Robert Royal. Lying is indeed a very serious matter and many do not even realize how serious it is. There is some difference of opinion among the Fathers of the Christian Church. Right order demands that in doing this he should be truthful. He should gulp the lie as a sick man does his medicine. The statement is technically false, but social convention supplies a more ambivalent meaning. 10 The Lies Of Mother Teresa. 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. 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. 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. Since the mid-20th century, the same problem has been posed in terms of whether Christians hiding Jews in Nazi Germany could morally lie to those seeking to find and destroy them. Content Ratings based on a 0-5 scale where 0 = no objectionable content and 5 = an excessive or disturbing level of content. The gloss on the chapter, “Ne quis” (causa xxii, q. 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. 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. In places almost innumerable Holy Scripture seems to condemn lying as absolutely and unreservedly as it condemns murder and fornication. When a prisoner pleads “Not guilty” in a court of justice, all concerned understand what is meant. 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. An example may help. Besides this one, he puts another case which became classical in the schools. 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. Despite the strictures of both Augustine and Aquinas, the vast majority of well-formed Catholics would answer this question in the negative. 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. In the end, then, the current Catechism does not directly address our problem. The first thing to notice is that this definition emphasizes the moral intentionality of lying; the truth itself is not necessarily contradicted. Under these circumstances, they believe it is perfectly permissible to deceive the thugs at the door. Then he gives his own opinion, speaking with hesitation and under correction. But if we ask whether they were right in condemning our own weak and typical lies, only one answer is possible. He says that most doctors agree with St. Augustine, but that others say that one should tell a lie in such cases. 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. Any act that is immoral by its very nature is an intrinsically evil act. The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes St. Augustine’s teaching that “a lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving” (CCC 2482). These latter are equivocations whose true sense is determined solely by the mind of the speaker, and by no external circumstance or common usage. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. As we shall see, they have saints on their side as well. But it does mean that the editors of the Catechism were not prepared to endorse it in an official Catholic reference work. Lying is clearly unethical generally, because it undermines trust between individuals. 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”. What precisely does it mean to lie? Truth consists in a correspondence between the thing signified and the signification of it. This, however, seems to ignore the malice which a lie has in itself, like hypocrisy, and to derive it solely from the social consequence of lying. 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? Thus a recent authority defines a lie as a false statement made with the intention of deceiving. Because they don’t wish to create an outcry before they’re sure they’ve found their quarry (giving him time to escape, for example, from a neighboring house), they don’t force their way in to search. Ratings. Rather, the one killed must somehow have the character of an unjust aggressor. If the external manifestation is at variance with the inward thought, the result is a want of right order, a monstrosity in nature, a machine which is out of gear, whose parts do not work together harmoniously. 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. 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. For example, the Society of Jesus has been especially associated with various doctrines of mental reservation throughout most of its history. Prudent men only speak about what they should speak about, and what they say should be understood with that reservation. As the hypocrite is justly detested and despised, so should the liar be. On these lies, every saint agrees. Combatting these evils requires some level of intelligence work. Therefore, its very subjectivity renders it morally unhelpful. The absolute malice of lying is also shown from the evil consequences which it has for society. The situation faced by Bishop Firmus is a classic formulation of the circumstances leading to a necessary lie. The magisterium of the Church has not endorsed any such definition, but it recently came very close to taking a small step in that direction. 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. Many readers of our last list of 10 Dirty Secrets of the Catholic Church had the sneaking suspicion that there was more to the story—more dirty secrets to be uncovered. If you ask an attorney whether his client is guilty, he may properly answer “I don’t know,” and intelligent people in his culture will understand that this means “I have no communicable information to impart.” Hence the attorney uses a mental reservation about what he means by the words “I don’t know,” but it is a mental reservation understandable by all parties (termed a “wide” mental reservation, because its meaning is widely available). But more serious explorations of mental reservation have continued. The ninth commandment prohibits bearing false witness (Exodus 20:16). 2. He said his fish was "too hard.") Kant allowed a lie under no circumstance. His doctrine on this point has been generally followed in the Western Church, and it has been defended as the common opinion by the School men, and by modern divines. Lying, as defined by St. Thomas Aquinas, is a statement at variance with the mind. Lying is intrinsically evil. Some intrinsically evil acts are venial sins; other intrinsically evil acts are mortal sins. It has always been admitted that the question of lying creates great difficulties for the moralist. Origen quotes Plato and approves of his doctrine on this point (Stromata, VI). Regardless of definition, many others have suggested that the immorality of lying admits of exceptions. What we primarily intend is to prevent them from doing evil. Lying is opposed to the virtue of truth or veracity. This is internally consistent, and we must certainly follow our conscience, but it also weakens the obvious meaning of “speaking against one’s mind” and, in any case, the explanation does not provide any principle by which properly to form the conscience. The seal of confession and other secrets had to be preserved; this was a means of fulfilling those necessary duties without telling a lie. I have looked at a few topic thread on CAF recently and an finding a couple of things concerning about the Catholic religion. From the middle of the eighteenth century onwards a few discordant voices have been heard from time to time. 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. If he exceed, he will be judged the enemy of Him who said, “I am the Truth“. Layman saw no force in this argument; the man knew that he had broken the window, and nevertheless he said he had not done it; there was an evident contradiction between his assertion and his thought. Alas, the matter is not so easily resolved. On this reading, a very particular exception to the rule exists when there are conflicting moral requirements. This must be understood of all mental restrictions which are lawful. For convenience, let us put the case very precisely. An officious, or white, lie is such that it does nobody any injury: it is a lie of excuse, or a lie told to benefit somebody. According to the common teaching of St. Thomas and other divines, the hurtful lie is a mortal sin, but merely officious and jocose lies are of their own nature venial. Modern philosophers are divided in the same way. As I was confessing it, I remembered that a few years ago, I had (by accident) eaten chicken on a Friday during Lent, even though I ordered fish (Sidetracking, but one man was talking to chief, because it's a very very small local restaurant. This definition is more accurate than most others which are current. He should be guided by the example of Judith, Esther, and Jacob. Note that a solution to this conundrum could come in one of two forms. Lying, as defined by St. Thomas Aquinas , is a statement at variance with the mind.This definition is more accurate than most others which are current. 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. It had been introduced in order to furnish a way of escape from serious difficulties for those who held that it was never allowed to tell a lie. Consider a man with a house guest whom a group of thugs wants to murder. It rests in the first place on Holy Scripture. 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. Honest Answers to Questions About Catholic Faith & Beliefs. 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. In the end, the Catholic Church’s moral theology regarding lying comes down to the first of the moral rules that, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “apply in every case” (paragraph 1789): “One may never do evil so that good may result from it” (cf. Thus we commonly define murder as the taking of an “innocent” life (that is, the right to life has not been forfeited) and we distinguish murder sharply from mere killing. Does that matter in determining whether it is a “sin,” or even a “lie,” for that matter? The definition in the Catechism has the virtue of anchoring a lie in objective reality. Lying is held to be prohibited by the Eighth Commandment, but that commandment literally condemns only the bearing of false witness (as in a legal proceeding), so lying and other verbal sins are included by extension, through moral reasoning. They were condemned as lies by the Holy See on March 2, 1679. Catholic Answers writes, Our prayer to the saints in heaven, asking for their prayers for us, and their intercession with the Father do not undermine Christ's role as sole Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). Sometimes a statement receives a special meaning from use and custom, or from the special circumstances in which a man is placed, or from the mere fact that he holds a position of trust. In fact, it seems likely that most people throughout history have held that not all falsehoods are morally evil. 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. Such exceptions may be permitted by the principle of double effect: Just as one can morally kill to defend someone’s life, so one can morally lie for a similar reason. 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. 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. Thus a recent authority defines a lie as a false statement made with the intention of deceiving. If a person thinks something is true and deliberately states something to the contrary, he has incurred the moral guilt of lying. In other words, most of us believe we can (and indeed should) lie under these circumstances, but we don’t know exactly why. But Augustine and Aquinas were both aware that even many good Christians disagreed with them. 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. Today I went to confession, because I accidentally snacked on Ash Wednesday (wasn't suppose to). Therefore, by saying this phrase, you may not have been lying. This definition also makes it easier to dismiss falsehoods obviously told in jest (though supporters of the other definition have argued that a falsehood told in jest is not in any meaningful way contrary to one’s own mind), but it does not as easily capture the moral failure of the person who intends to lie but, because his understanding is wrong, inadvertently tells the truth. Ok, this isn’t my situation, but I’m interested in it. 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. The issue has been debated intensely by moral theologians for well over 1500 years. One problem with mental reservation theory is that it can make truth-telling dependent on one’s capacity for spur-of-the-moment mental sleight-of-hand (often called “strict” mental reservation because it exists strictly in the speaker’s mind alone). Instead, they knock on the door and simply ask whether their intended victim is within. Catholic Answers is a media company dedicated to sharing what the Church really teaches, and we are the world’s largest source for reliable information about the Catholic Church’s doctrine, tradition, and beliefs. 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. 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. 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. But the emperor was so impressed with the bishop’s virtue that he both praised the bishop and pardoned the fugitive. Or what about a sort of double mental reservation, but all on your own side? Insist on a full discussion about the lying — why it occurred, how the teenager could have chosen differently so that lying did not occur, and what he is going to do to prevent further lying. 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. 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. 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? For example, some proponents of the first definition have argued that a person is not really speaking against his own mind if his conscience instructs him to say something false (for example, to save an innocent person). 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. As it is lawful to kill another in self-defense, so in self-defense it is lawful to tell a lie. But if so, it is hard to reach such a conclusion only by denying the intention to deceive. 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