The Greek philosopher Diogenes, also known as Diogenes the Cynic, whose house was a barrel on the beach, always had intelligent answers for those who challenged him and most of the time they were very accurate ones. One of these smart answers was related to adulation or flattery.

He was eating some wild herbs when someone who passed by said to him: if you flatter Dionysus (one of the Greek gods also known as Bacchus) you would not be eating herbs. And he immediately answered: if you would make do with these herbs, you would not need to flatter Dionisio.

St. Thomas Aquinas says that to praise someone could be good or bad, depending on the way and the intention with which it is done. For example, if someone praises a friend in order to console him or her or to help him/her to grow in virtue, that praise is usually good since it is to help that person improve his life.

On the other hand, if we praise someone for things that should not be praised, because those things are not good or not helpful for that person to grow in holiness, then that praise is bad. It is the same when someone praises another out of self-interest rather than charity. In these cases, praise belongs to flattery.

We must never perform a wrong action in order to obtain a benefit from it, because the end does not justify the means. In the same way, we must never praise someone in order to obtain a benefit from that praise.

“Accordingly, if a man were to wish always to speak pleasantly to others, he would exceed the mode of pleasing, and would therefore sin by excess. If he does this with the mere intention of pleasing, he is said to be ‘complaisant,’ according to the Philosopher (Ethic. IV, 6); whereas if he does it with the intention of making some gain out of it, he is called a ‘flatterer’ or ‘adulator.’ As a rule, however, the term ‘flattery’ is wont to be applied to all who wish to exceed the mode of virtue in pleasing others by words or deeds in their ordinary behavior towards their fellows” (Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 115, a. 1).

We must follow the example of Jesus, who never praised the Jews to avoid persecution or even death on the cross.  On the contrary, He always told the truth to help them to change their behavior and glorify God. That is why Jesus had no fear to speak the truth, although He was not praising the Jews because, as He said, I honor my Father (Jn 8:49).  St. John Chrysostom comments on this text: “As if to say, I have told you this on account of the honor which I have for My Father; and for this you dishonor Me. But I concern not myself for your reviling: you are accountable to Him, for whose sake I undergo it.” (Catena Aurea Gospel of St. John, VIII,49).

Daily homily


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