A Lie Never Justifiable
H. Clay Trumbull

Part 2 out of 3

or importance of the circumstances." Basil, on the contrary, asserts
without qualification, as his conviction, that it never is permissible
to employ a falsehood even for a good purpose. He appeals to the words
of Christ that all lies are of the Devil.[2]

[Footnote 1: _Ibid_., p. 46.]

[Footnote 2: Neander's _Geschichte der Christlichen Ethik_, p. 219.]

Chrysostom, as a young man, evaded ordination for himself and secured
it to his dearest friend Basil (who should not be confounded with
Basil the Great, the brother of Gregory of Nyssa) by a course of
deception, which he afterwards labored to justify by the claim that
there were lies of necessity, and that God approved of deception as a
means of good to others.[1] In the course of his exculpatory argument,
he said to his much aggrieved friend Basil: "Great is the value of
deceit, provided it be not introduced with a mischievous intention. In
fact, action of this sort ought not to be called deceit, but rather a
kind of good management, cleverness, and skill, capable of finding
out ways where resources fail, and making up for the defects of the
mind.... That man would fairly deserve to be called a deceiver who
made an unrighteous use of the practice, not one who did so with a
salutary purpose. And often it is necessary to deceive, and to do the
greatest benefits by means of this device, whereas he who has gone by
a straight course has done great mischief to the person whom he has
not deceived."[2]

[Footnote 1: See Smith and Wace's _Dictionary of Christian Biography_,
I., 519 f.; art. "Chrysostom, John."]

[Footnote 2: See Chrysostom's "Treatise on the Priesthood," in _The
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers_, first series (Am. ed.), IX., 34-38.]

In fact, Chrysostom seems, in this argument, to recognize no absolute
and unvarying standard of truthfulness as binding on all at all times;
but to judge lies and deceptions as wrong only when they are wrongly
used, or when they result in evil to others. He appears to act on the
anti-Christian theory[1] that "the end justifies the means." Indeed,
Dr. Schaff, in reprobating this "pious fraud" of Chrysostom, as
"conduct which every sound Christian conscience must condemn," says
of the whole matter: "The Jesuitical maxim, 'the end justifies the
means,' is much older than Jesuitism, and runs through the whole
apocryphal, pseudo-prophetic, pseudo-apostolic, pseudo-Clementine, and
pseudo-Isidorian literature of the early centuries. Several of the
best Fathers show a surprising want of a strict sense of veracity.
They introduce a sort of cheat even into their strange theory of
redemption, by supposing that the Devil caused the crucifixion under
the delusion [intentionally produced by God] that Christ was a mere
man, and thus lost his claim upon the fallen race." [2]

[Footnote 1: Rom. 3: 7, 8.]

[Footnote 2: See Dr. Schaff's "Prologemena to The Life and Works of
St. Chrysostom," in _The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers_, first Series
(Am. ed.), IX., 8.]

Chrysostom, like Gregory of Nyssa, having done that which was wrong in
itself, with a laudable end in view, naturally attempts its defense by
the use of arguments based on a confusion in his own mind of things
which are unjustifiable, with things which are allowable. He does not
seem to distinguish between deliberate deception as a mode of lying,
and concealment of that which one has a right to conceal. Like many
another defender of the right to lie in behalf of a worthy cause, in
all the centuries, Chrysostom essays no definition of the "lie," and
indicates no distinction between culpable concealment, and concealment
that is right and proper. Yet Chrysostom was a man of loving heart and
of unwavering purpose of life. In an age of evil-doing, he stood firm
for the right. And in spite of any lack of logical perceptions on his
part in a matter like this, it can be said of him with truth that
"perhaps few have ever exercised a more powerful influence over the
hearts and affections of the most exalted natures."[1]

[Footnote 1: Smith and Wace's _Dictionary of Christian Biography_, I.,

Augustine, on the other hand, looks at this question, in accordance
with the qualities of his logical mind, in its relation to an absolute
standard; and he is ready to accept the consequences of an adherence
to that standard, whether they be in themselves desirable or
deplorable. He is not afraid to define a lie, and to stand by his
definition in his argument. He sees and notes the difference between
justifiable concealment, and concealment that is for the purpose of
deception. "It is lawful then," he says on this point, "to conceal at
fitting time whatever seems fit to be concealed: but to tell a lie is
never lawful, therefore neither to conceal by telling a lie."[1]
In his treatise "On Lying" _(De Mendacid_),[2] and in his treatise
"Against Lying" _(Contra Mendaciuni)[3]_ as well as in his treatise
on "Faith, Hope, and Love" _(Enchiridion)_,[4] and again in his
Letters to Jerome,[5] Augustine states the principle involved in this
vexed question of the ages, and goes over all the arguments for and
against the so-called "lie of necessity." He sees a lie to be a sin
_per se_, and therefore never admissible for any purpose whatsoever.
He sees truthfulness to be a duty growing out of man's primal relation
to God, and therefore binding on man while man is in God's sight.
He strikes through the specious arguments based on any temporary
advantages to be secured through lying, and rejects utterly the
suggestion that man may do evil that good may come.

[Footnote 1: _The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers_, first series (Am.
ed.), IX., 466.]

[Footnote 2: _Ibid_., III., 455-477.]

[Footnote 3: _Ibid_., pp. 479-500.]

[Footnote 4: _Ibid_., pp. 230-276.]

[Footnote 5: _Ibid_., I., "Letters of St. Augustine."]

The sound words of Augustine on this question, as based on his sound
arguments, come down to us with strength and freshness through the
intervening centuries; and they are worthy of being emphasized as the
expressions of unchanging truth concerning the duty of truthfulness
and the sin of lying. "There is a great question about lying," he
says at the start, "which often arises in the midst of our everyday
business, and gives us much trouble, that we may not either rashly
call that a lie which is not such, or decide that it is sometimes
right to tell a lie; that is, a kind of honest, well-meant, charitable
lie." This question he discusses with fulness, and in view of all that
can be said on both sides. Even though life or salvation were to pivot
on the telling of a lie, he is sure that no good to be gained could
compensate for the committal of a sin.

Arguing that a lie is essentially opposed to God's truth--by which
alone man can have eternal life--Augustine insists that to attempt to
save another's life through lying, is to set off one's eternal life
against the mere bodily life of another. "Since then by lying eternal
life is lost, never for any man's temporal life must a lie be told.
And as to those who take it ill, and are indignant that one should
refuse to tell a lie, and thereby slay his own soul in order that
another may grow old in the flesh, what if by our committing adultery
a person might be delivered from death: are we therefore to steal, to
commit whoredom.... To ask whether a man ought to tell a lie for the
safety of another, is just the same as asking whether for another's
safety a man ought to commit iniquity."

"Good men," he says, "should never tell lies." "To tell a lie is never
lawful, therefore neither to conceal [when concealment is desirable]
by telling a lie." Referring to the fact that some seek to find a
justification in the Bible teachings for lying in a good cause,--"even
in the midst of the very words of the divine testimonies seeking place
for a lie,"--he insists, after a full examination of this claim, "that
those [cited] testimonies of Scripture have none other meaning than
that we must never at all tell a lie."

"A lie is not allowable, even to save another from injury." "Every lie
must be called a sin." "Nor are we to suppose that there is any lie
that is not a sin, because it is sometimes possible, by telling a
lie, to do service to another." "It cannot be denied that they have
attained a very high standard of goodness who never lie except to
save a man from injury; but in the case of men who have reached this
standard, it is not the deceit, but their good intention, that is
justly praised, and sometimes even rewarded,"--as in the case of Rahab
in the Bible story. "There is no lie that is not contrary to truth.
For as light and darkness, piety and impiety, justice and injustice,
sin and righteousness, health and sickness, life and death, so are
truth and a lie contrary the one to the other. Whence by how much we
love the former, by so much ought we to hate the latter."

"It does indeed make very much difference for what cause, with what
end, with what intention, a thing be done: but those things which are
clearly sins, are upon no plea of a good cause, with no seeming good
end, no alleged good intention, to be done. Those works, namely,
of men, which are not in themselves sins, are now good, now evil,
according as their causes are good or evil.... When, however, the
works in themselves are evil,... who is there that will say, that upon
good causes, they may be done, so as either to be no sins, or, what is
more absurd, to be just sins?" "He who says that some lies are just,
must be judged to say no other than that some sins are just, and that
therefore some things are just which are unjust: than which what can
be more absurd?" "Either then we are to eschew lies by right doing,
or to confess them [when guilty of them] by repenting: but not, while
they unhappily abound in our living, to make them more by teaching

In replying to the argument that it would be better to lie concerning
an innocent man whose life was sought by an enemy, or by an unjust
accuser, than to betray him to his death, Augustine said courageously:
"How much braver,... how much more excellent, to say, 'I will neither
betray nor lie.'" "This," he said, "did a former bishop of the Church
of Tagaste, Firmus by name, and even more firm in will. For when he
was asked by command of the emperor, through officers sent by him, for
a man who was taking refuge with him, and whom he kept in hiding with
all possible care, he made answer to their questions, that he could
neither tell a lie nor betray a man; and when he had suffered so many
torments of body (for as yet emperors were not Christians), he stood
firm in his purpose. Thereupon, being brought before the emperor, his
conduct appeared so admirable that he without any difficulty obtained
a pardon for the man whom he was trying to save. What conduct could be
more brave and constant?"[1]

[Footnote 1: See _The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers_, first series
(Am. ed.), III., 408.]

The treatise "Against Lying" was written by Augustine with special
reference to the practice and teaching of the sect of Priscillianists.
These Christians "affirmed, with some other of the theosophic sects,
that falsehood was allowable for a holy end. Absolute veracity was
only binding between fellow-members of their sect."[1] Hence it was
claimed by some other Christians that it would be fair to shut out
Priscillianists from a right to have only truth spoken to them, since
they would not admit that it is always binding between man and man.
This view of truthfulness as merely a social obligation Augustine
utterly repudiated; as, indeed, must be the case with every one who
reckons lying a sin in and of itself. Augustine considered, in this
treatise, various hypothetical cases, in which the telling of the
truth might result in death to a sick man, while the telling of a
falsehood might save his life. He said frankly: "And who can bear men
casting up to him what a mischief it is to shun a lie that might save
life, and to choose truth which might murder a man? I am moved by this
objection exceedingly, but it were doubtful whether also wisely." Yet
he sees that it were never safe to choose sin as a means to good, in
preference to truth and right with all their consequences.

[Footnote 1: See Smith and Wace's _Dict. of Chris. Biog_., IV., 478,
art. "Priscillianus."]

Jerome having, like many others, adopted Origen's explanation of the
scene between Peter and Paul at Antioch, Augustine wrote to him in
protest against such teaching, with its implied approval of deceit and
falsehood.[1] A correspondence on this subject was continued between
these two Fathers for years;[2] and finally Jerome was led to adopt
Augustine's view of the matter,[3] and also to condemn Origen for his
loose views as to the duty of veracity.[4] But however Jerome might
vacillate in his theory, as in his practice, concerning the permanent
obligations of truthfulness, Augustine stood firm from first to last
in the position which is justified by the teachings of the Bible and
by the moral sense of the human race as a whole,--that a lie is always
a lie and always a sin, and that a lie can never be justified as a
means to even the best of ends.

[Footnote 1: See _The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers_, first series
(Am. ed.), I., Letters XXVIII., XL.]

[Footnote 2: _Ibid_., Letters LXVII., LXVIII., LXXII., LXXIII.,

[Footnote 3: _Ibid_., Letter CLXXX.]

[Footnote 4: _The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers_, second series (Am.
ed.), III., 460 ff.; _Rufinus' Apology_, Book II.; _Jerome's Apology_,
Book I., p. 492.]

From the days of Chrysostom and Augustine to the present time, all
discussions of this question have been but a repetition of the
arguments and objections then brought forward and examined. There can
be, in fact, only two positions maintained with any show of logical
consistency. Either a lie is in its very nature antagonistic to
the being of God, and therefore not to be used or approved by him,
whatever immediate advantages might accrue from it, or whatever
consequences might pivot on its rejection; or a lie is not in itself
a sin, is not essentially at variance with the nature of God, but is
good or evil according to the spirit of its use, and the end to be
gained by it; and therefore on occasions God could lie, or could
approve lying on the part of those who represent him.

The first of these positions is that maintained by the Shepherd of
Hermas, by Justin Martyr, by Basil the Great, and by Augustine;
the second is practically that occupied by Gregory of Nyssa and
Chrysostom, even though they do not explicitly define, or even seem to
perceive, it as their position. There are, again, those like Origen
and Jerome, who are now on one side of the dividing line, and now on
the other; but they are not logically consistent with themselves in
their opinions or practices. And those who are not consistent usually
refrain from explicit definitions of the lie and of falsehood; they
make no attempt at distinguishing between justifiable concealment, and
concealment for the very purpose of deception.

With all the arguments on this question, in all the centuries,
comprised within these well-defined bounds, it were useless to name
each prominent disputant, in order merely to classify him as on the
one side or on the other, or as zigzagging along the line which he
fails to perceive. It were sufficient to point out a few pre-eminent
mountain peaks, in the centuries between the fifth and the nineteen of
the Christian era, as indicative of the perspective history of this

Towering above the greatest of the Schoolmen in the later middle ages
stands Thomas Aquinas. As a man of massive intellect, of keenness
of perception, of consistent logical instincts, and of unquestioned
sincerity and great personal devoutness, we might expect him to be
found, like Augustine, on the side of principle against policy, in
unqualified condemnation of lying under any circumstances whatsoever,
and in advocacy of truthfulness at all hazards. And that, as a matter
of fact, is his position.

In his _Summa Theologies_[1] Aquinas discusses this whole question
with eminent fairness, and with great thoroughness. He first states
the claims of those who, from the days of Chrysostom, had made excuses
for lying with a good end in view, and then he meets those claims
severally. He looks upon lies as evil in themselves, and as in no
way to be deemed good and lawful, since a right concurrence of all
elements is essential to a thing's being good. "Whence, every lie is a
sin, as Augustine says in his book 'Against Lying.'" His conclusion,
in view of all that is to be said on both sides of the question, is:
"Lying is sinful not only as harmful to our neighbor, but because
of its own disorderliness. It is no more permitted to do what is
disorderly [that is, contrary to the divine order of the universe] in
order to prevent harm, than it is to steal for the purpose of giving
alms, except indeed in case of necessity when all things are common
property [when, for instance, the taking of needful food in time of a
great disaster, as on a wrecked ship, is not stealing]. And therefore
it is not allowable to utter a lie with this view, that we may deliver
one from some peril. It is allowable, however, to conceal the truth
prudently, by a sort of dissimulation, as Augustine says." This
recognizes the correctness of Augustine's position, that concealment
of what one has a right to conceal may be right, provided no lie is
involved in the concealment. As to the relative grades of sin in
lying, Aquinas counts lying to another's hurt as a mortal sin, and
lying to avert harm from another as a venial sin; but he sees that
both are sins.

[Footnote 1: _Secunda Secundae_, Quaestio CX., art. III.]

It is natural to find Aquinas, as a representative of the keen-minded
Dominicans, standing by truth as an eternal principle, regardless of
consequences; as it is also natural to find, on the other side, Duns
Scotus, as a representative of the easy-going Franciscans, with his
denial of good absolute save as manifested in the arbitrary will of
God. Duns Scotus accepted the "theory of a twofold truth," ascribed to
Averroes, "that one and the same affirmation might be theologically
true and philosophically false, and _vice versa_." In Duns Scotus's
view, "God does not choose a thing because it is good, but the thing
chosen is good because God chooses it;" "it is good simply and solely
because God has willed it precisely so; but he might just as readily
have willed the opposite thereof. Hence also God is not [eternally]
bound by his commands, and he can in fact annul them."[1] According to
this view, God could forbid lying to-day and justify it to-morrow. It
is not surprising, therefore, that "falsehood and misrepresentation"
are "under certain circumstances allowable," in the opinion of Duns

[Footnote 1: See Kurtz's _Church History_ (Macpherson's Translation),
II., 101, 167-169; Ueberweg's _History of Philosophy_, I., 416, 456
f.; Wuttke's _Christian Ethics_ (Am. ed.), I., 218, Sec. 34.]

So, all along the centuries, the religious teacher who holds to the
line between truth and falsehood as an eternal line must, if logically
consistent, refuse to admit any possible justification of lying. Only
he who denies an eternally absolute line between the true and the
false could admit with consistency the justification by God of an act
that is essentially hostile to the divine nature. Any exception to
this rule is likely to be where a sympathetic nature inclines a
teacher to seek for an excuse for that which seems desirable even
though it be theoretically wrong.

When it comes to the days of the Protestant Reformation, we find John
Calvin, like his prototype Augustine, and like Augustine's follower
Aquinas, standing firmly against a lie as antagonistic to the very
nature of God, and therefore never justifiable. Martin Luther, also,
is a fearless lover of the truth; but he is disposed to find excuses
for a lie told with a good end in view, although he refrains from
asserting that even the best disposed lie lacks the element of
sinfulness.[1] On the other hand, Ignatius Loyola, and his associates
in the founding of the Society of Jesus as a means of checking the
Protestant Reformation, acted on the idea that was involved in the
theology of Duns Scotus, that the only standard of truth and right is
in the absolute and arbitrary will of God; and that, therefore, if
God, speaking through his representative in the newly formed Society,
commands the telling of a lie, a lie is justifiable, and its telling
is a duty. Moreover, these Jesuit leaders in defining, or in
explaining away, the lie, include, under the head of justifiable
concealment, equivocations and falsifications that the ordinary mind
would see to be forms of the lie.[2]

[Footnote 1: See Martensen's _Christian Ethics_, p. 216. Compare, for
example, Luther's comments on Exodus I: 15-21, with Calvin's comments
on Genesis 12: 14-20.]

[Footnote 2: See Symonds's _Renaissance in Italy_, I., 263-267;
Cartwright's _The Jesuits_; Meyrick's _Moral Theology of the Church
of Rome_; Pascal's _Provincial Letters_. See, also, Kurtz's _Church
History_, II., 430.]

It is common to point to the arguments of the Jesuits in favor of lies
of expediency, in their work for the Church and for souls, as though
their position were exceptional, and they stood all by themselves in
including falsehood as a means to be employed rightfully for a good

But in this they are simply logically consistent followers of those
Christian Fathers, and their successors in every branch of the Church,
who have held that a lie for righteous purposes was admissible when
the results to be secured by it were of vital importance. All the
refinements of casuistry have their value to those who admit that a
lie may be right under certain conceivable circumstances; but to those
who, like Augustine and Aquinas, insist that a lie is a sin _per se_,
and therefore never admissible, casuistry itself has no interest as a
means of showing when a sin is not sinful.[1]

[Footnote 1: Hence the casuistry of the Schoolmen and of the Jesuits,
and the question of Mental Reservations, and of "Probabilities," are
not treated in detail here.]

Some of the zealous defenders of the principles and methods of
the Jesuits affirm that, in their advocacy of dissimulation and
prevarication in the interests of a good cause, the Jesuits do not
intend to justify lying, but are pointing out methods of proper
concealment which are not within the realm of the lie. In this
(waiving the question whether these defenders are right or not as to
the fact) they seem even more desirous of being counted against lying
than those teachers, in the Romish Church or among Protestants, who
boldly affirm that a lie itself is sometimes justifiable. Thus it is
_claimed_ by a Roman Catholic writer, in defense of the Jesuits, that
Liguori, their favorite theologian, taught "that to speak falsely
is immutably a sin against God. It may be permitted under no
circumstances, not even to save life. Pope Innocent III. says, 'Not
even to defend our life is it lawful to speak falsely;'" therefore,
when Liguori approves any actions that seem opposed to truthfulness,
"he allows the instances because they are not falsehood."[1] On the
other hand, Jeremy Taylor squarely asserts: "It is lawful to tell
a lie to children or to madmen, because they, having no powers of
judging, have no right to the truth."[2]

[Footnote 1: See Meyrick's _Moral Theology of the Church of Rome_,
Appendix, p. 256 f.]

[Footnote 2: Jeremy Taylor's _Ductor Dubitantium_, in his Works, X.,

But Jeremy Taylor's trouble is in his indefinite definition of "a
lie," and in his consequent confusion of mind and of statement with
reference to the limitations of the duty of veracity. He writes on
this subject at considerable length,[1] and in alternation declares
himself plainly first on one side, and then on the other, of the main
question, without even an attempt at logical consistency. He starts
out with the idea that "we are to endeavor to be like God, who is
truth essentially;" that "God speaks truth because it is his nature;"
that "the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament do indefinitely
and severely forbid lying," and "our blessed Saviour condemns it by
declaring every lie to be of the Devil;" and that "beyond these things
nothing can [could] be said for the condemnation of lying." All that
certainly is explicit and sound,--as sound as Basil the Great, as
St. Augustine, or as Thomas Aquinas!

[Footnote 1: Jeremy Taylor's _Ductor Dubitantium_, in his Works, X.,

When he attempts the definition of a lie, however, Jeremy Taylor would
seem to claim that injustice toward others and an evil motive are of
its very essence, and that, if these be lacking, a lie is not a lie.
"Lying is to be understood to be something said or written to the hurt
of a neighbor, which cannot be understood [by the hearer or reader]
otherwise than to differ from the mind of him that speaks." As
Melanchthon says, "To lie is to deceive our neighbor to his hurt." "If
a lie be unjust, it can never become lawful; but if it can be separate
from injustice, then it may be innocent."

Jeremy Taylor naturally falls back on the Bible stories of the Hebrew
midwives and Rahab the harlot, and assumes that God commended their
lying, as lying, because they had a good end in view; and he asserts
that "it is necessary sometimes by a lie to advantage charity by
losing of a truth to save a life," and that "to tell a lie for
charity, to save a man's life, the life of a friend, of a husband, of
a prince, of an useful and a public person, hath not only been done in
all times, but commended by great and wise and good men." From this it
would appear that lying, which Jeremy Taylor sets out with denouncing
as contrary to God's nature, and as declared by our Saviour to be
always of the Devil, may, under certain circumstances, be a godly sin.
Gregory of Nyssa and young Chrysostom could not have done better than
this in showing the sinlessness of a sin in a good cause.

Seeing that concealment of that which is true is often a duty, and
seeing also that concealment of that which ought to be disclosed
is often practically a lie, Jeremy Taylor apparently; jumps to the
conclusion that concealment and equivocation and lying are practically
the same thing, and that therefore lying is sometimes a duty, while
again it is a sin. He holds that the right to be spoken to in
truthfulness, "though it be regularly and commonly belonging to all
men, yet it may be taken away by a superior right supervening; or it
may be lost, or it may be hindered, or it may cease upon a greater
reason." As "that which is but the half of a true proposition either
signifies nothing or is directly a lie," it must be admitted that "in
the same cases in which it is lawful to tell a lie, in the same cases
it is lawful to use a mental reservation;" and "where it is lawful to
lie, it is lawful to equivocate, which may be something less than a
plain lie." Moreover, "it is lawful upon a just cause of great charity
or necessity to use, in our answers and intercourses, words of divers
signification, though it does deceive him that asks."

Jeremy Taylor ingenuously confesses that, in certain cases where lying
is allowable or is a duty, "the prejudice which the question is like
to have is in the meaning and evil sound of the word lying; which,
because it is so hateful to God and man, casts a cloud upon anything
that it comes near." But, on the whole, Jeremy Taylor is willing to
employ with commendation that very word "lying" which is "so hateful
to God and man." And in various cases he insists that "it is lawful to
tell a lie," although "the lie must be charitable and useful,"--a good
lie, and not a wicked lie; for a good lie is good, and a wicked lie
is wicked. He does not shrink from the consequences of his false

Jeremy Taylor can therefore be cited as arguing that a lie is never
admissible, but that it often is commendable. He does not seem to
be quite sure of any real difference between lying and justifiable
concealment, or to have in his mind an unvarying line between
truthfulness and lying. He admits that God and man hate lying, but
that a good lie, nevertheless, is a very good thing. And so he leaves
the subject in more of a muddle than he found it.

Coming down to the present century, perhaps the most prominent and
influential defender of the "lie of necessity," or of limitations to
the law of veracity, is Richard Rothe; therefore it is important to
give special attention to his opinions and arguments on this subject.
Rothe was a man of great ability, of lovely spirit, and of pervasive
personal influence; and as a consequence his opinions carry special
weight with his numerous pupils and followers.

Kurtz[1] characterizes Rothe as "one of the most profound thinkers
of the century, equaled by none of his contemporaries in the grasp,
depth, and originality of his speculation," and his "Theological
Ethics" as "a work which in depth, originality, and conclusiveness
of reasoning, is almost unapproached." And in the opinion of
Lichtenberger,[2] Rothe "is unquestionably the most distinguished
theologian of the School of Conciliation, and the most original
thinker since Schleiermacher," while "he also showed himself to be one
of the humblest Christians and one of the finest formed characters of
his age." It is not to be wondered at therefore, that, when such a
leader in thought and in influence as Rothe declares himself in favor
of a judicious use of falsehood as a means of good, many are inclined
to feel that there must be some sound reason for his course. Yet, on
the other hand, the arguments in favor of falsehood, put forward
by even such a man, ought to be scrutinized with care, in order to
ascertain if they are anything more than the familiar arguments on the
same side repeated in varying phrase in all the former centuries from
Chrysostom to Jeremy Taylor.

[Footnote 1: _Church History_ (Macpherson's translation), III., 201.]

[Footnote 2: _History of German Theology in the 19th Century_, p.

The trouble with Rothe in his treatment of this Matter[1] is, that he
considers the duty of truthfulness merely in its personal and social
aspects, without any direct reference to the nature, and the declared
will, of God. Moreover, his peculiar definition of a lie is adapted
to his view of the necessities of the case. He defines a lie as
"the unloving misuse of speech (or of other recognized means of
communication) to the intentional deception of our neighbor." In his
mind, lovelessness toward one's fellow-man is of the very essence of
the lie, and when one speaks falsely in expression of a spirit of love
to others, it is not necessarily a lie.

[Footnote 1: Rothe's _Theologische Ethik_, IVter Band, secs. 1064, 1065.]

Rothe does not seem to recognize, in its application to this matter,
the great principle that there is no true love for man except in
conformity to and in expression of love for God; hence that nothing
that is in direct violation of a primal law of God can be an
exhibition of real love for one of God's creatures.

It is true that Rothe assumes that the subject of Theological Ethics
is an essential branch of Speculative Theology; but in his treatment
of Special Duties he seems to assume that Society rather than God is
their background, and therefore the idea of sin as sin does not enter
into the discussion. His whole argument and his conclusions are an
illustration of the folly of attempting to solve any problem in ethics
without considering the relation to it of God's eternal laws, and of
the eternal principles which are involved in the very conception of
God. Ethics necessarily includes more than social duties, and must be
considered in the light of duty to God as above all.

"The intentional deception of our neighbor," says Rothe, "by saying
what is untrue, is not invariably and unqualifiedly a lie. The
question in this case is essentially one of the purpose.... It is only
in the case where the untruth spoken with intent to deceive is at the
same time an act of unlovingness toward our neighbor, that it is a
violation of truthfulness as already defined, that is, a lie." In
Rothe's view, "there are relations of men to each other in which
[for the time being] avowedly the ethical fellowship does not exist,
although the suspension of this fellowship must, of course, always
be regarded as temporary, and this indeed as a matter of duty for at
least one of the parties. Here there can be no mention of love, and
therefore no more of the want of it." Social duties being in such
cases suspended, and the idea of any special duty toward God not being
in consideration, it is quite proper, as Rothe sees it, for enemies in
war, or in private life, to speak falsely to each other. Such enemies
"naturally have in speech simply a weapon which one may use against
the other.... The duty of speaking the truth cannot even be thought of
as existing between persons so arrayed against each other.... However
they may try to deceive each other, even with the help of speech, they
do not lie."

But Rothe goes even farther than this in the advocacy of such
violations, or abrogations, of the law of veracity, as would undermine
the very foundations of social life, and as would render the law
against falsehood little more than a variable personal rule for
limited and selected applications,--after the fashion of the American
humorist who "believed in universal salvation if he could pick his
men." Rothe teaches that falsehood is a duty, not only when it is
needful in dealing with public or personal enemies, but often, also,
in dealing with "children, the sick, the insane, the drunken, the
passionately excited, and the morally weak,"--and that takes in
a large share of the human race. He gives many illustrations of
falsehood supposed to be necessary (where, in fact, they would seem to
the keen-minded reader to be quite superfluous[1]) and having affirmed
the duty of false speaking in these cases, he takes it for granted
(in a strange misconception of the moral sense of mankind) that the
deceived parties would, if appealed to in their better senses, justify
the falsehoods spoken by mothers in the nursery, by physicians in the
sick-room, and by the clear-headed sober man in his intercourse with
the angry or foolish or drunken individual.

[Footnote 1: Nitzsch, the most eminent dogmatic theologian among
Schleiermacher's immediate disciples, denies the possibility of
conceiving of a case where loving consideration for others, or any
other dutiful regard for them, will not attain its end otherwise and
more truly and nobly than by lying to them, or where "the loving liar
or falsifier might not have acted still more lovingly and wisely
without any falsification.... The lie told from supposed necessity or
to serve another is always, even in the most favorable circumstances,
a sign either of a wisdom which is lacking in love and truth, or of a
love which is lacking in wisdom."]

"Of course," he says, "such a procedure presupposes a certain relation
of guardianship, on the part of the one who speaks untruth, over him
whom he deceives, and a relative irresponsibility on the part of the
other,--an incapacity to make use of certain truths except to his
actual moral injury. And in each case all depends on the accuracy of
this assumption." It is appalling to find a man like Rothe announcing
a principle like this as operative in social ethics! Every man to
decide for himself (taking the responsibility, of course, for his
personal decision) whether he is in any sense such a guardian of his
fellow-man as shall make it his duty to speak falsely to him in love!

Rothe frankly admits that there is no evidence that Jesus Christ,
while setting an example here among men, ever spoke one of these
dutiful untruths; although it certainly would seem that Jesus might
have fairly claimed as good a right to a guardianship of his earthly
fellows as the average man of nowadays.[1] But this does not restrain
Rothe from deliberately advising his fellow-men to a different course.

[Footnote 1: Rothe says on this point: "That the Saviour spoke untruth
is a charge to whose support only a single passage, John 7:8, can be
alleged with any show of plausibility. But even here there was no
speaking of untruth, even if [Greek: ank][a disputed reading] be
regarded as the right reading." See on this passage Meyer in his
_Commentary_, and Westcott in _The Bible Commentary_.]

Rothe names Marheineke, DeWette, von Ammon, Herbart, Hartenstein,
Schwartz, Harless, and Reinhard, as agreeing in the main with his
position; while as opposed to it he mentions Kant, Fichte, Krause,
Schleiermacher, von Hirscher, Nitzsch, Flatt, and Baumgarten-Crusius.
But this is by no means a question to be settled by votes; and not one
of the writers cited by Rothe as of his mind, in this controversy,
has anything new to offer in defense of a position in such radical
disagreement with the teachings of the Bible, and with the moral sense
of the race, on this point, as that taken by Rothe. In his ignoring
of the nature and the will of God as the basis of an argument in this
matter, and in his arbitrary and unauthorized definition of a lie
(with its inclusion of the claim that the deliberate utterance of a
statement known to be false, for the express purpose of deceiving the
one to whom it is spoken, is not necessarily and inevitably a lie),
Rothe stands quite pre-eminent. Wuttke says, indeed, of Rothe's
treatment of ethics: "Morality [as he sees it] is an independent
something alongside of piety, and rests by no means on piety,--is
entirely co-ordinate to and independent of it."[1] Yet so great is the
general influence of Rothe, that various echoes of his arguments for
falsehoods in love are to be found in subsequent English and American
utterances on Christian ethics.

[Footnote 1: Wuttke's _Christian Ethics_ (Lacroix's transl.), sec. 48.]

Contemporaneous with Richard Rothe, and fully his peer in intellectual
force and Christ-likeness of spirit, stands Isaac August Dorner. Dr.
Schaff says of him:[1] "Dr. Dorner was one of the profoundest and
most learned theologians of the nineteenth century, and ranks with
Schleiermacher, Neander, Nitzsch, Julius Mueller, and Richard Rothe. He
mastered the theology of Schleiermacher and the philosophy of Hegel,
appropriated the best elements of both, infused into them a positive
evangelical faith and a historic spirit;" and as a lecturer,
especially "on dogmatics and ethics ... he excelled all his
contemporaries." And to this estimate of him Professor Mead adds:[2]
"Even one who knows Dorner merely as the theological writer, will in
his writings easily detect the fine Christian tone which characterized
the man; but no one who did not personally know him can get a true
impression of the Johannean tenderness and childlike simplicity which
distinguished him above almost any one of equal eminence whom the
world has ever known."

[Footnote 1: _Supplement to Schaff-Hertzog Encyc. of Relig. Knowl_.,
p. 58.]

[Footnote 2: Preface to Dorner's _System of Christian Ethics_ (Am.
ed.), p. vii.]

When, therefore, it is considered that, after Rothe had given his
views on veracity to the world, Dorner wrote on the same subject, as
the very last work of his maturest life, a special interest attaches
to his views on this mooted question. And Dorner is diametrically
opposed to Rothe in this thing. Dorner bases the duty of truthfulness
on our common membership in Christ, and the love that grows out of
such a relation.[1] "Truth does not," indeed, "demand that all that is
in a man should be brought out, else it would be a moral duty for him
to let also the evil that is in him come forth, whereas it is his
duty to keep it down." But if an untrue statement be made with the
intention to deceive, it is a lie.

[Footnote 1: See Dorner's _System of Christian Ethics_ (Am. ed.), pp.

"Are there cases," he asks, "where lying is allowable? Can we make out
the so-called 'white lie' to be morally permissible?" Then he takes up
the cases of children and the insane, who are not entitled to know all
the truth, and asks if it be right not only to conceal the truth but
to falsify it, in talking with them. Concealment may be a duty, he
admits, but he denies that falsifying is ever a duty. "How shall
ethics ever be brought to lay down a duty of lying [of 'white lying'],
to recommend evil that good may come? The test for us is, whether we
could ever imagine Christ acting in this way, either for the sake of
others, or--which would be quite as justifiable, since self-love is a
moral duty--for his _own_ sake."

As to falsifying to a sick or dying man, he says, "we overestimate the
value of human life, and, besides, we in a measure usurp the place
of Providence, when we believe we may save it by committing sin." In
other words, Dorner counts falsifying with the intention of deceiving,
even with the best of motives, a lie, and therefore a sin--never
justifiable. Like Augustine, Dorner recognizes degrees of guilt in
lies, according to the spirit and motive of their telling; but in any
event, if there be falsehood with the purpose of deceiving, it is a
sin--to be regretted and repented of.

Dorner makes a fresh distinction between the stratagems of war and
lying, which is worthy of note. He says that playful fictions, after
the manner of riddles to be guessed out, are clearly allowable. So "in
war, too, something like a game of this kind is carried on, when by
way of stratagem some deceptive appearance is produced, and a riddle
is thus given to the enemy. In such cases there is no falsehood;
for from the conditions of the situation,--whether friendly or
hostile,--the appearance that is given is confessedly nothing more
than an appearance, and is therefore honest."

The simplicity and clearness of Dorner, in his unsophistical treatment
of this question, is in refreshing contrast with the course of
Rothe,--who confuses the whole matter in discussion by his arbitrary
claim that a lie is not a lie, if it be told with a good purpose and a
loving spirit. And the two men are representative disputants in
this controversy of the centuries, as truly as were Augustine and

A close friend of Dorner was Hans Lassen Martensen, "the greatest
theologian of Denmark," and a thinker of the first class, "with high
speculative endowments, and a considerable tincture of theosophical
mysticism."[1] Martensen's "Christian Ethics" do not ignore God
and the Bible as factors in any question of practical morals under
discussion. He characterizes the result of such an omission as "a
reckoning of an account whose balance has been struck elsewhere; if
we bring out another figure, we have reckoned wrong." Martensen's
treatment of the duty of veracity is a remarkable exhibit of the
workings of a logical mind in full view of eternal principles, yet
measurably hindered and retarded by the heart-drawings of an amiable
sentiment. He sees the all-dividing line, and recognizes the primal
duty of conforming to it; yet he feels that it is a pity that such
conformity must be so expensive in certain imaginary cases, and he
longs to find some allowance for desirable exceptions.[2]

[Footnote 1: See Kurtz's _Church History_ (Macpherson's transl.),
III., 201; _Supplement to Schaff-Hertzog Encyc. of Relig. Knowl_., p.
57; _Johnson's Univ. Cycl._., art. "Martensen."]

[Footnote 2: Martensen's _Christian Ethics (Individual)_, (Eng.
trans.,) pp. 205-226.]

Martensen gives as large prominence as Rothe to love for one's
fellow-man; but he bases that love entirely, as Rothe does not, on
love for Christ. "Only in Christ, and [in] the light which, proceeding
from him, is poured over human nature and all human life, can we love
men in the central sense, and only then does philanthropy receive its
deepest religious and moral character, when it is rooted in the truth
of Christ." And as Christ is Truth, those who are Christ's must never
violate the truth. "'Thou shalt not bear false witness; thou shalt not
lie, neither in word nor deed; thou shalt neither deny the truth, nor
give out anything that is not truth for truth,'--this commandment must
dominate and penetrate all our life's relations." "Truth does not
exist for man's sake, but man for the sake of the truth, because the
truth would reveal itself to man, would be owned and testified
by him." This would seem to be explicit enough to shut out the
possibility of a justifiable lie!

"Yet it does not follow from this," says Martensen, "that our duty to
communicate the truth to others is unlimited.... 'There is a time to
be silent, and a time to speak.' No one is bound to say everything to
everybody." Here he distinguishes between justifiable concealment and
falsehood. Then he comes to the question "whether the so-called 'lie
of exigency' can ever be justifiable." He runs over the arguments on
both sides, and recalls the centuries of discussion on the subject.
He thinks that adherence to the general principle which forbids lying
would, in certain cases where love prompted to falsehood, cause in
most minds an inward feeling that the letter killeth, and that to
follow the promptings of love were better. Hence he argues that "as
in other departments there are actions which, although from the
standpoint of the ideal they are to be rejected, yet, from the
hardness of men's hearts, must be approved and admitted, and under
this restriction become relatively justifiable and dutiful actions,
simply because greater evils are thereby averted; so there is also an
untruth from exigency that must still be allowed for the sake of human
weakness." And in his opinion "it comes to this, that the question of
casuistry cannot be solved by general and abstract directions, but
must be solved in an individual, personal way, especially according to
the stage of moral and religious development and ripeness on which the
person in question is found."

Having made these concessions, in the realm of feeling, to the
defenders of the "lie of exigency," which may be "either uttered from
love to men, or as defense against men--a defense in which either a
justifiable self-love or sympathy with others is operative," Martensen
proceeds to show that every such falsehood is abnormal and immoral.
"When we thus maintain," he says, "that in certain difficult cases an
'untruth from necessity' may occur, which is to be allowed for the
sake of human weakness, and under the given relations may be said to
be justified and dutiful, we cannot but allow, on the other hand, that
in every such untruth there is something of sin, nay something that
needs excuse and forgiveness.... Certainly even the truth of the
letter, the external, actual truth, even the formally correct, finds
its right, the ground of its validity, in God's holy order of the
world. But by every lie of exigency the command is broken, 'Thou shalt
not bear false witness.'"

Martensen protests against the claim of Rothe that a falsehood spoken
in love "is not at all to be called a lie, but can be absolutely
defended as morally _normal_, and so in no respect needs pardon."
"However sharply we may distinguish between lie and untruth
(_mendacium_ and _falsilo-quium_), the untruth in question can never
be resolved into the morally normal." And he suggests that if one had
more of wisdom and courage and faith, he might be true to the truth in
an emergency without fear of the consequences.

"Let us suppose, for instance," he says, "the ... case, where the
husband deceives his sick spouse from fear that she could not survive
the news of the death of her child; who dare maintain that if the man
had been able in the right way, that is in the power of the gospel,
with the wisdom and the comfort of faith, to announce the death of the
child, a religious crisis might not have arisen in her soul, which
might have a healing and quickening effect upon her bodily state? And
supposing that it had even led to her death, who dare maintain that
that death, if it was a Christian death, were an evil, whether for the
mother herself, or for the survivors?

"Or, let us take the woman who, to save her chastity, applies the
defense of an untruth: who dare maintain that if she said the truth to
her persecutors, but uttered it in womanly heroism, with a believing
look to God, with the courage, the elevation of soul springing from
a pure conscience, exhibiting to her persecutors the badness and
unworthiness of their object, she might not have disarmed them by that
might that lies in the good, the just cause, the cause whose defense
and shield God himself will be? And even if she had to suffer what is
unworthy, who dare maintain that she could not in suffering preserve
her moral worth?"

Martensen recalls the story of Jeanie Deans, in Scott's "Heart of
Midlothian," who refuses to tell a lie of exigency in order to save
her sister's life; yet who, having uttered the truth which led to her
sister's sentence of death, set herself, in faith in God, to secure
that sister's pardon, and by God's grace compassed it. "Most people
would at least be disposed to excuse Jeanie Deans, and to forgive
her, if she had here made a false oath, and thereby had afforded her
protection to the higher truth." And if a loving lie of exigency be a
duty before God, an appeal to his knowledge of the fact is, of course,
equally a duty. To refuse to appeal to God in witness of the truth of
a falsehood that is told from a loving sense of duty, is to show a
lack of confidence in God's approval of such an untruth. "But she
will, can, and dare, for her conscience' sake, not do this."

"But the best thing in this tale," adds Martensen, "is that it is
no mere fiction. The kernel of this celebrated romance is actual
history." And Sir Walter Scott caused a monument to be erected in his
garden, with the following inscription, in memory of this faithful

"This stone was placed by the Author of 'Waverley' in memory of Helen
Walker, who fell asleep in the year of our Lord 1791. This maiden
practiced in humility all the virtues with which fancy had adorned the
character that bears in fiction the name of Jeanie Deans. She would
not depart a foot's breadth from the path of truth, not even to save
her sister's life; and yet she obtained the liberation of her sister
from the severity of the law by personal sacrifices whose greatness
was not less than the purity of her aims. Honor to the grave where
poverty rests in beautiful union with truthfulness and sisterly love."

"Who will not readily obey this request," adds Martensen, "and hold
such a memory in honor?... Who does not feel himself penetrated with
involuntary, most hearty admiration?"

In conclusion, in view of all that can be said on either side of the
question, Martensen is sure that "the lie of exigency itself, which we
call inevitable, leaves in us the feeling of something unworthy, and
this unworthiness should, simply in following Christ, more and more
disappear from our life. That is, the inevitableness of the lie
of exigency will disappear in the same measure that an individual
develops into a true personality, a true character.... A lie of
exigency cannot occur with a personality that is found in possession
of full courage, of perfect love and holiness, as of the enlightened,
all-penetrating glance. Not even as against madmen and maniacs will a
lie of exigency be required, for to the word of the truly sanctified
personality there belongs an imposing commanding power that casts out
demons. It is this that we see in Christ, in whose mouth no guile
was found, in whom we find nothing that even remotely belongs to the
category of the exigent lie."

So it is evident that if one would seek excuse for the lie of
exigency, in the concessions made by Martensen, he must do so only on
the score of the hardness of his heart, and the softness of his head,
as one lacking a proper measure of wisdom, of courage, and of faith,
to enable him to conform to the proper ideal standard of human
conduct. And even then he must recognize the fact that in his weakness
he has done something to be ashamed of, and to demand repentance. Cold
comfort that for a decent man!

It would seem that personal temperament and individual peculiarities
had their part in deciding a man's attitude toward the question of the
unvarying duty of veracity, quite as surely as the man's recognition
of great principles. An illustration of this truth is shown in the
treatment of the subject by Dr. Charles Hodge on the one hand, and by
Dr. James H. Thornwell on the other, as representatives, severally, of
Calvinistic Augustinianism in the Presbyterian Church of the United
States, in its Northern and Southern branches. Starting from the same
point of view, and agreeing as to the principles involved, these two
thinkers are by no means together in their conclusions; and this, not
because of any real difference in their processes of reasoning, but
apparently because of the larger place given by the former to the
influence of personal feeling, as over against the imperative demands
of truth.

Dr. Hodge begins with the recognition and asseveration of eternal
principles, that can know no change or variation in their application
to this question; and then, as he proceeds with its discussion, he is
amiably illogical and good-naturedly inconsistent, and he ends in a
maze, without seeming quite sure as to his own view of the case,
or giving his readers cause to know what should be their view. Dr.
Thornwell, on the other hand, beginning in the same way, proceeds
unwaveringly to the close, in logical consistency of reasoning;
leaving his readers at the last as fully assured as he is as to the
application of unchangeable principles to man's life and duties.

No one could state the underlying principles involved in this question
more clearly and explicitly than does Dr. Hodge at the outset;[1] and
it would seem from this statement that he could not be in doubt as to
the issue of the discussion of this question of the ages. "The command
to keep truth inviolate belongs to a different class [of commands]
from those relating to the sabbath, to marriage, or to property. These
are founded on the permanent relations of men in the present state of
existence. They are not in their own nature immutable. But truth is
at all times sacred, because it is one of the essential attributes of
God, so that whatever militates against or is hostile to truth is in
opposition to the very nature of God."

[Footnote 1: See Hodge's _Systematic Theology_, III., 437-463.]

"Truth is, so to speak, the very substratum of Deity. It is in such a
sense the foundation of all the moral perfections of God, that without
it they cannot be conceived of as existing. Unless God really is what
he declares himself to be; unless he means what he declares himself to
mean; unless he will do what he promises,--the whole idea of God is
lost. As there is no God but the true God, so without truth there is
and can be no God. As this attribute is the foundation, so to speak,
of the divine, so it is the foundation of the physical and moral order
of the universe.... There is, therefore, something awfully sacred in
the obligations of truth. A man who violates the truth, sins against
the very foundation of his moral being. As a false god is no god, so a
false man is no man; he can never be what man was designed to be; he
can never answer the end of his being. There can be in him nothing
that is stable, trustworthy, or good."

Here is a platform that would seem to be the right standing-place for
all and for always. Dr. Hodge apparently recognizes its well-defined
limits and bounds; yet when he comes to discuss the question whether a
certain person is, in a supposable case, on it, or off it, he does not
seem so sure as to its precise boundary lines. He begins to waver
when he cites Bible incidents. Recognizing the fact that fables
and parables, and works of fiction, even though untrue, are not
falsehoods, he strangely jumps to the conclusion that the "intention
to deceive" is "not always culpable." He immediately follows this
non-sequitur with a reference to the lying Hebrew midwives,[1] and he
quotes the declaration of God's blessing on them, as if it were an
approval of their lying, or their false speaking with an intention to
deceive, instead of an approval of their spirit of devotion to God's

[Footnote 1: Exod. I: 19, 20.]

[Footnote 2: Comp. p. 35 f., _supra_.]

From the midwives he passes to Samuel, sent of God to Bethlehem; [1]
and under cover of the expressed opinions of others, Dr. Hodge says
vaguely: "Here, it is said, is a case of intentional deception
commanded. Saul was to be deceived as to the object of Samuel's
journey to Bethlehem." Yet, whoever "said" this was guilty of a
gratuitous charge of intentional deception, against the Almighty.
Samuel was directed of God to speak the truth, so far as he spoke at
all, while he concealed from others that which others had no right to
know.[2] It would appear, however, throughout this discussion, that
Dr. Hodge does not perceive the clear and important distinction
between justifiable concealment from those who have no right to a
knowledge of the facts, and concealment, or even false speaking, with
the deliberate intention of deceiving those interested. In fact, Dr.
Hodge does not even mention "concealment," as apart from its use for
the specific purpose of deception.

[Footnote 1: I Sam. 16: i, 2.]

[Footnote 2: Comp. pp. 38-40, _supra_.]

Again Dr. Hodge cites the incident of Elisha at Dothan[1] as if
in illustration of the rightfulness of deception under certain
circumstances. But in this case it was concealment of facts that might
properly be concealed, and not the deception of enemies as enemies,
that Elisha compassed. The Syrians wanted to find Elisha. Their eyes
were blinded, so that they did not recognize him when in his presence.
In order to teach them a lesson, Elisha told the Syrians that they
could not find him, or the city which was his home, by their own
seeking; but if they would follow him he would bring them to the man
whom they sought. They followed him, and he showed himself to them.
When their eyes were opened in Samaria he would not suffer them to be
harmed, but had them treated as guests, and sent back safely to their

[Footnote 1: Kings 6: 14-20.]

Having cited these three cases, no one of which can fairly be made to
apply to the argument he is pursuing, Dr. Hodge complacently remarks:
"Examples of this kind of deception are numerous in the Old Testament.
Some of them are simply recorded facts, without anything to indicate
how they were regarded in the sight of God; but others, as in the
cases above cited, received either directly or by implication the
divine sanction."

But Dr. Hodge goes even farther than this. He ventures to suggest that
Jesus Christ deceived his disciples by intimating what was not true
as to his purpose, in more than one instance. "Of our blessed
Lord himself it is said in Luke 24:28, 'He made as though [Greek:
prosepoieito]--he made a show of: he would have gone further.' He so
acted as to make the impression on the two disciples that it was
his purpose to continue his journey. (Comp. Mark 6: 48.)"[1] This
suggestion of Dr. Hodge's would have been rebuked by even Richard
Rothe, and would have shocked August Dorner. Would Dr. Hodge deny that
Jesus _could_ have had it in his mind to "go further," or to have
"passed by" his disciples, if they would not ask him to stop? And if
this were a possibility, is it fair to intimate that a purpose of
deception was in his mind, when there is nothing in the text that
makes that a necessary conclusion? Dr. Hodge, indeed, adds the
suggestion that "many theologians do not admit that the fact recorded
in Luke 24:28 [which he cites as an illustration of justifiable
deception by our Lord] involved any intentional deception;" but this
fact does not deter him from putting it forward in this light.

[Footnote 1: When Jesus came walking on the sea, toward his disciples
in their tempest-tossed boat, "he would have passed them by;" but
their cry of fear drew him toward them.]

In the discussion of the application to emergencies, in practical
life, of the eternal principle which he points out at the beginning,
Dr. Hodge is as far from consistency as in his treatment of Bible
narratives. "It is generally admitted," he says, "that in criminal
falsehoods there must be not only the enunciation or signification of
what is false, and an intention to deceive, but also a violation of
some obligation." What obligation can be stronger than the obligation
to be true to God and true to one's self? If, as Dr. Hodge declares,
"a man who violates the truth, sins against the very foundation of his
moral being," a man would seem to be always under an obligation not to
violate the truth by speaking that which is false with an intention to
deceive. But Dr. Hodge seems to lose sight of his premises, in all his
progress toward his conclusions on this subject.

"There will always be cases," he continues, "in which the rule of duty
is a matter of doubt. It is often said that the rule above stated
applies when a robber demands your purse. It is said to be right to
deny that you have anything of value about you. You are not bound to
aid him in committing a crime; and he has no right to assume that
you will facilitate the accomplishment of his object. This is not so
clear. The obligation to speak the truth is a very solemn one; and
when the choice is left a man to tell a lie or lose his money, he
had better let his money go. On the other hand, if a mother sees a
murderer in pursuit of her child, she has a perfect right to mislead
him by any means in her power [including lying?]; because the general
obligation to speak the truth is merged or lost, for the time
being, in the higher obligation." Yet Dr. Hodge starts out with the
declaration that the obligation "to keep truth inviolate," is highest
of all; that "truth is at all times sacred, because it is one of the
essential attributes of God;" that God himself cannot "suspend or
modify" this obligation; and that man is always under its force. And
now, strangely enough, he claims that in various emergencies "the
general obligation to speak the truth is merged, or lost, for the time
being, in the higher obligation." The completest and most crushing
answer to the vicious conclusions of Dr. Hodge as to the varying
claims of veracity, is to be found in the explicit terms of his
unvaryingly correct premises in the discussion.

Dr. Hodge appears to be conscious of his confusion of mind in this
discussion, but not to be quite sure of the cause of it. As to his
claim that the general obligation to speak the truth may be merged for
the time being in a "higher obligation," he says: "This principle is
not invalidated by its possible or actual abuse. It has been greatly
abused." And he adds, farther on, in the course of the discussion:

"The question now under consideration is not whether it is ever right
to do wrong, which is a solecism; nor is the question whether it is
ever right to lie; but rather what constitutes a lie."

Having claimed that a lie necessarily includes falsity of statement,
an intention to deceive, and "a violation of some obligation," Dr.
Hodge goes on to show that "every lie is a violation of a promise,"
as growing out of the nature of human society, where "every man is
expected to speak the truth, and is under a tacit but binding promise
not to deceive his neighbor by word or act." And, after all this, he
is inclined to admit that there are cases in which falsehoods with
the intention of deceiving are not lying, and are justifiable. "This,
however," he goes on to say, "is not always admitted. Augustine, for
example, makes every intentional deception, no matter what the object
or what the circumstances, to be sinful." And then, in artless
simplicity, Dr. Hodge concludes: "This would be the simplest ground
for the moralist to take. But as shown above, and as generally
admitted, there are cases of intentional deception which are not

According to the principles laid down at the start by Dr. Hodge,
there is no place for a lie in God's service; but according to the
inferences of Dr. Hodge, in the discussion of this question, there are
places where falsehoods spoken with intent to deceive are admissible
in God's sight and service. His whole treatment of this subject
reminds me of an incident in my army-prison life, where this question
as a question was first forced upon my attention. The Union prisoners,
in Columbia at that time, received their rations from the Confederate
authorities, and had them cooked in their own way, and at their own
expense, by an old colored woman whom they employed for the purpose.
Two of us had a dislike for onions in our stew, while the others were
well pleased with them. So we two agreed with old "Maggie," for a
small consideration, to prepare us a separate mess without onions. The
next day our mess came by itself. We took it, and began our meal with
peculiar satisfaction; but the first taste showed us an unmistakable
onion flavor in our stew. When old Maggie came again, we remonstrated
with her on her breach of engagement. "Bless your hearts, honeys," she
replied, "you must have _some_ onions in your stew!" She could not
comprehend the possibility of a beef stew without onions, even though
she had formally agreed to make it.

Dr. Hodge's premises in the discussion of the duty of truthfulness
rule out onions; but his inferences and conclusions have the odor and
the taste of onions. He stands on a safe platform to begin with; but
he is an unsafe guide when he walks away from it. His arguments in
this case are an illustration of his own declaration: "An adept in
logic may be a very poor reasoner."

Dr. Thornwell's "Discourses on Truth"[1] are a thorough treatment of
the obligation of veracity and the sin of lying. He is clear in his
definitions, marking the distinction between rightful concealment as
concealment, and concealment for the purpose of deception. "There are
things which men have a right to keep secret," he says, "and if a
prurient curiosity prompts others officiously to pry into them, there
is nothing criminal or dishonest in refusing to minister to such
a spirit. Our silence or evasive answers may have the effect of
misleading. That is not our fault, as it was not our design. Our
purpose was simply to leave the inquirer as nearly as possible in the
state of ignorance in which we found him: it was not to misinform him,
but not to inform him at all.

[Footnote 1: In Thornwell's _Collected Writings_, II., 451-613.]

"'Every man,' says Dr. Dick, 'has not a right to hear the truth when
he chooses to demand it. We are not bound to answer every question
which may be proposed to us. In such cases we may be silent, or we may
give as much information as we please, and suppress the rest. If the
person afterward discover that the information was partial, he has no
title to complain, because he had no right even to what he obtained;
and we are not guilty of a falsehood unless we made him believe, by
something which we said, that the information was complete.'" "The
_intention_ of the speaker, and the _effect_ consequent upon it, are
very different things."

Dr. Thornwell recognizes the fact that the moral sense of humanity
discerns the invariable superiority of truth over falsehood. "If we
place virtue in sentiment," he says, "there is nothing, according to
the confession of all mankind, more beautiful and lovely than truth,
more ugly and hateful than a lie. If we place it in calculations of
expediency, nothing, on the one hand, is more conspicuously useful
than truth and the confidence it inspires; nothing, on the other, more
disastrous than falsehood, treachery, and distrust. If there be then a
moral principle to which, in every form, humanity has given utterance,
it is the obligation of veracity." "No man ever tells a lie without a
certain degree of violence to his nature."

Dr. Thornwell bases this obligation of veracity on the nature of God,
and on the duty of man to conform to the image of God in which he was
created. "Jesus Christ commends himself to our confidence and love,"
he says, "on the ground of his being the truth;... and makes it the
glory of the Father that he is the God of truth, and the shame and
everlasting infamy of the prince of darkness that he is the father
of lies;" and he adds: "The mind cannot move in charity, nor rest in
Providence, unless it turn upon the poles of truth." "Every man is as
distinctly organized in reference to truth, as in reference to any
other purpose."

In Dr. Thornwell's view, it is not, as Dr. Paley would have it, that
"a lie is a breach of promise," because as between man and man "the
truth is expected," according to a tacit understanding. As Dr.
Thornwell sees it, "we are not bound by any other expectations of man
but those which we have authorized;" and he deems it "surprising
to what an extent this superficial theory of 'contract' has found
advocates among divines and moralists," as, for example, Dr. Robert
South, whom he quotes.[1] "If Dr. Paley had pushed his inquiries a
little farther," adds Thornwell, "he might have accounted for this
expectation [of truthfulness] which certainly exists, independently of
a promise, upon principles firmer and surer than any he has admitted
in the structure of his philosophy. He might have seen it in the
language of our nature proclaiming the will of our nature's God." The
moral sense of mankind demands veracity, and abhors falsehood.

[Footnote 1: Smith's _Sermon, on Falsehood and Lying_.]

Dr. Thornwell is clear as to the teachings of the Bible, in its
principles, and in the illustration of those principles in the sacred
narrative. The Bible as he sees it teaches the unvarying duty of
veracity, and the essential sinfulness of falsehood and deception. He
repudiates the idea that God, in any instance, approved deception, or
that Jesus Christ practiced it. "When our Saviour 'made as though he
would have gone farther,' he effectually questioned his disciples
as to the condition of their hearts in relation to the duties of
hospitality. The angels, in pretending that it was their purpose to
abide in the street all night, made the same experiment on Lot. This
species of simulation involves no falsehood; its design is not to
deceive, but to catechize and instruct. The whole action is to be
regarded as a sign by which a question is proposed, or the mind
excited to such a degree of curiosity and attention that lessons of
truth can be successfully imparted."

And so on through other Bible incidents. Dr. Thornwell has no
hesitation in distinguishing when concealment is right concealment,
and when concealment is wrong because intended to deceive.

Exposing the incorrectness of the claim, made by Dr. Paley, as by
others, that certain specific falsehoods are not lies, Dr. Thornwell
shows himself familiar with the discussion of this question of
the ages in all the centuries; and he moves on with his eye fixed
unerringly on the polar star of truth, in refreshing contrast with the
amiable wavering of Dr. Hodge's footsteps.

"Paley's law," he concludes, "would obviously be the destruction of
all confidence. How much nobler and safer is the doctrine of the
Scriptures, and of the unsophisticated language of man's moral
constitution, that truth is obligatory on its own account, and that he
who undertakes to signify to another, no matter in what form, and no
matter what may be the right in the case to know the truth, is bound
to signify according to the convictions of his own mind! He is not
always bound to speak, but whenever he does speak he is solemnly bound
to speak nothing but the truth. The universal application of this
principle would be the diffusion of universal confidence. It would
banish deceit and suspicion from the world, and restrict the use of
signs to their legitimate offices."

A later work on Christian Ethics, which acquires special prominence
through its place in "The International Theological Library," edited
by Drs. Briggs and Salmond, is by Dr. Newman Smyth. It shows signs of
strength in the premises assumed by the writer, in accordance with the
teachings of Scripture and of the best moral sense of mankind; and
signs of weakness in his processes of reasoning, and in his final
conclusion, according to the mental methods of those who have wavered
on this subject, from John Chrysostom to Richard Rothe and Charles

Dr. Smyth rightly bases Christian ethics on the nature and will of
God, as illustrated in the life and teachings of the divine-human Son
of God. "A thoroughly scientific ethics must not only be adequate
to the common moral sense of men, but prove true also to the moral
consciousness of the Son of man. No ethics has right to claim to be
thoroughly scientific, or to offer itself as the only science of
ethics possible to us in our present experience, until it has sought
to enter into the spirit of Christ, and has brought all its, analysis
and theories of man's moral life to the light of the luminous ethical
personality of Jesus Christ."[1]

[Footnote 1: Smyth's _Christian Ethics_, p. 6.]

In his general statement of "the duty of speaking the truth," Dr.
Smyth is also clear, sound, and emphatic.[1] "The law of truthfulness
is," he says, "a supreme inward law of thought." "The obligation of
veracity ... is an obligation which every man owes to himself. It is a
primal personal obligation. Kant was profoundly right when he regarded
falsehood as a forfeiture of personal worth, a destruction of personal
integrity.... Truthfulness is the self-consistency of character;
falsehood is a breaking up of the moral integrity. Inward truthfulness
is essential to moral growth and personal vigor, as it is necessary
to the live oak that it should be of one fiber and grain from root to
branch. What a flaw is in steel, what a foreign substance is in any
texture, that a falsehood is to the character,--a source of weakness,
a point where under strain it may break.... Truthfulness, then, is
due, first by the individual to himself as the obligation of personal
integrity. The unity of the personal life consists in it."

[Footnote 1: _Ibid_., pp. 386-389.]

And in addition to the obligation of veracity as a duty to one's self,
Dr. Smyth recognizes it as a duty to others. He says: "Truthfulness is
owed to society as essential to its integrity. It is the indispensable
bond of social life. Men can be members, one of another in a social
organism only as they live together in truth. Society would fall, to
pieces without credit; but credit rests on the general social virtue
of truthfulness.... The liar is rightly regarded as an enemy to
mankind. A lie is not only an affront against the person to whom it is
told, but it is an offense against humanity."

If Dr. Smyth had been content to leave this matter with the explicit
statement of the principles that are unvaryingly operative, he would
have done good service to the world, and his work could have been
commended as sound and trustworthy in this department of ethics; but
as soon as he begins to question and reason on the subject, he
begins to waver and grow confused; and in the end his inconclusive
conclusions are pitiably defective and reprehensible.[1]

[Footnote 1: Smyth's _Christian Ethics_, pp. 392-403]

In considering "the so-called lies of necessity," Dr. Smyth declares
with frankness: "Some moralists in their supreme regard for truth will
not admit that under any conceivable circumstances a lie can be
deemed necessary, not even to save life or to prevent a murderer from
accomplishing his fiendish purpose." And then over against this he
indicates his fatal confusion of mind and weakness of reasoning in
the suggestion: "But the sound human understanding, in spite of the
moralists, will prevaricate, and often with great vigor and success,
in such cases. Who is right,--Kant, or the common moral sense? Which
should be followed,--the philosophic morality, or the practice of
otherwise most truthful men?"

It is to be noted that, in these two declarations, Dr. Smyth puts
lying as if it were synonymous with prevarication; else there is no
reason for his giving the one as over against the other. And this
indicates a peculiar difficulty in the whole course of Dr. Smyth's
argument concerning the "so-called lie of necessity." He essays no
definition of the "lie." He draws no clear line of distinction between
a lie, a falsehood, a deceit, and a prevarication, or between a
justifiable concealment and an unjustifiable concealment; and in
his various illustrations of his position he uses these terms
indiscriminately, in such a way as to indicate that he knows no
essential difference between them, or that he does not care to
emphasize any difference.

If, in the instance given above, Dr. Smyth means that "the sound human
understanding, in spite of the moralists," will approve lying, or
falsifying with the intention to deceive, he ought to know that the
sound human understanding will not justify such a course, and that it
is unfair to intimate such a thing.[1] And when he asks, in connection
with this suggestion, "Who is right,--Kant, or the common moral sense?
Which should be followed, the philosophic morality, or the practice of
otherwise most truthful men?" his own preliminary assertions are his
conclusive answer. He says specifically, "Kant was profoundly right
when he regarded falsehood as a forfeiture of personal worth, a
destruction of personal integrity;" and the "common moral sense" of
humanity is with Kant in this thing, in accordance with Dr. Smyth's
primary view of the case, as over against the intimation of Dr.
Smyth's question. As to the suggested "practice of otherwise most
truthful men" in this thing,--if men who generally tell the truth,
lie, or speak falsely, or deceive, under certain circumstances, they
are much like men who are generally decent, but who occasionally,
under temptation, are unchaste or dishonest; they are better examples
in their uprightness than in their sinning.

[Footnote 1: See pp. 9-32, _supra_.]

It would seem, indeed, that, notwithstanding his sound basis of
principles, which recognizes the incompatibility of falsehood with
true manhood and with man's duty to his fellows, Dr. Smyth does not
carry with him in his argument the idea of the essential sinfulness of
a lie, and therefore he is continually inconsistent with himself. He
says, for example, in speaking of the suspension of social duties in
war time: "If the war is justifiable, the ethics of warfare come at
once into play. It would be absurd to say that it is right to kill
an enemy, but not to deceive him. Falsehood, it may be admitted, as
military strategy, is justifiable, if the war is righteous."

Here, again, is the interchange of the terms "deception" and
"falsehood." But unless this is an intentional jugglery of words,
which is not to be supposed, this means that it would be absurd to
say that it is right to kill an enemy, but not right to tell him a
falsehood. And nothing could more clearly show Dr. Smyth's error of
mind on this whole subject than this declaration. "Absurd" to claim
that while it is right to take a man's life in open warfare, in a just
cause, it would not be right to forfeit one's personal worth, and to
destroy one's personal integrity, which Dr. Smyth says are involved
in a falsehood! "Absurd" to claim that while God who is the author
of life can justify the taking of life, he cannot justify the sin of
lying! No, no, the absurdity of the case is not on _that_ side of the

There is no consistency of argument on this subject in Dr. Smyth's
work. His premises are sound. His reasoning is confused and
inconsistent. "Not only in some cases of necessity is falsehood
permissible, but we may recognize a positive obligation of love to
the concealment of the truth," he says. Here again is that apparent
confounding of unjustifiable "falsehood" with perfectly proper
"concealment of truth." He continues: "Other duties which under such
circumstances have become paramount, may require the preservation of
one's own or another's life through a falsehood. Not only ought one
not to tell the truth under the supposed conditions, but, if the
principle assumed be sound, a good conscience may proceed to enforce a
positive obligation of untruthfulness.... There are occasions when the
interests of society and the highest motives of Christian love may
render it much more preferable to discharge the duty of self-defense
through the humanity of a successful falsehood, than by the barbarity
of a stunning blow or a pistol-shot. General benevolence demands that
the lesser evil, if possible, rather than the greater, should be
inflicted on another."

Just compare these conclusions of Dr. Smyth with his own premises.
"Truthfulness ... is an obligation which every man owes to himself.
It is a primal personal obligation.... Truthfulness is the
self-consistency of character; falsehood is a breaking up of the moral
integrity." "The liar is rightly regarded as an enemy to mankind. A
lie is not only an affront against the person to whom it is told, but
it is an offense against humanity." But what of all that? "There are
occasions when the interests of society and the highest motives of
Christian love may render it much more preferable to discharge the
duty of self-defense through the humanity of a successful falsehood,
than by the barbarity of a stunning blow or a pistol-shot. General
benevolence demands that the lesser evil, if possible, rather than the
greater, should be inflicted on another." Better break up one's
moral integrity, and fail in one's primal personal obligation to
himself,--better become an enemy of mankind, and commit an offense
against humanity,--than defend one's self against an outlaw by the
barbarity of a stunning blow or a bullet!

Would any one suppose from his premises that Dr. Smyth looked upon
personal truthfulness as a minor virtue, and upon falsehood as a
lesser vice? Does he seem in those premises to put veracity below
chastity, and falsehood below personal impurity? Yet is he to be
understood as intimating, in this phase of his argument, that
unchastity, or dishonesty, or any other vice than falsehood, is to be
preferred, in practice, over a stunning blow or a fatal bullet against
a would-be murderer?[1] The looseness of Dr. Smyth's logic, as
indicated in this reasoning on the subject of veracity, would in its
tendency be destructive to the safeguards of personal virtue and of
social purity; and his arguments for the lie of exigency are similar
to those which are put forward in excuse for common sins against
chastity, by the free-and-easy defenders of a lax standard in such
matters. "Some moralists," says the average young man of the world,
"in their extreme regard for personal purity, will not admit that any
act of unchastity is necessary, even to protect one's health, or as an
act of love. But the men of virility and strong feeling will let down
occasionally at this point, in spite of the moralists. Which should be
followed,--the philosophic morality, or the practice of many otherwise
decent and very respectable men?"

[Footnote 1: See Augustine's words on this point, quoted at p. 100,

Confounding, as always, a wise and right concealment of truth with
actual falsehood, Dr. Smyth says of the duty of a teacher in the
matter of imparting truth to a pupil according to the measure of the
pupil's ability to receive it: "An occasional friendly use of truth
as a crash towel may be wholesome; but ordinarily there is a more
excellent way." _That_ is a counting of truth precious, with a

Dr. Smyth seems inclined to accept in the main the conclusions,
on this whole subject, of Rothe, but without Rothe's measure of
consistency in the argument. Rothe starts wrong, and of course ends
wrong. Dr. Smyth, like Dr. Hodge, starts right and ends wrong. No
sorer condemnation of Dr. Smyth's position can be made, than by the
simple presentation of his own review of his own argument, when he
says: "To sum up, then, what has been said concerning the so-called
lies of necessity, the principle to be applied with wisdom is simply
this: give the truth always to those who in the bonds of humanity
have the right to the truth; conceal it or falsify it only when it is
unmistakably evident that the human right to the truth from others
has been forfeited, or temporarily is held in abeyance by sickness,
weakness, or some criminal intent: do not in any case prevaricate,
unless you can tell the necessary falsehood deliberately and
positively, from principle, with a good conscience void of offense
toward men, and sincere in the sight of God." What says the moral
sense of humanity to such a position as that?

As over against the erroneous claim, made by Richard Rothe, and Newman
Smyth, and others, that the "moral sense" of mankind is at
variance with the demands of "rigid moralists," in regard to the
unjustifiableness of falsehood, it is of interest to note the
testimony of strong thinkers, who have written on this subject with
the fullest freedom, from the standpoint of speculative philosophy,
rather than of exclusively Christian ethics. For example, James
Martineau, while a Christian philosopher, discusses the question of
veracity as a philosopher, rather than as a Christian, in his "Types
of Ethical Theory;"[1] and he insists that "veracity is strictly
natural, that is, it is implied in the very nature which leads us to
intercommunion in speech."

[Footnote 1: Martineau's _Types of Ethical Theory_, II., 255-265.]

As he sees it, a man is treacherous to himself who speaks falsely at
any time to any one, and the man's moral sense recoils from his
action accordingly. Dr. Martineau says: "It is perhaps, the peculiar
_treachery_ of this process which fixes upon falsehood a stamp of
_meanness_ quite exceptional; and renders it impossible, I think, to
yield to its inducements, even in cases supposed to be venial, without
a disgust little distinguishable from compunction. This must have been
Kant's feeling when he said: 'A lie is the abandonment, or, as it
were, the annihilation of the dignity of man.'"

Dr. Martineau is not so rigid a moralist but that he is ready to agree
with those easy-going theologians who find a place for exceptional
falsehoods in their reasoning; yet he is so true a man in his moral
instincts that his nature recoils from the results of such reasoning.
"After all," he says, "there is something in this problem which
refuses to be thus laid to rest; and in treating it, it is hardly
possible to escape the uneasiness of a certain moral inconsequence. If
we consult the casuist of Common Sense he usually tells us that, in
theory, Veracity can have no exceptions; but that, in practice, he is
brought face to face with at least a few; and he cheerfully accepts a
dispensation, when required, at the hands of Necessity.

"I confess rather to an inverse experience. The theoretic reasons for
certain limits to the rule of veracity appear to me unanswerable; nor
can I condemn any one who acts in accordance with them. Yet when I
place myself in a like position, at one of the crises demanding a
deliberate lie, an unutterable repugnance returns upon me, and makes
the theory seem shameful. If brought to the test, I should probably
act rather as I think than as I feel,[1] without, however, being able
to escape the stab of an instant compunction and the secret wound of a
long humiliation. Is this the mere weakness of superstition? It may be
so. But may it not also spring from an ineradicable sense of a common
humanity, still leaving social ties to even social aliens, and, in
the presence of an imperishable fraternal unity, forbidding to the
individual of the moment the proud right of spiritual ostracism?..."

[Footnote 1: No, a man who feels like that would be true in the hour
of temptation. His doubt of himself is only the tremulousness of true

"How could I ever face the soul I had deceived, when perhaps our
relations are reversed, and he meets my sins, not with self-protective
repulse, but with winning love? And if with thoughts like these there
also blends that inward reverence for reality which clings to the very
essence of human reason, and renders it incredible, _a priori_,
that falsehood should become an implement of good, it is perhaps
intelligible how there may be an irremediable discrepancy between the
dioptric certainty of the understanding and the immediate insight of
the conscience: not all the rays of spiritual truth are refrangible;
some there are beyond the intellectual spectrum, that wake invisible
response, and tremble in the dark."

Dr. Martineau's definition of right and wrong is this:[1] "Every
action is right, which, in presence of a lower principle, follows
a higher: every action is wrong, which, in presence of a higher
principle, follows a lower;" and his moral sense will not admit the
possibility of falsehood being at any time higher than truth, or of
veracity ever being lower than a lie.

[Footnote 1: _Types of Ethical Theory_, II., 270.]

Professor Thomas Fowler, of the University of Oxford, writing as a
believer in the gradual evolution of morals, and basing his philosophy
on experience without any recognition of _a priori_ principles, is
much more nearly in accord, at this point,[1] with Martineau, than
with Rothe, Hodge, and Smyth. Although he is ready to concede that
a lie may, theoretically, be justifiable, he is sure that the moral
sense of mankind is, at the present state of average development,
against its propriety. Hence, he asserts that, even when justice
might deny an answer to an improper question, "outside the limits of
justice, and irrespectively of their duty to others, many persons are
often restrained, and quite rightly so, from returning an untruthful
or ambiguous answer by purely self-regarding feelings. They feel that
to give an untruthful answer, even under such circumstances as I
have supposed, would be to burden themselves with the subsequent
consciousness of cowardice or lack of self-respect. And hence,
whatever inconvenience or annoyance it may cost them, they tell the
naked truth, rather than stand convicted to themselves of a want of
courage or dignity."

[Footnote 1: _Principles of Morals_, II., 159-161.]

"Veracity, though this was by no means always the case," Professor
Fowler continues, "has become the point of honor in the upper ranks of
modern civilized societies, and hence it is invested with a sanctity
which seems to attach to no other virtue; and to the uninstructed
conscience of the unreflective man, the duty of telling the truth
appears, of all duties, to be the only duty which never admits of
any exceptions, from the unavoidable conflict with other duties."
He ranges the moral sense of the "upper ranks of modern civilized
societies," and "the uninstructed conscience of the unreflective man,"
against any tolerance of the "lie of necessity," leaving only the
locality of Muhammad's coffin for those who are arrayed against the
rigid moralists on this question.

While he admits the theoretical possibility of the "lie of necessity,"
Professor Fowler concludes as to its practical expediency: "Without
maintaining that there are no conceivable circumstances under which a
man will be justified in committing a breach of veracity, it may at
least be said that, in the lives of most men, there is no case likely
to occur in which the greater social good would not be attained by the
observation of the general rule to tell the truth, rather than by the
recognition of an exception in favor of a lie, even though that lie
were told for purely benevolent reasons." That is nearer right than
the conclusions of many an inconsistent intuitionist!

Leslie Stephen, a consistent agnostic, and a believer in the slow
evolution of morals, in his "Science of Ethics,"[1] naturally holds,
like Herbert Spencer, to the gradual development of the custom of
truthfulness, as a necessity of society.[2] The moral sense of
primitive man, as he sees it, might seem to justify falsehood to an
_enemy_, rather than, as Rothe and Smyth would claim, to those who are
_wards of love_. In illustration of this he says: "The obligation to
truthfulness is [primarily] limited to relations with members of the
same tribe or state; and, more generally, it is curious to observe how
a kind of local or special morality is often developed in regard to
this virtue. The schoolboy thinks it a duty to his fellows to lie
to his master, the merchant to his customer, and the servant to his
employer; and, inversely, the duty is often recognized as between
members of some little clique or profession, as soon as it is seen to
be important for their corporate interest, even at the expense of the
wider social organization. There is honor among thieves, both of the
respectable and other varieties."

[Footnote 1: Leslie Stephen's _Science of Ethics_, pp. 202-209.]

[Footnote 2: See pp. 26-32, _supra_.]

But Leslie Stephen sees that, in the progress of the race, the
importance of veracity has come to a recognition, "in which it differs
from the other virtues." While the law of marriage may vary at
different periods, "the rule of truthfulness, on the other hand, seems
to possess the _a priori_ quality of a mathematical axiom.... Truth,
in short, being always the same, truthfulness must be unvarying. Thus,
'Be truthful' means, 'Speak the truth whatever the consequences,
whether the teller or the hearer receives benefit or injury.' And
hence, it is inferred, truthfulness implies a quality independent of
the organization of the agent or of society." While Mr. Stephen would
himself find a place for the "lie of necessity" under conceivable
circumstances, he is clear-minded enough to perceive that the moral
sense of the civilized world is opposed to this view; and in this he
is nearer correct than those who claim the opposite.

It is true that those who seek an approbation of their defense of
falsehoods which they deem a necessity, assume, without proof, their
agreement with the moral sense of the race. But it is also true that
there stands opposed to their theory the best moral sense of primitive
man, as shown in a wide area of investigation, and also of thinkers
all the way up from the lowest moral grade to the most rigorous
moralists, including intuitionists, utilitarians, and agnostics.
However deficient may be the practice of erring mortals, the ideal
standard in theory, is veracity, and not falsehood.

As to the opinions of purely speculative philosophers, concerning the
admissibility of the "lie of necessity," they have little value except
as personal opinions. This question is one that cannot be discussed
fairly without relation to the nature and law of God. It is of
interest, however, to note that a keen mind like Kant's insists that
"the highest violation of the duty owed by man to himself, considered
as a moral being singly (owed to the humanity subsisting in his
person), is a departure from truth, or lying."[1] And when a man
like Fichte,[2] whom Carlyle characterizes as "that cold, colossal,
adamantine spirit, standing erect like a Cato Major among degenerate
men; fit to have been the teacher of the Stoa, and to have discoursed
of beauty and virtue in the groves of Academe," declares that no
measure of evil results from truth-speaking would induce him to tell a
lie, a certain moral weight attaches to his testimony. And so with
all the other philosophers. No attempt at exhaustiveness in their
treatment is made in this work. But the fullest force of any fresh
argument made by them in favor of occasional lying is recognized so
far as it is known.

[Footnote 1: See Semple's _Kant's Metaphysic of Ethics_, p. 267.]

[Footnote 2: See Martensen's _Christian Ethics (Individual)_, sec. 97.]

One common misquotation from a well-known philosopher, in this line,
is, however, sufficiently noteworthy for special mention here. Jacobi,
in his intense theism, protests against the unqualified idealism of
Fichte, and the indefinite naturalism of Schelling; and, in his famous
Letter to Fichte,[1] he says vehemently: "But the Good what is it?
I have no answer if there be no God. As to me, this world of
phenomena--if it have all its truth in these phenomena, and no more
profound significance, if it have nothing beyond itself to reveal
to me--becomes a repulsive phantom, in whose presence I curse the
consciousness which has called it into existence, and I invoke against
it annihilation as a deity. Even so, also, everything that I call
good, beautiful, and sacred, turns to a chimera, disturbing my spirit,
and rending the heart out of my bosom, as soon as I assume that it
stands not in me as a relation to a higher, real Being,--not a mere
resemblance or copy of it in me;--when, in fine, I have within me an
empty and fictitious consciousness only. I admit also that I know
nothing of 'the Good _per se_,' or 'the True _per se_,' that I even
have nothing but a vague notion of what such terms stand for. I
declare that it revolts me when people seek to obtrude upon me the
Will which wills nothing, this empty nut of independence and freedom
in absolute indifference, and accuse me of atheism, the true and
proper godlessness, because I show reluctance to accept it."

[Footnote 1: F.H. Jacobi's _Werke_, IIIter Band, pp. 36-38.]

Insisting thus that he must have the will of a personal God as a
source of obligation to conform to the law of truth and virtue, and
that without such a source no assumed law can be binding on him,
Jacobi adds: "Yes I am the atheist, and the godless man who, in
opposition to the Will that wills nothing, will lie as the lying
Desdemona lied; will lie and deceive as did Pylades in passing himself
off as Orestes; will commit murder as did Timoleon; break law and oath
as did Epaminondas, as did John De Witt; will commit suicide as did
Otho; will undertake sacrilege with David; yes and rub ears of corn on
the Sabbath merely because I am an hungered, and because the law is
made for man and not man for the law."

Jacobi's reference, in this statement, to lying and other sins, was
taken by itself as the motto to one of Coleridge's essays;[1] and this
seems to have given currency to the idea that Jacobi was in favor of
lying. Hence he is unfairly cited by ethical writers[2] as having
declared himself for the lie of expediency; whereas the context shows
that that is not his position. He is simply stating the logical
consequences of a philosophy which he repudiates.

[Footnote 1: Coleridge's Works: _The Friend_, Essay XV.]

[Footnote 2: See, for instance, Martensen's _Christian Ethics
(Individual)_, sec. 97.]

Among the false assumptions that are made by many of the advocates of
the "lie of necessity" is the claim that in war, in medical practice,
and in the legal profession, the propriety of falsehood and deceit,
in certain cases, is recognized and admitted on all sides. While the
baselessness of this claim has been pointed out, incidentally, in the
progress of the foregoing discussion,[1] it would seem desirable to
give particular attention to the matter in a fuller treatment of it,
before closing this record of centuries of discussion.

[Footnote 1: See pp. 71-75, _supra_.]

It is not true that in civilized warfare there is an entire
abrogation, or suspension, of the duty of truthfulness toward an
enemy. There is no material difference between war and peace in this
respect. Enemies, on both sides, understand that in warfare they are
to kill each other if they can, by the use of means that are allowable
as means; but this does not give them the privilege of doing what is
utterly inconsistent with true manhood.

Enemies are not bound to disclose their plans to each other. They have
a duty of concealing those plans from each other. Hence, as Dorner has
suggested, they proffer to each other's sight only appearances, not
assurances; and it is for each to guess out, if he can, the real
purpose of the other, below the appearance. An enemy can protect his
borders by pitfalls, or torpedoes, or ambushes, carefully concealed
from sight, in order to guard the life of his own people by destroying
the life of his opponents, or may make demonstrations, before the
enemy, of possible movements, in order to conceal his purposed
movements; but in doing this he does only what is allowable, in
effect, in time of peace.[1]

[Footnote 1: Several of the illustrations of Oriental warfare in the
Bible record are to be explained in accordance with this principle.
Thus with the ambush set by Joshua before Ai (Josh. 8: 1-26):
the Canaanites did not read aright the riddle of the Israelitish
commander, and they suffered accordingly. Yet Dr. Dabney (_Theology_,
p. 424) cites this as an instance of an intentional deception which
was innocent in God's sight. And again, in the case recorded at 2
Kings 7: 6, where the Lord "made the host of the Syrians to hear a
noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great
host,... and they arose and ... fled for their life," thinking that
Hittite and Egyptian forces were approaching, it is evident that God
simply caused the Syrians, who were contending with his people, to
feel that they were fighting hopelessly against God's cause. The
impression God made on their minds was a correct one. He could bring
chariots and horses as a great host against them. They did well to
realize this fact. But the Syrians' explanation of this impression was
incorrect in its details.]

A similar method of mystifying his opponent is adopted by the
base-ball pitcher in his demonstrations with the ball before letting
it drive at the batsman. The batsman holds himself responsible for
reading the riddle of the pitcher's motions. Yet the pitcher is
forbidden to deceive the batsman by a feint of delivering the ball
without delivering it.

If an enemy attempts any communication with his opponent, he has no
right to lie to, or to deceive him. He must not draw him into an
ambuscade, or over concealed torpedoes, on the plea of desiring an
amicable interview with him; and his every word given to an enemy must
be observed sacredly as an obligation of truth.

Even before the Christian era, and centuries prior to the time when
Chrysostom was confused in his mind on this point, Cicero wrote as
to the obligations of veracity upon enemies in time of war, and in
repudiation of the idea that warfare included a suspension of all
moral relations between belligerents during active hostilities.[1]

[Footnote 1: Cicero's _De Officiis_, I., 12, 13.]

He said: "The equities of war are prescribed most carefully by the
heralds' law (_lex fetialis_) of the Roman people," and he went on to
give illustrations of the recognized duty of combatants to keep within
the bounds of mutual social obligations. "Even where private persons,
under stress of circumstances, have made any promise to the enemy," he
said, "they should observe the exactest good faith, as did Regulus, in
the first Punic war, when taken prisoner and sent to Rome to treat of
the exchange of prisoners, having sworn that he would return. First,
when he had arrived, he did not vote in the Senate for the return of
the prisoners. Then, when his friends and kinsmen would have detained
him, he preferred to go back to punishment rather than evade his faith
plighted to the enemy.

"In the second Punic war also, after the battle of Cannae, of the ten
Romans whom Hannibal sent to Rome bound by an oath that they would
return unless they obtained an agreement for the redemption of
prisoners, the censors kept disfranchised those who perjured
themselves, making no exception in favor of him who had devised a
fraudulent evasion of his oath. For when by leave of Hannibal he had
departed from the camp, he went back a little later, on pretense
of having forgotten something. Then departing again from the camp
[without renewing his oath], he counted himself set free from the
obligation of his oath. And so he was free _so_ far as the words went,
but not so in reality; for always in a promise we must have regard to
the meaning of our words, rather than to the words themselves."

In modern times, when Lord Clive, in India, acted on the theory that
an utter lack of veracity and good faith on the part of an enemy
justified a suspension of all moral obligations toward him, and
practiced deceit on a Bengalee by the name of Omichund, in order to
gain an advantage over the Nabob of Bengal, he was condemned by the
moral sense of the nation for which he thus acted deceitfully; and, in
spite of the specious arguments put forth by his partisan defenders,
his name is infamous because of this transaction.

"English valor and English intelligence have done less to extend
and preserve our Oriental empire than English veracity," says Lord
Macaulay. "All that we could have gained by imitating the doublings,
the evasions, the fictions, the perjuries, which have been employed
against us, is as nothing when compared with what we have gained by
being the one power in India on whose word reliance can be placed.
No oath which superstition can devise, no hostage however precious,
inspires a hundredth part of the confidence which is produced by the
'yea, yea,' and the 'nay, nay,' of a British envoy." Therefore it is
that Lord Macaulay is sure that "looking at the question of expediency
in the lowest sense of the word, and using no arguments but such as
Machiavelli might have employed in his conferences with Borgia, we
are convinced that Clive was altogether in the wrong, and that he
committed, not merely a crime but a blunder."[1]

[Footnote 1: Macaulay's _Essay on Lord Clive_.]

So again when an English vessel of war made signals of distress,
off the coast of France, during the war with Napoleon, and thereby
deceived men from the enemy into coming to its relief, and then held
them as prisoners, the act was condemned by the moral sense of the
world. As Woolsey says, in his "International Law:"[1] "Breach of
faith between enemies has always been strongly condemned, and that
vindication of it is worthless which maintains that, without an
express or tacit promise to our enemy, we are not bound to keep faith
with him."

[Footnote 1: Sect. 133, p. 213.]

The theologian who assumes that the duty of veracity is suspended
between enemies in war time is ignorant of the very theory of
civilized warfare; or else he fails to distinguish between justifiable
concealment, by the aid of methods of mystifying, and falsehood which
is never justifiable. And that commander who should attempt to justify
falsehood and bad faith in warfare on the ground that it is held
justifiable in certain works on Christian ethics, would incur the
scorn of the civilized world for his credulity; and he would be told
that it is absurd to claim that because he is entitled to kill a man
in warfare it must be fair to lie to him.

In the treatment of the medical profession, many writers on ethics
have been as unfair, as in their misrepresentation of the general
moral sense with reference to warfare. They have spoken as if "the
ethics of the medical profession" had a recognized place for falsehood
in the treatment of the sick. But this assumption is only an
assumption. There are physicians who will lie, and there are
physicians who will not lie; and in each case the individual physician
acts in this matter on his own responsibility: he has no code of
professional ethics justifying a lie on his part as a physician, when
it would not be justifiable in a layman.

Concealment of that which he has a right to conceal, is as clearly a
duty, in many a case, on the part of a physician, as it is on the
part of any other person; but falsehood is never a legitimate, or an
allowable, means of concealment by physician or layman. As has been
already stated[1] if it be once known that a physician is ever ready
to speak words of cheer to a patient falsely, that physician is
measurably deprived of the possibility of encouraging a patient by
truthful words of cheer when he would gladly do so. And physicians
would probably be surprised to know how generally they are estimated
in the community according to their reputation in this matter. One is
known as a man who will speak falsely to his patients as a means of
encouragement, while another is known as a man who will be cautious
about giving his opinion concerning chances of recovery, but who will
never tell an untruth to a patient or to any other person. But in no
case can a physician claim that the ethics of his profession as a
profession justify him in a falsehood to any person--patient or no

[Footnote 1: See p. 75 f., _supra_.]

A distinguished professor in one of the prominent medical colleges of
this country, in denying the claim of a writer on ethics that it may
become the duty of a physician to deceive his patient as a means of
curing him, declares that a physician acting on this theory "will not
be found in accord with the best and the highest medical teaching of
the present day;" and he goes on to say:[1] "In my profession to-day,
the truth properly presented, we have found, carries with it a
convincing and adjusting element which does not fail to bring the
afflicted person to that condition of mind that is most conducive
to his physical well-being, and let me add also, I believe, to his
spiritual welfare." This statement was made in connection with the
declaration that in the hospital which was in his charge it is not
deemed right or wise to deceive a patient as to any operation to be
performed upon him. And there are other well-known physicians who
testify similarly as to the ethics of their profession.

[Footnote 1: In a personal communication to the author.]

An illustration of the possible good results of concealing an
unpleasant fact from a sick person, that has been a favorite citation
all along the centuries with writers on ethics who would justify
emergency falsehoods, is one which is given in his correspondence by
Pliny the younger, eighteen centuries ago.[1]

[Footnote 1: _Epistles of Pliny the Younger_, Book III., Epis. 16.
Pliny to Nepos.]

Caecinna Paetus and his son "were both at the same time attacked with
what seemed a mortal illness, of which the son died.... His mother
[Arria] managed his funeral so privately that Paetus did not know of
his death. Whenever she came into his bedchamber, she pretended that
her son was better, and, as often as he inquired after his health,
would answer that he had rested well, or had eaten with an appetite.
When she found she could no longer restrain her grief, but her tears
were gushing out, she would leave the room, and, having given vent to
her passion, return again with dry eyes and a serene countenance, as
if she had dismissed every sentiment of sorrow."

This Roman matron also committed suicide, as an encouragement to her
husband whom she desired to have put an end to his own life, when he
was likely to have it taken from him by the executioner; and Pliny
commends her nobleness of conduct in both cases. It is common among
ethical writers, in citing this instance in favor of lying, to say
nothing about the suicide, and to omit mention of the fact that the
mother squarely lied, by saying that her dead boy had eaten a good
breakfast, instead of employing language that might have been the
truth as far as it went, while it concealed that portion of the truth
which she thought it best to conceal. It is common to quote her as
simply saying of her son" He is better;"[1] quite a different version
from Pliny's, and presenting a different issue.

[Footnote 1: See Newman Smyth's _Christian Ethics_, p. 395, where
this case is stated with vagueness of phrase, and as thus stated is

It was perfectly proper for that mother to conceal the signs of her
sorrow from her sick husband, who had no right to know the truth
concerning matters outside of his sick-room at such a time. And if,
indeed, she could say in all sincerity, as expressive of her feelings
in the death of her son, by the will of the gods, "He is better," it
would have been possible for her to feel that she was entitled to say
that as the truth, and not as a falsehood; and in that case she would
not have intended a deceit, but only a concealment. But when, on the
other hand, she told a deliberate lie--spoke falsely in order to
deceive--she committed a sin in so doing, and her sin was none the
less a sin because it resulted in apparent good to her husband. An
illustration does not overturn a principle, but it may misrepresent

Another illustration, on the other side of the case, is worth citing
here. Victor Hugo pictures, in his _Les Miserables_,[1] a sister of
charity adroitly concealing facts from a sick person in a hospital,
while refusing to tell a falsehood even for the patient's good. "Never
to have told a falsehood, never to have said for any advantage, or
even indifferently, a thing which was not the truth, the holy truth,
was the characteristic feature of Sister Simplice." She had taken the
name of Simplice through special choice. "Simplice, of Sicily, our
readers will remember, is the saint who sooner let her bosom be
plucked out than say she was a native of Segeste, as she was born at
Syracuse, though the falsehood would have saved her. Such a patron
saint suited this soul." And in speaking of Sister Simplice, as never
having told even "a white lie," Victor Hugo quotes a letter from the
Abbe Sicard, to his deaf-mute pupil Massieu, on this point: "Can there
be such a thing as a white lie, an innocent lie? Lying is the absolute
of evil. Lying a little is not possible. The man who lies tells
the whole lie. Lying is the face of the fiend; and Satan has two
names,--he is called Satan and Lying." Victor Hugo the romancer would
seem to be a safer guide, so far, for the physician or the nurse in
the sick-room, than Pliny the rhetorician, or Rothe the theologian.[2]

[Footnote 1: Book VII.]

[Footnote 2: Yet Victor Hugo afterwards represents even Sister
Simplice as lying unqualifiedly, when sorely tempted--although not in
the sick-room.]

A well-known physician, in speaking to me of this subject, said:
"It is not so difficult to avoid falsehood in dealing with anxious
patients as many seem to suppose. _Tact_, as well as _principle_, will
do a good deal to help a physician out, in an emergency. I have never
seen any need of lying, in my practice." And yet another physician,
who had been in a widely varied practice for forty years, said that he
had never found it necessary to tell a lie to a patient; although he
thought he might have done so if he had deemed it necessary to save
a patient's life. In other words, while he admitted the possible
justification of an "emergency lie," he had never found a first-class
opening for one in his practice. And he added, that he knew very well
that if he had been known to lie to his patients, his professional
efficiency, as well as his good name, would have suffered. Medical
men do not always see, in their practice, the supposed advantages of
lying, which have so large prominence in the minds of ethical writers.

Another profession, which is popularly and wrongly accused of having
a place for the lie in its system of ethics, is the legal profession.


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