Tuesday, 8 February 2011


Following on from a previous post, it is possible to be a Saint and lie.......


If you are St Lie,

Saint Lie  (died 533) of Orléans is a French saint. He is honored in the bishopric of Orléans and his relics are enshrined in the village of Saint-Lié-la-Forêt in that diocese. He is said to have embraced the monastic life at the age of 12 and provided direction to Leonard of Noblac.
He died a recluse in the forest of Orléans.
His feast day is November 5.

Sorry, but that's the plain truth!

Rahab lied when she hid the spies of the children of Israel and then denied the fact - Joshua 2: 4-6 and yet, the Old and New Testaments condemn ' a lying tongue'. This leads to the question of what constitutes a lie in God's eyes.

Certainly a dishonest accusation or a claim made for gain would qualify. There is no doubt that those would be classed as sinful lies. But a lie made for a good intention is not actually a lie in my book. Enough examples have been quoted. Ergo, all lies are sinful but denying a truth in a good cause is not a lie. I am sure that the following extract from New Advent throws clarity on the issue:- 

Article 3. Whether every lie is a sin?

Objection 1. It seems that not every lie is a sin. For it is evident that the evangelists did not sin in the writing of the Gospel. Yet they seem to have told something false: since their accounts of the words of Christ and of others often differ from one another: wherefore seemingly one of them must have given an untrue account. Therefore not every lie is a sin.
Objection 2. Further, no one is rewarded by God for sin. But the midwives of Egypt were rewarded by God for a lie, for it is stated that "God built them houses" (Exodus 1:21). Therefore a lie is not a sin.
Objection 3. Further, the deeds of holy men are related in Sacred Writ that they may be a model of human life. But we read of certain very holy men that they lied. Thus (Genesis 12 and 20) we are told that Abraham said of his wife that she was his sister. Jacob also lied when he said that he was Esau, and yet he received a blessing (Genesis 27:27-29). Again, Judith is commended (Judith 15:10-11) although she lied to Holofernes. Therefore not every lie is a sin.
Objection 4. Further, one ought to choose the lesser evil in order to avoid the greater: even so a physician cuts off a limb, lest the whole body perish. Yet less harm is done by raising a false opinion in a person's mind, than by someone slaying or being slain. Therefore a man may lawfully lie, to save another from committing murder, or another from being killed.
Objection 5. Further, it is a lie not to fulfill what one has promised. Yet one is not bound to keep all one's promises: for Isidore says (Synonym. ii): "Break your faith when you have promised ill." Therefore not every lie is a sin.
Objection 6. Further, apparently a lie is a sin because thereby we deceive our neighbor: wherefore Augustine says (Lib. De Mend. xxi): "Whoever thinks that there is any kind of lie that is not a sin deceives himself shamefully, since he deems himself an honest man when he deceives others." Yet not every lie is a cause of deception, since no one is deceived by a jocose lie; seeing that lies of this kind are told, not with the intention of being believed, but merely for the sake of giving pleasure. Hence again we find hyperbolical expressions in Holy Writ. Therefore not every lie is a sin.
On the contrary, It is written (Sirach 7:14): "Be not willing to make any manner of lie."
I answer that, An action that is naturally evil in respect of its genus can by no means be good and lawful, since in order for an action to be good it must be right in every respect: because good results from a complete cause, while evil results from any single defect, as Dionysius asserts (Div. Nom. iv). Now a lie is evil in respect of its genus, since it is an action bearing on undue matter. For as words are naturally signs of intellectual acts, it is unnatural and undue for anyone to signify by words something that is not in his mind. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 7) that "lying is in itself evil and to be shunned, while truthfulness is good and worthy of praise." Therefore every lie is a sin, as also Augustine declares (Contra Mend. i).
Reply to Objection 1. It is unlawful to hold that any false assertion is contained either in the Gospel or in any canonical Scripture, or that the writers thereof have told untruths, because faith would be deprived of its certitude which is based on the authority of Holy Writ. That the words of certain people are variously reported in the Gospel and other sacred writings does not constitute a lie. Hence Augustine says (De Consens. Evang. ii): "He that has the wit to understand that in order to know the truth it is necessary to get at the sense, will conclude that he must not be the least troubled, no matter by what words that sense is expressed." Hence it is evident, as he adds (De Consens. Evang. ii), that "we must not judge that someone is lying, if several persons fail to describe in the same way and in the same words a thing which they remember to have seen or heard."
Reply to Objection 2. The midwives were rewarded, not for their lie, but for their fear of God, and for their good-will, which latter led them to tell a lie. Hence it is expressly stated (Exodus 2:21): "And because the midwives feared God, He built them houses." But the subsequent lie was not meritorious.
Reply to Objection 3. In Holy Writ, as Augustine observes (Lib. De Mend. v), the deeds of certain persons are related as examples of perfect virtue: and we must not believe that such persons were liars. If, however, any of their statements appear to be untruthful, we must understand such statements to have been figurative and prophetic. Hence Augustine says (Lib. De Mend. v): "We must believe that whatever is related of those who, in prophetical times, are mentioned as being worthy of credit, was done and said by them prophetically." As to Abraham "when he said that Sara was his sister, he wished to hide the truth, not to tell a lie, for she is called his sister since she was the daughter of his father," Augustine says (QQ. Super. Gen. xxvi; Contra Mend. x; Contra Faust. xxii). Wherefore Abraham himself said (Genesis 20:12): "She is truly my sister, the daughter of my father, and not the daughter of my mother," being related to him on his father's side. Jacob's assertion that he was Esau, Isaac's first-born, was spoken in a mystical sense, because, to wit, the latter's birthright was due to him by right: and he made use of this mode of speech being moved by the spirit of prophecy, in order to signify a mystery, namely, that the younger people, i.e. the Gentiles, should supplant the first-born, i.e. the Jews.
Some, however, are commended in the Scriptures, not on account of perfect virtue, but for a certain virtuous disposition, seeing that it was owing to some praiseworthy sentiment that they were moved to do certain undue things. It is thus that Judith is praised, not for lying to Holofernes, but for her desire to save the people, to which end she exposed herself to danger. And yet one might also say that her words contain truth in some mystical sense.
Reply to Objection 4. A lie is sinful not only because it injures one's neighbor, but also on account of its inordinateness, as stated above in this Article. Now it is not allowed to make use of anything inordinate in order to ward off injury or defects from another: as neither is it lawful to steal in order to give an alms, except perhaps in a case of necessity when all things are common. Therefore it is not lawful to tell a lie in order to deliver another from any danger whatever. Nevertheless it is lawful to hide the truth prudently, by keeping it back, as Augustine says (Contra Mend. x).
Reply to Objection 5. A man does not lie, so long as he has a mind to do what he promises, because he does not speak contrary to what he has in mind: but if he does not keep his promise, he seems to act without faith in changing his mind. He may, however, be excused for two reasons. First, if he has promised something evidently unlawful, because he sinned in promise, and did well to change his mind. Secondly, if circumstances have changed with regard to persons and the business in hand. For, as Seneca states (De Benef. iv), for a man to be bound to keep a promise, it is necessary for everything to remain unchanged: otherwise neither did he lie in promising--since he promised what he had in his mind, due circumstances being taken for granted--nor was he faithless in not keeping his promise, because circumstances are no longer the same. Hence the Apostle, though he did not go to Corinth, whither he had promised to go (2 Corinthians 1), did not lie, because obstacles had arisen which prevented him.
Reply to Objection 6. An action may be considered in two ways. First, in itself, secondly, with regard to the agent. Accordingly a jocose lie, from the very genus of the action, is of a nature to deceive; although in the intention of the speaker it is not told to deceive, nor does it deceive by the way it is told. Nor is there any similarity in the hyperbolical or any kind of figurative expressions, with which we meet in Holy Writ: because, as Augustine says (Lib. De Mend. v), "it is not a lie to do or say a thing figuratively: because every statement must be referred to the thing stated: and when a thing is done or said figuratively, it states what those to whom it is tendered understand it to signify."


Now I have to lie down as my head is hurting......


  1. Nothing like a bit of Aquinas to make the head spin.

    I've always asked whether the person from whom the information is being withheld has a right to the information. The whole Anne Frank thing comes to mind. Since the Nazi's intended to violate the natural law rights of the Frank family, if I were asked to disclose whether they were there are not I would say no and not ever believe that I had lied. The real harm would have been done by turning them over to die.

    The Rahab story solidifies this in my mind.

    And even if this sort of omission is still a sin I would imagine that it is one of the venial sort and I would hope that God would forgive me. It would seem that justice would demand it.

    But then I've been wrong before, just ask my wife!

  2. Bravo! You've laid this THING to rest. Now I can sleep!

  3. The brave people who told lies to protect the Jews whom they were hiding. They must be 'Saints' to use the term colloquially.

  4. Jesuit casuistry in the time of the persecutions of Catholics in England, Scotland, and Wales also comes to mind. Blessed be God in His angels and in His saints!

  5. St. Thomas Aquinas comes to the opposite conclusion:

    Therefore it is not lawful to tell a lie in order to deliver another from any danger whatever.

    Intentions do not change the definition of a lie. And since the Church condemns lying because of its nature, no intention or circumstance can change its evil nature.

  6. You say: "But a lie made for a good intention is not actually a lie in my book."

    However, then you quote an article from St. Thomas Aquinas that completely contradicts that.

    I'm not sure what your actual position is, then.

  7. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.

    2489 Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.

    I'm going right back to the Anne Frank scenario. When the Nazis show up I'm going to tell them that she's not there. Is this "discrete language" or an outright lie? I would have to believe that the Nazis have no right to know the information since they intend to harm or kill Anne.

    Further, in a situation where one is forced between using "discretion" (I really like this use of the word) or participation in murder, even though indirect, I'd have to say that the lie, if it can even be called that, would be considered a venial sin.

    Which gets me to the crux of my point: "No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it." If the Nazis plan to use the information to kill Anne do they have the right to it? And if they don't is lying even an issue?

    It seems that lying is always wrong but not telling the truth may not always be a lie.

  8. David, I stand by my statement that a lie told with a seriously good intention is not sinful. This is verified by the first part of the New Advent article.
    I included all of the arguments so that I could not be accused of being selective (or lying by default).

  9. I think that in the Anne Frank situation, it would be licit to tell what it colloquially known as a "lie." I can't imagine that it would be wrong to lie in this scenario so maybe it is not really a lie.

  10. For those who haven't lost interest: some reading and discussion of the lying question:


    Richard, did you *read* the article from the ST you quote here? The objections are positions he's going to debunk.

  11. Berenike - I have now read so many posts on 'lying' my brain is throbbing. I am going to plump for the case that a lie told in a good cause eg to save a life, is not actually a lie and, therefore, no sin is attached. I will check your referrals when I have a little more time, many thanks.

  12. Richard,

    Once the throbbing declines you may enjoy this article from Peter Kreeft. It addresses the situation at hand in logical and sensible manner.