“Lies” and “Holy lies”: the Problem of Deception in the Context of Medieval Piety
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“Lies” and “Holy lies”: the Problem of Deception in the Context of Medieval Piety
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Yulia Arnautova 
Occupation: Senior Research Fellow
Affiliation: Institute of World History RAS
Address: Russian Federation, Moscow
Since the Reformation, the cult of saints and their relics has been heavily criticized as a deception of selfish priests. But whether really all the things that from the modern point of view should be considered as deception, i.e. conscious deviation from the truth, were the one and the same in medieval polemics? The article discusses where the boundary between the truth and the falsification (falsitas) lies in the sphere of medieval piety. Analysing the lives of saints, the texts about the veneration of relics and sacred objects, the reports of miracles, the author shows that in religious life in the Middle Ages “truth” was justified not by the experience, but by the transcendence, so the concepts of “falsification” and “gullibility” which arose in the era of Modernity are fraught with anachronism, that the border between “truth” and “deception” did not lie where it lies now, that the notion of the truth itself was relative and the views of the clerics and ordinary people could differ. On one hand, the whole medieval hagiography lied outside the problematic field of “true” / “false”, since fictional reports about the exploits and miracles of the saints, which we consider today as literary fiction, were an integral part of religious faith, a form of piety and were not suspicious. On the other hand, the official Church considered the miracles of the self-proclaimed saints or heretics to be a “deception” and warned against honoring the “false saints”. A single and an unambiguous concept of “cheating” did not exist in the medieval piety, so the researcher must distinguish the deception with the purpose of practical benefits (for example, the falsification of relics), the unintentional deception (delusion, fiction) or cheating with godly aim (pia fraus).
medieval pietas, hagiography, deception (falsitas), criteria of truth, falsification, literary fiction, saints and “false saints”, “true” and “false” miracles, relics of saints
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