The Many Conversions of Saint Augustine


Published on

Lecture from week 3 of the first year module Introduction to the Study of Religions and Theology at the University of Manchester, 9th October 2012.

Published in: Education
1 Like
  • Be the first to comment

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

The Many Conversions of Saint Augustine

  1. 1. The many conversions of Saint AugustineDr Jamie WoodRELT10311 – Intro to the Study ofR&TLecture 3, 9th October 2012
  2. 2. Aims of lecture Help you to think about conversion as a religious phenomenon Introduce you to Augustine, perhaps the key figure of late ancient (and medieval) church Prepare you for the first assignment (on
  3. 3. Structure of lecture Thinking about conversion Introducing you to Augustine, his world and his writings Comparing conversions: Augustine‟s sources Break Augustine‟s conversions Later influence of Augustine Conclusion
  4. 4. What is conversion?
  5. 5. Conversion Change Movement from one state to another Realisation of potential Event Process Intellectual Lifestyle Religious? Social or individual? Done by someone or to someone?
  6. 6. Conversion in the OED 14 different meanings (34 sub- definitions); not including compounds I. Turning in position, direction, destination. II. Change in character, nature, form, or function. 8.a. The bringing of any one over to a specified religious faith, profession, or party, esp. to one regarded as true, from what is regarded as falsehood or error. (Without qualification, usually = conversion to Christianity.)
  7. 7. Theories of Conversion (1):James  Psychological analysis of conversion  The divided and unhappy self becomes unified and happy  2 types of conversion: ◦ Gradual ◦ Instantaneous (more affectively intense than the gradual type; result of a more active subconscious)  Sharp distinction between „institutional‟ and „personal‟ religion,  Only the converts immediate experience is of interest ◦ Problem: severing the personal from the institutional prevents James from appreciating how a converts immediate experience is intimately connected with the ongoing life of a community and how stories about conversion reflect common life
  8. 8. Theories of conversion (2): Nock  Draws on James work  Similar focus on the individual  But positioned it within broader religious context; esp. to explain success of Christianity in the Roman world. ◦ „conversion‟ to Christianity (or Judaism) involved something very different from the adoption of other religious options ◦ adopting an additional religious affiliation is 1 thing, but renouncing all previous religious associations for exclusive participation in a new one v. different  Conversion a move from an inferior to a superior religion: realisation of truth of new religion:  „the reorientation of the soul of an individual, his deliberate turning from indifference or from an earlier form of piety to another, a turning which implies a consciousness that the old was wrong and the new is right.‟  Arthur Darby Nock, Conversion: The Old and the New in Religion
  9. 9. Theories of conversion (3): Berger & Luckman  Sociological analysis  Socialization: social process by which individuals are inducted into society ◦ Primary socialization: begins at birth; continues until an individual has taken over and understands the world to which they belong ◦ Secondary socialization: presupposes primary socialization, transmits „role-specific knowledge‟  Resocialization: process by which deviants or outsiders are inducted or re-inducted into society (e.g. correction of criminals; induction of immigrants)  Berger and Luckmann: ◦ In conversion to a new religion individuals undergo resocialization because a radical transformation of their understanding of social reality occurs; ◦ Similar to primary socialization BUT it is more complex and difficult because the original social world must be cognitively displaced and destroyed in order to give the person a new social identity.  Peter Berger & Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality (London: Penguin, 1966)
  10. 10. Who was Augustine?  Roman/ African rhetorician turned bishop  Late 4th-early 5th century CE  Theological heavyweight  Merging of Graeco- Roman rhetorical tradition with Judaeo- Christian scriptural
  11. 11. Augustine‟s world (1): No place likeRome Christian Roman Empire: ◦ Banning of paganism at end of 4th C; but then problems with heretics A Roman Empire of two halves: East and West Africa perhaps the most important province in the West
  12. 12. Augustine‟s world (II): RockingRome 378: Roman Emperor killed by barbarians in battle 410: the city of Rome sacked by barbarians 430: as Augustine lay dying, barbarians had overrun Africa and were besieging his
  13. 13. The Roman Empire
  14. 14. Augustine‟s early life  Born 354  In Thagaste, small city in Numidia (modern Algeria)  Middling family ◦ not mega-rich, but not poor either ◦ have slaves, but sometimes unable to attend school/ university  Father: pagan; mother: Xtian  Excellent student (except Greek)  Patronage from local aristocrat who paid for
  15. 15. Education @ Carthage Capital of Roman Africa (2nd most important city in Western Empire) A moved to Carthage twice: ◦ Studies in rhetoric after primary education in Thagaste ◦ After the death of close friend in Thagaste becomes teacher there 2 bad experiences: ◦ A „cauldron of illicit loves‟; the Wreckers (this is when the assignment reading is set) ◦ Students too rowdy and decamps for
  16. 16. The boy done good: Rome andMilanRome – ancient capital of the empire  ◦ A moves to Rome from Carthage, hoping to find better behaved students ◦ But students in Rome don‟t pay their fees ◦ Augustine (or his contacts) finds sponsor who secures him a professorship in Milan  Milan – current imperial city ◦ Professorship; close to imperial court ◦ Mother tries to organise an advantageous marriage for him; he has to send his long- term concubine (Wills calls her „Una‟ – „the one‟) back to Africa  ◦ Lives with African friends Alypius and Nebridius pursuing truth through study ◦ 386 CE: conversion of Augustine in Milan (seminar reading)
  17. 17. Throwing it all away? Going home toAfrica  Leaves professorship  Lives an ascetic life, rejecting the world (seminar reading)  Death of his son and mother  Returns to Africa  395/6 CE: becomes Bishop of Hippo Regius  30 years of office ◦ Preaching, writing, problem solving
  18. 18. 3 Announcements1. PASS2. Theology Network Group3. Meeting about Study Abroad options: 2pm today in Roscoe 4.4 ◦ Email John Zavos if you are unable to make it
  19. 19. Groupwork: Augustine‟ sources? Take a handout In groups of 3-4, read ONE of the conversion accounts (either Paul or Antony) Answer the questions Be ready to feed back the most significant points of your discussion You have 10 mins
  20. 20. The conversion of Paul MOTIVATION OF CONVERSION ◦ Miraculous appearance of the lord (zapping him!) ◦ He was scared = fear plays a role ◦ He felt helpless ◦ He was blinded (blinding opens his eyes to the truth) ISSUES OF AUTHORSHIP ◦ Paul was converting people himself = he may have an interest in selling a particular model of conversion ◦ Acts presents a more detailed version of P‟s conversion to that which Paul himself wrote (which is more reliable?) ◦ Some facts within the accounts don‟t match one another
  21. 21. The conversion of Antony MOTIVATION OF CONVERSION ◦ No family ties = means he can convert ◦ Reflecting on the examples of others helps (in Gospels) ◦ Listens to someone else reading aloud from the Bible (compare with Augustine, who has read Life of Antony) ISSUES OF AUTHORSHIP ◦ Not a first-hand account; written by Athanasius (uncompromising orthodox bishop); may be using his depiction of Antony to put across particular points ◦ Problems of translation from Greek to Latin? ◦ Written some time after Antony‟s death by an outsider
  22. 22. The Confessions: Anintroduction  397- 400 CE: A writes the Confessions when he is a bishop (i.e. not contemporary with the conversion)  Themes: ◦ A spiritual/ intellectual journey (predetermined end point) ◦ An African‟s tale? A sub-elite story? ◦ Central role Monnica (his mother)  What is it? ◦ A bestseller ◦ A guidebook/ model for others ◦ An attempt to understand how his life had turned out the way that it did
  23. 23. Early „conversions‟ or intellectualdevelopment? The Manichees  A becomes interested in Manichee sect in Carthage during his studies  Almost 10 years as adherent of dualist Manichee doctrine  Mani (ca. 216-276 CE), Iranian founder of the sect: ◦ Emphasis on ongoing struggle between good and evil ◦ Claimed God was not omnipotent and struggled against the opposing substance of evil ◦ Believed human soul was of the same substance of God ◦ Division between „Elect‟ and „Hearers‟  Confessions and other of A‟s writings refute many of these views, e.g. anti-
  24. 24. Intellectual adventures:Neoplatonism Neoplatonism: late antique development of the ideas of Plato Key figure is Plotinus Enfuses Augustines conception of God and Creation; e.g.:1. God as a spiritual substance inherent in all things: ◦ everything exists only to the extent to which it participates in God: ◦ „in filling all things, you [God] fill them all with the whole of yourself‟ (Augustine, Confessions, book I).2. Evil has no actual existence: ◦ things are evil according to a hierarchy of being in which some are closer to Gods supreme and infinite being ◦ evil is a relative/ comparative quality ◦ view that goodness of individual things varies but everything is part of a whole from Gods point of view, allowed Augustine to answer Manichee challenges about the source of evil
  25. 25. Ambrose of Milan and Christianreading  Ambrose was Catholic Bishop of Milan, the imperial capital  Ambroses method for interpreting the bible (esp. the OT) has big impact on Augustine, who was previously put off by its simple and apparently literal language.  Ambrose interprets the scriptures in an abstract, spiritual sense  Allowed Augustine to overcome Manichee objections to specific phrases in the text.  Ambrose baptized Augustine alongside Adeodatus, his son,
  26. 26.  Augustine, Confessions, VI. iii (6, 8): I was also pleased that when the old writings of the Law and the Prophets came before me, they were no longer read with an eye to which they had previously looked absurd, when I used to attack your saints as if they thought what in fact they did not think at all. And I was delighted to hear Ambrose in his sermons to the people saying, as if he were most carefully enunciating a principle of exegesis: „The letter kills, the spirit gives life‟ (2 Cor. 3: 6). Those tests which, taken literally, seemed to contain perverse teaching he would expound spiritually, removing the mystical veil. […] Already the absurdity which used to offend me in those books, after I had heard many passages being given persuasive expositions, I understood to be significant of the profundity of their mysteries. The authority of the Bible seemed the more to be venerated and more worthy of a holy faith on the ground that it was open to everyone to read, while keeping the dignity of its secret meaning for a
  27. 27. This week‟s seminar reading Discussion of: Augustine, Confessions, 8.6(13)-8.12(30), trans. H. Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 141-154 Overview: ◦ Layering of narratives within the story is significant ◦ Account of renunciation of sexual desire (and the „world‟ and service to the state) ◦ Account of impact of reading the Life of Antony on a fellow African ◦ Leads to self-examination by A and his friends ◦ Importance of education ◦ Augustine hears mysterious voice in the garden: „pick up and read‟ – very spiritual description ◦ This is the moment of his definitive conversion to
  28. 28. Assignment 1 With reference to Augustine, Confessions III.iii(6) (trans. Chadwick, pp. 38-41), explain Augustine‟s concept of “conversion” and comment on it in relation to Augustine‟s other conversion narratives.
  29. 29. Assignment 1  Early in the Confessions  A is talking about his studies in Carthage and his rowdy fellow students  His first reading of Cicero‟s Hortensius opens his mind to rhetoric and philosophy – a personal/ intellectual conversion?  Reads the bible and finds it lacking in style by comparison  Joins the „wrong crowd‟ – a social conversion?  QUESTION: Where is Christianity in this extract? What does A say he is
  30. 30. Questions about assignment1
  31. 31. Later Influence of Augustine  Theological-political influence:  Sex and original sin  Church-state relations  Forced conversion/ treatment of heretics  Writings such as the City of God and the Confessions have lasting influence  His sermons and letters are still being discovered and revealing a lot about
  32. 32. Ubiquitous Augustine  Probably the most quoted/ cited/ discussed Latin author for the entire middle ages  Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, 6.7.3: ◦ „Augustine, with his intelligence and learning overcomes the output of all these, for he wrote so much that not only could no one, working by day and night, copy his books, but no one could even read them.‟
  33. 33. Bibliography on Augustine and conversion E. V. Gallagher, „Conversion and Community in Late Antiquity,‟ The Journal of Religion 73 (1993), 1-15 J. J. O‟Donnell, Augustine: Confessions (1992), see esp. introduction and sections 1-3: e/ P. Frederiksen, „Paul and Augustine: conversion narratives, orthodox traditions, and the retrospective self„, Journal of Theological Studies n.s. 37 (1986), 3-34 C. Bennett, „The Conversion of Virgil: the Aeneid in Augstine‟s Confessions‟, Revue des Etudes Augustiniennes 34 (1988), 47-69
  34. 34. A‟s conversion journey: anoverview 1. Rhetoric and philosophy (your assignment) 2. Manichees (also mentioned in assignment) 3. Neo-Platonism 4. Christianity (Thursday‟s readings) 5. Catholic (orthodox) Christianity  Note: A‟s story of these conversions is always infused by the knowledge that he will eventually get to 5 (so he describes the earlier conversions with this in mind)
  35. 35. Conclusions Conversion can be both a personal/ intellectual/ spiritual experience and a social/ communal process Augustine‟s account of his own conversion is not historical fact, it is autobiographical invention ◦ He is interpreting his past in the light of the present (as a Christian bishop) ◦ He was the greatest rhetorician of his day – so we need to be careful when using him as evidence; he has particular messages to sell ◦ He is promoting a model of what he thinks conversion should be, not necessarily what it was for him ◦ His conversion to Christianity is presented as both a one-off event and a drawn-out process of