I stumbled upon these intriguing sentences and words when reading the text:

That passion which in common life is termed, anger, fury, vengeance or delirium, becomes zeal as soon as its object is religion, or the cause of God. It is a maxim among Christian devotees, that we cannot love God too much, consequently we cannot sin in excess of zeal.According to these principles, our doctors in their quarrels, injure, defame, calumniate, and asperse, and when they have the power, persecute and exterminate each other.

Source: Critical Examination of the Life of St.Paul [Translated from French of Boulanger] 1823

My questions are as follows:

1.That passion which in common life is termed ...

Is this structure grammatical? How about if exchange 'That' with 'The' and 'which in' becomes 'in which'?

2.This phrase: consequently we cannot sin in excess of zeal and this phrase: we cannot love God too much

So, what I inferred what this sentence does mean:

'Accordingly, we can NOT sin because of too much eagerness', and by its earlier statement that:

It is a maxim among Christian devotees, that we cannot love God too much, so if I put in another word, that if we can love God too much, than consequently, we can sin in excess of zeal. Is this a correct deduction? Would this logic justifiable in terms of sentence meaning and per-word meaning?

3.According to these principles, our doctors in their quarrels, injure, defame, calumniate, and asperse.

According to Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary 4th edition: Calumniate: (none)-I presume that calumniate is the Verb of calumny. Calumny: Noun(formal) the act of making a statement about someone that is not true and is intended to damage the reputation of that person

Referring to my other dictionaries: Calumniate, Asperse, besmirch shares the same exactly meaning i.e.:

Charge falsely or with malicious intent; attack the good name and reputation of someone. (Besmirch has other meaning, that is smear so as to make dirty or stained).

According to vocabulary.com: To calumniate is to make a false accusation against someone or spread lies about how awful they are. Don’t calumniate your rival in the race for class president, because when the truth comes out, you’ll be the bad guy.

According to Webster: Origin of CALUMNY Middle English calumnye, from Middle French & Latin; Middle French calomnie, from Latin calumnia, from calvi to deceive; perhaps akin to Old English hōlian to slander, Greek kēlein to beguile First Known Use: 15th century

To asperse = charge falsely or with malicious intent; attack the good name and reputation of someone According to Webster:

1.sprinkle; especially : to sprinkle with holy water 2.to attack with evil reports or false or injurious charges

Origin of ASPERSE Latin aspersus, past participle of aspergere, from ad- + spargere to scatter — more at spark First Known Use: 15th century

According to vocabulary.com:

To besmirch means to dirty or tarnish, particularly someone's reputation — like when you call Billy a cheater at kickball (even though you know he's just better at bunting than you).

Besmirch may sound kind of funny, but it goes hand in hand with other hurtful words like defame and slander. It can also mean to literally stain something. So that time you tracked mud all over the new white carpet and then blamed it on your little brother? That was a double besmirching — dirtying the rug and then falsely accusing a sibling.

4.Speaking of besmirch, where do these "besmirch, smirch, and smear" originally stemmed from? (well, as I look it up => besmirch => smirch has the same connotation as to smear to make something dirty? Why invent these similar words?

1590-1600; be- + smirch => Old English everyone? As I delved more, I found that: Origin of SMIRCH Middle English smorchen => Is this word from French? First Known Use: 15th century

So if I may conclude: To calumniate: to slander, to beguile, to alienate someone utilizing calumny (which means false charge, evil reports intended to damage someone's reputation) (denoting the act of calumny?) To asperse: to sprinkle false charges to someone, little by little utilizing slander, defamation and etc. (denoting process?) To besmirch: to smirch someone with bad, evil, to blemish/tarnish someone's reputation. (What I have in mind would be to smear some kind of jam/nutty jelly to a clean/blank slate of bread? as to dirty someone/something?)

What is your deduction?

Thank you very much.

  • You deduce/ discover that calumniate is to speak calumnies. So "to cast aspersions" is better known than to asperse.
    – Hugh
    Nov 22, 2015 at 3:37

1 Answer 1


Brilliant rhetoric by Boulanger. And you have the general picture.

The first sentence is his definition of what he calls That passion. "Zeal," (in religious experience) is the same emotionally driven state, is the same precise passion as "anger, fury, delirium" (in common life: in ordinary everyday experience). [Notice that he introduces fury as a sneeky stepping stone to delirium. ]

His second statement is a generalisation, a maxim, which all Christians devotees in his experience believe "that (A) we cannot love God too much" and "consequently (B) we cannot sin by excess zeal." If you add a negative to this maxim and corollary, you must add it to the main clause too, if you want to preserve the sense, and you can do this in more than one way. You can say "It is not a maxim of the devotees;" or you can say "I am not one of those devotees, I think something different."
And this of course is what Boulanger hopes.

To demonstrate why you can't just negate the maxims, compare this:

Mathematicians agree these maxims: (A) 2 x 2=4; consequently(B) 4/2=2.

You cannot only negate A & B. This would be wrong:-

*Mathematicians agree A) 2x2 is not 4; so (B) 4/2 is not 2.

You must also negate "agree" to make it right:

Mathematicians don't agree A) 2x2 is not 4; B) 4/2 is not 2.

So if you wish to say "We can love God too much, so =>we can sin by excess zeal," then you must also say "It is not a maxim of the devotees, that we can love..."

What he is really annoyed with is frenzied Christianity. He says it leads to bad citizenship. He says it leads to bickering, mud-slinging, calumny and aspersions, which is no way for religious leaders to behave. That is the third sentence. And in his opinion it is all the fault of St Paul.

I hope you continue to enjoy this wonderful blossoming jungle of spectacular rhetoric. It is as impassioned as anything St Paul wrote except he doesn't quite curse those who disagree with him.


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