Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume III/Moral Treatises of St. Augustin/Against Lying/Section 34
34. But some man will say, Would then those midwives and Rahab have done better if they had shown no mercy, by refusing to lie? Nay verily, those Hebrew women, if they were such as that sort of persons of whom we ask whether they ought ever to tell a lie, would both eschew to say aught false, and would most frankly refuse that foul service of killing the babes. But, thou wilt say, themselves would die. Yea, but see what follows. They would die with an heavenly habitation for their incomparably more ample reward than those houses which they made them on earth could be: they would die, to be in eternal felicity, after enduring of death for most innocent truth. What of her in Jericho? Could she do this? Would she not, if she did not by telling a lie deceive the inquiring citizens, by speaking truth betray the lurking guests? Or could she say to their questionings, I know where they are; but I fear God, I will not betray them? She could indeed say this, were she already a true Israelitess in whom was no guile: which thing she was about to be, when through the mercy of God passing over into the city of God. But they, hearing this (thou wilt say), would slay her, would search the house. But did it follow that they would also find them, whom she had diligently concealed? For in the foresight of this, that most cautious woman had placed them where they would have been able to remain undiscovered if she, telling a lie, should not be believed. So both she, if after all she had been slain by her countrymen for the work of mercy, would have ended this life, which must needs come to an end, by a death precious in the sight of the Lord, and towards them her benefit had not been in vain. But, thou wilt say, “What if the men who sought them, in their thorough-going search had come to the place where she had concealed them?” In this fashion it may be said: What if a most vile and base woman, not only telling, but swearing a lie, had not got them to believe her? Of course even so would the things have been like to come to pass, through fear of which she lied. And where do we put the will and power of God? or haply was He not able to keep both her, neither telling a lie to her own townsmen, nor betraying men of God, and them, being His, safe from all harm? For by Whom also after the woman’s lie they were guarded, by Him could they, even if she had not lied, have in any wise been guarded. Unless perchance we have forgotten that this did come to pass in Sodom, where males burning towards males with hideous lust could not so much as find the door of the house in which were the men they sought; when that just man, in a case altogether most similar, would not tell a lie for his guests, whom he knew not to be Angels, and feared lest they should suffer a violence worse than death. And doubtless, he might have given the seekers the like answer as that woman gave in Jericho. For it was in precisely the like manner that they sought by interrogating. But that just person was not willing that for the bodies of his guests his soul should be spotted by his own telling of a lie, for which bodies he was willing that the bodies of his daughters by iniquity of others’ lust should be deforced. Let then a man do even for the temporal safety of men what he can; but when it comes to that point that to consult for such saving of them except by sinning is not in his power, thenceforth let him esteem himself not to have what he may do, when he shall perceive that only to be left him which he may not rightly do. Therefore, touching Rahab in Jericho, because she entertained strangers, men of God, because in entertaining of them she put herself in peril, because she believed on their God, because she diligently hid them where she could, because she gave them most faithful counsel of returning by another way, let her be praised as meet to be imitated even by the citizens of Jerusalem on high. But in that she lied, although somewhat therein as prophetical be intelligently expounded, yet not as meet to be imitated is it wisely propounded: albeit that God hath those good things memorably honored, this evil thing mercifully overlooked.
- mss. and edd. “An posset;” but Ben. ed. propose “an non posset,” “Could she not?”
- John i. 47
- Ps. cxvi. 15
- Gen. xix. 5–11