Lying: An Augustinian Theology of Duplicity

Article excerpt

Lying: An Augustinian Theology of Duplicity. By Paul J. Griffiths. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2004. 254 pp. $18.99 (paper).

Augustine of Hippo argued that lying-defined as any duplicitous utterance-was under no circumstances permissible. In so doing Augustine distinguished himself as one of the few philosophers (Christian or otherwise) to invoke an unequivocal and complete ban. Griffiths's book defends Augustine's position, first by explaining it in clear, careful detail, and then by comparing it to the positions of other great thinkers, ancient and modern, within and outside of the Christian faith.

Griffiths succeeds in writing a book that is concise but uncompromising in its analytical depth. The first six chapters expound Augustine's thought on lying. Wisely, Griffiths begins with Augustine's definition of the lie. He follows with chapters explaining the Augustinian order of existence and the order of loves; these ideas are essential to understanding the philosopher's thoughts on lying and why it must always be wrong. Griffiths includes a chapter on Augustine's account of language as a divine gift and another chapter contrasting the use and abuse of language through confession and lying, respectively. These chapters on language provide often overlooked insights into Augustine's position on lying, insights without which the outright ban would certainly seem unduly harsh or even nonsensical. Griffiths addresses the creation of fiction and explains why Augustine typically does not consider this fabrication to be lying. In the second part of the book, Griffiths brings Augustine's ban on lying into dialogue with the positions of other philosophers and theologians. …