For Lessons on Lying from “The Catechism Made Easy” (with a Little Help from the Rolling Stones)

The subject of “lying for Jesus,” as Mark Shea puts it, has been rolling through the Catholic blog-o-sphere in light of the tactics used by the Pro-Life group Live Action.

I even posted a little piece comparing many of the commentators to characters from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. I dubbed Mark Shea as “Faramir” because that character said, “I would not snare even an orc with a falsehood.” Mark states his case based on what the Catechism says about lying.

Below, from the handy, dandy YIMCatholic Bookshelf, is a selection I found in a book titled The Catechism Made Easy: Being a Familiar Explanation of the Catechism of Christian Doctrine. Written by Fr. Henry Gibson, formerly a prison and reform school chaplain, the title page includes these simple words from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians,

“Except you utter by the tongue plain speech, how shall it be known what is said? For you shall be speaking into the air.” —1 Cor. xiv. 9.

Ouch! See? I told you being a Christian is hard! Published in 1882, we’ve forgotten a lot of this great stuff written by our Catholic forefathers. This is from the section in Fr. Henry’s book about the Eighth Commandment, with practical examples included at no additional charge.

Oh no, not again!

The Eighth Commandment. What it forbids. False Testimony, Rash Judgment, Lies, Calumny, Detraction, and Talebearing—Obligation of Restitution. What the Eighth Commandment commands.

Q. What is the Eighth Commandment?

A. The Eighth Commandment is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

The next sin which we speak of—that of telling lies— is one against which I am particularly anxious to warn you, both because it is, unhappily, very common among children, and because it is the root of many other vices. To tell a lie, is to say what we believe to be untrue. If we believe that we are speaking the truth, and happen to be mistaken, it is not a lie; on the other hand, if we say what we believe to be false, and it turns out to be true, it is really a lie in the sight of God.

All lies are sinful, because they are all directly opposed to Divine Truth, which is one of the most admirable Perfections of the Almighty. Moreover, they are an abuse of that most excellent gift of speech, which God has given us to enable us to make our thoughts known to our fellow-men; whereas the liar uses his speech to conceal his thoughts and deceive his neighbor. But though all lies are sinful, they are not all equally sinful; some are much more grievous than others.

The worst lie of all is that which is told in confession by him who conceals a sin, for such a lie is a sacrilegious lie, a lie told to God himself, and is a profanation of a holy Sacrament. The lie next in guilt is that which is told to injure our neighbor’s character; for example, when a person gives false testimony in a court of justice, or when he spreads abroad calumnies against his neighbor, accusing him of crimes which he has never committed. Such lies are called malicious lies, because they are told through malice on purpose to injure others, and they are very grievous sins.

But there are other lies which are much less in guilt, namely, lies of excuse and lies of jest. These lies are sometimes called by foolish people white lies, as if that which is black in its very nature could ever become white. It is true that they may not cause our neighbor any injury, but still they are displeasing to God and hurtful to the soul. They displease God, because he is the very Truth, and as the Scripture says, “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. xii. 22). They are hurtful to the soul, not only on account of the wound they inflict upon it, but also because a habit of lying is thereby formed, which is the foundation of many vices.

If a child is a habitual liar, depend upon it that, if not cured of this vice in time, he will grow up both a hypocrite and a thief, for truth is the twin sister of candor and honesty. “Show me a liar,” says the proverb, “and I will show you a thief.” Moreover, to tell a lie to excuse yourself is an act of cowardice, and shows a certain weakness of character and principle, which may well cause us to fear that so feeble and timid a soul will soon fall a prey to its evil passions and the temptations of the devil. Be always, then, my dear children, most exact in speaking the truth, and pray to God to give you a great love of this excellent virtue which is so pleasing to him. Remember that if you love and always speak the truth, you are in a special manner the children of God, who is the Divine Truth.

On the contrary, if you have a habit of lying, you are the children of the devil, who is, as our Blessed Lord says, a liar and the father of lies (John viii, 44). You must not tell the smallest lie even to save the whole world, for it is better that the world should be destroyed than that God should be offended. Much less, then, should you tell a lie to save yourself from a scolding or a beating, which are soon over, and moreover, are intended for your good. If you have done wrong, be sorry for it and own it, then you are soon forgiven both by God and your parents; whereas if you try to hide it by a lie, you are guilty of a fresh sin, and one often much greater than the fault you first committed.

Listen to these two lines of one of our own poets on this subject; they are well worth remembering—

“Dare to be true, nothing can need a lie;
The sin that needs it most grows two thereby.” -George Herbert

Yes, dare to be true. Be brave enough to speak the truth, for it is an act of true courage. Your parents or teachers may punish you, but they will respect and trust you, the Saints and Angels will look down on you with approval, God will hear and will reward you. Nothing can need a lie, because nothing can excuse it. Moreover the sin you have committed, and that seems to need it most, grows two thereby, since you offend God doubly, and thus make it far more difficult to obtain his pardon.

And depend upon it, sooner or later the liar will be found out in his lies, for, as the proverb says, “truth will out.” In conclusion, what is more contemptible than the character of a liar, whose word is never taken, whose denials are never believed, whose promises are never trusted? On the contrary, what is more noble, what more amiable, than the character of a child who is always candid, truthful, and sincere? Such a one, wherever he goes, carries with him the esteem, the confidence, the respect of every one.

The Bishop and the Soldiers

It is related in Church History that upon one occasion the emperor Maximinian, a cruel persecutor of the faithful, despatched a troop of soldiers to apprehend and cast into prison Antony, the venerable Bishop of Nicomedia. It happened that, without knowing it, they came to the house of the holy Bishop, and being hungry, knocked at the door and begged for some refreshment. He received them with great kindness, invited them to sit down at table, and set before them such food as he had at his disposal.

When the meal was ended, the soldiers entered upon the subject of their mission, and requested him to inform them where they could meet with the Bishop Antony. “He is here before you,” replied the Saint. The soldiers, full of gratitude for his generous hospitality, declared that they would never lay hands upon him, but would report to the emperor that they had not been able to find him.

“God forbid,” replied the Saint, “that I should save my life by becoming a party to a lie. I would rather die a thousand times than that you should offend Almighty God.” So saying, he gave himself into their hands, and was conducted to prison.—Catechisme de Perseverance.

Death Rather Than A Lie

During the great French Kevolution, at the end of last century, the Catholic churches were pillaged throughout the country, and closed for public worship. The priests also were proscribed, and forced to conceal themselves in private houses, or even to seek shelter in the thickets of the forests or in the caves and fastnesses of the mountains. It happened about this time that a young girl, named Magdalen Larralde, of the village of Sare, on the borders of Spain, fearing to have recourse to her own parish priest in his place of concealment, was wont to cross the mountains whenever she desired to approach the Sacraments, in order to seek spiritual assistance from the Capuchin Fathers at Vera, on the Spanish side of the Pyrennees.

One day, on returning from the convent, she fell in with an outpost of the French army, which was then stationed along the frontier, in consequence of the war which raged between the two countries. The soldiers immediately seized her as a spy, and dragged her before the general, who questioned her as to the object of her presence in Spain. Magdalen answered simply and without a moment’s hesitation that she had been to confession.

The officer, touched by her youth and innocent bearing, and anxious, if possible, to save her, quickly replied, “Unfortunate woman, do not say that, for it will be your sentence of death. Say, rather, that the advance of the French troops frightened you, and drove you to seek shelter on Spanish ground.”

“But then I should say what would not be true,” answered the girl, “and I would rather die a thousand times than offend God by telling a lie.” In vain did the general urge and solicit her to yield; her firmness never gave way, and she was conducted before the tribunal at St. Jean de Luz. Before her judges, Magdalen again, with unflinching courage, refused to save her life by a lie. She was, therefore, condemned to the guillotine, and, as she walked to the place of execution, her step never faltered, and she ceased not to invoke the assistance of God, chanting aloud the Salve Regina in honor of the Queen of Heaven. —The Month.

The Imposter Struck Dead

St. James, Bishop of Nisibis, was one day travelling through the country, when he was accosted by a beggar who appeared to be in deep distress. On approaching the Saint he implored him with earnest supplications to bestow upon him an alms to enable him to bury his companion, who, as he said, had just expired by the roadside. The holy Bishop readily gave him what he asked, and went on his way praying earnestly for the soul of the deceased.

The beggar, laughing at the thought of having succeeded so easily in imposing upon the Saint, meanwhile ran back to his companion, whom he had left lying upon the ground at a little distance, pretending to be dead. On coming to the spot he called out to him to get up, as the trick had been successful, but he received no answer. He approached nearer, and took his companion by the hand in order to arouse him, but what was his horror at finding that he was really dead!

Immediately with loud cries and lamentation he ran after the Saint, and, throwing himself on his knees before him, acknowledged the deceit which they had practised, and implored his pardon and intercession. The servant of God having first reproved him for his sin, betook himself to prayer, and the unhappy man, who had provoked God to deprive him of life, was restored at the prayers of the Saint and became a sincere penitent.
—Butler’s Saints’ Lives

If those three examples weren’t enough on the sin of lying, how about one from a secular source? Here are the “Glimmer Twins” and the gang from their 1978 album singing about the problem of prevarication,

YouTube Preview Image


  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16021781602272064901 Allison

    Frank: So many of us think we can lie for a greater cause. But sin in the name of preventing more sin is still sin. A tough lesson, yes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14807873592896092136 Anthony S. Layne

    It occurred to me Thursday, after reading Mark Shea's column, that we were snarling at each other and twisting so many words to justify "Lying for Jesus" that the conflict itself was the best indicator we should drop the tactic and adopt the "Caesar's Wife" rule. The Culture of Death is a culture of lies; we can't partake of any lie without poisoning ourselves.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09158421880497827083 Athos

    My mother would always say, "Oh, what tangled webs we weave, When first we practice to deceive," quoting Sir Walter Scott. Lying is hard work and, I always feared I would begin believing my lies and end up in a make-believe world of my own doing. Isn't it similar to the present malaise of semi-Gnosticism: to believe, for example, that if I can think something I can bring it into existence. St John Lennon's Imagine is a prime example.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    @Allison, this is why in war, there are "rules of engagement."@Anthony, very good post there mister and your point is spot-on. @Athos, food for though Athos, as usual. Now I have to check out your appearance on Marcus Grodi's The Journey Home show. It aired last night, but I was away from the tele.

  • SylviaMB

    Of all the blog posts in various places I have read about this subject as it relates to Live Action, I most appreciate your post and Anthony Layne’s post on “Caesar’s Wife”. Thank you, Frank, for your wonderful examples. I am going to print that post out for my teenage sons to read.The way this particular blogosphere discussion has devolved in some places reminds me of why I had to take myself in hand over complaining about (judging) other people’s action, specifically in my own parish. As a result of my sorrow over communicating so badly (arguing) with people whom I should love, I have given myself a reminder that I have to read every day. I have a slip of paper in a certain pocket in my purse where I keep my rosary. Every time I take out my rosary to pray, I also bring out this paper and read it and think about whether I have corrected my own tendency to worldly solicitude. The paper says this:“QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH: We should be arguing for the love of the truth to be possessed by others, whom we love. So we should ask ourselves: Is what I have said and how I have said it intended by me for the true good of others? Is the way I am arguing well-suited to helping others come to the truth?AND ALSO REMEMBER: ‘The women were silent until Jesus addressed them, and then each spoke in her turn. They related what was going on at Jerusalem and told Jesus of the snares that Herod had laid for him. They became so animated in their recital that Jesus raised His finger and reproached them with their worldly solicitude and their judgments of others.’”The last is a scene from The Venerable Ann Catherine Emmerich’s “The Life of Jesus Christ”, Vol III. And believe me, when I read that for the first time, I was totally convicted by the raised finger of Jesus. I see Him reproaching me in the same fashion each time I read my little note, and I am moved to ask for guidance in communicating with others. I read quite a few posts linked in the round-up that Carl Olson posted on this topic at Insight Scoop. For so many bloggers – not to mention the comment writers – the attitude of condemnation, accusation, judgment of others seems stronger than whatever point they tried to make. This makes me very sad. I think there are many people besides myself who should bring often to mind the raised finger and reproach of Jesus for their worldly solicitude and judgment of others.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13945662015612932618 Faith

    Aquinas also says lying is a sin. For an interesting and fun chart to determine the sin, see http://www.scribd.com/doc/44659026/311-Aquinas-on-Lying-Chart


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