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St. Thomas Aquinas
Catechetical Instructions

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  • THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT: "Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy
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THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT: "Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy



The Lord has forbidden anyone to injure his neighbor by deed; now he

forbids us to injure him by word. "Thou shalt not bear false witness

against thy neighbor."1 This may occur in two ways, either in a court of

justice or in ordinary conversation.


In the court of justice it may happen in three ways, according to the three

persons who may violate this Commandment in court.2 The first person is the

plaintiff who makes a false accusation: "Thou shalt not be a detractor nor

a whisperer among the people."3 And note well that it is not only wrong to

speak falsely, but also to conceal the truth: "If thy brother shall offend

against thee, go and rebuke him."4

The second person is the witness who testifies by lying: "A false witness

shall not be unpunished."5 For this Commandment includes all the preceding

ones, inasmuch as the false witness may himself be the murderer or the

thief, etc. And such should be punished according to the law. "When after

most diligent inquisition, they shall find that the false witness hath told

a lie against his brother, they shall render to him as he meant to do to

his brother. . . . Thou shalt not pity him, but shalt require life for

life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot."6 And

again: "A man that beareth false witness against his neighbor is like a

dart and a sword and a sharp arrow."7 The third person is the judge who

sins by giving an unjust sentence: "Thou shalt not . . . judge unjustly.

Respect not the person of the poor, nor honor the countenance of the

mighty. But judge thy neighbor according to justice."8


1. St. Thomas also treats of this Commandment in the "Summa Theol.," II-II,

Q. cxxii, art. 6.


2. "The Commandment specially prohibits that species of false testimony

which is given on oath in a court of justice. The witness swears by the

Deity and thus pledges God's holy name for the truth of what he says, and

this has very great weight and constitutes the strongest claim for credit.

Such testimony, therefore, because it is dangerous, is particularly

prohibited. When no legal exceptions can be taken against a sworn witness,

and when he cannot be convicted of open dishonesty and malice, even the

judge himself cannot reject his testimony. This is especially true since it

is commanded by divine authority that 'in the mouth of two or three

witnesses every word shall stand' " ("Roman Catechism," "Eighth

Commandment," 3).


3. Lev., xix. 16.


4. Matt., xviii. 15.


5. Prov., xix. 5.


6. Deut., xix. 18-21.


7. Prov., xxv. 18.


8. Lev., xix. 15. "This Commandment prohibits deceit, lying, and perjury on

the part of witnesses. The same prohibition also applies to plaintiffs,

defendants, promoters, representatives, procurators, and advocates; in a

word, all who take any part in lawsuits. . . . Finally, God forbids all

testimony which may injure others or do them injustice, whether it be a

matter of legal evidence or not" ("Roman Catechism," "loc. cit.," 6).


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