Rorate Caeli

Sometimes, one's got to lie

Thanks to the Pertinacious Papist for pointing this article of a seminary professor posted at First Things:
We are stunned, and not just by "pace Thomas Aquinas": was not even the doctrine of strict mental reservation, first proposed by the admirable Fr. Martín de Azpilicueta and much less problematic than the direct falsehoods defended in this article, condemned by the Church - even after being defended by great minds, including Suárez? Has not this all been settled? Must even the most basic Catholic moral doctrines be under debate in this never-ending aggiornamento?

[Update: nice take at Ite ad Thomam.]

76 comments:

dcs said...

Surely this is related to the dust-up over Live Action a few months ago. Unfortunately, Dr. Smith was not the only luminary to approve of lying -- Dr. Kreeft did as well.

New Catholic said...

Yes, it is.

Anonymous said...

Hum, let me think.....


St Thomas Aquinas vs "dr. Smith".....

Sorry Jane, you loose!!!

Humility,....right come again.

shane said...

This is the result of removing the pre-conciliar requirement for theological writings to be subject to censorship.

Alan Aversa said...

I heard somewhere the example of a priest bound by the seal of confession. If someone asks him something that would reveal what someone confessed to him in the confessional, he must unconditionally affirm or deny it even if that involves a lie because saying "I am bound by the seal of confession neither to affirm nor deny that" would itself reveal to the questioner that he has asked the priest something pertaining to a confession, and this would, albeit ever so slightly, violate priest's seal of confession.

This is because we live in a postlapsarian world, as Janet Smith says.

Also, I am not sure why she thinks St. Thomas Aquinas has such a strict view on lying. He mentions in his Summa the examples of Jacob lying that he was Esau and Judith lying to Holofernes, of whom he says: "And yet one might also say that her words contain truth in some mystical sense." (Summa Theologiæ, II-IIae q. 110 a. 3 ad 3). Could the Live Action posers, by dressing up as a pimp and prostitute, "contain truth in some mystical sense," e.g., that Planned Parenthood's immoral actions and their consequences are effectively prostituting good men and women against their wills by contributing to the culture of death which despises virgins and celibates? Is this unreasonable to say?

Also, could you please post a reference for Fr. Martín de Azpilicueta's doctrine of strict mental reservation and the doctrine of Suárez? Thanks

Ludovicus said...

It is interesting to note that Cardinal Newman also held that one may tell what he termed "a material falsehood," which is not strictly speaking a lie. Cardinal Newman brings forward quotations from many Greek fathers to support his position, and argues that it was only Augustine who first argued that falsehood was absolutely wrong.

"I think the historical course of thought upon the matter has been this: the Greek Fathers thought that, when there was a justa causa, an untruth need not be a lie. St. Augustine took another view, though with great misgiving; and, whether he is rightly interpreted or not, is the doctor of the great and common view that all untruths are lies, and that there can be no just cause of untruth."

The text can be found here:

Given this fact, it seems clear that the question has never really been a decided one in the Church. Dr. Smith mentions the fact that the first edition of the Catechism defines a lie as being a violation of truth against one "who has a right to know the truth." Though this was later removed, it could also be a sign of the continuing willingness of the Church to remain open on this question.

rodrigo said...

You are quite right, and if I have time I'll dig out the condemned propositions later today. Unfortunately, one of the features of the postconcilium was the near-wholesale jettisoning of the Catholic tradition of casuistry.

May God raise up another St Alphonsus to undo the damage of recent decades. In the meantime, we can amuse ourselves by imagining what Pascal would have done with Dr Smith's little offering.

rodrigo said...

My "you are quite right" was addressed to New Catholic, not Ludovicus, in case there was any doubt. Since Ludovicus mentioned Bl. John Henry Newman, let us remember his words in the Difficulties Felt By Anglicans, revisited in the Apologia:

The Church aims, not at making a show, but at doing a work. She regards this world, and all that is in it, as a mere shadow, as dust and ashes, compared with the value of one single soul. She holds that, unless she can, in her own way, do good to souls, it is no use her doing anything; she holds that it were better for sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions who are upon it to die of starvation in extremest agony, so far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, though it harmed no one, or steal one poor farthing without excuse.

Let us see no further attempts to recruit Bl. John Henry to the cause of well-intentioned lies.

Désiré-Joseph Mercier said...

I found some of the condemned propositions by Innocent XI on a Catholic forum so I would like someone else to verify this:

24. To call upon God as a witness to a slight lie is not a great irreverence, because of which God wishes or can condemn man.

25. With cause it is licit to swear without the intention of swearing, whether the matter be light or serious.

26. If anyone swears, either alone or in the presence of others, whether questioned or of his own will, whether for sake of recreation or for some other purpose, that he did not do something, which in fact he did, understanding within himself something else which he did not do, or another way than that by which he did it, or some other added truth, in fact does not lie and is no perjurer.

27. A just reason for using these ambiguous words exists, as often as it is necessary or useful to guard the well-being of the body, honor, property, or for any other act of virtue, so that the concealing of the truth is then regarded as expedient and zealous.

28. He who has been promoted to a magistracy or a public office by means of a recommendation or a gift can utter with mental reservation the oath which is customarily exacted of similar persons by order of the king, without regard for the intent of the one exacting it, because he is not bound to confess a concealed crime.

Jack said...

Rahab the Harlot was called "righteous" in Hebrews 11 for her concealing of the Hebrew spies.

Br. Gabriel Thomas, OP said...

@ Jack: Aquinas address that issue.

There is a long history to the debate among Catholic thinkers. However, it can be pretty much summarized as those who follow an Aristotelian notion of 'natures' will inevitably fall into the category of those who hold that all lying is at least a venial sin. Those with a more Platonic (or some other philosophical turn) will tend to give more room for the possibility of lying.

The deeper intellectual question is not about the nature of lying or the nature of truth. Rather, it is about the metaphysical understanding one has about the created order.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

The folks at the New Theological Movement dealt with this a few months ago.

Ludovicus said...

@Rodrigo

You quote Cardinal Newman in an attempt to show that the position I attributed to him was false, but your quote fails to prove the point, and if you had read the text from Cardinal Newman that I linked to, you would have seen this.

Cardinal Newman begins his treatise on lying by addressing another adversary who accuses him of inconsistency in his position on lying, precisely because of the text you quoted.

Cardinal Newman then goes on to explain what he thinks of lying, and, as I said in my previous post, he believes that certain untruths can be considered *material* lies only, and thus not strictly lies; thus, for such things, his statement about the moon and sun falling from the heavens would not apply.

For those who are not inclined to read the text I linked to, I include some quotations from it where Newman directly affirms the possibility of a "material lie."

"Supposing something has been confided to me in the strictest secrecy, which could not be revealed without great disadvantage to another, what am I to do? If I am a lawyer, I am protected by my profession. I have a right to treat with extreme indignation any question which trenches on the inviolability of my position; but, supposing I was driven up into a corner, I think I should have a right to say an untruth, or that, under such circumstances, a lie would be material, but it is almost an impossible case, for the law would defend me. In like manner, as a priest, I should think it lawful to speak as if I knew nothing of what passed in confession. And I think in these cases, I do in fact possess that guarantee, that I am not going by private judgment, which just now I demanded; for society would bear me out, whether as a lawyer or as a priest, that I had a duty to my client or penitent, such, that an untruth in the matter was not a lie. A common type of this permissible denial, be it material lie or evasion, is at the moment supplied to me:<—>an artist asked a Prime Minister, who was sitting to him, "What news, my Lord, from France? " He answered, 'I do not know; I have not read the Papers.'"

Ludovicus said...

Aquinas himself also makes the same claim that Cardinal Newman makes with regard to a priest being called to witness to something that he heard in confession, and also with things confided in the "strictest secrecy," as Newman says. (This is one problem I have with Janet Smith's article, since she interprets Aquinas wrongly.)

"Objection 3. Further, a man is bound to safeguard his conscience rather than the good name of another, because there is order in charity. Now it happens sometimes that a man by hiding a sin injures his own conscience--for instance, if he be called upon to give witness of a sin of which he has knowledge through confession, and is forced to swear to tell the truth--or when an abbot knows through confession the sin of a prior who is subject to him, which sin would be an occasion of ruin to the latter, if he suffers him to retain his priorship, wherefore he is bound to deprive him of the dignity of his pastoral charge, and yet in depriving him he seem to divulge the secret of confession. Therefore it seems that in certain cases it is lawful to reveal a confession."

"Reply to Objection 3. A man is not called upon to witness except as a man, wherefore without wronging his conscience he can swear that he knows not, what he knows only as God knows it. In like manner a superior can, without wronging his conscience, leave a sin unpunished which he knows only as God knows it, or he may forbear to apply a remedy, since he is not bound to apply a remedy, except according as it comes to his knowledge. Wherefore with regard to matters which come to his knowledge in the tribunal of Penance, he should apply the remedy, as far as he can, in the same court: thus as to the case in point, the abbot should advise the prior to resign his office, and if the latter refuse, he can absolve him from the priorship on some other occasion, yet so as to avoid all suspicion of divulging the confession." (Supplementum Tertia Pars, Q. 11, A.1)

In the next article, Aquinas goes on to assert that secrets given under the greatest confidence and secrecy, must be treated as it were "under the seal" such that one would have the same right to simply deny if one is asked concerning it, as Aquinas says regarding the priest.

"Objection 2. Further, sometimes one person tells another a secret, which the latter receives under the seal of confession. Therefore the seal of confession extends to matters having no relation to confession.

Reply to Objection 2. A confidence ought not easily to be accepted in this way: but if it be done the secret must be kept in the way promised, as though one had the secret through confession, though not through the seal of confession."

A Canberra Observer said...

well I have certainly heard the thesis that it is only a lie if the questioner has a right to know in a [very traditional] seminary context before.

rodrigo said...

Ludovicus,

In the present context, your decision to cite Newman was either disingenuous or inept. The Apologia's discussion - which I deliberately mentioned when quoting Newman's words in the Difficulties felt by Anglicans on the impermissibility of wilful untruths - does nothing to support the type of argument being made by the Smiths and Kreefts involved in the Live Action debate. For Newman, the "material lie" so-called does not constitute a lie properly speaking, and so whether or not such material lies are permissible within a rule framework such as distinguishes lawful from unlawful killing has little bearing on his unqualified opposition to the telling of wilful untruths. That is why Newman doesn't feel the need to retract his original claim about the impermissibility of wilful untruths; instead he draws the necessary distinctions which one finds, sometimes under different terms, in any half-decent manual of Catholic moral theology (silence, equivocation, etc.). In pressing Newman into service of a cause to which his thought is alien, it is these distinctions which you seem to be attempting to elide.

What Kreeft has argued, and Smith - in her rather inchoate way - has tried to point to, is the possibility of justifying the telling of wilful untruths by recourse to those lies' potential good consequences, or their targets' alleged unworthiness as recipients of truth. (In fact, some of what Kreeft has written seems to amount to an even cruder, pragmatic argument, viz., "it's a tough world and truth-telling's not how you get ahead" - but we can leave that to one side.) Your claim that the question has never really been a decided one in the Church is wrong, as those who have read the condemnations issued by Innocent XI, as well as subsequent texts from the Holy Office - which I will post when I have access to them later - know.

As for Dr Smith's argument from a qualifier in the JPII Catechism which was subsequently removed: wouldn't even a schoolboy of average intelligence discern from the fact of its removal that, if anything might be plausibly claimed, it is that the Church wished in changing it to avoid giving the impression that there might be limits to the obligation to shun falsehoods? If texts of catechisms which have since been revised are now to be treated as authoritative sources for the proper limits of Catholic morality, I look forward to Dr Smith's treatment of contraception in light of YouCat v.1.

Timothy Mulligan said...

Our Lord called Satan a liar and the father of lies.

Doesn't that settle the question?

John L said...

The Newman reference is a red herring, as noted by others. He is defending material lies, whereas what Smith is arguing for is the permissibility of formal lies - for the layman, this can be explained as what we all think of as lies. Otherwise her whole argument about St. Thomas having a prelapsarian attitude would be wrong. Her piece is shameful. The idea that the Fall can make things right that would not have been right prior to the Fall is absurd. I await the argument that Catholic teaching on sexuality and justice is based on a 'prelapsarian' conception, and has to be adjusted to fit the conditions of our fallen state; the traditional view that our fallen state has been healed by Christ and that we are no longer to conform to it, as taught by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, will be written off as preconciliar.

Anonymous said...

There are various forms of 'mental reservation' in classical Moral Theology, 'strict mental reservation being one of them. This is the restriction of the mind of the speaker of the sense of the words to a particular meaning which no one could understand - i.e. a lie (not every lie is a grievous sin), which is never permissible, and has, indeed, been condemned by Pope Innocent XI : though one has to check the actual nature of the condemnation. 'Broad mental reservation', for instance, may be used, providing that there is 1) a sufficiently good reason for its use and for the permitted deception of the hearer, and 2)the latter has no right to the information. For example, a group of Nazi SS soldiers, who question a superior of a religious house concerning the concealment of Jews in his monastery, have no right to know if Jews are hiding there (they are in mortal danger). The superior has a duty to protect the latter and may, for example, use 'broad mental reservation' if questioned. Fr. A.M.

New Catholic said...

Yes, Father. That is why we only mentioned "strict mental reservation". Mental reservation, in any sense, is far from what is defended in the article.

Thank you for your readership; please, pray for us.

David said...

@Désiré-Joseph Mercier: I can verify your quotes (Denzinger 1174-1178). Here is the Latin for those who are interested:

1174 24. Vocare Deum in testem mendacii levis non est tanta irreverentia, propter quam velit aut possit damnare hominem.

1175 25. Cum causa licitum est iurare sine animo iurandi, sive res sit levis sive gravis.

1176 26. Si quis vel solus vel coram aliis, sive interrogatus sive propria sponte, sive recreationis causa, sive quocumque alio fine iuret, se non fecisse aliquid, quod revera fecit, intelligendo intra se aliquid aliud, quod non fecit, vel aliam viam (diem) ab ea, in qua fecit, vel quodvis aliud additum verum, revera non mentitur nec est periurus.

1177 27. Causa iusta utendi his amphibologiis est, quoties id necessarium aut utile est ad salutem corporis, honorem, res familiares tuendas, vel ad quemlibet alium virtutis actum, ita ut veritatis occultatio censeatur tunc expediens et studiosa.

1178 28. Qui mediante commendatione vel munere ad magistratum vel officium publicum promotus est, poterit cum restrictione mentali praestare iuramentum, quod de mandato regis a similibus solet exigi, non habito respectu ad intentionem exigentis; quia non tenetur fateri crimen occultum.


I would point out that these errors refer specifically to the taking of oaths, the invoking of God to testify to a lie, etc. This is more a more serious matter than a lie that does not involve an oath. These are not necessarily applicable to lies not involving oaths. (But they may be...I don't know. Just a thought.)

Tradster said...

While I am not well versed in this particular topic, what has concerned me about Second Vatican and its fallout is what it sets the stage for and where it can lead to, beyond its actual content. Sounds like this is a possible example.

Traditionalism has been overrun and is giving way to a Second Vaticanist magisterialism that has almost, in effect, made 1965 a new Year 0.

dcs said...

I think it is worth pointing out that Dr. Smith, whatever her standing in Catholic circles, has no formal training in moral theology (even though she does teach that subject). She is a classicist by training. That is not to say that a classicist could not become a competent moral theologian. However, in Dr. Smith's case she does not seem to be very familiar with the moral theology tradition. We see this in her defense of lying as well as in her defense of Christopher West.

I am not Spartacus said...

This is a wild non sequitur but how many realise that in the great novel, "Camp of the Saints," (published in 1973) that the name of the Pope was, Pope Benedict XVI?

I assume that name was chosen according to the putative prophecies of St Malachy (the last Pope, don'cha'know) and about which prophecies reliable ecclesiastical historians describe as unworthy of belief

That thought just popped into my mind which is reason #591 that one ought never smoke marijuana and listen to Jerry Lee Lewis.

Jordanes551 said...

In my opinion, dcs is dead on target. Actually I think he may be too kind. On this matter you've got to consider the source. This is the same incompetent moral theologian who posted to her Twitter account the blasphemous and twisted statement, "Every lover is a pathological stalker. God is a stalker," and who defended Christopher West's disturbing take on the Theology of the Body.

She's pretty much shot to pieces any credibility and authority she may have had before the Christopher West fiasco. The best thing to do about Dr. Smith in my opinion is what any good policeman will do at a gory car wreck: just advise passersby, "Move along, folks. There's nothing to see here."

Isaac S said...

I would like more specific information on when the Church infallably condemned telling untruths in all circumstances. Just because Aquinas wrote something does not make it dogma (he famously argued against Mary being born without Original Sin). The condemnations of Bl. Innocent XI dealt with swearing oaths, not with telling untruths in other circumstances. I also believe that the effects of telling truths vs telling a lie must be considered, even if one does concede that all untruths are venial sins. It seems to me that it would be a mortal sin to hand over Jews to Nazis knowing that those Jews would be murdered. If is only a venial sin to tell a lie that would save the lives of those Jews, wouldn't the lie then be the preferrable action?

dcs said...

It seems to me that it would be a mortal sin to hand over Jews to Nazis knowing that those Jews would be murdered. If is only a venial sin to tell a lie that would save the lives of those Jews, wouldn't the lie then be the preferrable action?

No, there is never a case in which we must choose to sin.

Anonymous said...

Besides the fact that she is wrong, since when do we let women professors teach our seminarians?

Does anyone else find this very strange?

Catholic from Asia said...

"This is the result of removing the pre-conciliar requirement for theological writings to be subject to censorship."

If this were to be reinstated now, the very first casualty would be Traditionalist Catholic writers.

Jitpring said...

Yesterday, a 300-pounder asked me how she looked. I didn't tell her that, of course, she looked nauseating and disastrous. Instead, out of charity I told that she looked "fine." Was I wrong to say this instead of the truth?

Anonymous said...

jitpring,

No, it was not wrong because it is understood that you meant she looked fine....for a 300 pounder.

Isaac S said...

To dcs:

In that case, then it must not be a sin to lie to the Nazis. We KNOW for a fact that it would be a mortal sin to hand an innocent person over to be murdered. If our only two choices are 1) hand over an innocent person to be murdered and 2) tell an untruth, and we can never be forced to choose sin, then #2 must not be a sin. Theoretically, 3) use mental reservation is an option, but Nazis were not stupid or particularly patient, and any response other than "No, there are no Jews here" would not have satisfied them.

MCITL said...

@ Anonymous 04:28:

Smith's first name is Janet.

CCC 2483:

Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. 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.

New Catholic said...

Thank you, Father Cusick.

Please, keep us in your prayers.

dcs said...

@Isaac S.,

No, lying is intrinsically evil. We cannot lie to Nazis or to anyone else.

At the same time, the Nazis do not have the right to the truth, so we can equivocate or remain silent. If they figure out that one is hiding Jews because one remains silent or equivocates unconvincingly, the sin is theirs and not that of the person hiding the Jews.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

To those who insist that one would have to hand over Jews to be murdered rather than tell a lie: what if you were instead hiding Catholic priests from the Nazis? Would that change your thinking?

Don Paco said...

Maybe her article is supposed to be interpreted self-referentially. That is to say, perhaps, the article is a justifiable lie.

Isaac S said...

@dcs

I do not believe we can shrug off responsibility for our actions or inactions that lightly. It smacks of Pontius Pilate's "washing his hands" of Jesus's death. We are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of our actions. If the resonable consequence of remaining silent or trying some strained equivocation would be Nazis storming into your house, finding Jews, and dragging them off to be murdered, then the action of silence or equivocation would be an evil action. Lying would be, under ordinary circumstances, also an evil action. In this case, however, it would not be sinful because it would be the "least evil" of actions available.

I will concede, however, that this principle most likely does not apply to the Live Action/Planned Parenthood case. There are many other methods available to expose Planned Parenthood's corruption, so the deception would not have been the least evil action available. Rather, it was a case of "ends justify the means," which is an entirely different moral area that has been routinely and infallibly condemned by the Church.

dmw said...

I'll add another source for our reflection, namely, the Roman Catechism:

http://www.cin.org/users/james/ebooks/master/trent/tcomm08.htm

Isaac S said...

I also thought this link might be informative for everyone, as it gives a thorough treatment of what various Church fathers and saints have written on the issue:

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09469a.htm

Anonymous said...

@Anon (17:48, 20 May)

I don't see anyone saying that one would have to turn anyone (regardless of who they are) over to avoid lying. If you read what dcs said, right above your post, you should understand that the issue is how you avoid turning them over.

The use of equivocation (i.e., ambiguous words) would be permissible in such a circumstance. Telling an outright falsehood would not, because it never is.

The case of the confessional is not really an exception to this, either, just a matter of distinctions: as St. Thomas makes clear, the priest, as regards himself as a man, doesn't really know the things he heard in the confessional, and therefore he is free (and in fact bound) to act as if he didn't know them. The same is true of anyone who happens to accidentally overhear what was said in the confessional: we do our best to purge it from our minds, because we have no right to know it ourselves, and we certainly have no right to pass it on.

The whole notion of choosing the lesser sin is a trap. It is always possible - and our duty - to avoid sin entirely. If it were otherwise, God would be unjust, which is impossible.

Alan Aversa said...

@Jordanes551: "[Y]ou've got to consider the source"? No, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his De Modo Studendi: "Do not consider who the person is you are listening to, but whatever good he says commit to memory."

@dcs: "[L]ying is intrinsically evil" but "we can equivocate"? So equivocation can never be lying?

If lying is intrinsically evil, why can biblical people like Judith seeminglny get away with it and even be praised as a result of having done it?

St. Thomas says in Summa Theologiæ, IIa-IIæ q. 110 a. 3 ad 3 that "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. [...] 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."

Cannot people today be as virtuous as the people recorded in Scripture? The real question is whether Live Action's posing as a pimp and prostitute is "figurative and prophetic." Why can't it be?

I understand Dr. Smith to be saying exactly this. People like Judith are not praised for comitting a venial sin of lying, i.e., "not on account of perfect virtue, but for a certain virtuous disposition," such as to save the lives of others.

Anonymous said...

@Issac S

Pilate's case was entirely different. Pilate had a choice to do the right thing, but caved in to threats. He was in a position of authority, with a right and duty to release Our Lord, and instead allowed himself to be cowed into allowing his execution. Of course his hand-washing was an empty gesture under those circumstances (notwithstanding that, as Our Lord himself pointed out, Pilate was guilty of the lesser sin relative to the mob and to Judas).

Being conscientious of not transgressing the moral law while making every legitimate effort to protect an innocent person is not nearly the same thing as turning them over to save your own skin.

Anonymous said...

@Alan Aversa

The problem with the line of thinking here is that it makes the leap from defending the person (as St. Thomas does), to defending the lie. St. Thomas is making a point here of not considering Judith's lie worthy of emulation: you can't twist that into support for circumstantial lying.

Alan Aversa said...

@Anonymous: Yes, thank you for clarifying that. I agree. But it still doesn't answer when a seeming lie is in fact a "figurative and prophetic" truth or when they "contain truth in some mystical sense." What is St. Thomas getting at here? A lie can contain truth? Judith equivocated?

Dr. Smith does not believe all lies, including white and jocose ones, are at least a venial sin, which is a problem. If she did she would be forced to say one is bound to sin in certain situations, which is even more problematic.

Anonymous said...

This is a silly debate. Some untruths are permissible. If it were categorically wrong to tell untruths, then it would be impermissible to tell one's children that Santa Claus puts their presents under the Christmas Tree.

Jordanes551 said...

@Jordanes551: "[Y]ou've got to consider the source"? No, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his De Modo Studendi: "Do not consider who the person is you are listening to, but whatever good he says commit to memory."

That's a misapplication of St. Thomas. When you already know that a speaker is a blithering idiot, you need not pay any further attention to the idiot's blitherings, and in fact it's a waste of time to do so.

Dr. Smith is an incompetent moral theologian. That doesn't mean she hasn't had good things to say, even in the field of moral theology. But it does mean that it's inadvisable to look to her as a guide or authority in the field of moral theology. In light of her record in the Christopher West fiasco, no one should be surprised that she's botched this subject too. As dcs has observed, she does not seem to be very familiar with the moral theology tradition. As such she really needs to sit down and let the experts talk.

Jeff Culbreath said...

"If it were categorically wrong to tell untruths, then it would be impermissible to tell one's children that Santa Claus puts their presents under the Christmas Tree."

Well, yes, it would be - and it is. That is, if one is not merely playing make-believe but is deliberately speaking contrary to the truth in order to deceive.

I suspect it's a venial sin for most, possibly approaching zero culpability for many, but nevertheless it's wrong. Even before I knew it was wrong, I could never bring myself to do it. I want my kids to trust me.

Br. Gabriel Thomas, OP said...

@ Tradster: If you follow your history of Catholic moral thought then you will see that proportionalism and consequntualism was deeply imbedded in the Manualist Tradition. The problem is not one related to Vatican II, it is a problem with shifting the central focus on moral thought away from Virtues and the Natural Moral Law to Moral Legalism and Duty driven ethics.

@ Isaac S: Yes, many Fathers, Saints, and scholars in the Church have said many things about lying. The problem is that after Aquinas you have to begin with Aquinas and demonstrate that his treatment is not correct. You can't just side-step the work of Aquinas because it is an essential element to basic Catholic thought on these and other theological issues.

Also, the Pontius Pilate reference is problematic. Let us not forget that the Ethiopian Orthodox venerate him as a Saint for the very action of washing his hands of the matter.

Further, the question of whether the Church has pronounced something as infallible or not is irrelevant. That charism has a very narrow purpose as defined by Vatican I. Not all matters of faith and moral issues are or ever will be declared in such a manner. However, we must believe and adhere to them nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

All liberals are liars.

Janet Smith is a liberal.

Therefore, Janet Smith is a liar.

When she says that lying is sometimes necessary, she may be telling the truth but she may be lying.

At any rate, since she upholds lying as sometimes necessary, let us dismiss her at her own word, which we cannot trust.

P.K.T.P.

Jordanes551 said...

Also, the Pontius Pilate reference is problematic. Let us not forget that the Ethiopian Orthodox venerate him as a Saint for the very action of washing his hands of the matter.

That veneration more likely is due to the influence of late spurious tales that he became a Christian and did penance for killing Christ. I put no more stock in Ethiopian Orthodox veneration of Pontius Pilate than I put any credence in the Kebra Nagast and its tales of Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, Menelik, and Menelik's purported theft of the Ark of the Covenant.

Further, the question of whether the Church has pronounced something as infallible or not is irrelevant. That charism has a very narrow purpose as defined by Vatican I. Not all matters of faith and moral issues are or ever will be declared in such a manner. However, we must believe and adhere to them nonetheless.

Vatican I addressed the question of papal infallibility. Papal ex cathedra definitions are but one of the modes whereby the Church teaches infallibility.

Anonymous said...

A commentator from another website observed that any basketball player who feints right and then darts left is committing a sin, deceiving the other player from the reality of their intentions.

Isaac S said...

@dcs

There is a great danger in cherry-picking statements from Papal Enclyclicals over the ages and saying "this is the teaching of the Church." Many encyclicals were written in response to specific situations, with words chosen very carefully to put forth a specific meaning that may be dependent on external context, and so to extrapolate a single encyclical by a single Pope 700 years ago as binding Church teaching is problematic, to say the least.

My final word on the matter (since the Zionist label is getting thrown around, it is apparent that this discussion is going downhill), is that the exact boundaries of what qualifies as "broad reservation" vs "strict reservation" vs "lying" have not been defined by the Magisterium, nor has the exact definitiion of "lie." Aquinas and Augustine had a particular theory, and other Fathers and Doctors had others. I believe that at this point this is still a matter that is open to debate among Catholics.

dcs said...

If the fact that Judith is praised in Holy Scripture means that we can emulate her in all things, including her lying, does it then follow that we can also emulate Jephthe -- praised by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Hebrews -- in all things, including offering up our daughters as sacrifices?

dcs said...

A commentator from another website observed that any basketball player who feints right and then darts left is committing a sin, deceiving the other player from the reality of their intentions.

Not all deception is immoral - it is lying that is immoral.

Nicholas said...

I posted a quote from Chesterton which showed his agreement with the viewpoint of Smith and Kreeft. It showed up right away, but now seems to be gone. Was it deleted by a moderator? If so, why? Is there something wrong with quoting Chesterton? Or was this a technological snafu and I need only repost the quote?

Luka said...

My first and only impression of the article: amateurism.

I've came across on more deeper moral theology on forums, blogs and blog commentators, than expressed in this article. It is definitly not a scientific theological argument, it has no scientific value, it's just shallow.

It's also obvious that author is not aware of her uncompetence, imagening herself to be not just equal to Aquinas, but even more prudent than Doctor Angelicus.

Blessed are the ignorants...

Dan said...

Thank you, Jordanes, for reminding me that it was Dr Smith who flew to Christopher West's defense. I knew her name struck a discordant note in my rapidly failing memory but I had forgotten what about.

I would only add that her defense of the whole ridiculous "theology of the body" itself, not just West's perfectly logical elaborations on it, are worse.

To think that a Church that gave us the greatest thinkers of the past two thousand years should be talking about something as infantile and ludicrous as a "theology" of the body. Good grief. Thank you, John Paul II: talk about throwing gasoline on a raging fire (or raging hormones).

John Lamont said...

'We are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of our actions.'

This is not true, if understood of all our actions. Otherwise, Christ would have been responsible for his own crucifixion and for the sin of those who brought about that crucifixion, as he knew that his going up to Jerusalem would result in his being crucified. Pilate was of course choosing to judge wrongly in washing his hands; it was his own action, not a foreseen consequence of it, that sentenced Christ to crucifixion - so the example of Pilate is not to the purpose.

I missed the reference to Zionism above, but I am a Zionist of a moderate sort, in that I believe in the legitimacy of the state of Israel as a Jewish state (rather as I believe in the legitimacy of France as a French state), and in a conflict between Israel and her extremist Muslim enemies I want Israel to win rather than the Muslims; for what that is worth in this debate!

LeonG said...

Thank you Fr A.M. this is how it was explained to us at school many years ago. In contrast, the priest concerned also let us know that if our parents concealed us from the authorities when we had committed a serious crime and lied to do protect us then this would be a serious sin. We certainly understood the difference about strict mental reservations. Furthermore, if a murderer confesses his sin to a priest would the latter not encourage him to make reparation by going to the relevant authority and confess what he had done?

LeonG said...

"it would be impermissible to tell one's children that Santa Claus puts their presents under the Christmas Tree."

How could you deceive your children in such a manner? He puts them in stockings by the fireside or at the end of their beds.

Jordanes551 said...

No further references to Zionism will be permitted in this discussion. Please stay on topic.

Along the same lines, please let's not take my or Dan's comments on Dr. Smith's defense of Christopher West's and her expostulations upon the Theology of the Body as an opportunity for rehashing that whole sordid mess here.

Adeodatus said...

Justice regards what is owed. When the proverbial Nazi is at your door demanding to know if you're hiding any Jews (or Catholic priests), you must ask yourself whether this is a part of civilized, rational discourse... or is it a moment of veiled threat and moral barbarity?

Just as the man condemned for a capital crime has through his misdeed forfeited his right to live (St. Thomas compares him to a beast), has not also the terrorist forfeited the right to be spoken to as a man? If a Nazi comes to my door seeking victims, I think I shall address him like a beast.

If a dog barks at me, it matters not what I say in reply.

If I have said anything against Christ's Church, then let the words be discarded.

New Catholic said...

Nicholas, your Chesterton quote was completely taken out of context: he is simply mentioning his experience of trying to defend Catholicism from unjust accusations while still a non-Catholic and thinking as a non-Catholic. It is absolutely irrelevant to this discussion. Please, do not post it again.
---
Adeodatus, if that is your argument, then many sins are justified... If anyone who intends to do us or others harm is to be treated a beast (not anyone?... just Nazis?... who decides the amount of "barbarism" that defines the boundary between rational and irrational human beings?...), then almost anything done to this person is allowed and allowable.

This is not a coincidence: by accepting that ONE kind of evil (it is just a lie!) is acceptable for the greater good, many kinds of evil also become acceptable.

---

Br. Gabriel Thomas, thank you. Please, keep us in your prayers.

A Canberra Observer said...

Sometimes it is a good idea to recognise who your allies are in the wider picture, even if they don't conform to our personal ideal of "truth, justice and ...". I suggest Janet Smith is one such.

Pascendi said...

It would seem that she implicitly admits in her conclusion that her argument is based on subjectivist and immanentist philosophy.

Anonymous said...

So Nazis would go door to door, ask if the residents were hiding any Jews, and, receiving a negative reply, move on?
I wish we could have a better point to argue on.
cm

Joshua said...

Some of the posters would do well to remember that the virtue of truth, in St. Thomas, belongs to just as annexed as a secondary principle. He specifically argues that it is not part of legal justice (or what we might call now, social justice). In any case Aquinas answered this objection, in his own way (the notion of "right" that is used in the modern idea of "right to truth" is alien to St. Thomas)

He states,
To the fourth it is said that a lie does not only have the ratio of sin from the damage that it inflicts on a neighbour, but from its own disorder, as has been said. And it is not permitted to use some illicit disorder for impeding injuries and defects of others, just as it is not permitted to steal for this that a man should give alms, except, perhaps, in case of necessity, in which case all things are common property. And therefore it is not permitted to speak a lie for this, that someone should save another from any danger whatsoever. Nevertheless it is permitted to prudently hide the truth under some dissimulation, as Augustine says in "Against Lying"

The problem is that lying is also some undue morally. It damages the speaker and violates the very nature of man as a rational creature. Smith argues against Thomas by bring up a 20th century definition of lying and asserting, wrongly, common ground that is alien to him and the natural law.

Br. Gabriel Thomas, OP said...

@ Joshua: Thank you for your contribution to the discussion. This section of Aquinas is the reason why I noted on an earlier post that the underlying issue is less about lying itself. Rather, the real issue that underlies the debate is metaphysical. The argument that allows for lying for a good reason is a tacit nominalism. Those who debate the issue must remember that 'truth' posseses a mode of existence. Lying, as such, is not some thing. Instead, lying is a negation of the very being of truth. It is an act of violence against the natural order. Other issues aside, this is the underlying foundation of Aquinas' evaluation of the issue.

Mr. Ortiz said...

I have discussed this very point in Aquinas with some friends recently. I found additional light on the subject from the Catechism of the Council of Trent:

By lying, we show distrust in the Providence of God.

Anonymous said...

When does a lier tell the truth?

dcs said...

Sometimes it is a good idea to recognise who your allies are in the wider picture, even if they don't conform to our personal ideal of "truth, justice and ...". I suggest Janet Smith is one such.

Does that mean that one should not point out her errors, even when she gives scandal?

dcs said...

I heard somewhere the example of a priest bound by the seal of confession. If someone asks him something that would reveal what someone confessed to him in the confessional, he must unconditionally affirm or deny it even if that involves a lie because saying "I am bound by the seal of confession neither to affirm nor deny that" would itself reveal to the questioner that he has asked the priest something pertaining to a confession, and this would, albeit ever so slightly, violate priest's seal of confession.

The priest can simply answer "I don't know" (Cf. Jone). He cannot lie.

Anonymous said...

"To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error."

If I tell Nazis that there are Jews in my attic, am I not thereby leading them, in some form, (cooperating with / enabling their intention to enter) into the great error of Murder? And if I deny the presence of Jews, do I not thereby lead the Nazis away from the error of Murder?

"Bearing False Witness" seems to encompass an active and willful offering of untruth, in a formal setting - swearing under oath,or deceptively witnessing against someone to their detriment.

Being forced into a position where one must cooperate or enable evil via a legalistic observance of the truth does not seem to be in accord with the spirit of the commandment.

And how does this jibe with the "supremacy of conscience"? I'd feel a lot better lying to Nazis than being truthful and sending Jews to their death.

Paul

pclaudel said...

Paul: I am glad to be reminded that, in certain circles, there is no moral principle, be it ever so reverend or ever so long-standing, that cannot be trumped by the invocation of the word Nazi.

Carl Grillo said...

Forget about pace Thomas...

Janet Smith denies Virginity in Birth


Janet Smith responds to Alice von Hildebrand’s critique of Christopher West
Lima, Peru, Oct 22, 2010 / 01:04 am (CNA).-
Smith also discussed the debate surrounding whether or not dwelling on the details of Christ’s birth displays an inordinate curiosity.
“Von Hildebrand’s response to West’s likening the birth of his son to the birth of Jesus is curious. She believes it is incorrect to think that Mary may have expelled a bloody placenta. Pregnant wombs have placentas,” Smith wrote. “Did not Mary’s? Would it be wrong to think it might have been bloody? Christ’s body was covered with blood when he died, was it not? Scripture itself makes reference to Mary’s womb and breasts; is the placenta really so objectionable that it could not be mentioned?
· Louis Tofari 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand
Our Lady did not expel a placenta; the Virgin Birth (hence, no blood) was miraculous and did not take place in the normal manner. Such has been related by numerous saintly writers and theologians.
Replying to Louis Tofari

Dear Mr.Tofari,

The "virginitas in partu" (virginity in giving birth) is not just a "pious tradition"...it is a Catholic Dogma "de fide divina et catholica" - which must be believed by "Divine and Catholic faith," infallibly proposed by the ordinary and universal Magisterium; whose denial on the part of Janet Smith is therefore - formally heretical and presumably malicious: she cannot be excused on account of ignorance. The specific contents of this Catholic dogma are as follows: non-rupture of the physical virginal integrity (I omit the biological term "ex reverentiam"); the absence of labor pains; AND...the "sine sordibus" - the absence of the biological accidents of natural birth: placenta, umbilical cord, etc. Janet Smith's blasphemous expression, "...pregnant women (sic-!) have placentas," just indicates her degree of hatred for Our Lord Jesus Christ and his Most Holy and Immaculate Mother...[cf., Pius XII, in Mystici Corporis: "...it was a miraculous birth." Vatican II: "..whose birth not only did not diminish his Mother's virginal integrity, but augmented it;" repeated by John Paul II in his catechetical and Marian discourses...]