Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume III/Moral Treatises of St. Augustin/On Lying/Section 14
14. “How,” sayest thou, “is it not his doing as well as theirs, when they would not do this, if he would do that?” Why, at this rate we go housebreaking with house-breakers, because if we did not shut the door, they would not break it open: and we go and murder with highwaymen, if it chance we know that they are going to do it, because if we killed them out of hand, they would not kill others. Or, if a person confess to us that he is going to commit a parricide, we commit it along with him, if, being able, we do not slay him before he can do the deed when we cannot in some other way prevent or thwart him. For it may be said, word for word as before, “Thou hast done it as well as he; for he had not done this, hadst thou done that.” With my good will, neither ill should be done; but only the one was in my power, and I could take care that this should not be done; the other rested with another, and when by my good advice I could not quench the purpose, I was not bound by my evil deed to thwart the doing. It is therefore no approving of a sinner, that one refuses to sin for him; and neither the one nor the other is liked by him who would that neither were done; but in that which pertains to him, he hath the power to do it or not, and with that he perpetrateth it not; in that which pertains to another, he hath only the will to wish it or not, and with that he condemneth. And therefore, on their offering those terms, and saying, “If thou burn not incense, this shalt thou suffer;” if he should answer, “For me, I choose neither, I detest both, I consent unto you in none of these things:” in uttering these and the like words, which certainly, because they would be true, would afford them no consent no approbation of his, let him suffer at their hands what he might, to his account would be set down the receipt of wrongs, to theirs the commission of sins. “Ought he then,” it may be asked, “to suffer his person to be violated rather than burn incense?” If the question be what he ought, he ought to do neither. For should I say that he ought to do any of these things, I shall approve this or that, whereas I reprobate both. But if the question be, which of these he ought in preference to avoid, not being able to avoid both but able to avoid one or other: I will answer, “His own sin, rather than another’s; and rather a lighter sin being his own, than a heavier being another’s.” For, reserving the point for more diligent inquiry, and granting in the mean while that violation of the person is worse than burning incense, yet the latter is his own, the former another’s deed, although he had it done to him; now, whose the deed, his the sin. For though murder is a greater sin than stealing, yet it is worse to steal than to suffer murder. Therefore, if it were proposed to any man that, if he would not steal he should be killed, that is, murder should be committed upon him; being he could not avoid both, he would prefer to avoid that which would be his own sin, rather than that which would be another’s. Nor would the latter become his act for being committed upon him, and because he might avoid it if he would commit a sin of his own.