Is it always inherently wrong to Deny Jesus? Needless martyrdom and Lying the inherently wrong sin


My question has derived from a discussion I had with a group of other young Catholics. We get together and discuss ethics, the bible, social issues or anything to do with our faith really.

So we got into a conundrum. The scenario put forth was, Ok so someone has you and 10 other people captive/at their will. They say to you, if you do not deny your faith we will shoot these 10 innocent people. The people can be catholic, atheist, anything. They are just innocent people who will die if you do not deny your faith in this instance.

The moral query is, should we as Catholics say that we deny Jesus and our faith(but not meaning it in our hearts) or is it always a sin to deny Jesus?

We drew from Peter when he denied Christ 3 times. That seemed wrong to us.

We also considered how Jesus told his disciples to go forth and preach but he also said when they go to a town and they meet hostility to leave and go to another town. He didn’t say “martyr yourselves when you face opposition.” The way I see it is, he is looking at the greater good. The disciples are “fishers of men”, Jesus wants them to continue doing his holy work to save more souls and not to die needlessly.

This brings us to the sub question to this scenario. I expressed an opinion about the existence of “unnecessary martyrdom.” One of the other guys disagreed saying there was no such thing as a unnecessary martyrdom. When I say unnecessary I don’t mean to take away from the Martyrdom in anyway and mean no disrespect. Even if it was unecessary and then it happens it is still a valid martyrdom in my opinion. But I mean it in the sense that it is not necessary that it shouldn’t take place because sometimes their can be a better or more valid option. An example given was that of Saint Thomas More and his martyrdom. A quick background:

In 1534, Henry VIII declared that every subject of the British crown would have to swear an oath affirming the validity of his new marriage to Anne Boleyn. Refusal of these demands would be regarded as treason against the state. Thomas was essentially executed for not agreeing with King Henrys marriage as valid/invalid depending on the way you’re looking at it. The point made as an example was, this may be true or may not be true but for arguments sake, Thomas’ family wanted to also deny the king for his heresy but Thomas told them that they must claim his new marriage as valid but not really mean it in their hearts. This being because he didn’t want them also to be executed. NOW, getting back to the point I was making. What I used as an example for a “needless martyrdom” was had Thomas’ family decided to also deny the king and also had their heads cut off, it would’ve been unnecessary because our hindsight tells us that Thomas’ martyrdom alone was enough to prove his point. For them to die would’ve been a needless loss of life. Is it fair to say this? If not, why?

So to summarize my questions:

  1. Can we Deny Jesus with the intention of a greater good? ie. to save 10 peoples lives.

  2. Is it always wrong to Deny Jesus even if you don’t mean it in your heart?

  3. Can there be such a thing as unnecessary or needless martyrdom?

  4. Is it always wrong to lie? This being related because if you had to ‘deny Jesus’ to save these people but in your heart you didn’t mean it, you would have to lie. Is it a sin to tell this LIFE SAVING lie?

My thoughts are that reason and prudence have to come in to play. To me, I think the denial would be justified. I could justify this by saying that 10 lives are saved. I could also say we don’t know the state of those souls at that time. For all we know, if they die now, they will all go to hell as they are in the state of mortal sin. But if they are allowed to live and even die of natural causes then perhaps they have a chance to turn their lives around and come into union with God THUS saving their souls. I know this is an incredibly out there hypothetical but I’m looking at this whole thing from the perspective of a ‘fisherman of souls.’ My main goal being to save as many people as possible to get them to everlasting life. To allow them to die just because I can’t temporarily Deny Jesus seems prideful and selfish in my opinion. And even if the answer is ‘YES, it is a sin…always.’ Then couldn’t it be seen as a noble act that a person would willingly take on a sin to save his brothers and sisters? To bear that cross. Look at Jesus, he took on ALL the Sins of the world for our SALVATION!

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this.

Apologies if I’ve left you in a confused daze ;D


To say you deny Jesus to save the lives of 10 innocent people is doing what it takes to save innocent people from unjust aggression. It isn’t anymore wrong than telling a thief that you’ve called the police and he better leave your house before they get there, even if you really didn’t.

St. Maximillian Kolbe ordered his brothers to disguise themselves as lay people and pass themselves off with fraudulent papers in order to avoid arrest by the Nazis. We are not obligated to suffer unjustly at the hands of evil.

  1. Can we Deny Jesus with the intention of a greater good? ie. to save 10 peoples lives.
  1. Is it always wrong to Deny Jesus even if you don’t mean it in your heart?
  1. Can there be such a thing as unnecessary or needless martyrdom?
  1. Is it always wrong to lie? This being related because if you had to ‘deny Jesus’ to save these people but in your heart you didn’t mean it, you would have to lie. Is it a sin to tell this LIFE SAVING lie?

The general answer is, we cannot deny Christ or commit evil for a greater good.

CCC 1789 Some rules apply in every case: - One may never do evil so that good may result from it;…

There is church history that seems applicable to me. During the Great Persecutions in the 3rd century of the Early Church there were periods of persecution during which the Christians were asked to do exactly what you describe: Deny or die, deny or have others die.

Many Christians under the pressures of their very real fear chose to deny the faith. I am certain that many were “lying” as you suggested. There were even bushops who ran away rather than face execution or denied their own faith. How did the Church react?

These people were referred to as “lapsi” since they had relapsed into paganism. This created quite a controversy in the Church. Many of these people later wanted to return to the Church. But, apostates while they could repent were not allowed back into the Church.

Two schisms developed. Novatianism began after the persecution of Decius. It was begun by the priest and anti-pope who adamantly refused readmission to these people. A second schism occured after the persecution of Diocletian. It was called Donatism. It began in Africa and concerned a new group of lapsi who gave up theological materials to the Romans.

There were many synods and councils called to settle this issue, but everyone agreed that this was an extremely serious sin. Eventually many of those excommunicated were readmitted following a public confession and a long public penance.

I would think that it would likewise be considered a serious sin today although mitigated to some degree by the lack of full consent.

As far as “needless” martyrdom is concerned, many Christians desiring martydom and the assuance of heaven by their sacrifice actually turned themselves in to be executed. Eventually this was denounced as a rash and illicit practice. Too many of those who had chosen this path had lost courage at the final moment and had committed apostacy afterall. (This position was not universally accepted or applied.)

I hope this helps in your study! :slight_smile:


I have read your post a few times and really thought about it.So I decided it is our free will and Gods judgement that is who will decide!God Bless!


Is it always inherently wrong to Deny Jesus?

Without even needing to read a word.

Yes. Most certainly yes.

Very wrong.

Never permitted.

Prudence has to do with choosing the right means - only good means - to the good end. It is never prudence to deny Christ.

Such is “false prudence”.

Prudence has only to do with virtue -with the good.


Avoiding arrest is not the same as denying Christ. Lying to police doesn’t begin to compare with a “lie” in which you deny Christ.


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. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving).39


See The Gospel of Matthew…Jesus is clear regarding denying him…

Catechism again:

1816 The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: “All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks.” Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: “So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

St. Thomas More is good example of staying faithful to Jesus -even to death…He did what he could to avoid such (Jesus mentioned - fleeing even in persecution) -but then went into prison and lost his head…when brought to a place he could flee no more.


Either a lie is always wrong or it isn’t. It is my contention that simply saying something that someone wants to hear to avoid committing an unjust act of aggression against an innocent person is NOT a lie since it is an attempt at securing Justice. The easiest example of this is the situation of lying to the Gestapo during World War II in order to save Jews from the death camps. Would you suggest that its better for Jews to be exposed, arrested and unjustly murdered than for a person to “lie” to an unjust aggressor?

If you saw a newscast where a lunatic went into a daycare threatening to kill all of the children unless the owner denied Jesus, would you think it better for little innocents to be killed than for a person to say something that they don’t mean, that they have not embraced intellectually and that they did solely for the purpose of saving the children? Would you as a parent of one of those children counsel that person for the seriousness of their “offense,” thinking it better that your child to have been killed than for the person to do what they did?


To start, I think it’s important to point out that St. Thomas More did not ask his family to commit perjury. From the Catholic Encyclopedia via

In March, 1534, the Act of Succession was passed which required** all who should be called upon** to take an oath acknowledging the issue of Henry and Anne as legitimate heirs to the throne, and to this was added a clause repudiating “any foreign authority, prince or potentate”.

This was not an oath to be taken by every citizen, and certainly not to be taken by women. It was only taken by those who were “called upon.” In my quick research, I found no evidence that St. Thomas asked his family to take risk their immortal souls by lying under oath, an oath taken while placing one’s hand on the Holy Bible, as was the practice in those days. He is a Saint in the Church not only because of his martyrdom, but also because of his deep spiritual life, grounded in prayer, asceticism, and surrender to God.

Just wanted to set that straight, because it is a slight against the Saint to even suggest that he would do such a thing, even just as an example for your own purposes.

More to come in response to your actual question :smiley:



St. Thomas Moore’s actions were inclusive to his own being. He was not being threatened with the unjust murder of many innocents. Big difference.


True -but does not change the answer.

Also on yes a lesser note -but real note - he was not a single man.

His family suffered the loss of him as well as suffered in other ways. So it was not “inclusive” of just him.


It is always a sin. It is the sin of apostasy which incurs excommunation and other penalties.


Scripture is clear.

if we endure, we shall also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;

(2 Timothy 2:12)

Peter repented after denying Jesus and was eventually martyred for Jesus. You can deny Jesus and repent later but there is always a price to pay for it. It is never good.



This raises a question that is most interesting to me, the debate on the issue of “lying.” Interestingly, many theologians throughout the centuries have said that there can be a legitimate reason for lying. One theologian suggested that it should be done like taking medicine; only when driven to it by necessity! I eventually arrived at the position that a lie isn’t simply saying something that isn’t true but an attempt at either trying to gain a personal advantage (“No, I didn’t see your $20 bill”), trying to avoid responsibility (“I never got your letter”) or by trying to implicate an innocent person in an act that they did not do (“He did it; I saw him do it!”). Outside of these circumstances, there exists an area where even theologians admit that a use of mental reservation permits one to say things that, strictly speaking, are not true because of the fact that some people do not have a right to certain information. A case in point being a priest who is being questioned by the parish busy body about a certain person’s confession. If a deliberate “lie” can be mitigated by such circumstances, then why should we hold a person who, under the threat of harm to innocent people, says something that they don’t mean simply to satisfy a villain?


Sincere apostasy is a serious sin. One of the conditions for someone to be guilty of a serious sin is that we must freely choose to do it. If a person is being threatened with seeing innocent people murdered for not saying something that a criminal wants to hear, then any action of theirs can be said to be done unwillingly. Legally, it is considered “duress.” In the case of the OP, it is not a sin.


Denying Jesus is not simply lying (which is quite often venial -not that we are to do such -but mortal sin and venial sins are *essentially *different.) So one cannot compare denying Jesus with lying.

But yes lying is wrong too.

Be back in a moment - I will re-post a post from the past.


As noted above - Denying Jesus (even “lying” in so doing) is very different. See Jesus in Matthew. Such is very grave.

As to lying to save others -that too is not permitted. See the Catechism.

Lying is an evil (no matter how small)

Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned…

(and Paul said the idea that one could do evil for good was justly condemned in his letter to the Romans) See the whole section there.

But - surely you can lie to protect someone? Surely the good intention makes it ok?

No that would not make it “good”.

Catechism of the Catholic Church:

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. The end does not justify the means. …

Now please follow the rest closely.

It can be said though that one can use certain licit “mental reservations”…or “discreet language”. (see the CCC).

But what if one does not in that extreme example? One is put on the spot with that life or death request?

Now lets say one is in the very serious event of the Nazi at the door… and one can not find those discreet words…and others lives are at stake …and one thus ends up lying. What then? Well of course one should have found the other way. But in our weakness we sin …indeed we commit venial sins daily …hence they are called at times “daily sins” for which we pray daily “forgive us our trespasses”…and certainly ones culpability will likely be even further reduced by the event of the Nazi’s with the guns at your door…so ones venial sin will be reduced to an even smaller venial sin (if there is culpability at all)…which God in his knowing mercy can wipe away as one glances at the Crucifix with prayer after the Nazi’s leave…

God knows that in our seeking to live the varied virtues in our lives we will have venial sins in the process…that we being “saints” …being a new creation in Christ in the state of grace…in charity …living in Christ will still have “daily sins” to pray for (and work against daily). He loves us and continues to purify us with his love. (Not that such is an excuse to not seek to overcome our sins more and more in our lives …nor ought we seek or plan to lie in this case …but rather seek to find the right way).

Now all this does not make it “good” to lie. Or make it not a sin to lie (be it ever so slight). Nor does the ends in this circumstance “justify” the means of the lie.The end does not “justify” the means (see CCC etc) It remains a lie. A sin. But so too does the intemperance that one exhibited that morning at breakfast with too many eggs or the little anger one expressed at ones spouse that afternoon. If one falls here too…it will be another venial sin. Another weakness (I am not encouraging sin here --but it is a reality in daily life). Something that ought not have happened. That is: One ought to have found a good way.

But it is somewhat understandable that it may happen in such events of Nazi’s at the door… even to Christians. To saints.

And there is really no point in trying to argue too much about such…

(PS: perhaps one could argue that there is a different “object” involved-- (hence not be a lie–similar to where taking say food by a starving person may be not “theft” by reason of the object…the definition of theft being something different and the universal destination of goods being in effect etc --see CCC 2408–such is a change in the object --it is a different thing than theft)…but again I leave that to the professional theologians to argue out and to the Magisterium to decide and

PS #2:

Catholic Answers Apologist’s answer – similar to mine:


I meant, lying about denying Jesus to save innocent lives. If someone puts a gun to the head of the woman in front of me at the grocery store and says “Deny Jesus or I’ll blow her head off,” I will lie to him and say “I deny Jesus.” I really don’t deny Him, I simply lied to the person to save an innocent life. (Actually, I still don’t buy into the idea that it is a lie because a person who does things under duress are not fully responsible for what they do and, in any event, it I don’t believe it to be a lie to stop an unjust aggressor from harming an innocent person, but I’ve already said that! :))


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