We live in an age of unparalleled riches when it comes to theology and the study of God’s Word. Of course, there are new, excellent books being written each year. But the greatest riches are found in the translation of older texts into English so they can be read by normal men like me. One fascinating series is Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law. I know, your blood gets pumping just thinking about it. The series is a translation of some lesser known works, at least to us 21st century men, by some leading thinkers in the late Middle Ages up through the 17th century. I am currently working my way through On Righteousness, Oaths, and Usury, which is Wolfgang (that’s right his first name is Wolfgang) Musculus’ commentary on Psalm 15, as well as two appendices, one on oaths and the other on usury. His section on Psalm 15:3, “[He] who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend” was particularly helpful as he discussed what slander is. Here are some quotes from Musculus’ section on slander. All bold and brackets are mine.
To slander one’s neighbor is not simply to report what the neighbor either says or does (because sometimes not only is this permissible to do, but also it ought to be either for their sake or for the public good), but it is to report something maliciously, in the spirit of harming one’s neighbor.
The point is that the “why” matters. Two men can say the same thing about their friend and one be slandering and the other not. The problem is that we all assume our motives are pure and just. That we are only saying it for their good or because people need to know. But if we dig deeper into our hearts and desires we will often find that we wish to harm others with our words about them.
The next section is titled “What Sort of Vice Slander Is.” Musculus lists four descriptions of the vice of slander. Here is the first. He uses “denouncer” as a synonym for slanderer. Continue reading