BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (217): Must we always tell the truth?

Rev. José Mario O. Mandía

In Bite-Size Philosophy (no. 56), we have talked about truth. We also pointed out that there are three “levels” of truth: ontological truth, logical or gnoseological truth, and moral truth. Here we are concerned with the third one.

How important is truth?

From the human point of view, man naturally seeks the truth. Aristotle said that “All men by nature desire to know.” Now we cannot imagine that what they desire to know is fake or false. As Saint Augustine observed, we may find many people around us who have no problem with fooling other people, but absolutely no one wants to be fooled by anyone else.

All aspects of man’s life that involve dealing with others require the truth. If everyone were dishonest, there would be no trust. Without trust, any kind of interaction would be impossible.

From the supernatural point of view, Our Beloved Lord Jesus once declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). To go to the Father, we need to come by this way, by this truth, with this life.

The exhortation to love the truth and live by it is found all over Sacred Scripture. “The LORD is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth” (Psalm 145:18). “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). “Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth” (I John 3:18).

The duty to tell the truth must be “accompanied by the discretion of charity.”

Speaking about the eighth commandment, the Compendium teaches: “Every person is called to sincerity and truthfulness in acting and speaking. Everyone has the duty to seek the truth, to adhere to it and to order one’s whole life in accordance with its demands. In Jesus Christ the whole of God’s truth has been made manifest. He is ‘the truth’. Those who follow him live in the Spirit of truth and guard against duplicity, dissimulation, and hypocrisy” (CCCC 521). Jesus Christ is the standard that tells us whether we are living truthfully or falsely.

“A Christian must bear witness to the truth of the Gospel in every field of his activity, both public and private, and also if necessary, with the sacrifice of his very life. Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith” (CCCC 522).

What does the eighth commandment enjoin us to do? “The eighth commandment requires respect for the truth accompanied by the discretion of charity in the field of communication and the imparting of information, where the personal and common good, the protection of privacy and the danger of scandal must all be taken into account; in respecting professional secrets which must be kept, save in exceptional cases for grave and proportionate reasons; and also in respecting confidences given under the seal of secrecy” (CCCC 524).

There is an important requirement to note here. The duty to tell the truth must be “accompanied by the discretion of charity.” Charity sometimes requires that we do not reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to it. We can find a glowing example in Saint Joseph. “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly” (Matthew 1:19). Joseph was a just man: he followed the law. He could expose the “misbehavior”. He could tell friends and acquaintances about it. But he didn’t. He chose an option that would put him in a bad light and leave Our Lady’s reputation intact. He would leave her quietly and go somewhere far away.

For this reason, sins against this commandment include sins against charity (not only sins against truth).

“The eighth commandment forbids:

(1) false witness, perjury, and lying, the gravity of which is measured by the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims;

(2) rash judgment, slander, defamation and calumny which diminish or destroy the good reputation and honor to which every person has a right;

(3) flattery, adulation, or complaisance, especially if directed to serious sins or toward the achievement of illicit advantages.

A sin committed against truth demands reparation if it has caused harm to others” (CCCC 523).

Let us beg the Lord, then: “Lead me in thy truth, and teach me, for thou art the God of my salvation; for thee I wait all the day long” (Psalm 25:5).

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