that really exists, if it is
hot, and which it is well to have ever before our eyes against the
temptations of life.
Next: THIRD COMMANDMENT THE LAW OF REST