Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Did St. Raphael lie when he said, "I am Azarias"?

October 24th, Feast of St. Raphael (traditional calendar)
And Raphael the angel answered: I am Azarias the son of the great Ananias. (Tobit 5:17,18)
There are three angels mentioned by name in the Canonical Scriptures – Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. The last of these is explicitly present only in the book of Tobit, while Michael is reference in three books (Daniel, Jude, and Revelation) and Gabriel in two (Daniel and Luke).
While all the archangels (named and un-named) are celebrated on September 29th in the post-Vatican II Liturgy, St. Raphael has traditionally been commemorated on October 24th.
We do well to consider today not only the significance of Raphael’s name and his role in the Scriptures, but also the difficult question of whether he told a falsehood when he presented himself as Azarias the son of the great Ananias.

What does “Raphael” mean?
The name “Raphael” signifies either “God’s healing” or “God’s medicine” or “the physician of God”. Indeed, St. Raphael is presented in the Scriptures as a healing angel.
This will be important to remember when we discuss the question of the Angel’s self-identification as Azarias.
Did St. Raphael lie?
And Tobias said to him: I pray thee, tell me, of what family, or what tribe art thou? And Raphael the angel answered: Dost thou seek the family of him thou hirest, or the hired servant himself to go with thy son? But lest I should make thee uneasy, I am Azarias the son of the great Ananias. And Tobias answered: Thou art of a great family. But I pray thee be not angry that I desired to know thy family. And the angel said to him: I will lead thy son safe, and bring him to thee again safe. (Tobit 5:16-20)
When Tobit (aka Tobias, the father) asks the archangel for his name and family of origin, St. Raphael states, I am Azarias the son of the great Ananias. This could seem to be a lie, since he is an angel and not a man, nor is he the son of any man.
However, we know that the good angels have never sinned and will never sin, for they are wholly confirmed in grace and in glory. But it is always a sin to lie; therefore, this statement by Raphael, must not have been a lie.

[for those interested in other possible cases of saints and patriarchs lying in the Bible, please see our earlier article (here)]
Is it always a sin to lie?
The best tradition of the Catholic Church has been confirmed in the most recent universal Catechism – lying is always wrong. “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving. […] By its very nature, lying is to be condemned.” (CCC 2482, 2485)
It is always a sin to lie, because it is wrong in its very nature. We have already published numerous article about lying here at NTM, but the simplest to read can be found [here], “The Nature of a Lie”.
Further, none can claim that a good intention can make a lie to be acceptable: “A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disorder, such as lying and calumny, good or just.” (CCC 1753)
Broad mental reservation is not lie
While one may never tell a lie, it is permissible (for a just cause) to employ what the moral theologians call “broad mental reservation”. This is when a person uses discreet language which may be ambiguous but is not directly a lie. While it is true that the other person may be deceived, the deception is not from the words themselves being false, but from the hearer making a false assumption based on true words.
An example will illustrate this point well. Consider that a parishioner makes my favorite type of dessert (cheesecake), and serves it to me after dinner. If she asks me, “Father, do you like this cheesecake?”, I may well be thinking to myself that it is not a particularly good tasting cheesecake and (if I were particularly ungrateful) I may even consider that a store-bought cheesecake would have tasted better. However, I may well answer, “I loved that cheesecake! Thank you so much!”
Did I lie in saying that I liked the cheesecake? No, because I did not say that I loved the taste of the cheesecake, but only that I loved the cheesecake – and what I really meant was that I loved the cheesecake on account of the fact that it was made by her and was a very kind act on her part. Even if the cheesecake didn’t taste very good, I still truly did love the dessert since it was such a kind gesture on her part. Thus, I can truly say that I loved the food, while I could not truly say that I loved the taste of the food.
[lest any of my parishioners read this, I must insist that this is a purely hypothetical example; surely, I am not thinking of any particular parishioner or dessert! I have never had a parishioner’s home-made cheesecake that was not better than store-bought!]
St. Raphael did not lie
This theory of broad mental reservation may then explain how it is that St. Raphael did not lie when he said, I am Azarias the son of the great Ananias.
There is no falsehood in this statement, since “Azarias” means “the healer of YHWH” and “Ananias” means “The goodness of YHWH” or “The grace of YHWH”. Now, the Angel was then only disguising his true name (which means “God’s healer”) and testifying that he is sent into the world by God’s goodness. Thus, he gives his name through a certain riddle – but Tobit was thereby led to believe that the Angel was only a man.
Furthermore, Raphael truly states who he appeared to be. That is, the Angel truly declares who he came as. While it would have been a lie for Raphael to say, “I am not angel but only a man”, he said no such thing. Rather, he identified himself in an obscure manner and, thereby, withheld from Tobit a truth which he had no right to know.

St. Raphael, Pray for us!


Unknown said...

Regarding the "broad mental reservation": I don't understand how this is not lying. Is it not an act of deception to say something that you can be reasonably sure will mislead someone, even if the words CAN be read in a way that is true? The context in which words are used partially determine their meaning. In your cheesecake example, you say what you say so that the parishioner will think you enjoyed the taste of the cheesecake; it's highly unlikely she meant to ask you whether you enjoyed the presence of the cheesecake, and it's highly unlikely she'd take your response to mean that, either. Or to use another example: If someone asks you, "Is Jim here?" and they mean Jim Smith, can you answer, "No, Jim is not here," when Jim Smith is there, but you think to yourself "Jim Johnson is not here" and be said to have answered truthfully? If I'm missing something, please let me know.

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr.--

Thanks for an interesting post on this subject.

I would,however, take a different approach than you do in your conclusion about Raphael's actions--Raphael most assuredly asserted to Tobit that he was a kinsman of Tobit--obviously deliberately seeking to deceive Tobit into thinking that he was a human and not an angel.

And Raphael made clear to Tobit that he was a son of Hananiah the elder, a kinsman Tobit himself actually *knew*.

Further, when Raphael reveals his identity, he says "I will now tell you the whole truth; I will conceal nothing at all from you."

Does this mean Raphael lied? No, I agree with you that he did not lie, but I have a different view of why he did not lie: assuming an "undercover" identity is morally distinguishable from lying, despite the fact that "speaking falsehood with intention to deceive" is often part of assuming such an identity.

Raphael speaks falsehood with intention to deceive, but does not lie. But, doesn't this contradict what is taught in the Catechism? No, because the Catechism's teaching on lying is not meant to resolve the longstanding moral theological questions arising from "special cases" (such as undercover work) associated with so-called lying.

The CCC's teaching on lying is indeed the "common teaching of Catholic theologians" on lying, but it is not a "magisterial" teaching--the magisterium has never "magisterialized" the common teaching in the CCC, so to speak. And thus the faithful Catholic can indeed take different, less rigorous, views on whether *all* spoken falsehood with intention to deceive constitutes intrinsically evil lying.

And Raphael, in my view, gives us the best biblical example of how going "undercover" and assuming a false identity is not intrinsically evil (and therefore not necessarily immoral), nor are actual falsehoods stated in support of that assumed identity.

God bless, and St. Raphael, ora pro nobis!

Deacon JR

Liam Ronan said...

I remember a long time ago when a co-worker of mine brought her new born baby into the office to show off her little one to all of the office staff and (presumably) to garner the 'oohs and aahs' reflexively gushed over every baby. In this case, however, the baby had a face that would stop a clock and I, unwilling to cluck like all the rest, figured I'd go the broad mental reservation route. I said "Isn't she just the cutest thing?". Mom was joyfully overwhelmed and I could still look myself in the mirror.

Anonymous said...

One can consider whether the asker of the question has a "right to know the answer". Examples: Priests being hidden by a homeowner in the England of Elizabeth I; Jews being hidden in Rome during WW II;
I'm not sure how saving someone's life from a murderer fits in the abstract question of "Is it a lie (breaking the 8th commandment" if you are NOT "bearing false witness against your neighbor"?

Buster Adams said...

Nick, how is saying the truth a lie? The parishioner does not have a right to know the nuanced likings of the father.

Buster Adams said...

Deacon JR, you're quoting stuff but I'm not sure what you're quoting, because only you say it and you do not reference the quote. Can you give us an explanation where you got the quotes and where you deem that it is the common thought of theologians and is not taught by the magisterium?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

We must recognize that simply intending to deceive someone is not a lie ... it is only a lie when an untruth is spoken.

So, yes, the parishioner was deceived ... but it was her judgment which led to the false conclusion -- I did not actually state a falsehood.
I hope that this makes sense ... it is a very particular nuance ... and we ought only use broad mental reservation when we have a just cause for doing so -- and, in this hypothetical case, I would have a just cause.

Hope that makes a bit more sense ... look again at the CCC's definition of lying (quoted in the article) -- it is the stating of falsehood as truth (either through actions or words).
Is the phrase, "I love the cheesecake" a false statement? Considered in itself?

Anonymous said...

Hi, Buster--

My comment above is indeed a synopsis of two-plus years of researching this topic, and as a synopsis is definitely light on sources.

Basically, there are two prongs to the research: first, examine the history of the issue of lying throughout Christianity (if you can get hold of Fr. Boniface Ramsey's excellent article "Two Traditions on Lying and Deception in the Ancient Church," that will go a long way). You can look, for example, in Newman's appendix on "equivocation" in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua to show that in his time, many opinions on the special cases were permissible.

Then you can look in the moral theology manuals used by clergy through the 20th Century. And/or the online Catholic Encyclopedia article on lying (and the one on mental reservation).

Finally you might reference a source like the 1967 "New Catholic Encyclopedia" article on lying. These articles make clear that the teaching on lying (as expressed in the CCC ed2) is the common teaching of Catholic theologians.

The second prong of the research involves looking at the sources associated with the preparation and promulgation of the new universal CCC. Also, looking at the Ratzinger/Schonborn volume "Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church." One will discover that when a teaching is included in the CCC, it *retains* exactly the same "certitude" it had prior to inclusion in the CCC. And that the CCC is not a vehicle for resolving theological debate (such as whether undercover work is an example of lying).

Someday, on my own blog, I hope to assemble a thorough run-through of these resources, but this is the condensed version.

God bless you,

Deacon JR

bill bannon said...

Why isn't "broad mental reservation" in the catechism? Is the catechism for laity who must aim at the saying they didn't like the cheezecake but the moral manual readers have social advantages. St. Jerome made it simple:
Aquinas cites him as a hostile witness in the Summa T :
“Jerome, in his commentary on Galatians 2:11, “The example of Jehu, king of Israel, who slew the priests of Baal, pretending that he desired to worship idols, should teach us that dissimulation is useful and sometimes to be employed”.
2nd of the 2nd/ question 111/ art. one/ obj. 2

Blog BrandonHarris said...

Hello! In this blog entry did you use the information from any studies or these are only your own reflections? Waiting forward to hear from you.


Raphael did not lie when he said he was Azariah (Azarias) the son of the great Hannaniah (Annanias). Azariah is a Persian name of Rafael (Izrafil) while his Babylonian name is Abednego. Hannaniah is a Persian name of Gabriel (Jibril) while his Babylonian name is Shadrach.

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