A book examines Augustinian theology and ethics
Lying: An Augustinian Theology of Duplicity
By Paul J. Griffiths
Brazos Press, 2004
Falvey call number: BV4627.F3 G75 2004 (2nd floor)
Reviewed by Darren G. Poley
Here is another impressive offering from this imprint at a time when talk of lies is rife. Beginning from the point of self accusation and rationalization, Lying in its first part offers an excellent brief study of Augustine’s theology against which he can discuss the sin of duplicity.
Griffiths lays the ground work for the reader and offers a well-composed sketch of Augustinian theology in general with the title subject as its focus. The fact that he takes the time to clarify what it means to be made in the image of God and how words like actions are a gift that should reflect our share in the divine Esse and be understood as belonging to the other does the reader a great service.
The second part examines that thinking against significant pagan, Christian and modern interlocutors using a single historic literary focal point from each one. Prior knowledge of the works discussed is not necessary, and it is a sound reading of Augustine overall on a subject that is in need of more scholarship.
False words do more, from the Augustinian point of view, than just hide the truth or offend social values. They are a defection from the Imago Dei in such a way that Augustine wants to characterize all sin as a lie. It is this distinctly Christian and Augustinian perspective on natures, sin and creatureliness, and the uniqueness of Augustine’s “exceptionless ban” on the lie that shows in great relief what is made understandable by the detail of the opening chapters.
Part three is an epilogue which attempts an assessment of cultural application that tends toward the homiletic. I am not sure what audience the author had in mind, and at times Lying reads like a series of very interesting lectures without prolixity. So, the form it takes almost seems to be for popular consumption while the writing is certainly not on that level.
I would certainly expect Griffiths’ book to become a standard read on the topic for students of philosophy and theology. Seminarians, moral theologians and those interested in the thinking of St. Augustine will find this work particularly useful. The introduction is helpful and the flow is logical. The citation style and the lack of an index are disconcerting. While recommended for some high school and parish libraries, I would highly recommend this book for college, university and theological libraries.
“Marvelously erudite and energetic, Lying will draw Augustine enthusiasts, students of ethics, and anyone who is committed to living a more honest life.” Publisher’s note.
Darren Poley is one of the librarian liaisons to the theology and religious studies department.
(This book review, first published in Catholic Library World, v. 75, n. 2, Dec. 2004, p. 124, is reprinted here with their permission.)