Derision is the vice by which one wrongly causes shame or embarrassment in another because of his defects either of body or soul or of the conditions of his life. It may be carried out by words or derisive sounds (Mt 27.41–44; Lk 23.36), by mocking gestures or grimaces (Mt 27.40), or by other acts (Mt 26.68; 27.29; Lk 22.63). These different modes, however, do not constitute distinct species of the sin of derision.
This vice, directly opposed to commutative justice, may be opposed also to other virtues. For example, to deride one's parents or a cleric would be opposed also to piety or to religion.
Theologians dispute about its precise relationship to contumely. Many modern theologians argue that it is opposed to the honor of another and therefore is essentially the same as contumely. The opinion of St. Thomas Aquinas that derision and contumely differ specifically is held by many contemporary theologians. They argue that the specific objects of the vices differ. Contumely is opposed to another's honor, while derision is ordered to his embarrassment, which is more a fear of dishonor than a dishonor in itself. Aquinas explains that good works not only enhance the fame and glory in which one is held by others but also give their doer serenity or tranquillity of conscience. By contumely and detraction a man loses his honor; by derision he is disturbed and embarrassed, thus losing this serenity or tranquillity.
Derision or mockery is a grave sin of its nature, although it is frequently venial because of lightness of matter. In judging the gravity of the matter the condition of both the one deriding and the one derided should be considered. In some circumstances, such as in correction or in recreation, derisive or mocking words or acts are not sinful, but great care should be taken that no unjust harm is done to another by such actions, however well intentioned they may be.
One guilty of derision must make satisfaction for the harm that he has caused. Those derided should bear this wrong patiently, although in certain circumstances they can or should resist derisive actions, especially when the good of others is at stake.
Bibliography: thomas aquinas Summa theologiae, 2a2ae, 79. i. rinaldi, Dictionarium morale et canonicum, ed. p. palazzini (Rome 1962–) 2:815–818. d. m. prÜmmer, Manuale theologiae moralis, ed. e. m. mÜnch, 3 v. (12th ed. Freiburg–Barcelona 1955) 2:183–186.