We often think a lie is good, or at least harmless, if it brings some good effect. But it isn’t, says St. Augustine. The truth is a sacred thing, and we should no more think of lying for a good reason than we would think of committing adultery for a good reason.
We must consider every lie a sin, because we should always speak what is in our hearts: not only when we know the truth, but even when we are wrong, as can happen to anyone. And this is true whether it is really true or whether we only think it is true when it really is not.
But if you lie, you say the reverse of what is in your heart, meaning to deceive someone. Obviously language, correctly used, was not invented so that we could deceive each other, but so that we could convey what we think to others. To use language for the purpose of deception, and not for its proper purpose, is therefore a sin.
And we should not think that there is any lie that is not a sin, just because we think we can sometimes do someone good by lying. We could also do someone good by stealing: we could secretly steal from a rich man who would not miss it and give it openly to a poor man who would certainly benefit. Yet no one would say that stealing that way was not a sin. Or we might help a woman by committing adultery, if it seemed that she would die for love if we did not give in to her lust, and she might be purified by repentance if she lived. But no one could deny that adultery like that would be a sin.
Well, if we think so much of chastity, how has truth done us wrong? Why is it that we must not violate chastity by adultery, even if it would bring about some other good, but we can rape the truth by lying?
–St. Augustine, Enchiridion, 7
IN GOD’S PRESENCE, CONSIDER . . .
What was the most recent lie I told?
Do I have the strength to go back and tell the truth?
Lord, cleanse my ears and my mouth, too often defiled with falsehood, and teach me to hear and speak the truth, and treasure it in my heart.
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