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Augustinianum

Volume 58, Issue 2, December 2018

E. Margaret Atkins
Pages 441-468
DOI: 10.5840/agstm201858227

Sorting out Lies: the Eight Categories of St Augustine’s De Mendacio

St Augustine himself recognised in Retractationes that De Mendacio is a difficult text to understand, because its argument is both complex and dialectical. Understanding the treatise has been further complicated by St Thomas Aquinas’ reading of it in the light of Aristotle, and under the influence of a possibly flawed textual tradition. This article clarifies Augustine’s well known eight categories of lies to resituate them in the social experience of Augustine and his contemporaries. It shows that Augustine’s argument and exegesis are strikingly exploratory and undogmatic. His hard-won conclusion is driven by a demanding understanding of sanctity. A synopsis of the argument of De Mendacio is appended.