instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, July 13, 2012

St. Alphonsus and The Christian Remembrancer, pt. 2

Having established that "theologians universally say" that "to exhibit externally some sign which does not correspond with the object as understood by the speaker...[with] the intention to deceive" is contrary to the natural law, the author of The Dublin Review article (after some words on the destructive effects of lying) moves on to the question of equivocation and mental reservation:
 It is to be observed, that in order to constitute moral truth a virtue, three conditions are necessary, proper time, proper place, and proper manner. It follows, then, that there may be occasions when not only are we not bound to speak the truth, but when to do so would be positive sin, as for example, would be the case were a priest to betray knowledge gained in the confessional, or were any one to reveal a secret told in confidence, or publish the faults of his neighbour. Hence it is plain that a person may be placed in circumstances of very great difficulty, where, on the one hand he is bound not to tell a lie, and on the other to prevent the discovery of his secret. In such cases as these Catholic theologians allow the use of equivocation and non-pure mental restriction, in order that is to satisfy the demands of justice, good faith, and charity. Another reason (less forcible perhaps, but yet not to be despised) is, that without some such doctrine it is impossible to explain certain facts and sayings to be found in Holy Scripture, instances of which will be given hereafter.
Here I would observe the order followed: 1) consideration of the virtue of truthfulness; 2) consideration of the vice of lying as directly opposed to truthfulness; 3) consideration of the nature of the evil of lying; and only then, 4) consideration of hard practical cases; and 5) consideration of Scriptural examples. The last two considerations do not change the conclusions of the first three, they add to them.

To define terms:
Equivocation: "a word or proposition representing more than one meaning"
Discoverable equivocation: "the meaning intended by the speaker is capable of being discovered either from the common use of the word in its various significations, or from circumstances which serve to indicate in what sense it is used"
Indiscoverable equivocation: "the words are so fixed by usage or circumstance to one meaning, as to render any other inappreciable, but which yields a true sense when taken in connection with something else"
Mental restriction: "a sentence, the wording of which, regarded in itself, represents a false meaning"
Pure mental restriction: "the reservation cannot, from the circumstances, or other external indications, be discovered"
Non-pure mental restriction: "the reservation is discoverable under the circumstances"
That's a lot of distinguishing, but Innocent XI's Sanctissimnus Dominus simplified the picture:
All indeterminable equivocations and pure mental reservations are absolutely forbidden, because they are mere lies.
 The question becomes, what can be said about discoverable equivocations and non-pure mental restrictions?