Lying and the Incarnation

Whenever I defend St Thomas’s teaching that lying is always wrong people give me the “Nazis…Jew-in-the-basement-objection.” Nollie Tan Boom faced with that actual situation didn’t see it as warranting lies, but this doesn’t persuade the objectors one bit. The argument from the proper end of speech seems to them abstract and irrelevant. Just recently I had two hour long argument with someone which got us absolutely no-where. Then I listened to John Francis Nieto’s defense of St Thomas’s position in this lecture, and was absolutely moved to tears by its beauty and persuasive power. I urge you, gentle reader: listen to that lecture; it is Moral Theology as it should be. The power of Nieto’s argument comes from the way in which he shows how St Thomas’s teaching on lying is integrated into his whole theology of the Christian life. Janet Smith recently criticized St Thomas’s teaching on lying as being based on a pre-lapsarian view of the nature of signification, but what Nieto shows is that, while St Thomas’s view is perfectly intelligible at the level of the proper principles of natural action, it can be understood much more fully in the light of the Incarnate Word, who is Truth itself. It’s not a pre-lapsarian view; it’s a fullness of time view.


8 thoughts on “Lying and the Incarnation

  1. I am still working through the lecture but my gut response is that Ten Boom and her brother were not lying. The Nazi does not have a right to the truth and ten Boom’s intention is not falsehood but protection and safety for the Jew.


    • Alright, I get it. But if I were secretly protecting someone from death or camps, I would either sin and ask for pardon later, which Thomas and Augustine seem to say are the most pardonable…or go the route of, “I refuse to say.”


      • I don’t believe we are obliged to speak the truth if such truth is effective in aiding and abetting a crime, for example. It would be like enemy soldiers on an unjust campaign asking you where your country’s leader is hiding: to confess such a truth is, in fact, treason as well as assisting in someone’s probable murder. Even the enemy soldiers would hold you in contempt for betraying your country to them. The difficulty, of course, is that we appear obliged in the Nazi-Jew-hunter scenario to not only deny knowledge of something but even potentially to fabricate something; that is, we may be obliged to deceive in order to protect. Such fabrication is certainly not a good habit of mind for a Christian to entertain. Regardless, it appears probable that many early Christians in Rome were tortured even unto death while being asked where their leader, Saint Peter, was: it doesn’t appear that anyone told the Roman authorities where to find him. Does anyone have thoughts about this?


        • Well, in the case referred to above, no response would have caused suspicion. So the honest child tells a half truth instead of saying ‘no’. In the case of being tortured for St. Peter, the torturer knows the tortured knows the truth and the latter refused to answer, which is not a problem.

          Same with the enemy soldiers…you just wouldn’t say anything, there is no need to lie.

          The book I mentioned is, among other things, about japanese and jesuits being asked to apostatize by trampling on sacred images…if they do it, their friends will not be tortured. If they do not, they will be set free and their friends will be tortured and die. (if I remember correctly)


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