Criticism versus Censure

The continued use of words in a wrong sense has frequently resulted in their incorrect definition in standard dictionaries and other reference books. One of the most notable of such words is criticism, the meaning of which according to Webster is "the art of judging with knowledge and propriety," or in the language of Scriptures, with "righteous judgment." "By criticism," says Dryden, "as it was first instituted by Aristotle, was meant a standard of judging well." Criticism does not apply to a person, but minutely and rationally points out every beauty or blemish in a person's works, and it is especially applicable to literary and scientific matters. One who assumes the role of critic must be competent, and capable of supporting his assertions by positive proof or demonstration.

To find fault with, blame, or condemn a person is to censure. Criticism has to do with things and censure with persons. To censure requires no more than a simple assertion, usually actuated by ill nature, ignorance, or a desire to inflict punishment. The Roman magistrate who had charge of the morals and domestic affairs of his people was called a censor, from which the word censure is derived. The only legitimate place accorded censors was and is an official one. Strictly speaking, no one has the right to censure another except in an official capacity, and this official function should be exercised only by men of sound judgment and morals, and for the sole purpose of elevating the morals and protecting the rights of the public. The unofficial censor may be either mild or severe, according to his ill or good nature, but in any event he is likely to take cognizance of personal conduct and to judge according to appearances, and hence not to judge "righteous judgment."

To express disapproval of one's speech or conduct for the purpose of overcoming or preventing the repetition of some impertinent act, is not censure but rebuke or reproof, because the one who expresses his disapproval is supposed to have substantial reasons for such rebuke or reproof, and not to be actuated by the spirit of contumely. Jesus was a critic of the highest type, not a censor in any sense of the word. He said, "I judge no man." Mrs. Eddy tells us in Science and Health that Jesus "rebuked sinners pointedly and unflinchingly, because he was their friend" (p. 53). He rebuked Peter for his presumptuous manner of speech, and reproved him for smiting the servant of the high priest. He rebuked and reproved others as the occasion warranted, but censure was foreign to his character. The rebuke or reproof which will uncover and check an error, is righteous, but the censure which depresses hope and brings despair, is unrighteous.

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Fear Overcome
December 12, 1914

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