Meanwhile, in the Aftermath: The Groundwork for Disenchantment in Augustine

The following is a fairly accurate transcript of a talk I gave at a conference organized by the Pappas Patristics Institute at Hellenic College/Holy Cross in early March of this year (2017). I was flattered that nearly all of the attendees at my session skipped the following session to extend the Q&A time by nearly an hour. I am grateful to my respondent for his helpful feedback, and to those who attended my presentation for their stimulating questions. 

I am still reading through the primary and secondary literature to evaluate responsibly the assertions I made in that talk. Some of my work to dig into the primary and secondary literature shall appear here on Into the Clarities, as four of them are nearing completion (although “approaching completion” is a condition that can, in my excessive caution, fall prey to Zeno’s paradox).

Hurriedly preparing for this conference paper, and especially reading voraciously in the wake of delivering this paper (to weigh its merits), has likely been the primary reason for my relative silence here at Into the Clarities for many months now (and the reason I had to halt work on the second Ullmann post).

During the conference, I frequently went off-page on a tear to clarify points when I’d made marginal notes to myself that I should do so — I had a stack of books by Augustine and Weber and Midgley with me, and read from several excerpts and discussed these relative to the points I was making. Here below, I have made a small attempt at inserting sentences to give at least some stubs for those mini-digressions and clarifications.

Here is something close to the talk I delivered.

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Excerpt #10 — Augustine on (What We Would Call) The State

We have earlier summarized what is perhaps the best book in English on Augustine’s politics (may this excerpt illuminate what is found there, and vice versa), began a summary of Book 19 of his City of God (part one here; pingbacks at the bottom for all other current and future parts), and offered an excerpt of Peter Brown writing about Augustine’s understanding of the Libido Dominandi; here I offer one excellent quote to summarize Augustine’s political vision. Continue reading

Peter Brown on Augustine on the Libido Dominandi

In his essay “Saint Augustine”, covering select features of Augustine of Hippo’s political thought, Peter Brown mentions Augustine’s presentation of the “harmonious order established by God”, and how it is “inverted” by sin. [“Saint Augustine” in Trends in Medieval Political Thought, ed. Beryl Smalley (Oxford: Blackwell & Mott, 1965), 9] Given that the harmonies emerge from God, and are dependent on him, Augustine saw “dependence” as “the most basic relationship in the divine order” [Ibid., 9], as the goods constitutive for oneself are received. When this order is “dislocat[ed]” the “most basic symptom” is “domination — the need to secure the dependence of others.” [Ibid., 10] [See The Literal Meaning of Genesis viii, vi, 12; xi, xv, 20] Continue reading

Excerpt #3 — Frederick Beiser on Hegel and the Romantics

Before beginning my first master’s degree in 2011, I knew that I wanted to look at the modern period, and so I spent the summer straddled three ways between my young family, part-time tech work, and reading. One of the more memorable books I remember reading that summer was Frederick Beiser‘s excellent book on Hegel (one review can be found here, another here — and a lecture of his that I can’t seem to get working can be found here). When I first found Beiser’s Hegel, I sat down at noon in a book store to browse it, and (seemingly) soon after my wife called me to tell me that I was very late for dinner and that she was concerned about me. It is that good. Continue reading

Plotinus, Augustine, and the Confessions

The Neoplatonic understanding of reality is that the world and each thing in the world is an ontological procession or exit from the One-beyond-being –that is, the super-essential Good or Beauty– into difference and multiplicity (the One generating first Intellect, Intellect generating Soul, etc.), and that each thing returns or reverts to what it is an expression of, and participates in, by way of its own unity, its own nature. Proceeding is often likened to a fall, and reversion to an ascent. Insofar as anything exists, it remains within the generative cause from which it proceeds, no matter how far it exits into multiplicity.

In his Confessions, the parable of the prodigal son plays a central role – not only as a means of figuratively summarizing Augustine’s understanding of his own life, but as expressive of the procession or exit of the whole world; yet Augustine stresses the element of falling in the whole procedure: we fall, and are wasted in the fall; we exit, but do not return; like the prodigal, we exit and exit and exit: we go off in a far country, wasting our native dignity, and do not wake up to return to ourselves, our right minds, and remember the Good of our native homeland, God.

The way that Augustine reads his life within this mirror of this parable, and the way that he gathers up his memories in thanksgiving to God so as not to abandon them within the dissolution of the exit, are exemplary of the way that he seeks to unify his own life by gathering himself back to his essential unity and his native homeland, or rather, to seek the hidden unity being wrought by God in the wasteland of his fractured self.

We shall aim first to outline some elements of the procession and reversion in Plotinus, the reasons Plotinus gives for the soul’s fall, the means of its return, and a major disagreement within the tradition of pagan Athenian Neoplatonism that takes its cue from Plotinus. It will then look at the same themes in Augustine’s Confessions, to place the same themes of that work’s narrative in its philosophical context. Continue reading