Augustine's Love of Wisdom

Augustine's Love of Wisdom: An Introspective Philosophy

Vernon J. Bourke
Copyright Date: 1992
Published by: Purdue University Press
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wq2hp
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  • Book Info
    Augustine's Love of Wisdom
    Book Description:

    Augustine's Love of Wisdom is an analytical and interpretive focus on the first thirty chapters of book ten of Augustine's Autobiographical Confessions. Bourke provides a rich synthesis of key tenets of Augustine's psychology in the context of his philosophical system and selects the most intensive writing of Augustine on the intricacies of the human psyche, providing the reader with insight on an Augustinian explanatory method, introspection.

    eISBN: 978-1-61249-047-2
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. PART ONE Introduction
    • CHAPTER ONE Life and Writings of Augustine
      (pp. 3-16)

      At the age of nineteen, while studying rhetoric in Carthage, Augustine read theHortensius,a short introduction to philosophy written by Cicero. It deeply impressed him with a life-long love of wisdom. As Augustine describes the experience:

      In the regular course of study, I came upon the book of a certain Cicero … that book of his contained an exhortation to philosophy. It was calledHortensius. In fact that book changed my mental attitude … I yearned with unbelievable ardor of heart for the immortality of wisdom.¹

      TheHortensiusis no longer extant in its original format, but we know...

    • CHAPTER TWO Background and Methodology
      (pp. 17-31)

      Western philosophy took its origin from the quarrel between faith and reason in ancient Greece. From the time of Thales (6th century B.C.) on, the myths of Hesiod and Homer were challenged by those who demanded factual data and rational explanations. But it is also the case that religious tenets have nearly always influenced philosophers, either positively or negatively. In the case of Augustine, it is evident that he reacted against the cosmic dualism in the religion of Mani. It is also clear that Augustine was positively influenced by parts of both the Old and the New Testaments. He also...

    • CHAPTER THREE Ten Key Views
      (pp. 32-52)

      There are certain typical ways of looking at philosophical problems. We will consider ten of these starting points of Augustinian philosophy. They help to understand the selected text from theConfessions.

      Like Plotinus, Augustine saw all existing beings arranged on three distinct levels. At the top is the immutable God, subject to no change, perfect in all ways. On the bottom is the world of bodies, imperfect in their mutability, for they change continually, both in place and time. At the middle layer of being are souls, subject to change in time but not in place.

      In an early letter...

  5. PART TWO Text
    • CHAPTER FOUR Confessions, 10.1–30, Latin and English
      (pp. 55-114)

      This selection is from Augustine’s most widely read work,Confessions,book 10, chapters 1–30.

      The Latin text is reprinted, with permission, fromThe Confessions of Augustine,edited by John Gibb and William Montgomery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1927), 272–305. (This text, with informative notes in English, does not differ significantly from the more recent critical edition of M. Skutella, 1934, reprinted in the Bibliothèque Augustinienne series, 1962, vols. 13 and 14; Skutella was revised but not substantially changed by H. Juergens and W. Schaub, 1969. Indeed, except for the footnote variants, the Gibb-Montgomery text differs little from the...

  6. PART THREE Commentary
    • CHAPTER FIVE Searching for Divine Wisdom
      (pp. 117-127)

      This begins an explanation of a text selected from Augustine’sConfessions(10.1–30) that is pivotal in the development of his philosophic thinking. The first nine books of this work told the story of his life up to the time of his return to North Africa from his years of teaching in Rome and Milan. Like many other Platonists, the young Augustine had hoped to retire with some students and friends in Tagaste, where he could devote his time to the pursuit of wisdom.

      But his selection by the Catholic people of Hippo to be ordained their priest under Bishop...

    • CHAPTER SIX How God Is Known and Loved
      (pp. 128-141)

      In these next three chapters, Augustine turns to God’s knowledge of him, to his knowledge of God, and then to his love of God. We may compare these chapters with a passage in theSoliloquies (2.1.1),where Augustine simply says: “May I know myself, may I know Thee”(noverim me, noverim Te).

      He says first: “Thou, O Lord, dost judge me”(Tu enim, domine, dijudicas me). The Latindijudicaremeans to “pass judgment” on some object; but it also means “to discern, to see right through something.” Since judgment is, for Augustine, a very distinctive climax to understanding,¹ this is...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Memory and Its Wonders
      (pp. 142-155)

      This begins Augustine’s profound study of memory(memoria),a term that covers much more than the remembrance of things past. Memory is a feature of the soul that extends far beyond the consciousness of retained or present experiences, to projections into the future, and to some aspects of the subconscious mind.¹

      Augustine turns from his discussion of the soul’s capacity to sense various qualities of bodies and says: “I shall also pass above this power of my nature”(Transibo ergo et istam naturae meae,8.12). This is another step in his ascent toward God, his Maker(ascendens ad eum, qui....

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Deeper into Memory
      (pp. 156-165)

      In this chapter, we shall examine a portion of book 10 in which previously discussed topics are reemphasized and a number of new questions are introduced.

      At the end of 12.19, Augustine spoke rather defiantly about a critic who ridiculed him for thinking that there are imageless objects of recollection. “I shall pity him for laughing at me”(rideat me ista dicentem, qui non eos videt, et ego doleam ridentem me),he says. So he begins chapter 13 with the claim, “I hold all these things in memory, and I also remember the way I learned them”(haec omnia memoria...

    • CHAPTER NINE Oblivion and Transcendence
      (pp. 166-178)

      The next four chapters (16–19) introduce a number of problems having to do with forgetting and with the possibility of transcending ordinary experience in consciousness and rising to a union with perfect divine wisdom. Some of Augustine’s queries here have been called abstruse,¹ but he admits that sometimes one becomes a mystery to oneself.²

      “When I name oblivion, and likewise recognize what I am naming, what would be the source of my recognition, if I did not remember it?”(Cum oblivionem nomina atque itidem agnosco quod nomino, unde agnosceram nisi meminissem?). Is Augustine asking how one can remember forgetting...

    • CHAPTER TEN Happiness and Immortality
      (pp. 179-190)

      Throughout chapters 20 to 23, Augustine tries to convince his readers that the “happy life”(beata vita)for humans is really the life of “blessedness”(beatitudo). That is to say, he sees no possibility of true human self-perfection apart from God. In this context, Augustinian philosophy is obviously theocentric. It will not work without a supreme being who presides over all events in the universe. But he is also convinced that complete happiness cannot be achieved by people in an earthly life, so he argues that the universal desire for happiness shows that the human soul must not die with...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Eternal Truth in Memory
      (pp. 191-201)

      Augustine continues in chapters 24 through 27 to ask many questions about his search for the highest wisdom, but now he is less tentative in suggesting some answers to his queries. It is through the attribute of divine truth that he finds the best ground for his assertions.

      All that he knows about God is kept in memory: “Nor have I found anything about Thee which I did not keep in memory, ever since I learned of Thee”(neque enim aliquid de te inveni, quod non meminissem ex quo didici te). All this questioning and mulling over possible answers is...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Wisdom and Sensuality
      (pp. 202-209)

      At the end of his introspective study of memory, Augustine has turned to a poetic chant of praise directly addressed to God as the source of beauty, justice, wisdom, and all higher values. This hymn continues in chapters 28 through 30, with which our commentary will terminate.

      Throughout book 10, Augustine expresses his hopes of attaining some sort of meeting with God in a future life. His expectation of this event is described at the start of chapter 28: “When I shall cleave to Thee with all my being, sorrow and toil will no longer exist for me”(Cum inhaesero...

  7. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 210-214)

    But what of wisdom, the love of which has given the name “philosophy” to one of the most important areas of human study? Wisdom is one of the key names of God inThe Trinity(15.7.12), but what does Augustine finally say about it in theConfessions?One answer is found in book 12 (15.20). There he sees two levels of sapiential knowledge:

    Though we do not find time before it (for “wisdom has been created before all things,” Ecclesiasticus 1:4), it is certainly not that wisdom which is absolutely co-eternal and equal with. Thee, O God of ours, Its...

  8. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 215-224)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 225-234)