Journal of Early Christian Studies 7.4 (1999) 604-605
This volume is composed of twenty vividly written articles in the Augustinian tradition by top scholars including Marilyn McCord Adams, Myles Burnyeat, Christopher Kirwan, Martha Nussbaum, and Alvin Plantinga. Their topics include history and time, the doctrine of love, political philosophy, and moral philosophy. A number of essays are ... [Show full abstract] comparative studies of Augustine and other major thinkers in the history of thought, such as Anselm, Dante, Descartes, Locke, Jonathan Edwards, Rousseau, Kant, and Wittgenstein. This arrangement is done purposely, for as the editor, Gareth Matthews, puts it, "Augustine is to be seen in these essays as a thinker who engages our own thinking today, just as he engaged and influenced thinkers all the way from his own time to ours" (ix). The majority of these essays are new. Five of them, however, are reprints of articles already published in journals or are previously published works with slight revisions.
Since the Confessions is probably the most widely read work by Augustine, two essays -- one by Frederick J. Crosson, and one by Genevieve Lloyd -- are specifically devoted to it. One of the major problems of the Confessions involves the textual unity of the thirteen books, a problem caused by the seeming discontinuity between the narrative autobiographic style of the first nine books and the exegetical style of the last four books. Many have said that Augustine composed badly. In his "Structure and Meaning in St. Augustine's Confessions," Crosson challenges such a view. He argues that books 1-7 are to be taken as Augustine's quest for "how God is to be understood as everywhere" (35). Book 7 is the turning point in which Augustine describes how he is able to conceive God as incorporeal, transcendent, and omnipresent, yet not being in space. This solution, however, poses a problem: namely, "how [can] such a transcendent God . . . act within the world [?]" (35). It takes books 7-13 for Augustine to unfold his experience in faith, to contemplate on that experience, and finally to offer an answer to the problem. Crosson concludes that the Confessions "fits the model of Augustine's conception of . . . faith seeking understanding" (36). Thus, the thirteen books constitute a meaningful whole.
Another important topic frequently discussed by philosophers is Augustine's theory of time in book eleven of the Confessions. Does Augustine intend to give a definition of the nature of time? Or, is he simply giving an account of psychological time here, whereas he will offer his account of objective time in the City of God? In her "Augustine and the 'Problem' of Time," Lloyd argues that we have to understand book 11 in terms of the narrative characteristics of the Confessions. As such, "book 11 is not an answer to a . . . philosophical questions as to the nature of time. It is rather an attempt to resolve a problem posed to consciousness by the human experience of time" (40).
Augustine's doctrine of love is influential in the history of Christian thought. In "Augustine and Dante on the Ascent of Love," M. Nussbaum discusses how Augustine and Dante in different ways transform the traditional Platonic image of love's ascent to Christian idea of love by restoring the role of passion and vulnerability to a soul which is on the pilgrimage to its heavenly home. In "Romancing the Good: God and Self according to St. Anselm of Canterbury," M. M. Adams discusses the ways in which Anselm develops the Platonist threads found in Augustine's De trinitate of "God as paradigm, artist, and Beloved; creatures as mirror images, artifacts, ways of romancing the Good" (91).
Augustine's teaching on political philosophy is a topic frequently discussed throughout the centuries. Paul J. Weithman, in his "Towards an Augustinian Liberalism," acknowledges that the term "Augustinian Liberalism" might appear to be an oxymoron. But he argues that there are arguments, derived from an Augustinian analysis of pride, that "support political liberalism that can appropriately be described as...