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A Free Corrector

A Free Corrector: Colin Gunton and the Legacy of Augustine

Joshua McNall
Copyright Date: 2015
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  • Book Info
    A Free Corrector
    Book Description:

    A Free Corrector evaluates Colin Gunton’s controversial treatment of Augustine’s theological legacy. While others have critiqued Gunton’s negative reading of Augustine, McNall goes further in addressing Gunton’s argument regarding Augustine’s “afterlife” (that is, the appropriation of Augustine by crucial figures from the medieval era to the dawn of modern thought). In the end, A Free Corrector argues that while Gunton was indeed unfair to Augustine, not all his claims about Augustine’s legacy may be so easily dismissed. While Gunton was wrong to claim that Augustine’s doctrine of the Trinity was decidedly monistic, it remains viable to argue that Augustine’s view of the mind as the imago Trinitatis would contribute to problems over time. Likewise, on the doctrine of creation, Gunton was overzealous in his criticisms even while he found more support for his claim that Augustine’s “inward turn” would encourage a problematic preference for mind over matter. The result of this study is thus a plea for balance: while Gunton was far too “free” in his correction of Augustine, it is also true that aspects of his Augustinian narrative remain viable.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-9664-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 A Free Corrector: Colin Gunton on the Trinity, Creation, and the Legacy of Augustine
    (pp. 1-28)

    Saint Augustine once wrote that when it came to his legacy, he desired “not only a pious reader but a free corrector.”¹ It may be argued that he got his wish in Colin Gunton (1941–2003).

    Perhaps as much as any modern theologian, Gunton sought to provide a rectification to the supposed consequences of Augustine’s massive influence. His basic argument, as we will see, was that a monistic imbalance in Augustine’s doctrine of God was connected to a damaging dualism in Augustine’s doctrine of creation. Thus, over time, the triune God was allegedly distanced from the economy of salvation, and...

  6. 2 Critiques Of Colin Gunton: Challenges on the Trinity, Creation, and the Legacy of Augustine
    (pp. 29-52)

    While the prior chapter introduced Gunton’s treatment of the Trinity, creation, and the legacy of Augustine, the present chapter will show how these aspects of his work have been profoundly challenged. We will begin by surveying the various critiques of Gunton on the subject of Augustine and his supposed influence. Next, we will turn to Gunton’s constructive doctrine of the Trinity, and to the charge ofprojectionismas leveled against his “Cappadocian alternative” to Augustine’s purported errors. Finally, we will turn to Gunton’s “neo-Irenaean”¹ doctrine of creation, and to the charge that in his rush to distance himself from Augustine’s...

  7. 3 Gunton and Augustine’s God: The Question of Monistic Imbalance in Augustine’s Trinitarianism
    (pp. 53-92)

    For some, it may seem almost oxymoronic to accuse Augustine of a monistic view of God. After all, he did devote over two decades to the detailed composition ofDe Trinitate, a work which even Gunton ranked “among the glories of Western theology.”¹ Despite this, Gunton’s charge was that a tendency toward monism in Augustine’s doctrine of God was linked to a damaging dualism in his doctrine of creation. The purpose of this chapter is to evaluate the first half of this claim. Our question is this: To what extent was Gunton justified in alleging that key elements of Augustine’s...

  8. 4 Gunton and Augustine’s World: The Question of Dualism in Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation
    (pp. 93-132)

    In Gunton’s words, “the most fundamental ontological question of all is that concerning the nature of the world in which we live. What kind of world is it?”¹ What status should we ascribe to such things as time, matter, and human physicality? As Gunton argued, the way the modern West would come to think about such questions stood in troubling relation to Augustine of Hippo. Thus his overarching claim was that a monistic imbalance in Augustine’s doctrine of God was linked to a damaging dualism in his doctrine of creation.² The purpose of this chapter is to evaluate the second...

  9. 5 Gunton and Augustine’s Medieval Afterlife (Part One)
    (pp. 133-164)

    Augustine’s “afterlife” began in August of the year 430. He died, perhaps appropriately, surrounded by the books that he had written.¹ Yet as Gunton argued, Augustine’s legacy involves not only what he wrote, but also those who read him. In claiming this, Gunton traced a bold line from Augustine to some of the most influential and problematic tendencies in Western thought.² Because this was Gunton’s argument, it soon becomes obvious that any comprehensive attempt to evaluate Gunton’s charges must also examine theappropriationof Augustine by his intellectual descendants. Such is the task of the next few chapters.

    Yet herein...

  10. 6 Gunton and Augustine’s Medieval Afterlife (Part Two)
    (pp. 165-188)

    For Gunton, the Late Middle Ages brought a challenge to aspects of the Augustinian inheritance. Whereas Augustine (and later Aquinas) had forged an alleged synthesis between revelation and reason, Gunton argued that this “system broke down in the late Middle Ages through its own inadequacies.”¹ Yet this did not mean that Augustine was any less revered in the period. As Pelikan notes, he remained “the recognized Master of all,”² and thus, “No important doctrinal issue in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries … was unaffected by the study of Augustine, and on many issues his influence was decisive.”³

    In Guton’s own...

  11. 7 Gunton and Augustine’s Reformation Afterlife
    (pp. 189-214)

    For Pelikan, the Reformation could be partially characterized as a dispute “between two ways of reading Augustine.”¹ It was, in B. B. Warfield’s estimation, “the ultimate triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the church.”² While such statements contain an obvious amount of oversimplification, none would deny the incredible influence of Augustine upon such figures as Martin Luther and John Calvin. As we will note, both men took their stands, not only on the principle ofsola scriptura, but also upon a reading of the Scriptures that was partly drawn from the ruins of Hippo Regius. Thus...

  12. 8 Gunton and Augustine’s Modern Afterlife
    (pp. 215-232)

    In the opening sentence ofThe One, the Three and the Many, Gunton quoted the words of William Morris: “Modernism began and continues, wherever civilisation began and continues to deny Christ.”¹ The statement is a frank one. Yet while others might point to Descartes or the Enlightenment as the geneses of “modernism,” Gunton sought to draw attention to the theological origins of this phenomenon.² In particular, as we have seen, he often blamed deficiencies within the “Augustinian” inheritance for contributing to later problems. In the previous chapter, we sought to evaluate this charge as it pertained to Augustine’s Reformation legacy....

  13. 9 Gunton and the Triune Corrective (Part One): Irenaeus as an “Antidote” to Certain Augustinian Imbalances
    (pp. 233-258)

    In the prior chapters we explored the viability of Gunton’s arguments regarding aspects of Augustine’s legacy. Yet our examination may only be complete by returning to a timebeforeAugustine. This is so because, in Gunton’s mind, while aspects of Augustine’s thought should be seen as “honied poison,”¹ there existed some potential antidotes within the preceding tradition. As Bradley Green notes, “Gunton’s favored solution to the problems spawned in Western theology [was] the trinitarian theology of the Cappadocian Fathers and Irenaeus.”² Thus Gunton’s charge was not merely that Augustine contributed to later problems, but also that hefailed to appropriate...

  14. 10 Gunton and the Triune Corrective (Part Two): The Cappadocian Fathers as the “Antidote” to Certain Augustinian Imbalances
    (pp. 259-280)

    If Gunton viewed Irenaeus as a corrective to certain imbalances in Augustine’s doctrine of creation, then a supposed remedy to Augustine’s deficient doctrine of the Trinity was to be found in the theology of Basil of Caesarea (330–379), Gregory of Nyssa (c. 331–395), and Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 329–390). As Gunton put it, Augustine’s account of the Trinity “bequeath[ed] problems to the West, and … in solving them some help is to be sought from the Cappadocian Fathers.”¹ In particular, the claim was that Augustine “failed to appropriate the ontological achievement of his Eastern colleagues,” and thus...

  15. 11 On “Fruit” and Free Correctors: Conclusions on Colin Gunton and the Legacy of Augustine
    (pp. 281-296)

    We began this book with a quotation and a question. As Augustine wrote, when speaking of his legacy, he desired “not only a pious reader but a free corrector.”¹ With regard to the latter, we noted that he got his wish in Colin Gunton. Yet our question was as follows: To what extent was Gunton’s reading of Augustine’s legacy (to use Augustine’s word) a “pious” one? To what extent was it fair? And with this, we set out to reevaluate the extent to which Gunton may have distorted (or perhaps elucidated) certain aspects of the Augustinian inheritance.

    As we argued,...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 297-324)
  17. Index
    (pp. 325-329)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 330-330)