Catechetical Sunday 8th Commandment

Jesus Christ gave witness to who He is himself. One thing he spoke about was his relationship with the truth. He said, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” He also said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” In other words, truth is so important to Our Lord that He was willing to come down from heaven, take on a human nature, suffer, and die to reveal the truth to us. And truth is so important to our Lord that he bears witness to it with everything he does and is. In fact, Jesus Christ bears witness to the truth so much that He can actually say He is the truth. He is the truth about who God is, and the truth about who we can become.


  • Because truth is so important, lying is so harmful. As St Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Men could not live with one another if there were not mutual confidence that they were being truthful to one another.” That’s why God gave us the Eighth Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  


  • How might we have sinned against this Commandment? Let’s ask ourselves some questions:


  • Have I said something to someone with the intention of deceiving them?


  • Have I said something that I knew was not true?


  • Have I judged others without adequate knowledge?


  • Have I gossiped?


  • Have I spread rumors when I didn’t know whether or not they were true, and that could have harmed someone’s reputation?


  • If I have injured someone’s good name, have I failed to try to restore it?


  • Have I unnecessarily shared the faults of others and so damaged their reputation?


  • Have I revealed secrets that I should have kept confidential?


  • Have I accused someone of something that I knew they didn’t do?


  • Have I talked about someone negatively behind their back?


  • Have I been negative, critical, or uncharitable in my thinking about others?


  • Have I been unjustly suspicious?


  • Have I cheated in games, school work and so on?


  • Have I spoken unkindly to or about someone?


  • Have I exaggerated the truth?


  • Have I been guilty of bragging or boasting?


  • Have I been guilty of flattery?


  • All of these come under the heading of bearing false witness, or lying. Jesus described lying as the work of the devil. He said to those who intended to kill him, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”


  • A question that many people have is, “Is it ever OK to lie? How about to save someone from serious harm or to save their life?” An example would be, if you were living in Europe under Nazi occupation and you were hiding some Jews in your house, as many people did. If the Nazis came to your house asking if there were any Jews there, should you admit the truth, which would result in their death? Or should you lie and save their lives?


  • People in the Church, including saints and theologians, have had different opinions about this. Some have said that you shouldn’t lie under any circumstances. Others have said that lying to save someone from serious harm is justified. People with this point of view have justified it by defining “lying”as “to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth.” In fact, this definition was in the 1994 edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The argument would be that someone trying to kill an innocent person does not have a right to the truth about the whereabouts of their intended victim.


  • Does this mean we have a definite answer now? No, because in the revised 1998 edition of the Catechism, the last part of that definition was taken out. Now it reads, “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” There is no mention of whether of the issue of whether or not someone has the right to the truth.


  • The Church is still wrestling with this question. One man of the Church who seemed to think it was OK to deceive to save lives was Venerable Pope Pius XII. During World War II, when the Nazis were seeking to exterminate all the Jews, the Pope ordered thousand of false baptism certificates to be made so that Jews could pretend to be Christians and so save their lives, and also more easily emigrate. He also had thousands of Jews hidden in convents and monasteries. He had them wear religious habits and learn Gregorian chant so that the Nazis wouldn’t know that they weren’t really nuns and monks. These were definitely attempts to deceive—to lie—in order to save lives. The Pope has received widespread praise for these actions. The Church hasn’t made any official pronouncements as to whether or not this kind of deception is free of fault, so until it does, we are free as Catholics to decide for ourselves.


  • Most lies don’t have such noble motives. I think most lies are told to save ourselves from embarrassment or punishment, to try to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, to get revenge, to make ourselves look better by making someone else look bad, to get money or pleasure, or to try to gain some other advantage for ourselves. These types of lying are definitely always sinful.


  • Have we sinned by breaking the Commandment, “You shall not bear witness against our neighbor?” If we have, there’s no reason to despair. God is happy to forgive us if we ask him to. And He will help us to be honest. Jesus came to bear witness to the truth, and he wants to help us do the same. As He said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”


  • If we know and live the truth, not only will we be free, but the Church, the Body of Christ, will grow.