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Against Lying by St. Augustine

Section 38. But infirmity pleadeth its part, and with favor of the crowds proclaims itself toà

38. But infirmity pleadeth its part, and with favor of the crowds proclaims itself to have a cause invincible. Where it contradicts, and says, |What way is there among men, who without doubt by being deceived are turned aside from a deadly harm to others or themselves, to succor men in peril, if our affection as men may not incline us to lie?| If it will hear me patiently, this crowd of mortality, crowd of infirmity, I will say somewhat in answer on the behalf of truth. Surely at the least pious, true, holy chastity is not otherwise than of the truth: and whoso acts against it, acts against truth. Why then, if otherwise it be not possible to succor men in peril, do I not also commit whoredom, which is therefore contrary to truth, for that it is contrary to chastity, and yet, to succor men in peril, do speak a lie which most openly is contrary to truth itself? Wherein hath chastity so highly deserved at our hands, and truth offended us? When all chastity is of the truth, and not the body's but the mind's chastity is truth, yea, in the mind dwelleth even the body's chastity. Lastly, as I shortly before said, and say again, whoever for the recommending and defending of any lie speaks against me, what speaks he, if he speaks not truth? Now if he is therefore to be heard because he speaks truth, how wishes he to make me, by speaking truth, a liar? How does lying take unto itself truth as its patroness? Or, is it for her own adversary that she conquers, that by herself she may be conquered? Who can bear this absurdity? In no wise therefore may we say, that they who assert that it is sometimes right to lie, in asserting that are truthful; lest, what is most absurd and foolish to believe, truth should teach us to be liars. For what sort of thing is it, that no man learns of chastity that we may commit adultery; that we may offend God none learns of piety; that we may do any man harm, none learns of kindness; and that we may tell lies, we are to learn of truth! But then if this thing truth teaches not, it is not true; if not true, it is not meet to be learned; if not meet to be learned, never therefore is it meet to tell a lie. c39. But, some man will say, |Strong meat is for them that are perfect.| For in many things a relaxation by way of indulgence is allowed to infirmity, although in her utmost sincerity the things be nowise pleasing to truth. Let him say this, whoever dreads not the consequences which are to be dreaded, if once there shall be in any way any lies permitted. In nowise, however, must they be permitted to climb up to such a height as to reach to perjuries and blasphemies: nor must any plea whatever be held out, for which it should be right that perjury should be committed, or, what is more execrable, that God should be blasphemed. For it does not follow that because the blaspheming is only in pretence and a lie, therefore He is not blasphemed. For at this rate it might be said that perjury is not committed, because it is by a lie that it is committed: for who can be by truth a perjurer? So also by truth can no man be a blasphemer. Doubtless it is a milder kind of false swearing, when a person does not know that thing to be false and believes it to be true, which he swears: like as also Saul blasphemed more excusably, because he did it ignorantly. But the reason why it is worse to blaspheme than to perjure one's self, is, that in false swearing God is taken to witness a false thing, but in blaspheming false things are spoken of God Himself. Now by so much is a man more inexcusable, whether perjurer or blasphemer, by how much the more, while asserting the things wherein they perjure or blaspheme, they know or believe them to be false. Whoever therefore says that for an imperilled man's temporal safety or life a lie may be told, doth too much himself swerve from the path of eternal safety and life, if he says that on that behalf one may even swear by God, or even blaspheme God.

Footnotes:

Heb. v.14 1 Tim. i.13

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