Image, Identity, and the Forming of the Augustinian Soul

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Throughout his life as a bishop he was involved in religious controversies with Manicheans, Donatists, Pelagians and, to a lesser extent, pagans. Most of the numerous books and letters he wrote in that period were part of these controversies or at least inspired by them, and even those that were not e. Polemics against his former co-religionists, the Manicheans, looms large in his work until about ; the debate with them helped to shape his ideas on the non-substantiality of evil and on human responsibility.

The Donatist schism had its roots in the last great persecution at the beginning of the fourth century. By way of his assiduous writing against the Donatists, Augustine sharpened his ecclesiological ideas and developed a theory of religious coercion based on an intentionalist understanding of Christian love. Pelagianism named after the British ascetic Pelagius was a movement Augustine became aware of around He and his African fellow-bishops managed to get it condemned as a heresy in While not denying the importance of divine grace, Pelagius and his followers insisted that the human being was by nature free and able not to sin possibilitas.

Augustine continued to pursue these issues in dialogues on the immateriality of the soul De quantitate animae , , language and learning De magistro , — , freedom of choice and human responsibility De libero arbitrio , begun in and completed perhaps as late as and the numeric structure of reality De musica , — After the start of his ecclesiastical career he abandoned the dialogue form, perhaps because he realized its elitist and potentially misleading character G. Clark ; Catapano Of the works from his priesthood and episcopate, many are controversial writings against the Manicheans e.

Augustine is however most famous for the five long treatises with a wider scope he composed between and The Confessiones ca. The monumental apologetic treatise De civitate dei begun in , two years after the sack of Rome, and completed in argues that happiness can be found neither in the Roman nor the philosophical tradition but only through membership in the city of God whose founder is Christ. Two long series on the Psalms Enarrationes in Psalmos , ca. This kind of philosophy he emphatically endorses, especially in his early work cf.

He is convinced that the true philosopher is a lover of God because true wisdom is, in the last resort, identical with God, a point on which he feels in agreement with both Paul 1 Corinthians and Plato cf. De civitate dei 8. In case of doubt, practice takes precedence over theory: in the Cassiciacum dialogues Monnica, who represents the saintly but uneducated, is credited with a philosophy of her own De ordine 1,31—32; 2.

In his early work he usually limits this verdict to the Hellenistic materialist systems Contra Academicos 3. Out of arrogance the philosophers presume to be able to reach happiness through their own virtue De civitate dei He thereby restates the old philosophical questions about the true nature of the human being and about the first principle of reality, and he adumbrates the key Neoplatonic idea that knowledge of our true self entails knowledge of our divine origin and will enable us to return to it cf.

Plotinus, Enneads VI. He is more reticent about Manichean texts, of which he must have known a great deal van Oort From the s onwards the Bible becomes decisive for his thought, in particular Genesis, the Psalms and the Pauline and Johannine writings even though his exegesis remains philosophically impregnated , and his mature doctrine of grace seems to have grown from a fresh reading of Paul ca.

The most lasting philosophical influence on Augustine is Neoplatonism. In the twentieth century there was an ongoing and sometimes heated debate on whether to privilege Plotinus who is mentioned in De beata vita 4 or Porphyry who is named first in De consensus evangelistarum 1.

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In any event, the importance of this problem should not be overrated because Augustine seems to have continued his Neoplatonic readings after For the philosophy of mind in the second half of De trinitate he may have turned to Neoplatonic texts on psychology. Plato, Timaeus 28d ; the ontological hierarchy of God, soul and body Letter Rist A distinctly Platonic element is the notion of intellectual or spiritual ascent.

Augustine thinks that by turning inwards and upwards from bodies to soul i.

Saint Augustine

Whether the condensed versions in the Confessiones 7. An early version of the Augustinian ascent is the project—outlined in De ordine 2. As late as De civitate dei 8 ca.

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In spite of these important insights, Platonism cannot however lead to salvation because it is unable or unwilling to accept the mediation of Christ. It is, therefore, also philosophically defective De civitate dei As a part of his cultural heritage, Augustine quotes him and the other Latin classics as it suits his argumentative purposes Hagendahl Retractationes 1. Unlike the original Stoics and Academics, Augustine limits the discussion to sense impressions because he wants to present Platonism as a solution to the skeptic problem and to point out a source of true knowledge unavailable to the Hellenistic materialists.

To refute the Academic claim that, since the wise person can never be sure whether she has grasped the truth, she will consistently withhold assent in order not to succumb to empty opinion, he thinks it sufficient to demonstrate the existence of some kind of knowledge that is immune to skeptical doubt. Modern critics have not been very impressed by these arguments e. Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism 1.

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To him it matters to have shown that even if maximal concessions are made to skepticism concerning the unknowability of the external world attainable by the senses, there remains an internal area of cognition that allows for and even guarantees certainty. This is why Contra Academicos ends with a sketch of Platonic epistemology and ontology and with an idiosyncratic if not wholly unparalleled reconstruction of the history of the Academy according to which the Academics were in fact crypto-Platonists who hid their insight into transcendent reality and restricted themselves to skeptical arguments to combat the materialist and sensualist schools dominant in Hellenistic times until authentic Platonism emerged again with Plotinus Contra Academicos 3.

The only realities that meet the Hellenistic criterion of truth and guarantee absolute certainty by being self-evident are the Platonic Forms Contra Academicos 3. De diversis quaestionibus 9; Cary a: 55— Even if I were in error in uttering this proposition, it would still be true that I, who am in error, exist De civitate dei Horn 81—87; Matthews 34— The argument does not yet appear in Contra Academicos but is easily recognized as a development of the argument from subjective knowledge Contra Academicos 3.

The scope of the argument in Augustine is both wider and narrower than in Descartes. The Augustinian cogito lacks the systematic importance of its Cartesian counterpart; there is no attempt to found a coherent and comprehensive philosophy on it. On some occasions, however, it works as a starting point for the Augustinian ascent to God De libero arbitrio 2.

De vera religione 72—73, where Augustine even makes supra-rational Truth the source and criterion of the truth of the cogito itself. The most impressive example is the second half of De trinitate. I am as certain that I will as I am certain that I exist and live, and my will is as undeniably mine as is my existence and my life. De duabus animabus 13; Confessiones 7. Like Plato and his followers, Augustine thinks that true knowledge requires first-hand acquaintance; second-hand information, e.

In the case of sensible objects—which, strictly speaking, do not admit of knowledge at all but only opinion—such first-hand acquaintance is possible through sense perception. Cognition of intelligible objects, however, can be neither reached empirically by means of abstraction nor transmitted to us linguistically by a human teacher see 5. The paradigm of this kind of cognition are mathematical and logical truths and fundamental moral intuitions, which we understand not because we believe a teacher or a book but because we see them for ourselves De magistro 40, cf.

De libero arbitrio 2. The condition of possibility and the criterion of truth of this intellectual insight is none other than God a view attributed, with explicit approval, to the Platonists in De civitate dei 8. Augustine mostly explains this Platonizing theory of a priori knowledge by means of two striking images: the inner teacher and illumination.

The former is introduced in the dialogue De magistro ca. The latter appears first in the Soliloquia 1. De trinitate Rist 78— The later version in De trinitate explicitly presents divine illumination as an alternative to Platonic recollection and situates it in the framework of a theory of creation. Gilson ch. Letter Thus, while all human beings are by nature capable of accessing intelligible truth, only those succeed in doing so who have a sufficiently good will De magistro 38 —presumably those who endorse Christian religion and live accordingly.

Like all human agency, striving for wisdom takes place under the conditions of a fallen world and meets the difficulties and hindrances humanity is subject to because of original sin. De immortalitate animae 6; De trinitate Plotinus, Enneads IV.

If, as in De immortalitate animae 6, recollection is taken to prove the immortality of the soul as it did in the Phaedo , it is hard to see how preexistence should not be implied. In any event, it is imprecise to say, as it is sometimes done, that Augustine gave up the theory of recollection because he realized that preexistence was at variance with Christian faith.

In De civitate dei Augustine emphatically rejects Platonic-Pythagorean metempsychosis or the transmigration of souls as incompatible with eternal happiness and the economy of salvation, and in De trinitate Yet it is a fallacy to claim that recollection entails transmigration. The early Augustine may have believed in preexistence perhaps simply as a corollary of the immortality of the soul , but there is no evidence that he believed in the transmigration of souls; conversely, his rejection of transmigration did not prevent even the late Augustine from considering preexistence—at least theoretically—an option for the origin of the soul Letter He rejects the rationalism of the philosophers and, especially, the Manicheans as an unwarranted over-confidence into the abilities of human reason resulting from sinful pride and as an arrogant neglect of the revelation of Christ in Scripture De libero arbitrio 3.

Against the fideism he encountered in some Christian circles cf. Philosophical argument may be of help in this process; yet as Augustine notes as early as in Contra Academicos 3. Confessiones 7. The Augustine of the earliest dialogues seems to have entertained the elitist idea that those educated in the liberal arts and capable of the Neoplatonic intellectual ascent may actually outgrow authority and achieve a full understanding of the divine already in this life De ordine 2.

In his later work, he abandons this hope and emphasizes that during this life, inevitably characterized by sin and weakness, every human being remains in need of the guidance of the revealed authority of Christ Cary b: — Faith is thus not just an epistemological but also an ethical category; it is essential for the moral purification we need to undergo before we can hope for even a glimpse of true understanding Soliloquia 1.

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Without belief in the former sense, we would have to admit that we are ignorant of our own lineage Confessiones 6. The belief that a person we have not seen was or is just may trigger our fraternal love for him De trinitate 8. Thus, while no doubt faith in revelation precedes rational insight into its true meaning, the decision about whose authority to believe and whom to accept as a reliable witness is itself reasonable De vera religione 45; Letter Even so, belief may of course be deceived De trinitate 8.

In ordinary life, this is inevitable and mostly unproblematic. A more serious problem is the justification of belief in Scripture, which, for Augustine, is the tradition and authority auctoritas , not potestas of the Church Contra epistulam fundamenti 5.

Image, Identity, and the Forming of the Augustinian Soul |

He follows the Stoics in distinguishing between the sound of a word, its meaning and the thing it signifies De dialectica 5; De quantitate animae 66; cf. Sextus Empiricus, Adversus mathematicos 8.

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In his handbook of biblical exegesis and Christian rhetoric, De doctrina christiana 1. Language is defined as a system of given signs by means of which the speaker signifies either things or her thoughts and emotions Enchiridion Augustine therefore begins with a sketch of his theology and ethics centered around the notions of love of God and neighbor before he sets out his biblical hermeneutics which, again, posits love as the criterion of exegetical adequacy Pollmann ; Williams The words of the Bible are external signs designed to prompt us to the more inward phenomenon of love and, ultimately, to God who is beyond all language and thought.

This may be generalized to the principle that external—verbal and non-verbal—signs operate on a lower ontological level than the inward and intelligible truth they attempt to signify and that they are superseded in true knowledge which is knowledge not of signs but of things.

How Augustine Made Us More than Matter—and Immortal

This holds not only for words, even the words of Scripture, but also for the sacraments and for the Incarnation of Christ Contra epistulam fundamenti After a long discussion of how verbal signs signify things or states of mind and how they relate to other signs, it turns out, rather surprisingly, that we do not learn things from signs at all because in order to understand the meaning of a sign we already have to be acquainted with the thing signified.

This does not mean that words are useless. Just as the spoken word signifies a concept that we have formed within our mind and communicates it to others, so Christ incarnate signifies the divine Logos and admonishes and assists us to turn to it cf. In De trinitate Augustine expands this to a theory about how the inner word or concept is formed The inner word is generated when we actualize some latent or implicit knowledge that is stored in our memory.