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

cred 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.