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Author’s Name, “Title of Essay,” Augustine on Heart and Life: Essays in Memory of William Harmless, S.J., Edited by John J. O’Keefe and Michael Cameron, Journal of Religion & Society Supplement 15 (2018), Pages of the essay [URL of this page].
Chapter 1: The Voice & the Word (pp. 12-47) [ Chapter 1 ]
Bibliographies for Theology
Compiled by William Harmless, S.J., Creighton University
The Bibliographies for Theology is a monumental work compilied over many years of study by William Harmless, S.J. The bibliographies had been updated before his untimely death on October 14, 2014, and are preserved to honor and memorialize his work.
A contested line between the public and the private is well attested in Augustine’s writings and runs through every human society and individual human heart. What Augustine calls “privacy” involves a movement where the human heart resists observation, turns away from the shared and given, and toward the individual and owned. Despite the enormous cost of what turns out to be a failed protective strategy and the manner in which it inevitably becomes entwined with ignorance, fear, and sin, Augustine maintained a policy of respecting the secrets of others, and he articulated a theology in which privacy becomes the very space in which the sinful heart is lured out of its self-containment by divine grace present in the bodily acts of Christ’s followers. Augustine’s highly nuanced and practical position supplies resources for those concerned about the controlling effects of the growing surveillance powers of contemporary state and corporate actors.
When transmitted in writing sermons lose most of the actual contemporary context of their oral delivery. However, the rhetorical images used by the preacher may provide a key to access state of mind and emotions of both orator and audience. This “unlocking of minds and hearts” requires (1) the oral re-enacting of the text, in order to verify the actual form and delivery of the spoken word, and (2) the (archaeological) reconstruction of the real world those images refer to, in order to avoid misunderstandings by introducing modern (mis)conceptions. This newly suggested method is exemplified by analyzing Augustine’s admonition “Stretch yourself on the rack of your heart” (S. 13.7). First the material reality of the rack in antiquity is closely studied in order to ascertain the precise impression its notion made on the minds of the audience. On this basis the unrecorded emotional and psychological effects of the image are investigated. Eventually, the similar use of the same image by Gregory of Nyssa shows the wide-spread diffusion of this kind of rhetoric that evokes emotions through images and the value of introducing their analysis as a key to the oral and unrecorded context of ancient sermons in general.
A Carthaginian deacon named Deogratias asked Augustine for advice on how to improve his teaching for inquirers. Augustine obliged by writing De catechizandis rudibus (On Instructing Beginners), a masterful survey of need-to-know essentials on the story of salvation, the unity of Scripture, and their deep center in Christ. But the work did more than teach the basics of faith. Augustine saw that the deacon needed not only more information but also more assiduous practice in giving his learners the humble Christian love that he was teaching about. Beginning with descriptions of God’s accommodating love to humanity in Christ, Augustine demonstrated the crucial role of love in the work of a Christian teacher by displaying it literarily to Deogratias by his kindly approach and way of writing. Not merely giving commands or spouting theories, Augustine’s De catechizandis rudibus subtly offered a model of love itself for the beginning teacher Deogratias to imitate.
This article presents Augustine’s reflections on how the heart is stretched by welcoming God in the midst of difficulty. Divine initiative and human response are intertwined in beautifully mysterious ways. This reflection also provides a good example of how Augustine’s meditation on the scriptures – that is, on Psalm 4 – was enriched with the passage of time.
Augustine’s theological insights into the human heart provide a resource for vocational discernment, which is a response to the calling of God through the integration of one’s unique talents, desires, limitations, and circumstances. In the period between 387 and 391 CE – Augustine’s baptism and his ordination to the priesthood – Augustine experienced serious losses of career, home, beloved family members, and even his ideal of a good life. Yet, in his own uncertainty he remained open to a radical change in vocation, leading to his ordination by the church at Hippo. In his theology and preaching, Augustine exhorted his audience to turn inward to the mystery of the human heart to find God. This interior journey is guided by participation in liturgical and community practices that heal the heart’s unruly affections and deepen love for God and neighbor. With this formation in charity, one can discern freely about matters of choice: whether or not to marry, to keep or give up wealth, or to change one’s social, religious, economic, or political practices. Augustine’s insights shed light on contemporary vocational discernment programs at universities regarding love, the value of unknowing, the importance of community, and the nature of freedom.
In the introduction to the book he was writing at the time of his death, Bill Harmless spoke of Augustine’s meditations on evil and its origins in the self-made darkness of the human heart. This paper reflects on this Augustinian understanding of the foundations of evil. The initial section considers the modern project of theodicy in reference to Augustine, with a focus on John Hick’s Evil and the God of Love and its critics. The second section explores several themes in Augustine’s treatment of evil in context, concentrating on Confessions and some earlier texts. The basis of Augustine’s approach to evil is discussed with reference to his account of the soul’s immediate contemplation of God. In that deepest association with God, Augustine finds the root of evil disclosed in the darkness of the soul that resists sustained union with God.
During Augustine’s first decade of commenting on the Pauline literature, he regularly used the mortality consequent upon the failure of the first humans in the paradise and the desires that arose from this weakened bodily condition in their offspring to account for the universality of personal failure and sin that he found affirmed in Paul’s letter to the Romans. During his preaching in the first decade of the fifth century, following the Confessiones, Augustine began to change his interpretation of both the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve (Romans 5:12) and the status of those living in Christ’s church (Romans 7:14-25). Without denying the earlier application of the latter text to persons attempting and failing to fulfill the recently learned moral law, he began to apply it to Christians living by the guidance of the moral law and under the influence of grace. Even the faithful were unable to accomplish all that the moral law required of them. At the same time, Augustine began to shift his understanding of the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve from the inheritance of mortality to sharing the guilt of that sin as well as its punishment.
At the beginning of the Pelagian controversy, Augustine’s attention was focused on the implications of the church’s practice of baptizing infants. In considering the relationship of sin, guilt, mortality, and evil desires, he brought together the understanding of the limits of voluntary self-control and self-determination in both infants and adults. This resulted in a new theory of the transmission of evil desires through generation that involved both guilt and evil desires that could be resisted but not prevented or eliminated by personal efforts. Thus, he elaborated an explanation of evil desire and original guilt that depended on bodily influences and was independent of any particular explanation of the origin of the human soul.
Augustine’s concern about the influence of witnessing brutal spectacles upon the human soul is expressed when he recounts his friend Alypius’s addiction to the arena in Confessions, Book 6. He elaborates this concern in several sermons and argues that the simple act of looking at certain kinds of images can have a deleterious effect on the beholder, asserting that, like Alypius, one can become enthralled to spiritually harmful sights and take perverse pleasure in others’ mental or physical pain. He adds that such pleasure makes viewers accessories to brutality and inures them to suffering, instead of developing their compassionate nature. Here he speaks of the “lust of the eyes” as a parallel to lust of the flesh, a lust that seeks novel experiences and is not repelled by observing violence. He acknowledges that for some listeners, the reading of martyrs’ acts could be an instance of this, but insists that those who hear the story and imagine the scenes with the right attitude are inspired to be sympathetic to the victims and uplifted by their heroic witness to Christ. In this way he discusses two different kinds of viewing arising from the beholder’s essential character: the material gaze versus the spiritual witness. This essay connects this discussion of positive and negative sights to Augustine’s theory of how the eye perceives and imprints visionary experiences on the memory and in turn affects the soul in both positive and negative ways. Because humans are vulnerable, even unintentionally, to the damage caused by seeing evil or cruel spectacles, they must consciously cultivate a gaze of charity and compassion.
This paper will explore why Augustine persists in using the categories of signs and things and use and enjoyment, even though they give rise to so many difficulties and proved so inimical to what he actually wanted to say in Book 1 of De doctrina christiana. It argues that, in fact, these classical categories are subverted and transformed by Augustine’s treatment of the double commandment of love of God and love of neighbor and his conviction that God can ultimately be known only by a “knowledge of the heart” – one which leads, not to an exercise of the intellect but to doxology or praise of the unknowable, ineffable God. It takes issue with recent trends in Augustine scholarship, which, in examining Augustine’s debt to Stoicism, appear to have undermined his doctrine of grace and loving knowledge.
This essay explores Augustine’s capacity to accommodate a tragic vision of human existence within his interpretation of the Christian revelation. Broadly speaking, for Augustine, sacred history combines the tragic necessity of self-inflicted human sinfulness with the benevolent necessity of the economy of divine grace. Augustine to some degree admired the pagan tragedians for compelling the attention and emotion of their audiences in confronting the ineluctability of evil (and other tragic themes), but their mimesis ultimately failed since it could not touch the reality conveyed in divine revelation. Two exegetical test cases, the story of Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter (Judges 11) and King Saul’s tragic heroics in 1 Samuel, exemplify how Augustine greatly profited from interpreting Scripture through a tragical lens. A whole other dimension of Augustine’s tragic vision appears in his attempt – inspired from his own early experience of staged tragedies in Carthage – to reenter ancient philosophical debates on tragedy and mimesis, and to revamp in Christian terms the tragic emotions, especially tragic pity as Christian mercy.
One typically reads that deification, or theosis, was the view held among the Eastern churches and something quite foreign to the West. In such works one finds Augustine presented as the preeminent champion of ransom theory as the way of understanding redemption. But then one reads in The City of God, “God Himself, the blessed God, who is the giver of blessedness, became partaker of our human nature, and thus offered us a short cut to participation in His own divine nature.” This sounds suspiciously like deification. Could this really be there? In fact, yes, and it is what one should expect to find in Augustine. How could others’ readings of Augustine missed this? Such have arguably been preoccupied with only one portion of Augustine’s works – his books, unduly emphasized the anti-Pelagian writings, and confused Augustine’s doctrine of redemption with later formulations of the High Middle Ages, the Reformation, and especially Protestant scholasticism.
A handful of scholars have begun to strip away this misunderstanding, demonstrating that Augustine held to some form of deificatio. They have had to justify this very substantial change of interpretation on a relatively small group of texts from Augustine’s doctrinal treatises. However, more than a few sermons are also available for them to work with; when understood in context, I argue, these sermons suggest that deification is far more central to Augustine’s thought than a mere numeration of doctrinal passages suggests. Further, this article argues that Augustine’s cosmology and especially his privation theory of evil are foundational to the bishop’s broader theological development. By understanding Augustine’s view of a primal formation and a fall which corrodes the originate state which must be reformed, one realizes that the notion of deification was central to Augustine’s pastoral concerns, and that his understanding of it as providing the means for healing the corruption endemic within postlapsarian humans who retain some degree of the imago dei. This theological vision, then, is neither accidental nor incidental. Therefore, even if his use of deification is not as prevalent or developed as thoroughly as that found among the Cappadocian authors, one should understand this approach as a critical aspect of his doctrine of atonement.
Augustine always cherished a strong hope in the fulfillment of human life and history and in God’s coming judgment. He remained agnostic about the time of history’s end, or what the signs of its nearness would be, but held firmly to the Church’s hope in the resurrection of the body, and the reward of the just and punishment of sinners in bodily and spiritual ways. His writings also gradually show another, increasingly important dimension of his eschatological hope: the conviction that we, who live “extended” in time, are constantly engaged in an encounter with God’s non-spatial, timeless truth.
Compositions moved Augustine, and nowhere is that more evident than in his Confessions. I argue that in this late-fourth-century biography-cum-protreptic, Augustine tries to replace earlier philosophical (Cicero’s Hortensius) and Christian (Athanasius’s Vita Antonii) protreptics with an updated version – his Confessions, which, in part, seeks to move the reader to embrace the Christian ascetic life. Augustine accomplishes his goal by modeling Confessions partly on the memory-imitation-text triad found in the Vita Antonii. The memory of stories and texts serves as a major focus of the account of his conversion experience in the garden in Milan, and he chooses to imitate those stories as the response to the call to embrace the Christian life. Imitation, in turn, leads him to asceticism through reading Scripture and remembering to imitate others who imitated Antony.
It is not unusual in Orthodox circles to hear Augustine of Hippo mentioned in polemical if not pejorative terms – that is, if discussed at all. Until very recently, the prevailing general narrative in modern times is that Augustine was linguistically and culturally confined to a rapidly deteriorating Romanitas, and that his theology – and by extension his anthropology – was at odds with pristine Orthodoxy, and would have been rejected had it been known. Such attitudes rely upon, and in turn have contributed to, the perception of a cultural and theological chasm dividing Greek East and Latin West that has prevailed in Orthodox scholarship since the twentieth century. This paper critiques these persistent negative perspectives on Augustine by focusing on some of the persons, factors, and motivations behind them. It argues that residual negative attitudes about Augustine arose largely as a result of the late modern reassessment of Orthodox self-identity that exaggerates theological differences at the expense of catholicity. Finally, it calls attention to recent efforts among some Orthodox scholars to restore balance in assessing Augustine’s rightful place in Orthodox tradition.
The term "Anthropocene” has recently emerged as part of an effort to name the geological impact of modern humans. For some, this “recent human age” is a “Good Anthropocene,” an opportunity for humans to finally assume their place as masters of this world. For others, the Anthropocene is bad news, and efforts to call it “good” are profoundly misguided. This essay brings theological insight to this tension by placing it in dialogue with the thought of St. Augustine. From an Augustinian perspective, the idea of a “Good Anthropocene” is just another example of the human capacity for delusion.