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Justifying the Use of Deceit
Faith

The Crossroads at 23rd Street

 

"For, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." (Romans 1:22)

 

Errors can be corrected and trends reversed if only our faith and determination does not fail us in our earnest quest for the truth.

John's Reply to Basil ... Justifying the use of Deceit

Six Books on the Priesthood - by St John Chrysostom (pages 47-51)

"John: Take courage! I am not only ready to let myself be questioned about this, but I will also try to explain, as far as I can, those matters you have excused me from explaining. And, if you like, I will make them the very opening of my defense. For I should be unnatural and quite unfeeling; if I were anxious for the good opinion of strangers and exerted myself to prevent them from accusing us, and yet should fail to acquit myself in the eyes of my greatest friend; and that although he has treated me with such gentleness that he will not accuse me for my supposed injuries to him, but sets his own interests aside and can still think of mine. It would be strange if I seemed more casual about him than he is concerned about me."

"How, then, did I wrong you? For this is where I have decided to embark upon my defense. Is it that I misled you and concealed my own intention? But this was for the advantage both of yourself who were deceived and of those to whom I betrayed you by my deception."

"For if fraud is always wrong and we cannot use it when we need, then I am ready to pay any penalty you like. Or rather, as you will never consent to bring me to court, I will pronounce the verdict against myself, as jurors do against criminals when they are convicted by their accusers. But if it is not always harmful; if it is made bad or good by the intentions of those who use it, stop accusing me of deception, and prove that I used this means for an evil end. For while this proof id lacking, it remains the duty of those who want to be fair, so far from finding fault and criticizing, rather to give their approval to the deceiver. A timely deception used with the right purpose is such an advantage that a lot of men have been called to account on many occasions for failing to deceive."

"If you consider famous generals from the beginning of history, you will find that most of their success are triumphs of deceit, and that men like this can earn more praise than others who conquer by straightforward methods. For the others are successful in their wars at a greater expense of money and men; and so they gain no advantage from their victory, but the victors suffer almost as much as the vanquished, both in loss of life and in financial loss. Moreover their methods do not allow them to enjoy the whole credit of the victory. For even the fallen enjoy no small part of it, because they were victorious in spirt and vanquished only in body, so that, if they had been able not to fall when hit, and if death had not come to stop them, they would never have halted in their eagerness. But the man who can conquer by deceit involves the enemy not only in disaster but also in ridicule. It is not a case of both sides carrying off equal honors for shrewdness – as in the other instance for valor. No, the prize belongs to the victors alone. What more, they keep for their country the joy of victory unimpaired. For shrewdness of mind is not like wealth in money or manpower. When you use them continually in war, the supply becomes exhausted and fails its possessors. But the more you use shrewdness, the more it will increase."

"Not only in war, but in peace too, you can find many cases in which the use of deceit is necessary, and not only in public life, but in domestic matters. A husband needs it for a wife, a wife for a husband, a father for a son, a friend for a friend, and sometimes even children for a father. Saul’s daughter could not have rescued her own husband by any other device from her father’s grasp except by tricking him. And her brother wanted to save from danger the very man she had rescued, he too, used the same weapon as she did."

"Basil: None of this applies to me. I am not a foe or enemy or one who plans to hurt you, but just the opposite. I always entrusted all my plans to your decision, and used to follow the path you told me to take."

"John: Why, my dear good friend, this is the very reason why I got my word in first and said it is right to use deceit, not in war, nor with enemies, but in peace and with our best friends."

"To discover how useful deceit is, not only to the deceivers but to the deceived, go to any doctor and inquire how they cure their patients of diseases. You will hear them say that they do not rely on their skill alone, but sometimes they resort to deceit, and with tincture of its help they restore the sick man to health. When the plans of doctors are hindered by the whims of their patients and the obstinacy of the complaint itself, then it is necessary to put on the mask of deception, in order to conceal the truth about what is happening – as they do on the stage."

"With your permission, I will relate to you one of the many tricks which, I have heard, doctors devise. Once a fever fell suddenly upon a patient very violently, and his temperature kept rising. The sick man refused the medicine which would have allayed the fever, but longed and insisted, with requests to everyone who visited him, that he should be given a long drink of neat wine and he be allowed to take his fill of the deadly thing he wanted. It would not only have inflamed the fever but have thrown the poor man into a hemiplegia, if anyone would have granted him this favor. In this case, where professional skill was baffled and at the end of its resources and quite useless, deception stepped in and showed the extent of its power, as you will now hear."

"The doctor took an earthenware vessel fresh from the kiln and steeped it in wine. Then he took it out empty and filled it with water. Next he gave orders for the room where the patient was lying to be darkened with thick curtains; for fear that the daylight might show up the trick. He then gave the vessel to the patient to drink from, pretending it was full of the neat wine. The patient was deceived, even before he took it into his hand, by the aroma that reached him. He did not stop to examine closely what was offered to him. Convinced by the aroma, deceived by the darkness, and impelled by his craving, he snatched the vessel impatiently. And when he had drunk his fill, he immediately shook off the fever and escaped his immediate danger."

"Do you see the advantages of deception? If you were to collect all the tricks of doctors, the list would stretch interminably. And you will find that it is not only those who heal the body who constantly use this remedy, but those who treat the diseases of the soul, too. By this means St Paul won over all those thousands of Jews (Acts 21:20). With this intention he circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3), even though he wrote to the Galatians Christ would not profit those who were circumcised (Gal 5:2). On this account he became subject to the Law (1 Cor 9:20) – he who reckoned the righteousness of the Law but loss after finding faith in Christ (Phil 3:7)."

"Great is the power of deceit; only it must not be applied with treacherous intention. Or rather, it is not right to call such action deceit, but good management and tact and skill enough to find ways through an impasse, and to correct the faults of the spirit. I should not call Phinehas a murderer, though he took two lives with one blow (Num 25: 7-8) nor Elijah, in spite of the hundred soldiers and their captains (2 Kings 1: 10,12) and the great river of blood he made flow from the slaughter of those who sacrificed to devils (1 Kings 18:40). If we were to allow that description, a man could strip all action of the intention of the agents, examine it out of context, and, if he liked, condemn Abraham for murdering his son (Gen 22:10), and accuse his grandson and his descendant of evil-doing and fraud, since it was by this means that the one gained the privileges of the first-born (Gen 27), and the other transferred the wealth of the Egyptians to the host of the Israelites (Exodus 11:2)."

"But this will not do, it will not do! Perish the presumption! We not only acquit them of blame, we revere them for these very things, since God praised them on their account. He alone can justly be called a deceiver who performs the action for unjust ends, since it is often necessary to deceive and by this means aid great causes. The straightforward man does great harm to those he will not deceive."

 

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