Augustine's Manichaean Dilemma, Volume 1

Augustine's Manichaean Dilemma, Volume 1: Conversion and Apostasy, 373-388 C.E.

Jason David BeDuhn
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Augustine's Manichaean Dilemma, Volume 1
    Book Description:

    Augustine of Hippo is history's best-known Christian convert. The very concept of conversio owes its dissemination to Augustine's Confessions, and yet, as Jason BeDuhn notes, conversion in Augustine is not the sudden, dramatic, and complete transformation of self we likely remember it to be. Rather, in the Confessions Augustine depicts conversion as a lifelong process, a series of self-discoveries and self-departures. The tale of Augustine is one of conversion, apostasy, and conversion again. In this first volume of Augustine's Manichaean Dilemma, BeDuhn reconstructs Augustine's decade-long adherence to Manichaeism, apostasy from it, and subsequent conversion to Nicene Christianity. Based on his own testimony and contemporaneous sources from and about Manichaeism, the book situates many features of Augustine's young adulthood within his commitment to the sect, while pointing out ways he failed to understand or put into practice key parts of the Manichaean system. It explores Augustine's dissatisfaction with the practice-oriented faith promoted by the Manichaean leader Faustus and the circumstances of heightened intolerance, anti-Manichaean legislation, and pressures for social conformity surrounding his apostasy. Seeking a historically circumscribed account of Augustine's subsequent conversion to Nicene Christianity, BeDuhn challenges entrenched conceptions of conversion derived in part from Augustine's later idealized account of his own spiritual development. He closely examines Augustine's evolving self-presentation in the year before and following his baptism and argues that the new identity to which he committed himself bore few of the hallmarks of the orthodoxy with which he is historically identified. Both a historical study of the specific case of Augustine and a theoretical reconsideration of the conditions under which conversion occurs, this book explores the role religion has in providing the materials and tools through which self-formation and reformation occurs.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0742-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    When people in the Christian tradition, or even in the secular culture informed by the Christian heritage, bring up the subject of conversion, they think first of Augustine of Hippo. The concept of conversio owes its dissemination to his masterwork, the Confessions. Yet, despite the way in which the idea of a sudden, dramatic, complete transformation of self has been associated with this work, Augustine actually uses its pages to depict conversion as a lifelong process, a series of self-discoveries and self-departures within a restless journey seeking to find out (as Augustine conceived it) who one really is, or (as...

  4. CHAPTER ONE Becoming Manichaean
    (pp. 21-41)

    The very term “conversion” carries with it certain implicit assumptions about a sharp and clear differentiation between identities and commitments from which and to which a person passes. The concept depends upon a boundary of exclusiveness that generally did not apply to the religious sphere in traditional Roman society. Philosophical schools provided the most common reference point, therefore, for talk of such a change of exclusive allegiance in Roman literate culture. So when Justin Martyr in the second century describes his quest for truth, his conversion to Christianity comes at the end of a string of previous identifications with such...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Inhabitation
    (pp. 42-69)

    In being attracted to Manichaeism, Augustine had been drawn to a system—a planned, promoted, coordinated set of practices and rationales for those practices. In contrast to the haphazard, largely unplanned, and evolving forces that shape human character and identity in the general social process, a formalized system such as an organized religion embodies a clearly articulated concept of human identity and action that is operationalized through programs of inculcation and reinforcement, supervised by experts with the authority bestowed upon them by the religion’s adherents. Manichaeism had a repertoire of self-forming discourse and practice by which adherents discovered who they...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Indoctrination
    (pp. 70-105)

    Given what we know of Augustine and his interests, Manichaeism was able to bring “religion”—that is, personal identification with a cultic community—into his life for the first time because of its engagement in the sort of philosophical and metaphysical discourse represented by his other studies. It offered perhaps the least cognitive dissonance with his intellectual pursuits of any cultic option in Africa. With this point of contact with his broader interests, it could serve as the overarching rubric and identity for his intellectual quest. Manichaean teachings nonetheless were integrated with the specific practices reviewed in the previous chapter,...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Faustus
    (pp. 106-134)

    In the face of Augustine’s difficulty in committing wholeheartedly to the Manichaean faith, and his inability to make progress toward fully identifying his self as a Manichaean one, others repeatedly commended Faustus to him as an authority. Implicitly, such a completely informed and fully realized Manichaean self could resolve all of Augustine’s issues with Manichaeism, because he had effected a total integration of the system in his own person, and understood how it all fit together and functioned in the path of life Manichaeism proposed and promoted. Hearing this, Augustine looked forward to meeting this paragon and paradigm, and adopting...

    (pp. 135-164)

    In the very period that he would later characterize as one of discontent and disaffection, Augustine had become a veritable Manichaean insider. After nearly a decade of proselytizing, entering into public disputation, and forming discussion groups in support of the Manichaean cause, Augustine was now hobnobbing with Faustus himself, the supreme authority of the faith in Augustine’s African homeland. However frustrated he may have been with the dismissal of his curiosity over cosmological questions, he evidently drew close to Faustus. He served his Manichaean superior as a literary tutor, reading with him the books that Faustus had heard merited attention,...

  9. CHAPTER SIX The Apostate
    (pp. 165-192)

    Two ENCOUNTERS PROVED decisive for Augustine in Milan: the Nicene Christian community of Ambrose and “books of the Platonists.” Although Augustine had had a passing acquaintance since childhood with African Christianity, the form that the new Nicene “Catholic” communion was taking in Milan under the city’s bishop Ambrose was unlike anything he had encountered before. Neo-Nicene Trinitarianism, allegorical interpretation, and liturgical music were as new to Milan as they were to Augustine’s experience of non-Manichaean Christianity, reflecting ideas and practices brought to Milan from elsewhere by a highly literate and widely connected bishop.¹ Likewise, although Augustine certainly knew of Plato...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Conversion
    (pp. 193-217)

    Conversion tends to be thought of and discussed as a sudden, dramatic, and complete transformation of the self, instantly creating a new person changed at the core.¹ The paradigm owes not a little to Augustine’s dramatic account of his own sudden decision to change his life one late summer day in 386 in the garden of a friend’s home in Milan (Conf 8.6.13—12.30). But if anything like the famous scene in the Milanese garden ever occurred, it was only a point along the course of a conversion process. By the time he writes his Confessions, Augustine sees his entire...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Rationalizing Faith
    (pp. 218-243)

    Augustine now occupied the same place with respect to Christianity that he once did to Manichaeism. He had been swept up in the attractiveness of a faith, and a community practicing that faith, largely by his own attribution and embellishment of expectations. He expected “great and hidden goods” (Ord 2.9.26) in the one as he had in the other, but he did not yet know specifically what they would turn out to be. He perforce had to accept the authority of those who keep the mysteries before he was allowed to receive them. This authority set out the prerequisites of...

  12. CHAPTER NINE A New Man?
    (pp. 244-285)

    By the standard tropes of conversion, and by Augustine’s own later occasional, if inconsistent, portrayal of his story, we expect to see a new man embodied in his writings of 386-388, transformed by a breakthrough of new commitments and identifications. Yet even Augustine in his Confessions admitted that he could see continuities between the persona he takes in these materials and his pre-conversion preoccupations (Conf 9.4.7; cf. Retr 1.1.1—1.4.4), just as the earlier convert acknowledged being at the beginnings of faith. The faith that must precede understanding—the faith of the convert—involves becoming open and receptive to a...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 286-302)

    When augustine put the finishing touches to his Confessions, he made his conversion the climax of his narrative, as if that one act of reidentification contained implicitly within it all he would become as a Christian and as a man. He proceeds to end his tale at the harbor of Ostia, as it were looking out across the sea toward his African homeland, pointing to the completion of his journey of self-discovery through conversion, apostasy, and conversion again. The metaphor of the journey had great currency in late antiquity, usually as an image of venturing forth only to return home...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 303-360)
    (pp. 361-388)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 389-400)
    (pp. 401-402)