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Against Lying by St. Augustine

Section 19. Some man will say, |So then any thief whatever is to be accounted equalà

19. Some man will say, |So then any thief whatever is to be accounted equal with that thief who steals with will of mercy?| Who would say this? But of these two it does not follow that any is good, because one is worse. He is worse who steals through coveting, than he who steals through pity: but if all theft be sin, from all theft we must abstain. For who can say that people may sin, even though one sin be damnable, another venial? but now we are asking, if a man shall do this or that, who will not sin or will sin? not, who will sin more heavily or lightly. For even thefts themselves are more lightly punished by law than crimes of lust: they are, however, both sins, albeit the one lighter, the other heavier; so that a theft which is committed of concupiescence is held to be lighter than an act of lust which is committed for doing a good turn. Namely, in their own kind these become lighter than other sins of the same kind, which appear to be committed with a good intention; when yet the same compared with sins of another kind lighter in respect of the kind itself, are found to be heavier. It is a heavier sin to commit theft of avarice than of mercy; and likewise it is a heavier sin to perpetrate lewdness of luxury, than of mercy; and yet is it a heavier sin to commit adultery of mercy, than to commit theft of avarice. Nor is it our concern now, what is lighter or what heavier, but what are sins or are not. For no man can say that it was a duty for a sin to be done, where it is clearly a sin; but we say that it is a duty, if the sin were done so or so, to forgive or not to forgive. c20. But, what must be confessed, to human minds certain compensative sins do cause such embarrassment, that they are even thought meet to be praised, and rather to be called right deeds. For who can doubt it to be a great sin, if a father prostitute his own daughters to the fornications of the impious? And yet hath there arisen a case in which a just man thought it his duty to do this, when the Sodomites with nefarious onset of lust were rushing upon his guests. For he said, |I have two daughters which have not known man; I will bring them out to you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do ye no wrong, for that they have come under covering of my roof.| What shall we say here? Do we not so abhor the wickedness which the Sodomites were attempting to do to the guests of the just man, that, whatever were done so this were not done, he should deem right to be done? Very much also moveth us the person of the doer, which by merit of righteousness was obtaining deliverance from Sodom, to say that, since it is a less evil for women to suffer lewdness than for men, it even pertained to the righteousness of that just man, that to his daughters he chose this rather to be done, than to his guests; not only willing this in his mind, but also offering it in word, and, if they should assent, ready to fulfill it in deed. But then, if we shall open this way to sins, that we are to commit less sins, in order that others may not commit greater; by a broad boundary, nay rather, with no boundary at all, but with a tearing up and removing of all bounds, in infinite space, will all sins enter in and reign. For, when it shall be defined, that a man is to sin less, that another may not sin more; then, of course, by our committing thefts shall other men's committing of lewdness be guarded against, and incest by lewdness; and if any impiety shall seem even worse than incest, even incest shall be pronounced meet to be done by us, if in such wise it can be wrought that that impiety be not committed by others: and in each several kind of sins, both thefts for thefts, and lewdness for lewdness, and incest for incest, shall be accounted meet to be done: our own sins for other men's, not only less for greater, but even if it come to the very highest and worst, fewer for more; if the stress of affairs so turns, that otherwise other men would not abstain from sin unless by our sinning, somewhat less indeed, but still sinning; so that in every case where an enemy who shall have power of this sort shall say, |Unless thou be wicked, I will be more wicked, or unless thou do this wickedness, I will do more such,| we must seem to admit wickedness in ourselves, if we wish to refrain (others) from wickedness. To be wise in this sort, what is it but to lose one's wits, or rather, to be downright mad? Mine own iniquity, not another's, whether perpetrated upon me or upon others, is that from which I must beware of damnation. For |the soul that sinneth, it shall die.|

Footnotes:

Gen. xix.8 Ezek. xviii.4

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