Writings of Augustine. Moral Treatises

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Moral Treatises of St. Augustin.

On the Good of Widowhood.

[De Bono Viduitatis.]

Translated by Rev. C. L. Cornish, M.A., of Exeter College, Oxford.

Published in 1886 by Philip Schaff, New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co.


This work is not mentioned in the Retractations, probably because it is a letter, and as such it is reckoned by Possidius, cap. 7. It is also marked as St. Augustin's by its references to his other works, De Bono Conjugali, etc. cap. 15. Ep. to Proba, cap. 23. The date is marked by the recent consecration of Demetrias, which was in 413. The admonition for which he is thanked by Juliana, Ep. 188, may be that against Pelagianism.

An objection has been raised from its disagreement with the fourth Council of Carthage, an. 398. can. 104, which excommunicates widows who marry again after consecration, and pronounces them guilty of adultery, whereas in cap. 10 and 11, the opinion that such marriages are no marriages, and that they ought to return to continence, is refuted. The two, however, are not wholly irreconcileable, as there may be a guilt similar to that of adultery incurred, and it may be visited with a censure in the form of excommunication, and yet the marriage may remain valid. The 16th Canon of Chalcedon imposes such a penalty, with power to the Bishop to relax it.--Abridged from the Benedictine Edition.


Augustin the Bishop, servant of Christ, and of the servants of Christ, unto the religious handmaiden of God, Juliana, in the Lord of lords health.

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Not any longer to be in debt of my promise to your request and love in Christ, I have seized the occasion as I could, amid other my very pressing engagements, to write to you somewhat concerning the profession of holy widowhood, forasmuch as, when I was present, you laded me with entreaty, and, when I had not been able to deny you this, you often by letters demanded my promise. And in this work of ours, when you shall find in reading that some things pertain not at all unto your own person, or unto the person of you, who are living together in Christ, nor are strictly necessary to give counsel unto your life, it will be your duty not on this account to judge them superfluous. Forsooth this letter, although it be addressed to you, was not to be written for you alone; but certainly it was a matter for us not to neglect, that it should profit others also through your means. Whatsoever, therefore, you shall find here, such as either hath been at no time necessary for you, or is not so now, and which yet you shall perceive to be necessary for others, grieve not either to possess or to lend to read; that your charity also may be the profit of others.


2. Whereas, therefore, in every question, which relates to life and conduct, not only teaching, but exhortation also is necessary; in order that by teaching we may know what is to be done, and by exhortation may be incited not to think it irksome to do what we already know is to be done; what more can I teach you, than what we read in the Apostle? For holy Scripture setteth a rule to our teaching, that we dare not "be wise more than it behoveth to be wise;" [2220] but be wise, as himself saith, "unto soberness, according as unto each God hath allotted the measure of faith." [2221] Be it not therefore for me to teach you any other thing, save to expound to you the words of the Teacher, and to treat of them as the Lord shall have given to me.

Footnotes

[2220] So V. [2221] Rom. xii. 3


3. Therefore (thus) saith the Apostle, the teacher of the Gentiles, the vessel of election, "But I say unto the unmarried and the widows, that it is good for them, if they shall have so continued, even as I also." [2222] These words are to be so understood, as that we think not that widows ought not to be called unmarried, in that they seem to have made trial of marriage: for by the name of unmarried women he means those, who are not now bound by marriage, whether they have been, or whether they have not been so. And this in another place he opens, where he says, "Divided is a woman unmarried and a virgin." [2223] Assuredly when he adds a virgin also, what would he have understood by an unmarried woman, but a widow? Whence also, in what follows, under the one term "unmarried" he embraces both professions, saying, "She who is unmarried is careful of the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord: but she who is married is careful of the things of the world, how to please her husband." [2224] Certainly by the unmarried he would have understood, not only her who hath never married, but her also, who, being by widowhood set free from the bond of marriage, hath ceased to be married; for on this account also he calleth not married, save her, who hath an husband; not her also, who hath had, and hath not. Wherefore every widow is unmarried; but, because not every unmarried woman is a widow, for there are virgins also; therefore he hath here set both, where he says, "But I say unto the unmarried and the widows;" as if he should say, What I say unto the unmarried, I say not unto them alone, who are virgins, but unto them also who are widows; "that it is good for them, if they shall have so continued, even as also I." [2225]

Footnotes

[2222] tois, tais: 1 Cor. vii. 8 [2223] he gune kai he parthenos [2224] 1 Cor. vii. 34 [2225] 1 Cor. vii. 8


4. Lo, there is your good compared to that good, which the Apostle calls his own, if faith be present: yea, rather, because faith is present. Short is this teaching, yet not on this account to be despised, because it is short; but on this account to be retained the more easily and the more dearly, in that in shortness it is not cheap. For it is not every kind of good soever, which the Apostle would here set forth, which he hath unambiguously placed above the faith of married women. But how great good the faith of married women, that is, of Christian and religious women joined in marriage, hath, may be understood from this, that, when he was giving charge for the avoiding of fornication, wherein assuredly he was addressing married persons also, he saith, "Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?" [2226] So great then is the good of faithful marriage, that even the very members are (members) of Christ. But, forasmuch as the good of widowed continence is better than this good, the purpose of this profession is, not that a catholic widow be any thing more than a member of Christ, but that she have a better place, than a married woman, among the members of Christ. Forsooth the same Apostle says, "For, as in one body we have many members, but all members have not the same course of action; so being many we are one body in Christ, and each members one of another: having gifts diverse according unto the grace, which hath been given unto us." [2227]

Footnotes

[2226] 1 Cor. vi. 15 [2227] Rom. xii. 4-6


5. Wherefore also when he was advising married persons not to defraud one another of the due of carnal intercourse; lest, by this means, the one of them, (the due of marriage being denied to him,) being through his own incontinence tempted of Satan, should fall away into fornication, he saith, "But this I say of leave, not of command; but I would that all men were as I myself; but each one hath his own proper gift from God; but one in this way, and another in that." [2228] You see that wedded chastity also, and the marriage faith of the Christian bed, is a "gift," and this of God; so that, when as carnal lust exceeds somewhat the measure of sensual intercourse, beyond what is necessary for the begetting of children, this evil is not of marriage, but venial by reason of the good of marriage. For not concerning marriage, which is contracted for the begetting of children, and the faith of wedded chastity, and the sacrament (indissoluble, so long as both live) of matrimony, all which are good; but concerning that immoderate use of the flesh, which is recognized in the weakness of married persons, and is pardoned by the intervention of the good of marriage, the Apostle saith, "I speak of leave, not of command." Also, when he says, "The woman is bound, so long as her husband lives: but, in case her husband shall have died, she is set free: let her be married to whom she will, only in the Lord: but she shall be more blessed, if she shall have so continued, according to my counsel;" [2229] he shows sufficiently that a faithful woman is blessed in the Lord, even when she marries a second time after the death of her husband, but that a widow is more blessed in the same Lord; that is, to speak not only in the words, but by instances also, of the Scriptures, that Ruth is blessed, but that Anna is more blessed.

Footnotes

[2228] 1 Cor. vii. 6, 7 [2229] 1 Cor. vii. 39, 40


6. Wherefore this in the first place you ought to know, that by the good, which you have chosen, second marriages are not condemned, but are set in lower honor. For, even as the good of holy virginity, which thy daughter hath chosen, doth not condemn thy one marriage; so neither doth thy widowhood the second marriage of any. For hence, specially, the heresies of the Cataphryges and of the Novatians swelled, which Tertullian also, inflated with cheeks full of sound not of wisdom, whilst with railing tooth he attacks [2230] second marriages, as though unlawful, which the Apostle with sober mind allows [2231] to be altogether lawful. From this soundness of doctrine let no man's reasoning, be he unlearned, or be he learned, move thee; nor do thou so extol thy own good, as to charge as evil that of another's which is not evil; but do thou rejoice so much the more of thy own good, the more thou seest, that, by it, not only are evils shunned, but some goods too surpassed. For adultery and fornication are evils. But from these unlawful things she is very far removed, who hath bound herself by liberty of vow, and, not by command of law, but by counsel of charity, hath brought to pass that even things lawful should not be lawful to her. And marriage chastity is a good, but widowed continence is a better good. Therefore this better good is honored by the submission of that other, not that other condemned by the praise of this that is better.

Footnotes

[2230] "Concidit." [2231] "Concedit."


7. But whereas the Apostle, when commending the fruit of unmarried men and women, in that they have thought of the things of the Lord, how to please God, added and saith, "But this I say for your profit, not to cast a snare on you," [2232] that is, not to force you; "but in order to that which is honorable;" we ought not, because he saith that the good of the unmarried is honorable, therefore to think that the bond of marriage is base; otherwise we shall condemn first marriages also, which neither Cataphryges, nor Novatians, nor their most learned upholder Tertullian dared to call base. But as, when he says, "But I say unto the unmarried and widows, that it is good for them if they shall have so continued;" [2233] assuredly he set down "good" for "better," since every thing, which, when compared with a good, is called better, this also without doubt is a good; for what else is it that it is so called better, save that it is more good? and yet we do not on this account suppose him by consequence to have thought that it was an evil, in case they married, in that he said, "it is good for them, if they shall have so continued;" so also, when he says, "but in order to that which is honest," he hath not shown that marriage is base, but that which was honester than (another thing also) honest, he hath commended by the name of honest in general. Because what is honester, save what is more honest? But what is more honest is certainly honest. Forsooth he plainly showed that this is better than that other that is good, where he says, "Whoso giveth to marry, doeth well; but whoso giveth not to marry, doeth better." [2234] And this more blessed than that other that is blessed, where he saith, "But she shall be more blessed, if she shall have so continued." [2235] As, therefore, there is than good a better, and than blessed a more blessed, so is there than honest an honester, which he chose to call honest. For far be it that that be base, of which the Apostle Peter speaking saith, "Husbands, unto your wives, as unto the weaker and subject vessel, give honor, as unto co-heirs of grace;" and addressing the wives, he exhorts them, by the pattern of Sarah, to be subject unto their husbands; "For so," saith he, "certain holy women, who hoped in God, adorned themselves, obeying their own husbands; even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters ye are made, well-doing, and not fearing any disturbance." [2236]

Footnotes

[2232] 1 Cor. vii. 35 [2233] 1 Cor. vii. 8 [2234] 1 Cor. vii. 38 [2235] ver. 40 [2236] 1 Pet. iii. 5-7. [See R.V.]


8. Whence, also, what the Apostle Paul said of the unmarried woman, "that she may be holy both in body and spirit;" [2237] we are not so to understand, as though a faithful woman being married and chaste, and according to the Scriptures subject unto her husband, be not holy in body, but only in spirit. For it cannot come to pass, that when the spirit is sanctified, the body also be not holy, of which the sanctified spirit maketh use: but, that we seem not to any to argue rather than to prove this by divine saying; since the Apostle Peter, making mention of Sarah, saith only "holy women," and saith not, "and in body;" let us consider that saying of the same Paul, where forbidding fornication he saith, "Know ye not, that your bodies are members of Christ? Taking, therefore, members of Christ, shall I make them members of an harlot? Far be it." [2238] Therefore let any one dare to say that the members of Christ are not holy; or let him not dare to separate from the members of Christ the bodies of the faithful that are married. Whence, also, a little after he saith, "Your body is the temple within you of the Holy Spirit, Whom ye have from God; and ye are not your own; for ye have been bought with a great price." [2239] He saith that the body of the faithful is both members of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit, wherein assuredly the faithful of both sexes are understood. There therefore are married women, there unmarried women also; but distinct in their deserts, and as members preferred to members, whilst yet neither are separated from the body. Whereas, therefore, he saith, speaking of an unmarried woman, "that she may be holy both in body and spirit," he would have understood a fuller sanctification both in body and in spirit, and hath not deprived the body of married women of all sanctification.

Footnotes

[2237] 1 Cor. vii. 34 [2238] 1 Cor. vi. 15. [See R.V.] [2239] 1 Cor. vi. 19, 20


9. Learn, therefore, that thy good, yea, rather, remember what thou hast learned, that thy good is more praised, because there is another good than which this is better, than if this could not on any other condition be a good, unless that were an evil, or altogether were not. The eyes have great honor in the body, but they would have less, if they were alone, and there were not other members of less honor. In heaven itself the sun by its light surpasses, not chides, the moon; and star from star differs in glory, [2240] not is at variance through pride. Therefore, "God made all things, and, lo, very good;" [2241] not only "good," but also "very;" for no other reason, than because "all." For of each several work throughout it was also said, "God saw that it is good." But, when "all" were named, "very" was added; and it was said, "God saw all things which He made, and, lo, very good." For certain several things were better than other several, but all together better than any several. Therefore, may the sound doctrine of Christ make thee in His Body sound through His Grace, that, what thou hast better than others in body and spirit, the self-same thy spirit, which ruleth the body, may neither extol with insolence, nor distinguish with lack of knowledge.

Footnotes

[2240] 1 Cor. xv. 41 [2241] Gen. i. 31


10. Nor, because I called Ruth blessed, Anna more blessed, in that the former married twice, the latter, being soon widowed of her one husband, so lived long, do you straightway also think that you are better than Ruth. Forsooth different in the times of the Prophets was the dispensation of holy females, whom obedience, not lust, forced to marry, for the propagation of the people of God, [2242] that in them Prophets of Christ might be sent beforehand; whereas the People itself also, by those things which in figure happened among them, whether in the case of those who knew, or in the case of those who knew not those things, was nothing else than a Prophet of Christ, of whom should be born the Flesh also of Christ. In order therefore for the propagation of that people, he was accounted accursed by sentence of the Law, whoso raised not up seed in Israel. [2243] Whence also holy women were kindled, not by lust of sensual intercourse, but by piety of bearing; so that we most rightly believe of them that they would not have sought sensual intercourse, in case a family could have come by any other means. And to the husbands was allowed the use of several wives living; and that the cause of this was not lust of the flesh, but forethought of begetting, is shown by the fact, that, as it was lawful for holy men to have several wives living, it was not likewise lawful for holy women to have intercourse with several husbands living; in that they would be by so much the baser, by how much the more they sought what would not add to their fruitfulness. Wherefore holy Ruth, not having seed such as at that time was necessary in Israel, on the death of her husband sought another of whom to have it. Therefore than this one twice married, Anna once married a widow was on this account more blessed, in that she attained also to be a prophetess of Christ; concerning whom we are to believe, that, although she had no sons, (which indeed Scripture by keeping silence hath left uncertain,) yet, had she by that Spirit foreseen that Christ would immediately come of a virgin, by Which she was enabled to recognize Him even as a child: whence, with good reason, even without sons, (that is, assuming she had none,) she refused a second marriage: in that she knew that now was the time wherein Christ were better served, not by duty of bearing, but by zeal of containing: not by fruitfulness of married womb, but by chastity of widowed conduct. But if Ruth also was aware that by her flesh was propagated a seed, whereof Christ should hereafter have flesh, and by marrying set forth her ministering to this knowledge, I dare not any longer say that the widowhood of Anna was more blessed than her fruitfulness.

Footnotes

[2242] l Cor. x. 11 [2243] Deut. xxv. 5-10


11. But thou who both hast sons, and livest in that end of the world, wherein now is the time not of casting stones, but of gathering; not of embracing, but of abstaining from embracing; [2244] when the Apostle cries out, "But this I say, brethren, the time is short; it remains, that both they who have wives be as not having;" [2245] assuredly if thou hadst sought a second marriage, it would have been no obedience of prophecy or law, no carnal desire even of family, but a mark of incontinence alone. For you would have done what the Apostle says, after he had said, "It is good for them, if they shall have so continued, even as I;" [2246] forsooth he straightway added, "But if they contain not themselves, let them marry; for I had rather that they marry than be burned." For this he said, in order that the evil of unbridled desire might not be carried headlong into criminal baseness, being taken up by the honest estate of marriage. But thanks be to the Lord, in that thou hast given birth to what thou wouldest not be, and the virginity of thy child hath compensated for the loss of thy virginity. For Christian doctrine, having diligent question made of it, makes answer, that a first marriage also now at this time is to be despised, unless incontinence stand in the way. For he, who said, "If they contain not themselves, let them marry," could have said, "If they have not sons, let them marry," if, when now after theResurrection and Preaching of Christ, there is unto all nations so great and abundant supply of sons to be spiritually begotten, it were any such duty to beget sons after the flesh as it was in the first times. And, whereas in another place he saith, "But I will that the younger marry, bear children, be mothers of families," [2247] he commends with apostolic sobriety and authority the good of marriage, but doth not impose the duty of bearing, as though in order to obey the law, even on those who "receive" the good of continence. Lastly, why he had said this, he unfolds, when he adds and says, "To give no occasion of speaking evil to the adversary; for already certain have turned back after Satan:" that by these words of his we may understand, that those, whom he would have marry, could have done better to contain than marry; but better to marry than to go back after Satan, that is, to fall away from that excellent purpose of virginal or widowed chastity, by looking back to things that are behind, and perish. Wherefore, such as contain not themselves, let them marry before they make profession of continence, before they vow unto God, what, if they pay not, they are justly condemned. Forsooth in another place he saith of such, "For when they have lived in delights in Christ, they wish to marry: having condemnation, in that they have made of none effect their first faith;" [2248] that is, they have turned aside their will from the purpose of continence unto marriage. Forsooth they have made of none effect the faith, whereby they formerly vowed what they were unwilling by perseverance to fulfill. Therefore the good of marriage is indeed ever a good: but in the people of God it was at one time an act of obedience unto the law; now it is a remedy for weakness, but in certain a solace of human nature. Forsooth to be engaged in the getting of children, not after the fashion of dogs by promiscuous use of females, but by honest order of marriage, is not an affection such as we are to blame in a man; yet this affection itself the Christian mind, having thoughts of heavenly things, in a more praiseworthy manner surpasses and overcomes.

Footnotes

[2244] Eccl. iii. 5 [2245] 1 Cor. vii. 29. [See R.V.] [2246] 1 Cor. vii. 8, 9 [2247] 1 Tim. v. 14, 15 [2248] 1 Tim. v. 11, 12. [See R.V.]


12. But since, as the Lord saith, "Not all receive this word;" [2249] therefore let her who can receive it, receive it; and let her, who containeth not, marry; let her, who hath not begun, deliberate; let her, who hath undertaken it, persevere; let there be no occasion given unto the adversary, let there be no oblation withdrawn from Christ. Forsooth in the marriage bond if chastity be preserved, condemnation is not feared; but in widowed and virginal continence, the excellence of a greater gift [2250] is sought for: and, when this has been sought, and chosen, and by debt of vow offered, from this time not only to enter upon marriage, but, although one be not married, to wish to marry is matter of condemnation. For, in order to show this, the Apostle saith not, "When they shall have lived in delights, in Christ" they marry; [2251] but "they wish to marry; having," saith he, "condemnation, in that they have made of none effect their first faith," although not by marrying, yet by wishing; not that the marriages even of such are judged matter of condemnation; but there is condemned a wrong done to purpose, there is condemned a broken faith of vow, there is condemned not a relief by lower good, but a fall from higher good: lastly, such are condemned, not because they have entered upon marriage faith afterwards, but because they have made of none effect the first faith of continence. And in order to suggest this in few words, the Apostle would not say, that they have condemnation, who after purpose of greater sanctity marry, (not because they are not condemned, but lest in them marriage itself should be thought to be condemned:) but, after he had said, "they wish to marry," he straightway added, "having condemnation." And he stated the reason, "in that they have made of none effect their former faith," in order that it may appear that it is the will which fell away from its purpose, which is condemned, whether marriage follow, or fail to follow.

Footnotes

[2249] Matt. xix. 11 [2250] Muneris [2251] 1 Tim. v. 11, 12


13. Wherefore they who say that the marriages of such are not marriages, but rather adulteries, seem not to me to consider with sufficient acuteness and care what they say; forsooth they, are misled by a semblance of truth. For, whereas they, who of Christian sanctity marry not, are said to choose the marriage of Christ, hence certain argue saying, If she, who during the life of her husband is married to another, be an adulteress, even as the Lord Himself hath laid down in the Gospel; therefore, during the life of Christ, over Whom death hath no more dominion, [2252] if she who had chosen His marriage, be married to a man, she is an adulteress. They, who say this, are moved indeed with acuteness, but fail to observe, how great absurdity in fact follows on this reasoning. For whereas it is praiseworthy that, even during the life of her husband, by his consent, a female vow continence unto Christ, now, according to the reasoning of these persons, no one ought to do this, lest she make Christ Himself, what is impious to imagine, an adulterer, by being married to Him during the life of her husband. Next, whereas first marriages are of better desert than second, far be it that this be the thought of holy widows, that Christ seem unto them as a second husband. For Himself they used heretofore also to have, (when they were subject and did faithful service to their own husbands,) not after the flesh, but after the Spirit a Husband; unto Whom the Church herself, of which they are members, is the wife; who by soundness of faith, of hope, of charity, not in the virgins alone, but in widows also, and faithful married women, is altogether a virgin. Forsooth unto the universal Church, of which they all are members, the Apostle saith, "I joined you unto one husband a chaste virgin to present unto Christ." [2253] But He knoweth how to make fruitful, without marring of chastity, a wife a virgin, Whom even in the flesh itself His Mother could without violation of chastity conceive. But there is brought to pass by means of this ill-considered notion, (whereby they think that the marriages of women who have fallen away from this holy purpose, in case they shall have married, are no marriages,) no small evil, that wives be separated from their husbands, as though they were adulteresses, not wives; and wishing to restore to continence the women thus separated, they make their husbands real adulterers, in that during the life of their wives they have married others.

Footnotes

[2252] Rom. vi. 9 [2253] 2 Cor. xi. 2. [See R.V.]


14. Wherefore I cannot indeed say, of females who have fallen away from a better purpose, in case they shall have married, that they are adulteries, not marriages; but I plainly would not hesitate to say, that departures and fallings away from a holier chastity, which is vowed unto the Lord, are worse than adulteries. For if, what may no way be doubted, it pertains unto an offense against Christ, when a member of Him keepeth not faith to her husband; how much graver offense is it against Him, when unto Himself faith is not kept, in a matter which He requires when offered, Who had not required that it should be offered. For when each fails to render that which, not by force of command, but by advice of counsel, he vowed, by so much the more doth he increase the unrighteousness of the wrong done to his vow, by how much the less necessity he had to vow. These matters I for this reason treat of, that you may not think either that second marriages are criminal, or that any marriages whatsoever, being marriages, are an evil. Therefore let this be your mind, not that you condemn them, but that you despise them. Therefore the good of widowed chastity is becoming after a brighter fashion, in that in order to make vow and profession of it, females may despise what is both pleasing and lawful. But after profession of vow made they must continue to rein in, and overcome, what is pleasing, because it is no longer lawful.


15. Men are wont to move a question concerning a third or fourth marriage, and even more numerous marriages than this. On which to make answer strictly, I dare neither to condemn any marriage, nor to take from these the shame of their great number. But, lest the brevity of this my answer may chance to displease any, I am prepared to listen to my reprover treating more fully. For perhaps he alleges some reason, why second marriages be not condemned, but third be condemned. For I, as in the beginning of this discourse I gave warning, dare not to be more wise than it behoveth to be wise. [2254] For who am I, that I should think that that must be defined which I see that the Apostle hath not defined? For he saith, "A woman is bound, so long as her husband liveth." [2255] He said not, her first; or, second; or, third; or, fourth; [2256] but, "A woman," saith he, "is bound, so long as her husband liveth; but if her husband shall be dead, she is set free; let her be married to whom she will, only in the Lord: but she shall be more blessed, if she shall have so continued." I know not what can be added to, or taken from, this sentence, so far as relates to this matter. Next I hear Himself also, the Master and Lord of the Apostles and of us, answering the Sadducees, when they had proposed to Him a woman not once-married, or twice-married, but, if it can be said, seven-married, [2257] whose wife she should be in the resurrection? For rebuking them, He saith, "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they shall neither be married, nor marry wives; [2258] for they shall not begin to die, but shall be equal to the Angels of God." [2259] Therefore He made mention of their resurrection, who shall rise again unto life, not who shall rise again unto punishment. Therefore He might have said, Ye do err, knowing not the Scriptures, nor the power of God: for in that resurrection it will not be possible that there be those that were wives of many; and then added, that neither doth any there marry. But neither, as we see, did He in this sentence show any sign of condemning her who was the wife of so many husbands. Wherefore neither dare I, contrary to the feeling of natural shame, say, that, when her husbands are dead, a woman marry as often as she will; nor dare I, out of my own heart, beside the authority of holy Scripture, condemn any number of marriages whatever. But, what I say to a widow, who hath had one husband, this I say to every widow; you will be more blessed, if you shall have so continued.

Footnotes

[2254] Rom. xii. 3 [2255] 1 Cor. vii. 39, 40 [2256] Al. "or any number." [2257] Septiviram [2258] Matt. xxii. 29, 30 [2259] Luke xx. 35, 36


16. For that also is no foolish question which is wont to be proposed, that whoso can may say, which widow is to be preferred in desert; whether one who hath had one husband, who, after having lived a considerable time with her husband, being left a widow with sons born to her and alive, hath made profession of continence; or she who as a young woman having lost two husbands within two years, having no children left alive to console her, hath vowed to God continence, and in it hath grown old with most enduring sanctity. Herein let them exercise themselves, if they can, by discussing, and by showing some proof to us, who weigh the merits of widows by number of husbands, not by the strength itself of continence. For, if they shall have said, that she who hath had one husband is to be preferred to her who hath had two; unless they shall have alleged some special reason or authority, they will assuredly be found to set before excellence of soul, not greater excellence of soul, but good fortune of the flesh. Forsooth it pertained unto good fortune of the flesh, both to live a long time with her husband, and to conceive sons. But, if they prefer her not on this account, that she had sons; at any rate the very fact that she lived a long time with her husband, what else was it than good fortune of the flesh? Further, the desert of Anna herself is herein chiefly commended, in that, after she had so soon buried her husband, through her protracted life she long contended with the flesh, and overcame. For so it is written, "And there was Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser; she was far advanced in many days; and had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity; and she was a widow even unto eighty-four years, who used not to depart from the Temple, by fastings and prayers serving day and night." [2260] You see how the holy widow is not only commended in this, that she had had one husband, but also, that she had lived few years with a husband from her virginity, and had with so great service of piety continued her office of widowed chastity even unto so great age.

Footnotes

[2260] Luke ii. 36, 37


17. Let us therefore set before our eyes three widows, each having one of the things, the whole of which were in her: let us suppose one who had had one husband, in whose case is wanting both so great length of widowhood, in that she hath lived long with her husband, and so great zeal of piety, in that she doth not so serve with fasts and prayers: a second, who after the very short life of her former husband, had quickly lost a second also, and is now long time a widow, but yet herself also doth not so set herself to the most religious service of fasts and prayers: a third, who not only hath had two husbands, but also hath lived long with each of them singly, or with one of them, and being left a widow at a later period of life, wherein indeed, in case she had wished to marry, she might also conceive sons, hath taken upon her widowed continence; but is more intent on God, more careful to do always the things that please Him, day and night, like Anna, serving by prayers and fasts. If a question be raised, which of these is to be preferred in deserts, who but must see that in this contest the palm must be given to the greater and, more glowing piety? So also if three others be set, in each of whom are two of those three, but one of the three in each wanting, who can doubt that they will be the better, who shall have in a more excellent manner in their two goods pious humility, in order that there may be lofty piety?


18. No one indeed of these six widows could come up to your standard. For you, in case that you shall have maintained this vow even unto old age, mayest have all the three things wherein the desert of Anna excelled. For both thou hast had one husband, and he lived not long with thee in the flesh; and, by this means, in case that thou shall show forth obedience to the words of the Apostle, saying, "But she who is a widow indeed and desolate, hath hoped in the Lord, and persevereth in prayers night and day," [2261] and with sober watchfulness shall shun what follows, "But she who passes her time in delights, living is dead," all those three goods, which were Anna's, shall be thine also. But you have sons also, which haply she had not. And yet you are not on this account to be praised, that you have them, but that you are zealous to nurture and educate them piously. For that they were born to thee, was of fruitfulness; that they are alive, is of good fortune; that they be so brought up, is of your will and disposal. [2262] In the former let men congratulate you, in this let them imitate you. Anna, through prophetic knowledge, recognized Christ with His virgin Mother; thee the grace of the Gospel hath made the mother of a virgin of Christ. Therefore that holy virgin, [2263] whom herself willing and seeking it ye have offered unto Christ, hath added something of virginal desert also unto the widowed deserts of her grandmother and mother. For ye who have her, fail not to have something thence; and in her ye are, what in yourselves ye are not. For that holy virginity should be taken from you at your marriage, was on this account brought to pass, in order that she should be born of you.

Footnotes

[2261] 1 Tim. v. 5, 6 [2262] Potestatis [2263] Demetrias, whose grandmother was Proba Faltonia, her mother, Juliana. See S. Aug. Ep. 130. and 150. Vol. I, pp. 459, 503, sqq.


19. These discussions, therefore, concerning the different deserts of married women, and of different widows, I would not in this work enter upon, if, what I am writing unto you, I were writing only for you. But, since there are in this kind of discourse certain very difficult questions, it was my wish to say something more than what properly relates to you, by reason of certain, who seem not to themselves learned, unless they essay, not by passing judgment to discuss, but by rending to cut in pieces the labors of others: in the next place, that you yourself also may not only keep what you have vowed, and make advance in that good; but also know more carefully and more surely, that this same good of yours is not distinguished from the evil of marriage, but is set before the good of marriage. For let not such, as condemn the marriage of widowed females, although they exercise their continence in abstaining from many things, which you make use of, on this account lead you astray, to think what they think, although you cannot do what they do. For no one would be a madman, although he see that the strength of a madman is greater than of men in their sound senses. Chiefly, therefore, let sound doctrine both adorn and guard goodness of purpose. Forsooth it is from this cause that catholic females, even after that they have been married more than once, are by just judgment preferred, not only to the widows who have had one husband, but also to the virgins of heretics. There are indeed on these three matters, of marriage, widowhood, and virginity, many winding recesses of questions, many perplexities; and in order by discussion to enter deeply into and solve these, there is required both greater care, and a fuller discourse; that either we may have a right mind in all those things, or, if in any matter we be otherwise minded, this also God may reveal unto us. However, what there also the Apostle saith next after, "Whereunto we have arrived, in that let us walk." [2264] But we have arrived, in what relates to this matter on which we are speaking, so far as to set continence before marriage, but holy virginity even before widowed continence; and not to condemn any marriages, which yet are not adulteries but marriages, by praise of any purpose whatever of our own or of our friends. Many other things on these matters we have said in a Book concerning the Good of Marriage, and in another Book concerning Holy Virginity, and in a Book which we composed with as great pains as we could against Faustus the Manichee; since, by most biting reproaches in his writings of the chaste marriages of Patriarchs and Prophets, he had turned aside the minds of certain unlearned persons from soundness of faith.

Footnotes

[2264] Phil. iii. 15, 16


20. Wherefore, forasmuch as in the beginning of this little work I had proposed certain two necessary matters, and had undertaken to follow them out; one which related to doctrine, the other to exhortation; and I have not failed in the former part, to the best of my power, according to the business which I had undertaken; let us come to exhortation, in order that the good which is known wisely, may be pursued ardently. And in this matter I give you this advice first, that, how great soever love of pious continence you feel to be in you, you ascribe it to the favor of God, and give Him thanks, Who of His Holy Spirit hath freely given unto you so much, as that, His love being shed abroad in your heart, the love of a better good should take away from you the permission of a lawful matter. For it was His gift to you that you should not wish to marry, when it was lawful, in order that now it should not be lawful, even if you wished; and that by this means the wish not to do it might be the more settled, lest what were now unlawful be done, which was not done even when lawful; and that, a widow of Christ, you should so far attain as to see your daughter also a virgin of Christ; for whilst you are praying as Anna, she hath become what Mary was. These by how much the more you know them to be gifts of God, by so much the more are you by the same gifts blessed; yea, rather, you are not so otherwise than as you know from Whom you have what you have. For listen to what the Apostle said on this matter, "But we have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit Which is of God, that we may know what things have been given to us by God." [2265] Forsooth many have many gifts of God, and by not knowing from Whom they have them, come to boast themselves with impious vanity. But there is no one blessed with the gifts of God, who is ungrateful to the Giver. Forasmuch as, also, whereas in the course of the sacred Mysteries we are bidden to "lift up our hearts," it is by His help that we are able, by Whose bidding we are admonished; and therefore it follows, that, of this so great good of the heart lifted up, we give not the glory to ourselves as of our own strength, but render thanks unto our Lord God. For of this we are straightway admonished, that "this is meet," "this is right." You remember whence these words are taken, you recognize by what sanction [2266] , and by how great holiness they are commended within. Therefore hold and have what you have received, and return thanks to the Giver. For, although it be yours to receive and have, yet you have that, which you have received; forasmuch as to one waxing proud, and impiously glorying of that which he had, as though he had it of himself, the Truth saith by the Apostle, "But what hast thou, which thou hast not received? But, if thou hast received, why boastest thou, as if thou hadst not received?" [2267]

Footnotes

[2265] 1 Cor. ii. 12 [2266] "Intus qua sanctione," al. "inter quas actiones," "amongst what actions;" there are other various readings besides. [2267] 1 Cor. iv. 7


21. These things I am compelled to admonish by reason of certain little discourses of some men, that are to be shunned and avoided, which have begun to steal through the ears unto the minds of many, being (as must be said with tears) hostile to the grace of Christ, which go to persuade that we count not as necessary for us prayer unto the Lord, that we enter not into temptation. For they so essay to defend the free will of man, as that by it alone, even without help of the grace of God, we are able to fulfill what is commanded us of God. And thus it follows, that the Lord in vain said, "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation;" [2268] and in vain daily in the Lord's Prayer itself we say, "Lead us not into temptation." [2269] For if it is of our own power alone that we be not overcome by temptation, why do we pray that we enter not, nor be led into it? Rather let us do what is of our own free will, and most absolute power; and let us mock at the Apostle, saying, "God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above what ye are able;" [2270] and let us oppose him, and say, Why seek I of the Lord, what He hath set in my own power? But far be it, that he be so minded, who is sound minded. Wherefore let us seek that He may give, what He bids us that we have. For to this end He bids us have this, which as yet we have not, to admonish as what to seek; and that when we shall have found the power to do what He hath bidden, we may understand, of this also, whence we have received it; lest, being puffed and lifted up by the spirit of this world, we know not what things have been given unto us of God. Wherefore the free choice of the human will we by no means destroy, when the Grace of God, by which the free choice itself is helped, we deny not with ungrateful pride, but rather set forth with grateful piety. For it is ours to will: but the will itself is both admonished that it may arise, and healed, that it may have power; [2271] and enlarged, that it may receive; and filled, that it may have. For were not we to will, certainly neither should we receive the things that are given, nor should we have. For who would have continence, (among the rest of the gifts of God to speak of this rather, of which I am speaking to you,) who, I say, would have continence, unless willing? forasmuch as also no one would receive unless willing. But if you ask, Whose gift it is, that it can be by our will received and had? listen to Scripture; yea, rather, because thou knowest, recollect what thou hast read, "Whereas I knew," saith he, "that no one can be continent, unless God give it, and this itself was of wisdom, to know whose gift it was." [2272] Great are these two gifts, wisdom and continence; wisdom, forsooth, whereby we are formed in the knowledge of God; but continence, whereby we are not conformed unto this world. But God bids us that we be both wise and continent, without which goods we cannot be just and perfect. But let us pray that He give what He bids, by helping and inspiring, Who hath admonished us what to will by commanding and calling. Whatsoever of this He hath given, let us pray that He preserve; but what He hath not given as yet, let us pray that He supply; yet let us pray and give thanks for what we have received; and for what we have not yet received, from the very fact that we are not ungrateful for what we have received, let us trust that we shall receive it. For He, Who hath given power unto the faithful who are married to contain from adulteries and fornications, Himself hath given unto holy virgins and widows to contain from all sexual intercourse; in the case of which virtue now the term inviolate chastity [2273] or continence is properly used. Or is it haply that from Him indeed we have received continence, but from ourselves have wisdom? What then is it that the Apostle James saith, "But if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, Who giveth unto all liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given unto him." [2274] But on this question, already in other little works of ours, so far as the Lord hath helped us, we have said many things; and at other times, so far as through Him we shall be able, when opportunity is given, we will speak.

Footnotes

[2268] Matt. xxvi. 41 [2269] Matt. vi. 13 [2270] 1 Cor. x. 13 [2271] Or "be sound." [2272] Wisd. viii. 21 [2273] "Integritas." [2274] James i. 5


22. Now it has been my wish on this account to say something on this subject, by reason of certain of our brethren most friendly and dear to us, and without willful guilt indeed entangled in this error, but yet entangled; who think, that, when they exhort any to righteousness and piety, their exhortation will not have force, unless the whole of that, wherein they would work upon man that man should work, they set in the power of man, not helped by the grace of God, but put forth by the alone choice of the free will; as though there can be free will to perform a good work, unless set free by the gift of God! And they mark not that this very thing themselves also have by the gift of God, that with such power they exhort, as to excite the dull wills of men to enter upon a good life, to enkindle the cold, to correct such as are in error, to convert such as are turned aside, to pacify such as are opposed. For thus they are able to succeed in persuading what they would persuade to, or if they work not these things in the wills of men, what is their work? wherefore speak they? Let them leave them rather to their own choice. But if in them they work these things, what? I pray, doth man, in the will of man, work so great things by speaking, and doth God work nothing there by helping? Yea rather, with how great soever power of discourse man may prevail, as that by skill of discussion, and sweetness of speech, he in the will of man implant truth, nourish charity, by teaching remove error, by exhortation remove sloth, "Neither he who planteth is any thing, nor he who watereth, but God Who giveth the increase." [2275] For in vain would the workman use all means without, unless the Creator should work secretly within. I hope therefore that this letter of mine by the worthy deed [2276] of your Excellence will soon come into the hands of such also; on this account I thought that I ought to say something on this subject. Next that both you yourself, and whatsoever other widows shall read this, or hear it read, may know that you make more advance unto the love and profession of the good of continence by your own prayers than by our exhortations; forasmuch as if it be any help to you that our addresses also are supplied to you, the whole must be assigned to His grace, "in Whose Hand," as it is written, "are both we and our discourses." [2277]

Footnotes

[2275] 1 Cor. iii. 7 [2276] Merito [2277] Wisdom vii. 16


23. If, therefore, you had not as yet vowed unto God widowed continence, we would assuredly exhort you to vow it; but, in that you have already vowed it, we exhort you to persevere. And yet I see that I must so speak as to lead those also who had as yet thought of marriage to love it and to seize on it. Therefore let us give ear unto the Apostle, "She who is unmarried," saith he, "is careful about the things of the Lord, to be holy both in body and spirit; but she who is married is careful about the things of the world, how to please her husband." [2278] He saith not, is careful about the things of the world, so as not to be holy; but certainly that that marriage holiness [2279] is less, in regard of that portion of cares, which hath thought of the pleasure of the world. Whatever, therefore, I of earnest purpose of mind would be expended also on these things whereby she would have to please a husband, the unmarried Christian woman ought in a certain way to gather and bring together unto that earnest purpose whereby she is to please the Lord. And consider, Whom she pleases, who pleases the Lord; and assuredly she is by so much the more blessed by how much the more she pleases Him; but by how much the more her thoughts are of the things of the world, by so much the less does she please Him. Therefore do ye with all earnest purpose please Him, Who is "'fair of form above the sons of men." [2280] For that ye please Him, it is by His grace which is "shed abroad on His lips." Please ye Him in that portion of thought also, which would be occupied by the world, in order to please a husband. Please ye Him, Who displeased the world, in order that such as please Him might be set free from the world. For This One, fair of form above the sons of men, men saw on the Cross of the Passion; "and He had not form or beauty, but His face cast down, and His posture unseemly." [2281] Yet from this unseemliness of your Redeemer flowed the price of your beauty, but of a beauty within, for "all the beauty of the King's daughter is within." [2282] By this beauty please ye Him, this beauty order ye with studious care and anxious thought. He loves not dyes of deceits; the Truth delighteth in things that are true, and He, if you recognize what you have read, is called the Truth. "I am," saith He, "the Way, and the Truth, and the Life." [2283] Run ye to Him through Him, please ye Him of Him; live ye with Him, in Him, of Him. With true affections and holiest chastity love ye to be loved by such a Husband.

Footnotes

[2278] 1 Cor. vii. 34 [2279] Most mss. "but certainly that divine holiness." [2280] Ps. xlv. 2 [2281] Is. liii. 2. [See R.V.] [2282] Ps. lxv. 13. [See R.V.] [2283] John xiv. 6


24. Let the inner ear of the virgin also, thy holy child, hear these things. I shall see [2284] how far she goes before you in the Kingdom of That King: it is another question. Yet ye have found, mother and daughter, Him, Whom by beauty of chastity ye ought to please together, having despised, she all, you second, marriage. Certainly if there were husbands whom ye had to please, by this time, perhaps, you would feel ashamed to adorn yourself together with your daughter; now let it not shame you, to set yourselves to do what may adorn you both together; because it is not matter of blame, but of glory, that ye be loved both together by That One. But white and red, feigned and laid on with paints, ye would not use, even if ye had husbands; not thinking that they were fit persons for you to deceive, or yourselves such as ought to deceive; now therefore That King, Who had longed for the beauty of His Only Spouse, of Whom ye are members, do ye with all truth together please, together cleave unto; she with virginal chastity, you with widowed continence, both with spiritual beauty. In which beauty also her grandmother, and your mother-in-law, who by this time surely hath grown old, is beautiful together with you. Forsooth whilst charity carries the vigor of this beauty into things that are before, length of years causeth not in it a wrinkle. You have with you a holy aged woman, both in your house and in Christ, whom to consult concerning perseverance; how you are to fight with this or that temptation, what you are to do, that it may be the more easily overcome; what safeguard you are to take, that it may not easily again lay wait; and if there be any thing of this sort, she teaches you, who is now by time fixed, by love a well-wisher, by natural affection full of cares, by age secure. Do you specially, do you in such things consult her, who hath made trial of what you have made trial of. For your child sings that song, [2285] which in the Apocalypse none save virgins can sing. But for both of you she prays more carefully than for herself, but she is more full of care for her granddaughter, for whom there remains a longer space of years to overcome temptations; but you she sees nearer to her own age, and mother of a daughter of such an age, as that, had you seen her married, (which now is not lawful, and far be it from her,) I think you would have blushed to bear children together with her. How much then is it that now remains to you of a dangerous age, who are on this account not called a grandmother, in order that together with your daughter you may be fruitful in offspring of holy thoughts and works? Therefore not without reason is the grandmother more full of care for her, for whom you also the mother; because both what she hath vowed is greater, and the whole of what she hath just now begun remains to her. May the Lord hear her prayers, that ye may holily follow her good deserts, Who in youth gave birth to the flesh of your husband, [2286] in old age travaileth with the heart of your daughter. Therefore do ye all, alike and with one accord, by conduct please, by prayers press upon, That One Husband of One Wife, in Whose Body by One Spirit ye are living.

Footnotes

[2284] One ms "to see." [2285] Rev. xiv. 3, 4. [See R.V.] [2286] Olibrius, see S. Jerome to Demetr. Ben. ed.


25. The past day returns not hereafter, and after yesterday proceeds to-day, and after to-day will proceed to-morrow; and, lo, all times and the things of time pass away, that there may come the promise that shall abide; and "whoso shall have persevered even unto the end, this one shall be saved." [2287] If the world is now perishing, the married woman, for whom beareth she? Or in heart about to bear, and in flesh not about to bear, why doth she marry? But if the world is still about to last, why is not He more loved, by Whom the world was made? If already enticements of this life are failing, there is not any thing for a Christian soul with desire to seek after; but if they shall yet remain, there is what with holiness he may despise. For the one of these two there is no hope of lust, in the other greater glory of charity. How many or how long are the very years, in which the flower of carnal age seems to flourish? Some females having thoughts of marriage, and with ardor wishing it, whilst they are being despised or put off, on a sudden have grown old, so as that now they would feel shame, rather than desire, to marry. But many having married, their husbands having set out into distant countries very soon after their union, have grown aged expecting their return, and, as though soon left widows, at times have not even attained so as at least as old women to receive their old men on their return. If therefore, when betrothed bridegrooms despised or delayed, or when husbands were abroad, carnal desire could be restrained from commission of fornication or adultery, why cannot it be restrained from commission of sacrilege? If it hath been repressed, when being deferred it was glowing, why is it not put down, when having been cut off it had grown cold? For they in greater measure endure glowing of desire, who despair not of the pleasure of the same desire. But whoso of unmarried persons vow chastity to God, withdraw that very hope, which is the fuel of love. Hence with more ease is desire bridled, which is kindled by no expectation; and yet, unless against this prayer be made, in order to overcome it, itself as unlawful is the more ardently wished for.

Footnotes

[2287] Matt. x. 22


26. Therefore let spiritual delights succeed to the place of carnal delights in holy chastity; reading, prayer, psalm, good thought, frequency in good works, hope of the world to come, and a heart upward; and for all these giving of thanks unto the Father of lights, from Whom, without any doubt, every good gift, and every perfect gift, as Scripture bears witness, cometh down. [2288] For when, in stead of the delights of married women, which they have in the flesh of their husbands, the use of other carnal delights is taken, as it were to solace them, why should I speak of the evils which follow, when the Apostle hath said in short, that the widow, who lives in delights, living is dead. [2289] But far be it from you, that ye be taken with lust of riches instead of lust of marriage, or that in your hearts money succeed to the place of love of a husband. For looking into men's conversation, we have often found by experience, that in certain persons, when wantonness hath been restrained, avarice hath increased. For, as, in the senses themselves of the body, they who see not hear more keenly, and discern many things by touch, nor have such as have the use of their eyes so great life in their touch; and in this instance it is understood that, when the exertion of the power of attention [2290] hath been restrained in one approach, that is, of the eyes, it puts itself forth into other senses, more ready with keenness to distinguish, as though it essayed to supply from the one what was denied in the other; thus also often carnal lust, being restrained from pleasure of sensual intercourse, with greater strength reaches itself forth to desire money, and when turned away from the one, turns itself with more glow of passion to the other. But in you let the love of riches grow cold together with the love of marriage, and let a pious use of what property you possess be directed to spiritual delights, that your liberality wax warm rather in helping such as are in want than in enriching covetous persons. Forsooth into the heavenly treasury are sent not gifts to the covetous, but alms to the needy, which above measure help the prayers of widows. Fastings, also, and watchings, so far as they disturb not health, if they be spent in praying, singing psalms, reading, and meditating in the Law of God, even the very things which seem laborious are turned into spiritual delights. For no way burdensome are the labors of such as love, but even of themselves delight, as of such as hunt, fowl, fish, gather grapes, traffic, delight themselves with some game. It matters therefore what be loved. For, in the case of what is loved, either there is no labor, or the labor also is loved. And consider how it should be matter for shame and grief, if there be pleasure in labor, to take a wild beast, to fill cask and purse, [2291] to cast a ball, and there be no pleasure in labors to win God!

Footnotes

[2288] James i. 17 [2289] 1 Tim. v. 6 [2290] Intentione [2291] Cupa et sacculus


27. Indeed in all spiritual delights, which unmarried women enjoy, their holy conversation ought also to be with caution; lest haply, though their life be not evil through haughtiness, their report be evil through negligence. Nor are they to be listened to, whether they be holy men or women, when (upon occasion of their neglect in some matter being blamed, through which it comes to pass that they fall into evil suspicion, from which they know that their life is far removed) they say that it is enough for them their conscience before God, despising what men think of them, not only imprudently [2292] but also cruelly; when they slay the souls of others; whether of such as blaspheme the way of God, who following their suspicion are displeased at what is the chaste life of the Saints, as though it were shameful, or of such also as make excuse, and imitate, not what they see, but what they think. Wherefore whosoever guards his life from charges of shameful and evil deeds, does good to himself; but whosoever guards his character too, is merciful also towards others. For unto ourselves our own life is necessary, unto others our character; and certainly even what we mercifully minister unto others, for their health, abounds also to our own profit. Whence not in vain the Apostle, "We provide good things," saith he, "not only before God, but also before men;" [2293] also he saith, "Please ye all men through all things; even as I also please all men through all things, not seeking what is of profit unto myself, but what unto many, that they may be saved." [2294] Also in a certain exhortation he says, "For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are holy, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are most dear, whatsoever things are of good report; if any virtue, if any praise, these things think on, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me." [2295] You see how among many things, unto which by exhortation he admonished them, he neglected not to set, "whatsoever things are of good report;" and in two words included all things, where he saith, "if any virtue, if any praise." For unto virtue pertain the good things of which He made mention above; but good report unto praise. I think that the Apostle took not the praise of men for any great thing, saying in another place, "But to me it is the least thing, that I be judged of you, or of day of man;" [2296] and in another place, "If I were pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ;" [2297] and again, "For our glory is this, the testimony of our conscience." [2298] But of these two, that is, of a good life, and a good report, or as is said more shortly, of virtue and praise, the one for his own sake he most wisely kept, the other for the sake of others he most mercifully provided. But, forasmuch as human caution, how great soever, cannot on every side avoid most malevolent suspicions, when for our good report we shall have done whatever we rightly can, if any, either by falsely pretending evil things of us, or from believing evil of us, endeavor to stain our fair fame, let there be present the solace of conscience, and clearly also the joy, in that our reward is great in Heaven, even when men say many evil things of us, [2299] and we yet live godly and righteously. For that reward is as the pay of such as serve as soldiers, through the arms of righteousness, not only on the right hand, but on the left also; that is to say, through glory and mean estate, through ill report and good report. [2300]

Footnotes

[2292] al. "impudenter," "with lack of modesty." [2293] 2 Cor. viii. 21. [See R.V.] [2294] 1 Cor. x. 33 [2295] Phil. iv. 8, 9 [2296] 1 Cor. iv. 3 [2297] Gal. i. 10 [2298] 2 Cor. i. 12 [2299] Matt. v. 11, 12 [2300] 2 Cor. vi. 7, 8


28. Go on therefore in your course, and run with perseverance, in order that ye may obtain; and by pattern of life, and discourse of exhortation, carry away with you into this same your course, whomsoever ye shall have had power. Let there not bend you from this earnest purpose, whereby ye excite many to follow, the complaint of vain persons, who say, How shall the human race subsist, if all shall have been continent? As though it were for any other reason that this world is delayed, save that the predestined number of the Saints be fulfilled, and were this the sooner fulfilled, assuredly the end of the world would not be put off. Nor let it stay you from your earnest purpose of persuading others to the same good ye have, if it be said to you, Whereas marriage also is good, how shall there be all goods in the Body of Christ, both the greater, forsooth, and the lesser, if all through praise and love of continence imitate? In the first place, because with the endeavor that all be continent, there will still be but few, for "not all receive this word." But forasmuch as it is written, "Whoso can receive, let him receive;" [2301] then do they receive who can, when silence is not kept even toward those who cannot. Next, neither ought we to fear lest haply all receive it, and some one of lesser goods, that is, married life, be wanting in the body of Christ. For if all shall have heard, and all shall have received, we ought to understand that this very thing was predestinated, that married goods already suffice in the number of those members which so many have passed out of this life. For neither now, if all shall have been continent, will they give the honor of the continent to those who have already borne into the garners of the Lord the fruit thirty-fold, if that be understood of married good. Therefore all these goods will have there their place, although from this time no woman wish to be married, no man wish to marry a wife. Therefore without anxiety urge on whom ye can, to become what ye are; and pray with watchfulness and fervor, that by the help of the Right Hand of the Most High, and by the abundance of the most merciful grace of the Lord, ye may both persevere in that which ye are, and may make advances unto that which ye shall be.

Footnotes

[2301] Matt. xix. 11, 12


29. Next I entreat you, by Him, from Whom ye have both received this gift, and hope for the rewards of this gift, that ye be mindful to set me also in your prayers with all your household Church. Forsooth it hath come to pass in most proper order, that I should write unto your Mother now aged a letter [2302] concerning prayer; unto her, forsooth, it chiefly pertains by praying to contend on your behalf, who is less full of care for herself than for you; and that for you rather than for her I should compose this little work concerning widowed continence; because unto you it remaineth to overcome, what her age hath already overcome. But the holy virgin your child, if she desire aught concerning her profession from our labors, she hath a large book on Holy Virginity to read. Concerning the reading of which I had also admonished you, forasmuch as it contains many things necessary unto either chastity, that is, virginal and widowed, which things on this account I have here partly touched on lightly, partly altogether passed over, because I there discussed them more fully.

May you persevere in the grace of Christ.

Footnotes

[2302] Ep. 150, ad Probam. Vol. I. p. 503.
.

On Lying.


[De Mendacio.]

Translated by Rev. H. Browne, M.A., of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, Late Principal of the Diocesan College, Chichester.


This book appears from its place in the Retractations to have been written about a.d. 395, as it is the last work named in the first book, which contains those which he wrote before he was Bishop. Some editions represent it as addressed to Consentius, but not the mss. The latter are probably right, as his other work on the subject was written in answer to the inquiries of Consentius on the case of the Priscillianists many years later.--Bened. Ed. Retractations, Book I. last Chapter. "I have also written a Book on Lying, which though it takes some pains to understand, contains much that is useful for the exercise of the mind, and more that is profitable to morals, in inculcating the love of speaking the truth. This also I was minded to remove from my works, because it seemed to me obscure, and intricate, and altogether troublesome; for which reason I had not sent it abroad. And when I had afterwards written another book, under this title, Against Lying, much more had I determined and ordered that the former should cease to exist; which however was not done. Therefore in this retractation of my works, as I have found this still in being, I have ordered that it should remain; chiefly because therein are to be found some necessary things which in the other are not. Why the other has for its title, Against Lying, but this, Of Lying, the reason is this, that throughout the one is an open assault upon lying, whereas great part of this is taken up with the discussion of the question for and against. Both, however, are directed to the same object. This book begins thus: "Magna quæstio est de Mendacio."


1. There is a great question about Lying, which often arises in the midst of our every day business, and gives us much trouble, that we may not either rashly call that a lie which is not such, or decide that it is sometimes right to tell a lie, that is, a kind of honest, well-meant, charitable lie. This question we will painfully discuss by seeking with them that seek: whether to any good purpose, we need not take upon ourselves to affirm, for the attentive reader will sufficiently gather from the course of the discussion. It is, indeed, very full of dark corners, and hath many cavern-like windings, whereby it oft eludes the eagerness of the seeker; so that at one moment what was found seems to slip out of one's hands, and anon comes to light again, and then is once more lost to sight. At last, however, the chase will bear down more surely, and will overtake our sentence. Wherein if there is any error, yet as Truth is that which setteth free from all error, and Falsehood that which entangleth in all error, one never errs more safely, methinks, than when one errs by too much loving the truth, and too much rejecting of falsehood. For they who find great fault say it is too much, whereas peradventure Truth would say after all, it is not yet enough. But whoso readest, thou wilt do well to find no fault until thou have read the whole; so wilt thou have less fault to find. Eloquence thou must not look for: we have been intent upon things, and upon dispatch in putting out of hand a matter which nearly concerns our every day life, and therefore have had small pains, or almost none, to bestow upon words.


2. Setting aside, therefore, jokes, which have never been accounted lies, seeing they bear with them in the tone of voice, and in the very mood of the joker a most evident indication that he means no deceit, although the thing he utters be not true: touching which kind of discourse, whether it be meet to be used by perfect minds, is another question which we have not at this time taken in hand to clear; but setting jokes apart, the first point to be attended to, is, that a person should not be thought to lie, who lieth not.


3. For which purpose we must see what a lie is. For not every one who says a false thing lies, if he believes or opines that to be true which he says. Now between believing and opining there is this difference, that sometimes he who believes feels that he does not know that which he believes, (although he may know himself to be ignorant of a thing, and yet have no doubt at all concerning it, if he most firmly believes it:) whereas he who opines, thinks he knows that which he does not know. Now whoever utters that which he holds in his mind either as belief or as opinion, even though it be false, he lies not. For this he owes to the faith of his utterance, that he thereby produce that which he holds in his mind, and has in that way in which he produces it. Not that he is without fault, although he lie not, if either he believes what he ought not to believe, or thinks he knows what he knows not, even though it should be true: for he accounts an unknown thing for a known. Wherefore, that man lies, who has one thing in his mind and utters another in words, or by signs of whatever kind. Whence also the heart of him who lies is said to be double; that is, there is a double thought: the one, of that thing which he either knows or thinks to be true and does not produce; the other, of that thing which he produces instead thereof, knowing or thinking it to be false. Whence it comes to pass, that he may say a false thing and yet not lie, if he thinks it to be so as he says although it be not so; and, that he may say a true thing, and yet lie, if he thinks it to be false and utters it for true, although in reality it be so as he utters it. For from the sense of his own mind, not from the verity or falsity of the things themselves, is he to be judged to lie or not to lie. Therefore he who utters a false thing for a true, which however he opines to be true, may be called erring and rash: but he is not rightly said to lie; because he has not a double heart when he utters it, neither does he wish to deceive, but is deceived. But the fault of him who lies, is, the desire of deceiving in the uttering of his mind; whether he do deceive, in that he is believed when uttering the false thing; or whether he do not deceive, either in that he is not believed, or in that he utters a true thing with will to deceive, which he does not think to be true: wherein being believed, he does not deceive though it was his will to deceive: except that he deceives in so far as he is thought to know or think as he utters.


4. But it may be a very nice question whether in the absence of all will to deceive, lying is altogether absent. Thus, put the case that a person shall speak a false thing, which he esteems to be false, on the ground that he thinks he is not believed, to the intent, that in that way falsifying his faith he may deter the person to whom he speaks, which person he perceives does not choose to believe him. For here is a person who tells a lie with studied purpose of not deceiving, if to tell a lie is to utter any thing otherwise than you know or think it to be. But if it be no lie, unless when something is uttered with wish to deceive, that person lies not, who says a false thing, knowing or thinking it to be false, but says it on purpose that the person to whom he speaks by not believing him may not be deceived, because the speaker either knows or thinks the other will not believe him. Whence if it appear to be possible that a person should say a false thing on purpose that he to whom it is said may not be deceived, on the other hand there is this opposite case, the case of a person saying the truth on purpose that he may deceive. For if a man determines to say a true thing because he perceives he is not believed, that man speaks truth on purpose that he may deceive: for he knows or thinks that what is said may be accounted false, just because it is spoken by him. Wherefore in saying a true thing on purpose that it may be thought false, he says a true thing on purpose to deceive. So that it may be inquired, which rather lies: he who says a false thing that he may not deceive, or he who says a true thing that he may deceive? the one knowing or thinking that he says a false thing, and the other knowing or thinking that he says a true thing? For we have already said that the person who does not know the thing to be false which he utters, does not lie if he thinks it to be true; and that that person rather lies who utters even a true thing when he thinks it false: because it is by the sense of their mind that they are to be judged. Concerning these persons therefore, whom we have set forth, there is no small question. The one, who knows or thinks he says a false thing, and says it on purpose that he may not deceive: as, if he knows a certain road to be beset by robbers, and fearing lest some person for whose safety he is anxious should go by that road, which person he knows does not trust him, should tell him that that road has no robbers, on purpose that he may not go by it, as he will think there are robbers there precisely because the other has told him there are none, and he is resolved not to believe him, accounting him a liar. The other, who knowing or thinking that to be true which he says, says it on purpose that he may deceive: for instance, if he tells a person who does not believe him, that there are robbers in that road where he really knows them to be, that he to whom he tells it may the rather go by that road and so fall among robbers, because he thinks that to be false, which the other told him. Which then of these lies? the one who has chosen to say a false thing that he may not deceive? or the other who has chosen to say a true thing that he may deceive? that one, who in saying a false thing aimed that he to whom he spake should follow the truth? or this one, who in saying a true thing aimed that he to whom he spake should follow a falsehood? Or haply have both lied? the one, because he wished to say a false thing: the other, because he wished to deceive? Or rather, has neither lied? not the one, because he had the will not to deceive: not the other, because he had the will to speak the truth? For the question is not now which of them sinned, but which of them lied: as indeed it is presently seen that the latter sinned, because by speaking a truth he brought it about that a person should fall among robbers, and that the former has not sinned, or even has done good, because by speaking a false thing he has been the means of a person's avoiding destruction. But then these instances may be turned the other way, so that the one should be supposed to wish some more grievous suffering to the person whom he wishes not to be deceived; for there are many cases of persons who through knowing certain things to be true, have brought destruction upon themselves, if the things were such as ought to have continued unknown to them: and the other may be supposed to wish some convenience to result to the person whom he wishes to be deceived; for there have been instances of persons who would have destroyed themselves had they known some evil that had really befallen those who were dear to them, and through deeming it false have spared themselves: and so to be deceived has been a benefit to them, as to others it has been a hurt to know the truth. The question therefore is not with what purpose of doing a kindness or a hurt, either the one said a false thing that he might not deceive, or the other a true thing that he might deceive: but, setting apart the convenience or inconvenience of the persons spoken to, in so far as relates to the very truth and falsehood, the question is, whether both of them or neither has lied. For if a lie is an utterance with will of uttering a false thing, that man has rather lied who willed to say a false thing, and said what he willed, albeit he said it of set purpose not to deceive. But if a lie is any utterance whatever with will to deceive; then not the former has lied, but the latter, who even in speaking truth willed to deceive. And if a lie is an utterance with will of any falsity, both have lied; because both the former willed his utterance to be false, and the latter willed a false thing to be believed concerning his utterance which was true. Further, if a lie is an utterance of a person wishing to utter a false thing that he may deceive, neither has lied; because both the former in saying a false thing had the will to make a true thing believed, and the latter to say a true thing in order that he might make a false thing believed. We shall be clear then of all rashness and all lying, if, what we know to be true or right to be believed, we utter when need is, and wish to make that thing believed which we utter. If, however, either thinking that to be true which is false, or accounting as known that which is to us unknown, or believing what we ought not to believe, or uttering it when need is not, we yet have no other aim than to make that believed which we utter; we do not stand clear indeed of the error of temerity, but we do stand clear of all lying. For there is no need to be afraid of any of those definitions, when the mind has a good conscience, that it utters that which to be true it either knows, or opines, or believes, and that it has no wish to make any thing believed but that which it utters.


5. But whether a lie be at some times useful, is a much greater and more concerning question. Whether, as above, it be a lie, when a person has no will to deceive, or even makes it his business that the person to whom he says a thing shall not be deceived although he did wish the thing itself which he uttered to be false, but this on purpose that he might cause a truth to be believed; whether, again, it be a lie when a person willingly utters even a truth for the purpose of deceiving; this may be doubted. But none doubts that it is a lie when a person willingly utters a falsehood for the purpose of deceiving: wherefore a false utterance put forth with will to deceive is manifestly a lie. But whether this alone be a lie, is another question. Meanwhile, taking this kind of lie, in which all agree, let us inquire, whether it be sometimes useful to utter a falsehood with will to deceive. They who think it is, advance testimonies to their opinion, by alleging the case of Sarah, [2303] who, when she had laughed, denied to the Angels that she laughed: of Jacob questioned by his father, and answering that he was the elder son Esau: [2304] likewise that of the Egyptian midwives, who to save the Hebrew infants from being slain at their birth, told a lie, and that with God's approbation and reward: [2305] and many such like instances they pick out, of lies told by persons whom you would not dare to blame, and so must own that it may sometimes be not only not blameworthy, but even praiseworthy to tell a lie. They add also a case with which to urge not only those who are devoted to the Divine Books, but all men and common sense, saying, Suppose a man should take refuge with thee, who by thy lie might be saved from death, wouldest thou not tell it? If a sick man should ask a question which it is not expedient that he should know, and might be more grievously afflicted even by thy returning him no answer, wilt thou venture either to tell the truth to the destruction of the man's life, or rather to hold thy peace, than by a virtuous and merciful lie to be serviceable to his weak health? By these and such like arguments they think they most plentifully prove, that if occasion of doing good require, we may sometimes tell a lie.

Footnotes

[2303] Gen. xviii. 15 [2304] Gen. xxvii. 19 [2305] Exod. i. 19, 20


6. On the other hand, those who say that we must never lie, plead much more strongly, using first the Divine authority, because in the very Decalogue it is written "Thou shall not bear false witness;" [2306] under which general term it comprises all lying: for whoso utters any thing bears witness to his own mind. But lest any should contend that not every lie is to be called false witness, what will he say to that which is written, "The mouth that lieth slayeth the soul:" [2307] and lest any should suppose that this may be understood with the exception of some liars, let him read in another place, "Thou wilt destroy all that speak leasing." [2308] Whence with His own lips the Lord saith, "Let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." [2309] Hence the Apostle also in giving precept for the putting off of the old man, under which name all sins are understood, says straightway, "Wherefore putting away lying, speak ye truth." [2310]

Footnotes

[2306] Exod. xx. 16 [2307] Wisdom i. 11. Os quod mentitur. "The mouth that belieth," E.V., stoma katapseudomenon [2308] Psalm v. 6 [2309] Matt. v. 37. [See R.V.] [2310] Eph. iv. 25


7. Neither do they confess that they are awed by those citations from the Old Testament which are alleged as examples of lies: for there, every incident may possibly be taken figuratively, although it really did take place: and when a thing is either done or said figuratively, it is no lie. For every utterance is to be referred to that which it utters. But when any thing is either done or said figuratively, it utters that which it signifies to those for whose understanding it was put forth. Whence we may believe in regard of those persons of the prophetical times who are set forth as authoritative, that in all that is written of them they acted and spoke prophetically; and no less, that there is a prophetical meaning in all those incidents of their lives which by the same prophetic Spirit have been accounted worthy of being recorded in writing. As to the midwives, indeed, they cannot say that these women did through the prophetic Spirit, with purpose of signifying a future truth, tell Pharaoh one thing instead of another, (albeit that Spirit did signify something, without their knowing what was doing in their persons:) but, they say that these women were according to their degree approved and rewarded of God. For if a person who is used to tell lies for harm's sake comes to tell them for the sake of doing good, that person has made great progress. But it is one thing that is set forth as laudable in itself, another that in comparison with a worse is preferred. It is one sort of gratulation that we express when a man is in sound health, another when a sick man is getting better. In the Scripture, even Sodom is said to be justified in comparison with the crimes of the people Israel. And to this rule they apply all the instances of lying which are produced from the Old Books, and are found not reprehended, or cannot be reprehended: either they are approved on the score of a progress towards improvement and hope of better things, or in virtue of some hidden signification they are not altogether lies.


8. For this reason, from the books of the New Testament, except the figurative pre-significations used by our Lord, if thou consider the life and manners of the Saints, their actions and sayings, nothing of the kind can be produced which should provoke to imitation of lying. For the simulation of Peter and Barnabas is not only recorded, but also reproved and corrected. [2311] For it was not, as some suppose, [2312] out of the same simulation that even Paul the Apostle either circumcised Timothy, or himself celebrated certain ceremonies [2313] according to the Jewish rite; but he did so, out of that liberty of his mind whereby he preached that neither are the Gentiles the better for circumcision, nor the Jews the worse. Wherefore he judged that neither the former should be tied to the custom of the Jews, nor the Jews deterred from the custom of their fathers. Whence are those words of his: "Is any man called being circumcised let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called." [2314] How can a man become uncircumcised after circumcision? but let him not do so, saith he: let him not so live as if he had become uncircumcised, that is, as if he had covered again with flesh the part that was bared, and ceased to be a Jew; as in another place he saith, "Thy circumcision is become uncircumcision." [2315] And this the Apostle said, not as though he would compel either those to remain in uncircumcision, or the Jews in the custom of their fathers: but that neither these nor those should be forced to the other custom; and, each should have power of abiding in his own custom, not necessity of so doing. For neither if the Jew should wish, where it would disturb no man, to recede from Jewish observances, would he be prohibited by the Apostle, since the object of his counselling to abide therein was that Jews might not by being troubled about superfluous things be hindered from coming to those things which are necessary to salvation. Neither would it be prohibited by him, if any of the Gentiles should wish to be circumcised for the purpose of showing that he does not detest the same as noxious, but holds it indifferently, as a seal, [2316] the usefulness of which had already passed away with time; for it did not follow that, if there were now no salvation to be had from it, there was destruction to be dreaded therefrom. And for this reason, Timothy, having been called in uncircumcision, yet because his mother was a Jewess and he was bound, in order to gain his kindred, to show them that he had not learnt in the Christian discipline to abominate the sacraments of the old Law, was circumcised by the Apostle; [2317] that in this way they might prove to the Jews, that the reason why the Gentiles do not receive them, is not that they are evil and were perniciously observed by the Fathers, but because they are no longer necessary to salvation after the advent of that so great Sacrament, which through so long times the whole of that ancient Scripture in its prophetical prefigurations did travail in birth withal. For he would circumcise Titus also, when the Jews urged this, [2318] but that false brethren, privily brought in, wished it to be done to the intent they might have it to disseminate concerning Paul himself as a token that he had given place to the truth of their preaching, who said that the hope of Gospel salvation is in circumcision of the flesh and observances of that kind, and that without these Christ profiteth no man: whereas on the contrary Christ would nothing profit them, who should be circumcised because they thought that in it was salvation; whence that saying, "Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing." [2319] Out of this liberty, therefore, did Paul keep the observances of his fathers, but with this one precaution and express declaration, that people should not suppose that without these was no Christian salvation. Peter, however, by his making as though salvation consisted in Judaism, was compelling the Gentiles to judaize; as is shown by Paul's words, where he says, "Why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" [2320] For they would be under no compulsion unless they saw that he observed them in such manner as if beside them could be no salvation. Peter's simulation therefore is not to be compared to Paul's liberty. And while we ought to love Peter for that he willingly received correction, we must not bolster up lying even by the authority of Paul, who both recalled Peter to the right path in the presence of them all, lest the Gentiles through him should be compelled to judaize; and bare witness to his own preaching, that whereas he was accounted hostile to the traditions of the fathers in that he would not impose them on the Gentiles, he did not despise to celebrate them himself according to the custom of his fathers, and therein sufficiently showed that this has remained in them at the Coming of Christ; that neither to the Jews they are pernicious, nor to the Gentiles necessary, nor henceforth to any of mankind means of salvation. [2321]

Footnotes

[2311] Gal. ii. 12-21 [2312] S. Jerome Ep. inter Augustinianas, 75, n. 9-11. [2313] Sacramenta [2314] 1 Cor. vii. 18-20 [2315] Rom. ii. 25 [2316] Signaculum [2317] Acts xvi. 1-3 [2318] Gal. ii. 3, 4 [2319] Gal. v. 2 [2320] Gal. ii. 14 [2321] Salutares


9. But if no authority for lying can be alleged, neither from the ancient Books, be it because that is not a lie which is received to have been done or said in a figurative sense, or be it because good men are not challenged to imitate that which in bad men, beginning to amend, is praised in comparison with the worse; nor yet from the books of the New Testament, because Peter's correction rather than his simulation, even as his tears rather than his denial, is what we must imitate: then, as to those examples which are fetched from common life, they assert much more confidently that there is no trust to be given to these. For first they teach, that a lie is iniquity, by many proofs of holy writ, especially by that which is written, "Thou, Lord, hatest all workers of iniquity, thou shall destroy them that speak leasing." [2322] For either as the Scripture is wont, in the following clause it expounds the former; so that, as iniquity is a term of a wider meaning, leasing is named as the particular sort of iniquity intended: or if they think there is any difference between the two, leasing is by so much worse than iniquity as "thou wilt destroy" is heavier than "thou hatest." For it may be that God hates a person to that degree more mildly, as not to destroy him, but whom He destroys He hates the more exceedingly, by how much He punisheth more severely. Now He hateth all who work iniquity: but all who speak leasing He also destroyeth. Which thing being fixed, who of them which assert this will be moved by those examples, when it is said, suppose a man should seek shelter with thee who by thy lie may be saved from death? For that death which men are foolishly afraid of who are not afraid to sin, kills not the soul but the body, as the Lord teacheth in the Gospel; whence He charges us not to fear that death: [2323] but the mouth which lies kills not the body but the soul. For in these words it is most plainly written, "The mouth that lieth slayeth the soul." [2324] How then can it be said without the greatest perverseness, that to the end one man may have life of the body, it is another man's duty to incur death of the soul? The love of our neighbor hath its bounds in each man's love of himself. "Thou shall love," saith He, "thy neighbor as thyself." [2325] How can a man be said to love as himself that man, for whom that he may secure a temporal life, himself loseth life eternal? Since if for his temporal life he lose but his own temporal life, that is not to love as himself, but more than himself: which exceeds the rule of sound doctrine. Much less then is he by telling a lie to lose his own eternal for another's temporal life. His own temporal life, of course, for his neighbor's eternal life a Christian man will not hesitate to lose: for this example has gone before, that the Lord died for us. To this point He also saith, "This is my commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." [2326] For none is so foolish as to say that the Lord did other than consult for the eternal salvation of men, whether in doing what He hath charged us to do, or in charging us to do what Himself hath done. Since then by lying eternal life is lost, never for any man's temporal life must a lie be told. And as to those who take it ill and are indignant that one should refuse to tell a lie, and thereby slay his own soul in order that another may grow old in the flesh; what if by our committing theft, what if by committing adultery, a person might be delivered from death: are we therefore to steal, to commit whoredom? They cannot prevail with themselves in a case of this kind: namely, if a person should bring a halter and demand that one should yield to his carnal lust, declaring that he will hang himself unless his request be granted: they cannot prevail with themselves to comply for the sake of, as they say, saving a life. If this is absurd and wicked, why should a man corrupt his own soul with a lie in order that another may live in the body, when, if he were to give his body to be corrupted with such an object, he would in the judgment of all men be held guilty of nefarious turpitude? Therefore the only point to be attended to in this question is, whether a lie be iniquity. And since this is asserted by the texts above rehearsed, we must see that to ask, whether a man ought to tell a lie for the safety of another, is just the same as asking whether for another's safety a man ought to commit iniquity. But if the salvation of the soul rejects this, seeing it cannot be secured but by equity, and would have us prefer it not only to another's, but even to our own temporal safety: what remains, say they, that should make us doubt that a lie ought not to be told under any circumstances whatsoever? For it cannot be said that there is aught among temporal goods greater or dearer than the safety and life of the body. Wherefore if not even that is to be preferred to truth, what can be put in our way for the sake of which they who think it is sometimes right to lie, can urge that a lie ought to be told?

Footnotes

[2322] Ps. v. 5, 6. [See R.V.] [2323] Matt. x. 28 [2324] Wisd. i. 11; "belieth," E.V. [2325] Levit. xix. 18; Matt. xxii. 39 [2326] John xv. 12, 13


10. As concerning purity of body; here indeed a very honorable regard seems to come in the way, and to demand a lie in its behalf; to wit, that if the assault of the ravisher may be escaped by means of a lie, it is indubitably right to tell it: but to this it may easily be answered, that there is no purity of body except as it depends on integrity of mind; this being broken, the other must needs fall, even though it seem intact; and for this reason it is not to be reckoned among temporal things, as a thing that might be taken away from people against their will. By no means therefore must the mind corrupt itself by a lie for the sake of its body, which it knows remaineth incorrupt if from the mind itself incorruptness depart not. For that which by violence, with no lust foregoing, the body suffereth, is rather to be called deforcement than corruption. Or if all deforcement is corruption, then not every corruption hath turpitude, but only that which lust hath procured, or to which lust hath consented. Now by how much the mind is more excellent than the body, so much the more heinous is the wickedness if that be corrupted. There, then, purity can be preserved, because there none but a voluntary corruption can have place. For assuredly if the ravisher assault the body, and there is no escaping him either by contrary force, or by any contrivance or lie, we must needs allow that purity cannot be violated by another's lust. Wherefore, since no man doubts that the mind is better than the body, to integrity of body we ought to prefer integrity of mind, which can be preserved for ever. Now who will say that the mind of him who tells a lie hath its integrity? Indeed lust itself is rightly defined, An appetite of the mind by which to eternal goods any temporal goods whatever are preferred. Therefore no man can prove that it is at any time right to tell a lie, unless he be able to show that any eternal good can be obtained by a lie. But since each man departs from eternity just in so far as he departs from truth, it is most absurd to say, that by departing therefrom it is possible for any man to attain to any good. Else if there be any eternal good which truth compriseth not, it will not be a true good, therefore neither will it be good, because it will be false. But as the mind to the body, so must also truth be preferred to the mind itself, so that the mind should desire it not only more than the body, but even more than its own self. So will the mind be more entire and chaste, when it shall enjoy the immutability of truth rather than its own mutability. Now if Lot, [2327] being so righteous a man that he was meet [2328] to entertain even Angels, offered his daughters to the lust of the Sodomites, to the intent, that the bodies of women rather than of men might be corrupted by them; how much more diligently and constantly ought the mind's chasteness in the truth to be preserved, seeing it is more truly preferable to its body, than the body of a man to the body of a woman?

Footnotes

[2327] Gen. xix. 8 [2328] "Ut mereretur."


11. But if any man supposes that the reason why it is right for a person to tell a lie for another is, that he may live the while, or not be offended in those things which he much loveth, to the end he may attain unto eternal truth by being taught: that man doth not understand, in the first place, that there is no flagitious thing which he may not upon the same ground be compelled to commit, as has been above demonstrated; and in the next place, that the authority of the doctrine itself is cut off and altogether undone if those whom we essay to bring thereunto, are by our lie made to think that it is somewhiles right to lie. For seeing the doctrine which bringeth salvation consisteth partly in things to be believed, partly in things to be understood; and there is no attaining unto those things which are to be understood, unless first those things are believed, which are to be believed; how can there be any believing one who thinks it is sometimes right to lie, lest haply he lie at the moment when he teacheth us to believe? For how can it be known whether he have at that moment some cause, as he thinks, for a well-meant [2329] lie, deeming that by a false story a man may be frightened and kept from lust, and in this way account that by telling a lie he is doing good even in spiritual things? Which kind of lie once admitted and approved, all discipline of faith is subverted altogether; and this being subverted, neither is there any attaining to understanding, for the receiving of which that discipline nurtureth the babes: and so all the doctrine of truth is done away, giving place to most licentious falsehood, if a lie, even well-meant, may from any quarter have place opened for it to enter in. For either whoso tells a lie prefers temporal advantages, his own or another's, to truth; than which what can be more perverse? or when by aid of a lie he wishes to make a person fit for gaining the truth, he bars the approach to truth, for by wishing when he lies to be accommodating, [2330] it comes to pass that when he speaks the truth, he cannot be depended upon. Wherefore, either we must not believe good men, or we must believe those whom we think obliged sometimes to tell a lie, or we must not believe that good men sometimes tell lies: of these three the first is pernicious, the second foolish; it remains therefore that good men should never tell lies.

Footnotes

[2329] Officiosi [2330] Aptus


12. Thus has the question been on both sides considered and treated; and still it is not easy to pass sentence: but we must further lend diligent hearing to those who say, that no deed is so evil, but that in avoidance of a worse it ought to be done; moreover that the deeds of men include not only what they do, but whatever they consent to be done unto them. Wherefore, if cause have arisen that a Christian man should choose to burn incense to idols, that he might not consent to bodily defilement which the persecutor threatened him withal, unless he should do so, they think they have a right to ask why he should not also tell a lie to escape so foul a disgrace. For the consent itself to endure violation of the person rather than to burn incense to idols, this, they say, is not a passive thing, but a deed; which rather than do, he chose to burn incense. How much more readily then would he have chosen a lie, if by a lie he might ward off from a holy body so shocking a disgrace?


13. In which proposition these points may well deserve to be questioned: whether such consent is to be accounted as a deed: or whether that is to be called consent which hath not approbation: or whether it be approbation, when it is said, "It is expedient to suffer this rather than do that;" and whether the person spoken of did right to burn incense rather than suffer violation of his body; and whether it would be right rather to tell a lie, if that was the alternative proposed, than to burn incense? But if such consent is to be accounted as a deed, then are they murderers who have chosen rather to be put to death than bear false witness, yea, what is worse, they are murderers of themselves. For why, at this rate, should it not be said that they have slain themselves, because they chose that this should be done to them that they might not do what they were urged to do? Or, if it be accounted a worse thing to slay another than himself, what if these terms were offered to a Martyr, that, upon his refusing to bear false witness of Christ and to sacrifice to demons, then, before his eyes, not some other man, but his own father should be put to death; his father entreating him that he would not by his persevering permit that to be done? Is it not manifest, that, upon his remaining steadfast in his purpose of most faithful testimony, they alone would be the murderers who should slay his father, and not he a parricide into the bargain? As therefore, in this case, the man would be no party to this so heinous deed, for choosing, rather than violate his faith by false testimony, that his own father should be put to death by others, (yea, though that father were a sacrilegious person whose soul would be snatched away to punishment;) so the like consent, in the former case, would not make him a party to that so foul disgrace, if he refused to do evil himself, let others do what they might in consequence of his not doing it. For what do such persecutors say, but, "Do evil that we may not?" If the case were so, that our doing evil would make them not to have done it, even then it would not be our duty by doing wickedness ourselves to vote them harmless; but as in fact they are already doing it when they say nothing of the kind, [2331] why are they to have us to keep them company in wickedness rather than be vile and noisome by themselves? For that is not to be called consent; seeing that we do not approve what they do, always wishing that they would not, and, as much as in us lies, hindering them that they should not do it, and, when it is done, not only not committing it with them, but with all possible detestation condemning the same.

Footnotes

[2331] Al. when they say such things.


14. "How," sayest thou, "is it not his doing as well as theirs, when they would not do this, if he would do that?" Why, at this rate we go housebreaking with house-breakers, because if we did not shut the door, they would not break it open: and we go and murder with highwaymen, if it chance we know that they are going to do it, because if we killed them out of hand, they would not kill others. Or, if a person confess to us that he is going to commit a parricide, we commit it along with him, if, being able, we do not slay him before he can do the deed when we cannot in some other way prevent or thwart him. For it may be said, word for word as before, "Thou hast done it as well as he; for he had not done this, hadst thou done that." With my good will, neither ill should be done; but only the one was in my power, and I could take care that this should not be done; the other rested with another, and when by my good advice I could not quench the purpose, I was not bound by my evil deed to thwart the doing. It is therefore no approving of a sinner, that one refuses to sin for him; and neither the one nor the other is liked by him who would that neither were done; but in that which pertains to him, he hath the power to do it or not, and with that he perpetrateth it not; in that which pertains to another, he hath only the will to wish it or not, and with that he condemneth. And therefore, on their offering those terms, and saying, "If thou burn not incense, this shalt thou suffer;" if he should answer, "For me, I choose neither, I detest both, I consent unto you in none of these things:" in uttering these and the like words, which certainly, because they would be true, would afford them no consent no approbation of his, let him suffer at their hands what he might, to his account would be set down the receipt of wrongs, to theirs the commission of sins. "Ought he then," it may be asked, "to suffer his person to be violated rather than burn incense?" If the question be what he ought, he ought to do neither. For should I say that he ought to do any of these things, I shall approve this or that, whereas I reprobate both. But if the question be, which of these he ought in preference to avoid, not being able to avoid both but able to avoid one or other: I will answer, "His own sin, rather than another's; and rather a lighter sin being his own, than a heavier being another's." For, reserving the point for more diligent inquiry, and granting in the mean while that violation of the person is worse than burning incense, yet the latter is his own, the former another's deed, although he had it done to him; now, whose the deed, his the sin. For though murder is a greater sin than stealing, yet it is worse to steal than to suffer murder. Therefore, if it were proposed to any man that, if he would not steal he should be killed, that is, murder should be committed upon him; being he could not avoid both, he would prefer to avoid that which would be his own sin, rather than that which would be another's. Nor would the latter become his act for being committed upon him, and because he might avoid it if he would commit a sin of his own.


15. The whole stress, then, of this question comes to this; whether it be true universally that no sin of another, committed upon thee, is to be imputed to thee, if, being able to avoid it by a lighter sin of thine own, thou do it not; or whether there be an exception of all bodily defilement. No man says that a person is defiled by being murdered, or cast into prison, or bound in chains, or scourged, or afflicted with other tortures and pains, or proscribed and made to suffer most grievous losses even to utter nakedness, or stripped of honors, and subjected to great disgrace by reproaches of whatsoever kind; whatever of all these a man may have unjustly suffered, no man is so senseless as to say that he is thereby defiled. But if he have filth poured all over him, or poured into his mouth, or crammed into him, or if he be carnally used like a woman; then almost all men regard him with a feeling of horror, and they call him defiled and unclean. One must conclude then that the sins of others, be they what they may, those always excepted which defile him on whom they are committed, a man must not seek to avoid by sin of his own, either for himself or for any other, but rather he must put up with them, and suffer bravely; and if by no sins of his own he ought to avoid them, therefore not by a lie: but those which by being committed upon a man do make him unclean, these we are bound to avoid even by sinning ourselves; and for this reason those things are not to be called sins, which are done for the purpose of avoiding that uncleanness. For whatever is done, in consideration that the not doing it were just cause of blame, that thing is not sin. Upon the same principle, neither is that to be called uncleanness when there is no way of avoiding it; for even in that extremity he who suffers it has what he may do aright, namely, patiently bear what he cannot avoid. Now no man while acting aright can be defiled by any corporal contagion. For the unclean in the sight of God is every one who is unrighteous; clean therefore is every one who is righteous; if not in the sight of men, yet in the sight of God, Who judges without error. Nay, even in the act of suffering that defilement with power given of avoiding it, it is not by the mere contact that the man is defiled; but by the sin of refusing to avoid it when he might. For that would be no sin, whatever might be done for the avoiding of it. Whoever therefore, for the avoiding of it, shall tell a lie, sinneth not.


16. Or, are some lies, also, to be excepted, so that it were better to suffer this than to commit those? If so, then not every thing that is done in order to the avoiding of that defilement ceases to be sin; seeing there are some lies to commit which is worse than to suffer that foul violence. For, suppose quest be making after a person that his body may be deflowered, and that it be possible to screen him by a lie; who dares to say that even in such a case a lie ought not be told? But, if the lie by which he may be concealed be one which may hurt the fair fame of another, by bringing upon him a false accusation of that very uncleanness, to suffer which the other is sought after; as, if it should be said to the inquirer, "Go to such an one," (naming some chaste man who is a stranger to vices of this kind,) "and he will procure for you one whom you will find a more willing subject, for he knows and loves such;" and thereby the person might be diverted from him whom he sought: I know not whether one man's fair fame ought to be violated by a lie, in order that another's body may not be violated by lust to which he is a stranger. And in general, it is never right to tell a lie for any man, such as may hurt another, even if the hurt be slighter than would be the hurt to him unless such a lie were told. Because neither must another man's bread be taken from him against his will, though he be in good health, and it is to feed one who is weak; nor must an innocent man, against his will, be beaten with rods, that another may not be killed. Of course, if they are willing, let it be done, because they are not hurt if they be willing that so it should be: but whether, even with his own consent, a man's fair fame ought to be hurt with a false charge of foul lusts, in order that lust may be averted from another's body, is a great question. And I know not whether it be easy to find in what way it can be just that a man's fair fame, even with his consent, should be stained with a false charge of lust, any more than a man's body should be polluted by the lust itself against his will.


17. But yet if the option were proposed to the man who chose to burn incense to idols rather than yield his body to abominable lust, that, if he wished to avoid that, he should violate the fame of Christ by some lie; he would be most mad to do it. I say more: that he would be mad, if, to avoid another man's lust, and not to have that done upon his person which he would suffer with no lust of his own, he should falsify Christ's Gospel with false praises of Christ; more eschewing that another man should corrupt his body, than himself to corrupt the doctrine of sanctification of souls and bodies. Wherefore, from the doctrine of religion, and from those utterances universally, which are uttered on behalf of the doctrine of religion, in the teaching and learning of the same, all lies must be utterly kept aloof. Nor can any cause whatever be found, one should think, why a lie should be told in matters of this kind, when in this doctrine it is not right to tell a lie for the very purpose of bringing a person to it the more easily. For, once break or but slightly diminish the authority of truth, and all things will remain doubtful: which unless they be believed true, cannot be held as certain. It is lawful then either to him that discourses, disputes, and preaches of things eternal, or to him that narrates or speaks of things temporal pertaining to edification of religion and piety, to conceal at fitting time whatever seems fit to be concealed: but to tell a lie is never lawful, therefore neither to conceal by telling a lie.


18. This being from the very first and most firmly established, touching other lies the question proceeds more securely. But by consequence we must also see that all lies must be kept aloof which hurt any man unjustly: because no man is to have a wrong, albeit a lighter one is done to him, that another may have a heavier kept from him. Nor are those lies to be allowed, which, though they hurt not another, yet do nobody any good, and are hurtful to the persons themselves who gratuitously tell them. Indeed, these are the persons who are properly to be called liars. For there is a difference between lying and being a liar. A man may tell a lie unwillingly; but a liar loves to lie, and inhabits in his mind in the delight of lying. Next to such are those to be placed who by a lie wish to please men, not that they may do wrong or bring reproach upon any man; for we have already before put away that kind; but that they may be pleasant in conversation. These, differ from the class in which we have placed liars in this respect, that liars delight in lying, rejoicing in deceit for its own sake: but these lust to please by agreeable talk, and yet would rather please by saying things that were true, but when they do not easily find true things to say that are pleasant to the hearers, they choose rather to tell lies than to hold their tongues. Yet it is difficult for these sometimes to undertake a story which is the whole of it false; but most commonly they interweave falsehood with truth, where they are at a loss for something sweet. Now these two sorts of lies do no harm to those who believe them, because they are not deceived concerning any matter of religion and truth, or concerning any profit or advantage of their own. It suffices them, to judge the thing possible which is told, and to have faith in a man of whom they ought not rashly to think that he is telling a lie. For where is the harm of believing that such an one's father or grandfather was a good man, when he was not? or that he has served with the army even in Persia, though he never set foot out of Rome? But to the persons who tell these lies, they do much harm: to the former sort, because they so desert truth as to rejoice in deceit: to the latter, because they want to please people better than the truth.


19. These sorts of lies having been without any hesitation condemned, next follows a sort, as it were by steps rising to something better, which is commonly attributed to well-meaning and good people, when the person who lies not only does no harm to another, but even benefits somebody. Now it is on this sort of lies that the whole dispute turns, whether that person does harm to himself, who benefits another in such sort as to act contrary to the truth. Or, if that alone may be called truth which illustrateth the very minds of men with an intimate and incommutable light, at least he acts contrary to some true thing, because although the bodily senses are deceived, yet he acts contrary to a true thing who says that a thing is so or not so, whereof neither his mind nor senses nor his opinion or belief giveth him any report. Whether therefore he does not hurt himself in so profiting another, or in that compensation not hurt himself in which he profiteth the other, is a great question. If it be so, it should follow that he ought to profit himself by a lie which damages no man. But these things hang together, and if you concede that point, it necessarily draws in its train some very embarrassing consequences. For should it be asked, what harm it does to a person rolling in superfluous wealth, if from countless thousands of bushels of wheat he lose one bushel, which bushel may be profitable as necessary food to the person stealing it; it will follow that theft also may be committed without blame, and false witness borne without sin. Than which, what can be mentioned more perverse? Or truly, if another had stolen the bushel, and thou sawest it done, and wert questioned, wouldest thou tell a lie with honesty for the poor man, and if thou do it for thine own poverty wilt thou be blamed? As if it were thy duty to love another more than thyself. Both then are disgraceful, and must be avoided.


20. But haply some may think that there is an exception to be added; that there be some honest lies which not only hurt no man, but profit some man, excepting those by which crimes are screened and defended: so that the reason why the aforesaid lie is disgraceful, is that, although it hurt no man, and profit the poor, it screens a theft; but if it should in such sort hurt nobody and profit somebody as not to screen and defend any sin, it would not be morally wrong. As, put the case that some one should in thy sight hide his money that he might not lose it by theft or violence, and thereupon being questioned thou shouldest tell a lie; thou wouldest hurt no man, and wouldest serve him who had need that his money were hidden, and wouldest not have covered a sin by telling a lie. For it is no sin if a man hide his property which he fears to lose. But, if we therefore sin not in telling a lie, for that, while covering no man's sin, we hurt nobody and do good to somebody, what are we about as concerning the sin itself of a lie? For where it is laid down, "Thou shalt not steal," there is also this, "Thou shall not bear false witness." [2332] Since then each is severally prohibited, why is false witness culpable if it cover a theft or any other sin, but if without any screening of sin it be done by itself, then not culpable, whereas stealing is culpable in and by itself, and so other sins? Or is it so that to hide a sin is not lawful; to do it, lawful?

Footnotes

[2332] Exodus xx. 15, 16


21. If this be absurd, what shall we say? Is it so, that there is no "false witness," but when one tells a lie either to invent a crime against some man, or to hide some man's crime, or in any way to oppress any man in judgment? For a witness seems to be necessary to the judge for cognizance of the cause. But if the Scripture named a "witness" only so far as that goes, the Apostle would not say, "Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not up." [2333] For so he shows that it is false witness to tell a lie, yea, in falsely praising a person.

Or peradventure, doth the person who lies then utter false witness when he either invents or hides any man's sin, or hurts any man in whatever way? For, if a lie spoken against a man's temporal life is detestable, how much more one against eternal life? as is every lie, if it take place in doctrine of religion. And it is for this reason that the Apostle calls it false witness, if a man tell a lie about Christ, yea, one which may seem to pertain to His praise. Now if it be a lie that neither inventeth or hideth any man's sin, nor is answered to a question of the judge, and hurteth no man, and profits some man, are we to say that it is neither false witness, nor a reprehensible lie?

Footnotes

[2333] 1 Cor. xv. 15


22. What then, if a homicide seek refuge with a Christian, or if he see where the homicide have taken refuge, and be questioned of this matter by him who seeks, in order to bring to punishment a man, the slayer of man? Is he to tell a lie? For how does he not hide a sin by lying, when he for whom he lies has been guilty of a heinous sin? Or is it because he is not questioned concerning his sin, but about the place where he is concealed? So then to lie in order to hide a person's sin is evil; but to lie in order to hide the sinner is not evil? "Yea, surely:" says some one: "for a man sins not in avoiding punishment, but in doing something worthy of punishment. Moreover, it pertaineth to Christian discipline neither to despair of any man's amendment, nor to bar against any man the way of repentance." What if thou be led to the judge, and then questioned concerning the very place where the other is in hiding? Art thou prepared to say, either, "He is not there," when thou knowest him to be there; or, "I know not, and have not seen," what thou knowest and hast seen? Art thou then prepared to bear false witness, and to slay thy soul that a manslayer may not be slain? Or, up to the presence of the judge wilt thou lie, but when the judge questions thee, then speak truth that thou be not a false witness? So then thou art going to slay a man thyself by betraying him. Surely the betrayer too is one whom the divine Scripture detesteth. Or haply is he no betrayer, who in answer to the judge's interrogation gives true information; but would be a betrayar, if, unasked, he should delate a man to his destruction? Put the case with respect to a just and innocent man, that thou know where he is in hiding, and be questioned by the judge; which man, however, has been ordered to be taken to execution by a higher power, so that he who interrogates is charged with the execution of the law, not the author of the sentence? Will it be no false witness that thou shall lie for an innocent man, because the interrogator is not a judge, but only charged with the execution? What if the author of the law interrogate thee, or any unjust judge, making quest of an innocent man to bring him to punishment? What wilt thou do? wilt thou be false witness, or betrayer? Or will he be a betrayer, who to a just judge shall ultroneously delate a lurking homicide; and he not so, who to an unjust judge, interrogating him of the hiding-place of an innocent man whom he seeks to slay, shall inform against the person who has thrown himself upon his honor? Or between the crime of false witness and that of betrayal, wilt thou remain doubtful and unable to make up thy mind? Or by holding thy peace or professing that thou wilt not tell, wilt thou make up thy mind to avoid both? Then why not do this before thou come to the judge, that thou mayest shun the lie also? For, having kept clear of a lie, thou wilt escape all false witness; whether every lie be false witness, or not every: but by keeping clear of all false witness in thy sense of the word, thou wilt not escape all lying. How much braver then, how much more excellent, to say, "I will neither betray nor lie?"


23. This did a former Bishop of the Church of Thagasta, Firmus by name, and even more firm in will. For, when he was asked by command of the emperor, through officers sent by him, for a man who was taking refuge with him, and whom he kept in hiding with all possible care, he made answer to their questions, that he could neither tell a lie, nor betray a man; and when he had suffered so many torments of body, (for as yet emperors were not Christian,) he stood firm in his purpose. Thereupon being brought before the emperor, his conduct appeared so admirable, that he without any difficulty obtained a pardon for the man whom he was trying to save. What conduct could be more brave and constant? But peradventure some more timid person may say, "I can be prepared to bear any torments, or even to submit to death, that I may not sin; but, since it is no sin to tell a lie such that you neither hurt any man, nor bear false witness, and benefit some man, it is foolish and a great sin, voluntarily and to no purpose to submit to torments, and, when one's health and life may haply be useful, to fling them away for nothing to people in a rage." Of whom I ask; Why he fears that which is written, "Thou shall not bear false witness," [2334] and fears not that which is said unto God, "Thou wilt destroy all them that speak leasing?" [2335] Says he, "It is not written, Every lie: but I understand it as if it were written, Thou wilt destroy all that speak false witness." But neither there is it said, All false witness. "Yes, but it is set there," saith he, "where the other things are set down which are in every sort evil." What, is this the case with what is set down there, "Thou shalt not kill?" [2336] If this be in every sort evil, how shall one clear of this crime even just men, who, upon a law given, have killed many? "But," it is rejoined, "that man doth not himself kill, who is the minister of some just command." These men's fear, then, I do accept, that I still think that laudable man who would neither lie, nor betray a man, did both better understand that which is written, and what he understood did bravely put in practice.

Footnotes

[2334] Exod. xx. 16 [2335] Ps. v. 6 [2336] Exod. xx. 13


24. But one sometimes comes to a case of this kind, that we are not interrogated where the person is who is sought, nor forced to betray him, if he is hidden in such manner, that he cannot easily be found unless betrayed: but we are asked, whether he be in such a place or not. If we know him to be there, by holding our peace we betray him, or even by saying that we will in no wise tell whether he be there or not: for from this the questioner gathers that he is there, as, if he were not, nothing else would be answered by him who would not lie nor betray a man, but only, that he is not there. So, by our either holding our peace, or saying such words, a man is betrayed, and he who seeks him hath but to enter in, if he have the power, and find him: whereas he might have been turned aside from finding him by our telling a lie. Wherefore if thou know not where he is, there is no cause for hiding the truth, but thou must confess that thou knowest not. But, if thou know where he is, whether he be in the place which is named in the question or elsewhere; thou must not say, when it is asked whether he be there or not, "I will not tell thee what thou askest," but thou must say, "I know where he is, but I will never show." For if, touching one place in particular thou answer not and profess that thou wilt not betray, it is just as if thou shouldest point to that same place with thy finger: for a sure suspicion is thereby excited. But if at the first thou confess that thou know where he is, but will not tell, haply the inquisitor may be diverted from that place, and begin now to ply thee that the place where he is may be betrayed. For which good faith and humanity whatever thou shall bravely bear, is judged to be not only not culpable, but even laudable; save only these things which if a man suffer he is said to suffer not bravely, but immodestly and foully. For this is the last description of lie, concerning which we must treat more diligently.


25. For first to be eschewed is that capital lie and far to be fled from, which is done in doctrine of religion; to which lie a man ought by no consideration to be induced. The second, that he should hurt some man unjustly: which is such that it profits no man and hurts some man. The third, which so profits one as to hurt another, but not in corporal defilement. The fourth, that which is done through only lust of lying and deceiving, which is an unmixed lie. The fifth, what is done with desire of pleasing by agreeableness in talk. All these being utterly eschewed and rejected, there follows a sixth sort which at once hurts nobody and helps somebody; as when, if a person's money is to be unjustly taken from him, one who knows where the money is, should say that he does not know, by whomsoever the question be put. The seventh, which hurts none and profits some: except if a judge interrogate: as when, not wishing to betray a man who is sought for to be put to death, one should lie; not only a just and innocent, but also a culprit; because it belongs to Christian discipline neither to despair of any man's amendment, nor to bar the way of repentance against any. Of which two sorts, which are wont to be attended with great controversy, we have sufficiently treated, and have shown what was our judgment; that by taking the consequences, which are honorably and bravely borne, these kinds also should be eschewed by brave and faithful and truthful men and women. The eighth sort of lie is that which hurts no man, and does good in the preserving somebody from corporal defilement, at least that defilement which we have mentioned above. For even to eat with unwashen hands the Jews thought defilement. Or if a person think this also a defilement, yet not such that a lie ought to be told to avoid it. But if the lie be such as to do an injury to any man, even though it screen a man from that uncleanness which all men abhor and detest; whether a lie of this kind may be told provided the injury done by the lie be such as consists not in that sort of uncleanness with which we are now concerned, is another question: for here the question is no longer about lying, but it is asked whether an injury ought to be done to any man, even otherwise than by a lie, that the said defilement may be warded off from another. Which I should by no means think: though the case proposed be the slightest wrongs, as that which I mentioned above, about a single measure of wheat; and though it be very embarrassing whether it be our duty not to do even such an injury to any man, if thereby another may be defended or screened from a lustful outrage upon his person. But, as I said, this is another question: at present let us go on with what we have taken in hand: whether a lie ought to be told, if even the inevitable condition be proposed that we either do this, or suffer the deed of lust or some execrable pollution; even though by lying we do no man harm.


26. Touching which matter, there will be some place open for consideration, if first the divine authorities which forbid a lie be diligently discussed: for if these give no place, we vainly seek a loophole; for we are bound to keep in every way the command of God, and the will of God in all that through keeping His command we may suffer, it is our duty with an even mind to follow: but if by some relaxation any outlet be allowed, in such a case we are not to decline a lie. The reason why the Divine Scriptures contain not only God's commands, but the life and character of the just, is this: that, if haply it be hidden in what way we are to take that which is enjoined, by the actions of the just it may be understood. With the exception, therefore, of those actions which one may refer to an allegorical significance, although none doubts that they really took place, as is the case with almost all the occurrences in the books of the Old Testament. For who can venture to affirm of any thing there, that it does not pertain to a figurative foretelling? Seeing the Apostle, speaking of the sons of Abraham, of whom of course it is most easily said that they were born and did live in the natural order of propagating the people, (for not monsters and prodigies were born, to lead the mind to some presignification,) nevertheless asserteth that they signify the two Testaments; [2337] and saith of that marvellous benefit which God bestowed upon His people Israel to rescue them out of the bondage in which they in Egypt were oppressed, and of the punishment which avenged their sin on their journey, that these things befell them in a figure: [2338] what actions wilt thou find, from which thou mayest set aside that rule, and take upon thee to affirm that they are not to be reduced to some figure? Excepting therefore these, the things which in the New Testament are done by the Saints, where there is a most evident commending of manners to our imitation, may avail as examples for the understanding of the Scriptures, which things are digested in the commands.

Footnotes

[2337] Gal. iv. 22-24 [2338] 1 Cor. x. 1-11


27. As, when we read in the Gospel, "Thou hast received a blow in the face, make ready the other cheek." [2339] Now as an example of patience can none be found than that of the Lord Himself more potent and excellent; but He, when smitten on the cheek, said not, Behold here is the other cheek, but He said, "If I have spoken ill, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou Me?" [2340] Where He shows that the preparation of the other cheek is to be done in the heart. Which also the Apostle Paul knew, for he, too, when he was smitten on the face before the high priest, did not say, Smite the other cheek: but, "God," saith he, "shall smite thee, thou whited wall: and sittest thou to judge me according to law, and contrary to law commandest me to be smitten?" [2341] with most deep insight beholding that the priesthood of the Jews was already become such, that in name it outwardly was clean and fair, but within was foul with muddy lusts; which priesthood he saw in spirit to be ready to pass away through vengeance of the Lord, when he spake those words: but yet he had his heart ready not only to receive other blows on the cheek, but also to suffer for the truth any torments whatever, with love of them from whom he should suffer the same.

Footnotes

[2339] Matt. v. 39 [2340] John xviii. 22, 23 [2341] Acts xxiii. 3


28. It is also written, "But I say unto you, Swear not at all." But the Apostle himself has used oaths in his Epistles. [2342] And so he shows how that is to be taken which is said, "I say unto you, Swear not at all:" that is, lest by swearing one come to a facility in swearing, from facility to a custom, and so from a custom there be a downfall into perjury. And therefore he is not found to have sworn except in writing, where there is more wary forethought, and no precipitate tongue withal. And this indeed came of evil, as it is said, "Whatever is more than these is of evil:" [2343] not however from evil of his own, but from the evil of infirmity which was in them, in whom he even in this way endeavored to work faith. For that he used an oath in speaking, while not writing, I know not that any Scripture has related concerning him. And yet the Lord says, "Swear not at all:" for He hath not granted license thereof to persons writing. Howbeit, because to pronounce Paul guilty of violating the commandment, especially in Epistles written and sent forth for the spiritual life and salvation of the nations, were an impiety, we must understand that word which is set down, "At all," to be set down for this purpose, that as much as in thee lies, thou affect not, love not, nor as though it were for a good thing, with any delight desire, an oath.

Footnotes

[2342] Rom. ix. 1; Phil. i. 8; Gal. i. 20 [2343] Matt. v. 34, 37


29. As that, "Take no thought for the morrow," and, "Take therefore no thought what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, or what ye shall put on." [2344] Now when we see that the Lord Himself had a bag in which was put what was given, [2345] that it might be kept for necessary uses as the time should require; and that the Apostles themselves made much provision for the indigence of the brethren, not only for the morrow, but even for the more protracted time of impending dearth, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles; [2346] it is sufficiently clear that these precepts are so to be understood, that we are to do nothing of our work as matter of necessity, through love of obtaining temporal things, or fear of want.

Footnotes

[2344] Matt. vi. 34, 31 [2345] John xii. 6. [See R.V.] [2346] Acts xi. 28-30


30. Moreover, it was said to the Apostles that they should take nothing with them for their journey, but should live by the Gospel. [2347] And in a certain place too the Lord Himself signified why He said this, when He added, "The laborer is worthy of his hire:" [2348] where He sufficiently shows that this is permitted, not ordered; lest haply he who should do this, namely, that in this work of preaching the word he should take aught for the uses of this life from them to whom he preached, should think he was doing any thing unlawful. And yet that it may more laudably not be done is sufficiently proved in the Apostle Paul: who, while he said, "Let him that is taught in the word, communicate unto him, that teacheth in all things," [2349] and showed in many places that this is wholesomely done by them to whom he preached the word, "Nevertheless," saith he, "I have not used this power." [2350] The Lord, therefore, when He spake those words, gave power, not bound men by a command. So in general, what in words we are not able to understand, in the actions of the Saints we gather how it is meet to be taken, which would easily be drawn to the other side, unless it were recalled by an example.

Footnotes

[2347] Luke ix. 3; x. 4, 7 [2348] Matt. x. 10 [2349] Gal. vi. 6 [2350] 1 Cor. ix. 12. [See R.V.]


31. Thus then what is written, "The mouth that lieth, slayeth the soul;" [2351] of what mouth it speaketh, is the question. For in general when the Scripture speaks of the mouth, it signifies the very seat of our conception [2352] in the heart, where is approved and decreed whatever also by the voice, when we speak the truth, is uttered: so that he lieth with the heart who approveth a lie; yet that man may possibly not lie with the heart, who uttereth other than is in his mind, in such sort that he knows it to be for the sake of avoiding a greater evil that he admitteth an evil, disapproving withal both the one and the other. And they who assert this, say that thus also is to be understood that which is written, "He that speaketh the truth in his heart:" [2353] because always in the heart truth must be spoken; but not always in the mouth of the body, if any cause of avoiding a greater evil require that other than is in the mind be uttered with the voice. And that there is indeed a mouth of the heart, may be understood even from this, that where there is speech, there a mouth is with no absurdity understood: nor would it be right to say, "Who speaketh in his heart," unless it were right to understand that there is also a mouth in the heart. Though in that very place where it is written, "The mouth that lieth, slayeth the soul," if the context of the lesson be considered, it may peradventure be taken for no other than the mouth of the heart. For there is an obscure response there, where it is hidden from men, to whom the mouth of the heart, unless the mouth of the body sound therewith, is not audible. But that mouth, the Scripture in that place saith, doth reach to the hearing of the Spirit of the Lord, Who hath filled the whole earth; at the same time mentioning lips and voice and tongue in that place; yet all these the sense permitteth not to be taken, but concerning the heart, because it saith of the Lord, that what is spoken is not hidden from Him: now that which is spoken with that sound which reacheth to our ears, is not hidden from men either. Thus, namely, is it written: "The Spirit of wisdom is loving, and will not acquit an evil-speaker of his lips: for of his reins God is witness, and of his heart a true searcher, and of his tongue a hearer. For the Spirit of the Lord hath filled the whole earth, and that which containeth all things hath knowledge of the voice. Therefore he that speaketh unrighteous things cannot be hid: but neither shall the judgment when it punisheth pass by him. For in the thoughts of the ungodly shall there be interrogation; and the hearing of his words shall come from the Lord, to the punishment of his iniquities. [2354] For the ear of jealousy heareth all things, and the tumult of murmurings will not be hid. Therefore keep yourselves from murmuring, which profiteth nothing, and from backbiting refrain your tongue: because an obscure response will not go into the void. [2355] But the mouth that lieth, slayeth the soul." [2356] It seems then to threaten them who think that to be obscure and secret, which they agitate and turn over in their heart. And this, it would show, is so clear to the ears of God, that it even calls it "tumult."

Footnotes

[2351] Wisd. i. 11 [2352] Conceptaculum [2353] Ps. xv. 2 [2354] A Domino, "unto the Lord." E.V. [2355] Obscurum responsum in vacuum non ibit, "There is no word so secret that shall go for nought." E.V. [2356] Wisd. i. 6-11


32. Manifestly also in the Gospel we find the mouth of the heart: so that in one place the Lord is found to have mentioned the mouth both of the body and of the heart, where he saith, "Are ye also yet without understanding? Do ye not yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth, goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? but those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man." [2357] Here if thou understand but one mouth, that of the body, how wilt thou understand, "Those things which proceed out of the mouth, come forth from the heart;" since spitting also and vomiting proceed out of the mouth? Unless peradventure a man is but then defiled when he eateth aught unclean, but is defiled when he vomits it up. But if this be most absurd, it remains that we understand the mouth of the heart to have been expounded by the Lord, when He saith, "The things which proceed out of the mouth, come forth from the heart." For being that theft also can be, and often is, perpetrated with silence of the bodily voice and mouth; one must be out of his mind so to understand it as then to account a person to be contaminated by the sin of theft, when he confesses or makes it known, but when he commits it and holds his peace, then to think him undefiled. But, in truth, if we refer what is said to the mouth of the heart, no sin whatever can be committed tacitly: for it is not committed unless it proceed from that mouth which is within.

Footnotes

[2357] Matt. xv. 16-20


33. But, like as it is asked of what mouth the Scripture saith, "The mouth that lieth, slayeth the soul," so it may be asked, of what lie. For it seems to speak of that lie in particular, which consists in detraction. It says, "Keep yourselves from murmuring, which profiteth nothing, and from detraction refrain your tongue." Now this detraction takes place through malevolence, when any man not only with mouth and voice of the body doth utter what he forgeth against any, but even without speaking wisheth him to be thought such; which is in truth to detract with the mouth of the heart; which thing, it saith, cannot be obscure and hidden from God.


34. For what is written in another place, "Wish not to use every lie;" [2358] they say is not of force for this, that a person is not to use any lie. Therefore, when one man shall say, that according to this testimony of Scripture we must to that degree hold every sort and kind of lie in detestation, that even if a man wish to lie, yea, though he lie not, the very wish is to be condemned; and to this sense interpreteth, that it is not said, Do not use every lie, but, "Do not wish to use every lie;" that one must not dare not only to tell, but not even to wish to tell, any lie whatever: saith another man, "Nay, in that it saith, Do not wish to use every lie, it willeth that from the mouth of the heart we exterminate and estrange lying: so that while from some lies we must abstain with the mouth of the body, as are those chiefly which pertain to doctrine of religion; from some, we are not to abstain with the mouth of the body, if reason of avoiding a greater evil require; but with the mouth of the heart we must abstain utterly from every lie." Where it behoveth to be understood what is said, "Do not wish:" namely, the will itself is taken as it were the mouth of the heart, so that it concerneth not the mouth of the heart when in shunning a greater evil we lie unwillingly. There is also a third sense in which thou mayest so take this word, "not every," that, except some lies, it giveth thee leave to lie. Like as if he should say, wish not to believe every man: he would not mean to advise that none should be believed; but that not all, some however, should be believed. And that which follows, "For assiduity thereof will not profit for good," sounds as if, not lying, but assiduous lying, that is, the custom and love of lying, should seem to be that which he would prohibit. To which that person will assuredly slide down, [2359] who either shall think that every lie may be boldly used (for so he will shun not that even which is committed in the doctrine of piety and religion; than which what more abominably wicked thing canst thou easily find, not among all lies, but among all sins?) or to some lie (no matter how easy, how harmless,) shall accommodate the inclination of the will; so as to lie, not unwillingly for the sake of escaping a greater evil, but willingly and with liking. So, seeing there be three things which may be understood in this sentence, either "Every lie, not only tell thou not, but do not even wish to tell:" or, "Do not wish, but even unwillingly tell a lie when aught worse is to be avoided:" or, "Not every," to wit, that except some lies, the rest are admitted: one of these is found to make for those who hold that one is never to lie, two for those who think that sometimes one may tell a lie. But yet what follows, "For assiduity thereof will not profit to good," I know not whether it can countenance the first sentence of these three; except haply so, that while it is a precept for the perfect not only not to lie, but not even to wish; assiduity of lying is not permitted even to beginners. As if, namely, on laying down the rule at no time whatever not merely to lie but so much as to have a wish to lie, and this being gainsaid by examples, in regard that there are some lies which have been even approved by great authority, it should be rejoined that those indeed are lies of beginners, which have, in regard of this life, some kind of duty of mercy; and yet to that degree is every lie evil, and by perfect and spiritual minds in every way to be eschewed, that not even beginners are permitted to have assiduous custom thereof. For we have already spoken concerning the Egyptian midwives, that it is in respect of the promise of growth and proficiency to better things that they while lying are spoken of with approval: because it is some step towards loving the true and eternal saving of the soul, when a person doth mercifully for the saving of any man's albeit mortal life even tell a lie.

Footnotes

[2358] Ecclus. vii. 13 me thele pseudesthai pan Pseudos, noli velle mentiri omne mendacium. "Use not to make any manner of lie," E.V. "Every" is used for "any." [2359] Abutendum


35. Moreover what is written "Thou wilt destroy all that speak leasing:" [2360] one saith that no lie is here excepted, but all condemned. Another saith: Yea verily: but they who speak leasing from the heart, as we disputed above; for that man speaketh truth in his heart, who hateth the necessity of lying, which he understands as a penalty of the moral life. Another saith: All indeed will God destroy who speak leasing, but not all leasing: for there is some leasing which the Prophet was at that time insinuating, in which none is spared; that is, if refusing to confess each one his sins, he defend them rather, and will not do penance, [2361] so that not content to work iniquity, he must needs wish to be thought just, and succumb not to the medicine of confession: as the very distinction of the words may seem to intimate no other, "Thou hatest all that work iniquity;" [2362] but wilt not destroy them if upon repenting they speak the truth in confession, that by doing that truth they may come to the light; as is said in the Gospel according to John, "But be that doeth truth cometh unto the light. [2363] Thou wilt destroy all who" not only work what Thou hatest, but also "speak leasing;" [2364] in holding out before them false righteousness, and not confessing their sins in penitence.

Footnotes

[2360] Ps. v. 6 [2361] Agere poenitentiam [2362] Ps. v. 5 [2363] John iii. 21 [2364] Ps. v. 6, 7


36. For, concerning false witness, which is set down in the ten commands of the Law, it can indeed in no wise be contended that love of truth may at heart be preserved, and false witness brought forth to him unto whom the witness is borne. For, when it is said to God only, then it is only in the heart that the truth is to be embraced: but when it is said to man, then must we with the mouth also of the body bring forth truth, because man is not an inspector of the heart. But then, touching the witness itself, it is not unreasonably asked, to whom one is a witness? For not to whomsoever we speak unto are we witnesses, but to them to whom it is expedient and due that they by our means should come to know or believe the truth; as is a judge, that he may not err in judging; or he who is taught in doctrine of religion, that he may not err in faith, or by very authority of the teacher waver in doubt. But when the person who interrogates thee or wishes to know aught from thee seeks that which concerneth him not, or which is not expedient for him to know, he craveth not a witness, but a betrayer. Therefore if to him thou tell a lie, from false witness peradventure thou wilt be clear, but from a lie assuredly not. So then with this salvo, that to bear false witness is never lawful, the question is, whether it be lawful sometimes to tell a lie. Or if it be false witness to lie at all, it is to be seen whether it admit of compensation, to wit, that it be said for the sake of avoiding a greater sin: as that which is written, "Honor father and mother," [2365] under stress of a preferable duty is disregarded; whence the paying of the last honors of sepulture to a father, is forbidden to that man who by the Lord Himself is called to preach the kingdom of God.

Footnotes

[2365] Exod. xx. 12


37. Likewise, touching that which is written, "A son which receiveth the word shall be far from destruction: but receiving, he receiveth it for himself, and no falsehood proceedeth out of his mouth:" [2366] some one may say, that what is here set down, "A son which receiveth the word," is to be taken for no other than the word of God, which is truth. Therefore, "A son receiving the truth shall be far from destruction," refers to that which is written, "Thou wilt destroy all that speak leasing." But when it follows, "Receiving he receiveth for himself," what other doth this insinuate than what the Apostle saith, "But let every man prove his own work, and then he shall have glorying in himself and not in another?" [2367] For he that receiveth the word, that is, truth, not for himself, but for men-pleasing, keepeth it not when he sees they can be pleased by a lie. But whoso receiveth it for himself, no falsehood proceedeth out of his mouth: because even when the way to please men is to lie, that man lieth not, who receiving the truth not thereby to please them but to please God, hath received it for himself. Therefore there is no reason why it should be said here He will destroy all who speak leasing, but not all leasing: because all lies, universally, are cut off in this saying, "And no falsehood proceedeth out of his mouth." But another saith, it is to be so taken as the Apostle Paul took our Lord's saying, "But I say unto you, Swear not at all." [2368] For here also all swearing is cut off; but from the mouth of the heart, that it should never be done with approbation of the will, but through necessity of the weakness of another; that is, "from the evil" of another, when it shows that he cannot otherwise be got to believe what is said, unless faith be wrought by an oath; or, from that "evil" of our own, that while as yet involved in the skins of this mortality we are not able to show our heart: which thing were we able to do, of swearing there were no need. Though moreover in this whole sentence, if the saying, "A son receiving the word shall be far from destruction," be said of none other than that Truth, [2369] by Whom all things were made, which remaineth ever incommutable; then, because the doctrine of Religion strives to bring men to the contemplation of this Truth, it may seem that the saying, "And no falsehood proceedeth out of his mouth," is said to this purpose, that he speaketh no falsehood that pertaineth to doctrine. Which sort of lie is upon no compensation whatever to be gone into, and is utterly and before all to be eschewed. Or if the saying, "No falsehood," is absurdly taken if it be not referred to every lie, the saying, "From his mouth," should, as was argued above, be taken to mean the mouth of the heart, in the opinion of him who accounts that sometimes one may tell a lie.

Footnotes

[2366] Prov. xxix. 27. Lat. Not in the Hebrew, but LXX. xxiv. 23. logon phulassomenos huio;s apoleias ektos estai dechomenos de edexato auton. Meden pseudos apo glosses basileos legestho, kai ouden pseudos apo glosses autou ou me exelthe [2367] Gal. vi. 4 [2368] Matt. v. 34 [2369] Or "of Him who is Truth itself."


38. Certain it is, albeit all this disputation go from side to side, some asserting that it is never right to lie, and to this effect reciting divine testimonies: others gainsaying, and even in the midst of the very words of the divine testimonies seeking place for a lie; yet no man can say, that he finds this either in example or in word of the Scriptures, that any lie should seem a thing to be loved, or not had in hatred; howbeit sometimes by telling a lie thou must do that thou hatest, that what is more greatly to be detested may be avoided. But then here it is that people err; they put the precious beneath the vile. For when thou hast granted that some evil is to be admitted, that another and more grievous may not be admitted; not by the rule of truth, but by his own cupidity and custom doth each measure the evil, accounting that to be the more grievous, which himself more greatly dreads, not which is in reality more greatly to be fled from. All this fault is engendered by perversity of loving. For being there are two lives of ours; the one eternal, which is promised of God; the other temporal, in which we now are: when a man shall have begun to love this temporal more than that eternal, for the sake of this which he loveth he thinks all things right to be done; and there are not any, in his estimation, more grievous sins than those which do injury to this life, and either take away from it any commodity unjustly and unlawfully, or by inflicting of death take it utterly away. And so thieves, and robbers, and ruffians, and torturers, and slayers, are more hated of them than lascivious, drunken, luxurious men, if these molest no man. For they do not understand or at all care, that these do wrong to God; not indeed to any inconvenience of Him, but to their own pernicious hurt; seeing they corrupt His gifts bestowed upon them, even His temporal gifts, and by their very corruptions turn away from eternal gifts: above all, if they have already begun to be the Temple of God; which to all Christians the Apostle saith thus: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? Whoso shall corrupt God's temple, God will corrupt him. For the temple of God is holy: which temple are ye." [2370]

Footnotes

[2370] 1 Cor. iii. 16, 17


39. And all these sins, truly, whether such whereby an injury is done to men in the comforts of this life, or whereby men corrupt themselves and hurt none against his will: all these sins, then, even though they seem to mean well by this temporal life to the procuring of any delight or profit, (for no man commits any of these things with any other purpose and end;) yet in regard of that life which is forever and ever, they do entangle and in all ways hinder. But there are some of these that hinder the doers only, others likewise those on whom they are done. For as to the things which people keep safe for the sake of utility to this life, when these are taken away by injurious persons, they alone sin and are hindered from eternal life who do this, not they to whom they do it. Therefore, even if a person consent to the taking of them from him, either that he may not do some evil, or that he may not in these very things suffer some greater inconvenience; not only does he not sin, but in the one case he acts bravely and laudably, in the other usefully and unblameably. But as to those things which are kept for the sake of sanctity and religion, when injurious persons wish to violate these, it is right, if the condition be proposed and the means given, to redeem them even by sins of lesser moment, yet not by wrongs to other men. And then do these things thenceforth cease to be sins, which are undertaken in order to the avoidance of greater sins. For as in things useful, for instance in pecuniary or any other corporal commodity, that is not called a loss which is parted with in order to a greater gain; so in things holy, that is not called sin which is admitted lest a worse be admitted. Or if that is called loss, which one foregoes that he may not forego more; let this also be called sin, while however the necessity of undertaking it in order to the eschewing of a greater is no more to be doubted, than that, in order to avoid a greater loss, it is right to suffer a smaller one.


40. Now the things which are to be kept safe for sanctity's sake are these: pudicity of body, and chastity of soul, [2371] and verity of doctrine. Pudicity of body, without consent and permission of the soul, doth no man violate. For, whatever against our will and without our empowering the same is by greater force done upon our body, is no lewdness. Howbeit, of permitting there may be some reason, but of consenting, none. For we consent, when we approve and wish: but we permit even not willing, because of some greater turpitude to be eschewed. Consent, truly, to corporal lewdness violates also chastity of mind. For the mind's [2372] chastity consists in a good will and sincere love, which is not corrupted, unless when we love and desire that which Truth teaches ought not to be loved and desired. We have therefore to guard the sincerity of love toward God and our neighbor; for in this is chastity of mind sanctified: and we must endeavor with all the strength in our power, and with pious supplication, that, when the pudicity of our body is sought to be violated, not even that outermost sense of the soul, [2373] which is entangled with the flesh, may be touched with any delight; but if it cannot this, at least the mind and thought [2374] in not consenting may have its chastity preserved entire. Now what we have to guard in chastity of mind, [2375] is, as pertaining to the love of our neighbor, innocence and benevolence; as pertaining to the love of God, piety. Innocence is that we hurt no man; benevolence, that we also do good to whom we can; piety, that we worship God. But as for verity of doctrine, of religion and piety, that is not violated unless by a lie; whereas the highest and inmost Verity Itself, Whose that doctrine is, can in no wise be violated: which Truth to attain unto, and in It on every wise to remain, and to It thoroughly to cleave, will not be permitted, but when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality. But, because all piety in this life is practice by which we tend to that life, which practice hath a guidance afforded unto it from that doctrine, which in human words and signs [2376] of corporal sacraments doth insinuate and intimate Truth herself: for this cause this also, which by lying is possible to be corrupted, is most of all to be kept incorrupt; that so, if aught in that chastity of mind be violated, it may have that wherefrom it may be repaired. For once corrupt authority of doctrine, and there can be none either course or recourse to chastity of mind.

Footnotes

[2371] Animæ [2372] Animi [2373] Animæ [2374] Mentis [2375] Animi [2376] Signaculis


41. There resulteth then from all these this sentence, that a lie which doth not violate the doctrine of piety, nor piety itself, nor innocence, nor benevolence, may on behalf of pudicity of body be admitted. And yet if any man should propose to himself so to love truth, not only that which consists in contemplation, but also in uttering the true thing, which each in its own kind of things is true, and no otherwise to bring forth with the mouth of the body his thought than in the mind it is conceived and beheld; so that he should prize the beauty of truth-telling honesty, not only above gold and silver and jewels and pleasant lands, but above this temporal life itself altogether and every good thing of the body, I know not whether any could wisely say that that man errs. And if he should prefer this and prize it more than all that himself hath of such things; rightly also would he prefer it to the temporal things of other men, whom by his innocence and benevolence he was bound to keep and to help. For he would love perfect faith, not only of believing aright those things which by an excellent authority and worthy of faith should to himself be spoken, but also of faithfully uttering what himself should judge right to be spoken, and should speak. For faith hath its name in the Latin tongue, from that the thing is done which is said: [2377] and thus it is manifest that one doth not exhibit when telling a lie. And even if this faith be less violated, when one lies in such sort that he is believed to no inconvenience and no pernicious hurt, with added intention moreover of guarding either one's life or corporal purity; yet violated it is, and a thing is violated which ought to be kept safe in chastity and sanctity of mind. Whence we are constrained, not by opinion of men, which for the most part is in error, but by truth itself, truth which is eminent above all, and alone is most invincible, to prefer even to purity of body, perfect faith. For chastity of mind is, love well ordered, which does not place the greater below the smaller. Now it is less, whatever in the body than whatever in the mind can be violated. For assuredly when for corporal chasteness a man tells a lie, he sees indeed that his body is threatened with corruption, not from his own, but from another's lust, but is cautious lest by permitting at least, he be a party. That permission, however, where is it but in the mind? So then, even corporal chasteness cannot be corrupted but in the mind; which not consenting nor permitting, it can by no means be rightly said that corporal chasteness is violated whatever in the body be perpetrated by another's lust. Whence it is gathered, that much more must the chastity of the mind be preserved in the mind, in the which is the guardianship of the pudicity of the body. Wherefore, what in us lies, both the one and the other must by holy manners and conversation be walled and hedged round, lest from another quarter it be violated. But when both cannot be, which is to be slighted in comparison of which, who doth not see? when he seeth which to which is to be preferred, the mind to the body, or the body to the mind; and which is more to be shunned among sins, the permitting of another's deed, or the committing of the deed thyself.

Footnotes

[2377] "Fides, quia fit quod dicitur."


42. It clearly appears then, all being discussed, that those testimonies of Scripture have none other meaning than that we must never at all tell a lie: seeing that not any examples of lies, worthy of imitation, are found in the manners and actions of the Saints, as regards those Scriptures which are referred to no figurative signification, such as is the history in the Acts of the Apostles. For all those sayings of our Lord in the Gospel, which to more ignorant minds seem lies, are figurative significations. And as to what the Apostle says: "I am made all things to all men, that I might gain all;" [2378] the right understanding is, that he did this not by lying, but by sympathy; so that he dealt with them in liberating them with so great charity, as if he were himself in that evil from which he wished to make them whole. There must therefore be no lying in the doctrine of piety: it is a heinous wickedness, and the first sort of detestable lie. There must be no lying of the second sort; because no man must have a wrong done to him. There must be no lying of the third sort; because we are not to consult any man's good to the injury of another. There must be no lying of the fourth sort, that is, for the lust of lying, which of itself is vicious. There must be no lying of the fifth sort, because not even the truth itself is to be uttered with the aim of men-pleasing, how much less a lie, which of itself, as a lie, is a foul thing? There must be no lying of the sixth sort; for it is not right that even the truth of testimony be corrupted for any man's temporal convenience and safety. But unto eternal salvation none is to be led by aid of a lie. For not by the ill manners of them that convert him is he to be converted to good manners: because if it is meet to be done towards him, himself also ought when converted to do it toward others; and so is he converted not to good, but to ill manners, seeing that is held out to be imitated by him when converted, which was done unto him in converting him. Neither in the seventh sort must there be any lying; for it is meet that not any man's commodity or temporal welfare be preferred to the perfecting of faith. Not even if any man is so ill moved by our right deeds as to become worse in his mind, and far more remote from piety, are right deeds therefore to be foregone: since what we are chiefly to hold is that whereunto we ought to call and invite them whom as our own selves we love; and with most courageous mind we must drink in that apostolic sentence: "To some we are a savor of life unto life, to others a savor of death unto death; and who is sufficient for these things?" [2379] Nor in the eighth sort must there be lying: because both among good things chastity of mind is greater than pudicity of body; and among evil things, that which ourselves do, than that which we suffer to be done. In these eight kinds, however, a man sins less when he tells a lie, in proportion as he emerges to the eighth: more, in proportion as he diverges to the first. But whoso shall think there is any sort of lie that is not sin, will deceive himself foully, while he deems himself honest as a deceiver of other men.

Footnotes

[2378] 1 Cor. ix. 22 [2379] 2 Cor. ii. 16


43. So great blindness, moreover, hath occupied men's minds, that to them it is too little if we pronounce some lies not to be sins; but they must needs pronounce it to be sin in some things if we refuse to lie: and to such a pass have they been brought by defending lying, that even that first kind which is of all the most abominably wicked they pronounce to have been used by the Apostle Paul. For in the Epistle to the Galatians, written as it was, like the rest, for doctrine of religion and piety, they say that he has told a lie, in the passage where he says concerning Peter and Barnabas, "When I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel." [2380] For, while they wish to defend Peter from error, and from that pravity of way into which he had fallen; the very way of religion in which is salvation for all men, they by breaking and mincing the authority of the Scriptures do endeavor themselves to overthrow. In which they do not see that it is not only lying, but perjury that they lay to the charge of the Apostle in the very doctrine of piety, that is, in an Epistle in which he preaches the Gospel; seeing that he there saith, before he relates that matter, "What I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not." [2381] But it is time that we set bounds to this disputation: in the consideration and treatment whereof altogether there is nothing more meet to be, before all else, borne in mind and made our prayer, than that which the same Apostle saith: "God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able to bear, but will with the temptation make also a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." [2382]

Footnotes

[2380] Gal. ii. 14 [2381] Gal. i. 20 [2382] 1 Cor. x. 13 .

Against Lying.


To Consentius

[Contra Mendacium.]

Translated by the Rev. H. Browne, M.A. of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, Late Principal of the Diocesan College, Chichester.


From the Retractations, Book II. Chap. 60.

" Then [2383] also I wrote a Book against Lying, the occasion of which work was this. In order to discover the Priscillianist heretics, who think it right to conceal their heresy not only by denial and lies, but even by perjury, it seemed to certain Catholics that they ought to pretended themselves Priscillianists, in order that they might penetrate their lurking places. In prohibition of which thing, I composed this book. It begins: Multa mihi legenda misisti."

Footnotes

[2383] i.e. A.D. 420, the work mentioned just before belonging to the early part of that year. Consentius is thought to be the writer of ep. 119, to Augustin, and ep. 120, and 205, are addressed to him. This is the work referred to in the Enchiridion, ch. 18, p. 243.


1. A great deal for me to read hast thou sent, my dearest brother Consentius: a great deal for me to read: to the which while I am preparing an answer, and am drawn off first by one, then by another, more urgent occupation, the year has measured out its course, and has thrust me into such straits, that I must answer in what sort I may, lest the time for sailing being now favorable, and the bearer desirous to return, I should too long detain him. Having therefore unrolled and read through all that Leonas, servant of God, brought me from thee, both soon after I received it, and afterwards when about to dictate this reply, and having weighed it with all the consideration in my power, I am greatly delighted with thy eloquence, and memory of the holy Scripture, and cleverness of wit, and the resentment with which thou bitest negligent Catholics, and the zeal with which thou gnashest against even latent heretics. But I am not persuaded that it is right to unearth them out of their hiding places by our telling lies. For to what end do we take such pains in tracking them out and running them down, but that having taken them and brought them forth into open day, we may either teach them the truth, or at least having convicted them by the truth, may not allow them to hurt others? to this end, therefore, that their lie may be blotted out, or shunned, and God's truth increased. How then by a lie shall I rightly be able to prosecute lies? Or is it by robbery that robberies and by sacrilege that sacrileges, and by adultery that adulteries, are to be prosecuted? "But if the truth of God shall abound by my lie," are we too to say, "Let us do evil that good may come?" [2384] A thing which thou seest how the Apostle detesteth. For what else is, "Let us lie, that we may bring heretic liars to the truth," but, "Let us do evil that good may come?" Or, is a lie sometimes good, or sometimes a lie not evil? Why then is it written, "Thou hatest, Lord, all that work iniquity; Thou wilt destroy all that speak leasing." [2385] For he hath not excepted some, or said indefinitely, "Thou wilt destroy them that speak leasing;" so as to permit some, not all, to be understood: but it is an universal sentence that he hath passed, saying, "Thou wilt destroy all who speak leasing." Or, because it is not said, Thou wilt destroy all who speak all leasing, or, who speak any leasing whatsoever; is it therefore to be thought that there is place allowed for some lie; to wit, that there should be some leasing, and them who speak it, God should not destroy, but destroy them all which speak unjust leasing, not what lie soever, because there is found also a just lie, which as such ought to be matter of praise, not of crime?

Footnotes

[2384] Rom. iii. 7, 8 [2385] Psalm v. 6, 7. [See R.V.] "Thou wilt destroy them that speak a lie," Heb. pantas tous lalountas to pseudos, LXX.


2. Perceivest thou not how much this reasoning aideth the very persons whom as great game we make ado to catch by our lies? For, as thyself hast shown, this is the sentiment of the Priscillianists to prove which, they apply testimonies from the Scriptures exhorting their followers to lie, as though by the examples of Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Angels; not hesitating to add even the Lord Christ Himself; and deeming that they cannot otherwise prove their falsehood truthful, unless they pronounce Truth to be a liar. It must be refuted, this; not imitated: nor ought we to be partners with the Priscillianists in that evil in which they are convicted to be worse than other heretics. For they alone, or at least they in the greatest degree, are found to make a dogma of lying for the purpose of hiding their truth, as they call it: and this so great evil therefore to esteem just, because they say that in the heart must be held that which is true, but with the mouth to utter unto aliens a false thing, is no sin; and that this is written, "Who speaketh the truth in his heart:" [2386] as though this were enough for righteousness, even though a person do with his mouth speak a lie, when not his neighbor but a stranger is he that heareth it. On this account they think the Apostle Paul, when he had said, "Putting away lying, speak ye truth," to have immediately added, "Every man with his neighbor, for we are members one of another." [2387] Meaning, that with them who are not our neighbors in society of the truth, nor, so to say, our co-members, [2388] it is lawful and right to speak a lie.

Footnotes

[2386] Ps. xv. 2 [2387] Eph. iv. 25 [2388] Commembres


3. Which sentence dishonoreth the holy Martyrs, nay rather taketh away holy martyrdoms altogether. For they would do more justly and wisely, according to these men, not to confess to their persecutors that they were Christians, and by confessing make them murderers: but rather by telling a lie, and denying what they were, should both themselves keep safe the convenience of the flesh and purpose of the heart, and not allow those to accomplish the wickedness which they had conceived in their mind. For they were not their neighbors in the Christian faith, that with them it should be their duty to speak the truth in their mouth which they spake in their heart; but moreover enemies of Truth itself. For if Jehu (whom it seems they do prudently to single out unto themselves to look unto as an example of lying) falsely gave himself out for a servant of Baal, that he might slay Baal's servants: how much more justly, according to their perversity, might, in time of persecution, the servants of Christ falsely give themselves out, for servants of demons, that the servants of demons might not slay servants of Christ; and sacrifice to idols that men might not be killed, if Jehu sacrificed to Baal that he might kill men? For what harm would it do them, according to the egregious doctrine of these speakers of lies, if they should lyingly pretend a worship of the Devil in the body, when the worship of God was preserved in the heart? But not so have the Martyrs understood the Apostle, the true, the holy Martyrs. They saw and held that which is written, "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation;" [2389] and, "In their mouth was found no lie:" [2390] and so they departed irreproachable, to that place where to be tempted by liars any further they will not fear; because they will not have liars any more in their heavenly assemblies, either for strangers or neighbors. As for that Jehu, by an impious lie and a sacrilegious sacrifice making inquisition for impious and sacrilegious men for to kill them, they would not imitate him, no, not though the Scripture had said nothing concerning him, what manner of man he was. But, seeing it is written that he had not his heart right with God; [2391] what profited it him, that for some obedience which, concerning the utter destruction of the house of Ahab, he exhibited for the lust of his own domination. he received some amount of transitory wages in a temporal kingdom? Let, rather, the truth-telling sentence of the Martyrs be thine to defend: to this I exhort thee, my brother, that thou mayst be against liars, not a teacher of lying, but an asserter of truth. For, I pray thee, attend diligently to what I say, that thou mayest find how needful to be shunned is that which, with laudable zeal indeed towards impious men, that they may be caught and corrected, or avoided, but yet too incautiously, is thought fit to be taught.

Footnotes

[2389] Rom. x. 10 [2390] Rev. xiv. 5 pseudos, Griesbach; dolos, text rec.; guile, E.V. [2391] 2 Kings x. 31


4. Of lies are many sorts, which indeed all, universally, we ought to hate. For there is no lie that is not contrary to truth. For, as light and darkness, piety and impiety, justice and iniquity, sin and right-doing, health and weakness, life and death, so are truth and a lie contrary the one to the other. Whence by how much we love the former, by so much ought we to hate the latter. Yet in truth there be some lies which to believe does no harm: although even by such sort of lie to wish to deceive, is hurtful to him that tells it, not to him that believes it. As though, if that brother, the servant of God, Fronto, in the information which he gave thee, should (though far be the thought!) say some things falsely; he would have hurt himself assuredly, not thee, although thou, without iniquity of thine, hadst believed all, upon his telling it. Because, whether those things did so take place or not so, yet they have not any thing, which if a person believe to have been so, though it were not so, he by the rule of truth and doctrine of eternal salvation should be judged worthy of blame. Whereas, if a person tell a lie which if any believe he will be an heretic against the doctrine of Christ, by so much is he who tells the lie more hurtful, by how much he that believes it is more miserable. See then, what manner of thing it is, if against the doctrine of Christ we shall tell a lie which whoso believes shall perish, in order that we may catch the enemies of the same doctrine, to the end we may bring them to the truth, while we recede from it; nay rather, when we catch liars by lying, teach worse lies. For it is one thing what they say when they lie, another when they are deceived. For, when they teach their heresy, they speak the things in which they are deceived; but when they say that they think what they do not think, or that they do not think what they do think, they say the things in which they lie. In that any believeth them, what though he do not find them out, himself perisheth not. For it is no receding from the catholic rule, if, when a heretic lyingly professes the catholic doctrines, one believes him to be a catholic: and therefore it is not pernicious to him; because he is mistaken in the mind of a man, of which, when latent, he cannot judge, not in the faith of God which it is his duty to keep safe planted within him. Moreover, when they teach their heresy, whoso shall believe them, in thinking it truth, will be partaker, as of their error, so of their damnation. So it comes to pass, that when they fable their nefarious dogmas in which they are with deadly error deceived, then whoso believeth them is lost: whereas when we preach catholic dogmas, in which we hold the right faith, then if he shall believe, that man is found, whoso was lost. But when, they being Priscillianists, do, in order that they may not betray their venom, lyingly give themselves out to be of us; whoever of us believes them, even while they escape detection, himself perseveres a Catholic: we on the other hand, if, in order to attain to the discovery of them, we falsely give ourselves out for Priscillianists, because we shall praise their dogmas as though they were our own, whoso shall believe the same, will either be confirmed among them, or will be transferred to them in the meantime straightway: but what the coming hour may bring forth, whether they shall be afterwards set free therefrom by us when speaking true things, who were deceived by us when speaking false; and whether they will be willing to hear one teaching whom they have thus experienced telling a lie,who can know for certain? who can be ignorant that this is uncertain? Whence it is gathered, that it is more pernicious, or to speak more mildly, that it is more perilous for Catholics to lie that they may catch heretics, than for heretics to lie that they may not be found out by Catholics. Because, whoso believes Catholics when they tell a lie to tempt people, is either made or confirmed a heretic; but whoso believes heretics when they tell a lie to conceal themselves, doth not cease to be a Catholic. But that this may become more plain, let us propose some cases by way of example, and from those writings in preference which thou hast sent me to read.


5. Well then, let us set before our eyes a cunning spy as he makes up to the person whom he has already perceived to be a Priscillianist; he begins with Dictinius the bishop, and lyingly bepraises either his life, if he knew him, or his fame, if he knew him not; this is more tolerable thus far, because Dictinius is accounted to have been a Catholic, and to have been corrected of that error. Then, passing on to Priscillian, (for this comes next in the art of lying,) he shall make reverend mention of him, of an impious and detestable person, condemned for his nefarious wickedness and crimes! In which reverend mention, if haply the person for whom this sort of net is spread, had not been a firm Priscillianist, by this preaching of him, he will be confirmed. But when the spy shall go on to discourse of the other matters, and saying that he pities them whom the author of darkness hath invoked in such darkness of error, that they acknowledge not the honor of their own soul, and the brightness of their divine ancestry: then speaking of Dictinius's Book, which is called "the Pound," because it treats, first and last, of a dozen questions, being as the ounces which go to the pound, shall extol it with such praise, as to protest that such a "Pound" (in which awful blasphemies are contained) is more precious than many thousands of pounds of gold; truly, this astuteness of him who tells the lie slays the soul of him who believes it, or, that being slain already, doth in the same death sink, and hold it down. But, thou wilt say, "afterwards it shall be set at liberty." What if it come not to pass, either upon something intervening that prevents what was begun from being completed, or through obstinacy of an heretical mind denying the same things over again, although of some it had already begun to make confession? especially because, if he shall find out that he has been tampered with by a stranger, he will just the more boldy study to conceal his sentiments by a lie, when he shall have learned much more certainly that this is done without blame, even by the example of the very person who tampered with him. This, truly, in a man who thinks it right to hide the truth by telling a lie, with what face can we blame, and dare to condemn what we teach?


6. It remains, then, that what the Priscillianists think, according to the nefarious falsity of their heresy, of God, of the soul, of the body, and the rest, we hesitate not with truthful pity to condemn; but what they think of the right of telling a lie to hide the truth is to be to us and them (which God forbid!) a common dogma. This is so great an evil, that even though this attempt of ours, whereby we desire by means of a lie to catch them and change them, should so prosper that we do catch and change them, there is no gain that can compensate the damage of making ourselves wrong with them in order to set them right. For through this lie shall both we be in that respect perverse, and they but half corrected; seeing that their thinking it right to tell a lie on behalf of the truth is a fault which we do not correct in them, because we have learned and do teach the same thing, and lay it down that it is fit to be done, in order that we may be able to attain to the amending of them. Whom yet we amend not, for their fault, with which they think right to hide the truth, we take not away, rather we make ourselves faulty when by such a fault we seek them; nor do we find how we can believe them, when converted, to whom, while perverted, we have lied; lest haply what was done to them that they might be caught, they do to us when caught; not only because to do it hath been their wont, but because in us also, to whom they come, they find the same.


7. And, what is more miserable, even they, already made as it were our own, cannot find how they may believe us. For if they suspect that even in the catholic doctrines themselves we speak lyingly, that we may conceal I know not what other thing which we think true; of course to one suspecting the like thou shalt say, I did this then only to catch thee: but what wilt thou answer when he says, Whence then do I know whether thou art not doing it even now, lest thou be caught by me? Or indeed, can any man be made to believe that a man does not lie not to be caught, who lies to catch? Seest thou whither this evil tends? that is, that not only we to them, and they to us, but every brother to every brother shall not undeservedly become suspected? And so while that which is aimed at by means of the lie, is that faith may be taught, the thing which is brought about is, rather, that there shall be no having faith in any man. For if we speak even against God when we tell a lie, what so great evil will people be able to discover in any lie, that, as though it were a most wretched thing, we should be bound in every way to eschew it?


8. But now observe how more tolerable in comparison with us is the lying of the Priscillianists, when they know that they speak deceitfully: whom by our own lying we think right to deliver from those false things in which they by erring are decayed. A Priscillianist saith, that the soul is a part of God, and of the same nature and substance with Him. This is a great and detestable blasphemy. For it follows that the nature of God may be taken captive, deceived, cheated, disturbed, and defiled, condemned and tortured. But if that man also saith this, who from so great an evil desires to deliver a man by a lie, let us see what is the difference between the one blasphemer and the other. "Very much," sayest thou: "for this the Priscillianist saith, also believing it so: but the catholic not so believing, though so speaking." The one, then, blasphemes without knowing, the other with knowledge: the one against science, the other against conscience; the one hath the blindness of thinking false things, but in them hath at least the will of saying true things; the other in secret seeth truth, and willingly speaketh false. "But the one;" thou wilt say, "teacheth this, that he may make men partakers of his error and madness: the latter saith it that from that error and madness he may deliver men." Now I have already shown above how hurtful is this very thing which people believe will do good: but meanwhile if we weigh in these two the present evils, (for the future good which a catholic seeks from correcting a heretic is uncertain,) who sins worse? who deceives a man without knowing it, or he who blasphemes God, knowing it? Assuredly which is the worse, that man understands, who with solicitous piety preferreth God to man. Add to this, that, if God may be blasphemed in order that we may bring men to praise Him, without doubt we do by our example and doctrine invite men not only to praise, but also to blaspheme God: because they whom through blasphemies against God we plot to bring to the praises of God, verily, if we do bring them, will learn not only to praise, but also to blaspheme. These be the benefits we confer on them whom, by blaspheming not ignorantly but with knowledge, we deliver from heretics! And whereas the Apostle delivered men to Satan himself that they might learn not to blaspheme, [2392] we endeavor to rescue men from Satan, that they may learn to blaspheme not with ignorance, but with knowledge. And upon ourselves, their masters, we bring this so great bane, that, for the sake of catching heretics, we first become, which is certain, blasphemers of God, in order that we may for the sake of delivering them, which is uncertain, be able to be teachers of His truth.

Footnotes

[2392] 1 Tim. i. 20


9. When therefore we teach ours to blaspheme God that the Priscillianists may believe them theirs, let us see what evil themselves say when they therefore lie that we may believe them ours. They anathematize Priscillian, and detest him according to our mind; they say that the soul is a creature of God, not a part; they execrate the Priscillianists' false martyrdoms; the catholic bishops by whom that heresy has been stripped, attacked, prostrated, they extol with great praises, and so forth. Behold, themselves speak truth when they lie: not that the very thing which is a lie can be true at the same time; but when in one thing they lie, in another they speak truth: for when, in saying they are of us, they lie, of the catholic faith they speak truth. And therefore they, that they may not be found out for Priscillianists, speak in lying manner the truth: but we, that we may find them out, not only speak lyingly, that we may be believed to belong to them; but we also speak false things which we know to belong to their error. Therefore as for them, when they wish to be thought of us, it is both false in part, and true in part, what they say; for it is false that they are of us, but true that the soul is not a part of God: but as for us, when we wish to be thought to belong to them, it is false, both the one and the other that we say, both that we are Priscillianists, and that the soul is a part of God. They, then, praise God, not blaspheme, when they conceal themselves; and when they do not so, but utter their own sentiments, they know not that they blaspheme. So that if they be converted to the catholic faith, they console themselves, because they can say what the Apostle said: who when among other things he had said, "I was before a blasphemer; but," saith he, "I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly." [2393] We on the contrary, in order that they may open themselves to us, if we utter this as if it were a just lie for deceiving and catching them, do assuredly both say that we belong to the blaspheming Priscillianists, and that they may believe us, do without excuse of ignorance blaspheme. For a catholic, who by blaspheming wishes to be thought a heretic, cannot say, "I did it ignorantly."

Footnotes

[2393] 1 Tim. i. 13


10. Ever, my brother, in such cases, it behoves with fear to recollect, "Whoso shall deny Me before men, I will deny him before My Father which is in heaven." [2394] Or truly is it no denying of Christ before men, to deny Him before Priscillianists, that when they hide themselves, one may by a blasphemous lie strip them and catch them? But who doubts, I pray thee, that Christ is denied, when so as He is in truth, we say that He is not; and so as the Priscillianist believes Him, we say that He is?

Footnotes

[2394] Matt. x. 33


11. "But, hidden wolves," thou wilt say, "clad in sheep's clothing, and privily and grievously wasting the Lord's flock, can we no otherwise find out." Whence then have the Priscillianists become known, ere this way of hunting for them with lies was ex-cogitated? Whence was their very author, more cunning doubtless, and therefore more covert, got at in his bed? Whence so many and so great persons made manifest and condemned, and the others innumerable partly corrected, partly as if corrected, and in the Church's compassion gathered into her fold? For many ways giveth the Lord, when He hath compassion, whereby we may come to the discovery of them: two of which are more happy than others; namely, that either they whom they have wished to seduce, or they whom they had already seduced, shall, when they repent and are converted, point them out. Which is more easily effected, if their nefarious error, not by lying tricks, but by truthful reasonings be overthrown. In the writing of which it behoves thee to bestow thy pains, since God hath bestowed the gift that thou canst do this: which wholesome writings whereby their insane perversity is destroyed, becoming more and more known, and being by catholics, whether prelates who speak in the congregations, or any studious men full of zeal for God, every where diffused, these will be holy nets in which they may be caught truthfully, not with lies hunted after. For so being taken, either, of their own accord, they will confess what they have been, and others whom they know to be of the evil fellowship they will either kindly [2395] correct, or mercifully betray. Or else, if they shall be ashamed to confess what with long-continued simulation they have concealed, by the hidden hand of God healing them shall they be made whole.

Footnotes

[2395] "Concorditer"--"Misericorditer."


12. "But," thou wilt say, "we more easily penetrate their concealment if we pretend to be ourselves what they are." If this were lawful or expedient, Christ might have instructed his sheep that they should come clad in wolves' clothing to the wolves, and by the cheat of this artifice discover them: which He hath not said, no, not when He foretold that He would send them forth in the midst of wolves. [2396] But thou wilt say: "They needed not at that time to have inquisition made for them, being most manifest wolves; but their bite and savageness were to be endured." What, when foretelling later times, He said that ravening wolves would come in sheep's clothing? Was there not room there to give this advice and say, And do ye, that ye may find them out, assume wolves' clothing, but within be ye sheep still? Not this saith He: but when he had said, "Many will come to you in sheep's clothing, but within are ravening wolves;" [2397] He went on to say, not, By your lies, but, "By their fruits ye shall know them." By truth must we beware of, by truth must we take, by truth must we kill, lies. Be it far from us, that the blasphemies of the ignorant we by wittingly blaspheming should overcome: far from us, that the evils of deceitful men we by imitating should guard against. For how shall we guard against them if in order to guard against them we shall have them? For if in order that he may be caught who blasphemes unwittingly, I shall blaspheme wittingly, worse is the thing I do than that which I catch. If in order that he may be found who denies Christ unwittingly, I shall deny Him wittingly, to his undoing will he follow me whom I shall so find, since in order that I may find him out, I first am undone.

Footnotes

[2396] Matt. x. 16 [2397] Matt. vii. 15, 16


13. Or haply is it so, that he who plots in this way to find out Priscillianists, denies not Christ, forasmuch as with his mouth he utters what with his heart he believes not? As if truly (which I also said a little above) when it was said, "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness," it was added to no purpose, "with the mouth confession is made unto salvation?" [2398] Is it not so that almost all who have denied Christ before the persecutors, held in their heart what they believed of Him? And yet, by not confessing with the mouth unto salvation, they perished, save they which through penitence have lived again? Who can be so vain, [2399] as to think that the Apostle Peter had that in his heart which he had on his lips when he denied Christ? Surely in that denial he held the truth within and uttered the lie without. Why then did he wash away with tears the denial which he uttered with his mouth, if that sufficed for salvation that with the heart he believed? Why, speaking the truth in his heart, did he punish with so bitter weeping the lie which he brought forth with his mouth, unless because he saw it to be a great and deadly evil, that while with his heart he believed unto righteousness, with his mouth he made not confession unto salvation?

Footnotes

[2398] Rom. x. 10 [2399] Evanescat


14. Wherefore, that which is written, "Who speaketh the truth in his heart," [2400] is not so to be taken, as if, truth being retained in the heart, in the mouth one may speak a lie. But the reason why it is said, is, because it is possible that a man may speak with his mouth a truth which profiteth him nothing, if he hold it not in his heart, that is, if what he speaketh, himself believe not; as the heretics, and, above all, these same Priscillianists do, when they do, not indeed believe the catholic faith, but yet speak it, that they may be believed to be of us. They speak therefore the truth in their mouth, not in their heart. On this account were they to be distinguished from him of whom it is written, "He that speaketh truth in his heart." Now this truth the catholic as in his heart he speaketh, because so he believeth, so also in his mouth ought he, that so he may preach it; but against it, neither in heart nor in mouth have falsehood, that both with the heart he may believe unto righteousness, and with the mouth may make confession unto salvation. For also in that psalm, after it had been said, "Who speaketh truth in his heart," presently this is added, "Who hath used no deceit in his tongue." [2401]

Footnotes

[2400] Ps. xv. 2 [2401] Ps. xv. 2


>15. And as for that saying of the Apostle, "Putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another," [2402] far be it that we should so understand it, as though he had permitted to speak a lie with those who are not yet with us members of the body of Christ. But the reason why it is said, is, because each one of us ought to account every man to be that which he wishes him to become, although he be not yet become such; as the Lord showed the alien Samaritan to be neighbor to him unto whom he showed mercy." [2403] A neighbor then, and not an alien, is that man to be accounted, with whom our concern is that he remain not an alien; and if on the score of his not being yet made partaker of our Faith and Sacrament, there be some truths that must be concealed from him, yet is that no reason why false things should be told him.

Footnotes

[2402] Eph. iv. 25 [2403] Luke x. 30-37


16. For there were even in the Apostles' times some who preached the truth not in truth, that is, not with truthful mind: of whom the Apostle saith that they preached Christ not chastely, but of envy and strife. And on this account even at that time some were tolerated while preaching truth not with a chaste mind: yet not any have been praised as preaching falsehood with a chaste mind. Lastly, he saith of those, "Whether in pretence or in truth Christ be preached:" [2404] but in no wise would he say, In order that Christ may after be preached, let Him be first denied.

Footnotes

[2404] Phil. i. 15-18


17. Wherefore, though there be indeed many ways in which latent heretics may be sought out, without vituperating the catholic faith or praising heretical impiety, yet if there were no other way at all of drawing out heretical impiety from its caverns, but that the catholic tongue should deviate from the straight path of truth; more tolerable were it that that should be hid, than that this should be precipitated; more tolerable that the foxes should lurk in their pits unseen, than for the sake of catching them the huntsmen should fall into the pit of blasphemy; more tolerable that the perfidy of Priscillianists should be covered with the veil of truth, than that the faith of catholics, lest it should of lying Priscillianists be praised, should of believing catholics be denied. For if lies, not of whatsoever kind, but blasphemous lies, are therefore just because they are committed with intent to detect hidden heretics; it will be possible at that rate, if they be commuted with the same intention, that there should be chaste adulteries. For put the case that of a number of lewd Priscillianists, some woman should cast her eye upon a catholic Joseph, and promise him that she will betray their hidden retreats if she obtain from him that he lie with her, and it be certain that if he consent unto her she will make good her promise: shall we judge that it ought to be done? Or shall we understand that by no means must such a price be paid in purchase of that kind of merchandise? Why then do we not rout out heretics, in order to their being caught, by the flesh committing lasciviousness in adultery, and yet think right to rout them out by a mouth committing fornication in blasphemy? For either it will be lawful to defend both the one and the other with equal reason, that these things be therefore said to be not unjust, because they were done with intention of finding out the unjust: or if sound doctrine willeth not even for the sake of finding out heretics that we should have to do with unchaste women, albeit only in body, not in mind, assuredly not even for the sake of finding out heretics willeth it that by us, albeit only in voice not in mind, either unclean heresy were preached, or the chaste Catholic Church blasphemed. Because even the very sovereignty of the mind, to which every inferior motion of the man ought to be obedient, will not lack deserved opprobrium, when a thing is done that ought not to be done, whether by member or by word. Although even when it is done by word, it is done by member: because the tongue is a member, by which the word is made; nor is any deed of ours by any member brought to the birth unless it is first conceived in the heart; or rather being by our inwardly thinking upon and consenting unto it already brought to the birth, it is brought forth abroad in our doing of it, by a member. It is therefore no excusing the mind from the deed, when any thing is said to be done not after the purpose of the mind, [2405] which yet were not done, unless the mind decreed it to be done.

Footnotes

[2405] Ex animo


18. It does indeed make very much difference, for what cause, with what end, with what intention a thing be done: but those things which are clearly sins, are upon no plea of a good cause, with no seeming good end, no alleged good intention, to be done. Those works, namely of men, which are not in themselves sins, are now good, now evil, according as their causes are good or evil; as, to give food to a poor man is a good work, if it be done because of pity, with right faith; as to lie with a wife, when it is done for the sake of generation, if it be done with faith to beget subjects for regeneration. These and the like works according to their causes are good or evil, because the self-same, if they have evil causes, are turned into sins: as, if for boasting sake a poor man is fed; or for lasciviousness a man lies with his wife; or children are begotten, not that they may be nurtured for God, but for the devil. When, however, the works in themselves are evil, such as thefts, fornications, blasphemies, or other such; who is there that will say, that upon good causes they may be done, so as either to be no sins, or, what is more absurd, just sins? Who is there that would say, That we may have to give to the poor, let us commit thefts upon the rich: or, Let us sell false witness, especially if innocent men are not hurt thereby, but rather guilty men are rescued from the judges who would condemn them? For two good things are done by selling of this lie, that money may be taken wherewith a poor man may be fed, and a judge deceived that a man be not punished. Even in the matter of wills, if we can, why not suppress the true, and forge false wills that inheritances or legacies may not come to unworthy persons, who do no good with them; but rather to those by whom the hungry are fed, the naked clothed, strangers entertained, captives redeemed, Churches builded? For why should not those evil things be done for the sake of these good things, if, for the sake of these good things, those are not evil at all? Nay, further, if lewd and rich women are likely to enrich moreover their lovers and paramours, why should not even these parts and arts be undertaken by a man of merciful heart, to use them for so good a cause as that he may have whence to bestow upon the needy; and not hear the Apostle saying, "Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labor, working with his hands that which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth?" [2406] If indeed not only theft itself, but also false witness and adultery and every evil work will be not evil but good, if it be done for the sake of being the means of doing good. Who can say these things, except one who endeavors to subvert human affairs and all manners and laws? For of what most heinous deed, what most foul crime, what most impious sacrilege, may it not be said that it is possible for it to be done rightly and justly; and not only with impunity, but even gloriously, that in perpetrating thereof not only no punishments should be feared, but there should be hope even of rewards: if once we shall concede in all evil works of men, that not what is done, but wherefore done, must be the question; and this, to the end that whatever are found to have been done for good causes, not even they should be judged to be evil? But if justice deservedly punisheth a thief, albeit he shall say and shew that he therefore withdrew superfluities from a rich that he might afford necessaries to a poor man; if deservedly she punisheth a forger, albeit he prove that he therefore corrupted another's will, that he might be heir, who should thence make large alms, not he who should make none; if deservedly she punisheth an adulterer yea, though he shall demonstrate that of mercy he did commit adultery, that through her with whom he did it he might deliver a man from death; lastly, to draw nearer to the matter in question, if deservedly she punishment him who hath with that intent mixed in adulterous embrace with some woman, privy to the turpitude of the Priscillianists, that he might enter into their concealments; I pray thee, when the Apostle saith, "Neither yield ye your members instruments of unrighteousness unto sin;" [2407] and therefore neither hands, nor members of generation, nor other members, can it be right to yield unto flagitious deeds with intent that we may be able to find out Priscillanists; what hath our tongue, what our whole mouth, what the organ of the voice, offended us, that we should yield these as instruments to sin, and to so great a sin, in which, that we may apprehend and rescue Priscillianists from blaspheming in ignorance, we, without excuse of ignorance, are to blaspheme our God?

Footnotes

[2406] Eph. iv. 28 [2407] Rom. vi. 13


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.


20. 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." [2408] 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." [2409]

Footnotes

[2408] Gen. xix. 8 [2409] Ezek. xviii. 4


21. If then to sin, that others may not commit a worse sin, either against us or against any, without doubt we ought not; it is to be considered in that which Lot did, whether it be an example which we ought to imitate, or rather one which we ought to avoid. For it seems meet to be more looked into and noted, that, when so horrible an evil from the most flagitious impiety of the Sodomites was impending over his guests, which he wished to ward off and was not able, to such a degree may even that just man's mind have been disturbed, that he was willing to do that which, not man's fear with its misty temper, but God's Law in its tranquil serenity, if it be consulted by us, will cry aloud, must not be done, and will command rather that we be so cautious not to sin ourselves, that we sin not through fear of any sins whatever of other men. For that just man, by fearing other men's sins, which cannot defile except such as consent thereto, was so perturbed that he did not attend to his own sin, in that he was willing to subject his daughters to the lusts of impious men. These things, when we read in holy Scriptures, we must not, for that we believe them done, therefore believe them meet to be done; lest we violate precepts while we indiscriminately follow precedents. Or, truly, because David swore to put Nabal to death, and, upon more considerate clemency, did it not, [2410] shall we therefore say that he is to be imitated, so that we may swear to do a thing which afterwards we may see to be not meet to be done? But as fear perturbed the one, so that he was willing to prostitute his daughters, so did anger the other, that he swore rashly. In short, if it were allowed us to inquire of them both, by asking them to tell us why they did these things, the one might answer, "Fearfulness and trembling came upon me, and darkness covered me;" [2411] the other too might say, "Mine eye was troubled through wrath:" [2412] so that we should not marvel either that the one in the darkness of fear, or the other with troubled eye, saw not what was meet to have been seen, that they might not do what was not meet to have been done.

Footnotes

[2410] 1 Sam. xxv. 22-35 [2411] Ps. lv. 5 [2412] Ps. vi. 7, turbatus est proe ira, as in LXX. "Mine eye is consumed because of grief." E.V.


22. And to holy David indeed it might more justly be said, that he ought not to have been angry; no, not with one however ungrateful and rendering evil for good; yet if, as man, anger did steal over him, he ought not to have let it so prevail, that he should swear to do a thing which either by giving way to his rage he should do, or by breaking his oath leave undone. But to the other, set as he was amid the libidinous frenzy of the Sodomites, who would dare to say, "Although thy guests in thine own house, whither to enter in thou by most violent humanity hast compelled them, be laid hold upon by lewd men, and being deforced be carnally known as women, fear thou not a whit, care for it not a whir, have no dread, no horror, no trembling?" What man, even a companion of those wretches, would dare to say this to the pious host? But assuredly it would be most rightly said, "Do what thou canst, that the thing be not done which thou deservedly fearest: but let not this fear of thine drive thee to do a thing which if thy daughters be willing that it be done unto them, they will through thee do wickedness with the Sodomites, if unwilling, will through thee from the Sodomites suffer violence. Commit not thou a great crime of thine own, while thou dreadest a greater crime of other men; for be the difference as great as thou wilt between thine own and that of others, this will be thine own, that other men's." Unless perchance in defending this man one should so crowd himself into a corner, as to say, "Since to receive a wrong is better than to do one, and those guests were not about to do but to suffer a wrong, that just man chose that his daughters should suffer wrong rather than his guests, acting upon his rights as his daughters' lord; and he knew that it would be no sin in them if the thing were done, because they would but bear them which did the sin, not consenting unto them, and so without sin of their own. In fine, they did not offer themselves (albeit better females than males) to be carnally known instead of those guests, lest they should be rendered guilty, not by the suffering of others' lust, but by consenting of their own will: nor yet did their father permit it to be done unto himself, when they essayed to do it, because he would not betray his guests to them, (albeit there had been less of evil, if it were done to one man than to two;) but as much as he could he resisted, lest himself also should be defiled by any assent of his own, though even if the frenzy of others' lust had prevailed by strength of body, it would not have defiled him so long as he consented not. Now as the daughters sinned not, neither did he sin in their persons, because he was not making them to sin, if they should be deforced against their will, but only to bear them that did the sin. Just as if he should offer his slaves to be beaten by ruffians, that his guests might not suffer the wrong of beating." Of which matter I shall not dispute, because it would take long to argue, whether even a master may justly use his right of power over his slave, so as to cause an unoffending slave to be smitten, that his unoffending friend may not be beaten in his house by violent bad men. But certainly, as concerning David, it is no wise right to say that he ought to have sworn to do a thing which afterwards he would perceive that he ought not to do. Whence it is clear that we ought not to take all that we read to have been done by holy or just men, and transfer the same to morals, but hence too we must learn how widely that saying of the Apostle extends, and even to what persons it reaches: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself also, lest thou be tempted." [2413] The being overtaken in a fault happens, either while one does not see at the time what is right to be done, or while, seeing it, one is overcome; that is, that a sin is done, either for that the truth is hidden, or for that infirmity compelleth.

Footnotes

[2413] Gal. vi. 1


23. But in all our doings, even good men are very greatly embarrassed in the matter of compensative sins; so that these are not esteemed to be sins, if they have such causes for the which they be done, and in the which it may seem to be rather sin, if they be left undone. And chiefly as concerning lies hath it come to this pass in the opinion of men that those lies are not accounted sins, nay rather are believed to be rightly done, when one tells a lie for the benefit of him for whom it is expedient to be deceived, or lest a person should hurt others, who seems likely to hurt unless he be got rid of by lies. In defense of these kinds of lies, very many examples from holy Scripture are accounted to lend their support. It is not, however, the same thing to hide the truth as it is to utter a lie. For although every one who lies wishes to hide what is true, yet not every one who wishes to hide what is true, tells a lie. For in general we hide truths not by telling a lie, but by holding our peace. For the Lord lied not when He said, "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." [2414] He held His peace from true things, not spoke false things; for the hearing of which truths He judged them to be less fit. But if He had not indicated this same to them, that is, that they were not able to bear the things which He was unwilling to speak, He would indeed hide nevertheless somewhat of truth but that this may be rightly done we should peradventure not know, or not have so great an example to confirm us. Whence, they who assert that it is sometimes meet to lie, do not conveniently mention that Abraham did this concerning Sarah, whom he said to be his sister. For he did not say, She is not my wife, but he said, "She is my sister;" [2415] because she was in truth so near akin, that she might without a lie be called a sister. Which also afterwards he confirmed, after she had been given back by him who had taken her, answering him and saying, "And indeed she is my sister, by father, not by mother;" that is, by the father's kindred, not the mother's. Somewhat therefore of truth he left untold, not told aught of falsehood, when he left wife untold, and told of sister. This also did his son Isaac: for him too we know to have gotten a wife near of kin. [2416] It is not then a lie, when by silence a true thing is kept back, but when by speech a false thing is put forward.

Footnotes

[2414] John xvi. 12 [2415] Gen. xx. 2, 12 [2416] Gen. xxvi. 7, and xxiv


24. Touching Jacob, however, that which he did at his mother's bidding, so as to seem to deceive his father, if with diligence and in faith it be attended to, is no lie, but a mystery. The which if we shall call lies, all parables also, and figures designed for the signifying of any things soever, which are not to be taken according to their proper meaning, but in them is one thing to be understood from another, shall be said to be lies: which be far from us altogether. For he who thinks this, may also in regard of tropical expressions of which there are so many, bring in upon all of them this calumny; so that even metaphor, as it is called, that is, the usurped transferring of any word from its proper object to an object not proper, may at this rate be called a lie. For when he speaks of waving corn-fields, of vines putting forth gems, [2417] of the bloom of youth, of snowy hairs; without doubt the waves, the gems, the bloom, the snow, for that we find them not in those objects to which we have from other transferred these words, shall by these persons be accounted lies. And Christ a Rock, and the stony heart of the Jews; also, Christ a Lion, and the devil a lion, and innumerable such like, shall be said to be lies. [2418] Nay, this tropical expression reaches even to what is called antiphrasis, as when a thing is said to abound which does not exist, a thing said to be sweet which is sour; "lucus quod non luceat, Parcæ quod non parcant." Of which kind is that in holy Scripture, "If he will not bless [2419] Thee to Thy face;" which the devil saith to the Lord concerning holy Job, and the meaning is "curse." By which word also the feigned crime of Naboth is named by his calumniators; for it is said that he "blessed [2420] the king," that is, cursed. All these modes of speaking shall be accounted lies, if figurative speech or action shall be set down as lying. But if it be no lie, when things which signify one thing by another are referred to the understanding of a truth, assuredly not only that which Jacob did or said to his father that he might be blessed, but that too which Joseph spoke as if in mockery of his brothers, [2421] and David's feigning of madness, [2422] must be judged to be no lies, but prophetical speeches and actions, to be referred to the understanding of those things which are true; which are covered as it were with a garb of figure on purpose to exercise the sense of the pious inquirer, and that they may not become cheap by lying bare and on the surface. Though even the things which we have learned from other places, where they are spoken openly and manifestly, these, when they are brought out from their hidden retreats, do, by our (in some sort) discovering of them, become renewed , and by renewal sweet. Nor is it that they are begrudged to the learners, in that they are in these ways obscured; but are presented in a more winning manner, that being as it were withdrawn, they may be desired more ardently, and being desired may with more pleasure be found. Yet true things, not false, are spoken; because true things, not false, are signified, whether by word or by deed; the things that are signified namely, those are the things spoken. They are accounted lies only because people do not understand that the true things which are signified are the things said, but believe that false things are the things said. To make this plainer by examples, attend to this very thing that Jacob did. With skins of the kids, no doubt, he did cover his limbs; if we seek the immediate cause, we shall account him to have lied; for he did this, that he might be thought to be the man he was not: but if this deed be referred to that for the signifying of which it was really done, by skins of the kids are signified sins; by him who covered himself therewith, He who bare not His own, but others' sins. The truthful signification, therefore, can in no wise be rightly called a lie. And as in deed, so also in word. Namely, when his father said to him, "Who art thou my son?" [2423] he answered, "I am Esau, thy first-born." This, if it be referred to those two twins, will seem a lie; but if to that for the signifying of which those deeds and words are written, He is here to be understood, in His body, which is His Church, Who, speaking of this thing, saith, "When ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves cast out. And they shall come from the east and from the west and from the north and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God; and, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last." [2424] For so in a certain sort the younger brother did bear off the primacy of the elder brother, and transfer it to himself. Since then things so true, and so truthfully, be signified, what is there here that ought to be accounted to have been done or said lyingly? For when the things which are signified are not in truth things which are not, but which are, whether past or present or future, without doubt it is a true signification, and no lie. But it takes too long in the matter of this prophetical signification by stripping off the shell to search out all, [2425] wherein truth hath the palm, because as by being signified they were fore-announced, so by ensuing have they become clear.

Footnotes

[2417] "Gemmare." [2418] 1 Cor. x. 4; Ezek. xxxvi. 26; Rev. v. 5; 1 Pet. v. 8 [2419] Job ii. 5, benedixerit: as LXX. eulogesei: E.V. "curse." [2420] 1 Kings xxi. 10, 13. LXX. eulogekas: E.V. "didst blaspheme." [2421] Gen. xlii [2422] 1 Sam. xxi. 13 [2423] Gen. xxvii. 16-19 [2424] Luke xiii. 28-30 [2425] Enucleate cuncta rimari


25. Nor have I undertaken that in the present discourse, as it more pertains to thee, who hast laid open the hiding-places of the Priscillianists, so far as relates to their false and perverse dogmas; that they may not seem to have been in such sort investigated as if they were meet to be taught, not to be argued against. Make it therefore more thy work that they be beaten down and laid low, as thou hast made it, that they should be betrayed and laid open; lest while we wish to get at the discovery of men practising falsehood, we allow the falsehoods themselves, as if insuperable, to stand their ground; when we ought rather even in the hearts of latent heretics to destroy falsehoods, than by sparing falsehoods to find out the deceivers who practise falsehood. Moreover, among those dogmas of theirs which are to be subverted, is this which they dogmatize, namely, that in order to hide religion religious people ought to lie, to that degree that not only concerning other matters, not pertaining to doctrine of religion, but concerning religion itself, it is meet to lie, that it may not become exposed to aliens; to wit, that one may deny Christ, in order that one may in the midst of His enemies be in secret a Christian. This impious and nefarious dogma do thou likewise, I beseech thee, overthrow; to bolster up which they in their argumentations do gather from the Scriptures testimonies to make it appear that lies are not only to be pardoned and tolerated, but even honored. To thee therefore it pertains, in refuting that detestable sect, to show that those testimonies of Scripture are so to be received, that either thou shalt teach those to be no lies which are accounted to be such, if they be understood in that manner in which they ought to be understood; or, that those are not to be imitated which be manifestly lies; or in any wise at last, that concerning those matters at least which pertain to doctrine of religion, it is in no wise meet to tell a lie. For thus are they truly from the very foundation overthrown, while that is overthrown wherein they lurk: that in that very matter they be judged least fit for us to follow, most fit to be shunned, in that they, for the hiding of their heresy, do profess themselves liars. This it is in them that must from the very first be assaulted, this which is, as it were, their fitting bulwark must with blows of Truth be battered and cast down. Nor must we afford them another lurking-place, which they had not, wherein they may take refuge, to wit, that being perhaps betrayed of them whom they have essayed to seduce but could not, they should say, "We only wanted to try them, because prudent Catholics have taught that to find out heretics it is right to do this." But it is necessary with somewhat more earnest be-speaking of thy favor to say why this seems to me a tripartite method of disputing against those who want to apply the divine Scriptures as advocates of their lies; to wit, by showing that some which are there accounted to be lies, are not what they are accounted, if rightly understood; next, that if there be there any manifest lies, they are not meet to be imitated; thirdly, contrary to all opinions of all persons who think it pertains to the duty of a good man sometimes to lie, that it must in every way be held that in doctrine of religion there must in no wise a lie be told. For these are the three things to follow up which I shortly before recommended, and in some sort enjoined thee.


26. To show then that some things in the Scriptures which are thought to be lies are not what they are thought, if they be rightly understood, let it not seem to thee to tell little against them, that it is not from Apostolic but from Prophetical books that they find as it were precedents of lying. For all those which they mention by name, in which each lied, are read in those books in which not only words but many deeds of a figurative meaning are recorded, because it was also in a figurative sense that they were done. But in figures that which is spoken as a seeming lie, being well understood, is found to be a truth. The Apostles, however, in their Epistles spoke in another sort, and in another sort are written the Acts of the Apostles, to wit, because now the New Testament was revealed, which was veiled in those prophetic figures. In short, in all those Apostolic Epistles, and in that large book in which their acts are narrated with canonical truth, we do not find any person lying, such that from him a precedent can be set forth by these men for license of lying. For that simulation of Peter and Barnabas with which they were compelling the Gentiles to Judaize, was deservedly reprehended and set right, both that it might not do harm at the time, and that it might not weigh with posterity as a thing to be imitated. For when the Apostle Paul saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel, he said to Peter in the presence of them all, "If thou, being a Jew, livest as the Gentiles; and not as do the Jews, how compellest thou the Gentiles to Judaize?" [2426] But in that which himself did, to the intent that by retaining and acting upon certain observances of the law after the Jewish custom he might show that he was no enemy to the Law and to the Prophets, far be it from us to believe that he did so as a liar. As indeed concerning this matter his sentence is sufficiently well known, whereby it was settled that neither Jews who then believed in Christ were to be prohibited from the traditions of their fathers, nor Gentiles when they became Christians to be compelled thereunto: in order that those sacred rites [2427] which were well known to have been of God enjoined, should not be shunned as sacrileges; nor yet accounted so necessary, now that the New Testament was revealed, as though without them whoso should be converted unto God, could not be saved. For there were some who thought so and preached, albeit after Christ's Gospel received; and to these had feignedly consented both Peter and Barnabas, and so were compelling the Gentiles to Judaize. For it was a compelling, to preach them to be so necessary as if, even after the Gospel received, without them were no salvation in Christ. This the error of certain did suppose, this Peter's fear did feign, this Paul's liberty did beat down. What therefore he saith, "I am made all things to all, that I might gain all," [2428] that did he, by suffering with others, not by lying. For each becomes as though he were that person whom he would fain succor, when he succoreth with the same pity wherewith he would wish himself to be succored, if himself were set in the same misery. Therefore he becomes as though he were that person, not for that he deceives him, but for that he thinks himself as him. Whence is that of the Apostle, which I have before rehearsed, "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself lest thou also be tempted." [2429] For if, because he said, "To the Jews became I as a Jew, and to them which were under the law as under the law," [2430] he is therefore to be accounted to have in a lying manner taken up the sacraments of the old law, he ought in the same manner to have taken up, in a lying way, the idolatry of the Gentiles, because he hath said that to them which were without law he became as without law; which thing in any wise he did not. For he did not any where sacrifice to idols or adore those figments and not rather freely as a martyr of Christ show that they were to be detested and eschewed. From no apostolic acts or speeches, therefore, do these men allege things meet for imitation as examples of lying. From prophetical deeds or words, then, the reason why they seem to themselves to have what they may allege, is only for that they take figures prenunciative to be lies, because they are sometimes like unto lies. But when they are referred to those things for the signifying of which they were so done or said, they are found to be significations full of truth, and therefore in no wise to be lies. A lie, namely, is a false signification with will of deceiving. But that is no false signification, where, although one thing is signified by another, yet the thing signified is a true thing, if it be rightly understood.

Footnotes

[2426] Gal. ii. 13, 14 [2427] "Sacramenta." [2428] 1 Cor. ix. 22. [See R.V.] [2429] Gal. vi. 1 [2430] 1 Cor. ix. 20


27. There are some things of this sort even of our Saviour in the Gospel, because the Lord of the Prophets deigned to be Himself also a Prophet. Such are those where, concerning the woman which had an issue of blood, He said, "Who touched Me?" [2431] and of Lazarus. "Where have ye laid him?" [2432] He asked, namely, as if not knowing that which in any wise He knew. And He did on this account feign that He knew not, that He might signify somewhat else by that His seeming ignorance: and since this signification was truthful, it was assuredly not a lie. For those were signified, whether by her which had the issue, or by him which had been four days dead, whom even He Who knew all things did in a certain sort know not. For both she bore the type of the people of the Gentiles, whereof the prophecy had gone before, "A people whom I have not known hath served Me:" [2433] and Lazarus, removed from the living, did as it were in that place lie in significative similitude where He lay, Whose voice that is, "I am cast out of the sight of thine eyes." [2434] And with that intent, as though it were not known by Christ, both who she was and where he was laid, by His words of interrogating a figure was enacted and by truthful signification all lying left apart.

Footnotes

[2431] Luke viii. 45 [2432] John xi. 34 [2433] Ps. xviii. 44--"Servivit." [2434] Ps. xxxi. 22


28. Hence is also that which thou hast mentioned that they speak of, that the Lord Jesus, after He was risen, walked in the way with two disciples; and upon their drawing near to the village whither they were going, He made as though He would have gone farther: where the Evangelist, saying, "But He Himself feigned that He would go further," [2435] hath put that very word in which liars too greatly delight, that they may with impunity lie: as if every thing that is feigned is a lie, whereas in a truthful way, for the sake of signifying one thing by another, so many things use to be feigned. If then there had been no other thing that Jesus signified, in that He feigned to be going further, with reason might it be judged to be a lie: but then if it be rightly understood and referred to that which He willed to signify, it is a mystery. Else will all things be lies which, on account of a certain similitude of things to be signified, although they never were done, are related to have been done. Of which sort is that concerning the two sons of one man, the elder who tarried with his father, and the younger who went into a far country, which is narrated so much at length. [2436] In which sort of fiction, men have put even human deeds or words to irrational animals and things without sense, that by this sort of feigned narrations but true significations, they might in more winning manner intimate the things which they wished. Nor is it only in authors of secular letters, as in Horace, [2437] that mouse speaks to mouse, and weasel to fox, that through a fictitious narration a true signification may be referred to the matter in hand; whence the like fables of Ęsop being referred to the same end, there is no man so untaught as to think they ought to be called lies: but in Holy Writ also, as in the book of Judges, the trees seek them a king, and speak to the olive, to the fig and to the vine and to the bramble. [2438] Which, in any wise, is all feigned, with intent that one may get to the thing which is intended, by a feigned narration indeed, yet not a lying one, but with a truthful signification. This I have said on account of that which is written concerning Jesus, "And Himself feigned to be going further:" lest any from this word, like the Priscillianists, wishing to have license of lying, should contend that beside others even Christ did lie. But whoso would understand what He by feigning that did prefigure, let him attend to that which He by acting did effect. For when afterwards He did go further, above all heavens, yet deserted He not His disciples. In order to signify this which in the future He did as God, at the present He feigned to do that as Man. And therefore was a veritable signification caused in that feigning to go before, because in this departure the verity of that signification did follow after. Let him therefore contend that Christ did lie by feigning, who denieth that He fulfilled by doing that which He signified.

Footnotes

[2435] Luke xxiv. 28--"Finxit." [2436] Luke xv. 11-32 [2437] Serm. ii. 6; Epist. i. 7. [2438] Judg. ix. 8-15


29. Because, therefore, lying heretics find not in the books of the New Testament any precedents of lying which are meet to be imitated, they esteem themselves to be most copious in their disputation wherein they opine that it is right to lie, when from the old prophetical books, because it doth not appear therein, save to the few who understand, to what must be referred the significative sayings and doings which as such be true, they seem to themselves to find out and allege many that be lies. But desiring to have, wherewith they may defend themselves, precedents of deceit seemingly meet to be imitated, they deceive themselves, and "their iniquity lieth unto itself." [2439] Those persons, however, of whom it is not there to be believed that they wished to prophesy, if in doing or saying they feigned aught with will of deceiving, however it may be that from the very things also which they did or said somewhat prophetical may be shapen out, being by His omnipotence afore deposited therein as a seed and pre-disposed, Who knoweth how to turn to good account even the ill-deeds of men, yet as far as regards the persons themselves, without doubt they lied. But they ought not to be esteemed meet for imitation simply for that they are found in those books which are deservedly called holy and divine: for those books contain the record of both the ill deeds and the good deeds of men; the one to be eschewed, the other to be followed after: and some are so put, that upon them is also sentence passed; some, with no judgment there expressed, are left permitted for us to judge of: because it was meet that we should not only be nourished by that which is plain, but exercised by that which is obscure.

Footnotes

[2439] Ps. 26 (Heb. xxvii), 12. "Mentitur eorum iniquitas sibi." LXX. epseusato he adikia heaute. Heb. and E.V. "And such as breathe out cruelty."


30. But why do these persons think they may imitate Tamar telling a lie, and not think they may imitate Judah committing fornication? [2440] For there they have read both, and nought of these hath that Scripture either blamed or praised, but has merely narrated both, and to our judgment dismissed both: but it is marvellous if it hath permitted aught of these to be imitated with impunity. For, that Tamar not through lust of playing the harlot, but through wish of conceiving seed, did tell the lie, we know. But fornication also, howbeit Judah's was not such, yet some man's may be such whereby to procure that a man may be delivered, just as her lie was in order that a man might be conceived; is it right then to commit fornication on this account, if on that account it is thought that it was right to lie? Not therefore concerning lying only, but concerning all works of men in which there arise as it were compensative sins, must we consider what sentence we ought to pass; lest we open a way not only to small sins whatsoever, but even to all wickednesses, and there remain no outrageous, flagitious, sacrilegious deed, in which there may not arise a cause upon which it may rightly seem a thing meet to be done, and so universal probity of life be by that opinion subverted.

Footnotes

[2440] Gen. xxxviii. 14-18


31. But he who says that some lies are just, must be judged to say no other than that some sins are just, and therefore some things are just which are unjust: than which what can be more absurd? For whence is a thing a sin, but for that it is contrary to justice? Be it said then that some sins are great, some small, because it is true; and let us not listen to the Stoics who maintain all to be equal: but to say that some sins are unjust, some just, what else is it than to say that there be some unjust, some just iniquities? When the Apostle John saith, "Every man who doeth sin, doeth also iniquity and sin is iniquity." [2441] It is impossible therefore that a sin should be just, unless when we put the name of sin upon another thing in which one doth not sin, but either doeth or suffereth aught for sin. Namely, both sacrifices for sins are named "sins," and the punishments of sins are sometimes called sins. These doubtless can be understood to be just sins, when just sacrifices are spoken of, or just punishments. But those things which are done against God's law cannot be just. It is said unto God, "Thy law is truth:" [2442] and consequently, what is against truth cannot be just. Now who can doubt that every lie is against truth? Therefore there can be no just lie. Again, what man doth not see clearly that every thing which is just is of the truth? And John crieth out, "No lie is of the truth." [2443] No lie therefore is just. Wherefore, when from holy Scriptures are proposed to us examples of lying, either they are not lies, but are thought to be so while they are not understood; or, if lies they be, they are not meet to be imitated, because they cannot be just.

Footnotes

[2441] 1 John iii. 4. [See R.V.] [2442] Ps. cxix. 142 [2443] 1 John. ii. 21


32. But, as for that which is written, that God did good to the Hebrew midwives, and to Rahab the harlot of Jericho, [2444] this was not because they lied, but because they were merciful to God's people. That therefore which was rewarded in them was, not their deceit, but their benevolence; benignity of mind, not iniquity of lying. [2445] For, as it would not be marvellous and absurd if God on account of good works after done by them should be willing to forgive some evil works at another time before committed, so it is not to be marvelled at that God beholding at one time, in one cause, both these, that is, the thing done of mercy and the thing done of deceit, did both reward the good, and for the sake of this good forgive that evil. For if sins which are done of carnal concupiscence, not of mercy, are for the sake of after works of mercy remitted, [2446] why are not those through merit of mercy remitted which of mercy itself are committed? For more grievous is a sin which with purpose of hurting, than that which with purpose of helping, is wrought. And consequently if that is blotted out by a work of mercy thereafter following, why is this, which is less heinous, not blotted out by the mercy itself of the man, both going before that he may sin, and going along with him while he sins? So indeed it may seem: but in truth it is one thing to say, "I ought not to have sinned, but I will do works of mercy whereby I may blot out the sin which I did before;" and another to say, "I ought to sin, because I cannot else show mercy." It is, I say, one thing to say, "Because we have already sinned, let us do good," and another to say, "Let us sin, that we may do good." There it is said, "Let us do good, because we have done evil;" but here, "Let us do evil that good may come." [2447] And, consequently, there we have to drain off the sink of sin, here to beware of a doctrine which teacheth to sin.

Footnotes

[2444] Exod. i. 17-20; Josh. ii., and vi. 25 [2445] Mentis, mentientis [2446] Dimittuntur [2447] Rom. iii. 8


33. It remains then that we understand as concerning those women, whether in Egypt or in Jericho, that for their humanity and mercy they received a reward, in any wise temporal, which indeed itself, while they wist not of it, should by prophetical signification prefigure somewhat eternal. But whether it be ever right, even for the saving of a man's life, to tell a lie, as it is a question in resolving which even the most learned do weary themselves, it did vastly surpass the capacity of those poor women, set in the midst of those nations, and accustomed to those manners. Therefore their ignorance in this as well as in those other things of which they were alike unknowing, but which are to be known by the children not of this world but of that which is to come, the patience of God did bear withal: Who yet, for their human kindness which they had shown to His servants, rendered unto them rewards of an earthly sort, albeit signifying somewhat of an heavenly. And Rahab, indeed, delivered out of Jericho, made transition into the people of God, where, being proficient, she might attain to eternal and immortal prizes which are not to be sought by any lie. Yet at that time when she did for the Israelite spies that good, and, for her condition of life, laudable work, she was not as yet such that it should be required of her, "In your mouth let Yea be yea, Nay nay." [2448] But as for those midwives, albeit Hebrewesses, if they savored only after the flesh, what or how great is the good they got of their temporal reward in that they made them houses, unless by making proficiency they attained unto that house of which is sung unto God, "Blessed are they that dwell in thine house; for ever and ever they will praise thee?" [2449] It must be confessed, however, that it approacheth much unto righteousness, and though not yet in reality, even now in respect of hopefulness and disposition that mind is to be praised, which never lies except with intention and will to do good to some man, but to hurt no man. But as for us, when we ask whether it be the part of a good man sometimes to lie, we ask not concerning a person pertaining to Egypt, or to Jericho, or to Babylon, or still to Jerusalem itself, the earthly, which is in bondage with her children; [2450] but concerning a citizen of that city which is above and free, our mother, eternal in the heavens. And to our asking it is answered, "No lie is of the truth." [2451] The sons of that city, are sons of the Truth. That city's sons are they of whom it is written,"In their mouth was found no lie:" [2452] son of that city is he of whom is also written, "A son receiving the word shall be far from destruction: but receiving, he hath received that for himself, and nothing false proceedeth out of his mouth." [2453] These sons of Jerusalem on high, and of the holy city eternal, if ever, as they be men, a lie of what kind soever doth worm itself into them, they ask humbly for pardon, not therefrom seek moreover glory.

Footnotes

[2448] Matt. v. 37 [2449] Ps. lxxxiv. 4 [2450] Gal. iv. 25, 26 [2451] 1 John ii. 21 [2452] Rev. xiv. 5 [2453] Prov. xxix. 27. Lat. (not in Hebrew).


34. But some man will say, Would then those midwives and Rahab have done better if they had shown no mercy, by refusing to lie? Nay verily, those Hebrew women, if they were such as that sort of persons of whom we ask whether they ought ever to tell a lie, would both eschew to say aught false, and would most frankly refuse that foul service of killing the babes. But, thou wilt say, themselves would die. Yea, but see what follows. They would die with an heavenly habitation for their incomparably more ample reward than those houses which they made them on earth could be: they would die, to be in eternal felicity, after enduring of death for most innocent truth. What of her in Jericho? Could she do this? Would she not, if she did not by telling a lie deceive the inquiring citizens, by speaking truth betray the lurking guests? Or could she say [2454] to their questionings, I know where they are; but I fear God, I will not betray them? She could indeed say this, were she already a true Israelitess in whom was no guile: [2455] which thing she was about to be, when through the mercy of God passing over into the city of God. But they, hearing this (thou wilt say), would slay her, would search the house. But did it follow that they would also find them, whom she had diligently concealed? For in the foresight of this, that most cautious woman had placed them where they would have been able to remain undiscovered if she, telling a lie, should not be believed. So both she, if after all she had been slain by her countrymen for the work of mercy, would have ended this life, which must needs come to an end, by a death precious in the sight of the Lord, [2456] and towards them her benefit had not been in vain. But, thou wilt say, "What if the men who sought them, in their thorough-going search had come to the place where she had concealed them?" In this fashion it may be said: What if a most vile and base woman, not only telling, but swearing a lie, had not got them to believe her? Of course even so would the things have been like to come to pass, through fear of which she lied. And where do we put the will and power of God? or haply was He not able to keep both her, neither telling a lie to her own townsmen, nor betraying men of God, and them, being His, safe from all harm? For by Whom also after the woman's lie they were guarded, by Him could they, even if she had not lied, have in any wise been guarded. Unless perchance we have forgotten that this did come to pass in Sodom, where males burning towards males with hideous lust could not so much as find the door of the house in which were the men they sought; when that just man, in a case altogether most similar, would not tell a lie for his guests, whom he knew not to be Angels, and feared lest they should suffer a violence worse than death. And doubtless, he might have given the seekers the like answer as that woman gave in Jericho. For it was in precisely the like manner that they sought by interrogating. But that just person was not willing that for the bodies of his guests his soul should be spotted by his own telling of a lie, for which bodies he was willing that the bodies of his daughters by iniquity of others' lust should be deforced. [2457] Let then a man do even for the temporal safety of men what he can; but when it comes to that point that to consult for such saving of them except by sinning is not in his power, thenceforth let him esteem himself not to have what he may do, when he shall perceive that only to be left him which he may not rightly do. Therefore, touching Rahab in Jericho, because she entertained strangers, men of God, because in entertaining of them she put herself in peril, because she believed on their God, because she diligently hid them where she could, because she gave them most faithful counsel of returning by another way, let her be praised as meet to be imitated even by the citizens of Jerusalem on high. But in that she lied, although somewhat therein as prophetical be intelligently expounded, yet not as meet to be imitated is it wisely propounded: albeit that God hath those good things memorably honored, this evil thing mercifully overlooked.

Footnotes

[2454] mss. and edd. "An posset;" but Ben. ed. propose "an non posset," "Could she not?" [2455] John i. 47 [2456] Ps. cxvi. 15 [2457] Gen. xix. 5-11


35. Since these things are so, because it were too long to treat thoroughly of all that in that "Pound" [2458] of Dictinius are set down as precedents of lying, meet to be imitated, it seemeth to me that this is the rule to which not only these, but whatever such there be, must be reduced. Namely, either what is believed to be a lie must be shown not to be such; whether it be where a truth is left untold, and yet no falsehood told; or where a true signification willeth one thing to be understood of another, which kind of figurative either sayings or doings abounds in the prophetical writings. Or, those which are convicted to be lies, must be proved to be not meet to be imitated: and if any (as other sins) should stealthily creep in upon us, we are not to attribute righteousness to them, but to ask pardon for them. So indeed it seems to me, and to this sentence the things above disputed do compel me.

Footnotes

[2458] Or "Balance."


36. But for that we are men and among men do live, and I confess that I am not yet in the number of them whom compensative sins embarrass not, it oft befalleth me in human affairs to be overcome by human feeling, nor am I able to resist when it is said to me, "Lo, here is a sick man in peril of his life with a grievous disease, whose strength will no more be able to bear it, if the death of his only and most dear son be announced to him; he asks of thee whether his son liveth, and thou knowest that he is departed this life; what wilt thou reply, when, whatever thou shall say beside one of these three; either, He is dead; or, He liveth; or, I know not; he believes no other than that he is dead; which thing he perceives thee to be afraid to tell, and unwilling to tell a lie?" It comes to the same thing, if thou altogether hold thy peace. But of those three, two are false, He liveth, and, I know not; and they cannot be said by thee but by telling a lie. Whereas if thou shall say that one thing which is true, that is, that he is dead, and the man be so perturbed that death follow, people will cry out that thou hast killed him. And who can bear men casting up to him what a mischief it is to shun a lie that might save life, and to choose truth which murders a man? I am moved by these objections exceedingly, but it were marvelous whether also wisely. For, when I shall set before the eyes of my heart (such as they be) the intellectual [2459] beauty of Him out of Whose mouth nothing false proceedeth, albeit where truth in her radiance doth more and more brighten upon me, there my weak and throbbing sense is beaten back: yet I am with love of that surpassing comeliness so set on fire, that I despise all human regards which would thence recall me. But it is much that this affection persevere to that degree, that in temptation it lack not its effect. Nor doth it move me while contemplating that luminous Good in which is no darkness of a lie, that, when we refuse to lie, and men through hearing of a truth do die, truth is called a murderer. For if a lewd woman crave of thee the gratification of her lust, and, when thou consentest not, she perturbed with the fierceness of her love should die, will chastity also be a murderer? Or, truly, because we read, "We are a sweet savor of Christ in every place, both in them which are saved and in them which perish;" [2460] to the one, indeed, a savor of life unto life, to others a savor of death unto death; shall we pronounce even the savor of Christ to be a murderer? But, for that we, being men, are in questions and contradictions of this sort for the most part overcome or wearied out by our feeling as men, for that very reason hath the Apostle also presently subjoined, "And who is sufficient for these things?"

Footnotes

[2459] Intelligibilem [2460] 2 Cor. ii. 15, 16. [See R.V.]


37. Add to this, (and here is cause to cry out more piteously,) that, if once we grant it to have been right for the saving of that sick man's life to tell him the lie, that his son was alive, then, by little and little and by minute degrees, the evil so grows upon us, and by slight accesses to such a heap of wicked lies does it, in its almost imperceptible encroachments, at last come, that no place can ever be any where found on which this huge mischief, by smallest additions rising into boundless strength, might be resisted. Wherefore, most providently is it written, "He that despiseth small things shall fall by little and little." [2461] Nay more: for these persons who are so enamored of this life, that they hesitate not to prefer it to truth, that a man may not die, say rather, that a man who must some time die may die somewhat later, would have us not only to lie, but even to swear fasely; to wit, that, lest the vain health of man should somewhat more quickly pass away, we should take the name of the Lord our God in vain! And there are among them learned men who even fix rules, and set bounds when it is a duty, when not a duty, to commit perjury! O, where are ye, fountains of tears? And what shall we do? whither go? where hide us from the ire of truth, if we not only neglect to shun lies, but dare moreover to teach perjuries? For look they well to it, who uphold and defend lying, what kind, or what kinds, of lying they shall delight to justify: at least in the worship of God let them grant that there must be no lying; at least let them keep themselves from perjuries and blasphemies; at least there, where God's name, where God as witness, where God's oath [2462] is interposed, where God's religion is the matter of discourse or colloquy, let none lie, none praise, none teach and enjoin, none justify a lie: of the other kinds of lies let him choose him out that which he accounteth to be the mildest and most innocent kind of lying, he who will have it to be right to lie. This I know, that even he who teaches that it is meet to tell lies, wishes to be thought to teach a truth. For if it be false which he teaches, who would care to give heed to false doctrine, in which both he deceives that teaches and he is deceived that learns? But if, in order that he may be able to find some disciple, he upholds that he teaches a truth when he teaches that it is meet to lie, how will that lie be of the truth, when the Apostle John reclaimeth, "No lie is of the truth?" [2463] It is therefore not true, that it is sometimes right to lie; and that which is not true to no man is at all to be persuaded.

Footnotes

[2461] Ecclus. xix. 1 [2462] "Sacramentum." [2463] 1 John ii. 21


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.


39. But, some man will say, "Strong meat is for them that are perfect." [2464] 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. [2465] 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

[2464] Heb. v. 14 [2465] 1 Tim. i. 13


40. But sometimes a peril to eternal salvation itself is put forth against us; [2466] which peril, they cry out, we by telling a lie, if otherwise it cannot be, must ward off. As, for instance, if a person who is to be baptized be in the power of impious and infidel men, and cannot be got at that he may be washed with the laver of regeneration, but by deceiving his keepers with a lie. From this most invidious cry, by which we are compelled, not for a man's wealth or honors in this world which are fleeting by, not for the life itself of this present time, but for the eternal salvation of a human being, to tell a lie, whither shall I betake me for refuge but unto thee, O truth? And by thee is put forth before me, [2467] Chastity. For why, if those keepers may be enticed to admit us to baptize the man, by our committing lewdness, do we refuse to do things contrary to chastity, and yet, if by a lie they may be deceived, consent to do things contrary to truth? when without doubt no man would faithfully think chastity amiable, but because it is enjoined of truth? So then, to get at a man to baptize him, let the keepers be deceived by lying, if truth bid it. But how can truth bid in order that a man may be baptized, that we should tell a lie, if chastity biddeth not, in order that a man be baptized, that we should commit whoredom? Now why doth chastity not bid this, but because this truth teacheth not? If then, save what truth teacheth, we ought not to do, when truth teacheth not even for the sake of baptizing a man to do what is contrary to chastity, how shall she teach us to do for the sake of baptizing a man what is contrary to herself, the truth? But like as eyes not strong enough to look upon the sun yet do gladly look upon the objects which are by the sun enlightened, so, souls which have already strength to delight in the beauty of chastity are yet not straightway able to consider in her very self that truth whence charity hath her light, insomuch that when it cometh to the doing of somewhat that is adverse to truth, they should so start back in horror as they do start back in horror if aught be proposed to be done that is adverse to chastity. But that son, who, receiving the word shall be far from perdition, and nothing false cometh forth of his mouth, [2468] accounts it as much debarred from him if, to the succoring of his fellow man he be urged to pass through a lie, as if it were through the deed of lewdness. And the Father heareth and granteth his prayer that he may avail without a lie to succor whom the Father Himself, Whose judgments are unsearchable, willeth to be succored. Such a son therefore so keeps watch against a lie, as he doth against sin. For indeed sometimes the name of lie is put for the name of sin: whence is that saying, "All men are liars." [2469] For it is so said, as if it were said, "All men are sinners." And that: "But if the truth of God hath abounded through my lie." [2470] And therefore, when he lies as a man he sins as a man, and will be held by that sentence in which it is said, "All men are liars;" and, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." [2471] But when nothing false cometh forth of his mouth, according to that grace will it so be, of which is said: "He that is born of God, sinneth not." [2472] For were this nativity by itself alone in us, no man would sin: and when it shall be alone, no man will sin. But now, we as yet drag on that which we were born corruptible: although, according to that which we are new-born, if we walk aright, from day to day we are renewed inwardly. [2473] But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, life will swallow it up wholly, and not a sting of death will remain. [2474] Now this sting of death is sin.

Footnotes

[2466] Opponitur. [2467] Proponitur. [2468] Prov. xxix. 27. Lat. [2469] Ps. cxvi. 11. [See R.V.] [2470] Rom. iii. 7 [2471] 1 John i. 8 [2472] 1 John iii. 9 [2473] 2 Cor. iv. 16 [2474] 1 Cor. xv. 53-56. [See R.V.]


41. Either then we are to eschew lies by right doing, or to confess them by repenting: but not, while they unhappily abound in our living, to make them more by teaching also. But let him who thinks this, choose out whereby he may help his fellow man being in peril, to what safety he will, what kinds soever of lies; provided yet even of such men we obtain our demand, that upon no cause must we be carried on to false-swearing and to blaspheming. These wickednesses at least let us judge either greater than deeds of lewdness, or certainly not smaller. For indeed it is worth thinking of, that very often men, where they suspect them of adultery, challenge their wives to an oath: which surely they would not do, unless they believed that even they who were not afraid to perpetrate adultery, might be afraid of perjury. Because in fact also some lewd women who were not afraid by unlawful embraces to deceive their husbands, have been afraid to call God deceitfully to witness unto those same husbands whom they had deceived. What cause then can there be, that a chaste and religious person should be unwilling by adultery to help a man to baptism, yet be willing to help him by perjury, which even adulterers are wont to dread? And then, if it be shocking to do this by perjuring one's self, how much rather by blaspheming? Far be it then from a Christian to deny and blaspheme Christ, that he may make another man a Christian; and by losing himself seek to find one, whom, if he teach him such things, he may cause to be lost when found. The book then which is called "the Pound," thou must in this method refute and destroy; namely, that head of it in which they dogmatize that for the purpose of concealing religion a lie may be told, this thou shall understand must be the first to be amputated; in such manner, that their testimonies by which they labor to advance the Holy Books as patrons of their lies, thou must demonstrate partly not to be lies, partly, even those which are such, to be not meet to be imitated: and if infirmity usurps to herself thus much, that somewhat shall be venially permitted unto her which truth approve not, yet that thou unshakenly hold and defend, that in divine religion it is at no time whatever right to tell a lie. And, as for concealed heretics, that, as we are not to find out concealed adulterers by committing of adulteries, nor murderers by committing of murders, nor practisers of black arts [2475] by practising of black arts, so neither must we seek to find out liars by telling lies or blasphemers by blaspheming: according to the reasonings which we have in this volume so copiously set forth, that unto the goal of the same, which we fixed to be in this place, we have with difficulty come at last.

Footnotes

[2475] Maleficos
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