TO lie is to utter an untruth, with full knowledge that it is an

untruth. The untruth may be expressed by any conventional sign, by

word, deed, gesture, or even by silence. Its malice and disorder

consists in the opposition that exists between our idea and the

expression we give to it; our words convey a meaning contrary to what

is in our mind; we say one thing and mean another. If we unwittingly

utter what is contrary
to fact, that is error; if we so clumsily

translate our thoughts as to give a false impression of what we mean,

and we do the best we can, that is a blunder; if in a moment of

listlessness and inattention we speak in a manner that conflicts with

our state of mind, that is temporary mental aberration. But if we

knowingly give out as truth what we know is not the truth, we lie

purely and simply.

In misrepresentations of this kind it is not required that there be a

plainly formulated purpose of deceiving another; an implicit intention,

a disposition to allow our words to run their natural course, is

sufficient to give such utterances a character of mendacity. For,

independently of our mental attitude, it is in the nature of a lie to

deceive; an intention, or rather a pretense to the contrary, does not

affect that nature. The fact of lying presupposes that we intend in

some manner to practise deception; if we did not have such a purpose we

would not resort to lying. If you stick a knife into a man, you may

pretend what you like, but you did certainly intend to hurt him and

make him feel badly.

Nor has any ulterior motive we may have in telling an untruth the power

to change its nature; a lie is a lie, no matter what prompted it.

Whether it serves the purpose of amusement, as a jocose lie; or helps

to gain us an advantage or get us out of trouble, as an officious lie;

or injures another in any way, as a pernicious lie: mendacity is the

character of our utterances, the guilt of willful falsehood is on our

soul. A restriction should, however, be made in favor of the jocose

lie; it ceases to be a lie when the mind of the speaker is open to all

who listen and his narration or statement may be likened to those

fables and myths and fairy tales in which is exemplified the charm of

figurative language. When a person says what is false and is convinced

that all who hear him know it is false, the contradiction between his

mind and its expression is said to be material, and not formal; and in

this the essence of a lie does not consist.

A lie is always a sin; it is what is called an intrinsic evil and is

therefore always wrong. And why is this? Because speech was given us to

express our thoughts; to use this faculty therefore for a contrary

purpose is against its nature, against a law of our being, and this is

evil. The obnoxious consequences of falsehood, as it is patent to all,

constitute an evil for which falsehood is responsible. But deception,

one of those consequences, is not in itself and essentially, a moral

fault. Deception, if not practised by lying and therefore not intended

but simply suffered to occur, and if there be grave reason for

resorting to this means of defense, cannot be put down as a thing

offensive to God or unjustly prejudicial to the neighbor. But when

deception is the effect of mendacity, it assumes a character of malice

that deserves the reprobation of man as it is condemned by God. And

this is another reason why lying is essentially an evil thing, and can

never, under any circumstances be allowed or justified.

This does not mean that lying is always a mortal sin. In fact, it is

oftener venial than mortal. It becomes a serious fault only in the

event of another malice being added to it. Thus, if I lie to one who

has a right to know the truth and for grave reasons; if the mendacious

information I impart is of a nature to mislead one into injury or loss,

and this thing I do maliciously; or if my lying is directly disparaging

to another; in these cases there is grave malice and serious guilt. But

if there is no injustice resulting from a lie, I prevaricate against

right in lying, but my sin is not a serious offense.

This is a vice that certainly deserves to be fought against and

punished always and in all places, especially in the young who are so

prone thereto, first because it is a sin; and again, because of the

social evils that it gives rise to. There is no gainsaying the fact

that in the code of purely human morals, lying is considered a very

heinous offense that ostracizes a man when robbery on a large scale,

adultery and other first-degree misdemeanors leave him perfectly

honorable. This recalls an instance of a recent courtroom. A young

miscreant thoroughly imbued with pharisaic morals met with a bold face,

without a blush or a flinch, accusations of misconduct, robbery and

murder; but when charged with being a liar, he sprang at his accuser in

open court and tried to throttle him. His fine indignation got the best

of him; he could not stand that.

Among pious-minded people two extreme errors are not infrequently met

with. The one is that a lie is not wrong unless the neighbor suffers

thereby; the falsity of this we have already shown. According to the

other, a lie is such an evil that it should not be tolerated, not one

lie, even if all the souls in hell were thereby to be liberated. To

this we answer that we would like to get such a chance once; we fear we

would tell a whopper. It would be wicked, of course; but we might

expect leniency from the just Judge under the circumstances.