Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION LXX.: OF INJUSTICE IN THE PERSON OF THE WITNESS. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION LXX.: OF INJUSTICE IN THE PERSON OF THE WITNESS. - St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2) 
Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas. A Translation of the Principal Portions of the Second part of the Summa Theologica, with Notes by Joseph Rickaby, S.J. (London: Burns and Oates, 1892).
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OF INJUSTICE IN THE PERSON OF THE WITNESS.
Article I.—Is it a duty to give evidence?
R. Sometimes a man’s evidence is called for, sometimes not. If a subject’s evidence is called for by the authority of a superior whom he is bound to obey in matters of justice, beyond doubt he is bound to give evidence upon those points on which his evidence is taken according to order of law; but if his evidence is asked for on other points, he is not bound to give it. If however his evidence is not called for by any superior authority, then if his evidence is required to deliver a man from any unjust punishment whatever, he is bound to give it; but he is not bound to give evidence tending to the condemnation of a man, unless compelled by superior authority according to order of law. The reason is, because no special loss accrues to any one from the concealment of the truth in this case; or if there be a danger to the accuser, that is not to be regarded, because he has voluntarily thrust himself into the danger. It is otherwise with the accused, who is in danger against his will.
§ 2. Of the things that are entrusted to a man under the secret of confession, he ought on no account to give evidence, because such things he knows not as man, but as the minister of God; and the bond of the sacrament is stronger than any command of man. As regards other things entrusted to a man under secret, a distinction must be drawn. For sometimes they are such that as soon as they come to a man’s knowledge he is bound to manifest them; that is, when they make to the spiritual or corporal undoing of the people, or to the grave detriment of an individual, or are aught else of a nature that a person is bound to make known either by testimony or by denunciation. Against this duty you cannot be bound by any obligation of secret entrusted to you, because that would be a breach of the good faith that you owe to a third party.1 Sometimes, on the other hand, the matter of the secret is such as the person hearing it is not bound to publish. You are capable in such a case of having an obligation imposed upon you by the fact of the matter being confided to you under secret: then you ought on no account to betray the secret, not even under the precept of a superior: because to keep one’s word is an obligation of natural law, and nothing can be commanded a man against an obligation of natural law.
§ 2. Evidence is invalidated by a discrepancy of witnesses on primary points, involving variation of the substance of the fact, as on time, or place, or principal agents; because if the witnesses disagree on such points, they seem to stand severally alone in their evidence, and to speak of different events. Thus if one says it happened at such a time and place, another at another time and place, they do not seem to be speaking of the same event. But it is no prejudice to the evidence, if one witness says that he does not remember, while another asserts a definite time or place. In a case of total discrepancy between the witnesses for the prosecution and those for the defence, if the witnesses are equal in number and alike in respectability, the case goes in favour of the defendant, because the judge ought to be more forward to acquit than to condemn; except it be in a case where the favour of the law rests with the other side, as in action brought to establish a claim to personal liberty. But if the witnesses on the same side disagree, the judge must work his own wits to find out which side he should prefer, either from the number of the witnesses, or from their respectability, or from the favourable light in which the law views the suit, or from the general posture of the case. Much more is the evidence of one man rejected, if he disagrees with himself when asked what he has seen and knows; but not when he is asked as to what he thinks and has heard said, because he may be prompted to different answers according to different things that he has seen and heard. But if there be a discrepancy of evidence on points that leave untouched the substance of the fact, for instance, as to the weather being cloudy or fine, the house painted or not, such a discrepancy does not prejudice the evidence; because men generally do not trouble themselves much on such points, which therefore easily slip their memory. Nay, a certain disagreement on such matters makes the evidence more credible; because if they agreed on all points, even the smallest, they might seem to be telling the same story by previous arrangement. This however is left to the judge’s prudence to discern.
Article IV.—Is false witness always a mortal sin?
R. False witness has a triple deformity: one from perjury, because witnesses are not admitted except on oath, and this deformity is always a mortal sin; one from the violation of justice,—and this is always a mortal sin in its kind, as every other form of injustice; a third from the falsehood itself, inasmuch as every lie is a sin,—and on this head false witness has not the character of being always a mortal sin.1
§ 3. Men most abhor the sins that are against God, as being the most grievous; of the number of which is perjury. But they do not stand in so much horror of sins against their neighbour. And therefore, for the greater certainty of the evidence, the witness’s oath is required.
[1 ]Sometimes however you are bound to keep secret some matter committed to you for your advice, which, if you had yourself discovered it, you would have been bound to make known. The chief thing to look to, is whether there is danger to a third person from the obstinate malice of the owner of the secret. See Ethics and Natural Law, p. 232. In practice here cases arise of great delicacy and difficulty. (Trl.)
[1 ]An untruth, simply as an untruth, apart from injury done, scandal given, or other circumstances, is always sinful, never a mortal sin. Cf. below, q. 110. art. 4. (Trl.)