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From the Retractations, Book II, Chapter 60:
Then 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.
1. A great deal for me to read have you 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 you, 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 your eloquence, and memory of the holy Scripture, and cleverness of wit, and the resentment with which you bite negligent Catholics, and the zeal with which you gnash 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? A thing which you see how the Apostle detests. 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,
You hate, Lord, all that work iniquity; You will destroy all that speak leasing. For he has not excepted some, or said indefinitely,
You will destroy them that speak leasing; so as to permit some, not all, to be understood: but it is an universal sentence that he has passed, saying,
You will destroy all who speak leasing. Or, because it is not said, You will 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?
2. Do you not perceive how much this reasoning aids the very persons whom as great game we make ado to catch by our lies? For, as yourself 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 speaks the truth in his heart: 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 hears 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. Meaning, that with them who are not our neighbors in society of the truth, nor, so to say, our co-members, it is lawful and right to speak a lie.
3. Which sentence dishonors the holy Martyrs, nay rather takes 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 spoke 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 believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation; and,
In their mouth was found no lie: 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; 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 yours to defend: to this I exhort you, my brother, that you may be against liars, not a teacher of lying, but an asserter of truth. For, I pray you, attend diligently to what I say, that you may 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.
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 you, should (though far be the thought!) say some things falsely; he would have hurt himself assuredly, not you, although you, without iniquity of yours, had believed all, upon his telling it. Because, whether those things did so take place or not so, yet they have not anything, 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 whoever 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 believes them, what though he do not find them out, himself perishes 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, whoever 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 whoever believes 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, whoever 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, whoever 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, whoever believes Catholics when they tell a lie to tempt people, is either made or confirmed a heretic; but whoever believes heretics when they tell a lie to conceal themselves, does 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 you have 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 has 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, does in the same death sink, and hold it down. But, you will 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 has 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 you shall say, I did this then only to catch you: but what will you answer when he says, Whence then do I know whether you are not doing it even now, lest you 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? Do you see 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 says, 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 says 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, do you say:
for this the Priscillianist says, 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 has the blindness of thinking false things, but in them has at least the will of saying true things; the other in secret sees truth, and willingly speaks false.
But the one; you will say,
teaches this, that he may make men partakers of his error and madness: the latter says 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 preferrs 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, 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.
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, says he,
I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly. 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.
10. Ever, my brother, in such cases, it behooves with fear to recollect,
Whoever shall deny Me before men, I will deny him before My Father which is in heaven. 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 you, 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?
But, hidden wolves, you will 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 gives the Lord, when He has 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 behooves you to bestow your pains, since God has bestowed the gift that you can 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 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.
But, you will 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 has not said, no, not when He foretold that He would send them forth in the midst of wolves. But you will 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 you may find them out, assume wolves' clothing, but within be ye sheep still? Not this says He: but when he had said,
Many will come to you in sheep's clothing, but within are ravening wolves; He went on to say, not, By your lies, but,
By their fruits you 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.
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 believes unto righteousness, it was added to no purpose,
with the mouth confession is made unto salvation? 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, 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?
14. Wherefore, that which is written,
Who speaks the truth in his heart, 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 profits him nothing, if he hold it not in his heart, that is, if what he speaks, 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 speaks truth in his heart. Now this truth the catholic as in his heart he speaks, because so he believes, 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 speaks truth in his heart, presently this is added,
Who has used no deceit in his tongue.
>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, 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. 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.
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 says 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 says of those,
Whether in pretence or in truth Christ be preached: but in no wise would he say, In order that Christ may after be preached, let Him be first denied.
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 wills 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 wills 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 anything is said to be done not after the purpose of the mind, which yet were not done, unless the mind decreed it to be done.
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 built? 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 needs? 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 punishes a thief, albeit he shall say and show that he therefore withdrew superfluities from a rich that he might afford necessaries to a poor man; if deservedly she punishes 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 punishes 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 has 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 you, when the Apostle says,
Neither yield ye your members instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; 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 has 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?
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 has there arisen a case in which a just man thought it his duty to do this, when the Sodomites with nefarious onset of lust were rushing upon his guests. For he said,
I have two daughters which have not known man; I will bring them out to you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do ye no wrong, for that they have come under covering of my roof. What shall we say here? Do we not so abhor the wickedness which the Sodomites were attempting to do to the guests of the just man, that, whatever were done so this were not done, he should deem right to be done? Very much also moves 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 you be wicked, I will be more wicked, or unless you 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? My 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 sins, it shall die.
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, 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; the other too might say,
My eye was troubled through wrath: 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.
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 your guests in your own house, whither to enter in you by most violent humanity have compelled them, be laid hold upon by lewd men, and being deforced be carnally known as women, fear 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 you can, that the thing be not done which you deservedly fear: but let not this fear of yours drive you to do a thing which if your daughters be willing that it be done unto them, they will through you do wickedness with the Sodomites, if unwilling, will through you from the Sodomites suffer violence. Commit not a great crime of your own, while you dread a greater crime of other men; for be the difference as great as you will between your own and that of others, this will be your 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, you which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering yourself also, lest you be tempted. 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 compels.
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 has 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 you cannot bear them now. 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 perhaps 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; 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 anything 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. 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.
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 grain-fields, of vines putting forth gems, 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. 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 You to Your face; which the devil says 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 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, and David's feigning of madness, 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 way be rightly called a lie. And as in deed, so also in word. Namely, when his father said to him,
Who are you my son? he answered,
I am Esau, your 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, says,
When you 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. 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, wherein truth has the palm, because as by being signified they were fore-announced, so by ensuing have they become clear.
25. Nor have I undertaken that in the present discourse, as it more pertains to you, 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 your work that they be beaten down and laid low, as you have 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 likewise, I beseech you, 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 you therefore it pertains, in refuting that detestable sect, to show that those testimonies of Scripture are so to be received, that either you shall 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 your 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 you.
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 you 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 you, being a Jew, livest as the Gentiles; and not as do the Jews, how do you compel the Gentiles to Judaize? 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 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 whoever 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 says,
I am made all things to all, that I might gain all, 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 succors 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, you which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 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, 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 has 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 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.
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? and of Lazarus.
Where have ye laid him? 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 has served Me: 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 your eyes. 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.
28. Hence is also that which you have 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, has 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. 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, 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 Æsop 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. 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 whoever 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 denies that He fulfilled by doing that which He signified.
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 does 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 lies unto itself. Those persons, however, of whom it is not there to be believed that they wished to prophesy, if in doing or saying they feigned anything 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 knows 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.
30. But why do these persons think they may imitate Tamar telling a lie, and not think they may imitate Judah committing fornication? For there they have read both, and nought of these has that Scripture either blamed or praised, but has merely narrated both, and to our judgment dismissed both: but it is marvellous if it has permitted anything 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.
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 says,
Every man who does sin, does also iniquity and sin is iniquity. It is impossible therefore that a sin should be just, unless when we put the name of sin upon another thing in which one does not sin, but either does or suffers anything 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 to God,
Your law is truth: 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 does not see clearly that every thing which is just is of the truth? And John cries out,
No lie is of the truth. 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.
32. But, as for that which is written, that God did good to the Hebrew midwives, and to Rahab the harlot of Jericho, 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. 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, 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. And, consequently, there we have to drain off the sink of sin, here to beware of a doctrine which teaches to sin.
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 knew 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. 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 your house; for ever and ever they will praise you? It must be confessed, however, that it approaches 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; 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. 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: son of that city is he of whom is also written,
A son receiving the word shall be far from destruction: but receiving, he has received that for himself, and nothing false proceeds out of his mouth. These sons of Jerusalem on high, and of the holy city eternal, if ever, as they be men, a lie of whatever kind worms itself into them, they ask humbly for pardon, not therefrom seek moreover glory.
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 anything false, and would most frankly refuse that foul service of killing the babes. But, you will 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 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: which thing she was about to be, when through the mercy of God passing over into the city of God. But they, hearing this (you will 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, and towards them her benefit had not been in vain. But, you will 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. 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 has those good things memorably honored, this evil thing mercifully overlooked.
35. Since these things are so, because it were too long to treat thoroughly of all that in that
Pound of Dictinius are set down as precedents of lying, meet to be imitated, it seems 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 wills 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.
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 befalls 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 you whether his son lives, and you know that he is departed this life; what will you reply, when, whatever you shall say beside one of these three; either, He is dead; or, He lives; or, I know not; he believes no other than that he is dead; which thing he perceives you to be afraid to tell, and unwilling to tell a lie? It comes to the same thing, if you altogether hold your peace. But of those three, two are false, He lives, and, I know not; and they cannot be said by you but by telling a lie. Whereas if you 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 you have 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 beauty of Him out of Whose mouth nothing false proceeds, albeit where truth in her radiance does 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 does 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 you the gratification of her lust, and, when you consent 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; 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 has the Apostle also presently subjoined,
And who is sufficient for these things?
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, little by 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 despises small things shall fall little by little. 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 you, 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 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 accounts 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 reclaims,
No lie is of the truth? 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.
38. But infirmity pleads 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 whoever 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 has 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 dwells 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. For in many things a relaxation by way of indulgence is allowed to infirmity, although in her utmost sincerity the things be nowise pleasing to truth. Let him say this, whoever dreads not the consequences which are to be dreaded, if once there shall be in any way any lies permitted. In nowise, however, must they be permitted to climb up to such a height as to reach to perjuries and blasphemies: nor must any plea whatever be held out, for which it should be right that perjury should be committed, or, what is more execrable, that God should be blasphemed. For it does not follow that because the blaspheming is only in pretence and a lie, therefore He is not blasphemed. For at this rate it might be said that perjury is not committed, because it is by a lie that it is committed: for who can be by truth a perjurer? So also by truth can no man be a blasphemer. Doubtless it is a milder kind of false swearing, when a person does not know that thing to be false and believes it to be true, which he swears: like as also Saul blasphemed more excusably, because he did it ignorantly. But the reason why it is worse to blaspheme than to perjure one's self, is, that in false swearing God is taken to witness a false thing, but in blaspheming false things are spoken of God Himself. Now by so much is a man more inexcusable, whether perjurer or blasphemer, by how much the more, while asserting the things wherein they perjure or blaspheme, they know or believe them to be false. Whoever therefore says that for an imperilled man's temporal safety or life a lie may be told, does 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.
40. But sometimes a peril to eternal salvation itself is put forth against us; 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 you, O truth? And by you is put forth before me, 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 bids not, in order that a man be baptized, that we should commit whoredom? Now why does chastity not bid this, but because this truth teaches not? If then, save what truth teaches, we ought not to do, when truth teaches 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 has her light, insomuch that when it comes 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 anything 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 comes forth of his mouth, 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 hears and grants his prayer that he may avail without a lie to succor whom the Father Himself, Whose judgments are unsearchable, wills to be succored. Such a son therefore so keeps watch against a lie, as he does against sin. For indeed sometimes the name of lie is put for the name of sin: whence is that saying,
All men are liars. For it is so said, as if it were said,
All men are sinners. And that:
But if the truth of God has abounded through my lie. 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. But when nothing false comes forth of his mouth, according to that grace will it so be, of which is said:
He that is born of God, sins not. 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. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, life will swallow it up wholly, and not a sting of death will remain. Now this sting of death is sin.
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, whatever kinds 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, you 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 you 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, you 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 you 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 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.
Source. Translated by H. Browne. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 3. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1313.htm>.
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