St. Augustine: The Truth is Like a Lion

(I really thought this one was already on the blog, but I did the research on FB almost 2.5 years ago!)

The truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose and it will defend itself.

–Attr. St. Augustine

This drew my attention because it doesn’t sound like St. Augustine, who was not much given to the use of similes. (Those of us who pray the Liturgy of the Hours are exposed to massive amounts of St. Augustine, who provides far more of the patristic readings for the Office of Readings than anyone else, far, far more.)

At any rate:

  1. I searched his works at CCEL for the word lion. This quotation was not among the results, nor anything resembling it.
  2. Wikiquote doesn’t have it at all, even on the discussion page list of uncited quotations.
  3. A search of Google Books for truth lion defend itself augustine turned up no references to this quotation before 2014. None, which is very telling since I first spotted it on FB in 2013. Taken with the previous point, this very strongly suggests that the attribution to St. Augustine happened very recently, in late 2012 or early 2013.
  4. All of St. Augustine’s works are available in Latin online. I searched for leo* (all forms of the word for lion) and verita* (all forms of the word for truth). They occur in the same document 125 times, but never close enough even to be the inspiration for this quotation.

So it’s almost certainly not St. Augustine. (Only a very brave person or a very foolish one would claim to be certain that something is not in St. Augustine’s voluminous works!)

The other source I see it attributed to is Charles Spurgeon, a widely-known 19th Century British Particular Baptist preacher. Here’s an excerpt from a speech he gave at a meeting of the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1875:

There seems to me to have been twice as much done in some ages in defending the Bible as in expounding it, but if the whole of our strength shall henceforth go to the exposition and spreading of it, we may leave it pretty much to defend itself. I do not know whether you see that lion—it is very distinctly before my eyes; a number of persons advance to attack him, while a host of us would defend the grand old monarch, the British Lion, with all our strength. Many suggestions are made and much advice is offered. This weapon is recommended, and the other. Pardon me if I offer a quiet suggestion. Open the door and let the lion out; he will take care of himself. Why, they are gone! He no sooner goes forth in his strength than his assailants flee. The way to meet infidelity is to spread the Bible. The answer to every objection against the Bible is the Bible.

You can see it in a 19th Century book here at Google Books. (Thanks to Barbara Wood for giving me the reference to the speech.)

Spurgeon liked this metaphor; he used it in at least one other spot:

The Word of God can take care of itself, and will do so if we preach it, and cease defending it. See you that lion. They have caged him for his preservation; shut him up behind iron bars to secure him from his foes! See how a band of armed men have gathered together to protect the lion. What a clatter they make with their swords and spears! These mighty men are intent upon defending a lion. O fools, and slow of heart! Open that door! Let the lord of the forest come forth free. Who will dare to encounter him? What does he want with your guardian care? Let the pure gospel go forth in all its lion-like majesty, and it will soon clear its own way and ease itself of its adversaries.

The Lover of God’s Law Filled with Peace (January 1888), as found on Wikiquote.

Note that in both instances, Spurgeon was speaking about the Bible, not about truth in general, so I’m not 100% certain that this is the genesis of the quotation in question. But it’s the closest I’ve seen.