Editor's note:

Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding. —Proverbs 17:28 (KJV)

Or, as is often more succinctly and humorously attributed to Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain: Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.

Today, St. Ambrose offers brief but wise counsel on the benefits of remaining silent—not mainly to guard against looking foolish, but to keep ourselves safe from the trouble our tongues can bring. 

—Renovaré Team

Now what ought we to learn before everything else, but to be silent, that we may be able to speak? Lest my voice should condemn me, before that of another acquit me; for it is written: By your words you shall be condemned. (Matthew 12:37) 

What need is there, then, that you should hasten to undergo the danger of condemnation by speaking, when you can be more safe by keeping silent? How many have I seen to fall into sin by speaking, but scarcely one by keeping silent; and so it is more difficult to know how to keep silent than how to speak. 

I know that most persons speak because they do not know how to keep silent. It is seldom that any one is silent even when speaking profits him nothing. He is wise, then, who knows how to keep silent. 

Lastly, the Wisdom of God said: The Lord has given to me the tongue of learning, that I should know when it is good to speak. Justly, then, is he wise who has received of the Lord to know when he ought to speak. Wherefore the Scripture says well: A wise man will keep silence until there is opportunity. (Sirach 20:7)

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Excerpted from On the Duties of Clergy, Chapter II, Verse 5. Via New Advent.