John Henry Newman.

Apologia pro vita sua: being a history of his religious opinions online

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their availableness as depriving imtruths, spoken on such
occasions, of their sinfulness. He mentions defence of life
and of honour, and the safe custody of a secret. Also the
great Anglican writers, who have followed the Greek
Fathers, in defending untruths when there is the *' just
cause," consider that "just cause" to be such as the pre-
servation of life and property, defence of law, the good of
others. Moreover, their moral rights, e. g. defence against
the inquisitive, &c.

St. Alfonso, I consider, would take the same view of
the "justa causa" as the Anglican divines; he speaks
of it as "quicunque finis honestus, ad servanda bona
spirituivel corpori utilia;' which is very much the view
which they take of it, judging by the instances which
they give.

In all cases, however, and as contemplated by all
authors, Clement of Alexandria, or Milton, or St. Alfonso,
such a causa is, in fact, extreme, rare, great, or at least
special. Thus the writer in the Melanges Th^ologiques
(Li^ge, 1852-3, p. 453) quotes Lessius : " Si absque justa
causa fiat, est abusio orationis contra virtutem veritatis,
et civilem consuetudinem, etsi proprie non sit menda-



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LYING AND EQUIVOCATION. 351

cium.'* That is, the virtue of truth, and the civil custom, ll
are the measure of the just cause. And so Voit, " K a
man has used a reservation (restrictione non pur^ mentali)
without a grave cause, he has sinned gravely." And so
the author himself, from whom I quote, and who defends
the Patristic and Anglican doctrine that there are un-
truths which are not lies, says, "TJnder the name of
mental reservation theologians authorize many lies, when
there is for them a grave reason and proportionate," i. e.
to their character.— p. 459. And so St. Alfonso, in another
Treatise, quotes St. Thomas to the effect, that if from one [
cause two immediate effects follow, and, if the good effect !
of that cause is equal in value to the bad effect (bonus ',
cequivalet male), then nothing hinders the speaker's intend-
ing the good and only permitting the evil. From which it .
will follow that, since the evil to society from lying is very
great, the just cause which is to make it allowable, must
be very great also. And so Kenrick: "It is confessed
by all Catholics that, in the common intercourse of life,
all ambiguity of language is to be avoided; but it is
debated whether such ambiguity is ever lawful. Most
theologians answer in the affirmative, supposing a grave
cause urges, and the [true] mind of the speaker can be
collected from the adjuncts, though in fact it be not
oollected."

However, there are cases, I have already said, of
another kind, in which Anglican authors would think
a He allowable ; such as when a question is impertinent.
Of such a case Walter Scott, if I mistake not, supplied a
very distinct example, in his denying so long the author-
ship of his novels. *

What I have been saying shows what different schools
of opinion there are in the Church in the treatment of
this difficult doctrine ; and, by consequence, that a given
individual, such as I am, cannot agree with all of them,



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352 NOTE G.

and has a full right to follow which of them he will. The
freedom of the Schools, indeed, is one of those rights of
reason, which the Church is too wise really to interfere
with. And this applies not to moral questions only, but
to dogmatic also.

It is supposed by Protestants that, because St. Alfonso's .
I writings have had such high commendation bestowed upon
' them by authority, therefore they have been invested with
a quasi-infallibility. This has arisen in good measure
from Protestants not knowing the force of theological
terms. The words to which they refer are the authorita-
tive decision that " nothing in his works has been found
worthy of censure" " censura dignum ;" but this does not
lead to the conclusions which have been drawn from it.
Those words occur in a legal document, and cannot be
interpreted except in a legal sense. In the first place,
the sentence is negative; nothing in St. Alfonso's
writings is positively approved; and, secondly, it is not
said that there are no faults in what he has written, but
nothing which comes under the ecclesiastical eemura,
which is something very definite. To take and interpret
them, in the way commonly adopted in England, is the
same mistake, as if one were to take the word " Apologia "
in the English sense of apology, or " Infant " in law to
mean a little child.

1. Now first as to the meaning of the above form of words
viewed as a proposition. When a question on the subject
was asked of the fitting authorities at Rome by the Arch-
bishop of Besan(;on, the answer returned to him contained
this condition, viz. that those words were to be inter-
preted, " with due regard to the mind of the Holy See
concerning the approbation of writings of the servants
of God, ad efiectum Canonizationis." This is intended to
prevent any Catholic taking the words about St. Alfonso's



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LYING AND EQUIVOCATION. 353

works in too large a sensQ. Before a Saint is canonized,
his works are examined, and a judgment pronounced upon
them. Pope Benedict XIV. says, " The end or scope of
this judgment is, that it may appear, whether the doc-
trine of the servant of God, which he has brought out in
his writings, is free from any soever theological censure.'*
And he remarks in addition, " It never can be said that
the doctrine of a servant of God is approved by the Holy
See, but at most it can [only] be said that it is not dis-
approved (non reprobatam) in case that the Revisers had
reported that there is nothing found by them in his works,
which is adverse to the decrees of Urban VIII., and that
the judgment of the Eevisers has been approved by the
sacred Congregation, and confirmed by the Supreme
Pontiff." The Decree of Urban VIII. here referred to
is, " Let works be examined, whether they contain errors
against faith or good morals (bonos mores), or any new
doctrine, or a doctrine foreign and alien to the common
sense and custom of the Church." The author from whom
I quote this (M. Vandenbroeck, of the diocese of Malines)
observes, " It is therefore clear, that the approbation of
the works of the Holy Bishop touches not the truth of
every proposition, adds nothing to them, nor even gives
them by consequence a degree of intrinsic probability."
He adds that it gives St. Alfonso's theology an extrinsic
probability, from the fact that, in the judgment of the
Holy See, no proposition deserves to receive a censure;
but that "that probability will cease nevertheless in a
particular case, for any one who should be convinced,
whether by evident arguments, or by a decree of the
Holy See, or otherwise, that the doctrine of the Saint
deviates from the truth." He adds, " From the fact that
the approbation of the works of St. Alfonso does not decide
the truth of each proposition, it follows, as Benedict XIV.
has remarked, that we may combat the doctrine which

A a



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^



354 NOTE G.

they contain ; only, since a canonized saint is inquestion,
who is honoured by a solemn culte in the Church, we
ought not to speak except with respect, nor to attack his
opinions except with temper and modesty/'

2. Then, as to the meaning of the word censura:
Benedict XIV. enumerates a number of " Notes ** which
come under that name; he says, "Out of propositions
which are to be noted with theological censure, some are
heretical, some erroneous, some close upon error, some
savouring of heresy," and so on; and each of these
terms has its own definite meaning. Thus by " erroneous"
is meant, according to Yiva, a proposition which is not
immediately opposed to a revealed proposition, but only to
a theological conclmion drawn from premisses which are
de fide; "savouring of heresy is" a proposition, which is
opposed to a theological conclusion not evidently drawn
from premisses which are de fide, but most probably and
according to the common mode of theologizing ; — and so
with the rest. Therefore when it was said by the Bevisers
of St. Alfonso's works that they were not " worthy of
censure*^ it was only meant that they did not fall under
these particular Notes.

But the answer from Rome to the Archbishop of Besan-
<;on went further than this; it actually took pains to
declare that any one who pleased might follow other theo-
logians instead of St. Alfonso. After saying that no
Priest was to be interfered with who followed St. Alfonso
in the Confessional, it added, "This is said, however,
without on that account judging that they are reprehended
who follow opinions handed down by other approved
authors."

And this too I will observe, — that St. Alfonso made
many changes of opinion himself in the course of his
writings ; and it could not for an instant be supposed that
we were bound to every one of his opinions, when he did



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LYING AND EQUIVOCATION. 355

not feel himself bound to them in his own person. And,
what is more to the purpose stilly there are opinions, or
some opinion, of his which actually have been proscribed by
the Church since, and cannot now be put forward or used.
I do not pretend to be a well-read theologian myself, but
I say this on the authority of a theological professor of
Breda, quoted in the Melanges Th^l. for 1850-1. He
says : "It may happen, that, in the course of time, errors
may be found in the works of St. Alfonso and be pro-
scribed by the Church, a thing which in fact has already
occurred,**



In not ranging myself then with those who consider ^
that it is justifiable to use words in a double sense, ""that is, t
to equivocate, I put myself under the protection of such
authors as Cardinal Gerdil, NataHs Alexander, Contenson,
Concina, and others. Under the protection of these autho-
rities, I say as follows : —

Casuistry is a noble science, but it is one to which I am
led, neither by my abilities nor my turn of mind. Inde-
pendently, then, of the difficidties of the subject, and the
necessity, before forming an opinion, of knowing more of
the arguments of theologians upon it than I do, I am very
unwilling to say a word here on the subject of Lying and
Equivocation. But I consider myself bound to apeak ; and
therefore, in this strait, I can do nothing better, even for
my own relief, than submit myself, and what I shall say, to
the judgment of the Church, and to the consent, so far as in
this matter there be a consent, of the Schola Theologorum.

Now in the case of one of those special and rare exigen-
cies or emergencies, which constitute the justa cama of ^
dissembling or misleading, whether ii be extreme as the
defence of life, or a duty as the custody of a secret, or of a
personal nature as to repel an impertinent inquirer, or a



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356 NOTE G,

matter too trivial to provoke question, as in dealing with
children or madmen, there seem to be four courses : —

1. To say the thing that is not. Here I draw the reader's
attention to the words material Skud formal. " Thou shalt
not kill;" murder is tiie formal transgression of this com-
mandment, but accidental homicide is the material trans-
gression. The matter of the act is the same in both cases ;
but in the homicide, there is nothing more than the act,
whereas in murder there must be the intention, &c., which
constitutes the formal sin. So, again, an executioner com-
mits the material act, but not that formal killing which is
a breach of the conmiandment. So a man, who, simply to
save himself from starving, takes a loaf which is not his
own, commits only the material, not the formal act of
stealing, that is, he does not commit a sin. And so a
baptized Christian, external to the Church, who is in
invincible ignorance, is a material heretic, and not a formaL
And in like manner, if to say the thing which is not be in
special cases lawful, it may be called a material lie.

The first mode then which has been suggested of meet-
ing those special cases, in which to mislead by words has
a sufficient occasion, or has a Just cause, is by a mate-
rial lie.

The second mode is by an cequivocatio, which is not
equivalent to the English word " equivocation," but means
sometimes a play upon words, sometimes an evasion : we
must take these two modes of misleading separately.

2. A play upon words. St. Alfonso certainly says that
a play upon words is allowable ; and, speaking under cor-
rection, I shoidd say that he does so on the ground that
lying is not a sin against justice, that is, against our
neighbour, but a sin against God. God has made words the
signs of ideas, and therefore if a word denotes two ideas,
we are at liberty to use it in either of its senses : but



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LYING AND EOTHVOCATION. 357

I think I must be incorrect in some respect in supposing
that the Saint does not recognize a lie as an injustice^
because the Catechism of the Coimcil, as I have quoted it
at p. 281, says, " Vanitate et mendacio fides ac Veritas
toiluntur, arctissima vincula societatis humance; quibus
sublatis, sequitur summa vitae con/usio, ut homines nihil a
dcemonibus differre videantur,*'

3. Evasion; — when, for instance, the speaker^ diverts
the attention of the hearer to another subject ; suggests an
irrelevant fact or makes a remark, which confuses him and
gives him something to think about ; throws dust into his I
eyes ; states some truth, from which he is quite sure his
hearer will draw an illogical and untrue conclusion, and
the like.

The greatest school of evasion, I speak seriously, is the
House of Commons ; and necessarily so, from the nature
of the case. And the hustings is another.

An instance is supplied in the history of St. Athana-
sius : he was in a boat on the Nile, flying persecution ; and
he found himself pursued. On this he ordered his men to
turn his boat round, and ran right to meet the satellites of
Julian. They asked him, "Have you seen AthanasiusP"
and he told his followers to answer, " Yes, he is close to
you.'* They went on their course as if they were sure to
come up to him, while he ran back into Alexandria, and
there lay hid till the end of the persecution.

I gave another instance above, in reference to a doctrine
of religion. The early Christians did their best to conceal
their Creed on account of the misconceptions of the v
heathen about it. Were the question asked of them, \
" Do you worship a Trinity P" and did they answer, " We
worship one God, and none else ;" the inquirer might, or
would, infer that they did not acknowledge the Trinity of
Divine Persons.

It is very difficult to draw the line between these



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358 NOTB 6.

evasioiis and what are oommonly called in English equwo-
cations ; and of this difficulty, again, I think, the scenes in
the House of Commons supply us with illustrations.

4. The fourth method is silence. For instance, not
giving the whole truth in a court of law. If St. Alban,
after dressing himself in the Priest's clothes, and being
tak^ before the persecutor, had been able to pass off for
hisniend, and so gone to martyrdom without being dis-
/ covered ; and had he in the course of examination answered

y y all questions truly, but not given the whole truth, the

most important truth, that he was the wrong person,
he would have come very near to telling a lie, for a half-
truth is often a falsehood. And his defence must have
been ihejusta causa, viz. either that he might in charity or
for religion's sake save a priest, or again that the judge
had no right to interrogate him on the subject.

Now, of these four modes of misleading others by the
j tongue, when there is a jmta causa (supposing there can

! be such), — (1) a material lie, that is, an untruth which is

I not a lie, (2) an equivocation, (3) an evasion, and (4)

silence, — First, I have no difficulty whatever in recog-
nizing as allowable the method of silence.

Secondly, But, if I allow of silence, why not of the
method of material lying, since half of a truth is often a lie P
And, again, if all killing be not murder, nor all taking
from another stealing, why must all untruths be lies?
Now I will say freely that I think it difficult to answer
this question, whether it be urged by St. Clement or by
Milton ; at the same time, I never have acted, and I think,
when it came to the point, I never should act upon such a
theory myself, except in one case, stated below. This I
say for the benefit of those who speak hardly of Catholic
theologians, on the ground that they admit text-books
which allow of equivocation. They are asked, how can we
trust you, when such are your views P but such views, as



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LYING AND EQUIVOCATION. 359

I already have said, need not have any thing to do with ^
their own practice, merely from the circiunstance that they
are contained in their text-books. A theologian draws
out a system ; he does it partly as a scientific speculation : !
but much more for the sake of others. He is lax for the
sake of others, hot of himself. His own standard of action
is much higher than that which he imposes upon men in
general. One special reason why religious men, after
drawing out a theory, are unwilling to act upon it them- A
selves, is this : that they practically acknowledge a broad \
distinction between their reason and their conscience ; and ,
that they feel the latter to be the safer guide, though the .
former may be the clearer, nay even though it be the
truer. They would rather be in error with the sanction of
their conscience, than be right with the mere judgment of
their reason. And again here is this more tangible diffi-
culty in the case of exceptions to the rule of Veracity,
that so very little external help is given us in drawing the
line, as to when imtruths are allowable and when not ;
whereas that sort of killing which is not murder, is most
definitely marked off by legal enactments, so that it can-
not possibly be mistaken for such killing as is murder.
On the other hand the cases of exemption from the rule
of Veracity are left to the private judgment of the indi-
vidual, and he may easily be led on from acts which are
allowable to acts which are not. Now this remark does
not apply to such acts as are related in Scripture, as being
done by a particular inspiration, for in such cases there is
a command. If I had my own way, I would oblige f
society, that is, its great men, its lawyers, its divines, its
literature, publicly to acknowledge as such, those instances
of untruth which are not lies, as for instance imtruths in
war ; and then there could be no perplexity to the indi-
vidual Catholic, for he would not be taking the la.w into
his own hands.



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360 NOTE o.

Thirdly, as to playing upon words, or equivocation, I
suppose it is from tte English habit, but, without meaning
any disrespect to a great Saint, or wishing to set myself
up, or taUng my conscience for more than it is worth, I
can only say as a fact, that I admit it as little as the rest
of my countrymen: and, without any reference to the
right and the wrong of the matter, of this I am sure, that,
if there is one thing more than another which prejudices
Englishmen against the Catholic Church, it is the doctrine
of great authorities on the subject of equivocation. For
myself, I can fancy myself thinking it was allowable in
extreme cases for me to lie, but never to equivocate.
Luther said, " Pecca fortiter.'* I anathematize his formal
sentiment, but there is a truth in it, when spoken of mate-
rial acts.

Fourthly, I think evasion, as I have described it, to be
perfectly allowable ; indeed, I do not know, who does not
use it, under circumstances ; but that a good deal of moral
danger is attached to its use ; and that, the cleverer a man
is, the more likely he is to pass the line of Christian duty.

But it may be said, that such decisions do not meet the
particular difficulties for which provision is required ; let
us then take some instances.

1. I do not think it right to tell lies to children, even
on this account, that they are sharper than we think them,
and will soon find out what we are doing ; and our ex-
ample will be a very bad training for them. And so of
equivocation : it is easy of imitation, and we ourselves shall
be sure to get the worst of it in the end.

2. If an early Father defends the patriarch Jacob in
his mode of gaining his father's blessing, on the ground
that the blessing was divinely pledged to him already, that
it was- his, and that his father and brother were acting at
once against his own rights and the divine will, it does not



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LtlUG AND EQUIVOCATION. 361

follow from this that such conduct is a pattern to xib, who
have no supernatural means of determining tchen an un-
truth becomes a material, and not a formal Ke. It seems to
me very dangerous, be it ever allowable or not, to lie or
equivocate in order to preserve some great temporal or
spiritual. benefit ; nor does St. Alfonso here say any thing
to the contrary, for he is not discussing the question of
danger or expedience.

3. As to Johnson's case of a murderer asking you which
way a man had gone, I should have anticipated that, had
such a difficulty happened to him, his first act would have
been to knock the man down, and to call out for the police ;
and next, if he was worsted in the conflict, he would not
have given the ruffian the information he asked, at what-
ever risk to himself. I think he would have let himself
be killed first. I do not think that he would have told
a lie.

4. A secret is a more difficult case. Supposing some-
thing has been confided to me in the strictest secrecy,
which could not be revealed without great disadvantage to
another, what am I to do ? If I am a lawyer, I am pro-
tected by my profession. I have a right to treat with ex-
treme indignation any question which trenches on the
inviolability of my position ; but, supposing I was driven
up into a comer, I think I should have a right to say an
imtruth, or that, imder such circumstances, a lie would be
material, but it is almost an impossible case, for the law
would defend me. In like manner, as a priest, I should
think it lawful to speak as if I knew nothing of what
passed in confession. And I think in these cases, I do in
fact possess that guarantee, that I am not going by private
judgment, which just now I demanded ; for society would
bear me out, whether as a lawyer or as a priest, in holding
that I had a duty to my client or penitent, such^ that an



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NOTS G.

tmtruih in the matter was not a lie. A common type of
this permissible denial, be it materialUe orevasum, is at the
moment supplied to me : — an artist asked a Prime Minister,
who was sitting to him, "What news, my Lord, l&om
France?** He answered, "/do not know; I have not
read the Papers.**

5. A more difficidt question is, when to accept con-
fidence has not been a duty. Supposing a man wishes to
keep the secret that he is the author of a book, and he is
plainly asked on the subject. Here I shoidd ask the
previous question, whether any one has a right to publish
what he dare not avow. It requires to have traced the
bearings and results of such a principle, before being sure
of it ; but certainly, for myself, I am no Mend of strictly
anonymous writing. Kext, supposing another has con-
fided to you the secret of his authorship : — ^there are per-
sons who would have no scruple at all in giving a denial
to impertinent questions asked them on the subject. I
have heard a great man in his day at Oxford, warmly
contend, as if he coidd not enter into any other view of
the matter, that, if he had been trusted by a friend with
the secret of his being author of a certain book, and he
were asked by a third person, if his friend was not (as
he really was) the author of it, he ought, without any
scruple and distinctly, to answer that he did not know.
He had an existing duty towards the author; he had
none towards his inquirer. The author had a claim on
him; an impertinent questioner had none at all. But
here again I desiderate some leave, recognized by society,
as in the case of the formulas " Not at home,** and **lfot
guilty,** in order to give me the right of saying what is
a material untruth. And moreover, I shoidd here also
ask the previous question, HaVe I any right to accept
such a confidence? have I any right to make such a



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Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanApologia pro vita sua: being a history of his religious opinions → online text (page 30 of 33)