8. Lying and Equivocation

[Note 1] {436} [[Note 2] This writer says, "Though [a lie [Note 3]] be a sin, the fact of its being a venial one seems to have gained for it as yet a very slight penance."—p. 60. Yet he says also that Dr. Newman takes "a perverse pleasure in eccentricities," because I say that "it is better for sun and moon to drop from heaven than that one soul should tell one wilful untruth."—p. 46. That is, he first accuses us without foundation of making light of a lie; and, when he finds that we don't, then he calls us inconsistent. I have noticed these words of mine, and two passages besides, which he quotes, above at pp. 339-41. Here I will but observe on the subject of venial sin generally, that he altogether forgets our doctrine of Purgatory. This punishment may last till the day of judgment; so much for duration; then as to intensity, let the image of fire, by which we denote it, show what we think of it. Here is the expiation of venial sins. Yet Protestants, after the manner of this Writer, are too apt to play fast and loose; to blame us because we hold that sin may be venial, and to blame us again when we tell them what we think will be its punishment. Blot thirty-seven.

At the end of his Pamphlet he makes a distinction between the Catholic clergy and gentry in England, which I know the latter consider to be very impertinent; and he makes it apropos of a passage in one of my original letters in January. He quotes me as saying that "Catholics differ from Protestants, as to whether this or that act in particular is conformable to the rule of truth," p. 61; and then he goes on to observe, that I have "calumniated the Catholic gentry," because "there is no difference whatever, of detail or other, between their truthfulness and honour, and the truthfulness and honour of the Protestant gentry {437} among whom they live." But again he has garbled my words; they run thus:

"Truth is the same in itself and in substance, to Catholic and Protestant; so is purity; both virtues are to be referred to that moral sense which is the natural possession of us all. But, when we come to the question in detail, whether this or that act in particular is conformable to the rule of truth, or again to the rule of purity, then sometimes there is a difference of opinion between individuals, sometimes between schools, and sometimes between religious communions." I knew indeed perfectly well, and I confessed that "Protestants think that the Catholic system, as such, leads to a lax observance of the rule of truth;" but I added, "I am very sorry that they should think so," and I never meant myself to grant that all Protestants were on the strict side, and all Catholics on the lax. Far from it; there is a stricter party as well as a laxer party among Catholics, there is a laxer party as well as a stricter party among Protestants. I have already spoken of Protestant writers who in certain cases allow of lying, I have also spoken of Catholic writers who do not allow of equivocation; when I wrote "a difference of opinion between individuals," and "between schools," I meant between Protestant and Protestant, and particular instances were in my mind. I did not say then, or dream of saying, that Catholics, priests and laity, were lax on the point of lying, and that Protestants were strict, any more than I meant to say that all Catholics were pure, and all Protestants impure; but I meant to say that, whereas the rule of Truth is one and the same both to Catholic and Protestant, nevertheless some Catholics were lax, some strict, and again some Protestants were strict, some lax; and I have already had opportunities of recording my own judgment on which side this Writer is himself, and therefore he may keep his forward vindication of "honest gentlemen and noble ladies," who, in spite of their priests, are still so truthful, till such time as he can find a worse assailant of them than I am, and they no better champion of them than himself. And as to the Priests of England, those who know them, as he does not, will pronounce them no whit inferior in this great virtue to the gentry, whom {438} he says that he does; and I cannot say more. Blot thirty-eight.

Lastly, this Writer uses the following words, which I have more than once quoted, and with a reference to them I shall end my remarks upon him. "I am henceforth," he says, "in doubt and fear, as much as an honest man can be, concerning every word Dr. Newman may write. How can I tell that I shall not be the dupe of some cunning equivocation, of one of the three kinds, laid down as permissible by the blessed St. Alfonso da Liguori and his pupils, even when confirmed with an oath … ?"

I will tell him why he need not fear; because he has left out one very important condition in the statement of St. Alfonso,—and very applicable to my own case, even if I followed St. Alfonso's view of the subject. St. Alfonso says "ex justâ causâ;" but our "honest man," as he styles himself, has omitted these words; which are a key to the whole question. Blot thirty-nine. Here endeth our "honest man." Now for the subject of Lying.]

Almost all authors, Catholic and Protestant, admit, that when a just cause is present, there is some kind or other of verbal misleading, which is not sin. Even silence is in certain cases virtually such a misleading, according to the Proverb, "Silence gives consent." Again, silence is absolutely forbidden to a Catholic, as a mortal sin, under certain circumstances, e.g. to keep silence, instead of making [Note 4] a profession of faith.

Another mode of verbal misleading, and the most direct, is actually saying the thing that is not; and it is defended on the principle that such words are not a lie, when there is a "justa causa," as killing is not murder in the case of an executioner.

Another ground of certain authors for saying that an untruth is not a lie where there is a just cause, is, that veracity is a kind of justice, and therefore, when we have no duty of justice to tell truth to another, it is no sin not to do so. Hence we may say the thing that is not, to children, {439} to madmen, to men who ask impertinent questions, to those whom we hope to benefit by misleading.

Another ground, taken in defending certain untruths, ex justâ causâ, as if not lies, is that veracity is for the sake of society, and <that>, if in no case <whatever> we might lawfully mislead others, we should actually be doing society great harm.

Another mode of verbal misleading is equivocation or a play upon words; and it is defended on the view [Note 5] that to lie is to use words in a sense which they will not bear. But an equivocator uses them in a received sense, though there is another received sense, and therefore, according to this definition, he does not lie.

Others say that all equivocations are, after all, a kind of lying,<—> faint lies or awkward lies, but still lies; and some of these disputants infer, that therefore we must not equivocate, and others that equivocation is but a half measure, and that it is better to say at once that in certain cases untruths are not lies.

Others will try to distinguish between evasions and equivocations; but [they will be answered, that,] though there are evasions which are clearly not equivocations, yet [that] it is <very> difficult scientifically to draw the line between them [Note 6].

To these must be added the unscientific way of dealing with lies,<—> viz. that on a great or cruel occasion a man cannot help telling a lie, and he would not be a man, did he not tell it, but still it is <very> wrong and he ought not to do it, and he must trust that the sin will be forgiven him, though he goes about to commit it <ever so deliberately, and is sure to commit it again under similar circumstances>. It is a <necessary> frailty, and had better not be anticipated [Note 7], and not thought of again, after it is once [Note 8] over. This view cannot for a moment be defended, but, I suppose, it is very common.

[And now] I think the historical course of thought upon the matter has been this: the Greek Fathers thought {440} that, when there was a justa causa, an untruth need not be a lie. St. Augustine took another view, though with great misgiving; and, whether he is rightly interpreted or not, is the doctor of the great and common view that all untruths are lies, and that there can be no just cause of untruth. In these later times, this doctrine has been found difficult to work, and it has been largely taught that, though all untruths are lies, yet that certain equivocations, when there is a just cause, are not untruths.

Further, there have been and all along through these later ages, other schools, running parallel with the above mentioned, one of which says that equivocations, &c. after all are lies, and another which says that there are untruths which are not lies.

And now as to the "just cause," which is the condition, sine quâ non. The Greek Fathers make them [Note 9] such as these, self-defence, charity, zeal for God's honour, and the like.

St. Augustine seems to deal with the same "just causes" as the Greek Fathers, even though he does not allow of their availableness as depriving untruths, spoken with such objects [Note 10], of their sinfulness. He mentions defence of life and of honour, and the safe custody of a secret. Also the Anglican writers, who have followed the Greek Fathers, in defending untruths when there is the "just cause," consider that <">just cause<"> to be such as the preservation of life and property, defence of law, the good of others. Moreover, their moral rights, e.g. defence against the inquisitive, &c.

St. Alfonso, I consider, would take the same view of the "justa causa" as the Anglican divines; he speaks of it as "quicunque finis honestus, ad servanda bona spiritui vel corpori utilia;" which is very much the view which they take of it, judging by the instances which they give.

In all cases, however, and as contemplated by all authors, Clement of Alexandria, or Milton, or St. Alfonso, such a causa is, in fact, extreme, rare, great, or at least special. Thus the writer in the Mélanges Théologiques (Liège, 1852-3, p. 453) quotes Lessius: "Si absque justa causa fiat, est abusio orationis contra virtutem veritatis, et civilem {441} consuetudinem, etsi proprie non sit mendacium." That is, the virtue of truth, and the civil custom, are the measure of the just cause. And so Voit, "If a man has used a reservation (restrictione non purè mentali) without a grave cause, he has sinned gravely." And so the author himself, from whom I quote, and who defends the Patristic and Anglican doctrine that there are untruths which are not lies, says, "Under the name of mental reservation theologians authorize many lies, when there is for them a grave reason and proportionate," i.e. to their character—p. 459. And so St. Alfonso, in another Treatise, quotes St. Thomas to the effect, that, if from one cause two immediate effects follow, and, if the good effect of that cause is equal in value to the bad effect (bonus æquivalet malo), then nothing hinders that the good may be intended and the evil permitted [Note 11]. From which it will follow that, since the evil to society from lying is very great, the just cause which is to make it allowable, must be very great also. And so Kenrick: "It is confessed by all Catholics that, in the common intercourse of life, all ambiguity of language is to be avoided; but it is debated whether such ambiguity is ever [Note 12] lawful. Most theologians answer in the affirmative, supposing a grave cause urges, and the [true [Note 13]] mind of the speaker can be collected from the adjuncts, though in fact it be not collected."

However, there are cases, I have already said, of another kind, in which Anglican authors would think a lie allowable; such as when a question is impertinent. [Accordingly, I think the best word for embracing all the cases which would come under the "justa causa," is, not "extreme," but "special," and I say the same as regards St. Alfonso; and therefore, above in pp. 363-5, whether I speak of St. Alfonso or Paley, I should have used the word "special," or "extraordinary," not "extreme." [Note 14]]

What I have been saying shows what different schools of opinion there are in the Church in the treatment of this {442} difficult doctrine; and, by consequence, that a given individual, such as I am, cannot agree with all <of them>, and has a full right to follow which <of them> he will. The freedom of the Schools, indeed, is one of those rights of reason, which the Church is too wise really to interfere with. And this applies not to moral questions only, but to dogmatic also.

It is supposed by Protestants that, because St. Alfonso's writings have had such high commendation bestowed upon them by authority, therefore they have been invested with a quasi-infallibility. This has arisen in good measure from Protestants not knowing the force of theological terms. The words to which they refer are the authoritative decision that "nothing in his works has been found worthy of censure," "censurâ dignum;" but this does not lead to the conclusions which have been drawn from it. Those words occur in a legal document, and cannot be interpreted except in a legal sense. In the first place, the sentence is negative; nothing in St. Alfonso's writings is positively approved; and secondly it is not said that there are no faults in what he has written, but nothing which comes under the ecclesiastical censura, which is something very definite. To take and interpret them, in the way commonly adopted in England, is the same mistake, as if one were to take the word "Apologia" in the English sense of apology, or "Infant" in law to mean a little child.

1. Now first as to the meaning of the <above> form of words viewed as a proposition. When they were brought before [Note 15] the fitting authorities at Rome by the Archbishop of Besanç on, the answer returned to him contained the condition [Note 16] that those words were to be interpreted, "with due regard to the mind of the Holy See concerning the approbation of writings of the servants of God, ad effectum Canonizationis." This is intended to prevent any Catholic taking the words about St. Alfonso's works in too large a sense. Before a Saint is canonized, his works are examined and a judgment pronounced upon them. Pope Benedict XIV. says, "The end or scope of this judgment is, that it {443} may appear, whether the doctrine of the servant of God, which he has brought out in his writings, is free from any soever theological censure." And he remarks in addition, "It never can be said that the doctrine of a servant of God is approved by the Holy See, but at most it can [only [Note 17]] be said that it is not disapproved (non reprobatam) in case that the Revisers had reported that there is nothing found by them in his works, which is adverse to the decrees of Urban VIII., and that the judgment of the Revisers has been approved by the sacred Congregation, and confirmed by the Supreme Pontiff." The Decree of Urban VIII. here referred to is, "Let works be examined, whether they contain errors against faith or good morals (bonos mores), or any new doctrine, or a doctrine foreign and alien to the common sense and custom of the Church." The author from whom I quote this (M. Vandenbroeck, of the diocese of Malines) observes, "It is therefore clear, that the approbation of the works of the Holy Bishop touches not the truth of every proposition, adds nothing to them, nor even gives them by consequence a degree of intrinsic probability." He adds that it gives St. Alfonso's theology an extrinsic probability, from the fact that, in the judgment of the Holy See, no proposition deserves to receive a censure; but that "that probability will cease nevertheless in a particular case, for any one who should be convinced, whether by evident arguments, or by a decree of the Holy See, or otherwise, that the doctrine of the Saint deviates from the truth." He adds, "From the fact that the approbation of the works of St. Alfonso does not decide the truth of each proposition, it follows, as Benedict XIV. has remarked, that we may combat the doctrine which they contain; only, since a canonized saint is in question, who is honoured by a solemn culte in the Church, we ought not to speak except with respect, nor to attack his opinions except with temper and modesty."

2. Then, as to the meaning of the word censura: Benedict XIV. enumerates a number of "Notes" which come under that name; he says, "Out of propositions which are to be noted with theological censure, some are heretical, some erroneous, some close upon error, some savouring of {444} heresy," and so on; and each of these terms has its own definite meaning. Thus by "erroneous" is meant, according to Viva, a proposition which is not immediately opposed to a revealed proposition, but only to a theological conclusion drawn from premisses which are de fide; "savouring of heresy <is>" [when] a proposition<, which> is opposed to a theological conclusion not evidently drawn from premisses which are de fide, but most probably and according to the common mode of theologizing, <—> and so with the rest. Therefore when it was said by the Revisers of St. Alfonso's works that they were not "worthy of censure," it was only meant that they did not fall under these particular Notes.

But the answer from Rome to the Archbishop of Besançon went further than this; it actually took pains to declare that any one who pleased might follow other theologians instead of St. Alfonso. After saying that no Priest was to be interfered with who followed St. Alfonso in the Confessional, it added, "This is said, however, without on that account judging that they are reprehended who follow opinions handed down by other approved authors."

And this too, I will observe, <—> that St. Alfonso made many changes of opinion himself in the course of his writings; and it could not for an instant be supposed that we were bound to every one of his opinions, when he did not feel himself bound to them in his own person. And, what is more to the purpose still, there are opinions, or some opinion, of his which actually has [Note 18] been proscribed by the Church since, and cannot now be put forward or used. I do not pretend to be a well-read theologian myself, but I say this on the authority of a theological professor of Breda, quoted in the Mélanges Théol. for 1850-1. He says: "It may happen, that, in the course of time, errors may be found in the works of St. Alfonso and be proscribed by the Church, a thing which in fact has already occurred."

In not ranging myself then with those who consider that it is justifiable to use words in a double sense, that is, to equivocate, I put myself[, first,] under the protection of <such {445} authors as> Cardinal Gerdil, [[Note 19] who, in a work lately published at Rome, has the following passage, which I owe to the kindness of a friend:

"In an oath one ought to have respect to the intention of the party swearing, and the intention of the party to whom the oath is taken. Whoso swears binds himself in virtue of the words, not according to the sense he retains in his own mind, but in the sense according to which he perceives that they are understood by him to whom the oath is made. When the mind of the one is discordant with the mind of the other, if this happens by deceit or cheat of the party swearing, he is bound to observe the oath according to the right sense (sana mente) of the party receiving it; but, when the discrepancy in the sense comes of misunderstanding, without deceit of the party swearing, in that case he is not bound, except to that to which he had in mind to wish to be bound. It follows hence, that whoso uses mental reservation or equivocation in the oath, in order to deceive the party to whom he offers it, sins most grievously, and is always bound to observe the oath in the sense in which he knew that his words were taken by the other party, according to the decision of St. Augustine, 'They are perjured, who, having kept the words, have deceived the expectations of those to whom the oath was taken.' He who swears externally, without the inward intention of swearing, commits a most grave sin, and remains all the same under the obligation to fulfil it ... In a word, all that is contrary to good faith, is iniquitous, and by introducing the name of God the iniquity is aggravated by the guilt of sacrilege."

Natalis Alexander.
"They certainly lie, who utter the words of an oath, and without the will to swear or bind themselves; or who make use of mental reservations and equivocations in swearing, since they signify by words what they have not in mind, {446} contrary to the end for which language was instituted, viz. as signs of ideas. Or they mean something else than the words signify in themselves, and the common custom of speech, and the circumstances of persons and business-matters; and thus they abuse words which were instituted for the cherishing of society."

"Hence is apparent how worthy of condemnation is the temerity of those half-taught men, who give a colour to lies and equivocations by the words and instances of Christ. Than whose doctrine, which is an art of deceiving, nothing can be more pestilent. And that, both because what you do not wish done to yourself, you should not do to another; now the patrons of equivocations and mental reservations would not like to be themselves deceived by others, &c. … and also because St. Augustine, &c. ... In truth, as there is no pleasant living with those whose language we do not understand, and, as St. Augustine teaches, a man would more readily live with his dog than with a foreigner, less pleasant certainly is our converse with those who make use of frauds artificially covered, overreach their hearers by deceits, address them insidiously, observe the right moment, and catch at words to their purpose, by which truth is hidden under a covering; and so on the other hand nothing is sweeter than the society of those, who both love and speak the naked truth, ... without their mouth professing one thing and their mind hiding another, or spreading before it the cover of double words. Nor does it matter that they colour their lies with the name of equivocations or mental reservations. For Hilary says, 'The sense, not the speech, makes the crime.'"

Concina allows of what I shall presently call evasions, but nothing beyond, if I understand him; but he is most vehement against mental reservation of every kind, so I quote him.

"That mode of speech, which some theologians call pure mental reservation, others call reservation not simply {447} mental; that language which to me is lying, to the greater part of recent authors is only amphibological ... I have discovered that nothing is adduced by more recent theologians for the lawful use of amphibologies which has not been made use of already by the ancients, whether philosophers or some Fathers, in defence of lies. Nor does there seem to me other difference when I consider their respective grounds, except that the ancients frankly called those modes of speech lies, and the more recent writers, not a few of them, call them amphibological, equivocal, and material."

In another place he quotes Caramuel, so I suppose I may do so too, for the very reason that his theological reputation does not place him on the side of strictness. Concina says, "Caramuel himself, who bore away the palm from all others in relaxing the evangelical and natural law, says,

"I have an innate aversion to mental reservations. If they are contained within the bounds of piety and sincerity, then they are not necessary; ... but if [otherwise [Note 20]] they are the destruction of human society and sincerity, and are to be condemned as pestilent. Once admitted, they open the way to all lying, all perjury. And the whole difference in the matter is, that what yesterday was called a lie, changing, not its nature and malice, but its name, is today entitled 'mental reservation;' and this is to sweeten poison with sugar, and to colour guilt with the appearance of virtue."

St. Thomas.
"When the sense of the party swearing, and of the party to whom he swears, is not the same, if this proceeds from the deceit of the former, the oath ought to be kept according to the right sense of the party to whom it is made. But if the party swearing does not make use of deceit, then he is bound according to his own sense." {448}

St. Isidore.
"With whatever artifice of words a man swears, nevertheless God who is the witness of his conscience, so takes the oath as he understands it, to whom it is sworn. And he becomes twice guilty, who both takes the name of God in vain, and deceives his neighbour."

St. Augustine.
"I do not question that this is most justly laid down, that the promise of an oath must be fulfilled, not according to the words of the party taking it, but according to the expectation of the party to whom it is taken, of which he who takes it is aware." [Note 21]]

[And now,] under the protection of these authorities, I say as follows:—

Casuistry is a noble science, but it is one to which I am led, neither by my abilities nor my turn of mind. Independently, then, of the difficulties of the subject, and the necessity, before forming an opinion, of knowing more of the arguments of theologians upon it than I do, I am very unwilling to say a word here on the subject of Lying and Equivocation. But I consider myself bound to speak; and therefore, in this strait, I can do nothing better, even for my own relief, than submit myself and what I shall say to the judgment of the Church, and to the consent, so far as in this matter there be a consent, of the Schola Theologorum.

Now, in the case of one of those special and rare exigencies or emergencies, which constitute the justa causa of dissembling or misleading, whether it be extreme as the defence of life, or a duty as the custody of a secret, or of a personal nature as to repel an impertinent inquirer, or a matter too trivial to provoke question, as in dealing with children or madmen, there seem to be four courses:—

1. To say the thing that is not. Here I draw the reader's attention to the words material and formal. "Thou shalt not kill;" murder is the formal transgression of this commandment, {449} but accidental homicide is the material transgression. The matter of the act is the same in both cases; but in the homicide, there is nothing more than the act, whereas in murder there must be the intention, &c. which constitutes the formal sin. So, again, an executioner commits the material act, but not that formal killing which is a breach of the commandment. So a man, who, simply to save himself from starving, takes a loaf which is not his own, commits only the material, not the formal act of stealing, that is, he does not commit a sin. And so a baptized Christian, external to the Church, who is in invincible ignorance, is a material heretic, and not a formal. And in like manner, if to say the thing which is not be in special cases lawful, it may be called a material lie.

The first mode then which has been suggested of meeting those special cases, in which to mislead by words has a sufficient object [Note 22], or has a just cause, is by a material lie.

The second mode is by an æquivocatio, which is not equivalent to the English word "equivocation," but means sometimes a play upon words, sometimes an evasion<: we must take these two modes of misleading separately.>

2. A play upon words. St. Alfonso certainly says that a play upon words is allowable; and, speaking under correction, I should say that he does so on the ground that lying is not a sin against justice, that is, against our neighbour, but a sin against God; because words are [Note 23] the signs of ideas, and therefore if a word denotes two ideas, we are at liberty to use it in either of its senses: but I think I must be incorrect [here] in some respect <in supposing that the Saint does not recognize a lie as an injustice>, because the Catechism of the Council, as I have quoted it at p. 370, says, "Vanitate et mendacio fides ac veritas tolluntur, arctissima vincula societatis humanæ; quibus sublatis, sequitur summa vitæ confusio, ut homines nihil a dæmonibus differre videantur."

3. Evasion;—when, for instance, the speaker diverts the attention of the hearer to another subject; suggests an irrelevant fact or makes a remark, which confuses him {450} and gives him something to think about; throws dust into his eyes; states some truth, from which he is quite sure his hearer will draw an illogical and untrue conclusion, and the like. [Bishop Butler seems distinctly to sanction such a proceeding, in a passage which I shall extract below.]

The greatest school of evasion, I speak seriously, is the House of Commons; and necessarily so, from the nature of the case. And the hustings is another.

An instance is supplied in the history of St. Athanasius: he was in a boat on the Nile, flying persecution; and he found himself pursued. On this he ordered his men to turn his boat round, and ran right to meet the satellites of Julian. They asked him, Have you seen Athanasius? and he told his followers to answer, "Yes, he is close to you." They went on their course <as if they were sure to come up to him>, and [Note 24] he ran <back> into Alexandria, and there lay hid till the end of the persecution.

I gave another instance above, in reference to a doctrine of religion. The early Christians did their best to conceal their Creed on account of the misconceptions of the heathen about it. Were the question asked of them, "Do you worship a Trinity?" and did they answer, "We worship one God, and none else;" the inquirer might, or would, infer that they did not acknowledge the Trinity of Divine Persons.

It is very difficult to draw the line between these evasions, and what are commonly called in English equivocations; and of this difficulty, again, I think, the scenes in the House of Commons supply us with illustrations.

4. The fourth method is silence. For instance, not giving the whole truth in a court of law. If St. Alban, after dressing himself in the Priest's clothes, and being taken before the persecutor, had been able to pass off for his friend, and so gone to martyrdom without being discovered; and had he in the course of examination answered all questions truly, but not given the whole truth, the most important truth, that he was the wrong person, he would have come very near to telling a lie, for a half-truth {451} is often a falsehood. And his defence must have been the justa causa, viz. either that he might in charity or for religion's sake save a priest, or again that the judge had no right to interrogate him on the subject.

Now, of these four modes of misleading others by the tongue, when there is a justa causa (supposing there can be such),—<1> a material lie, that is an untruth which is not a lie, <2> an equivocation, <3> an evasion, and <4> silence,—First, I have no difficulty whatever in recognizing as allowable the method of silence.

Secondly, But, if I allow of silence, why not of the method of material lying, since half of a truth is often a lie? And, again, if all killing be not murder, nor all taking from another stealing, why must all untruths be lies? Now I will say freely that I think it difficult to answer this question, whether it be urged by St. Clement or by Milton; at the same time, I never have acted, and I think, when it came to the point, I never should act upon such a theory myself, except in one case, stated below. This I say for the benefit of those who speak hardly of Catholic theologians, on the ground that they admit text-books which allow of equivocation. They are asked, how can we trust you, when such are your views? but such views, as I already have said, need not have any thing to do with their own practice, merely from the circumstance that they are contained in their text-books. A theologian draws out a system; he does it partly as a scientific speculation: but much more for the sake of others. He is lax for the sake of others, not of himself. His own standard of action is much higher than that which he imposes upon men in general. One special reason why religious men, after drawing out a theory, are unwilling to act upon it themselves, is this: that they practically acknowledge a broad distinction between their reason and their conscience; and that they feel the latter to be the safer guide, though the former may be the clearer, nay even though it be the truer. They would rather be wrong [Note 25] with <the sanction of> their conscience, than <be> right with <the mere judgment of> their reason. And again here is this more tangible difficulty in the case of exceptions to the {452} rule of Veracity, that so very little external help is given us in drawing the line, as to when untruths are allowable and when not; whereas that sort of killing which is not murder, is most definitely marked off by legal enactments, so that it cannot possibly be mistaken for such killing as is murder. On the other hand the cases of exemption from the rule of Veracity are left to the private judgment of the individual, and he may easily be led on from acts which are allowable to acts which are not. Now this remark does not apply to such acts as are related in Scripture, as being done by a particular inspiration, for in such cases there is a command. If I had my own way, I would oblige society, that is, its great men, its lawyers, its divines, its literature, publicly to acknowledge, as such, those instances of untruth which are not lies, as for instance, untruths in war; and then there could be no danger [Note 26] [in them] to the individual Catholic, for he would be acting under a rule [Note 27].

Thirdly, as to playing upon words, or equivocation, I suppose it is from the English habit, but, without meaning any disrespect to a great Saint, or wishing to set myself up, or taking my conscience for more than it is worth, I can only say as a fact, that I admit it as little as the rest of my countrymen: and, without any reference to the right and the wrong of the matter, of this I am sure, that, if there is one thing more than another which prejudices Englishmen against the Catholic Church, it is the doctrine of great authorities on the subject of equivocation. For myself, I can fancy myself thinking it was allowable in extreme cases for me to lie, but never to equivocate. Luther said, "Pecca fortiter." I anathematize the [Note 28] formal sentiment, but there is a truth in it, when spoken of material acts.

Fourthly, I think evasion, as I have described it, to be perfectly allowable; indeed, I do not know, who does not use it, under circumstances; but that a good deal of moral danger is attached to its use; and that, the cleverer a man is, the more likely he is to pass the line of Christian duty. {453}

But it may be said, that such decisions do not meet the particular difficulties for which provision is required; let us then take some instances.

1. I do not think it right to tell lies to children, even on this account, that they are sharper than we think them, and will soon find out what we are doing; and our example will be a very bad training for them. And so of equivocation: it is easy of imitation, and we ourselves shall be sure to get the worst of it in the end.

2. If an early Father defends the patriarch Jacob in his mode of gaining his father's blessing, on the ground that the blessing was divinely pledged to him already, that it was his, and that his father and brother were acting at once against his own rights and the divine will, it does not follow from this that such conduct is a pattern to us, who have no supernatural means of determining when an untruth becomes a material and not a formal lie. It seems to me very dangerous, be it <ever> allowable or not, to lie or equivocate in order to preserve some great temporal or spiritual benefit, nor does St. Alfonso here say any thing to the contrary, for he is not discussing the question of danger or expedience.

3. As to Johnson's case of a murderer asking you which way a man had gone, I should have anticipated that, had such a difficulty happened to him, his first act would have been to knock the man down, and to call out for the police; and next, if he was worsted in the conflict, he would not have given the ruffian the information he asked, at whatever risk to himself. I think he would have let himself be killed first. I do not think that he would have told a lie.

4. A secret is a more difficult case. Supposing something has been confided to me in the strictest secrecy, which could not be revealed without great disadvantage to another, what am I to do? If I am a lawyer, I am protected by my profession. I have a right to treat with extreme indignation any question which trenches on the inviolability of my position; but, supposing I was driven up into a corner, I think I should have a right to say an untruth, or that, under such circumstances, a lie would be material, but it is almost an impossible case, for the {454} law would defend me. In like manner, as a priest, I should think it lawful to speak as if I knew nothing of what passed in confession. And I think in these cases, I do in fact possess that guarantee, that I am not going by private judgment, which just now I demanded; for society would bear me out, whether as a lawyer or as a priest, <in holding> that I had a duty to my client or penitent, such, that an untruth in the matter was not a lie. A common type of this permissible denial, be it material lie or evasion, is at the moment supplied to me:<—>an artist asked a Prime Minister, who was sitting to him, "What news, my Lord, from France? " He answered, "I do not know; I have not read the Papers."

5. A more difficult question is, when to accept confidence has not been a duty. Supposing a man wishes to keep the secret that he is the author of a book, and he is plainly asked on the subject. Here I should ask the previous question, whether any one has a right to publish what he dare not avow. It requires to have traced the bearings and results of such a principle, before being sure of it; but certainly, for myself, I am no friend of strictly anonymous writing. Next, supposing another has confided to you the secret of his authorship:<—>there are persons who would have no scruple at all in giving a denial to impertinent questions asked them on the subject. I have heard a great man in his day at Oxford, warmly contend, as if he could not enter into any other view of the matter, that, if he had been trusted by a friend with the secret of his being author of a certain book, and he were asked by a third person, if his friend was not (as he really was) the author of it, he ought without any scruple and distinctly to answer that he did not know. He had an existing duty towards the author; he had none towards his inquirer. The author had a claim on him; an impertinent questioner had none at all. But here again I desiderate some leave, recognized by society, as in the case of the formulas "Not at home," and "Not guilty," in order to give me the right of saying what is a material untruth. And moreover, I should here also ask the previous question, Have I any right to accept such a confidence? have I any right to make such a promise? and, if it be {455} an unlawful promise, is it binding at the expense of [Note 29] a lie? I am not attempting to solve these difficult questions, but they have to be carefully examined. <And now I have said more than I had intended on a question of casuistry.>

[[Note 30] As I put into print some weeks ago various extracts from authors relating to the subject which I have been considering, I conclude by inserting them here, though they will not have a very methodical appearance.

For instance, St. Dorotheus: "Sometimes the necessity of some matter urges (incumbit), which, unless you somewhat conceal and dissemble it, will turn into a greater trouble." And he goes on to mention the case of saving a man who has committed homicide from his pursuers: and he adds that it is not a thing that can be done often, but once in a long time.

St. Clement in like manner speaks of it only as a necessity, and as a necessary medicine.

Origen, after saying that God's commandment makes it a plain duty to speak the truth, adds, that a man, "when necessity urges," may avail himself of a lie, as medicine, that is, to the extent of Judith's conduct towards Holofernes; and he adds that that necessity may be the obtaining of a great good, as Jacob hindered his father from giving the blessing to Esau against the will of God.

Cassian says, that the use of a lie, in order to be allowable, must be like the use of hellebore, which is itself poison, unless a man has a fatal disease on him. He adds, "Without the condition of an extreme necessity, it is a present ruin."

St. John Chrysostom defends Jacob on the ground that his deceiving his father was not done for the sake of temporal gain, but in order to fulfil the providential purpose of God; and he says, that, as Abraham was not a murderer, though he was minded to kill his son, so an untruth need not be a lie. And he adds, that often such a deceit is the greatest possible benefit to the man who is deceived, and therefore allowable. Also St. Hilary, St. John Climacus, &c. in Thomassin, Concina, the Mélanges, &c. {456}

Various modern Catholic divines hold this doctrine of the "material lie" also. I will quote three passages in point.

Cataneo: "Be it then well understood, that the obligation to veracity, that is, of conforming our words to the sentiments of our mind, is founded principally upon the necessity of human intercourse, for which reason they (i.e. words) ought not and cannot be lawfully opposed to this end, so just, so necessary, and so important, without which, the world would become a Babylon of confusion. And this would in a great measure be really the result, as often as a man should be unable to defend secrets of high importance, and other evils would follow, even worse than confusion, in their nature destructive of this very intercourse between man and man for which speech was instituted. Every body must see the advantage a hired assassin would have, if supposing he did not know by sight the person he was commissioned to kill, I being asked by the rascal at the moment he was standing in doubt with his gun cocked, were obliged to approve of his deed by keeping silence, or to hesitate, or lastly to answer 'Yes, that is the man.' [Then follow other similar cases. [Note 31]] In such and similar cases, in which your sincerity is unjustly assailed, when no other way more prompt or more efficacious presents itself, and when it is not enough to say, 'I do not know,' let such persons be met openly with a downright resolute 'No' without thinking upon any thing else. For such a 'No' is conformable to the universal opinion of men, who are the judges of words, and who certainly have not placed upon them obligations to the injury of the Human Republic, nor ever entered into a compact to use them in behalf of rascals, spies, incendiaries, and thieves. I repeat that such a 'No' is conformable to the universal mind of man, and with this mind your own mind ought to be in union and alliance. Who does not see the manifest advantage which highway robbers would derive, were travellers when asked if they had gold, jewels, &c., obliged either to invent tergiversations or to answer 'Yes, we have?' Accordingly in such circumstances that 'No' {457} which you utter [see Card. Pallav. lib. iii. c. xi. n. 23, de Fide, Spe, &c. [Note 32]] remains deprived of its proper meaning, and is like a piece of coin, from which by the command of the government the current value has been withdrawn, so that by using it you become in no sense guilty of lying."

Bolgeni says, "We have therefore proved satisfactorily, and with more than moral certainty, that an exception occurs to the general law of not speaking untruly, viz. when it is impossible to observe a certain other precept, more important, without telling a lie. Some persons indeed say, that in the cases of impossibility which are above drawn out, what is said is not a lie. But a man who thus speaks confuses ideas and denies the essential characters of things. What is a lie? It is 'locutio contra mentem;' this is its common definition. But in the cases of impossibility, a man speaks contra mentem; that is clear and evident. Therefore he tells a lie. Let us distinguish between the lie and the sin. In the above cases, the man really tells a lie, but this lie is not a sin, by reason of the existing impossibility. To say that in those cases no one has a right to ask, that the words have a meaning according to the common consent of men, and the like, as is said by certain authors in order in those cases to exempt the lie from sin, this is to commit oneself to frivolous excuses, and to subject oneself to a number of retorts, when there is the plain reason of the above-mentioned fact of impossibility."

And the Author in the Mélanges Théologiques: "We have then gained this truth, and it is a conclusion of which we have not the smallest doubt, that if the intention of deceiving our neighbour is essential to a lie, it is allowable in certain cases to say what we know to be false, as, e.g. to escape from a great danger ...

"But, let no one be alarmed, it is never allowable to lie; in this we are in perfect agreement with the whole body of theologians. The only point in which we differ from them is in what we mean by a lie. They call that a lie which is not such in our view, or rather, if you will, what in our view is only a material lie they account to be both formal and material." {458}

Now to come to Anglican authorities.

Taylor: "Whether it can in any case be lawful to tell a lie? To this I answer, that the holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament do indefinitely and severely forbid lying. Prov. xiii. 5; xxx. 8. Ps. v. 6. John viii. 44. Col. iii. 9. Rev. xxi. 8, 27. Beyond these things, nothing can be said in condemnation of lying.

"But then lying is to be understood to be something said or written to the hurt of our neighbour, which cannot be understood otherwise than to differ from the mind of him that speaks. 'A lie is petulantly or from a desire of hurting, to say one thing, or to signify it by gesture, and to think another thing [Note 33]:' so Melancthon, 'To lie is to deceive our neighbour to his hurt.' For in this sense a lie is naturally or intrinsically evil; that is, to speak a lie to our neighbour is naturally evil ... not because it is different from an eternal truth ... A lie is an injury to our neighbour ... There is in mankind a universal contract implied in all their intercourses ... In justice we are bound to speak, so as that our neighbour do not lose his right, which by our speaking we give him to the truth, that is, in our heart. And of a lie, thus defined, which is injurious to our neighbour, so long as his right to truth remains, it is that St. Austin affirms it to be simply unlawful, and that it can in no case be permitted, nisi forte regulas quasdam daturus es ... If a lie be unjust, it can never become lawful; but, if it can be separate from injustice, then it may be innocent. Here then I consider

"This right, though it be regularly and commonly belonging to all men, yet it may be taken away by a superior right intervening; or it may be lost, or it may be hindered, or it may cease, upon a greater reason.

"Therefore upon this account it was lawful for the children of Israel to borrow jewels of the Egyptians, which supposes a promise of restitution, though they intended not to pry them back again. God gave commandment so to spoil them, and the Egyptians were divested of their rights, and were to be used like enemies. {459}

"It is lawful to tell a lie to children or to madmen; because they, having no powers of judging, have no right to truth; but then, the lie must be charitable and useful ... If a lie be told, it must be such as is for their good ... and so do physicians to their patients ... This and the like were so usual, so permitted to physicians, that it grew to a proverb, 'You lie like a doctor;' [Note 34] which yet was always to be understood in the way of charity, and with honour to the profession ... To tell a lie for charity, to save a man's life, the life of a friend, of a husband, of a prince, of a useful and a public person, hath not only been done at all times, but commended by great and wise and good men ... Who would not save his father's life ... at the charge of a harmless lie, from the rage of persecutors or tyrants? … When the telling of a truth will certainly be the cause of evil to a man, though he have right to truth, yet it must not be given to him to his harm ... Every truth is no more justice, than every restitution of a straw to the right owner is a duty. 'Be not over-righteous,' says Solomon ... If it be objected, that we must not tell a lie for God, therefore much less for our brother, I answer, that it does not follow; for God needs not a lie, but our brother doesDeceiving the enemy by the stratagem of actions or words, is not properly lying; for this supposes a conversation, of law or peace, trust or promise explicit or implicit. A lie is a deceiving of a trust or confidence."—Taylor, vol. xiii. pp. 351-371, ed. Heber.

It is clear that Taylor thought that veracity was one branch of justice; a social virtue; under the second table of the law, not under the first; only binding, when those to whom we speak have a claim of justice upon us, which ordinarily all men have. Accordingly, in cases where a neighbour has no claim of justice upon us, there is no opportunity of exercising veracity, as, for instance, when he is mad, or is deceived by us for his own advantage. And hence, in such cases, a lie is not really a lie, as he says in one place, "Deceiving the enemy is not properly lying." Here he seems to make that distinction common to Catholics; viz. between what they call a material act and {460} a formal act. Thus Taylor would maintain, that to say the thing that is not to a madman, has the matter of a lie, but the man who says it as little tells a formal lie, as the judge, sheriff, or executioner murders the man whom he certainly kills by forms of law.

Other English authors take precisely the same view, viz. that veracity is a kind of justice,—that our neighbour generally has a right to have the truth told him; but that he may forfeit that right, or lose it for the time, and then to say the thing that is not to him is no sin against veracity, that is, no lie. Thus Milton says [Note 35], "Veracity is a virtue, by which we speak true things to him to whom it is equitable, and concerning what things it is suitable for the good of our neighbour ... All dissimulation is not wrong, for it is not necessary for us always openly to bring out the truth; that only is blamed which is malicious ... I do not see why that cannot be said of lying which can be said of homicide and other matters, which are not weighed so much by the deed as by the object and end of acting. What man in his senses will deny that there are those whom we have the best of grounds for considering that we ought to deceive,—as boys, madmen, the sick, the intoxicated, enemies, men in error, thieves? ... Is it a point of conscience not to deceive them? ... I would ask, by which of the commandments is a lie forbidden? You will say, by the ninth. Come, read it out, and you will agree with me. For whatever is here forbidden comes under the head of injuring one's neighbour. If then any lie does not injure one's neighbour, certainly it is not forbidden by this commandment. It is on this ground that, by the judgment of theologians, we shall acquit so many holy men of lying. Abraham, who said to his servants that he would return with his son; ... the wise man understood that it did not matter to his servants to know [that his son would not return [Note 36]], and that it was at the moment expedient for himself that they should not know ... Joseph would be a man of many lies if the common definition of lying held; [also [Note 37]] Moses, Rahab, Ehud, Jael, Jonathan." Here again {461} veracity is due only on the score of justice towards the person whom we speak with; and, if he has no claim upon us to speak the truth, we need not speak the truth to him.

And so, again, Paley: "A lie is a breach of promise; for whoever seriously addresses his discourse to another tacitly promises to speak the truth, because he knows that the truth is expected. Or the obligation of veracity may be made out from the direct ill consequences of lying to social happiness ... There are falsehoods which are not lies; that is, which are not criminal." (Here, let it be observed, is the same distinction as in Taylor between material and formal untruths.) "1. When no one is deceived ... 2. When the person to whom you speak has no right to know the truth, or, more properly, when little or no inconveniency results from the want of confidence in such cases, as where you tell a falsehood to a madman for his own advantage; to a robber, to conceal your property; to an assassin, to defeat or divert him from his purpose ... It is upon this principle that, by the laws of war, it is allowable to deceive an enemy by feints, false colours, spies, false intelligence ... Many people indulge, in serious discourse, a habit of fiction or exaggeration ... So long as ... their narratives, though false, are inoffensive, it may seem a superstitious regard to truth to censure them merely for truth's sake." Then he goes on to mention reasons against such a practice, adding, "I have seldom known any one who deserted truth in trifles that could be trusted in matters of importance."—Works, vol. iv. p. 123.

Dr. Johnson, who, if any one, has the reputation of being a sturdy moralist, thus speaks:—

"We talked," says Boswell, "of the casuistical question,—whether it was allowable at any time to depart from truth." Johnson. "The general rule is, that truth should never be violated; because it is of the utmost importance to the comfort of life, that we should have a full security by mutual faith; and occasional inconveniences should be willingly suffered, that we may preserve it. There must, however, be some exceptions. If, for instance, a murderer should ask you which way a man is gone, you may tell him what is not true, because you are under a previous obligation not to betray a man to a murderer." Boswell. "Supposing {462} the person who wrote Junius were asked whether he was the author, might he deny it?" Johnson. "I don't know what to say to this. If you were sure that he wrote Junius, would you, if he denied it, think as well of him afterwards? Yet it may be urged, that what a man has no right to ask, you may refuse to communicate; and there is no other effectual mode of preserving a secret, and an important secret, the discovery of which may be very hurtful to you, but a flat denial; for if you are silent, or hesitate, or evade, it will be held equivalent to a confession. But stay, sir; here is another case. Supposing the author had told me confidentially that he had written Junius, and I were asked if he had, I should hold myself at liberty to deny it, as being under a previous promise, express or implied, to conceal it. Now what I ought to do for the author, may I not do for myself? But I deny the lawfulness of telling a lie to a sick man for fear of alarming him. You have no business with consequences; you are to tell the truth. Besides, you are not sure what effect your telling him that he is in danger may have; it may bring his distemper to a crisis, and that may cure him. Of all lying I have the greatest abhorrence of this, because I believe it has been frequently practised on myself."—Boswell's Life, vol. iv. p. 277.

There are English authors who allow of mental reservation and equivocation; such is Jeremy Taylor.

He says, "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."—Ibid. p. 374.

He says, too, "When the things are true in several senses, the not explicating in what sense I mean the words is not a criminal reservation ... But 1. this liberty is not to be used by inferiors, but by superiors only; 2. not by those that are interrogated, but by them which speak voluntarily; 3. not by those which speak of duty, but which speak of grace and kindness."—Ibid. p. 378.

Bishop Butler, the first of Anglican authorities, writing in his grave and abstract way, seems to assert a similar doctrine in the following passage:—

"Though veracity, as well as justice, is to be our rule of {463} life, it must be added, otherwise a snare will be laid in the way of some plain men, that the use of common forms of speech generally understood, cannot be falsehood; and, in general, that there can be no designed falsehood without designing to deceive. It must likewise be observed, that, in numberless cases, a man may be under the strictest obligations to what he foresees will deceive, without his intending it. For it is impossible not to foresee, that the words and actions of men in different ranks and employments, and of different educations, will perpetually be mistaken by each other; and it cannot but be so, whilst they will judge with the utmost carelessness, as they daily do, of what they are not perhaps enough informed to be competent judges of, even though they considered it with great attention."—Nature of Virtue, fin. These last words seem in a measure to answer to the words in Scavini, that an equivocation is permissible, because "then we do not deceive our neighbour, but allow him to deceive himself." In thus speaking, I have not the slightest intention of saying any thing disrespectful to Bishop Butler; and still less of course to St. Alfonso.

And a third author, for whom I have a great respect, as different from the above two as they are from each other, bears testimony to the same effect in his "Comment on Scripture," Thomas Scott. He maintains indeed that Ehud and Jael were divinely directed in what they did; but they could have no divine direction for what was in itself wrong.

Thus on Judges iii. 15-21:
"'And Ehud said, I have a secret errand unto thee, O king; I have a message from God unto thee, and Ehud thrust the dagger into his belly.' Ehud, indeed," says Scott, "had a secret errand, a message from God unto him; but it was of a far different nature than Eglon expected."

And again on Judges iv. 18-2l:
"'And Jael said, Turn in, my lord, fear not. And he said to her, When any man doth inquire, Is there any man here? thou shalt say, No. Then Jael took a nail, and smote the nail into his temple.' Jael," says Scott, "is not said to have promised Sisera that she would deny his being there; she would give him shelter and refreshment, but not utter a falsehood to oblige him." 

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1. (in heading) Note G. On page 369.
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2. The passages in [ ], pp. 436-8, were not reprinted in 1865.
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3. [a lie] These are Dr. Newman's [ ].
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4. instead of making] when it is a duty to make
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5. view] theory
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6. them] the one and the other
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7. anticipated] thought about before it is incurred
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8. once] well
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9. them] it
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10. with such objects] on such occasions
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11. that the good may be intended and the evil permitted] the speaker's intending the good and only permitting the evil
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12. ever] ever
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13. These [ ] are in 1864 and 1865.
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14. For the passage in [ ] the following is substituted in 1865: Of such a case Walter Scott, if I mistake not, supplied a very distinct example, in his denying so long the authorship of his novels.
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15. they were brought before] a question on the subject was asked of
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16. the condition] this condition, viz.
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17. The [ ] are in both 1864 and 1865.
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18. has] have
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19. The passage in [ ], pp. 445-8, was omitted in 1865, where, after Gerdil, the following was added, Natalis Alexander, Contenson, Concina, and others.
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20. These [ ] are in 1864.
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21. The matter in [ ] pp. 445-8, was not reprinted in 1865.
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22. object] occasion
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23. God; because words are] God. God has made words
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24. and] while
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25. wrong] in error
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26. danger] perplexity
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27. be acting under a rule] not be taking the law into his own hands
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28. the] his
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29. at the expense of] when it cannot be kept without
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30. The matter from here to page 470 was not reprinted in 1865.
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31. These [ ] are in 1864.
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32. These [ ] are in 1864.
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33. 1 "Mendacium est petulanter, aut cupiditate nocendi, aliud loqui, seu gestu significare, et aliud sentire."
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34. 2 Mentiris ut medicus.
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35. 3 The Latin original is given at the end of the Appendix.
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36. These [ ] are in 1864.
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37. These [ ] are in 1864.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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