Symposium Introduction

Introduction

Ash Cocksworth

 

Jonathan Teubner’s Prayer after Augustine: A Study in the Development of the Latin Tradition is a book of many moving parts.

There is the historical part. This comes in the form of the close textual analysis of a select set of Augustine’s writings on prayer (in part 1) and then (in part 2) some of the critical writings that appeared after Augustine in sixth-century Italy by the philosopher Boethius and the monk Benedict. On the face of it, Prayer after Augustine could be read as a valuable piece of historical theology that traces the twists and turns in Augustine’s theory and practice of prayer and how, in turn, those writings shape and are shaped by those writing after Augustine. An assessment of the book on the basis of its handling of these texts alone, however, is to miss something fundamental.

There is the doctrinal part. This comes in the form of an investigation of some of the central doctrines that animated Augustine’s theological imagination—Christology (especially Teubner’s discussion of the process of “putting on” Christ and the totus Christus motif), pneumatology (especially in Teubner’s theory of “pneumatological failure”), the Trinity, as well as theological themes close to the heart of any study of Augustine: desire, the ascent of the soul, wisdom, and patience. The twist in this particular study is that each of these doctrinal and thematic loci is explored via the practice of prayer. In fact, in Teubner’s telling of Augustine’s ideational development, his doctrinal thinking intensifies as his spiritual life matures such that it is impossible to get a measure of one without the other.

There is the spiritual part. This is the contribution Prayer after Augustine makes to the understanding of how one of the giants of the Western tradition comes to appreciate prayer. Despite all that has been said about Augustine and for all the agreement that prayer is central to his theological imagination, there has been surprisingly little scholarly investigation into what Augustine actually thought about prayer. However, Teubner resists the instinct of others to head straight to the go-to text on prayer (the Confessions) by coming at Augustine’s theory of prayer via some of his more speculative writings: such as Soliloquia and De trinitate and through the doctrines mentioned above. If nothing else, the exchange with Luigi Gioia in this symposium demonstrates just how difficult it is to talk of Augustine’s theory of prayer without talking about his Christology or pneumatology or the doctrine of the Trinity. But again, the full significance of this book does not lie in its efforts to understand the phenomenon of prayer alone, and to focus on the theory of prayer that emerges from Teubner’s analysis also misses something fundamental.

There is the part on tradition. This comes through Teubner’s resourceful categorisation of “Augustinianism 1” and “Augustinianism 2”. While the former is concerned with the direct literary borrowings “from the pen” of Augustine (15), the latter investigates “the use of certain general orientations and constellations of thought from Augustine without necessarily sharing specific doctrinal positions” (15).

Then, there are the programmatic interventions. Interweaved through the book are the interventions in theological methodology (in the “Theological Prelude”), historiography (in the “Historiographical Interlude”), and contemporary ethical theory (in “An Ethical Postlude”). That Teubner is as deft at handling under-researched writings of Augustine as he is battling Harnack’s historiography and reframing contemporary debates on the “kinematics of tradition” (209) in dialogue with Alasdair MacIntyre and Jeffrey Stout suggests something of this book’s bang for buck.

It is not a case of Prayer after Augustine being more than the sum of its moving parts as this does not seem to do enough justice to the important contributions each of the parts make to their respective disciplines in and of themselves. It is more that this is the sort of book that is best read in sum: that is, to see each of the parts moving together and (to an extent) disrupting each other. Read this way, and marked by its unashamed refusal to play by the usual rules of doing historical theology or straight down the line ethics, the chief contribution, I think, Prayer after Augustine makes is found in its reimagining of how these categories play out in a more comprehensive than otherwise systematic theology—and some of this reimagining is fleshed out in the discussion below.

Because of its many moving parts, this is an awkward book to categorise. Yet there is something thematically appropriate about the disciplinary awkwardness of Prayer after Augustine. Any familiarity with the processes of praying will know that prayer bends around otherwise cleanly cut categories. It is affective, cognitive, embodied; it is traditioned and irreducibly particular; individual and corporate; now and not yet; possible and impossible; and, for a figure such as Augustine, fully divine and fully human. A good deal about “learning to pray” (the focus of chap. 1), then, is about learning to live with these paradoxes, tensions, and awkwardnesses. Perhaps the full complexities of these dynamics are most articulately felt in precisely that: in the realm of feeling, experience, and actual embodied practice. Whether, then, this book does and can do full justice on the page to these dynamics leaves Kirsty Borthwick wondering what has happened to the corporate dimensions of prayer in the tendency she perceives in the book to focus on the individual pray-er. By the same token, Han-Luen Kantzer Komline is concerned that the book “over-emphasizes” prayer to such an extent that it becomes, unrecognisably for Augustine, so much a human work it cannot avoid getting implicated in his own critique of Pelagianism and then, in his response, Andrew Prevot is interested in whether the over-emphasis he senses in Teubner’s account of the worldly nature of prayer (underpinned conceptually by the ever-present reality of prayer’s “failure,” into which Kevin Grove also probes) could be balanced by an eschatology that moves closer to the “theosis-friendly” account of prayer Prevot has in mind and is developing elsewhere.

To gain a better handle on what Teubner is up to across the volume, and so frame this symposium, I focus the rest of this introduction on what to do after Prayer after Augustine. One of the many merits of this particular book is the way it quickly becomes as much a book to think “with” as to think “about” any particular aspect of Augustine’s theology. We get a sense of its unusually long half-life when Komline notes that, despite its ambition and reach, this book makes no claims for finality—it does not aim to be the book on Augustine on prayer any less than it claims to settle all the questions about tradition it raises. But it does seek to raise those questions and generate new conversation (the beginnings of which, as we’ll see, are already taking form for Teubner in this book’s sequel: Charity after Augustine). There are three aftereffects I would like to highlight.

  1. In the “Theological Prelude,” Teubner aligns himself with Michel René Barnes, Lewis Ayres, Rowan Williams, and others who have called for a broadening of the interpretive parameters operating within Augustine studies to include more marginal but no less vital writings of Augustine. It is not only the fixed canon of texts that need loosening, but also the grip of historical frames through which those texts are read (e.g., the Pelagian Controversy). I think this sort of hermeneutical reframing has something to say about how other historical figures are read as much as it does about the reading of Augustine. Sarah Coakley has shown just what comes of approaching Origen and others by what they wrote de oratione rather than first through their more doctrinal or philosophical teaching. Likewise, Randall Zachman and others have argued convincingly that there is much more to Calvin than the Institutes. But, following in the footsteps of Teubner, there is more work to be done to improve the way other magisterial theologians are read—Barth studies, for example, is still largely reliant on the Church Dogmatics, and for a long while was framed by the grip of the Trinity-election debate in a way almost akin to the interpretative hold of the Pelagian Controversy over Augustine studies. Related are larger questions Teubner provokes concerning the geographical sites in which theology is said to take place. In his “Historiographical Interlude,” Teubner issues a call to confront the hangovers of the interpretive biases operating within late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century scholarship that kept sixth-century Italy off the map of the development of the Augustinian tradition. Again, the question Teubner is pursuing has implications beyond the reception of Augustinianism in providing some conceptual resources to confront other interpretive biases that continue to see the neglect of some parts of the world in the production of the right sort of theological knowledge.
  2. Another aftereffect of Prayer after Augustine concerns the double-dynamic of Augustinianism 1 and Augustinianism 2. Teubner’s account of the formation, transmission, and adaption of tradition is explored by nearly all the panellists (Pervot, Komline, Grove, and Borthwick). While I will leave it for the panellists to assess the helpfulness of these categories for understanding Augustine and his tradition, it strikes me that Teubner’s categories of Augustinianism 1 and Augustinianism 2 are handy to think through the idea of tradition in other traditions. What would it mean to think in terms of Lutheranism 1 and Lutheranism 2; Methodism 1 and Methodism 2; Pentecostalism 1 and Pentecostalism 2; and so on?
  3. Finally, perhaps the most significant aftereffect of this study has to do with prayer itself. Has prayer become, in Teubner’s reimagining of systematic theology, as much the domain of the scholar as the monk? This is something Gioia seems to be reaching for in his review: here, there is an explicit concern to get Augustine right which, for Gioia, means being completely clear about the trinitarian shape of prayer that he feels is lacking in Teubner’s theorising. But the real issue, it would seem, is not only about getting Augustine right, but the even graver concern of getting prayer wrong. For Gioia at least, the stakes of Teubner’s reframing of systematic theology could not be higher.

Before the symposium gets properly underway, it remains for me to thank Jonathan for writing what I think is a compelling and engaging study and for responding with such eloquence and generosity to his reviewers all the while negotiating the complexities of lockdown. And, of course, my thanks to Andrew, Han-leun, Kirsty, Kevin, and Luigi for providing such generative and provocative engagements with the book. It has been an immense privilege curating a panel featuring such inspiring and creative people.

Andrew Prevot

Response

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

I am very grateful for the invitation to respond to Jonathan Teubner’s extraordinarily helpful study. After summarizing what I take the book to be doing and arguing, I shall attempt to open up a friendly dialogue about pneumatology.

This book joins others in the wake of Alasdair MacIntyre and Jeffrey Stout in its reflection on the nature of tradition. It does this in a distinctive way by considering, not just one, but multiple Augustinian traditions. There is not only the twofold reception of Augustine in Boethius and Benedict, which Teubner treats adeptly in the second part of the book. There is also the doubling of Augustinianism as “Augustinianism 1” (direct citation) and “Augustinianism 2” (conceptual coherence), a doubling which recurs in his treatments of both Boethius and Benedict. Add to this the development of Augustine’s thought that is presented with vivid detail in the first part of the book. This development constitutes a sort of tradition internal to Augustine: a series of receptions, variations, and innovations that he makes with respect to his own motifs over time. There are also the modern Augustinian traditions involving post-Reformation debates about grace and human subjectivity, which figure prominently in twentieth-century discussions of Augustinianism, by theologians such as Henri de Lubac (see pp. 13–14). However, this is a conversation Teubner largely sidesteps in order to study earlier and lesser-known ways that the legacy of Augustine has been transmitted.

This book also reflects on the nature of prayer, and in this way immediately captures my interest (some will know that I am thoroughly obsessed with this topic). Prayer acts as a guiding thread that not only ties Augustine’s disparate works together but also reveals continuities with major premodern philosophical (Boethius) and monastic (Benedict) inheritors. A particular account of the meaning of prayer in Augustine provides Teubner with his definition of what is essentially “Augustinian.” This definition grounds his appeals to Augustinianism 2 in the second half of the book. If key features of this particular account of prayer are detectable in a subsequent figure (does the figure have to be subsequent?), this person could be deemed Augustinian in a real, substantive sense even if there is scant direct citation.

Of course, Boethius and Benedict do refer directly to Augustine, demonstrating that they also fit squarely within an investigation of Augustinianism 1. Moreover, some of their direct references to Augustine are related to his teachings and practices of prayer. So Teubner’s argument is on solid footing even if one believes that Augustinianism 1 is the only valid scholarly strategy for reconstructing an Augustinian tradition of prayer.

Yet I, for one, am glad that Teubner uses his account of what prayer means for Augustine to identify patterns and continuities beyond instances of explicit citation. By expanding his argument in this way, Teubner seems to indicate that his greatest interest lies in a robust type of tradition which does not merely consist in the evident fact of textual dependence but in a certain prayerful way of thinking and living, which appears in similar though different ways in diverse periods and contexts of Christian history. The question of what prayer is—and might be still for us today—is really the heart of the book. This is the existentially weighty question animating all of the painstaking exegesis. Although the moniker “Augustinian” might be most obviously warranted and defensible in cases of Augustinianism 1, the constellation of ideas and practices under the heading of Augustinianism 2 is arguably of higher theological value. Where tight bonds of textual dependence become scarce, a question might arise regarding who “owns” this constellation, what name gets to mark it. Is it best to call it “Augustinian,” or more broadly “Latin,” or more broadly still “Christian”? But this proprietary question seems less important to me than the constellation itself, the opportunity to consider what is at stake in it, and the prompt to let it come forth with fresh energy and seriousness. Teubner’s Augustinianism 2 is an invitation to participate in the great mystery of prayer in which Augustine himself in fact only participated. Augustine would be the first to recognize he is not its author. And I take it that such participation is what tradition means in the deepest sense, for Teubner.

So, what is prayer according to Teubner’s reading of Augustine? From the early Soliloquia to the later De trinitate, Teubner tracks Augustine’s evolving understanding of prayer as a desire for eternal wisdom, beatitude, and repose, occurring in the interior of the human being (whether construed as mens, anima, or cor), but also orienting the human being upward and outward in love of God and neighbor. Augustine’s thinking is shaped, not only by a certain type of Christian Neoplatonism (which is well known), but also, Teubner stresses, by Augustine’s experiences of monastic-like community beginning in Cassiciacum and continuing in Thagaste. Over time, Augustine’s teaching on prayer increasingly emphasizes the reading of scripture (especially the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer), participation in the life of the incarnate Word through the practice of humility and membership in the church (as totus Christus), patient waiting in history for a fulfillment of interior desires that can only be eschatological, a long period of purification (deprecari) and obscure knowledge (scientia, meditatio, and dark enigmatic groping as opposed to sapientia, contemplatio, and true beatific vision), which amounts this side of eternity to a condition of inescapable struggle, weakness, and epistemic “failure” (89, 107). In a move that reflects Sarah Coakley’s theological use of the same biblical passage, Teubner emphasizes Augustine’s account of the Holy Spirit’s intercession with inexpressible groans and sighs from Romans 8:26, an intercession which happens because we do not know how to pray as we ought (92). Teubner accordingly argues that, for Augustine, the Holy Spirit is active precisely in the precarity—that is, the vulnerability, imperfection, and plaintive yearning—of a fallen humanity that strives but fails to find rest. This is the properly “Augustinian” meaning of prayer that resurfaces in Boethius and Benedict and justifies their inclusion in Augustinianism 2.

There is much about this account that I find compelling. First, there is Teubner’s careful attention to several relatively marginal texts of Augustine in their original Latin, e.g., De magistro, De vera religione, and De sermone domini in monte. As rich as Confessions is, it is nice to see other works receive comparable attention. More substantively, an account of prayer that accents human frailty, christological humility, pneumatological groaning, and the distance between history and eschatology is particularly welcome at a time of manifest violence in the world. Individual and political pretensions of godlike power have produced atrocities at borders; in prisons; in impoverished neighborhoods; in war zones; in churches, synagogues, and mosques; and in countless spaces of ordinary life—cruelties which demonstrate that humankind is nowhere near the happy life of peace and love that a prayerful heart is supposed to desire. We have a long, long way to go. We remain in desperate need of deprecari, that is, a practice of prayer and action that seeks deliverance from evil (9).

Although I largely accept this pre-eschatological picture of the world and of prayer’s status within it (one that incidentally resonates with that of Jean-Yves Lacoste), I do wonder if there is another way to read Augustine’s pneumatology, which might have some positive East-West ecumenical significance and helpfully round out Teubner’s account of prayer. In a few places, Teubner contrasts the Latin tradition of patient endurance represented by Augustine with a Greek tradition of divinization represented by Origen, Evagrius, and Cassian (43, 181), indicating what seems a clear preference for the former. This preference is perhaps most evident in Teubner’s “pneumatology of failure,” drawn from Augustine’s reading of Romans 8:26. That Teubner has such a preference is fine (with me). We all have preferences, and if mine are for a more theosis-friendly account of prayer (something I am still actively weighing), I do not expect that this would be a universal position. I simply want to explore reasons which might be offered for or against it, in order to encourage some conversation on this point.

No doubt, Orthodox theologians will have serious critiques of Augustine’s defense of the filioque in De trinitate XV.6.48 that I cannot hope to address here (and, as a Catholic, I am not necessarily against some version of the filioque). But there is a pneumatological discussion earlier in this final book of De trinitate which Orthodox theologians could find somewhat more congenial and which might complement Teubner’s emphasis on a pneumatology of failure. I am referring to Augustine’s interpretation of Romans 5:5: “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (XV.5.31).

This Pauline utterance is the cornerstone of Augustine’s pneumatology in De trinitate XV. It not only establishes the Holy Spirit’s position as “will” in Augustine’s so-called psychological analogy but also expresses the Holy Spirit’s powerful role in the Christian believer’s transformed life of grace and charity even prior to the eschaton. Augustine writes: “So the love which is from God and is God is distinctively the Holy Spirit; through Him the charity of God is poured out into our hearts, and through it the whole triad dwells in us” (XV.5.32). Even now, the entire Trinity becomes abidingly present in us by means of the divine charity that is given to us through and as the Holy Spirit. We receive this gift imperfectly because of our moral corruption and epistemic weakness, but it is a real gift and we must have some capacity to receive it (our divided wills can change, as Augustine’s does in Confessions VIII). According to Acts, this reception of the Holy Spirit happens in history through the events of Pentecost, through Baptism, and through a life of communal love. Teubner is right that a fierce longing for ultimate wisdom and joy remains, and must remain, as long as this fragile life lasts. Yet the Holy Spirit does more than groan with and for us in this wayfarer state. The Holy Spirit “pours” God’s love into us. Augustine resists any Eunomian diminishment of the divine status of the Holy Spirit by arguing that the Holy Spirit “is given as God’s gift in such a way that as God he also gives himself” (XV.5.36). This gift that is itself God must be able to succeed in some meaningful sense in the here and now even if the full realization of this gift is not temporally accessible.

Such a reading of Augustine’s pneumatology suggests the possibility of perceiving Augustine, if not as a champion of deification (which would be an overstatement given the countervailing evidence), at least as somewhat less adverse to it than one might first suppose. Such a reading allows one to trace lines of continuity between Augustine and certain medieval mystical theologians such as Meister Eckhart and Teresa of Avila who emphasize the presence of the eternal God in the soul. With good reason, Teubner underscores the “not yet” of Christian prayer, but there is also in many Christian traditions, including some Augustinian Christian traditions, a shockingly bold affirmation of the “already”: an almost incredible claim regarding the extraordinary effects of uncreated grace in apparently ordinary existence. This would be my one point of playful, spirited pushback, in deference to the dialogical intentions of this Syndicate forum.

In closing, I want to reiterate that I am immensely grateful for the particular traditions of Augustinian (and Boethian and Benedictine) prayer that Teubner makes available to contemporary readers. This book is a gift to all those interested in questions of tradition and especially in the thinking and practice of prayer. Prayer after Augustine, if I may finally evoke its title, is an erudite work of historical theology and spirituality with real relevance to the struggles of Christians today.

  • Jonathan Teubner

    Jonathan Teubner

    Reply

    Response to Prevot

    Prayer after Augustine began life as a doctoral dissertation, one that, like so many others, found its thesis during the actual process of writing it. I was, admittedly, casting about trying to determine where I fell on some larger questions, the kinds that a doctoral student in religion and theology is rather (and maybe rightly) interested in: What, if any, control might we have over our lives? What might the concrete practices of our religious lives reveal about the possibilities to control and manipulate our lives, “inner” or “outer”? And, if control has slipped from our fingers, what social form might our religious practices take? Submission? Resistance? Transformation?

    These are, of course, heady questions that, in my case, extend from the anxieties of college and graduate school, but quite predictably slipped out of focus among the overwhelming demands of early professional existence. So it is bracing, if not a little frightening, to have Andrew Prevot probe so concisely some of my professional anxieties that, as I can now see, manifested themselves in larger questions over the relationship of Augustine’s understanding and practice of prayer with those forms that are commonly described as “Greek” or “Eastern.” In hindsight, some of what I said about “participation” in Augustine’s thought could certainly be improved. But the effort to say something about the difference between Augustine and, say, his Greek forbearers, not to mention those in later Latin traditions who drew from him, was motivated, as Prevot rightly perceives, by my efforts to understand the phenomenon of prayer itself.

    In what follows, I would like to offer a half-hearted apologia for my resistance to a fully-fledged Augustinian theosis. This is, to some extent, a foolish endeavor, not least because apologiae are really only successful when they are full-hearted: in the apologia category, no points are awarded for acknowledging that you are quite possibly wrong. More seriously, I must acknowledge that the balance of the field in Augustinian studies is rather set against my view: David Vincent Meconi’s The One Christ: St. Augustine’s Theology of Deification is rightly appreciated for the skill and care with which it made a very probable case for a more theosis-friendly Augustine, and one must, of course, mention the efforts by Lewis Ayres and others to correct the record on Augustine’s Trinitarian thought and practice in such a way that makes plausible Meconi’s argument. Both Meconi and Ayres and Co. rightly point us to the passages Prevot has highlighted, and I am rightly chastened for my failure to discuss, in particular, Romans 5:5.

    My concern, however, was with the kind of sociality Augustine’s vision of Christian existence would inspire. The issue for me begins and ends with what kind of control or “power” Augustine was willing to ascribe to the Christian and its consequences or implications for a Christian sociality. Unfortunately, I failed to articulate this very well in the book itself, in part because I hadn’t fully come to terms with the question I was really asking (and I’m still not sure I have fully come to terms with it). But as I can see now, there were two places that I was wrestling with the question of control: the ineluctably flawed nature of spiritual community in Augustine’s exposition of Psalm 132 and the inescapable ignorance that marks humans’ efforts to “think the divine” in his comments on Romans 8:25–7 in De anima et eius origine. In both cases, I ascribed a certain kind of anti-Pelagianism to Augustine’s social and intellectual forms of prayer. In sum, it came down to the statement that is probably just as much my own view of the matter as something I was drawing out of Augustine: we cannot pretend to live or think as persons other than what we are, that is, frail humans who are all too likely to grasp, as Prevot so eloquently puts it, the “godlike powers” of domination and control.

    For the moment, I’d like to focus on Augustine’s exposition of Psalm 132, which is one of his most extensive commentaries on the monastic life. Running throughout all of Augustine’s explicitly “monastic” reflections is the question how the inmates might “dwell together in unity,” given the flawed nature of community. What, in other words, does spiritual flourishing look like in a community that is, at best, characterized by petty bickering but all too often takes a violent form? In his enarratio on Psalm 132, we find Augustine reaching for the motif of the totus Christus—the “whole Christ,” both the “head” as the person of Christ and the “body” as the church. For many who work in Augustine studies, my commentary on Augustine’s motif of totus Christus is equal parts deficient and defective: deficient for the number of texts I address and defective for the resolutely deflationary reading I offer of it. Leaving aside for the moment the bean-counting propensity of much of Augustine scholarship, my reading of the totus Christus was descriptive of the Christian community as it exists in the here-and-now (as opposed to being proscriptive for how the Christian community will be in the age-to-come). Augustine’s pastoral efforts were precisely an effort to help his fellow monastic inmates, as well as those who gathered to hear him preach, to see the divine therein. In other words, Augustine’s totus Christus ought to be read in light of the divisions Augustine was attempting to repair in his communities. And, I think, this is where Prevot desires that I say more, particularly in regard to acknowledging that the Holy Spirit does more than groan with and for us in this wayfarer state: the Spirit “pours” God’s love into us.

    But this is where Augustine’s comments on Romans 8:25–27 in De anima et eius origine 4 come into play for me. What I didn’t say there (but am currently dwelling on in the follow-up volume, Charity after Augustine) is that, perhaps, the love that the Spirit “pours” does not meet our expectations, that it looks far from the ideal we have in mind. Moreover, Augustine seems rather ambivalent about the value of having such an ideal. In his exposition of Psalm 86, he warns that our efforts to discern what that fully and completely harmonious community might look like would be nothing else than a projection of our highest pleasures. I have elsewhere speculated that, perhaps, the concept of deification cannot, for Augustine, be analyzed according to its fulfillment or telos, that the very property of its being eschatologically fulfilled cuts it off from its temporal preliminaries. In other words, we do not have epistemic access to that which transpires in the age to come. But I think now that that response, initially given as a review of Meconi’s The One Christ, misses the point. Rather, might the love that God pours into our hearts here and now be yet fallible? Might it look a lot like bickering and, in extreme cases, violence? We all yearn for that pristine picture of love and harmony, but do we have the ethical and epistemic warrants to excise coercion, violence, and abuse that would be necessary for such purified images? If we cannot so neatly separate “good” and “bad” love, what does this imply about the Spirit’s role in our loves? Projecting ahead through many steps of this argument, the danger I see lurking in conceptualist attempts to pull in the Spirit is that we cannot generate a universal rule or guarantee that our attempts to call down the Spirit will bring harmony and peace. Might out attempts to call down the Spirit be implicated, at times, in our strikingly well-developed competence to love each other to death? If so, I think we must walk carefully in a spirit of confession and penitence toward such claims, keeping in mind the inescapable fallibility of our efforts to heal division.

    At the time of writing Prayer after Augustine I had, as is now clear to me, something like a caricature of theosis in mind. There is much that I ascribed to Augustine that could, in parts, be equally ascribed to Origen and even Evagrius. On historical as well as systematic grounds, I think Prevot is right to push me to acknowledge the touchpoints between Augustine’s world and those that came before him, particularly, in Greek milieux, as well as those Latin writers who came after and, in many cases, drew inspiration from his writings. I avoided providing much commentary on the Confessions because I thought others had told that story so well, but I think my account would have been much improved if I spent more time walking the reader through it. This is, in part, because Augustine weaves together an account of the Holy Spirit “pouring” love into his heart as he learned to pray to God as Trinity. But it also would have allowed me to clarify that Augustine’s “failed” ascents of the soul were not some amateurish version of Origen, Evagrius, or Pseudo-Dionysius, but were rather his attempts to communicate that no amount of effort or discipline can control or manipulate the Spirit’s gratuitous gift of love.

    In keeping with the dialogical intentions of this Syndicate forum that Prevot has admirably embodied, I would like to pose a question back: Why are we so terribly interested in theosis or deification today? Deification has had its moments in the past, and here I am thinking, in particular, of the émigré theologians living in Paris in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, an equally if not more precarious time to our own. So, what are we attempting to achieve with this doctrine? Is it, tacitly, to return to the personal, a kind of effort to come to terms with our increasingly precarious world, marked by an inequality that would even shock many citizens of the Roman Empire? I’m intrigued by Prevot’s interest in a more theosis-friendly account, but confess that I fear the danger of accounts that distract us from our calling to repair the world as we have received it.

    • Andrew Prevot

      Andrew Prevot

      Reply

      The Spirit in History

      I’d like to thank Teubner for his thoughtful question and offer just a few thoughts in response. To paraphrase, he asks why there is presently such an active interest among theologians in theosis, a pneumatology that does not fail, a real gift of God’s love poured into our hearts, and so on. I hesitate to speculate about historical or cultural reasons. Although troubling aspects of the world today may prompt us to desire a dramatic infusion of divine charity that would right its wrongs, the same conditions may also encourage a sober recognition of human failures and corruptions, which seem inescapable. The truth about life, and about the life of prayer in particular, is not only grace and not only sin but their perpetual conflict in societies and hearts. In addition to exegetical and ecumenical commitments, which are genuine–I want to get Augustine right and I don’t want to drive any further wedges between Eastern and Western Christianity–my reasons for highlighting Romans 5:5 also have to do with a fundamental theological conviction, one which guides my scholarship and my own practices of prayer, namely that no matter how bad things get (and they do get hellaciously bad), God’s goodness is still greater and ultimately has the strength to prevail. This belief could be embarrassingly naive. Or, if true, it could assure us only of an unknown eschatological resolution. But I really do find it hard to shake, and I think it at least sometimes bears on historical possibilities. I am thinking of moments when divine love really does take hold of a soul or a community and transforms it–like it does for the Spirit-led feminist, abolitionist preacher Sojourner Truth and for the publics still moved by her words. I’m trying to understand theologically how that sort of change happens, and I suppose my worry is that a pneumatology which is only one of epistemic and/or moral failure does not fully account for the admittedly far-too-rare “success” stories which demonstrate the possibility of divinely infused holiness in history.

Han-luen Kantzer Komline

Response

The Spirit and the Letter

In Jonathan D. Teubner’s Prayer after Augustine: A Study in the Development of the Latin Tradition, two major theses converge. We find in the body of the book the argument that Boethius and Benedict represent two streams of the Augustinian tradition. The neglect of these two authors is part of a larger neglect of sixth-century reception of Augustine in Italy, Teubner contends. But if we examine the work of these two thinkers, we see that they not only borrow directly from Augustine, receiving him in an empirically demonstrable way, but also imbibe from him a kind of ethos or sensibility. This latter form of influence is identified not by literal dependence and parallels but by a cluster of themes and embodied practices: prayer, the totus Christus, humility, patience, hope. Establishing this reading of the Augustinian tradition would, on its own, be no mean accomplishment.

But Teubner’s book moves beyond this descriptive task to make a proposal about the meaning of the Augustinian tradition. The question is as simple as the answer is complex: “What makes something count as Augustinian?” Teubner’s intervention is to propose that more than one answer to this question should be acknowledged as valid. The search for “Augustinianism 1,” which consists in concrete, specific, demonstrable instances of direct borrowing from Augustine such as might be pointed out in a critical edition, is—on its own—unable to account for the complexity and richness of the Augustinian tradition. Rather, we ought to broaden our purview to allow for a more fluid sense of Augustine’s legacy that includes “Augustinianism 2,” which would consist in the presence of a cluster of conceptual and practical currents, even when there is no explicit mention of Augustine or borrowing of his terminology.

Teubner’s historical study of Augustine, Boethius, and Benedict illustrates how one might analyze Augustine’s reception in a way that moves beyond the confines of Augustinianism 1 to account for Augustinianism 2 as well. But Teubner presents this reception as just one case of a more universal phenomenon. He exhorts readers to lift their eyes from dead words on a page to consider the living legacy of traditions. We need both the spirit and the letter.

Among innumerable questions raised by this densely-argued yet wide-ranging text, I have chosen to focus on two sets of inquiries, one regarding Teubner’s interpretation of Augustine, and one regarding the methodological thesis of the book. First, to the issue of interpretation.

Interpreting Augustine

Teubner notes more than once his intention to avoid being sucked into the Pelagian controversy, that black hole of Augustinian studies whose irresistible gravitational pull would seem to rival that of Augustinian grace itself. This conflict with Pelagius and his followers, he emphasizes, has dominated for too long. Other aspects of Augustine’s thinking deserve attention.

I respect Teubner’s effort to bring balance to the field and do not wish to take him where he does not want to go. But given the importance of this controversy both for Augustine’s legacy and for his own thinking, one cannot help but bear it in mind and I believe it is helpful to do so. Even if we shift our focus away from the Pelagian controversy, we cannot go far in Augustine’s earlier corpus without encountering the basic impulses about the nature of grace, divine initiative, and the role of human agency in human salvation that came to a head in it. Reading Teubner’s book with these quintessentially “Augustinian” issues in mind, a number of statements about prayer popped off the page. In a word, my concern with these statements boils down to this. Teubner seems to have accomplished the impossible. He has overstated the importance of prayer. He sees the “Augustinian” understanding of prayer and the genuine kind of human action it ought to represent as having a power that pits it against some of Augustine’s most crucial insights about grace, famously brought to a point in the Pelagian controversy. This becomes clear in a number of theses he advances.

First, Teubner seems to accord the Christian a role in Christ’s work as mediator. In interpreting Augustine’s Commentary on Galatians, Teubner refers to Christians putting on, not just Christ himself, but Christ’s mediation, referencing “the induere of Christ’s mediation” (70); the idea that “the Christian enters into this human-divine mediation through the imitation of Christ’s humility” (70); the view that “the Christian thus enters into the human-divine mediation through imitation of Christ’s humility by a process of putting on (induere) Christ” (71); and the notion of “‘putting on’ Christ’s mediation” (75). Consistency suggests that the precise wording of these formulations is calculated, not accidental.

But in the passage upon which Teubner’s argument is based, exp. Gal. 24.2—28.6, Augustine never once refers to “putting on Christ’s mediation.” He does speak of having “faith in the Mediator” and, following Paul (Gal 3:26–27), of us “putting on Christ” and thereby becoming “sons of God and brothers of the Mediator” (27.3–4). Yet he never lays the weight of Christ’s mediatorial work on the shoulders of the saints. We have here, then, an intentional move beyond Augustine’s own expressions, which, like any interpretation, raises questions.

Is this move consistent with the thrust of Augustine’s own argument? Here it is pertinent to note that in the passage from his Commentary on Galatians in question, Augustine consistently plays Christ’s mediatorial work off against human merits rather than suggesting that human beings contribute to it. The “righteousness of faith” made possible by Christ’s work as mediator “was not given to human beings on account of merit but on account of God’s mercy and grace” (24.11).1 Human beings are “righteous not by their own power and strength, but by the hand of the mediator who justifies the impious” (24.14). And: “For the law showed that what the Jews, blinded by custom, could regard as righteousness was sin, so that having been humbled in this way they might recognize that their salvation does not rest in their own hands but in the hand of a mediator” (25.9). Whatever he may say elsewhere, and setting aside the question of whether he is right, Augustine here shows no interest in highlighting human contributions to Christ’s mediation. He resists “both-and” thinking. Salvation is not in their hands, but in the hands of the mediator. Christ’s mediatorial function is unique to him. My own sense, then, is that the thrust of the passage pushes away rather than towards the notion that Christians “put on Christ’s mediation.”

The assertion that, for Augustine, human beings participate in the mediation of Christ is but one species of Teubner’s larger point that in Augustine’s vision of human existence, the human action of the saints contributes to Christ’s salvific work. On Teubner’s interpretation, the reality of the church’s unity with Christ and with each other is effected through prayer. For Teubner, the totus Christus “describes . . . the process of individuals becoming ‘we’ through the act of communal prayer” (74). Similarly, he states that the Galatians commentary “provides the structural features that open up Augustine’s Christology to human incorporation through the practice of prayer” (76). And he refers to “human incorporation into the totus Christus through an interiorization of humility” (77). Incorporation into Christ’s body certainly involves humility, but for Augustine does it happen through our humility?

Teubner seems to make prayer and the virtues of patience and humility that accompany its genuine forms act as a kind of bridge between the two natures of Christ. Patience and humility are described as “providing the conditions in which one may be able to travel from Christ’s human nature to his divine nature, from faith to sight” (78). Teubner states that, “for Benedict as for Augustine, the life lived in a constant prayerful pursuit of the divine bridges the divide between Christ’s human and divine natures” (200). Is this kind of bridging of Christ’s two natures perhaps what is meant with the affirmation that for Augustine we “put on the mediation of Christ”?

Here again, I have questions, both about whether Augustine actually makes these kinds of claims and about what Teubner means by them. What gap is there to be bridged if Christ’s human and divine natures are inseparably united in a personal union? And moreover, how can human beings, being merely human, possibly hope to accomplish this work? Isn’t only a special human being able to accomplish this, namely, to borrow from Augustine’s Commentary on Galatians, “a human being who through God was beyond human beings”—one who was both “God’s only Son . . . the Word of God, God with God” and “a human being” (exp. Gal. 24.8)? Only one person seems to meet Augustine’s qualifications for mediation between God and humanity and between the human and divine natures of Christ.

Teubner also suggests that prayer and its accompanying virtues are, for Augustine, required to make Christ’s salvific work effective. Teubner observes, “In his Enarrationes in Psalmos, Augustine metaphysically invests his doctrine of the totus Christus with the process of induere in order to account for how Christ’s justification can actually be redeemed” (97). Christ makes salvation possible, but its human recipients make it actual: “Once again we can detect a fairly explicit allusion to a Christological theme observed in chapter 3 above—the induere process is ultimately grounded in and oriented towards the Church’s salvation in Christ. It is by becoming the community of love that the Benedictine community actualises the salvation that is potentially in Christ” (197). And sometimes this actualization seems to be happening in an oddly epistemological key. People are incorporated into Christ, Teubner explains, “by virtue of a proper understanding of Christ’s two natures” (69). To note a final example, Teubner states, “To put it in Augustine’s terms, only by imitating Christ’s humility might one find salvation through Christ’s exaltation” (200).

But where does Augustine speak in such terms? Yes, we share in Christ’s humility that we might also share in his exaltation. But to speak of salvation as achieved through ascetical practices, knowledge, and imitation smacks more of Pelagius than of Augustine.

The cumulative effect of such interpretations is to suggest that salvation depends on prayer, a conclusion Teubner makes explicit. After hinting that “the soteriological aspects of the totus Christus are explicitly tied to prayer” (78), he concludes, “For the Bishop of Hippo, nothing short of salvation was at stake in prayer. Through entering Christ’s mediating prayer the Church discovers how Christ’s sacrifice is redemption pro nobis. It is ultimately, however, a pneumatology that highlights the totus Christus as an account of salvation grounded in the Church’s practices of prayer” (84).

How do these overarching statements and the interpretive moves (some of which have been noted above) that support them fit together with Teubner’s indication that he begins “with the supposition that [for Augustine] human supplications are not themselves salvific, whereas Christ’s longings are” (103)? Is his point in this latter statement simply that prayers are not salvific on their own?

The viability of Teubner’s understanding of the human role in Christ’s salvific work bears upon his larger project in at least two ways. First, Teubner makes the case not just that prayer is an important theme for Augustine, but also that it has a special status with respect to other aspects of his thinking, such that prayer ought to be seen as the center of the “esprit augustinien” (14). For him, prayer is essentially connected to what it means to be Augustinian (15). I am in full agreement with this latter point. But insofar as this thesis relies on the subordinate theses described above about the salvific significance Augustine accords to prayer and other human actions, I have some concerns about how Teubner defends it.

Second, Teubner suggests that Boethius, too, identifies a similar kind of bridging or mediatorial function of prayer (see 148, 154, 156–57, 158). His most pointed statement is that, “although Boethius draws on the notion that the divine-human commercium is mediated, the only form of mediation one can discern from any of his texts is prayer” (159). Insofar as the mediatorial function of prayer is difficult to sustain as “Augustinian,” so is the Augustinian character of this aspect of Boethius’ thought.

Interpreting Augustinianism

But in addition to questions about Augustine’s relation to other thinkers, the issue of human agency and its role in salvation also highlights a more basic question: What is Augustine’s relationship to himself? There is reason to wonder whether even the earlier Augustine—for example Augustine at the time he wrote his Commentary on Galatians—would have been comfortable with describing the role of the human agency of the saints in terms quite as bold as those Teubner uses in his study. Still, the issues highlighted thus far become even more pressing as related to Augustine in his mature stage as he sharpened his own thinking on the interaction of grace and human agency in the context of the various stages of the Pelagian controversy. If already in 396 or earlier Augustine would have shied away from speaking of human participation in Christ’s mediation, for example, insisting on the independence of Christ’s mediation from human merit, how much more would the late Augustine have insisted upon this? As Teubner himself observes, Augustine’s thought develops over time (34). And this raises the issue of how his development ought to factor into our explanations of what counts as “Augustinian.”

Many of the dynamics Teubner highlights as “Augustinian” with respect to Augustine’s ideas about human agency and its involvement in salvation are, if anything, more in keeping with Augustine’s early years as a Christian than with the direction of his mature thought. Given the immense influence of Augustine’s late works, it seems misleading to label his earlier ideas, or ideas that more nearly approximate his earlier ideas, with the term “Augustinian” in an unqualified way.

To what extent, then, might it be fruitful to consider whether in addition to the helpful distinction between Augustinianism 1 and Augustinianism 2, we might also distinguish between the Augustinianisms of different periods in Augustine’s career when thinking about the Augustinian tradition? Some significant debates in Western Christian theology have consisted in the opposition of not merely one idea of Augustine’s against another (as in B. B. Warfield’s famous description of the Reformation as a battle between Augustine’s doctrine of grace and his doctrine of the church) but one phase in Augustine’s development against another. Given such dynamics, would a distinction between various Augustinianisms corresponding to various phases in Augustine’s own development be clarifying? If not, which phase of Augustine’s thought should be taken to be the most representative? Or, if we seek to read the various stages of Augustine’s thinking as relating harmoniously, at what point—if ever—might a tension between these phases be significant enough to merit designation of different varieties of Augustinianism?

Augustine interpreters such as this reader will inevitably find points in Teubner’s book to debate. Let them quibble. Such is the nature of the Augustinian tradition. The vigor of the challenge will only confirm the significance of the larger issues this book tackles. What is the nature of tradition? How ought we seek to form it?

This book is creative, erudite, and stunningly wide-ranging compared to the vast majority of texts in the field. Yet somehow it manages to embody the kind of Christian virtues the subjects of the study themselves extolled. Patience, humility, and charity are the scholarly practices that pervade this text. But perhaps one of the most impressive features of the book is its exhilarating introduction and conclusion. These do not serve as book ends. In the final analysis, Teubner intentionally withholds closure, opening up his text into further worlds of meaning and challenging the reader to consider the practical consequences of these worlds for her own.


  1. Here and elsewhere I am using Eric Plumer’s translation, Augustine’s Commentary on Galatians: Introduction, Text, Translation, and Notes (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

  • Jonathan Teubner

    Jonathan Teubner

    Reply

    Response to Komline

    The first time I read Han-Luen Komline’s response I was annoyed. But my annoyance quickly passed as I came to accept what I take to be her central criticism: the issue of grace was not sufficiently addressed in Prayer after Augustine. By way of response to Komline’s very rich commentary, notable for its clarity regarding the issue of human agency, I want to indicate where and how I was attempting to address the issue of human (non)agency within prayer. While this will by no means address all of Komline’s concerns, or suddenly bring clarity and concision to my doktorarbeitisch prose, it will pick up a thread in my response to Prevot: to what extent are humans actually in control of prayer?

    As I read her, Komline is taking me to task for two things in particular: (1) ascribing to the human a necessary role in Christ’s mediating work and (2) the act of prayer being the particular practice that actualizes the human capacity to participate in said mediation. She has laid out a highly plausible case for her concerns—I did in fact write all of those statements! But one of the challenges of the book is that there are very few linearly developed lines of thought. The book’s argument (such as it is) is more like a web: argumentative lines are picked up in subsequent chapters, further developed, and then dropped until it is relevant in a later chapter.

    Let me briefly walk through my thinking on the statements Komline highlighted. I intended the following statement as an outline for the argument Komline is resisting, so let me start here:

    My argument in this section makes three interlocking claims regarding the process of induere: (1) the Christian enters into this human-divine mediation through imitation of Christ’s humility, described as both “putting on” (induere) Christ and “participating in Wisdom”; (2) induere is envisioned along a spectrum between faith and sight (per fidem . . . per speciem), out of which arises a dialectic between faith and love; and (3) the dialectic between faith and love is sub gratia, the third of four stages Augustine proposes, consequentially centralising an intensified notion of patience in the process of induere. (70)

    As I intimated in regard to the argumentative structure of the book itself, these three statements are not fully fleshed out until halfway into chapter 4. My discussion of induere is, to put it baldly, simply a warm-up for the much more contested discussion of “participation” in De trinitate 4 (97–103). In other words, my interest in the process of induere is oriented toward establishing my “deflationary” reading of participation precisely because I wanted to shift the agency toward Christ and away from the human without subverting the value of the religious practices themselves, viz., prayer, almsgiving, fasting. Where I see Augustine working through the process of induere (“putting on”) in his commentary on Galatians as (1) an “imitation of humility,” (2) which is achieved as an act of faith that (3) occurs sub gratia, in trin. 4.4 these three facets are brought into tight relation in (4) a diachronic process of faith from homo interior to homo exterior, which is (5) animated by Christ as sacramentum and exemplum that is (6) soteriologically underwritten by Christ’s unity, his simplum that heals humans’ duplum (102). Komline is right to focus on the centrality of faith in the Galatians commentary, and I certainly could have spent more time with this text, but my purpose was to clarify for the reader what I took to be Augustine’s developing understanding of the role of faith within the practice of prayer.

    However, the place in which I see my major failure is, again, with my inadequate treatment of love (dilectio, caritas, amor) in Augustine’s understanding of prayer. I begin a line of inquiry along this way in my comments on the Galatians commentary—i.e., there is a dialectic of faith and love that is made concrete in the give-and-take of the monastic life—but I drop this in the book in favor of the more general emphasis on the virtue of patience. Christian existence sub gratia is characterized, in my account, as a waiting. If the human has a kind of role to play, it is indeed a very odd one: the Christian “puts on” Christ by, to put it bluntly but not totally inaccurately, doing nothing other than going about her business in the various and sundry contexts in which she has been placed. What I didn’t say so clearly, but should have, is that this patience is itself a gift of the Spirit. The Spirit’s agency is moving us from the homo interior to the homo exterior within (not beyond) the person of Christ. The actualization of our participation is not of our accord, but the Spirit’s. In other words, the Spirit is doing the work.

    This might not exonerate me from all of Komline’s accusations, but I think it sets me on the road to being able to say in good faith that I was not offering a “both/and” account of mediation. Komline has rather cleverly set up a counter-tension against the direction Prevot is pushing me. In my response to Prevot’s concerns about the Spirit doing more than groaning in our place, I somewhat cheekily rejected the question, suggesting that our attempts to involve the Spirit can admit of various results, some of which should, to say the least, be avoided. But is the Spirit really ours to call down? In other words, does it make sense to speak of human agency in this effort? This is where I see Komline pushing me. But, if I am going to radically shift the agency toward the Spirit, I get awfully close to ascribing to the Spirit a significant amount of blame for our propensity to love each other to death. I am currently picking my way through this very tension in the follow-up volume, Charity after Augustine. The refuge of “patience” is no longer available to me, for whether it is the intellectualized communion that dilectio and amor form between humans, the self-sacrificing caritas to which humans submit themselves, or the practical actions of eleemosyna, the human is inescapably in the domain of action. And responsibility must be owned.

    But what are we, in fact, in control of? The sense of prayer I have offered here is rather divested of human control or agency, and as such does not seem to help us make any sense of our responsibility. If nothing else, is not prayer a human action? If nothing else, cannot a human at least pray? Yes and no. Yes, we can say internally or externally words that are meant to function as prayer. But, no, we do not have control over what is made of that prayer, whether it is found to be soteriologically significant or revelatory of our base and sinful motives (it is at this point that I would draw on a “pragmatic” mode of inquiry by distinguishing between “taking responsibility” and ascriptions of “efficient cause”). So is it the case, as Komline suspects, that I have overstated the importance of prayer? If, as it seems she suspects, prayer is indispensably a human act, one that only makes sense as issued from the individual will, then perhaps I have. But this is a mischaracterisation of prayer, both for Augustine and for my account in Prayer after Augustine.

    Augustine is, of course, much more than a theorist of prayer, so not all lines of his rich thought will necessarily pass through or be constellated by the practice of prayer. In other words, we must see the limits of the focus. For this reason, I never intended to argue that prayer was the “essence” or, in Madec’s terms, l’esprit augustinien (surely it would stretch Madec’s French to think about practice as an esprit). But there is a sense in which I might embrace prayer as representative of Augustinianism, and that is in the kinds of problems it sets up, both for us as interpreters of Augustine and for the coherence of Augustine’s anti-Pelagianism. Prayer, for Augustine, is a window into the concrete ways in which we are on pilgrimage through this life without control over the way or mode of our wayfaring. If there is something I find characteristically Augustinian in prayer, it is how it reminds us, at least in the form we find in Augustine, of our utter lack of control. But that this occurs in and through a “practice,” something we intuitively feel in control of is what, in my estimation, makes prayer such an odd thing to handle. In closing, then, I wonder whether Komline simply thinks that entering Augustine through the theory and practice of prayer is too risky, that this route is all too likely to lead one astray? Does she think, on final analysis, that it is simply wiser to stick to the map we have been given?

Kevin G. Grove, CSC

Response

January 21, 2021, 1:00 am

Kirsty Borthwick

Response

January 28, 2021, 1:00 am

Luigi Gioia

Response

February 4, 2021, 1:00 am

Shares