instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, July 12, 2012

St. Alphonsus and The Christian Remembrancer, pt. 1

I found an article that gives a good summary of Catholic teaching on truthfulness, published in The Dublin Review in 1854 to counter an anti-Catholic attack -- really, an attack on a complete mischaracterization of St. Alphonsus's teaching on equivocation -- in The Christian Remembrancer.

The summary begins on page 337, and generally follows St. Thomas's approach to the virtue of truth. This leads to:
Since truth has been found to be a habit, having for its object-matter the agreement of thoughts and words, falsehood will look to a disagreement between the same, and to lie will be to exhibit externally some sign which does not correspond with the object as understood by the speaker; and the doing so intentionally will be formal lying. Hence its common definition -- Locutio seu significatio contra mentem.

Thus far all theologians agree, but here there arises a doubt and difference of opinion as to whether, over and above the intention of enunciating falsehood, the intention to deceive is not required as an essential part of the definition.
The Catechism, of course, includes "in order to lead someone into error" in its definition of lying, going with the Augustinian opinion rather than the Thomistic -- though that doesn't mean enunciating falsehood is never wrong absent the intent to deceive.

The author goes on to ask and answer a key question of practical morals:
Is a lie ever allowable? The answer to this question will depend upon what we make its intrinsic malice to consist in. The reader, of course, knows the difference between natural and positive law, i.e., the obligation binding by virtue of our natural constitution, and, consequently, for the most part recognizable by the light of unaided reason, and the obligation entrenching upon our liberty by a subsequent act of the Legislator... Matter falling under the one, is said to be forbidden because it is wrong; while that which falls under the other, is said to be wrong because it is forbidden. Now, theologians universally say, that a lie is something forbidden because it is wrong; hence it comes under the natural law, and can never in any case be lawful.
 Note that the answer is given in terms of what a lie is, not what a lie effects.