Why is killing not always considered evil?


This is not the definition for lying. Lying is saying something that the speaker knows to be untrue.

Deceiving to save a life is not evil. So if you used the word “lying” in this instance, the “lie” would not be evil.

Deceiving is saying something true in a way that the other person will misinterpret.

So, in the case of the Nazis at the door, If I say, There are no Jews here, meaning in the foyer, and the Nazis understand me to mean in my house, that is their problem. If I say, There are no Jews in my house, when I know there are, then I have knowingly said something that is untrue.

Killing is not always murder. Murder is always evil.


Oh for heaven’s sake.
If someone is at your door and there is a real danger of death, I don’t think one single person here would say …
“wait a minute…let me check the catechism before I decide to whether or not I should protect my family.”



Of course not. We should already know.


In a world where evil is already present, compromises may need to be made, by the innocent choosing the lesser of two evils, in order to oppose the greater evil. Not everyone deserves to live if they’re a threat to our own life and safety; not everyone deserves the truth in extreme situations, even as our first orientation must always be towards preserving life and placing truth first.


You are right but, if we teach a child that this was lie and that they should confess it to an understanding priest. That child will be less apt to steal from his or her boss when they grow up.

Children can learn right from wrong if guided gently by adults who know the difference themselves.


yes. Angel, the key is to understand morality. If there is a moral purpose to the lie (i.e. protect the life of an innocent) then there is no sin.

However, if the lie is not intended to protect the innocent then it’s most likely a sin.

When we have a keen understanding of morality, AND when we base our ethics and values on Christian Morals, we often will know the correct answer to “gray issues.”

However, when we do NOT base our ethics and values on Christian Morals, that is when we get into trouble.


“No sir, I’m not hiding any Jews on my property. That would be against The Furher’s orders.”

Not all lies are evil: in fact, there are many instances when it would be evil NOT to lie.

God can do whatever he wants … He never lies, but that’s by voluntary choice on his part.


“Killing” is more about the consequence of an act rather than the human act itself. All murders might be described as killings, but clearly all killings are not murders.

The consequence of an act is not the thing that makes it intrinsically evil.

“Killing” (death of persons) is a consequence. An act having a good intention, and a good moral object ( eg. Defence of innocents) is moral so long as the balance of all the foreseeable consequences is good (or not bad).


Lying is intrinsically evil, and therefore always immoral. However, not all lies are grave matter. The assertion that an act is intrinsically evil does not tell us its moral weight. Some lies are objectively venial and others are objectively mortal.

There are three fonts of morality, three things that make an act moral or immoral:

  1. intention
  2. moral object
  3. circumstances

All intrinsically evil acts have an evil moral object – independent of intention or circumstances. The moral object is not your intention or intended end; it is not the purpose of the act (the reason for performing the act). That is the first font.

The moral object is the end, in terms of morality, toward which the knowingly chosen act is ordered, by its very nature. When that end is deprived of a good required by the love of God and neighbor, the object is evil and the act is intrinsically evil.

Circumstances are judged by the totality of the foreseeable consequences for all persons affected by the act. It is always wrong to act when we reasonably anticipate that our choice to act will do more harm than good.

Lying is intrinsically evil regardless of intention or circumstances. The second font in the act of lying is the direct and voluntary deprivation of truth from an assertion. When you deliberately knowingly assert a falsehood or deny a truth, you lie. The intention to deceive is the most common intention, but it does not determine the moral object. Lying is wrong for any intended end, in any circumstance.

Murder, defined by the second font, is the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being. Killing a human being who is attempting to kill you, or who is a soldier unjustly attacking your nation is not murder, because the person is not innocent.

Murder is immoral regardless of whether it is intended as an end, or as a means to an end. The intended end and the circumstances do not change the moral object. Murder is wrong for any intended end, in any circumstance.


you could also simply not say anything to the person who is asking the question.


Ok, here’s how I look at it (not that I’m anyone major, just my opinion).

In order to sin, you must have free will and freely consent to it. One can make a really good argument that you are not freely consenting to lying, you are doing it because you are forced to in order to prevent others from being killed.

So you could hold that while lying is always evil, it is not a sin for a person in this case.


That argument does not work in Catholic moral theology. Consent is implied in any knowing choice. You know that an act is a lie, and you nevertheless choose to tell that lie. Duress does not take away free will.

Duress can reduce culpability. But we cannot say that it was not a lie, or not an intrinsically evil act. It may be a venial sin, even one with culpability further reduced by duress. But lying is wrong by its very nature.

A good intention, such as saving lives, does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying, good or just. the end does not justify the means.

Saint Augustine dealt with this issue of lying in different difficult situations, and he found that lying was wrong despite a threat to kill the innocent.


The contributor opined the deed may not be a “sin”.

He may be right because if the deed is so traumatic that meaningful consent is not present then all we have is the act of a man and a material transgression (disordered matter).

Strictly speaking a deed that is merely a material transgression is not properly called a “sin”.

Basically he is saying exactly what you accept - consent is implied in any knowing choice. He is saying exactly this, it is possible that the deed does not imply knowing choice…and is therefore a transgression but not a sin.


It is hard to know what the “liar” actually knows. Does he feel that it is right to lie because the lie seems far less evil than (in all probability) enabling a murder (of the ‘hiding Jew’ by the ‘marauding nazi’)? This might be called a “consequentialist” view of morality (which is contrary to catholic theology). In this case his understanding of morality is simply defective and he does not sin.

Or does he know he sins, but he cannot bear the pain attached to what will likely come of his sin? He sins - but under such duress that one can scarcely imagine much culpability attaches.


Some acts are objectively sinful. The term sin is not used exclusively for “actual sin” also called “formal sin”.

Sin is a word, an act, or a desire contrary to the eternal law. Compendium, n. 392]

Sin is nothing else than a morally bad act. [St. Thomas, “De malo”, 7:3]

“The Church’s moral theology has always distinguished between objective or material sin and formal sin.” Colin B. Donovan at EWTN

“An action which, as a matter of fact, is contrary to the Divine law but is not known to be such by the agent constitutes a material sin; whereas formal sin is committed when the agent freely transgresses the law as shown him by his conscience, whether such law really exists or is only thought to exist by him who acts.” Catholic Encyclopedia

“A wrong choice which conforms to erroneous conscience or one made by a person unable to make a relevant judgment of conscience is called “material” sin, while a choice which violates conscience is “formal” sin. To the extent erroneous conscience is culpable, however-that is, to the extent one is responsible for being mistaken-material sins also involve guilt.” Germain Grisez, Christian Moral Principles

“The Church has always taught that one may never choose kinds of behavior prohibited by the moral commandments expressed in negative form in the Old and New Testaments. As we have seen, Jesus himself reaffirms that these prohibitions allow no exceptions: “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments… You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness” (Mt 19:17-18).” John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor 52

Each and every intrinsically evil act, from a venial lie to a mortal sin of murder or adultery, is always immoral.


Often, when someone asks “is this act of mine a sin”, he is addressing the question of whether his act earns him “demerit points” (to use non-theological, but readily understood, expression). One will not be punished for acts (even if immoral) committed in good faith, ignorant of the law. But as you note, the immorality is an objective fact.


In traditional moral theology the word moral assumes we are talking of a complete human act which is personal and subjective.

It is really the “matter” of a immoral act that we call the objective/factual part you seem to speak of.


Mere disordered behavior, mere transgressions, material sins, are not true sin. That is why we call them materially sin because they are not formally sinful.

They are only called sins in a partial, derived and analogical sense.
As Jesus said sin comes from what is inside a man and if his human will and understanding are arrested the disordered behaviour, even lying, is objectively wrong but not strictly sinful to God in its deepest sense.

Yes the behaviour is still wrong and still a transgression… but not properly called sinful and if so called only by analogy.


The question of lying under certain circumstances has already been addressed on this forum with several threads, to recapitulate the scenario:

You are hiding a family of say jews persecuted by the Nazi, they are searching for them door by door, they come to your door and ask you if you have seen them.

The query: It is permissible to lie to the Nazi officer in order to save the family?

The Catholic position: It would NOT be a lie to not tell the officer the whereabouts of the persecuted family.

The theology of WHY it is ok to “lie” to the officer.

It stems from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the definition of “Lie”. And here I quote the relevant section:

2482 "A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving."280 The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: "You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies."281

2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.

2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.

In the bold text lies the reason WHY it would NOT be a lie to deny the Nazi officer the whereabouts of the hidden family.
That officer has NO right to KNOW where that family is. They are being persecuted not because they broke a just LAW. They are being persecuted because of who they are.
It would be still be invalid if they were being persecuted for their skin colour, their gender, their religion. In other words if they are NOT breaking a law that can be grounded in the “Natural human law” in other words a Universal Law that is recognized by every human being no matter who or where they are, then they are by definition being persecuted unjustly. And by extension the persecutors have no right to know the whereabouts of those persons.


Thanks for that.
Demonstrates why it is important to know what the terms mean and how they are used.
The soldier has no right to know, so that is not “lying”.

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