Monday, February 28, 2011

The nature of a lie

Much time and energy has been wasted in the recent debate about lying – since some have simply refused to accept the definition of a lie as given by the Church and also by philosophy. Here, I will briefly discuss the central points of this definition and offer a few clarifications.
The definition given in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Following St. Augustine, the Catechism defines a lie as: “speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” (2482) This is the definition given in both editions of the Catechism – a point which many have overlooked. Likewise, even the first edition of the Catechism stated that, “by its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity.” (2485)
Finally, we point to an earlier portion of the Catechism, in which the criteria for the evaluation of the morality of human acts are laid out: “The morality of human acts depends on: the object chosen; the end in view or the intention; the circumstances of the action. […] A good intention (for example, that of helping one's neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just.” (1750, 1753)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lying, according to Sacred Scripture

Isaac, deceived and blessing Jacob

The use of Scripture in the recent debate about lying
In the debate over the moral status of the Live Action sting operations against Planned Parenthood, two examples of “ethical” lying regularly came up in comment boxes and even in the bodies of articles. On the one hand, some referred to the supposed acts of lying which Pope Pius XII employed in order to save the Jews during War II – the historical veracity of this claim is open to some question, for further reading we point to an article in favor of the claim and an article against it [for our part, we suspect that the story is more myth than history].
The example proffered in favor of lying which we will be focusing on in this article, however, is actually a conglomeration of numerous cases taken from Sacred Scripture. Some have claimed not only that many of the holy men and women of the Old Testament lied, but that God himself has lied! We will consider, in particular: Abraham’s claim that Sarah was his sister; the testing of Abraham (according to which some will be so bold as to accuse God of deceiving Abraham with falsehood); the blessing of Jacob in place of Esau; the deception of Pharaoh by the Egyptian midwives; and, from the New Testament, the statement by our Savior that he did not know the day or the hour of his Second Coming (of which some have most impiously claimed that Christ our God spoke a lie in this matter, since he certainly did know the time of the Parousia).
In our first little article, we will consider the broader question of the interpretation of these difficult passages of Scripture. Then, in later articles, we will discuss first the cases involving the Patriarchs, then that involving the midwives, and finally those involving God himself.

Friday, February 25, 2011

May the Christian prepare for the morrow?, or The ant compared to the birds of the air

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Matthew 6:24-34
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life. […] Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.
In the latter portion of the 13th and the beginning of the 14th century, a group within the Franciscan Order felt an intense inspiration to observe the Rule of St. Francis in its primitive severity. They were particularly focused on the life of poverty and, as they understood the Lord’s command, demanded that all Christians forsake private property and embrace the radical simplicity of gospel poverty. This group of Friars Minor, known as the “Spirituals”, was condemned by Pope John XXII in the early 1300s.
We are led to a difficult question when considering the Gospel reading for this Sunday – Does Christ really mean to tell his disciples that they are not to provide for their material needs in any sense? Does the Lord demand absolute poverty from every Christian? Moreover, we might wonder whether it is possible to prepare for the worldly necessities of the future without worrying about tomorrow?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Response to Peter Kreeft, on lying

 The following article is a contribution by a guest-writer for The New Theological Movement.

The Geometer and the Carpenter: Evaluating the Midwives
It is the sign of a great mind that he can keep seemingly contrary or contradictory statements together at the same time.  I do not say really contrary or contradictory statements together at the same time, for that is the sign of the modern mind.  In light of the recent debate over Live Action’s outing of Planned Parenthood, I have decided to weigh in on the matter in hopes of shedding light with help from the Angelic Doctor, who because of the greatness of his mind, allows us to both affirm that lying is always wrong and praise the actions of Lila Rose, though not for the deception which those actions involved.
Before presenting what I hope is a Thomistic insight into the debate which includes the actions of spies, Dutchmen, 19th century abolitionists, and Live Action, I wish to express some disagreement with one of the interlocutors in this dialogue. My response to his article will lay the foundation of moral reasoning that is supremely rational and intuitive, neither rationalistic or casuistic nor lax.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Whoever said, "Thou shalt hate thy enemy"?

Joshua destroys the Lord's enemies

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Matthew 5:38-48
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies.
Christ our God demonstrates his divine authority in the Sermon on the Mount by giving a New Law which fulfills what had come before. This Law is given with that same authority with which the Old Law had been given to Moses – it is the authority of God who reveals. The Lord speaks with this authority saying, You have heard that it was said … But I say to you …. No mere man could ever speak with such boldness!
And yet we may wonder if Christ does not, in some way, contradict himself – for in giving the New Law he seems to abolish what came before; but he had recently said, Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets (Matthew 5:17). If our Savior came not to destroy but to fulfill the Old Covenant, we may find some difficulty in the command to love one’s enemies. If, in the Old Law, hatred of enemies was commanded (thou shalt hate thy enemy), it would seem that Christ abolishes the Law when he tells us, Love your enemies.
We must ask, whoever said thou shalt hate thy enemy? Was this commanded anywhere in the Law of Moses?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Would the Apostles die before the Second Coming?

Jesus also said to them, “Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the Kingdom of God has come in power.” (Mark 9:1)
These words from this morning’s Gospel reading (in the Ordinary Form) give rise to a certain question: How can it be that the Lord Jesus would tell the disciples that some of them would live until the coming of God’s Kingdom? Does he mean to suggest that they would live until the second coming? What is the Kingdom of which Christ here speaks?
For our answer, we turn to the great Jesuit biblical scholar, Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide (all that follows is from his Commentary on the Gospels).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Questions (and answers) on early Genesis, Part II

As, for the past two weeks, the daily Mass readings in the Novus Ordo have presented the Church with the first eleven chapters of Genesis (from the creation to Abraham), it seemed fitting that we should briefly consider several questions which may arise in the minds of believers who read these passages. There are certainly many fascinating events and stories, and there are many thousands of questions which could be raised, but we are here attempting only to raise a few which seem most profitable and most interesting to us.
In the first part of our little “commentary,” we discussed the six days of creation, the serpent-tempter, the mark of Cain, and the long life-spans of the early Patriarchs. Now, in the second part, we discuss the period before, during and after the great flood. Again, we here intend to give only an answer, not the answer – for surely, in such difficult questions as these, there is room for much diversity of opinion.
It would be most beneficial if we all took the time to re-read these eleven chapters, especially if we have not read them recently (in the past couple of months).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Questions (and answers) on early Genesis, Part I

If you are a Catholic who attends daily Mass in the Ordinary Form – or if you are a faithful reader of the Magnificat or other Lectionary-based publications – you will have noticed that the Church has recently been (and will continue to be) reading from the early portions of the book of Genesis. The first eleven chapters of Genesis (the time from creation to Abraham) are filled with fascinating events and stories. Moreover, even a casual read of this portion of the Bible will give rise to many difficult questions. Here, we intend to raise and answer at least a few of the questions. However, as Scriptural commentary is, by nature, open to many (perhaps infinite) possibilities, we will simply attempt an answer rather than the answer.
Rather than trying to cover every verse, we will focus instead on certain specific points which may provide the reader with some new points for personal reflection. Our commentary is not dogma (though there are certain dogmas which we will follow), it is simply the beginning of an explanation.
Obviously, it would be most beneficial if we all took the time to re-read these eleven chapters – nothing can substitute for direct contact with the Word of God (in Scripture and Tradition).

Mass media and the duty of parents

Parents should remember that they have a most serious duty to guard carefully lest shows, publications and other things of this sort, which may be morally harmful, enter their homes or affect their children under other circumstances.
                                                            - Vatican II, Inter Mirifica, 10

In the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the use of social communications, the Council Fathers treat comprehensively of the moral use of the mass media by all involved with them.  The quotation above, however, points to what is perhaps the most widely practical aspect of their teaching: the role of parents in their children's exposure to the means of social communication.  It is that most solemn duty that we will discuss briefly here.

When we speak of the means of social communication, we are thinking not only of television, film, radio, and the press (which the Council had specifically in mind), but also of the Internet (especially social networking sites), mobile phones, personal data assistants, and the many other technological spheres of human life where ideas are communicated en masse.  One is easily overwhelmed by the availability and extent of such means of communication and by their normalcy in the life of our young people.  It seems more difficult than ever for parents to fulfill their duty to govern and regulate the exposure of their children to the means of social communication.  And yet they must.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lying to Planned Parenthood: A response to articles published at

There has been quite a debate raging on various websites and blogs regarding the moral status of the “sting” operations which Live Action has carried out on Planned Parenthood facilities. Some have simply posed the question (Mark Shea), others have come down on the side of Live Action, and others have argued that these operations are morally unacceptable (the offerings of Germain Grisez and Christopher Tollefsen, are particularly helpful). It seems that the debate first began (at least on-line) here at The New Theological Movement – our February 3rd article, “It is a sin to lie, even to Planned Parenthood”, was published just days after the videos were first released (on February 1st). In response to the extensive debate, both in our comment box and on other blogs, NTM published another (more extensive and theological) article on February 9th: “Lying to Planned Parenthood, or is it mental reservation?” [on this same day, Mr. Shea and Dr. Tollefsen released their articles, Dr. Grisez spoke to Catholic News Agency on February 11th; Dawn Eden and William Doino Jr. made a good offering on February 10th]
It is my intention to consider two articles from which have attempted to argue that Live Action has not lied in these undercover operations. Before responding to these articles, I will first briefly summarize what was contained in the previous articles here at NTM. Though I have a license in sacred theology, my specialty is dogmatic theology – moreover, I am a parish priest and not a “professional” theologian. On this account, I will write with a simple style – but the arguments I make will contain all the power and force of Catholic teaching.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"I am the Immaculate Conception" and "I have been immaculately conceived"

February 11th, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes
We must be struck by the directness and immediacy with which Our Lady spoke to the young Bernadette at Lourdes: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” She does not say “I have been immaculately conceived,” but “I am the Immaculate Conception.” What does this mean? How is it that the “Immaculate Conception” can be a sort of name or title for the Blessed Virgin?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lying to Planned Parenthood, or is it mental reservation?

In response to an earlier article, in which I contented that the “sting” operations carried out by Live Action against Planned Parenthood involved lies and are therefore morally unacceptable, I received many comments which involved the doctrine of “mental reservation” – that ambiguous speech can be used in order to deceive another for a just cause. Indeed, there are times when a certain type of mental reservation can be employed legitimately. Nevertheless, as I hope to show, the sting operations of Live Action are not cases of mental reservation, but involve direct lies.
Other comments noted that, if it were wrong for Live Action to carry out these undercover operations, it would seem that all undercover work would be immoral – thus ruling out undercover police work and international espionage. Below, I will contend that we need not conclude that all undercover work (especially when carried out by agents of the State) need be condemned in principle – however, in practice, it will almost always put the individual in a proximate occasion of sin such that great caution must be taken.
What has been most surprising to me is the manner in which many have simply accepted that Live Action has lied to Planned Parenthood, even admitting that lying is wrong, but nevertheless justify this action by claiming that Planned Parenthood is so evil and the pro-life movement is so important that we can commit the “small” evil of a lie in order to stop the great evil of abortion – this reasoning is of the Devil. Whatever our claim may be – whether or not we believe that Live Action has done wrong – we most certainly cannot adopt the old fallacy of “the ends justify the means.”

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Salt makes me thirsty, and so do the Apostles

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Matthew 5:13-16
Jesus said to his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth.”
In his preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians, St. Jerome wrote: “How few there are who now read Aristotle. How many are there who know the books, or even the name of Plato? You may find here and there a few old men, who have nothing else to do, who study them in a corner. But the whole world speaks the language of our Christian peasants and fishermen, the whole world re-echoes their words. And so their simple words must be set forth with simplicity of style; for the word simple applies to their words, not their meaning.”
Certainly, St. Jerome exaggerates (we hope) when he says that few now know of Aristotle and Plato, but the central point remains – the language of the Apostles is simple indeed, though the meaning is most profound. The simplicity and clarity of the writings of the Apostles is founded on the simple and pure language with which Christ himself taught his doctrine. And were else to we find such simplicity as in the Sermon on the Mount?
“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” Such simple words, yet so rich and full of meaning! As did St. Jerome, I will attempt to express, in that same spirit of simplicity, something of the profundity of the simile of salt.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It is a sin to lie, even to Planned Parenthood

You are of your father the devil, … truth is not in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father thereof. – John 8:44
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has accepted St. Augustine’s definition of a lie: “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” (CCC 2482, De mendacio 4,5) Lying is a direct offense against the truth, indeed it is the most direct offense against the truth. Therefore, it is not merely a sin against the individual to whom the lie is told, nor is it only against the society whose stability is harmed, but it is a direct offense against God himself, who is Truth. “By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.” (CCC 2483)
Yet, though nearly all people will admit that lying is generally wrong, there seem to be few who will hold that lying is always wrong. There are many cases and examples which seem to challenge the Church’s teaching that it is always wrong to lie – here we can name the famous case of the Nazis searching for Jews hidden in the attic.
Setting aside these very interesting case studies, we must first consider the teaching of the Church (which is founded in Scripture, Tradition, and also philosophy) – to this end, we will look to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and also to the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. Having examined the foundations of the total prohibition of lying, we will consider the particular case of lying to Planned Parenthood in order to expose certain illegal (and immoral) practices of the culture of death.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Purification of the Virgin Most Pure

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, Luke 2:22-40
When the days were completed for [her] purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.
The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord has been called the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary – and although the Marian nature of this feast has been completely lost in the reformed calendar, at least the date has remained: As the new mother went to the Temple forty days after having given birth, so too the Blessed Virgin Mother of God came to fulfill the Law through her Purification.
But why did Mary come to the Temple to be purified? Was she not already most pure? Had her Son defiled her in his most wondrous Birth? No, certainly he did not – in being born of the Virgin, Christ did no harm to her virginal integrity but rather consecrated it. Simply speaking, Mary had no need of purification, but she humbled herself (after the example of her Son) to follow the precepts of the Law which was soon to pass away.