This translation copyright © 1990, 2000 William R. Askins


Albertano of Brescia:

The art of speech and the art of silence


[1] Many err when they speak because they are unable to master their tongues. As St. James says in his epistle: Wild animals and birds, reptiles and fish, all can be tamed by man and frequently are, but nobody can tame the tongue. Therefore, I, Albertano, have bequeathed to my son, Stephen, a little treatise on speech and silence which can be summarized in a single line of verse:


Quis, quid, cui dicas, cur, quomodo, quando, requiras.


[3] I grant that the words in this verse are vague, rather general, and therefore obscure, and since this summary does not do justice to the questions at issue, I will explain them in detail, and, in order to do that, resort to my scholarship.


When you wish to speak, dearest son, you should begin in the manner of the cock, which, before it crows, beats itself with its wings three times.


[5] In like manner, before the breath in your mouth forms words, consider each and every word in the verse above. Not only consider them, but, I tell you, reconsider them, consider them a second time. When you say to reconsider, the phrase denotes repetition: to consider a second time. To reconsider means to consider a second time as surely as to reiterate means to iterate a second time.


Chapter the first


About the speaker’s sense of self, there are five points to be made.


Point the first


[7] You who would speak must know in your soul who you are. You must consider if your words pertain to you or not. If not, I caution you not to meddle.


Indeed, the law finds fault with anyone who meddles in things which do not pertain to him. Thus this rule of the courts: It is a fault to say what is impertinent.


[9] As Solomon says in Proverbs: Interfering in the quarrels of others is like encountering a strange dog.


Do not argue about things which do not trouble you, says Jesus Sidrach. What does not concern you, does not hurt you.


[11] If you do not trouble yourself with things that do not trouble you, you will bring much peace to your heart and soul. This verse says it well: He brings peace to many who takes interest in few.


Point the second


Be certain that your spirit is not troubled with passions inimical to it: wrath, hatred and envy.


[13] If your soul is troubled, keep it in check and do not speak.


As Cicero says: Virtue restrains the violent emotions and forces the passions to obey reason.


[15] Keep quiet when you are angry; as Seneca says: An angry man utters nothing but accusations.


An angry man should not be involved in unsettled litigation; anger keeps the mind from seeing the truth, says Cato.


[17] The law acknowledges the angry man, but the angry man does not acknowledge the law. As Ovid says: Suppress your anger and you can overcome anything.


Cicero says: Avoid anger. Nothing good can be done with it. Nothing can be settled. When the passions are involved, nothing can be resolved, nothing can be approved by witnesses.


[19]   We have seen many evils occasioned by the passions, by wrath, by hatred, by envy, by love, by sadness, by lust. Says Sallust: Men who deal with difficult questions should do so without considering enmity or friendship, anger or pity; when these feelings interfere, the mind cannot discern the truth. He whose soul is troubled by passion cannot comprehend the truth; he whose soul is tormented has blinded himself.


As Petrus Alfonsi says: the nature of a man whose mind is unhinged and who mistakes the truth for lies is that of a man who sees without eyes.


[21]   If you want to know more about wrath, the wrathful, and wrathfulness, read the chapter “On Avoiding the Friendship of Wrathful Men,” in the book I’ve written, De amore et dilectione Dei et proximii et aliarum rerum et de forma vitae.


Be careful that you do not speak simply because you feel driven to speak, especially when your emotions do not agree with your reason.


[23]   A man who cannot control himself when he speaks is like a town without defenses, without walls at its perimeter, says Solomon.


He who knows not when to be silent, knows not when to speak. When a wise man is asked why is he silent, if, indeed, it is because he is a fool, he should answer: A fool cannot remain silent.


[25] As Solomon says: Lock away your gold and silver, weigh your words on goldsmiths’ scales, put a bolted door across your mouth; if you fail to watch your mouth, you may fall victim to savage assault.


He who keeps his mouth keeps his life; he who talks too much is lost.


[27] Says Cato: The first virtue is to be able to control speech; he who knows how to be silent is next to God.


Point the third


Examine yourself and your soul and be certain that if you say something which condemns another that you yourself neither do nor say what you would condemn.


[29] St. Paul says in his epistle to the Romans: You who pass judgement must condemn yourself if you act as do those you judge. He also says in the same epistle: Teach yourself as well as others: you preach against stealing, yet you steal; you forbid adultery, yet you commit adultery; you despise idols, yet you rob temples and you dishonor the Lord.


Cato says: What you condemn in others, you should not do yourself; when he who teaches is himself open to blame, then he should blame himself.


[31] To speak good and to practice evil is to damn one’s self with one’s own voice, says Augustine.


And again from Cato: Never carp about the words and deeds of another, lest others then deride you in the same fashion.


[33] Gregory says: He who teaches good and lives evil is damned every day he teaches; those who find fault should lead a life of innocence. Gregory illustrates this when he says: If you call others sinners, you yourself should be unfamiliar with sin after the example of Christ who absolved the woman taken in adultery and freed her from the wicked Jews who accused her and passed judgement on her sin when they themselves were wicked.


About judges, both spiritual and secular, who terrify fornicators, adulterers, the greedy and the unjust, Solomon says: Ruthless judgments are characteristic of those who hold power, and the powerful will be powerfully punished.


Point the fourth


[35] Examine yourself and consider if what you say is spoken with a clear understanding or out of ignorance. If you do not know what you are talking about, then do not talk as though you do.


When asked why he spoke so well, a wise man answered: You can only speak as well as you know.


[37]   Jesus Sidrach says: If you understand the question, then answer your neighbor; if not, then put your hand over your mouth. Eschew babble and undisciplined chatter.


Point the fifth


You should consider the impact of your speech. Your intentions may seem good when you begin to speak, but the effect of your speech may prove horrible.


[39]   In all good, apparent evil can be discovered.


So speak only if you know not only your reason for speaking but also the impact your speech will have.


[41] As Pamphilius says: The prudent consider both cause and effect. Virtue and vice may be judged by the outcome. Your words will have more power if you watch what you say from beginning to end, if you think before you speak.


If, when you wish to speak, your words seemed touched with doubt, they will not have a good effect and you should not speak but remain silent.


[43] Petrus Alfonsi, who was a fine philosopher, said: If you are reluctant to speak for fear of recrimination, better not to. Since we see few people, or none, being silent and many people wandering about chattering, it is advantageous for the wise man to keep quiet about himself rather than say something which will be held against him. Silence hurts no one; speech often may. Words are like arrows: easy to shoot off, hard to retrieve.


So it has been said: Once let slip, words are beyond recall.


[45]   Once something is said, says Aristotle, it cannot be said again in other words.


Therefore, when in doubt, better to be silent than to speak; when in doubt about action, better not to act.


[47]   As Cicero says: Listen to those who forbid you to do what you want when there is on your part any doubt, warranted or unwarranted, for equity is self-apparent and doubt indicates the possibility of inequity.


Thus the saying: He who hesitates, should not act. I myself never offer opinions when there is doubt.


[49] As Seneca says: The doubtful offer foolhardy advice.


Much more could be said about the significance of quis, but these five points, in short, should prove sufficient for you.


Chapter the second


[51]   Having studied carefully the meaning of the word quis, it follows that you need un­derstand the significance of the word quid. There are here fourteen issues.


Point the first


You must distinguish between the true and the false. As Jesus Sidrach says: All your works presuppose words of truth; all your actions, unerring counsel.


[53] The truth is honored above all else. It is as though it were the only god that mankind itself has created. Indeed the Lord himself is Truth, inasmuch as He said: I am the Way, the Truth, the Life.


So when you speak, speak the truth always and avoid the cunning lie.


[55] As the prophet says: The mouth of the just man murmurs wisdom and his tongue speaks righteousness and truth.


Says Solomon in Ecclesiasticus: Even an industrious thief is better than a tireless liar.


[57] Whether you give it or receive it, take pleasure in the truth.


Only the scoundrel, says Cassiodorus, despises the pure truth with which nothing false is mixed. He also says that goodness is truth in its purest form.


[59] I believe that the truth should be straightforward. As Seneca says: Speech which deals with the truth should be unadorned and plain.


You are especially bound to speak the truth when your word has the force of an oath; nothing can come between your oath and your frank declaration. Seneca says: If a statement is not in agreement with an oath, then the oath itself is worthless.


[61] He repeats this in his De Forma Honesta Vitae: Nothing should influence you when you take an oath or give sworn testimony because when the truth is thus at issue, your creed and your faith is at stake. Even when an oath before God is not invoked, and even when a witness is not summoned, you should neither treat the truth lightly nor regard the law lightly.


You might want to lie not for the sake of deception but for the sake of protecting the truth; you might even justify your lie in the name of loyalty. Nonetheless, rather than lie, you should excuse yourself on the grounds that your cause is honorable. A cause which is just but secret need not be revealed.


[63] What is not fit for speech need not be spoken, and what is fit for saying need be said; both speech and silence can keep the peace and assure tranquility.


Speak the truth purely and simply and ask the Lord to keep falsehood far from you.


[65] Thus the prayer of Solomon: Before I die, O Lord, do not begrudge me two requests: spare me falsehood and mendacity, and give me neither riches nor mendacity; do not force me to lie or to steal in the name of the Lord.


Rather than contend with the truth, we should defend it. In his second epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul says: We do not have the power to speak against the truth, only the power to promote it.


[67] You must speak the truth as if you believe it or else it will be taken for a lie, and what is truly false may then prevail.


So Seneca says: A truth which is not believed is taken for a lie, so that instead of the truth prevailing, the false becomes believable.


[69] No one is considered a liar if he says something false which he believes to be true; such a person does not intend to lie and only deceives himself. On the other hand, a man lies if he says something true which he believes false; as St. Augustine says: A man lies if with his mouth he speaks the truth without knowing it while in his heart he wants to lie.


The purpose of dishonest speech is untruth and outrage. As Aesop says: Disingenuous speech results in every kind of outrage.


[71] Much of this horror is the result of the cupidity of political authorities. Sallust says: Ambition makes many men false: one thought on their tongue, another in their heart.


Point the second


Consider if what you say is useful and profitable or inane and hollow. We are bound to speak what is useful and to keep what is inane silent.


[73] In De Forma Honesta Vitae, Seneca says: Rather than being inane, your speech should be admonitory, consolatory, learned and informative.


Says Paul in his epistle to Timothy: Avoid profanity and empty-headed talk.


Point the third


[75] Consider if what you say is logical or illogical; always speak what is logical and keep silent what is illogical.


While an unreasonable man cannot survive for any length of time, the man who carries reason with him can overcome all the things of the world. So it is written: If you would master the world, follow reason. Reason strengthens the adolescent. Logic, well applied, discerns what is best; carelessly applied, is involved in much error.


Point the fourth


[77] Consider if what you say is rude or sweet and charming. Prefer agreeable talk and eschew the disagreeable.


Flute and psalter make the melody charming, but better than both is sweet talk, says Jesus Sidrach.


[79] A honeyed word wins friends and eliminates enemies. So it is said: As surely as the wood holds the hare (leporem), so intelligent talk holds charm (leporem).


Pamphilius says: Sweetness arouses and sustains love.


Point the fifth


[81] Consider if what you say is harsh or gentle. Speak gently, without harshness, since, as Solomon says, harsh speech stirs anger and gentle words turn it away.


Cicero says: Do not underestimate the conciliatory power of a cheerful spirit and affable speech.


Point the sixth


[83]   Consider if what you would say is elegant and refined or vulgar and tasteless; employ the tasteful and avoid the tasteless. As St. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians: Do not be seduced: the vulgar corrupt the chaste.


As he says in his epistle to the Ephesians: Coarse speech should not come out of your mouth.


[85] He says in the same epistle: Coarseness and stupid talk and filthy jokes: such things are impertinent and should not be said by voices fit for prayer.


Seneca says in De Forma Honesta Vitae: Refrain from profanity since such license encourages imprudence.


[87]   A man in the habit of using inappropriate language will not break himself of it no matter how long he lives, says Solomon.


Nonetheless, your speech may be seasoned with wit. As St. Paul says in his epistle to the Corinthians: Lace your speech with wit if you know how to talk in a manner agreeable to everyone.


Point the seventh


[89]   Consider if what you would say is obscure or ambiguous; speak, rather, with clarity and openness, for, according to the law, there is no difference between a man who remains silent and a man who gives obscure answers or asks ambiguous questions.


So it is written: Better to be mute than to say things nobody understands.


Point the eighth


[91]   Do not engage in sophistry. The speech of sophists is itself obscure and deceptive. Jesus Sidrach says: A sophist is detestable, fraudulent, and without the grace of the Lord.


Consider if what you would say is injurious or abusive since it has been said that when one man is wronged, many are threatened. As Jesus Sidrach also says: Do not resent your neighbor’s every cruelty and do nothing cruel yourself.


[93] One instance of cruelty can drive everyone to the battlefield, says Cassiodorus.


He who injures another will be repaid in kind, says Paul in his epistle to the Colossians.


[95]   And Seneca says his epistles: Expect from others what you do to others.


Of all the varieties of cruelty and abuse, the worst is that done under the pretense of good intentions. As Cicero says: Nothing is more pernicious than a wrong committed by those who, when they cheat, do it in such a fashion as to appear good men.


[97]   Cruelty and abuse are not merely unpleasant; they are horrible and because of them, cities and states are open to violence and misfortune. As Jesus Sidrach says: Because of injustice, cruelty and abuse, kingdoms pass from one people to another.


Be certain that everything you say is free of cruelty, and, if you are able, take exception to cruel speeches and writings of others.


[99]   Cicero says in the first book of his Offices: There are two kinds of injustice: one kind is occasioned by those who inflict cruelty; another kind is occasioned by those who fail to protect another from cruelty if they are able. He who does not oppose cruelty is as blameworthy as he who abandons his parents, his country, his friends.


According to our laws, the phrase “if they are able to help” means they will help when they can help.


[101] As St. Augustine says in his De Summo Bono: It is most praiseworthy to avoid conflict by keeping silent, but in the face of cruelty it is sometimes better to respond.


Point the tenth


Be warned not to say anything seditious, anything which would bring the city to ruin. Where there is sedition, there is a divided city. The Lord says: Every kingdom divided against itself is ruined and a household divided against itself collapses.


Point the eleventh


[103] You should not ridicule friends or enemies, not anyone anywhere, for, it is written: One should not play pranks on friends.


When a good friend is ridiculed, he is much more seriously incensed. And an enemy who has become a laughingstock may turn his words (verba) into whips (verbera).


[105] He who mocks another diminishes any love they share. Once love diminishes, it fails quickly and rarely revives. He who engages in ridicule may find things about himself he would rather not be heard being discussed.


As Solomon says: He who finds fault without cause may hear of his own faults at an inopportune time.


[107] Martial said: You cannot escape derision by deriding others.


He also said: if you ridicule another and then in turn are ridiculed, you are twice at fault: first, for the whispered dirt; second, for the obvious truth.


Point the twelfth


[109] Say nothing deceitful. Says the prophet: May the Lord slice off every deceitful lip and flattering tongue.


When the prophet was asked about the penalty for deceit, this was the terrible response: It will be repaid with sharp arrows hardened by the Lord over hot charcoals.


Point the thirteenth


[111] Consider if you speak out of pride. Solomon says: Where there is pride, disgrace follows; where there is humility, wisdom and glory follow.


Says Job: Though a man be sky high, his head in the clouds, ultimately, he will vanish like a phantom.


[113] Pride is odious to God and man and injustice is execrable to both, says Jesus Sidrach.


Panic and violence will overtake palaces and desolation will overtake the houses of the proud. Clearly, pride makes men hateful to all and destroys all who seek its favor. Thus this commonplace: If wealth, if wisdom, and if beauty have been given to you, pride can take it all away.


Point the fourteenth


[115] Consider if you speak unfounded words. It is written: Men will answer for every unfounded word they utter.


Therefore, what you say should be useful rather than inane, logical, sweet, gentle rather than harsh, refined rather than filthy, neither obscure nor ambiguous, nor sophistical, neither mocking nor deceitful, neither proud nor unfounded.


[117] The general principle I give you is that we cannot subscribe to anything which, as our laws suggest, runs counter to our moral sense. I consider anyone who says base things to speak dishonestly.


Socrates says that you should speak with honesty to your family as well as to strangers.


[119] One should not employ dishonest speech with one’s family if one would speak honestly with strangers. Honesty is of great importance in all walks of life. There is a great deal more that could be discussed under this heading, but for now, my son, this should prove enough for you.


Chapter the third


Since I’ve discussed the use of quis and quid, now you may study the use of cui. Here you should consider eight points.


Point the first


[121] When you wish to speak, you should consider to whom you are speaking, whether friend or not. With a friend, you can speak with confidence, since nothing is more delightful than having a friend with whom you can speak as though to yourself. However, you should not speak in this manner if you fear what you say will be bandied about, made public, and later create enmity.


As Seneca says in his epistles: Speak to your friends as if God heard you; live among men as if God sees you.


[123] Furthermore, you should not fear that a friend of yours will become an enemy to you.


Petrus Alfonsi says that you should not test your friends: Guard yourself from your enemies but a thousand times more from your friends, because a friend can become an enemy and it will be easier for him to hurt you.


[125] Therefore if you cannot keep secrets without having them become known against your wishes, if you cannot make plans without having them discovered, keep to yourself and reveal nothing.


As Jesus Sidrach says: Do not exhibit your feelings, do not reveal your faults to friend and foe alike. They will hear you, they will distrust you, and, rather than defend your faults, they will ridicule you.


[127] So, if you know a secret, tell it to no one. It is difficult to pass judgement on a man who keeps secrets.


If you keep your secrets and your plans to yourself, it is as though you had imprisoned them; but once you reveal them, then they imprison you.


[129] He who keeps his plans to himself is apt to pick the best path. It is safer to be silent than to ask another to keep quiet.


Seneca agrees: If you cannot control yourself when you should be silent, how can you ask someone else to say nothing.


[131] If you wish another to have confidential information, you should entrust it to only the best of friends: faithful, proven, and discreet. Solomon says: Let your friends be many but your confidants one in a thousand.


Entrust secret plans to those who pledge silence, says Cato, as you would your health to a faithful physician.


[133] Speak sparingly to your enemies; never reveal your secrets to them. As Aesop says: Never confide a secret, never reveal it when you may need it at the climax of some miserable quarrel.


You cannot trust an enemy who knows something about you; the talk in the street may be angry and directed at you.


[135] I tell you, the good graces of an enemy cannot be regained.


Indeed, it is written: No man can ever regain the favor of an enemy.


[137] The smoke of hatred is always hidden in the heart of an enemy.


According to Seneca: Where a fire has burned for a long time, the smoke never dies out.


[139] So, better to die with a friend than to live with an enemy.


Never trust an old adversary; even if he behaves humbly and bends over backwards, be on guard against him, says Solomon. The idea here is to be perfunctory and cool; a man whose good will has been rejected will not press the matter and will move on.


[141] Again, consider these horrible words: An adversary may bring tears to your eyes, but if he gets the chance, not even your blood will satisfy.


As Petrus Alfonsi says: Have nothing to do with your enemies; you can find other companions. Your enemies will criticize what you do wrong and denigrate what you do right.


[143] Watch everything you say and do. Many who seem friendly are in fact not. All strangers can prove hostile.


Thus it is said: Do not travel the highway with those you do not know. If you must associate with strangers on the road, should a stranger ask you questions, say you have a bad temper. If he carries a lance, walk to his right; if he carries a sword, walk to his left.


Point the second


[145] Consider whether you are speaking to a wise man or a fool. As Solomon says: Do not speak into the ears of a fool; he will not appreciate your well turned notions.


If a wise man argues with a fool, he will not gain his end, whether the fool be the hotheaded sort or the good-humored kind.


[147] A fool will not listen to discreet words; he will only air his own opinion.


As Jesus Sidrach says: Talking intelligently to a fool is like talking to a sleeping man; when your speech is over, he will say, ‘What is going on?’


Point the third


[149] Never speak to the sarcastic. It is written: Do not consort with the sarcastic; flee from their incessant banter as if from the plague. You will not find the sarcastic an agreeable audience.


Says Solomon: Argue with a mocker, he will hate you; argue with a wise man, he will admire you.


[151] As Seneca says: Admonish a mocker and fall victim to his cruelty; admonish a sar­castic man and fall victim to his insults.


Point the fourth


Do not speak with slanderers who trade in cheap chatter. The prophet says that the slanderer is not fit to live on the earth.


[153] The slanderer is a terror to his city and the loose talker should be detested, says Jesus Sidrach.


He who hates gossip, avoids malice.


[155] Do not quarrel with a slanderer, do not pile logs on his fire.


Do not give advice to the backbiter; he will not value it and it will not please him.


Point the fifth


[157] Speak sparingly to cynics who bark and bite.


As Cicero says: The thoughts of cynics should be rejected. Greek cinos means the same as Latin canis therefore, cynic means “dog” or “barkers.”


[159] The words of the Lord are similar: Do not throw pearls before pigs.


Point the sixth


Never argue with the intensely disaffected. As Augustine says: As fire fed by great quantities of timber sends out a great flame, so a disaffected man who hears strong opinions is driven to great mischief.


[161] Solomon says that wisdom can never enter the inflamed soul.


Cato says the words are wasted on the vociferous, that though everyone has the power of speech few are wise in spirit.


Point the seventh


[163] Never tell secrets to drunks or wicked women.


As Solomon says: There are no secrets when drink is king.


[165] A garrulous woman will try to conceal only what she does not know.


Point the eighth


In short, you must consider everyone in your audience. It is written: Look all around yourself if you wish continued good fortune; he who is not careful finds himself cursed.


[167] I could show you many more examples of what is meant by the word cui, but for now, dearest son, these must do.


Chapter the fourth


As to why we speak, there are five points to consider, and we will now undertake an explanation of the adverb cur. The question here, of course, is one of purpose. You must consider the purpose of your speech just as you would the purpose of your actions.


[169] As Seneca says: To understand the purpose of anyone’s actions, study their beginning and you will understand their end. So it is with speech: some purpose is required.


Nothing can be set in motion without cause since the world is not governed by chance, as Cassiodorus says. Nothing, then, can be said without cause.


[171] Whatever the situation, composition requires that four causes be learned: the efficient cause, the material cause, the formal cause, and the final cause. In this treatise, four causes are studied: the material cause under the heading quid, the formal cause under the heading quomodo, the efficient cause under the heading quis, and here the final cause under the heading cur.


The final causes of speech are: first, in the service of God; second, for the welfare of humanity; third, for both reasons; fourth, to help one’s friends; fifth, for all these reasons.


Point the first


[173] Both secular and ecclesiastical sermons are designed to serve God.


Point the second


Advocates (causidicii) and other orators speak to the human condition. St. Augustine maintained that lawyers should provide just advocacy and that judges should provide just determinations.


[175] You must consider if you are fit to speak to the human condition (pro humano commodo). You must be honorable rather than not since those who take up the law for filthy money are repulsive people.


As Seneca said: I shun tainted money and bribes.


[177] Says another clearly: The penalty for greed is an ugly reputation. To have gained something in a scandalous manner is to have lost utterly.


Nonetheless, a man must be moderately comfortable; indeed, the word comfort (commodum) is comprised of the words with (cum) and moderation (modo). As Cassiodorus says: Excessive comfort is a contradiction of terms.


[179] A man must live in accord with nature and with the community, with his comfort and the comfort of others.


Natural law suggests this: it is only fair that one not disturb another in order to become rich.


[181] As Cicero says: Not fear, not grief, not death, not anything which happens in reality is more against nature than a man who will increase his own comforts at the expense of another, especially at the expense of the poor.


Cassiodorus agrees: It is most cruel to want to become wealthy at the expense of the poor.


Point the third


[183] Priests and clergy should speak both to serve God and to comfort man, but principally to serve God and only secondarily for their own welfare. As the decrees proclaim, they should get their living from the altar.


As Paul says in the First Epistle to the Corinthians: Those who serve at the altar can get their share at the altar.


[185] The Lord directed that those who preach the gospel should get their living from the gospel. Nonetheless, certain clergy have perverse motives: they preach primarily for creature comforts and for desirable prebends and only secondarily to serve God. This they should not do.


Point the fourth


Speaking in favor of friends is a proper motive as long as the words spoken are just and honest. But one condition for friendship, says Cicero, is that we neither ask for dis­honorable things nor do them when asked.


[187] Now it is a principle of law that one cannot excuse wrongdoing on the grounds that one does wrong for a friend. Should you favor the crimes of friends, you yourself commit them.


He who sins in the name of allegiance sins twice. He who favors crime is himself criminal. And he who favors the crime of an associate is not only guilty but also, if the matter is a scandal, twice guilty.


[189] As Seneca says: To do wrong in a scandalous fashion is to be twice delinquent.


But should you defend an innocent friend, you speak in defense of the truth. Cassiodorus says: He who defends the innocent speaks in his own defense.


Point the fifth


[191] Gladly speak for all these reasons: to serve God, to comfort man, and to aid friends. There are many more examples of what is meant by the adverb cur but these should prove sufficient.


Chapter the fifth


Having heard about and thought about why you should speak, you can listen to an explanation of how you should speak. Under the heading quomodo, one considers questions of style (modum) and design (formam). When you wish to speak, you must consider style.


[193] One should not only study style, but also, as has been said: Impart style to everything since style is a most attractive quality.


If the style is exaggerated or attenuated, nothing is right.


[195] Horace puts this elegantly: You must establish stylistic parameters; overwrought or underworked styles are characteristic of those who do not know what is appropriate. It has been said that if style is ignored, nothing praiseworthy can be composed.


Cassiodorus says: Style is praised everywhere.


[197] There are five stylistic issues: first, delivery; second, quickness; third, slowness; fourth, quantity; fifth, quality.


Point the first


One’s delivery should be scrutinized with care. Delivery involves appropriate language, a feel for meaning and control of the body.


[199] Delivery is so important, maintained Cicero, that a poorly prepared speech would be praised if it were well delivered, while an excellent speech poorly delivered would be greeted with mockery and derision.


One can practice delivery by learning to control the voice and breath and to manage the body and tongue. Speech impediments should be corrected with careful study; words should not be pronounced when inhaling or exhaling, should not issue from the throat; the voice should not quaver and one should not speak harshly through the teeth or with slack lips. Rather, words should be pronounced distinctly, consistently, smoothly, clearly; all syllables should be appropriately enunciated and words marked by the appropriate accent. Speech should be neither outrageously loud nor ostentatiously subdued. It should be appropriate to the place, the subject, the audience, and the occasion.


[201] So that voice and address might be appropriate to a particular subject, one may employ simple narration, appeals to authority, an air of indignation, or appeals to pity.


It follows, therefore, that joy is delivered with a joyful expression, sadness with a sad expression, sternness with a menacing expression. As Horace says: A tone of sadness is appropriate to sorrow, blustering accents to anger; jokes to cheerfulness, solemn words befit gravity.


[203] The speaker must face the audience directly, must not distort his lips, must not distend his jaws, must not let his face be inexpressive, must not fasten his eyes to the floor, must not incline his neck to one side, must neither raise nor lower his eyebrows.


As Cicero says: The first principle of art is to speak in an appropriate manner, to speak as one should.


[205] To lick or bite the lips is inappropriate; their movement should be slight when they are in the act of forming words, since speech involves the entire mouth and not the lips alone.


The plain style is articulated softly; the grand style with authority: the middle style with inflection. The grand style is appropriate when we say things of great moment; the plain style when we say things of little moment; the middle style, things of some consequence. Employ the plain or pedestrian style when dealing with insignificant matters, when nothing grand, nothing sublime is at issue. Employ the dazzling, conspicuously magnificent style when dealing with significant issues, when God or the well-being of mankind is at issue. Employ the middle style when you are playing one idea off another, when nothing need be accomplished, when the audience need not be delighted.


[207] Note, however, that no matter how important the issue, one need not be continually grandiloquent.


In De Forma Honesta Vitae, Seneca says: Give praise with restraint; vituperation with greater restraint. To be restrained is as praiseworthy as to be overbearing is blameworthy; consequently, intense adulation or malediction is suspect. One need not then praise everybody within earshot.


[209] Thus it is written: The most appropriate way to praise those within earshot is not to offend those who are not in the audience.


Point the second


When you consider style, consider quickness, and slowness. Insofar as speech and composition are concerned, you should not be quick to speak, but slow, suitably restrained.


[211] As St. James says in his epistle: Be quick to listen but slow to speak.


And Solomon says: Do you see a man who speaks too quickly? More hope for a fool than for him.


[213] And Cassiodorus says: To be slow to spit out words but quick to understand what is important is doubtless a noble virtue.


Similarly, be slow to pass judgement. It is written: I consider the best judge to be one who thinks with excitement but passes judgement with deliberation.


[215] Quick judgements lead to quick repentance.


Delay should not be criticized since it has been said that delay, though it always seems contemptible, leads to wisdom.


[217] Evenhanded advice requires careful deliberation, not speed and haste; in order to think things out carefully, delay is safest. It has been said of advice that if you have thought about it for some time, then it is probably correct. Sorrow follows hasty advice.


Three things work against good advice: haste, wrath, and cupidity.


Point the third


[219] After deliberation, in order to get something done, you should then do it posthaste. In his epistles, Seneca says: The less you say, the more you will do, and the more you think about what you will do, the sooner you will get it done. Perform good works promptly.


This is well said by Sallust: Before you start something, reflect upon it, and after you have reflected for some time, the work will be done.


[221] Solomon says: If you see a man who is quick with work, he will be found among the noble rather than among the ignoble.


Jesus Sidrach says: Be swift in all your work and illness will never overtake you.


[223] Work quickly so that nothing will interfere with your work’s completion.


Point the fourth


As far as the matter of quantity is concerned, consider if you are saying too much since a prolix style is never without fault.


[225] As Solomon says in Ecclesiastes: Dreaming is the result of much worry and foolishness is the result of a multiplicity of words.


Too, while hard work always results in profit, where there is loose talk, there is frequently poverty.


[227] Seneca says: Nothing will help you as much as keeping quiet: talking little with others and much to yourself.


That you should keep quiet and speak with moderation is confirmed by Pamphilius: Be neither too silent nor too talkative.


[229] Listen frequently and answer infrequently.


As Socrates said: If your behavior is the best and your speech the least, you will please everybody.


Point the fifth


[231] Finally, you must consider the quality of your style, if what you say is well said. Thus it is written: The first principle of friendship is excellent speech; to speak poorly is to invite enmity.


When speaking, employ language that is cheerful, honest, clear, and simple; speak with an undistorted mouth, a tranquil expression, calm face, and without unseemly jeers or loudness.


[233] As Solomon says: Well composed language is like a honeycomb: sweet to the soul, good for the body.


This explanation of the use of quomodo should prove sufficient.


Chapter the sixth


[235] Finally, the use of the adverb quando remains to be discussed. When you consider quando, you consider the question of timing. This involves not only the occasion of speech but also its arrangement.


Jesus Sidrach says: A wise man will keep quiet until the time is right, but a petulant and imprudent man will not know the moment.


[237] Regarding the occasion of speech, follow the words of Solomon: There is a time for speech and a time for silence.


The modulation of speech and silence is important, says Seneca.


[239] Keep silent until it is necessary for you to speak. Not only keep yourself silent but expect it of others as well. Then, when it is your turn to speak, you will be heard.


As Jesus Sidrach put it: When none are listening, do not offer a sermon, do not offer your wisdom at the wrong moment. When none are listening, narration from you is impertinent, like music at a funeral.


[241] So it is said: An impertinent narration is like music at a funeral; when the words you narrate are not heard, it is as though you would wake a man in a deep sleep.


Consider appropriate timing not only when you speak to others, but also when you respond to them. Do not offer an answer until you have heard the entire question.


[243] Anyone who argues without listening is a fool who works to his own confusion, says Solomon. He who speaks before he understands excites contempt and anger.


Jesus Sidrach says: Before passing judgement on a question of justice, before you speak, understand.


[245] The arrangement of speech also depends on the time and the situation. To arrange things in the wrong order is preposterous.


Point the first


If you wish to deliver a sermon, you must employ the correct arrangement. First, you must explain historical implications which bear on current affairs. Next, you must explain allegorical implications which bear on the mystical sense pertaining to the Church Militant. Third, the tropological implications which bear on the virtuous life.


Point the second


[247] The writing of letters requires that you, first, set down the salutation; second, the exordium; third, the narration; fourth, the petition; fifth, the conclusion.


Point the third


If you wish to make a statement in a diplomatic situation (in ambaciatis), do as follows: first, at the appropriate time and place, offer the salutation; second, commend those to whom the diplomatic message is directed and indicate that the dispatch is from an associate of yours; third, deliver the message that has been given you; fourth, deliver the exhortation using eloquent language suitable to the person from whom the message is sent; fifth, be certain to fashion all requests from the addresser to the addressee in a solicitous style; sixth, introduce examples of similar situations in negotiations which you may have conducted or observed; seventh, provide sufficient reason for everything mentioned in passing.


[249] This arrangement was demonstrated by the archangel Gabriel, sent by God to the Blessed Virgin. First, he offered the salutation, saying, ‘Ave Maria’ etc. Second, the commendation, saying ‘the Lord is with thee’ etc. Third, the exhortation, comfort and encourage from the Lord, saying, ‘be not afraid, Mary.’ The archangel needed to offer encouragement at this juncture (i.e. out of the sequence prescribed above) because Mary was terrified by the archangel’s salutation. Fourth, he offered the message, saying, ‘Behold, you are to conceive and bear a son’ etc. Fifth, he explained the manner in which this would come to pass, saying. ‘the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Almighty wilt cover you in its shadow.’ Sixth, he offered an example when he said, ‘Behold Elizabeth, your kinswoman, has conceived a child in her old age.’ Seventh, he assigned sufficient reason for the matter when he said, ‘Nothing is impossible in the name of the Lord.’


Point the fourth


If you wish to write laws or decretals: first set down the letter of the law with the time and place: second, the reasons for it; third, an explanation of the letter of the law; fourth, similar arguments; fifth, counter-arguments; sixth, the resolution. So it is with all forms of knowledge: whatever is relevant, past, present, or future, should be explained.


[251] These examples of the meaning of quando should prove sufficient.


If you wish to think that you are the master of your destiny, you will need more than your God-given talents and the words in this line of verse: Quis, quid, cui, etc. You must read all books of first principles (abecedarii) since, together with the statements in this treatise, they will, as a rule, influence your decision to speak or stay silent.


[253] I have written this little treatise for you and your brothers so that you could also learn to write, since a life of letters involves writing as well as talking and speaking. As Seneca says: The literary life involves more than exercising the muscles and stretching the neck.


If you wish to use this treatise as a guide to written composition, remove the word dicas from the summary verse and substitute the word facias. It then reads:


Quis, quid, cui facias, cur, quomondo, quando, requiras.


Virtually everything discussed supra, and much else besides, makes sense in terms of the word facias.


[255] Finally, with intense practice and frequent use, you may practice what you have heard here described. Training often overcomes natural inclinations and native tendencies, and actual practice is superior to the precepts of all teachers. Still, keep this treatise on speech and silence at hand. And ask the Lord above who has allowed me to tell you this to bring us to eternal joy.