The Spiritual Combat

Chapter 24:

Controlling the tongue

Since everyone is quite inclined to hasten his tongue to discuss those things that most please our senses, the human tongue has great need of careful restraint and enforced stillness (James 1.26). By and large, the habit of outspokenness has its roots in a certain pride. Persuading ourselves that we know a great deal, and taking pleasure in our ideas, we repeatedly make an effort to impress them onto the souls of others, to pose before them as experts, as though they needed to learn from us.

The evils born from many words cannot be expressed by a few. Loquacity is the mother of sloth, the proof of ignorance and insanity, the gate to detraction, the ministry of lies and the chilling of devout fervor. A multitude of words gives strength to impure passions and from this, then, the tongue is induced to continue speaking indiscretions all the more easily. Do not go on and on in long discussions with those who listen unwillingly, so that you do not annoy them. Show the same restraint with one who willingly gives you his ear, so that you do not exceed the limits of modesty.

Fly from speaking with either eloquence or volume; either is odious, an indication of presumption and vanity. Regarding yourself, your business, and your relations, speak only out of pure necessity; even then, keep things as brief and reserved as possible. If it seems to you that another speaks of himself excessively, try to keep a good opinion of him, but do not imitate him unless his words tend towards self-humiliation and self-accusation. Regarding your neighbor and his possessions, discuss as little as possible, unless to speak well, as the occasion may require.

Speak willingly of God, particularly of his love and his goodness; do so, however, with the fear of making a mistake even in this. Take pleasure instead in giving your attention to one who discusses such things, keeping his words in the intimacy of your heart. Should he speak of other matters, let only the sound of his voice strike your ears, and keep your mind raised to the Lord; if later you need to listen to someone who speaks for understanding and response, do not for this reason abandon the occasional mental glance towards heaven, where your God resides. Instead, observe that height and how he always looks down upon your humility (Luke 1.48).

When your heart swells with words, examine them before they pass to your tongue. You will realize how much better it would be not to send many of them outside. But I also warn you: of those things that you then think it good to say, not a few would be better off buried in silence. You will understand this if you think about it, after the opportunity to speak them has passed.

Silence, my beloved daughter, is a great fortress of the spiritual battle, and a certain hope of victory. Silence is the friend of one who distrusts herself and trusts in God; it is the custodian of holy speech, and a marvelous help for the exercise of virtue.

To accustom yourself to keep quiet, consider often the damages and dangers of loquacity, and the great goods of silence. Learn to love this virtue. To acquire the habit of silence, keep quiet for a while, even when it would not be wrong to speak, as long as this does no harm to you or to others. For this reason, it will avail you well to keep distant from conversation, so that instead of men, the company you keep will be that of angels, of saints, and of God himself. Finally, remind yourself of the combat that occupies you; seeing how much you have to do, you will gladly forsake all those words.

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hurry his tongue to discuss: the Italian is a play on words that I cannot adequately translate into English: lasciarla correre e discorrere (let [the tongue] run and discourse)

as experts: literally, teachers (maestri), but in English that sounds less natural than experts

many... few: in Italian, another couplet that I find difficult: non si possono esprimere con poche parole i mali che nascono da molte parole.

When your heart swells with words: literally, Those things that fall into your heart for speaking (Le cose che ti cadono in cuore per dirle).