In Pilgrimage as Moral and Aesthetic Formation, Sarah Stewart-Kroeker devotes herself to following a single term, an image, throughout Augustine’s body of work. Peregrinatio encompasses “at once a journey to the homeland (a “pilgrimage”) and the condition of exile from the homeland” (1). It indicates “a journey, a sojourn,” and peregrini “are travelers, wanderers, resident aliens, foreigners, non-citizens” (11). And, most importantly for Stewart-Kroeker, “peregrinatio is…an image of the believer’s wandering in the world and journey to God” (14). As Stewart-Kroeker reads Augustine, she brings us a bishop and rhetorician who focalizes the long process of self- and communal formation that occurs through the mediation of the incarnate Christ who is both way and homeland.
Stewart-Kroeker’s exploration has a distinctively existential element that is, quite fittingly, captured in the epigraphs to the introduction and conclusion, both taken from Woody Guthrie’s catalogue: “I ain’t got no home in this world anymore” (1) and “And I’m a little butterfly one day old” (245). The first full sentence of this volume, then, is a first-person singular claim about an experience of disjunction in both place and time – home is not got in this world, home is not got anymore. While the lyrics are grammatically in the first-person singular, their meaning inherently is not; we are meant to sing these lines, take them in as our own. They are lines that can be – and are — sung with many voices, in many different worlds and times, with a depth of truth and familiarity and newness. In these simple lines Stewart-Kroeker gives the reader a subtle indication of her poetic approach as she spins out a deeply attentive and analytical reading of soteriology, eschatology, moral psychology, theological aesthetics, ecclesiology and Christology in Augustine’s theological and pastoral reliance on image of peregrinatio.
At the beginning, Stewart-Kroeker tells the reader the end of her analysis:
The state of directionless wandering in which all human beings find themselves as a result of sin must shift to a purposive spiritual journey home, even as the earthly peregrinatio ends only in the eschaton (17).
She proceeds, in the first chapter, to explore Augustine’s reception of the Platonists, in particular, Plotinus. Through his study of the Platonists, Augustine comprehends that way and end are one. Yet, he concludes that the way and end that are one is the incarnate Christ. In the second chapter, she explores the human need of Christ as mediator within Augustine’s theology. Augustine’s discussion of Christ as both the way and the homeland is responsive to the significance of the Roman imperial road system that revolutionized travel. For Stewart-Kroeker, by describing Christ as a royal road, Augustine “draws on and subverts the association with imperial power” while also indicating that his way is “straight, protected, well maintained” (68). As both the way and the destination, Christ’s humanity and divinity reveal that “healing is embodied both on earth and in heaven” (69). To guide people on the path of and to healing, Christ humbly offers himself in the role of beautiful beloved.
Stewart-Kroeker turns our attention in chapter three to the cultivation of love and knowledge through “the purifying journey of moral formation in a human life [that] begins with attraction to beauty” (83). The journey is learning to rightly order one’s love; through following one’s longing and desire along the way of Christ, the believer is continuously refashioned. To open oneself to healing on such a journey requires trust, hope, and a willingness to tell the truth about oneself and God in confession (111). The humility required for truth telling is part of what humans find so beautiful in Christ. This inevitably requires risk, as Stewart-Kroeker discusses in chapter four. She engages the work of Alexander Nehemas, Elaine Scarry, and Iris Murdoch to discuss how the necessity of loving Christ for our own healing does not necessarily give way to tyranny and how the particular loves that are refashioned on our journey are distinctively shaped in each person’s distinctive relationships. By walking this way, humans learn how to use their own love of beauty in order to embrace goodness and truth in Christ.
Such a task cannot be undertaken alone. The fifth and sixth chapters focus on life in community – that is, in the church and then within a widening circle of recognition of our neighbors. The way of Christ is not only the mediator Christ but also Christ’s body, the church, in which participation in the sacraments shape pilgrims’ loves and experience of being loved. In turn, they draw nourishment, then, for loving neighbors with ever-increasing dexterity, neither instrumentalizing nor idolizing the neighbor.
Central to Stewart-Kroeker’s argument – and to this symposium — is her reconsideration of the terms usus (use) and fruitio (enjoyment) in Augustine’s moral framework. As our eternal home, only God might be said to be enjoyed. Use, meanwhile, is the relation one is to maintain with all created, temporal things. Usus and fruitio are often enlisted in contrast to one another in scholarship on Augustine’s theology. Stewart-Kroeker brilliantly resolves this tension by turning to Augustine’s Christology: “Christ as the ontological mediator bridges the divide between temporal mortal creature and eternal incorporeal Creator” and so allows an understanding of love that “encompasses the earthly realities of who human beings are as selves, neighbors, believers – that is, as pilgrims” (239). In a weary world, pilgrims undertake a journey together that transforms one self and one another as fellow travelers along the way that is humanity’s shared home together in Christ.
The volume is an achievement of academic, pastoral, and poetic acumen. In this symposium four wayfarers engage with different aspects of Stewart-Kroeker’s achievements in Pilgrimage as Moral and Aesthetic Formation in Augustine’s Thought: Jane Barter, Jennifer Herdt, Toni Alimi, and Joshua Nunziato.
Barter delves into the complex concept of the Beloved, drawing on Woody Guthrie’s traveling songs and Giorgio Agamben’s reflections on community to ask whether the neighbor can, after all, be loved precisely in, not in spite of, contingency and imperfection. Herdt focuses on Stewart-Kroeker’s approach to the usus/fruitio distinction to explore the relation between sacrifice, desctruction, and healing on the pilgrim’s journey to happiness. Alimi presses for more insight on how beauty might create a community of lovers without requiring universal assent regarding what is beautiful or desirable, and so give way to tyranny. Nunziato explores the element of time – and human maturation and growth across time – to better understand just how it could be that the way and the destination can be one and the same in Christ. How can humans ever come to comprehend such a claim?