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)