Matilda

For every time she shouted “Fire!” 
They only answered “Little Liar!”

Let’s imagine that you have a friend who is in hospital and near to death from a road accident. He asks you about his passenger – his beloved wife. In fact she was killed in the accident. You can say one of three things: Your wife is OK; I don’t know how your wife is; Your wife is dead. The doctors assure you that to tell him that his wife is dead will almost certainly bring about his own death. Yet the remaining answers: I don’t know, or, she’s OK involve telling a lie.

Which will you do? And, if you were the dying man, which would you want your visitor to do?

This is the dilemma which St Augustine proposes in his Letter to Consentius. He admits that he is weak and tempted. Yet he resists, and for two reasons: first, that you may not do a wrong in order that good may come; second that, once you go down the path of falsehood, eventually all truth disappears.

In another part of the wood we find the philosopher, Kant. He too believes that lies cannot ever be justified.  He holds that any moral principle must be judged by considering what the outcome would be if everyone followed that principle. It is easy to see that a society which accepts lying as moral and usual behaviour would soon collapse.

The classic scholastic argument comes from the Natural Law: the faculty of speech is given us by God in order to convey what is true. To employ that faculty to convey falsehood is an abuse of the nature God has given us, and stands in the way of human flourishing.

No one disputes that cases of great difficulty can arise. The Catechism addresses this by use of “discreet” language. This appears to mean mental reservation. In the example above one might say “Your wife is OK”, but meaning “She is OK because she is dead and, we may hope, on the way to Heaven.” Or one might say “I haven’t spoken to the doctor yet.” Perhaps literally true, but quite consistent with having seen the dead wife.

Many people feel uneasy about this solution. It seems to mean that you can deliberately deceive as long as you avoid a direct falsehood. It looks as if preserving the form of truth matters more than the spirit of truth.

Blaise Pascal made merry of this in his Lettres Provinciales”– a wholesale attack on the Jesuits. For instance the writer is advised that the best authorities say that is the intention that determines the quality of the action. Thus to swear that one has not done something, which in facts one has done, is not a lie if one says, under one’s breath,  “not today” or some such.

And we recall that it was the accusation of such mental reservation, as the “Catholic” justification of lying which was eventually to lead to Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua.

A more liberal view is to start from the principle that speech is given to us to convey truth to those who are entitled to the truth. Thus the Elizabethan poursuivant who asks if you have a priest hidden about your person is not entitled to the truth and may safely be told a lie.

However this does not cover you friend in hospital. Is he not entitled to the truth? And, following Augustine, what is the logical outcome?   Perhaps we should accept that people may tell us lies for our own good. And what happens about lies on wartime. Propaganda, for instance.  Harold Nicholson, in the House of Commons, 1938, said “During the (Great) war, we lied damnably.”

Every breach of the truth, whatever casuistry is used to justify it, corrodes the value of truth. One of my great disillusions was President Eisenhower’s direct lie that the U-2 reconnaissance plane, flown by Gary Powers, was not spying over Russian Territory. Krushchev’s subsequent production of both plane and pilot ended my innocent belief that “good guys” didn’t tell lies. That was 52 years ago, and I still don’t trust any politician – from whatever country.

It seems to me that our society is sagging at the seams with lies, deceits, and untrustworthiness of all kinds. What does it say of a society that the phrase “caveat emptor” is needed and used every day? But I wish I could put my hand on my heart and claim that I never spoke a lie. Indeed, that would itself be a lie.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Moral judgment, Quentin queries and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

63 Responses to Matilda

  1. Peter D. Wilson says:

    Unless we can be as humanly possible certain of the outcome, lying is always more or less dangerous. The hypothesis seems to be that the husband is dying anyway, which simplifies matters since a lie would merely delay the inevitable and no one can tell whether that would be a good or bad thing; having no wife, I can put myself in the husband’s position only in imagination but can well believe that he might wish to follow his wife as soon as possible, and who can say that he would be wrong?

    The case becomes more difficult if there is a reasonable chance of his recovering provided he receives no shocks. If we suppose that a lie in these circumstances might be permissible, then much would depend on how confident we can be of his reaction to its discovery: a greater shock? Anger, possibly leading to a total loss of trust? Gratitude for the attempt to spare him? Acceptance that he is now solely responsible for the care of any young children? How well can we predict the outcome?

    Ultimately, I just don’t know.

    • tim says:

      Good point. One of the problems of guiding one’s actions by expected outcomes rather than by rules is that frequently outcomes are different from what one expects.

      • tim says:

        Brian, I don’t see the problem here. I don’t see why the priest need deny having met the man, or having acted as his confessor (unless there is something specific in canon law about the latter). What he mustn’t do is reveal what was confessed. Why does he need to lie?

  2. Brian Hamill says:

    What about the priest who has absolved the criminal in the confessional and is then asked in the court, on oath, whether he has ever met the man? Does the seal of confession have priority over the ‘truth’? The classic answer to this case, if I remember correctly, is that he must say ‘no’ since to decline to answer the question would indicate ‘yes’. The reasoning is the same as when I, a small boy, asked my father where he was going. He always answered, ‘To see a man about a dog’. After a few times, I realised that this was not true but a way of telling me, gently, to mind my own business.
    To turn to the case of the dying man, the answer is quite simply, ‘She is well’. That is what he wants to hear and it is more true than ‘She is dead’, which is really only half a truth, at least to a Christian.

  3. claret says:

    In the film ‘Catholic Boys’ there is a scene where a line of boys are waiting to go into the confessional. The school bully wants to know what each of them is going to confess and walks down the line challenging each one in turn. One of the boys admits to some sexual sin to which the bully boy advises him; “You can’t say that. Tell the priest you have nothing to confess except that you tell lies!”

    I hope I recall the scene correctly as it is some while since I saw it but it seemed perfectly good advice and, if followed, allowed anyone to make a truthful ‘good confession’ wihtout having to admit to a series of sins.

    So , even the truth can be a lie.

    Even Jesus once queried : ‘Truth, what is that?’

  4. Tim Roberts says:

    As the injured man, I want desperately to hear that my wife is all right. But not – surely – if it’s not true?
    Maybe, when the doctor tells you that knowledge of his wife’s death is likely to kill him, you should say to the doctor that you do not think you will be able to conceal this knowledge from him (a statement which may imply that you are a bad liar, rather than that you have decided in advance that you will not lie). It’s then the doctor’s responsibility to decide whether to let you visit or not. If you have neglected to do this, you can try evading the question (though this will probably have the effect of answering it in the negative). I think it likely that I would succumb to the temptation to lie, but doubt if this is right. The doctor may be wrong in her prognosis – nor is death necessarily the worst thing that can happen to a man who has just lost his wife.

    More generally, I believe that equivocation (or economy) is not necessarily to be ruled out in all cases. Adding something sotto voce to qualify what you say aloud obviously won’t do. But to make a true statement that may be misinterpreted is different (an example is what I say to the doctor above). “Your wife is OK” wouldn’t pass muster, because you were asked (either directly or by clear implication) about her physical condition. But “I haven’t spoken to the doctor yet” (if true) or even “The doctor didn’t say anything about her” or, perhaps better, “You’ll have to ask the doctor about her” may be legitimate. I do not accept an obligation (or even that it’s possible) ‘to tell the whole truth’ on every occasion. Tentatively, as an example of a statement that may be misinterpreted, I cite the words of Our Lord: “Why callest thou Me good? There is none good but God”. A learned Jewish commentator reads that as a clear denial by Christ of His divinity. I read it as exactly the opposite.

  5. claret says:

    My wife asked. “Does my bottom look big in this dress?” Do I really have to risk all by telling the truth?

    • tim says:

      If the answer is not what is hoped for, take the domestic version of the Fifth Amendment. On no account respond to the question as asked. Often what is being asked for is reassurance, and it should be possible to provide this, leaving the question as asked on one side. In other situations (before the dress has been purchased, for example) it may be possible to find valid objections to the dress without adverting to the point raised.

  6. Horace says:

    I trust that Quentin will forgive a brief quote from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (God and the World)
    Q: “Are necessary lies permissible, for instance getting someone to say on the telephone that you are unavailable?”
    A: ” These are quite practical questions on which even moralists are divided. . . . . I would not attempt to condemn straightaway such an attempt to protect oneself – because I do it too.”

    • tim says:

      This is a good example of a situation where a lie is quite unnecessary – and in my view what is said is in no reasonable sense a lie. If I ring up the Pope (or anyone else, for that matter) and am told he is not available, this simply means that he has better things to do than to speak to me. It is purely formal – compare the Victorians, where the lady of the house, not wishing to receive visitors, would be “Not at home” (and might even be ‘not at home’ to some visitors but not others). There is an understandable temptation to embroider on such occasions to make bad news more acceptable. It must be resisted.

  7. John Candido says:

    Very entertaining and amusing quote! Thanks Horace.

    • Quentin says:

      An interesting comment. In fact it was under Ratzinger (CDF) that the Catechism was modified on this question.

      2483 The second sentence of this paragraph presently reads:
      “To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth.”
      This sentence will be modified to read:
      To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error.

      This discourages the application of ‘justice’ and emphasises the ‘lies are wrong in themselves’ approach.

      (There is no objection to the use of pertinent quotations on this Blog, in the forms that we have customarily used.)

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        To resurrect a familiar hypothetical situation: supposing A demands of B the whereabouts of C whom (as B knows) he intends to kill. To answer truthfully could be construed as leading B into, or at least towards, the “error” of committing murder, presumably to be deplored more than the act of deception in giving misinformation.

        If we’re going to be legalistic, would this satisfy the revised article 2483?

      • John L says:

        I wonder about that modification…?
        It was explained to me by a priest many years ago that there is a problem when someone may NOT have the right to a piece of information. He might frame an enquiry in terms where a simple, truthful “yes” or “no” might both reveal the information. In those circumstances it is permissible to say “I don’t know”, even when that may be untruthful. It means “I don’t know inasmuch as I have no right to tell you”.
        Is this Jesuitical casuistry, simple charity, a plain lie or what?
        And does your information, Quentin, suggest that the view on this has changed in moral theology?

      • Quentin says:

        I know of no change beyond what we can all infer from the 1997 revision i.e. that the powers that be decided that using the justice principle was too slack, or didn’t respect the natural law habit of deriving function from form.

        There are some who argue that even trivialities like ‘not at home’ risk the habit of truth. The discreet language, used in necessary cases, to which the Catechism refers seems to me however just as dangerous

      • Brian Hamill says:

        ‘…seems to me just as dangerous’. We live in world surrounded by danger, on the roads, at work, at home. That is the nature of life. We take our chance and leave the outcome, ultimately to God. I would like to broaden the discussion just a bit by referring to the Fifth Commandment, ‘Thou shall not kill’. There are no ambiguities about this statement and yet many have killed, and been killed, quite lawfully. It is the context of the killing which is all-important. If someone is on the point of killing me, I have the right to prevent them, by killing them if necessary. So we introduce the concept of ‘just killing’. This is a whole lot more serious concept than ‘just lying’. But there seems to me a clear relationship between the two. Our protection of the innocent against the unjust aggressor is part our Christian heritage. That applies to speech as well as to action.

  8. Peter D. Wilson says:

    P.S. … not that I mean to impute legalism to anyone on this blog!

    • tim says:

      Peter, I would not be affronted to have legalism imputed to me – perhaps even the contrary. Law is often a question of using the right words to get the sense right. If you get the words wrong, what you say is untrue. If you get the words right, it isn’t. Normally, you have an obligation both to tell the truth and not to mislead. But the latter (I say) is less important – and its strength may vary according to the nature of the enquiry. Sometimes (as with Nazi guards) you may have both an obligation to tell the truth and to mislead (and the latter may be more serious).

      One question that all this begs is whether (and if so, when) there is an obligation to answer at all. Often there is none – or an obligation not to answer. When we find that difficult, we can pray to St Margaret Clitherow!

      • tim says:

        An example of getting the words wrong:
        I am driven to distraction by my diocesan authorities who require official diocesan correspondence to carry the disclaimer ” This email and any enclosures ARE confidential, protected by copyright and legally privileged” (emphasis added). 98% of the time this is simply false. Quite often the document attached is not confidential (typically it is the weekly bulletin of mass times) and hardly ever is it legally privileged. Everyone else says ‘may be’ in such disclaimers but they refuse to. I cannot understand why.

  9. claret says:

    The phrase that has passed into folklore is: ‘Being economical with the truth.’ the Church used it recently to devestating effect in the abuse scandals in Ireland when among other ‘economical statemnents’ were: ‘We are co-operating with the Police.’ ( Purposefully ommitting the word ‘fully.’)
    The phone call ( not at home, analogy,) was also used to devestating effect when complainants arrived at the Bishop’s door to make a complaint about abuse to be told: The Bishop is not at home ( with the inaudible rider ‘to you.’)

  10. Lafu Ka says:

    That’s really not in the spirit of Christianity, is it? I think I prefer the old version.

  11. Iona says:

    To get back to Quentin’s hospitalised man: There are various possible answers one might give without departing from the truth, such as: “She was badly hurt and you won’t be able to see her yet”. But if he asks the question, may it be assumed that he wants a truthful answer? And that he is aware she may have died in the accident, and is prepared to be told that? In which case maybe one should respect his position and tell him the truth in as gentle a manner as possible.
    But if it were me, I know what would happen: I would try to evade telling him, but probably not manage to do so very convincingly, leading him to suspect or guess at the truth without having any way to confirm it.
    I’d much rather pass the buck to the doctor.

    As to Claret’s wife’s dress: assuming it’s one she already owns, how about: “Personally, I think you look best in the blue dress”?

  12. Iona says:

    When I saw from Quentin’s email that the latest Secondsight blog was about lying, I thought how timely in view of the revelations about police action in the wake of Hillsborough.

  13. John Nolan says:

    What about lying to deceive the enemy in wartime? Disinformation is a vital part of military intelligence. Was the D-Day deception plan, based on a massive edifice of falsehoods, thereby immoral? Is the agent with a false identity and forged papers committing a sin? Harold Nicholson was referring to false propaganda with the intention of demonizing and dehumanizing the enemy, which is clearly unethical.

    • Brian Hamill says:

      An interesting point comes when a parent who knows his son has committed a serious crime is asked by the police if he is at home. Knowing that he is, can he still say ‘no’, defending his own?

  14. claret says:

    The moral maze is in overdrive but the plain fact of the matter is that we tell lies by the hundreds in multiple situations but perhaps as with any crime the tests are: What is the intent ? What outcome do we seek ? The question posed at the start of this discussion does not place on the listener an obligation to give an answer therefore not to do so should be in the list of alternatives.

  15. Mike Horsnall says:

    Hear hear! we all dissemble , we all equivocate we all shy away from threat we all stumble in many ways- weakness is the issue as much as anything else. I also agree that the fact that a question is posed does not mean it should be answered-life is more complicated than that…motive is the thing.

  16. Brendan O' Leary says:

    I’m coming in at the tale end here, but I find myself more or less agreeing with Quentins’ stance.
    I don’t know whether it’s true that President George Washington never told a lie, but as an American friend of mine might say….. they’ve told a whole bunch of lies since !
    To go back to the original proposition. I believe I would find it very hard not to tell the truth to a dying person in the same way that I tell little white lies to my wife just for a quiet life. How can I justify that stance? Partly to do with the difference in gravity between the lies, the natural law which hangs on Christs’ words …. ” the Truth will set you free “, and my fervent belief that a dying person would always want to know the thuth, and that with that com- passion I would join that person in their time of utter desolation at the news. That person would probably know the truth in my eyes and somehow I would hope to find in him an acknowlegement of this and a joining of our two prescences for the time he or she has left. In the end it may all seem just words, but if we take up his cross daily we won’t do any better than walk with Him and come closer to Him in Truth with everyday that passes.
    This I believe to be an interpretation of what Saint Augustine meant when he talks about truth disappearing. Thank God then, for Sacramental Reconciliation for habitual sins and its sanctifying grace.

    • Brian Hamill says:

      We have all heard of ‘gospel truth’. But it is fairly clear that the gospel do not ‘tell the truth’. What they do is to reveal him who is Truth. For example, the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus is almost certainly ‘made up’, not in order to deceive but to reveal the reality of the situation, namely, among other things, the proper relationship between holy power and worldly power. Is it true? Certainly. Is it accurate? Not at all.
      Perhaps we are also getting our arguments in a twist because we have no word which really describes what is generally termed ‘a white lie’. The word ‘lie’, like ‘murder’, carries a connotation that is always bad. But murder has its more neutral form in ‘killing’, something that ‘lie’ does not have.

      • Brendan O' Leary says:

        Brian, I do not see that there can be any subjectivity in telling a lie other than ” gravity “- venial or mortal.

      • Brian Hamill says:

        Brendan, that is just the point. By using the word ‘lie’ you skew the argument. The question is whether it is right to give an ‘inaccurate’ answer.

      • John Nolan says:

        You can only assume it was ‘made up’ if you know for a fact that the exchanges between Our Lord and Pontius Pilate were made in private. Then, as now, legal proceedings were coram publico.

  17. Peter D. Wilson says:

    Brian – There’s always “untruth”.

  18. Mike Horsnall says:

    Brain Hamil:

    “….that is just the point. By using the word ‘lie’ you skew the argument The question is whether it is right to give an ‘inaccurate’ answer…..”

    I agree with Brian Hamill on this. I also feel that once we make the issue so black and white the door is opened wide for pride, self righteousness and rampant pharisaism.

    • tim says:

      An inaccurate statement which at the time of giving it you know to be untrue is a lie. There are ‘white lies’ told from good motives, for example to save pain or trouble. These are still lies. The question is whether they are allowable (or even sometimes obligatory) – and if so, when. No doubt some answers may be accused of pharisaism and others of indifferentism – I don’t think this invalidates the need for a discussion. Motives are important but not all-important – we usually act from mixed motives, and it is easy to deceive oneself.

  19. Brendan O' Leary says:

    Mike and Brian, Cath. 2428 ‘A lie consists of speaking a falsehood with the INTENTION of deceiving.’
    That does not mean that an answer has to be necessarily accurate only thruthful in substance. After all unless one knows of a definite lie by another owing to prior knowledge of the subject in question, one may accept this as accurate and truthful. It may be only later that the words used may not be accurate , but that does mean that an untruth or lie has been told. As in the Gospels written evidence does conflict with each other, but …… the intention is not to deceive.
    I find that few things appear black and white in life. In good conscience there is still the Spirit of God in us to instil virtue to guard against the temptation to …. ” pride, self- righteousness and rampant pharisaism. “

    • Brian Hamill says:

      Brendan, you, and Quentin, quote from Canon Law. I was told that in the middle of the last century a learned moral theologian proclaimed that moral theology consisted in learning and applying Canon Law. Then theologians like Bernard Haring came and changed the whole direction of moral theology with his ‘The Law of Christ’. It is right to treat Canon Law with respect but Canon Law, like all Law, can at times ‘be an ass’, as Mr Bumble said. However, to pick up your quotation, I think it good to concentrate on the word ‘deception’. Like ‘lie’ it carries a very negative connotation, namely that the deceiver is doing wrong, and so automatically is a sin of some sort. In ‘real life’ there is always a context and in that context I may find myself with two responsibilities: one to tell the truth as I know it; the other to safeguard innocent persons, such as my children. In the weighing of the duties, indubitably the second is paramount. Archbishop Anthony Bloom told of a true story from the time of the Russian civil war after the Revolution. A young unmarried woman, in order to save the lives of the wife of a White Army general and her children, posed as that wife and was shot in her place. Was the posing a lie? Or the wonderful truth of heroic martyrdom? Bloom, and I would presume you too, would say the latter.

  20. Brendan O' Leary says:

    Brian, My quote is from Catholic Church Catechism not from Canon Law. In the absence of relevant reference books I find the acumulated wisdom of the Church Fathers and 2000 years of christian thought and practice invaluable in our situation.
    Of course , ” the greater love hath no man/ woman ” story is the ultimate sacrifice of love and mirrors Christs’ sacrifice for us in every degree. One thinks here of say, Father Maximilian Kolbe in a similar context.
    If the young unmarried woman in question gave verbal consent to this lie – then she COULD indeed under the circumstances you’ve described have sinned. However, in mitigation of this young womans intention and final decision I would ask you to ponder, Cath. 2483 ” To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the Truth. ” I contend that her executioner had singularly forfeited . . ” the right to know the truth “…. . I believe that does not nullify the principle of the objectivity of lying as professed by the Church, but it does qualify the circumstances in which it arises. As I say few things in life appear as black and white – but I believe in the tender mercies of Almighty God on this occasion.

    • Quentin says:

      Brendan, while you will have gathered that I agree with your conclusion, you are using the former version of the Catechism. The revised version says “to speak or act against the truth in order to leave someone into error.” Nothing about a right to know the truth.

      Brian might like to bear in mind that Fr Häring in his Lex Christi did not reject the commandments, they “protect the outer periphery of the realm in which Christ will be formed in us.” He would say that we should be scrupulous for the truth primarily for the love of our neighbour. I suspect that in our discussion he might say – and if you do that, your instinct of love will tell you how to do it on the occasion.

      • John Nolan says:

        The idea of whether or not someone has a right to know the truth is dealt with in subsequent paragraphs of the CCC regarding the eighth commandment. The earlier version of 2483 is in my opinion better, as it leaves room for the equivocation so ably defended in the 16th century by Fr John Gerard.

      • Brendan O' Leary says:

        That’s just the way I see it ! … ” scrupulous for the truth primarily for the love of our neighbour. ” Thanks for that quote Quentin, I nearly missed it !
        Following the once for all sacrifice of Our Lord, pain and suffering is borne out of love for that person in distress, and so the two persons together united in the redemptive nature transmitted through His power of the Cross, gives hope particularly to a dying person. This decision not to lie , Cath. 2483 .. ‘ protects man’s relation to truth and to his neighbour ‘ …. and secures intact…..’ the fundamental relation of man and his word to the Lord.’

    • Brian Hamill says:

      Brendan, Apologies for the slip about the Catholic Church Catechism. You refer to CCC 2483. Quentin in the course of this blog has pointed out that the version you give has(?) been modified to cut the last section of the sentence ‘..someone ……….truth’. He seems to draw the implication that your mitigation of her action according to paragraph is no longer acceptable, at least according to the CDF. I do not know the background to this change. Once again it is within a context, and unless we know the context, we cannot make a final judgement on its value with reference to our discussion here.

  21. Brendan O' Leary says:

    No apology needed Brian. I’ll probably make a few slip -ups before the days out! From Quentin I’d be grateful to know of the date of the last Revision of the Catechism in paticular the section relating to Cath. 2483.
    I’m off to my work now bur I’ll try and catch up with you all this evening …….God willing !

    • Quentin says:

      This gives you and Brian what you need, I think. You will know as much as I do. And, if you read it all, you’ll know more. http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/updates.htm Quentin

      Quentin de la Bedoyere 10 Edge Hill London SW19 4LP +44(0)2089467166 quentin@blueyonder.co.uk http://www.quentindelabedoyere.com http://www.secondsightblog.net

      • Brian Hamill says:

        Quentin, Thanks for the reference. 2483 was as you quoted it previously but my eye was caught by the following amendment to 2508 which reads: ‘Lying consists in saying what is false with the intention of deceiving one’s neighbour.’ The previous version had the same words to finish it as 2483, ‘who has the right to know the truth’. However I think that the last word here,’neighbour,’ which is in the original, adds something to the debate. According to the parable of the Good Samaritan, one’s neighbour is one who acts like a neighbour, one who in these circumstances is not going to use the correct information against the innocent.

      • Quentin says:

        Brian, I am sympathetic to your interpretation. It’s an interesting point.

      • Brendan O' Leary says:

        Thanks Quentin, although it seems to leave my point ‘ hanging ‘ somewhat. Perhaps we’ll come back to it again.

  22. Mike Horsnall says:

    I am reading St Therese of Liseux at the moment, a book by John Udris In it he says of St Therese that she quickly gave up the approach to spiritual life as ‘an accquisition of merits’ because she found it ‘utterly bankrupt’ Instead we find a frank aceptance of our weaknesses coupled with a simple trust in the Holiness and Love of God as meter for our behaviour. I tend to agree with this rather-obviously one takes for granted a basically operating conscience as well. I would have said to the dying man that which I felt was best at the moment of encounter and trusted it to be right. These kind of pastoral activities-taking communion to the hospitalised sick for example seem to me to demand trust more than anything else.

  23. Brendan O' Leary says:

    Poor Matilda, she seems to starkly illustrate St. Augustine’s ‘ disappearing truth ‘, and hoisted on her own petard gives new meaning to St. Paul’s …. ” the wages of sin is death .”

  24. Brian Hamill says:

    I have just flicked through the contributions on this topic and have been impressed(?) by how few references there are to Scripture and how much the discussion, including my own contributions, has turned on the relevant articles in the Catechism. Is this the ‘Catholic Way’? May I refer to Jesus’ words in Luke 11-12 “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” I am sure that in the ‘dying man’ scenario that the Holy Spirit will do the talking, as long as we have attuned ourselves to his ways in our lives.

    • Quentin says:

      Brian, I am sure you are right. But I can’t resist mentioning a passage from Scripture which has its difficulties.

      “I am not going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come….But after his brothers had gone to the festival, then he also went, not in public but as it were in secret.” John VII 8 – 10

      I find this passage strange because, taken literally, Jesus appears to have told a lie. One authoritative apologist interpreted this as mental reservation: Jesus was not going up in the way which his friends expected. He just failed to add this rider. Of course we can’t read too much into a single passage in the fragmentary Gospel account but it does bring us up against an interesting question. (See my earlier post on Lies, damned lies…)

  25. Brendan O' Leary says:

    I can’t find your earlier post ‘ lies, damn lies …. ‘, but my understanding of John V11, 8-10 is simply that Jesus changed his mind and followed . He knew the Jews were on the look out for him so he went up secretly. There is a footnote adding the word ‘yet ‘ after ” I am not going “. The text is The New Jerusalem Bible, Standard Version 1985. As you say mental reservation. How does that tie in with your earlier posting ?

    • Quentin says:

      Brendan, you need to put the phrase into the search box. It will bring it up. The authoritative apologist to whom I referred was Frs Rumble and Carty — encyclopaedic and popular in the 1940s. The problem with your interpretation is that once you start supposing something that isn’t in the text — just to suit your assumptions, where do you end? We could all make Scripture say anything we wanted.

      • Brendan O' Leary. says:

        Quentin, don’t laugh at this – you are talking to a neo-neanderthal when it comes to knowing my way around computer technology. If I new where the search box was I’d use it ! I’m just too used to the book and pen. I agree of course about over -enthusiastic interpretation of scripture – I defer to the Magisterium as a good Catholic , but of course reserve my right to question.

        Click on HOME, find the search box at top on the right, insert the word you need, click on Search Q

  26. mike Horsnall says:

    Brian
    re the catholic way

    Yes it is the Catholic ‘way’ though I think it is principally converts who notice this I hear very little scriptural debate among catholics. This isnt always a bad thing and the catechism itself is deeply and securely rooted in scripture-have a look at references. Great strengths flow from the catechesis approach but one does get the impression it can breed a certain kind of rule binding if one isnt careful-as if we are all pretty much ok and just need to be told how to act. I come from a Free church Chariesmatic/evangelical type background and wouldnt go back there if you paid me-but it does help to have a thorough grounding in scripture and some sytematic theology to go with it. Catholic interest in scripture seems to me to be far more to do with metaphor and symbol – which is partly why it appeals to me so.

  27. John Nolan says:

    I remember asking about John 7:8-10 a while back, since Fr Gerard used it in his defence of equivocation, quoting the phrase ‘ego autem non ascendam’. Since Our Lord knew he was going up in due course, he was not telling the truth (Gerard discounts the idea that he could, as God, change his mind). However, my Vulgate gives ‘ego autem non ascendo’ (present tense rather than future) which would simply mean that he was not going up with the disciples, as indeed he didn’t. Was Gerard misquoting the passage, which seems unlikely, or has some editor ‘tweaked’ it since? Sadly, I have no Greek (it was an option at school which to my later regret I did not take) but perhaps you, Quentin, or one of your erudite contributors could enlighten me as to what the verb tense is in the original?

    • Brian Hamill says:

      Puttin on my classical hat, John, I can inform you that the literal translation of the Greek runs ‘I am not/not yet going up to this feast…’ The not/not yet is a textual variation. The Latin has the variant ‘am not going up/will not go up’. The text in the body of the Merk Greek New Testament has ‘am not yet going up’. Does all this mean that someone(s) has been having a conscience about Jesus ‘lying’ – God forbid!

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