But even these well-formed Catholics cannot explain why they may deceive the thugs, or at least they can’t explain it in a way which is universally accepted by sound moral theologians down through the ages, nor in a way that has (yet) been endorsed by the magisterium of the Church. 2) of the Decretum of Gratian, which reproduces the common teaching of the schools at the time, adopts the opinion of St. Raymund, with the added reason that it is allowable to deceive an enemy. There must be something more than that, for we could also say that when we lied to our boss last Wednesday, our intention was not to deceive but to save our skin. Lying is opposed to the virtue of truth or veracity. Asking a friend, family member or secretary to tell a caller you are “not in” is another example of wide mental reservation. The definition in the Catechism has the virtue of anchoring a lie in objective reality. Perhaps the very emphasis on the intention to deceive in this definition suggests another possible line of thought. For example, if you’ve been playing baseball in the street (again!) Still, mental reservation was widely endorsed well into the second half of the 20th century, and many Catholics of my own age were taught it growing up. He says that a man who is under the necessity of lying should diligently consider the matter so as not to exceed. Then he gives his own opinion, speaking with hesitation and under correction. Honest Answers to Questions About Catholic Faith & Beliefs. A servant, for example, who had broken a window in his master’s house, on being asked by his master whether he had broken it, might without lying assert that he had not done so, if he meant thereby that he had not broken it last year, or with a hatchet. catholic answers is lying a mortal sin Reviewed by . Are some falsehoods not lies? Lying is sometimes a venial sin and… Ratings. Catholic Answers Magazine is published six times a year and contains articles by some of the best Catholic thinkers, including our own apologists and speakers. The CCC teaches the same doctrine about intrinsic evil, along with the specific teaching that lying is an example of an intrinsically evil act: Catechism of the Catholic Church: “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned.” [n. Most of these writers who attack the common opinion show that they have very imperfectly grasped its true meaning. Origen quotes Plato and approves of his doctrine on this point (Stromata, VI). Consider a man with a house guest whom a group of thugs wants to murder. Innocent III gives expression in one of his decretals to this interpretation; when he says that Holy Scripture forbids us to lie even to save a man’s life. The first thing to notice is that this definition emphasizes the moral intentionality of lying; the truth itself is not necessarily contradicted. I don’t know if this is a simple question I should know the answer to but I was watching catholic videos online and doing research about it but I’m not sure what the answer is. Thus a recent authority defines a lie as a false statement made with the intention of deceiving. By the late 20th century, however, it was precisely this definition that made it into the Catechism of the Catholic Church (see CCC 2482). Unfortunately, this makes a presumption that most thinkers would not admit: that the only reason to shy away from the truth is fear of unpleasant consequences. Some, however, unduly stretched the doctrine. Therefore, its very subjectivity renders it morally unhelpful. The “lie” is made famous in political philosophy both by Machiavelli and Plato. Philosophers have also pointed out the violation of human integrity involved in a lie, for when we lie we speak one thing while thinking another—a practice hardly conducive to integral personal development or growth in virtue. One of the stronger theological traditions, endorsed by Aquinas and rooted in Augustine, is that lying is speaking deliberately contrary to one’s own mind. At any rate they have made little or no impression on the common teaching of the Catholic schools. A recent writer in the Paris series, “Science et Religion“, wishes to add to the common definition some such words as “made to one who has a right to the truth”. Catholic writers call statements like the foregoing mental reservations and they qualify them as wide mental reservations in order to distinguish them from strict mental reservations. Question: “Is John Smith in your house?” Interpretation: “Is John Smith in your house so that we may kill him?” Answer: “No.” Interpretation: “John Smith is not here to be killed.” Such examples may not be precisely strict, but it is hard to call them wide. Lying, as defined by St. Thomas Aquinas, is a statement at variance with the mind. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that lying is wrong by its very nature, and intrinsically disordered: “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned.” [CCC 2485] “A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. From the middle of the eighteenth century onwards a few discordant voices have been heard from time to time. Proverbs 6:16-19 lists “a lying tongue” and “a false witness who pours out lies” as two of the seven abominations to the Lord. These are evident enough in lies which injuriously affect the rights and reputations of others. Modern philosophers are divided in the same way. They taught that a man did not tell a lie who denied that he had done something which in truth he had done, if he meant that he had not done it in some other way, or at some other time, than he had done it. and you break your neighbor’s window, the neighbor may run out and demand to know whether you did it. But it does mean that the editors of the Catechism were not prepared to endorse it in an official Catholic reference work. Well, those suspicions were well-founded. It also erodes a person’s credibility in situations where truth-telling is essential for a mechanism to operate effectively (e.g. There were of course many others who rejected such equivocations, and who taught that they were nothing but lies, as indeed they are. It seems that most moralists have believed that such a necessary lie is moral, but Catholic thinkers have often found the specific explanation troubling, because it appears to subordinate veracity to justice, when both may be considered incommensurable intrinsic goods. Note that a solution to this conundrum could come in one of two forms. 2485.] But if we ask whether they were right in condemning our own weak and typical lies, only one answer is possible. 2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. It has been reckoned that as many as fifty authors taught this doctrine, and among them were some of the greatest weight, whose works are classical. Catholic Questions and Answers – One of the best ways to learn is to ask questions. And yet the problem of the “necessary lie” presents itself immediately, a problem recognized and discussed down through the ages not only by Catholic saints and moral theologians, but by other Christians, non-Christians, and even those of no religion at all. I referred earlier to the difficulty of conceptualizing a perfect definition of lying that might reveal a solution to our dilemma. It should be observed that when a wide mental reservation is employed the simple truth is told, there is no statement at variance with the mind. The statement is technically false, but social convention supplies a more ambivalent meaning. I am a non practicing Catholic so bear me while I try to form an understanding. To be properly termed a lie, a statement must fulfill two conditions: (a) It must be objectively false; (b) It must be spoken with the intention to deceive. As the hypocrite is justly detested and despised, so should the liar be. Lest the doctrine should be unduly extended to cases to which it does not apply, the gloss warns the student that a witness who is bound to speak the naked truth may not use equivocation. Is it ethical for a Catholic to be an undercover cop if his cover requires him to lie to people, even to those who would not necessarily threaten his life if he told the truth? But if so, it is hard to reach such a conclusion only by denying the intention to deceive. Happily, the Church’s imprecision on this question does not seem to have led to a great heresy or to widespread and dangerous confusion. The absolute malice of lying is also shown from the evil consequences which it has for society. Circumstances of place, time, person, and manner form part of the statement and external expression of the thought. For, when we speak falsely to our murderous thugs, we may at least question whether our intention is to deceive. Others wished to change the received definition of a he. Yet the Bible says this is simply not true, for Mary was a virgin until Jesus was born, and then had normal sexual relations with her husband Joseph, and had other children, see Matthew 1:23-25: Romans 3:8). Dr. Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C., and currently serves as the St. John Henry Newman Visiting Chair in Catholic Studies at Thomas More College.His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century. Under some theories of mental reservation, you can answer “no” if you are really thinking “No, I did not break it with my bat; it was the ball that broke it.” Such equivocations, whose true sense is determined only by the mind of the speaker, were condemned by the Holy See as early as 1679. To address this critical problem more effectively, a great many moralists have tried either to tweak the definition or to suggest grounds for exceptions. Therefore, by saying this phrase, you may not have been lying. The turpitude and malice of hypocrisy are obvious to everybody. But not every intrinsically evil act is a mortal sin. Rather, the one killed must somehow have the character of an unjust aggressor. There is some difference of opinion among the Fathers of the Christian Church. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. Right order demands that in doing this he should be truthful. But even on the ground of pragmatism it is well for us to bear in mind that white lies are apt to prepare the way for others of a darker hue. The Catholic Church also claims that Mary, was a perpetual virgin all of her life. Lying is indeed a very serious matter and many do not even realize how serious it is. The situation faced by Bishop Firmus is a classic formulation of the circumstances leading to a necessary lie. I, “De Mendacio”). The gloss on the chapter, “Ne quis” (causa xxii, q. But it is possible to lie without making a false statement and without any intention of deceiving. Our most common problem is not deciding grave questions of life and death but purifying our own questionable intentions. Or, says St. Raymund, he may make use of an expression with a double meaning, an equivocation, such as: Non est his, id est, Non comedit hic or something like that. Indeed, the importance of speaking the truth is thoroughly rooted in the natural law. Moreover, this has always been the case. 2. St. Augustine, however, took the opposite side, and wrote two short treatises to prove that it is never lawful to tell a lie. As it is lawful to kill another in self-defense, so in self-defense it is lawful to tell a lie. As it was at variance with the knowledge of the speaker, the statement was a lie. For if a man makes a statement which he thinks is false, but which in reality is true he certainly lies inasmuch as he intends to say what is false, and although a well-known liar may have no intention of deceiving others—for he knows that no one believes a word he says—yet if he speaks at variance with his mind he does not cease to lie. St. John Chrysostom held that it is lawful to deceive others for their benefit, and Cassian taught that we may sometimes lie as we take medicine, driven to it by sheer necessity. Robert Royal. In places almost innumerable Holy Scripture seems to condemn lying as absolutely and unreservedly as it condemns murder and fornication. Prudent men only speak about what they should speak about, and what they say should be understood with that reservation. Lying is a sin, lying is intending to deceive someone. This was the most common definition among the scholastics, and it became a staple of theological manuals by the first part of the 20th century. The German Jesuit, Laymann, who died in the year 1625, was of this number. But in many cases this also would be likely to betray the innocent, and even very moral onlookers might well ask—somewhat contemptuously—whether this was the best we could do. When our obligation to protect a secret conflicts with our obligation to tell the truth, the result is a necessary lie—necessary not because it helps us to avoid some potential pain but because it is the only way to preserve justice. Regardless of definition, many others have suggested that the immorality of lying admits of exceptions. Please don’t judge me I’m still a kid and just started reading the Bible a few weeks ago. If it is more difficult to realize the malice of a lie, the partial reason, at least, may be because we are more familiar with it. We must say something, if his life is to be preserved: he would at once detect the meaning of silence on our part. It is interesting to read what St. Raymund of Pennafort wrote on the subject in his “Summa”, published before the middle of the thirteenth century. If your house is situated at the bottom of a large hill, is it wrong to answer the thugs with a vague gesture and the words, “I saw him heading up, moving as fast as he could?” What you really mean is that you told him to run upstairs and hide in the back bedroom. Man has the power as a reasonable and social being of manifesting his thoughts to his fellow-men. The seal of confession and other secrets had to be preserved; this was a means of fulfilling those necessary duties without telling a lie. So here is the dilemma: If you answer the door, and you don’t trust the thugs’ intentions, do you have to tell the truth? If silence would be equivalent to giving a sick man unwelcome news that would kill him, it is better, he says, that the body of the sick man should perish rather than the soul of the liar. If a person thinks something is true and deliberately states something to the contrary, he has incurred the moral guilt of lying. Jocose lies are told for the purpose of affording amusement. Under these circumstances, they believe it is perfectly permissible to deceive the thugs at the door. Moreover, when a habit of untruthfulness has been contracted, it is practically impossible to restrict its ‘vagaries to matters which are harmless: interest and habit alike inevitably lead to the violation of truth to the detriment of others. Indeed, the importance of speaking the … The owner of the house where the man lies concealed, on being asked whether he is there, should as far as possible say nothing. Although Mother Teresa was beatified as a saint by the Catholic Church in 2003, in reality she was far from the saint the Church would lead you to believe. Both keeping secrets and speaking truthfully are included under all standard expositions of the natural law and the eighth commandment. There is the same want of correspondence between the mind and the external expression of it that constitutes the essence of a lie. So while lying is a fascinating subject, we are wise to remember the kinds of cases which make it so are very different from the ones we ourselves typically face. The bishop was so careful of the truth that, rather than lying to the imperial officers who pursued the fugitive, he told them frankly that he would not reveal the man’s location. They could only be understood in that obvious sense, and that was their only true meaning. From the dawn of ethical speculation there have been two different opinions on the question as to whether lying is ever permissible Aristotle, in his “Ethics“, seems to hold that it is never allowable to tell a lie, while Plato, in his “Republic”, is more accommodating; he allows doctors and statesmen to lie occasionally for the good of their patients and for the common weal. Talk about what Scripture says about lying and telling the truth. By injuring man's relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord. But the emperor was so impressed with the bishop’s virtue that he both praised the bishop and pardoned the fugitive. Certainly in the real world, there are evil countries and entities. Indeed the pragmatic tendency of the day, which denies that there is such a thing as absolute truth, and measures the morality of actions by their effect on society and on the individual, would seem to open wide the gates to all but injurious lies. But we would no more call this “lying” than we would call an act of self-defense “murder.”. Because this definition is divorced from the objective truth or falsity of the statement, many philosophers and theologians have sought an alternative definition. It is not lawful to use mental reservations without good reason. For not merely the words actually used in a statement must be considered, when we desire to understand its meaning, and to get at the true mind of the speaker. Indeed, on many moral issues, such as lying, we Catholics find ourselves in a place similar to that of a “non-moral-absolute” non-believer: we’ve got to use our best individual judgement when making particular moral choices about truth-telling. In other words, most of us believe we can (and indeed should) lie under these circumstances, but we don’t know exactly why. This very precise definition, with its inclusion of the right to know, enables us to handle lying and falsehood in a manner very similar to the way we handle murder and killing. The deception (or killing) is a secondary effect of a legitimate action. But it is possible to lie without making a false statement and without any intention of deceiving. The Eighth Commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others. The issue has been debated intensely by moral theologians for well over 1500 years. It may be that: (1) The immorality of lying admits of exceptions such that there is no objective evil, or at least no subjective evil (guilt), in lying to the thugs; or (2) a very careful definition of “lying” will show that speaking falsely to the thugs is not a lie at all. The words, “I am not guilty”, derive the special meaning which they have in the mouth of a prisoner on his trial from the circumstances in which he is placed. Through a person’s intention to use particular knowledge for an evil end, that person would presumably forfeit his right to know. God is kind and gracious to us when we admit we have done wrong, and He calls us to be the same with our kids. It is a true statement of fact whether in reality he is guilty or not. While this may be so subjectively, it leaves open the possibility that such a person, believing a falsehood, could actually speak the truth by speaking against his own mind. Combatting these evils requires some level of intelligence work. Any act that is immoral by its very nature is an intrinsically evil act. When a prisoner pleads “Not guilty” in a court of justice, all concerned understand what is meant. Instead, they knock on the door and simply ask whether their intended victim is within. But mutual confidence, intercourse, and friendship, which are of such great importance for society, suffer much even from officious and jocose lying, In this, as in other moral questions, in order to see clearly the moral quality of an action we must consider what the effect would be if the action in question were regarded as perfectly right and were commonly practiced. Does that matter in determining whether it is a “sin,” or even a “lie,” for that matter? Today I went to confession, because I accidentally snacked on Ash Wednesday (wasn't suppose to). Jacob, Esau, Abraham, Jehu, and the Archangel Raphael made use of them. The doctrine which has been expounded above reproduces the common and universally accepted teaching of the Catholic schools throughout the Middle Ages until recent times. In it he cites the case of a holy bishop, Firmus of Thagasta, who wished to protect a man who had sought refuge with him. One of very few things (maybe only) think in the Catholic faith I have a trouble accepting on reason is the absolute banning of lying. Since that time they have been rejected as unlawful by all Catholic writers. We do not justify lying on the grounds that many in practice lie and know they lie. In other words, the change in definition does not mean the original formulation was wrong. Of course what is said merely and obviously in joke cannot be a lie: in order to have any malice in it, what is said must be naturally capable of deceiving others and must be said with the intention of saying what is false. One of the stronger philosophical traditions, endorsed by Aquinas and discussed by Augustine, posits that lying is “deliberately speaking against one’s own mind.” (Throughout this discussion, “speaking” means any sort of communication.) Truth is primarily a self-regarding virtue: it is something which man owes to his own rational nature and no one who has any regard for his own dignity and self-respect will be guilty of the turpitude of a lie. Presumably, that intention—if it exists consciously at all—is very secondary. Content Ratings based on a 0-5 scale where 0 = no objectionable content and 5 = an excessive or disturbing level of content. Besides this one, he puts another case which became classical in the schools. The Scholastics, while accepting the teaching of St. Augustine on the absolute and intrinsic malice of a lie, modified his teaching on the point which we are discussing. Interestingly, the most significant summary of our Catholic faith was written by St. Thomas Aquinas (called the Summa Theologica – Summary of Theology) and is set up in a question and answer format. He said his fish was "too hard.") Over the past hundred years there has been a growing movement among moral theologians to tweak the definition of lying as follows: “To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth.” This very sentence, in fact, is taken from the initial edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2483, 1994 edition). Nevertheless it is lawful to hide the truth prudently, by keeping it back, as Augustine says” (II:110:3). Following St. Augustine and St. Thomas, Catholic divines and ethical writers commonly make a distinction between (I) injurious, or hurtful, (2) officious, and (3) jocose lies. Ok, this isn’t my situation, but I’m interested in it. (Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth, p. 21) Here again, they speak lies in hypocrisy (1 Timothy 4:2). This must be understood of all mental restrictions which are lawful. John Hardon puts it in the Modern Catholic Dictionary, “When a person tells a lie, he or she deliberately says something that is contrary to what is on that person’s mind; there is a real opposition between what one says and what one thinks” (an opposition that cannot be merely apparent, explained by ignorance or misstatement). The operative sentence now reads simply: “To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error.” Of course, the Catechism is intended as a basic compendium of Catholic doctrine, assembled with due ecclesiastical care, and not as a collection of definitive infallible pronouncements permanently settling every question on every topic it covers. And neither definition appears to address the question of why it is moral to lie to murderous thugs. Thus it would be morally acceptable to speak a falsehood to the murderous thugs. It is not moral to kill anyone whose existence threatens our own lives (consider the case of abortion to save the life of the mother, or cannibalism in a life raft). In the end, then, the current Catechism does not directly address our problem. For convenience, let us put the case very precisely. Truth consists in a correspondence between the thing signified and the signification of it. We may, for example, try to change the subject, keep silence, or openly refuse to answer. It would satisfy a well-formed conscience, I think, to permit the speaking of falsehood when it is the only means we can think of to prevent someone from committing an immoral act. Augustine tells this story to provide a saintly witness for his argument that lying is always morally wrong, regardless of the circumstances, and to note that God is perfectly capable of extricating from trouble those who stand fast in the truth. Remember to do this with kindness and not in a “scolding” tone! 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