On Lying: A Moral Guide Based Upon Lombard’s Sentences. Part V: Definitions
Rather surprisingly, it is only after Lombard explains different ways in which we can lie that he actually presents us with his understanding of what it means to lie. This shows us that Lombard, while he tries to be comprehensive, sometimes puts things out of the order we ourselves might. This should serve to warn the reader that he has the potential to write upon matters out of order, and even write something in one section which could impact what he wrote in an earlier one.
Clearly Lombard expected the reader to have a basic notion of what it means to lie; the reason why a lie is important for his discussion is because he wants to understand what a lie does more than what a lie is (that is, he wanted to see the lie within the context of a discussion on morality, and not write a separate treatise on lies themselves). Yet, he could only go so far without actually defining the thing in itself, otherwise presumption might lead his reader to use his words equivocally when addressing the matter with others.
Augustine’s Against Lying gives us Lombard’s initial definition of the lie: “A lie, namely, is a false signification with will of deceiving.” Two things immediately come out of this definition: first, for one to lie, one must intend to go against the truth (an actual will to deceive). The second is, which is an important point, is that one has to have attempted to communicate this falsehood (usually this is done through words, but it could be done by other means, such as would be the case of someone who doctored photographic evidence). From this, we can say one’s opinion, even if it is in error, will not be a lie, because, when one gives it, it is said not as a presentation of absolute truth, but rather, as an interpretation of one or more facts. Nonetheless, this leave open the question, how are we to understand a deliberate misrepresentation of one’s own opinion? Lombard’s next definition of what it means to lie would lead us to say it would be a lie: “But to lie is to speak against what one feels in one’s soul, whether what one says is true or not.” That is, the focus of the lie is in the deliberate attempt to willfully distort what one believes to be the case, whether or not what is being discussed is something they know about, or just an opinion they hold about it. To be mistaken and tell what one believes would not be a lie, while, if one attempts to present something which they didn’t believe, even if it turns out to be correct, they would have lied, because they deliberately attempted to mislead their audience. Lombard confirms this by a quote from St. Augustine’s Enchiridion, “No one, of course, is to be condemned as a liar who says what is false, believing it to be true, because such an one does not consciously deceive, but rather is himself deceived. And, on the same principle, a man is not to be accused of lying, though he may sometimes be open to the charge of rashness, if through carelessness he takes up what is false and holds it as true; but, on the other hand, the man who says what is true, believing it to be false, is, so far as his own consciousness is concerned, a liar.”
After saying this, Lombard raises a question, like he does from time to time, which challenges what he has written. This question is interesting, and deserves a study by itself, not because of what it raises about the issue of lies, but because of what it says about Christians in his day and how they treated Jews. He asks, what should one say about a Jew who, for the sake of acceptance, says Jesus is God, while they do not actually believe it? Did the Jew lie?
Obviously, the reason why a Jew would say Jesus is God is to hide the fact that they are not a Christian because they fear an interrogator who do them harm if they were to say no. Anti-Semitism had made many Jews fear for their lives, and so they pretended to either be a Christian, or to convert to Christianity, to keep free from harm. Clearly, this was and is a great evil, not only because it violates religious liberty, but, even more fundamental, the violence shown to them violated their human dignity. Now, it must be said, having raised an interesting question, Lombard gives us a rather confusing answer: “What he says is not a lie, because, even though he holds otherwise in his soul, nonetheless, what he says is true, and it is not a lie; and yet he lies by saying what is true.” What seems to happen here is that Lombard wants to say that what is said here is so absolutely true, because it is a significant truth about God, the source of all truth, and no correct statement about God can be said to be a lie. But the act would remain, in the act itself, lying, because it would be an attempt to misrepresent one’s own beliefs. That act, however, is not aimed against God, but oneself. For in this situation, it is not an attempt to deceive people about God, but about one’s belief in God. Thus, if one were to say this is a lie, it would be as one of the four minor kinds of lies described by Augustine (protecting someone from bodily harm or death, even if that someone is themselves). On the other hand, the one who would ask a Jew this, if their intent is to find an excuse to harm him or her, would be guilty of a far greater sin. But, we might suggest, if this is the case here, this should also be the case for many other lies; how many times do we lie just to avoid arguments over disagreement, and so tell someone we agree with them when we do not? Clearly the lie is about oneself, and not about what it is being discussed, and so should be seen as something minor, even if no lie is good.
Now, we should consider a different answer than that which Lombard gives, because, if we do, it will help us straighten out the question and the issue at hand better than what Lombard did with it. Should we not see that the Jew who says Jesus is God is doing so out of force? If that is, as it would appear to be, the case, then this would indicate why one could say the Jew would not be lying, since the answer given is given out of force, and not a deliberate attempt to deceive. The Jew is being forced to give a specific answer, and only it. They know what would happen if they did not answer the question with the words their interrogator wants to hear. This, then, allows us to look at the issue differently, without the stumbling around for an answer (like Lombard appears to be doing here). For if the Jew is expected, and being forced, to give only one answer, then the question is not a valid question, and their answer is not an answer to a legitimate question. They are being made to speak words, and so the words, and the intent behind them, are not their own. Free will is needed for a lie to be said.
 Peter Lombard, Sentences. Book III, dist XXXVIII, c3.
 While it might be valid to take what he is going to say later and use it to help us interpret the section we are at, it is better to follow with his flow, so that one, interested in Lombard, can get a better sense of his thought processes. I think the problem we find in Lombard is he would write on an issue, and then come to see that he didn’t say everything which needed to be said, and so inserted what was needed into a place where he could make it fit, instead of going back and starting over (which, in his day, would certainly have been more agonizing than it is for us today, when we have word processors which help us to easily add to a text whenever we find the need).
 St. Augustine, “Against Lying,” NPNF1(3), c26.
 Interestingly enough, we do not see here the question of whether or not the person being lied to has the right to know the truth or not. While it does not come up here, one of the specific questions Lombard raises later would be easily answered if this were included in a definition of lying.
 Peter Lombard, Sentences. Book III, dist XXXVIII, c4.
 St Thomas Aquinas, keeping the definition to verbal statements alone, similarly says, “Now a lie is an evil in respect of its genus, since it is an action bearing an undue matter. For as words are naturally signs of intellectual acts, it is unnatural and undue for anyone to signify by words something that is not in his mind,” ST II-II, Q10, Art3.
 St. Augustine, Enchiridion, c18.
 One could ask whether or not the inquisitor has the right to ask the question; in all probability they do not. Perhaps Lombard is thinking of this when he gives his answer here, though, if so, he would have done well to point this out.
 Peter Lombard, Sentences. Book III, dist XXXVIII, c4.
 When one goes against force and dies a martyr, it is of course an exceptional virtue which is demonstrated, and it is grace which allows such people to become martyrs, and to overcome natural limitations. It is because they have gone beyond the norm that we can recognize the overwhelming work of God in their lives. But this does not tell us the status of those who falter, and whether or not they should be seen as guilty for that which they do under duress. We shall look more at this later, but the general understanding has been that when one acts against one’s own desires under torture, this removes the guilt involved with their action, because they no longer are in control.