Church Fathers Who Endorsed Lying – Deception

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With the evidences shown previously, that the Bible does allow lying. You can click on the links below:

Old Testament:

1. Exodus 1:15-22 – Midwives
2. Exodus 3:22 – YHWH & Israelites
3. Joshua 2:2-7 – Rahab
4. 2 Kings 6:18-20 – Elisha & YHWH
5. Judges 4:9 – Jael
6. 2 Samuel 17:17-20 – Spy
7. 1 Samuel 16:1-3 – Samuel & YHWH
8. 1 Kings 22:20-22 – Spirit & YHWH
9. 1 Samuel 19:11-17 – Michal
10. 1 Samuel 21:1-3 – David
11. 1 Samuel 27:10 – David

New Testament:

12. John 7:8-10 – Jesus
13. Mark 14:66:71 – Peter
14. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 – Paul

Let’s now turn to the past church fathers. The following is some of the early Church fathers’ writings attesting that a Christian is allowed to use deception and lie for a greater good.

Chrysostom

Introduction to Chrysostom’s Treatise On The Priesthood:

Not long after the two friends had adopted this course of life, probably about the year 374, they were agitated by a report that they were likely to be advanced to the Episcopate (c. 6.) By a custom which was then common in the Church they were liable if elected by the clergy and people to be forcibly seized and ordained however unwilling they might be to accept the dignity. Basil entreated his friend that in this crisis of their lives they might act as in former times in concert, and together accept, or evade if possible the expected but unwelcome honor. Chrysostom affected assent to this proposal, but secretly resolved to entrap Basil into the sacred office for which he considered him to be as eminently fitted, as he deemed himself to be unworthy. The Church should not on account of his own feebleness be deprived if he could help it, of the able ministrations of such a man as Basil. Accordingly when some agents of the electing body were sent to seize the two young men, Chrysostom contrived to hide himself. His language c. 6. seems to imply that he had some intimation of their coming which he purposely withheld from Basil who consequently was caught. He made at first a violent resistance, but the officials led him to suppose that Chrysostom had already submitted, and under this delusion he acquiesced. When he discovered the trick which had been played upon him he naturally reproached Chrysostom bitterly for his unkind treachery. But the conscience of Chrysostom seems to have been quite at ease throughout the transaction. He regarded it as a pious fraud and when he saw the mingled distress and anger of his friend he could not refrain, he says, from laughing aloud for joy, and thanking God for the success of his stratagem. The remainder of the 1st Book [chs. 8, 9] is occupied by Chrysostom’s vindication of his conduct, the principle that deceit for a righteous end is often salutary and justifiable being maintained with an ingenuity and skill which bespeaks a man who had recently practised in the law-courts.

Chrysostom

Book 1
6. These words, and more, my mother spake to me, and I related them to that noble youth. But he, so far from being disheartened by these speeches, was the more urgent in making the same request as before. Now while we were thus situated, he continually entreating, and I refusing my assent, we were both of us disturbed by a report suddenly reaching us that we were about to be advanced to the dignity of the episcopate. [47] As soon as I heard this rumor I was seized with alarm and perplexity: with alarm lest I should be made captive against my will, and perplexity, inquiring as I often did whence any such idea concerning us could have entered the minds of these men; for looking to myself I found nothing worthy of such an honor. But that noble youth having come to me privately, and having conferred with me about these things as if with one who was ignorant of the rumor, begged that we might in this instance also as formerly shape our action and our counsels the same way: for he would readily follow me whichever course I might pursue, whether I attempted flight or submitted to be captured. Perceiving then his eagerness, and considering that I should inflict a loss upon the whole body of the Church if, owing to my own weakness, I were to deprive the flock of Christ of a young man who was so good and so well qualified for the supervision of large numbers, I abstained from disclosing to him the purpose which I had formed, although I had never before allowed any of my plans to be concealed from him. I now told him that it would be best to postpone our decision concerning this matter to another season, as it was not immediately pressing, and by so doing persuaded him to dismiss it from his thoughts, and at the same time encouraged him to hope that, if such a thing should ever happen to us, I should be of the same mind with him. But after a short time, when one who was to ordain us arrived, I kept myself concealed, but Basil, ignorant of this, was taken away on another pretext, and made to take the yoke, hoping from the promises which I had made to him that I should certainly follow, or rather supposing that he was following me. For some of those who were present, seeing that he resented being seized, deceived him by exclaiming how strange it was that one who was generally reputed to be the more hot tempered (meaning me), had yielded very mildly to the judgment of the Fathers, whereas he, who was reckoned a much wiser and milder kind of man, had shown himself hotheaded and conceited, being unruly, restive, and contradictory. [48] Having yielded to these remonstrances, and afterwards having learned that I had escaped capture, he came to me in deep dejection, sat down near me and tried to speak, but was hindered by distress of mind and inability to express in words the violence to which he had been subjected. No sooner had he opened his mouth than he was prevented from utterance by grief cutting short his words before they could pass his lips. Seeing, then, his tearful and agitated condition, and knowing as I did the cause, I laughed for joy, and, seizing his right hand, I forced a kiss on him, and praised God that my plan had ended so successfully, as I had always prayed it might. But when he saw that I was delighted and beaming with joy, and understood that he had been deceived by me, he was yet more vexed and distressed.

7. And when he had a little recovered from this agitation of mind, he began: If you have rejected the part allotted to you, and have no further regard for me (I know not indeed for what cause), you ought at least to consider your own reputation; but as it is you have opened the mouths of all, and the world is saying that you have declined this ministry through love of vainglory, and there is no one who will deliver you from this accusation. As for me, I cannot bear to go into the market place; there are so many who come up to me and reproach me every day. For, when they see me anywhere in the city, all my intimate friends take me aside, and cast the greater part of the blame upon me. Knowing his intention, they say, for none of his affairs could be kept secret from you, you should not have concealed it, but ought to have communicated it to us, and we should have been at no loss to devise some plan for capturing him. But I am too much ashamed and abashed to tell them that I did not know you had long been plotting this trick, lest they should say that our friendship was a mere pretence. For even if it is so, as indeed it is–nor would you yourself deny it after what you have done to me–yet it is well to hide our misfortune from the outside world, and persons who entertain but a moderate opinion of us. I shrink from telling them the truth, and how things really stand with us, and I am compelled in future to keep silence, and look down on the ground, and turn away to avoid those whom I meet. For if I escape the condemnation on the former charge, I am forced to undergo judgment for speaking falsehood. For they will never believe me when I say that you ranged Basil amongst those who are not permitted to know your secret affairs. Of this, however, I will not take much account, since it has seemed agreeable to you, but how shall we endure the future disgrace? for some accuse you of arrogance, others of vainglory: while those who are our more merciful accusers, lay both these offences to our charge, and add that we have insulted those who did us honor, although had they experienced even greater indignity it would only have served them right for passing over so many and such distinguished men and advancing mere youths, [49] who were but yesterday immersed in the interests of this world, to such a dignity as they never have dreamed of obtaining, in order that they may for a brief season knit the eyebrows, wear dusky garments, and put on a grave face. Those who from the dawn of manhood to extreme old age have diligently practised self-discipline, are now to be placed under the government of youths who have not even heard the laws which should regulate their administration of this office. I am perpetually assailed by persons who say such things and worse, and am at a loss how to reply to them; but I pray you tell me: for I do not suppose that you took to flight and incurred such hatred from such distinguished men without cause or consideration, but that your decision was made with reasoning and circumspection: whence also I conjecture that you have some argument ready for your defence. Tell me, then, whether there is any fair excuse which I can make to those who accuse us.

Book II.
1. That it is possible then to make use of deceit for a good purpose, or rather that in such a case it ought not to be called deceit, but a kind of good management worthy of all admiration, might be proved at greater length; but since what has already been said suffices for demonstration, it would be irksome and tedious to lengthen out my discourse upon the subject. And now it will remain for you to prove whether I have not employed this art to your advantage. [1]

Origen

Jerome quotes Origen that he allowed the use of deception, the work of Origen, the text is no longer in extant.

18. Our friends take it amiss that I have spoken of the Origenists as confederated together by orgies of false oaths. I named the book in which I had found it written, that is, the sixth book of Origen’s Miscellanies, in which he tries to adapt our Christian doctrine to the opinions of Plato. The words of Plato in the third book of the Republic are as follows: Truth, said Socrates, is to be specially cultivated. If, however, as I was saying just now, falsehood is disgraceful and useless to God, to men it is sometimes useful, if only it is used as a stimulant or a medicine; for no one can doubt that some such latitude of statement must be allowed to physicians, though it must be taken out of the hands of those who are unskilled. That is quite true, it was replied; and if one admits that any person may do this, it must be the duty of the rulers of states at times to tell lies, either to baffle the enemy or to benefit their country and the citizens. On the other hand to those who do not know how to make a good use of falsehood, the practice should be altogether prohibited. Now take the words of Origen: When we consider the precept ‘Speak truth every man with his neighbour,’ we need not ask, Who is my neighbour? But we should weigh well the cautious remarks of the philosopher. He says, that to God falsehood is shameful and useless, but to men it is occasionally useful. We must not suppose that God ever lies, even in the way of economy; only, if the good of the hearer requires it, he speaks in ambiguous language, and reveals what he wills in enigmas, taking care at once that the dignity of truth should be preserved and yet that what would be hurtful if produced nakedly before the crowd should be enveloped in a veil and thus disclosed. But a man on whom necessity imposes the responsibility of lying is bound to use very great care, and to use falsehood as he would a stimulant or a medicine, and strictly to preserve its measure, and not go beyond the bounds observed by Judith in her dealings with Holofernes, whom she overcame by the wisdom with which she dissembled her words. He should act like Esther who changed the purpose of Artaxerxes by having so long concealed the truth as to her race; and still more the patriarch Jacob who, as we read, obtained the blessing of his father by artifice and falsehood. From all this it is evident that if we speak falsely with any other object than that of obtaining by it some great good, we shall be judged as the enemies of him who said, I am the truth. This Origen wrote, and none of us can deny it. And he wrote it in the book which he addressed to the ‘perfect,’ his own disciples. His teaching is that the master may lie, but the disciple must not. The inference from this is that the man who is a good liar, and without hesitation sets before his brethren any fabrication which rises into his mouth, shows himself to be an excellent teacher. [2]

Hilary of Poitiers

Hilary of Poitiers is assertive about this issue and advocates lying for beneficial outcomes:

There is a lie that is most necessary and sometimes falsehood is useful, when we lie to a murdered about someone’s hiding place or falsify testimony for a person in danger or deceive a sick person with respect to his chances for recovery. According to the teaching of the Apostle, our speech should be seasoned (Cf. Col. 4:6). For this reason the Holy Spirit tempered what is meant by falsehood by imposing conditions on lying when he said: ‘Who has not lied with his tongue nor done evil to his neighbour’, so that a criminal act of lying would be committed when another person was adversely affected. (Tractatus super Psalmos. 14.10). [3]

John Cassian

John Cassian

Chapter XVII.
How the saints have profitably employed a lie like a hellebore
And so we ought to regard a lie and to employ it as if its nature were that of the hellebore; which is useful if taken when some deadly disease is threatening, but if taken without being required by some great danger is the cause of immediate death. For so also we
Read that holy men and those most approved by God employed lying, so as not only to incur no guilt of sin from it, but even to attain the greatest goodness; and if deceit could confer glory on them, what on the other hand would the truth have brought them but condemnation? Just as Rahab, of whom Scripture gives a record not only of no good deed but actually of unchastity, yet simply for the lie, by means of which she preferred to hide the spies instead of betraying them, had it vouchsafed to her to be joined with the people of God in everlasting blessing. But if she had preferred to speak the truth and to regard the safety of the citizens, there is no doubt that she and all her house would not have escaped the coming destruction, nor would it have been vouchsafed to her to be inserted in the progenitors of our Lord’s nativity, and reckoned in the list of the patriarchs, and through her descendants that followed, to become the mother of the Saviour of all. Again Dalila, who to provide for the safety of her fellow citizens betrayed the truth she had discovered, obtained in exchange eternal destruction, and has left to all men nothing but the memory of her sin. When then any grave danger hangs on confession of the truth, then we must take to lying as a refuge, yet in such a way as to be for our salvation troubled by the guilt of a humbled conscience. But where there is no call of utmost necessity present, there a lie should be most carefully avoided as if it were something deadly: just as we said of a cup of hellebore which is indeed useful if it is taken in the last resort when a deadly and inevitable disease is threatening, while if it is taken when the body is in a state of sound and rude health, its deadly properties at once go to find out the vital parts. And this was clearly shown of Rahab of Jericho, and the patriarch Jacob; the former of whom could only escape death by means of this remedy, while the latter could not secure the blessing of the first-born without it. For God is not only the Judge and inspector of our words and actions, but He also looks into their purpose and aim. And if He sees that anything has been done or promised by some one for the sake of eternal salvation and shows insight into Divine contemplation, even though it may appear to men to be hard and unfair, yet He looks at the inner goodness of the heart and regards the desire of the will rather than the actual words spoken, because He must take into account the aim of the work and the disposition of the doer, whereby, as was said above, one man may be justified by means of a lie, while another may be guilty of sin of everlasting death by telling the truth. To which end the patriarch Jacob also had regard when he was not afraid to imitate the hairy appearance of his brother’s body by wrapping himself up in skins, and to his credit acquiesced in his mother’s instigation of a lie for this object. For he saw that in this way there would be bestowed on him greater gains of blessing and righteousness than by keeping to the path of simplicity: for he did not doubt that the stain of this lie would at once be washed away by the flood of the paternal blessing, and would speedily be dissolved like a little cloud by the breath of the Holy Spirit; and that richer rewards of merit would be bestowed on him by means of this dissimulation which he put on than by means of the truth, which was natural to him. [4]

John Cassian continues:

Chapter 20
How even Apostles thought that a lie was often useful and the truth injurious.
Instructed by which examples, the blessed James also, and all the chief princess of the primitive Church urged the Apostle Paul in consequence of the weakness of feeble persons to condescend to a fictitious arrangement and insisted on his purifying himself according to the requirements of the law, and shaving his head and paying his vows, as they THOUGHT THAT THE PRESENT HARM WHICH WOULD COME FROM THIS HYPOCRISY WAS OF NO ACCOUNT, but had regard rather to the gain which would result from his still continued preaching. For the gain to the Apostle Paul from his strictness would not have counterbalanced the loss to all nations from his speedy death. AND THIS WOULD CERTAINLY HAVE BEEN THEN INCURRED BY THE WHOLE CHURCH UNLESS THIS GOOD AND SALUTARY HYPOCRISY HAD PRESERVED HIM FOR THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL. FOR THEN WE MAY RIGHTLY AND PARDONABLY ACQUIESCE IN THE WRONG OF A LIE, WHEN, AS WE SAID, A GREATER HARM DEPENDS ON TELLING THE TRUTH, AND WHEN THE GOOD WHICH RESULTS TO US FROM SPEAKING THE TRUTH CANNOT COUNTERBALANCE THE HARM WHICH WILL BE CAUSED BY IT.

And elsewhere the blessed Apostle testifies in other words that he himself always observed this disposition; for when he says:
‘To the Jews I became as Jew that I might gain the Jews; to those who were under the law as being under the law, though not myself under the law, that I might gain those who were under the law; to those who were without law, I became as without law, though I was not without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might gain those who were without law; to the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak: I became all things to all men, that I might save all;’
What does he show but that according to the weakness and the capacity of those who were being instructed he always lowered himself and relaxed something of the vigour of perfection, and did not cling to what his own strict life might seem to demand, but rather preferred that which the good of the weak might require? And that we may trace these matters out more carefully and recount one by one the glories of the good deeds of the Apostles, someone may ask how the blessed Apostle can be proved to have suited himself to all men in all things. When did he to the Jews become as a Jew? Certainly in the case where, while he still kept in his inmost heart the opinion which he had maintained to the Galatians saying:
‘behold, I, Paul, say unto you that if ye be circumcised Christ shall profit you nothing,’
Yet by circumcising Timothy HE ADOPTED A SHADOW AS IT WERE OF JEWISH SUPERSTITION. And again, where did he become to those under the law, as under the law? There certainly where James and all the elders of the Church, fearing lest he might be attacked by the multitude of Jewish believers, or rather of Judaizing Christians, who had received the faith of Christ in such a way as still to be bound by the rites of legal ceremonies, came to his rescue in his difficulty with this counsel and advice, and said:
‘Thou seest, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews, who have believed, and they are all zealots for the law. But they have heard of thee that thou teachest those Jews who are among the Gentiles to depart from Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children;’ and below:
‘Do therefore this that we say unto thee: we have four men who have a vow on them. These take and sanctify thyself with them and bestow on them, that they may shave their heads; and all will know that the things which they have heard of thee are false, but thou thyself also walkest keeping the law.’
And so for the good of those who were under the law, he trode under foot for a while strict view which he had expressed:
‘For I through the law am dead unto the law that I may live unto God;’ and was driven to shave his head, and be purified according to the law and pay his vows after the Mosaic rites in the Temple. Do you ask also where for the good of those who were utterly ignorant of the law of God, he himself became as if without law? Read the introduction to his sermon at Athens where heathen wickedness was flourishing:
‘As I passed by,’ he says, ‘I saw your idols and an altar on which was written: To the unknown God;’ and when he had this started for their superstition, as if he himself also had been withut law, under the cloke of that profane inscription he introduced the faith of Christ, saying: ‘What therefore ye ignorantly worship, that declare I unto you.’ And after
A little, as if he had known nothing whatever of the Divine law, he chose to bring forward a verse of a heathen poet rather than a saying of Moses or Christ, saying,:
‘As some also of your own poets have said: for we are also His offspring.’ And when he had this approached them with their own authorities, which they could not reject, thus confirming the truth by THINGS FALSE, he added and said:
‘Since then we are the offspring of God we ought not to think that the Godhead is like gold or silver or stone sculptured by the art of device of man.’ But to the weak he became weak, when, by way of permission, not of command, he allowed those who could not contain themselves to return together again, or when he fed the Corinthians with milk and not with meat, and says that he was with them in weakness and fear and much trembling. But he became all things to all men that he might save all, when he says:
‘He that eateth let him not despise him that eateth not, and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth;’ and:
‘He that giveth his virgin in marriage doeth well, and he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better;’ and elsewhere: ‘Who,’ says he, ‘is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?’ And in this way he fulfilled what he commanded the Corinthians to do when he said:
‘Be ye without offence to Jews and Greeks and the Church of Christ, as I also please all men in all things, not seeing mine profit but that of the many that they be saved.’ For it had certainly been profitable not to circumcise Timothy, not to shave his head, not to undergo Jewish purification, not to practice going barefoot, not to pay legal vows; but he did all these things because he did not seek his own profit but that of the many. And although this was done with the full consideration of God, YET IT WAS NOT FREE FROM DISSIMULATION. For one who through the law of Christ was dead to the law that he might live to God, and who had made and treated that righteousness of the law in which he had lived blameless, as dung, that he might gain Christ, could not with true fervour of heart offer what belonged to the law; nor is it right to believe that he who had said:
‘For if I again rebuild what I have destroyed, I make myself a transgressor,’ would himself fall into what he had condemned. And to such an extent is account taken, not so much of the actual thing which is done as of the disposition of the doer, that on the other hand truth is sometimes found to have injured some, and a lie to have done them good. For when Saul was grumbling to his servants about David’s flight, and saying: ‘Will the son of Jess give you all fields and vineyards, and make you all tribunes and centurions: that all of you have conspired against me, and there is one to inform me,’ did Doeg the Edomite say anything but truth, when he told him:
‘I saw the son of Jesse in Nob, with Abimelech the son of Ahitub the priest, who consulted the Lord for him, and gave him victual, and gave him also the sword of Goliath the Philistine?’
For which true story he deserved to be rooted up out of the land of the living, and it is said of him by the Prophet:
‘Wherefore God shall destroy thee forever, and pluck thee up and tear thee out of thy tabernacle, and thy root from the land of the living:’ He then for showing the truth is forever plucked and rooted up out of that land in which the Harlot Rahab with her family is planted for her lie: just as also we remember that Samson most injuriously betrayed to his wicked wife the truth which he had hidden for a long time by a lie, and therefore the truth so inconsiderately disclosed was the cause of his deception, because he had neglected to keep the command of the Prophet:
‘Keep the doors of thy mouth from her that sleepeth in they bosom.’ [5]

Hugo Grotius

Hugo Grotius (1583 –1645), the seventeenth century Dutch theologian and scholar states that lying during war is permissible:

3. From the association of reason and speech arises that binding force of a promise with which we are dealing. Because we have previously said that, in the opinion of many, lying to an enemy is either permissible, or free from wrong, it must not be thought that this view can be extended with the like reason to pledged faith. For the obligation to speak the truth comes from a cause which was valid before the war; and many, perhaps, in some degree, be removed by the war; but a promise in itself confers a new right. [6]

References:

[1] St. Chrysostom: Treatise Concerning the Christian Priesthood Translated by Rev. W. R. W. Stephens, M.A., Prebendary of Chichester Cathedral, and Rector of Woolbeding, Sussex. Published in 1886 by Philip Schaff, New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co. http://mb-soft.com/believe/txug/chryso03.htm
[2] Apology Against Rufinus Book I, chapter 18 http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/27101.htm
[3] Select Library of The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of The Christian Church [second series] St. Hilary of Poitiers – John Of Damascus volume 9, Page 142
[4] A select Library of Nicene And Post-Nicene Fathers Of the Christian Church [second series] Translated Into English With Prolegomena And Explanatory Notes – Under the Editorial supervision of Philip Shaff D.D., LL.D., And Henry Wace, D. D., [New York: The Christian Literature Company. Oxford And London: Parker & Company 1894] – John Cassian Volume 11, Page 464 -465
[5] A select Library of Nicene And Post-Nicene Fathers Of the Christian Church [second series] Translated Into English With Prolegomena And Explanatory Notes – Under the Editorial supervision of Philip Shaff D.D., LL.D., And Henry Wace, D. D., [New York: The Christian Literature Company. Oxford And London: Parker & Company 1894] – John Cassian Volume 11, 467 – 468
[6] De Jure Belli Ac Pacis Libri Tres By Hugo Grotius, Translation By Francis W. Kelsey with the Collaboration Of Arthur E. R. Boak, Henry A. Sanders, Jesse S. Reeves And Herbert F. Wright And an Introduction By James Brown Scott [Oxford: At The Clarendon Press London – Humphrey Milford 1925] Volume 2 [The translation: Book 3], [Chapter XIX] page 793

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