The Devil Wins

The Devil Wins: A History of Lying from the Garden of Eden to the Enlightenment

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The Devil Wins
    Book Description:

    Is it ever acceptable to lie? This question plays a surprisingly important role in the story of Europe's transition from medieval to modern society. According to many historians, Europe became modern when Europeans began to lie-that is, when they began to argue that it is sometimes acceptable to lie. This popular account offers a clear trajectory of historical progression from a medieval world of faith, in which every lie is sinful, to a more worldly early modern society in which lying becomes a permissible strategy for self-defense and self-advancement. Unfortunately, this story is wrong.

    For medieval and early modern Christians, the problem of the lie was the problem of human existence itself. To ask "Is it ever acceptable to lie?" was to ask how we, as sinners, should live in a fallen world. As it turns out, the answer to that question depended on who did the asking.The Devil Winsuncovers the complicated history of lying from the early days of the Catholic Church to the Enlightenment, revealing the diversity of attitudes about lying by considering the question from the perspectives of five representative voices-the Devil, God, theologians, courtiers, and women. Examining works by Augustine, Bonaventure, Martin Luther, Madeleine de Scudéry, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and a host of others, Dallas G. Denery II shows how the lie, long thought to be the source of worldly corruption, eventually became the very basis of social cohesion and peace.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5207-9
    Subjects: History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-XIV)
  4. Introduction: Is It Ever Acceptable to Lie?
    (pp. 1-18)

    Punishment awaits those who lie.

    Dante had little doubt about this, little doubt that unrepentant liars would suffer an eternity of pain, and he devoted much of his early fourteenth-century masterpiece, theInferno, to describing their torments. As the pilgrim Dante and his guide, the revered Roman poet Virgil, enter the eighth circle of hell, a place called Malebolge, the final, painful residence for the fraudulent and every type of falsifier, they witness flatterers stewing in dung “that might well have been flushed from our latrines” and seducers condemned for eternity to walk naked in endless circles as “horned demons...

  5. Part One: Theologians Ask the Question
    • Chapter One The Devil
      (pp. 21-61)

      It took God six days to create the world and the Devil two sentences to undo it.

      Until sometime in the seventeenth century, most every European, Catholic and Protestant alike, agreed that Moses had recorded these events in the first three chapters of Genesis. They also agreed on the general outline of Moses’s narrative, filling in missing details to transform it into the first step in the increasingly drawn-out history of human salvation. According to this story, God speaks the world into existence. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ ” we read at Genesis 1:3, “and there was light.”...

    • Chapter Two God
      (pp. 62-104)

      What if God, like the Devil, could lie?

      In hisSermon on the Creed, Augustine rejects the very possibility that God could lie. Speaking to an audience of religious novices, Augustine draws their attention to the Nicean Creed’s opening words: “We believe in God the Father Almighty.” These are words, Augustine tells them, that every Christian must accept, understand, and hold fast. “Since God is omnipotent,” he explains, “he is not able to die, he is not able to be deceived, nor is he able to lie for as the Apostle says, ‘He cannot deny himself.’ ” While it may...

    • Chapter Three Human Beings
      (pp. 105-150)

      Over twelve hundred years of theological debate on deception ended in parody and vitriol. While the parody preceded, English readers encountered the vitriol first.

      In the preface to his 1657 translation of Blaise Pascal’s satirical dismantling of post-Reformation Catholic ethical thought,The Provincial Letters, Henry Hammond, a widely respected royalist and Anglican cleric, could find nothing but insidious and dangerous scheming in “the mystery of Jesuitisme.” The Jesuits, Hammond contends, seek “to grasp all the world to themselves, and to usurp an universal empire over men’s consciences.” Rejecting God’s precepts and rules, they endeavor to win people over with a...

  6. Part Two: Courtiers and Women Ask the Question
    • Chapter Four Courtiers
      (pp. 153-198)

      “The flatterer is the enemy of all virtue,” John of Salisbury warns in thePolicraticus, a work he composed in 1159, “and forms as it were a cataract over the eye of him whom he engages in conversation.” With seemingly kind and encouraging words, pledges of love and fidelity, fine manners and concerned gestures, the flatterer blinds his victim, fills his ears with lies, and stokes his vanity. “Men of this type,” John continues, “always speak to give pleasure, never to tell the truth. The words in their mouths are wicked guile which, even when friends are in error, bellows...

    • Chapter Five Women
      (pp. 199-246)

      There are liars and there are women, and every woman is a liar.

      A difficult lesson learned and unwanted, but impossible to avoid, even behind closed doors in the solitude of one’s own room. This is where Christine de Pizan learns it, after a long day of exhausting study. Tired of working her way through oversize treatises full of subtle and difficult arguments, she scans the shelves that surround her for some light poetry. She reaches up for a book she doesn’t recognize and, discovering it is by Matheolus, smiles. Although she has never read it, she has “often heard...

  7. Conclusion: The Lie Becomes Modern
    (pp. 247-256)

    In theDiscourse on the Origins of Inequality, Jean-Jacques Rousseau offers his own account of the origin of lies and deception. Invoking no sacred garden, neither God nor serpent, Rousseau tells the story of wild men and women, once solitary but contented wanderers, now coming together to form the first families and, soon, the first societies. Settled in gatherings of primitive huts, they slowly develop language and tools, the first farms, and the art of metallurgy. With agriculture, they discover the need to divide land, to assign each lot to the man who tills it and, over time, from years...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 257-302)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 303-326)
  10. Index
    (pp. 327-332)