Is a white lie a sin?

A friend asked me if a white lie was a sin against God.

Such as a person who is a bit lazy one morning and calls his golf partners telling them he is not feeling well - is that a sin against God?

Or telling your child that eating the crust from a slice of bread will give him rosy cheeks (This is an old saying from the 40’s). Is that a sin?

When is a lie considered to be a sin? Is it when it actually offends someone? or is it a sin by just not telling the truth? Are these sins to be confessed as sins against God?

This one has been the subject of much theological debate. I will say both Augustine and Aquinas seem to have been of the opinion that a lie, by its very nature, is certainly a sin, an offence against God who is truth itself and thus would be offended by any deliberate untruth. That’s two pretty big heavyweights on that side of the equation. On the other hand, I have heard that Pius XII permitted, if not actually positively endorsing, the forging of documents to enable Jews to escape Italy during WWII. Neither act is an infallible teaching, for sure. Both theologians and the private actions of Popes are very much fallible.

Is a white lie a MORTAL sin (which is the only kind that needs sacramental confession)? I guess the sinfulness of any lie depends on the circumstances, much like many other sins. Ttheft for example - stealing five cents is most likely morally on an entirely different level than stealing a million dollars, the matter of five cents is unlikely to constitute a grave/potentially mortal sin in any circumstances.

With theft it’s unclear where exactly the line lies between venial sins such as the theft of the five cents and clearly grave ones such as the million dollars. Same with lies - I would find myself scratching my head to set a definite line between lies which are venial at most (and arguably no sin at all), and those which are grave sins requiring confession.

This is one reason confession exists, so you can give the priest all the necessary information to advise you on the sinfulness of an act in your particular circumstances. General rule of thumb - if in doubt confess!

In terms of lying, for one thing, the Catechism acknowledges that in some circumstances people are actually not entitled to the truth from us. An example of this might be Nazis looking for Jews in your house so that they can send them off to the concentration camps.

Mind you concealing the truth where permissible (ie not giving your exact age when someone asks, responding instead with ‘I’m somewhere between 10 and 100’) is a different thing morally from telling a falsehood (ie being 35 but saying you are 30 instead). The catechism does NOT say the latter is permissible, so I certainly wouldn’t go around presuming that it is.

The Catholic Faith definitively teaches that lying is intrinsically evil and therefore always immoral.

CCC: 1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as **lying **and calumny, good or just.

Veritatis Splendor: If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain “irremediably” evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person… Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act “subjectively” good or defensible as a choice.

Catholic teaching does not permit lying in circumstances where the person being lied to are (supposedly) not entitled to receive the truth from us. Mental reservation is sometimes permitted. Lying is intrinsically evil, and so God who is Truth is always offended by a lie, regardless of intention or circumstances.

I never saw that section of the Catechism (or at least didn’t catch the reference to lying as being intrinsically disordered). Thanks for the quote.

Has God ever told you a white lie?

There has to be some room for tact. Like if your wife asks you if you think she is fat I think it is fine to respond “no”. The rest of the response is just, “no, I love all that sweet weight you have”. :slight_smile: I believe a white lie told not to hurt someone’s feelings is just a venial sin.

I think it comes down to how one defines what a lie is.

Does anyone who asks you a question regardless of who they are and what they ask deserve the answer? That is where it comes for me.

In the example given, I think it was needless to say that one was not feeling well when they did not want to play a round of golf and those it was told to did deserve the answer.

But a case of a neighbor asking you how you could afford to go on vacation does not deserve an answer.

Interesting question. I’ve always wondered: What’s the difference between a “white lie” and a “mental reservation?” My understanding is that our Jesuit brothers are fond of supporting the morality of “mental reservations” but I’ve never understood the distinction.

What if a son tells his father that that he could carry that bushel of apples into the house easily, and you say, " No way; it is too heavy for you, you can’t do it".

Then the son carried it in rather easily.

Did the father lie to him?

I don’t think so. I don’t believe that was a deliberate lie, but a statement made after considering the strength of his son and the weight of the bushel. But, perhaps in many eyes, the Father made a statement that he could not do it and the son went and did it, so that constitues lying to the son Did that lie constitute a sin?.

What we need is a good definition of what is really a sin. A deliberate statement knowing the facts and then saying the opposite of what one knows to be true, or thinks to be true, is probably a sin; but perhaps the father knew that his son might be able to do it, but was afraid he might get hurt and that was his way of saying what he did…

Now I admit the father could have been more specific as to why he felt his son shouldn’t carry the bushel basket, but that wasn’t the case here.

We probably often say things that may seem like a sin, but that wasn’t our intentions. It’s like a mother telling her 5 year old son not to play outside in the dark because a boogy man might get him - I heard that when I was a child. That was my mother’s way of keeping us indoors. But was that a sin, made to a 5 year old, and was it a sin against God? I believe God, with his compassion, might just pass that off with a little bit of a chuckle. I don’t know.

I realize saying something that is not true is a sin; but there are different kinds of sins and different kind of circumstances that might provoke these different kinds of sins in order to prevent harm to someone. I wonder what my confessor would say if I said in the confessional that I lied to my 5 year old son by saying not to go out in the dark because a boogy man might get him?

I wonder if a mother told her small son (not talking yet), not to touch the electric heater because it is hot, when it really wasn’t. SheI just wanted to teach him a lesson that may prevent him to receive a burn in the future.

I know, a sin, is a sin, is a sin, is a sin.

So much for Santa Claus!


I would have to disagree with this in certain limited circumstances. For example, if you are at a party with your wife and she asks you how she looks and you tell her that she looks fat and awful and she has horrible circles under her eyes making her look like a witch. Then she gets real mad at you for the whole evening? I don’t think you are required to tell her the truth in this case. I think that it is OK to lie to her and tell her that she looks just fine and that she is the most beautiful person there, even if she is not. If you don’t lie a little about this, then you will have to face the terrible consequences for the next few days or even weeks. So I think that the teaching of the Catholic Church is wrong in this particular case where you have the good intention of being a gentleman and a charming husband to your wife, it is OK to lie a little in that case.

I recall my Aunt telling my nephew that if he continues smoking, it will stunt his growth. He now plays basketball in a community league and is 6’1". Boy, what a lier my Aunt was!

I wonder how long it will be before we stop lying about the Easter Bunny bringing Easter baskets to the children?

There are lies and there are lies (white ones, that is).

Doesn’t mean it was a lie - it WAS believed, by some, to stunt peoples’ growth (and how do you know he wouldn’t have been at least a little taller without smoking, eh?)

As for the Easter bunny - firstly I was never told rubbish about the Easter bunny as a child. It’s totally unnecessary. Why can’t Easter be about Christ’s resurrection instead of bunnies and chocolate?

In any event the Easter bunny is along the lines of pretending to have imaginary tea parties (with real crockery, mind you) with the kids’ dolls or telling them about Cinderella or what have you - fantasy, which imaginative kids may take as being real.

I’m sure some who listened to Jesus might’ve been under the mistaken impression that the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son or the servants with the talents were real too.

I hope we all agree here on this forum that we have been, sort of, building a mountain out of a mole hill. Most of us know when we commit a sin by examining the conscience the good Lord gave us. If we are good Christians, we know what sin is and what it isn’t.

I have to admit I wrote the previous posting with tongue and cheek. I don’t know if smoking will stop a person’s growth or not - and I’m not sure if a child of 2 or 3 would understand Christ’s Resurrection as suggested. I do believe children should be children as long as they can be, or at least until they become of the age of understanding. Their parents should know when this age arrives in their own children. Now about the tooth fairy ??? I think I’ll leave that one alone. God knows what we know and don’t know and He also knows our intentions for saying some of the things we do.

Let us all formulate good Christian consciences, learn Christ’s teachings to the best of our abilities, and, when in doubt about a teaching, confer with a Priest or, if you believe it to be a sin, bring it up at the Confessional.

We could go round and round on this, but I think we done spent our serious responses as well as our humorous responses. I hope we all learned something.

I could go on but I just seen a leprachaun go across the street carrying a bag of gold coins. Maybe If I catch him he will bestow on me some good luck and give me some of the coins. Got to run…Of course I could always look for the end of the rainbow and get the whole bag!!:slight_smile:

May God bless each and every one of us.

If I was her, I would be mad because to me it sound like you are saying she’s fat. Women are over sensitive, be over careful of what you say.

There are three conditions for a lie:

  1. You communicate something by words or other means

  2. You do not believe what you’ve conveyed

  3. You do it with the intention to deceive

Therefore, telling person A that fruit tastes good if you hate fruit, would possibly be a lie if you believed that fruit would not taste good to person A.

But a surprise b-day party would not be, b/c your intention isn’t that of deceit, per se.

A lie is grave matter if it causes grave harm, if you deny your faith, or if you commit perjury by it…

Additionally, there is something called mental reservation that SHOULD be used in order to act charitably…for instance, one would twist one’s own words to make it appear that he is NOT hiding Jews, even if he is, if he is defending them from Nazi oppression.

Or, the more common example, using it if a fat woman asks if a dress makes her look “fat”…

However, this cannot be used under oath, on rightful authority (the Nazi’s in this case would not be rightful authority), and it must be done with a good intention.

Additionally, no lie has been committed in the instance where one is playing a sport and “fake another out,” or to mislead another in a strategy game.
Such is part of the game and is not deceptive, because the opponent should realize that it is part of the game.

Yes it is a sin.

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