1632 By George Herbert

Concerning detraction.

THe Countrey Parson perceiving, that most, when they
are at leasure, make others faults their entertainment and
discourse, and that even some good men think, so they speak
truth, they may disclose anothers fault, finds it somwhat
difficult how to proceed in this point. For if he absolutely
shut up mens mouths, and forbid all disclosing of faults,
many an evill may not only be, but also spread in his Parish,
without any remedy (which cannot be applyed without
notice) to the dishonor of God, and the infection of his
flock, and the discomfort, discredit, & hinderance of the
Pastor. On the other side, if it be unlawful to open faults,
no benefit or advantage can make it lawfull; for we must not
do evill, that good may come of it. Now the Parson taking
this point to task, which is so exceeding useful, and hath
taken so deep roote, that it seems the very life and substance
of Conversation, hath proceeded thus far in the discussing
of it. Faults are either notorious, or private. Again notorious
faults are either such as are made known by common fame
(and of these, those that know them, may talk, so they do it
not with sport, but commiseration;) or else such as have
passed judgment, & been corrected either by whipping, or
imprisoning, or the like. Of these also men may talk, and
more, they may discover them to those that know them not:
because infamy is a part of the sentence against malefactours,
which the Law intends, as is evident by those, which are
branded for rogues, that they may be known; or put into the
stocks, that they may be looked upon. But some may say,
though the Law allow this, the Gospel doth not, which hath
so much advanced Charity, and ranked backbiters among the
generation of the wicked, Rom. I. 30. But this is easily
answered: As the executioner is not uncharitable, that takes
away the life of the condemned, except besides his office, he
add a tincture of private malice in the joy, and hast of acting
his part; so neither is he that defames him, whom the Law
would have defamed, except he also do it out of rancour.
For in infamy, all are executioners, and the Law gives a
malefactour to all to be defamed. And as malefactors may
lose & forfeit their goods, or life; so may they their good
name, and the possession thereof, which before their offence
and Judgment they had in all mens brests: for all are honest,
till the contrary be proved. Besides, it concerns the Com-
mon-Wealth, that Rogues should be known, and Charity to
the publick hath the precedence of private charity. So that
it is so far from being a fault to discover such offenders, that
it is a duty rather, which may do much good, and save much
harme. Neverthelesse, if the punished delinquent shall be
much troubled for his sins, and turne quite another man,
doubtlesse then also mens affections and words must turne,
and forbear to speak of that, which even God himself hath

Editor's Note: When Herbert talks about "lawful" and "unlawful," he may be referring to canon or church law.

"Rogues should be known" Would that include child molesters, rapists, mass murders and terrorists?

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