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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Confession: Why This is Not an Apologetics Website (Part Five)

As I noted in the previous post, this series begins with Part 1, which outlined my main reasons for rejecting apologetics because at best it merely uses what is public for factional ends (it also shuts down conversations and does a host of other awful things). It also carries forward from Part 2, which adds some autobiographical notes to the themes brought out in Part 1.

Part 3 recalled several things said to me by a professor I had concerning the nature of Christian identity. Part 4 covered a conference held regarding the prospects of an Orthodox Great Books school (and the conflict involved in the tension between a Great Books education and a decidedly religious one), and further covered problems with what I’ve heard some call the “postmodern” approach to theology found in figures such as Fr. John Behr.

Here, I summarize my own view — or, at least, the view that I have for now, and why it is incompatible with selling other people a religious identity (and so, with apologetics). After a brief explanation of one small feature of classical “ontology” (the “philosophy of being”) of the ancient world in VI, I’ll start with the relatively short answer in VII.

Finally, for those with any interest, the next post shall move into a more detailed explanation about what exegetical considerations lie at the backend of the short answer of section VII. After the next post, I don’t expect I’ll be writing any more on this topic, except historical work, likely a year or more down the road, to show the relationship between the pagan Classical tradition of philosophy and the early Christological formulae and literature. 

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The Origins of Political Authority in Augustine of Hippo, City of God 19 (Part 2)

Continued from part one, which both introduced one or two themes from The City of God  and summarized the synopsis of classical thought with which Augustine opens Book 19.1-3 of the same. Here, we cover the first half of 19.4.

Having listed Varro’s summary of all possible philosophies, Augustine concurs with him that any possible philosophy ultimately reduces to one of  three positions. Happiness, the ultimate good of the human being (which is a body-soul unity), is had (A) for the sake of trained virtue, or (B) trained virtue is had for the sake of certain natural goods (vi&., the health of mind and body), or (C) both virtue and natural goods (i.e., health of mind and body) are desired together. Like Varro, Augustine opts for (C), conceding that the soul and its pleasures are greater than those of the body, but granting that both virtue and natural goods are desirable for their own sake. Varro also opines that the life of virtue should be pursued both for one’s own sake and that of others, that his positions are certain (against the Sceptics of the New Academy), and that the path to the final good entails both the active and the contemplative life. (Varro is indecisive on the matter of whether one should adopt the manners and lifestyle of the surrounding culture, of that of the Cynics.)

Augustine now gives “what response the City of God makes when questioned on each of” the points of Varro’s summary of classical thought. [XIX.4, Dyson, 918]  Continue reading

R. A. Markus on Augustine on Signs

The third chapter in Augustine: A Collection of Critical Essays ed. R. A. Markus (New York: Doubleday, 1972) is titled “St. Augustine on Signs”, written by Markus himself (whom we introduced earlier, and whose book Saeculum we previously summarized).  Originally appearing in Phronesis in 1957, it is a curious blend of historical and constructive work — beginning with the historical, then eventually threading in the constructive strands (highlighting roads Augustine suggested, but neglected to travel — I will largely ignore these in this post). The De Magistro (“The Teacher”), De Doctrina Christiana (“On Christian Teaching”), and De Trinitate (“On the Trinity”) are the three works of Augustine’s focused on by Markus here. Continue reading