Ursinus on the 9th Commandment. [For your Information and Instruction]

The Virtues of the Ninth Commandment

On Question 112, Heidelberg Catechism:

 

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Q112: What does the ninth Commandment require?

A112: That I bear false witness against no one, twist

no one's words, be no backbiter or slanderer, join in

condemning no one unheard and rashly; but that on

pain of God's heavy wrath I avoid all lying and deceit

as the very works of the devil; and that in matters of

judgment and justice and in all other affairs I love,

speak honestly and confess the truth; also, insofar as

I can, defend and promote my neighbor's good name.

 

1. TRUTH or veracity is a firm purpose or choice in the will, by

which we constantly embrace true thoughts and opinions, and

profess and defend the same according to a sense of duty and the

circumstances in which we are placed; keep contracts and promises,

and avoid, both in our speech and deportment all deceitful

dissemblings [pretences], for the glory of God and the safety

of our neighbor.

 

According to this end, the devil cannot be true, even though he may

at times speak that which is true; for he alone is true who speaks and

loves the truth, and has a desire to promote it for the glory of God

and the safety of his fellow-men. Aristotle reasons in his Ethics

briefly, but most learnedly concerning this virtue. He refers truth

in contracts to justice, and calls him properly a true man, who,

when it profits him nothing, is, nevertheless, true in his speech

and life, and is habitually such; from which it again appears that

the devil and men are liars, and not true, although they may sometimes

speak the truth.

 

Truth comprehends liberty of speech or boldness, which is a virtue by

which we profess the truth fearlessly and willingly to as great an extent

as is required by the time, place and necessity of the occasion. The

confession of the truth is enjoined both in this and in the third

commandment, as the same virtue is often regarded and included

in the obedience of different commandments; yet it is required here

in a different respect from what it is in the third commandment. There

it is required as it is the immediate worship and praise of God: here as

we are unwilling to deceive our neighbor, but desire that his character

and safety be preserved.

 

There is opposed to this virtue on the side of want, 1. Falsehood or lying,

which comprehends all the various kinds of fraud, deceit, dissembling,

lies of courtesy, slanders, backbitings and evil speaking, which forms of

lying are also opposed to candor. The same thing may also be said of such

negligence as does not seek to obtain a true knowledge of things, together

with willful ignorance which is a lie in the understanding. 2. Vanity or levity,

which is a readiness for lying. He is a vain person who lies much, often, and

readily, and that without any shame. He is a liar who has a desire and

fondness for lying. A lie is when anyone speaks, or declares by outward

signs differently from what he thinks, and from what the thing itself is.

 

To lie is to go against one's own mind and knowledge. All lies, now, which

clearly dissemble and cover the truth, are here condemned; nor are those

lies which are uttered for politeness sake, excused, because we n1ay not

do evil, that good may come. Lactantius very correctly says, We should

never lie, because a lie always is injures or deceives some one." Truth,

however, which is uttered by a sign, is no lie, whether he to whom the sign

is made, understands it or not. Yet we may here remark, that we should not

be too severe and rigid in passing sentence upon the actions of the saints,

neither should we make an apology for those things which need none.

 

Officious lies are often defended by bringing forward the Egyptian midwives,

who lied to the king, and were nevertheless blessed of God: but God did not

bless them because they lied, but because they feared him and would not slay

the children of the Israelites.

 

Obj. That which profits another, without injuring anyone, may be done. Lies

which are uttered out of respect or for fear of giving offence do not injure

anyone, but may result in good. Therefore they may be uttered without any

sin. Ans. We deny the minor proposition, because that which God prohibits

always injures some one; and if such lies ever profit anyone, it is by an accident,

on account of the goodness of God. (See Augustin lib. de mendatio ad

Consentium.)

 

There is opposed to truth, as it respects the other extreme: 1, An untimely

profession of the truth, which is to cast pearls before swine, and to give

that which is holy to the dogs, as Christ says; who, by these words, forbids

such a profession of the truth as is not made at the proper time, and when

no necessity demands it: for it is correctly said, He who admonishes at the

wrong time, injures. 2. Curiosity, which is to inquire into what is not

necessary, or impossible. Let these remarks suffice respecting truth, the

principal virtue comprehended under this commandment. All the other

virtues which are here commended wait upon truth, or contribute to it,

and are, as it were, certain appendages of it.

 

II. CANDOR is a virtue which understands, in a proper light, things

correctly and honestly spoken or done, and puts the most favorable

construction upon such things as are doubtful, in as far as there are any

just reasons for so doing; and does not readily entertain suspicions, or

indulge in them, although there might be sufficient cause for so doing;

and does not base any actions upon these suspicions, nor resolve anything

in consequence thereof. Or, it is a virtue closely related to truth,

sanctioning other conclusions when there are probable reasons for them;

not indulging any ill-will; understanding in the most probable light things

that are doubtful, and hoping that which is good; but yet thinking,

concerning things changeable, that the minds of men may be changed,

and that a man may err respecting another's intention, since the inmost

recesses of the human heart are never brought fully to light.

 

There is opposed to candor, as it respects the want of it, calumny and

suspiciousness, Calumny is not only to criminate and find fault with

the innocent, where there is no reason for it, but it is also to put the

very worst construction upon things spoken indifferently, or to propagate

and coin what is false. Suspiciousness is to understand things, spoken

correctly or ambiguously, in the worst light, and to suspect evil things

from those that are good; or to entertain suspicions where there is no just

cause for so doing; and where there are any proper reasons for suspicions,

to indulge in them to too great an extent. It is lawful for us, at times, to

have suspicions, unless we wish to be the dupes and fools of others, Hence;

the Savior says, "Beware of men." " Be ye wise as serpents and harmless as

doves." (Matt. 10: 16, 17.)

 

But it is one thing to have suspicions, and another to indulge in them.

Suspicion, now, is the entertaining of an evil or unfavorable opinion of

some one, on account of some probable and sufficient cause, whether true

or apparent. It is two-fold: good and evil. 1. It is evil when it proceeds

from a cause altogether false or insufficient, as when a certain cause is

imagined which is groundless, or when our neighbor is innocent. It is

good when our suspicions are based upon just and sufficient grounds.

 

2. It i8 an evil suspicion when anyone resolves upon something merely

upon suspicion. It is good when the matter is left in suspense, as long as

there are probable causes on both sides. 3. It is evil when anyone conceives

the design to injure a certain one, merely upon the ground of suspicion. It

is good when the contrary takes place. 4. It is evil when anyone is led to

indulge hatred to another, upon the ground of suspicion. Good suspicions

proceed differently.

 

There is on the other side of this virtue, as it respects the extreme of excess:

1. Foolish credulity and flattery. Blind or foolish credulity is to interpret

anything rashly or hastily, and to assent to it without just and probable

reasons; or, it is to believe a thing upon the declaration of another, when

there are evident and sufficient reasons to the contrary. Flattery consists

in praising and admiring things which should not be praised, for the purpose

of obtaining the fortune or favor of some one. Candor is an assistant, or

species of truth, and is, therefore, here enjoined and commended, in

connection with truth.

 

III. SIMPLICITY is truth in its nakedness, without any shiftings, prevarication,

or quibbles; or, it is a virtue which honestly and openly speaks and does what

is true, right, and understood in arts and common life. Truth is regulated and

tempered by candor and simplicity. The extremes of this virtue are a feigned

simplicity, and duplicity in manners and conversation.

 

IV. Constancy is a virtue which does not depart from the truth in far as it is

known, and which does not change its purpose and design without a necessary

and sufficient reason; but constantly says and does what is true, just and

necessary. Or, it is a virtue holding fast to the truth once discovered, known

and approved of, with a profession and defense of it in the like manner.

 

Constancy is necessary for the preservation of truth, and is, therefore, here

enjoined. The extremes of this virtue are on the side of want, ineonstancy,

which is to change one's mind or opinion without any sufficient reason; and,

on the side of excess, it is obstinacy or stoical rigor, which clings to false

opinions, and persists in doing what is unjust and unprofitable, although

convinced to the contrary. It is a vice which arises from the confidence

which anyone has in his own wisdom, or from pride and ostentation, and

shows itself in an unwillingness to yield its own judgment or opinion,

which is seen to be false from many solid arguments.

 

V. DOCILITY is a virtue which investigates the reasons of those opinions

which are true; readily yields and assents to those who teach or show things

which are better, and that for reasons sound and convincing j and at the same

time disposes the will to fall in with and assent to those reasons which are

true and satisfactory, and to abandon what was before received and entertained.

 

The extremes of this virtue are the same as those of constancy. Docility is

also necessary to constancy j for constancy, without docility, would

degenerate into obstinacy; and docility, without constancy, would degenerate

into fickleness and inconstancy.

 

The virtues which we have thus far enumerated under this commandment are

naturally and closely connected together: for it is necessary that truth should

be tempered and regulated by simplicity and candor; that it should be perceived

and acknowledged by docility, and preserved by candor. In this way the

preceding virtues are necessary to the existence of truth. The three following

virtues are necessary, in order that it may be profitable in the world:

 

VI. TACITURNITY, or a discreet observance of silence, is a virtue which

keeps to itself things not known and not necessary to be told, where, when,

and in as far as it is proper to do so, and at the same time avoids an immoderate

use of the tongue, in uttering such things as prudence would require not to be

told. Or, it is such a profession of the truth as that which keeps to itself things

that are secret, whether true or false, and, which avoids conversation that is

unnecessary and useless-especially that which is untimely, baneful, and

calculated to give offence. The extremes of this virtue are, on the one side,

gossiping, foolish talking, and treachery. Gossiping or prattling is not to be

able to retain anything, even things which should be kept secret.

 

Foolish talking is to speak unseasonably, immoderately, and foolishly.

Treachery is to betray honest c enterpl1ses and plans, to the injury of those

whose friend the betrayer seems, and ought to be; and not to defend, nor have

any regard to the danger of another, when it is proper and possible to do so;

and still further, to relate things not worthy of being told, the narration of

which is an injury to him to whom it is told, and to disclose such things as

must necessarily be spoken with no good intention or design; and lastly, to

utter anything by perjury or falsehood. That which is opposed to this virtue,

as it respects the extreme of excess, may be included in moroseness and

undue reservedness. Moroseness consists in being silent and keeping back

the truth when it ought to be declared. . Undue reservedness is to

dissemble the truth, where the glory of God and the salvation of our

fellow men require a profession of it.

 

VII. AFFABILITY, or readiness of speaking, is a virtue which hears,

answers, and speaks willingly, and with evidence of good will, where

it is proper by reason of some necessary or probable cause: or it is a virtue

which makes others feel easy in their interviews with those who are

possessed of this grace, and at the same time gives evidence of good-will

in conversation, speech and gesture; or it is a virtue which consists in

hearing and answering with a declaration and evidence of good-will.

The extremes are the same as those of the last named virtue. Taciturnity,

without affability, becomes moroseness or peevishness; whilst affability,

without taciturnity, degenerates into gossiping, prattling, and foolish talking.

VIII. Urbanity, being that which seasons and recommends truth and speech

under every form, is the truth figuratively spoken, for the purpose of moving,

exhorting, and delighting others, having a proper regard to the circumstances

of the persons, time and place; or it is a facility and power of speaking the

truth with a certain degree of grace, so as to teach, comfort, cheer, excite

and move others without being accompanied with any unpleasantness or

bitterness.

 

The extremes of this virtue are, on the one side, scurrility, raillery, and

backbiting. Scurrility consists in obscene and low jesting, especially in

holy things. Scurra, which means a person who jests in the manner just

described, is so called from the Greek [word] which means filth; because

he speaks what is obscene and filthy. Raillery is a vice which consists in

bitter jesting or scoffing, and in deriding and vexing others, especially

those who ought to be pitied. Backbiting is that which puts false reports

into circulation in regard to others, and puts the worst construction upon

what is spoken doubtfully, with a desire of revenge, and of injuring, and

exciting prejudice and opposition against some one.

 

Foolishness, and a want of taste, constitute the other extreme of urbanity.

Foolishness is an affectation of urbanity which is altogether inappropriate

and out of place; whilst a want of taste shows itself in a silly imitation of

urbanity.