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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).↩
Prepositional Failure and the Duty of Tradition
In the course of this response essay, I wish to engage two areas of the argument of Prayer after Augustine. Many more points in this terrific work merit engagement, which is a credit to its author, but in this space I will limit myself to a question about “failure” as well as a question about the implications of the whole book concerning “tradition.” The answer to the second question depends in part upon the first.
The terms success and failure are somewhat precarious when it comes to prayer. For, as Prayer after Augustine acutely observes, any “failed” attempt at prayer is, qua act, nonetheless prayer and relation to God. It is in that sense that John Cavadini once referred to Augustine’s “failure” in de Trinitate to be spectacular—more desirable than most of our successes. Of course, the unsettling part of this insight is that it is not only the case that one can fail at prayer, but rather assured that one will fail: at the Neoplatonic form of ascent, at scriptural meditation, at the unity of the church, or even to recognize the God-given value of the monastic confrère in the mundane irritations of ora et labora. The list of these sorts of failures could go on for a rather long time—failed sacramental unity in light of fractious near antique churches, failure at unity of belief in light of doctrinal divisions of the period, etc. It is part of the virtue of this study that these “failures” produce chastened accounts of participation as well as veer away from any practice that suggests singularly faulting one person or time in the process of traditioning.
In one way, the foregrounding of this aspect of failure is a welcome connection to the New Testament. This could equally be a category by which to evaluate not only the gospel texts themselves—the ways, for instance in which Jesus Christ failed, and in so doing, perhaps subverted expectations of messiahship, covenantal principles, and the collective identity of Israel. The paschal mystery, of course, becomes the model of and for this sort of failure, culminating in the cry of dereliction from the cross, at least as the Matthean and Markan accounts suggest, of the seemingly insuperable distance between divinity and humanity. In as much as this sort of failure is exhibited by the incarnate God, my question is to what extent Christ’s failure to meet human expectations lies at the heart of each of the failures which Prayer after Augustine so beautifully walks through?
I can push the question further by asking whether or not failure must needs be prepositional? For instance, in the following three examples of failure from the text, Prayer after Augustine rightly shows that failure at prayer has directionality. Concerning Augustine’s Ep. 130, Prayer after Augustine posits that failure is “toward the beata vita” (87ff.). Failure, in this instance, ranges from the epistemic to the Pauline. And, the section beautifully culminates in the failure of prayer, pointing the one who fails into need for the Holy Spirit. Yet, the question remains of prepositions. Not all failures are equal. The failure toward life through the death and solitude of the paschal mystery is prepositionally determined failure. Failure into the guidance of the Holy Spirit is further a prepositional sort of failure. This is entirely a different sort of failure than, for instance, refusing to pray at all. And so, for Augustine concerning prayer, to what extent is it important to fail: into, toward, upon, or after? Specifically to what extent are those prepositions christologically determined? Augustine said as early as Conf. 7 that he had to realize his God grown weak at his feet in order that—lacking power himself—he could cast himself down onto such an incarnate God who, in rising, would lift Augustine as well. In that instance, the failure “onto” had Christ as its object, and Augustine as newly risen subject.
A second, Trinitarian, example emerges from Boethius. Boethius, like Augustine, fails—and with good reason—to capture the essence of the Trinity. Boethius’s failure results in prayer for simplicity. While Prayer after Augustine makes a perceptive link between Boethius and Augustine on prayer as desire, what are the prepositions which determine the failure of Boethian prayer in light of the Trinity and divine simplicity?
The third example, of course, comes from the treatment of Benedict. Prayer after Augustine should be commended for not idealizing the Benedictine life in its sublimity while overlooking the manner in which the monastic vocation is utterly mundane. The entire conception of monos suggests a unity at which the members are destined to fail. The christological face of the abbot, the union of mind and heart which would characterize such a monos, the conversatio of ongoing conversion within the quotidian—all of these are going to be characterized by failure. The question again becomes one of prepositions: how can the failure at community—the ill-spoken word or acted lack of virtue in the quotidian conversatio—nonetheless reveal the manner in which Christ succeeds? Or, to put it more sharply, if failure does not have a preposition, why would one take up such a Benedictine life—whether in the sixth century or now?
To summarize this first question: it is a great strength of Prayer after Augustine that it is so attentive to failure—epistemic, affective, or in terms of ongoing relational communion within either the monastery or the church. Yet, how also must failures be qualified, defined, and oriented to a Godward object? In short, one could easily fail into him or herself, which might also be prayer-as-desire, and very little would be gained in terms of understanding what happens in prayer in either Augustinianism 1 or 2. Ultimately, is failure as paradigm for prayer a foundationally christological account of Christian existence which is itself a chastened but nevertheless an articulation of horizontal and vertical participation?
This engagement with failure opens questions of the implications of Prayer after Augustine, especially as concerns tradition and traditioning. In the ethical postlude, Prayer after Augustine suggests that the distinction between Augustinianism 1 and 2 offers us a theoretical way forward between MacIntyre and Stout. One can be rid of exogenous factors in the internal coherence of tradition as well as the spectres of Hegel which haunt so many accounts of tradition and history in the present. Indeed, Prayer after Augustine claims that tradition sub specie Augustinianism 1 and 2, properly understood, develops endogenously. This is at once an exciting, liberating prospect, but also the source of my second question about the implications of this work. This question is twofold: both about the metaphysic of history as well as the duty of tradition in the present.
The first question concerns the metaphysic of history. Prayer after Augustine is nuanced in seeing how Augustinianism 1 and 2, as it presents them, might grow and emerge beyond even how Augustine could have imagined his own words and the themes presented in them. Tradition becomes less a conflict than a creative process that emerges out of a shared set of resources. Granted, some of these creative emergences will conflict. This account of tradition is optimistic, but, as the text admits, even the Christianity which Boethius and Benedict respectively begot—defined in the text as hopeful patience in Christ—is itself headed for fracture and fissure. And so, the question begins to emerge. To what extent does the understanding of failure as paradigm—which is the substance of question one and, in my contention, a major supposition of the work—need to be part of the “duty of tradition”? In short, to what extent, is any tradition’s prepositional failure actually the measure of its success at creatively producing Christian existence?
This brings me to the second aspect of my question about tradition: the moral duty of the tradition in the present. I appreciate as a strength of this text that it does not identify a singular, as the epilogue calls it, “bogeyman,” after which the slings and arrows our present predicaments are not only intelligible, but also not of our making or responsibility. Prayer after Augustine does a welcome and remarkable work of making us responsible for our own time, for the creativity of our own “Augustinianism 2,” and undercuts a culture of blame (whether historical or ideological) that can plague Christian churches in the present. Yet, the text leaves one wondering to what extent that responsibility, which, if we were to own it properly, would be the responsibility for the failure into Christ of our own time. And, if we were to see and articulate it within Christian theology and our churches, would a vision of Christian life ever ancient and ever new might emerge?
And so, the final question concerns the failure of tradition, not failure into oblivion, but failure precisely into Christ, guided by the Spirit, unto the Father. This question, of course, is too large to answer in a Syndicate dialogue, but Prayer after Augustine provokes it. And for that provocation and subsequent dialogue, all who might understand themselves identified with such a tradition should be grateful.
Corporate Prayer and the Complexity of Tradition
Jonathan Teubner’s book Prayer after Augustine is an engaging study not only of Augustine’s understanding of the doctrine of prayer, but of the very nature of tradition. As Teubner himself rightly recognises, this book also fills a scholarly gap, recognising forgotten areas of Augustine’s influence on sixth-century Italy.
In this review, I will first examine Teubner’s use of prayer as a lens through which to explore the development of an Augustinian tradition. My ongoing doctoral research seeks to celebrate Augustine as a theologian of prayer and I am indebted to Teubner both for his detailed analysis of some of Augustine’s lesser-known texts and for his confident recognition that the theory and praxis of prayer are “a promising approach to Western intellectual history” (3—as too for the intellectual history of orthodox cultures, of course). It is the praxis of prayer which I wish to explore in the first half of this review. Drawing on Teubner’s own account of the totus Christus as found in the Enarrationes in Psalmos and his reading of De Trinitate, I will suggest that there are two areas open to further investigation as a continuation of Teubner’s current work: the gesture and practicalities of prayer, and the context of prayer within the life of the church. I will discuss both of these using the language of a “corporate tradition.” As someone familiar with Augustine’s doctrine of prayer but less so with Boethius or Benedict’s, I would be particularly interested to hear Teubner’s thoughts on how these themes might be further drawn out from the life and writings of these later figures.
In the second half of this review, I will turn to Teubner’s account of an Augustinianism 1 and 2. In recognising two types of Augustinian tradition, Teubner rightly points to the complexity of tradition and the care with which we must seek to understand the influence of various traditions throughout Christian history. I will argue that Teubner’s study, if only because of the limits of its focus (see 21–23), leaves two questions yet to be answered: that of Augustine’s sources, and of development in Augustine’s own thought.
Prayer as a Corporate Tradition
My own research looks at how Augustine’s understanding of the Trinity in De Trinitate might help us understand prayer. Teubner covers De trinitate in chapter 4 of his study, arguing that “in the Christological passages of De trinitate [particularly Books IV and XIII], ‘participation,’ induere, and the totus Christus—three inseparable loci of Augustine’s ‘drama of redemption’—are sewn together through the life of prayer” (87). Teubner argues that through putting on Christ we are incorporated into the body of Christ, which prays as the totus Christus. As such our capacity to participate in Christ is conditioned by our purification, which occurs as we put on Christ, imitating his humility and patiently growing in love for God and neighbour (69–74). It is as we put on Christ in prayer that we move from scientia to sapientia and thus enter into the “hope of wisdom” (to borrow Teubner’s chapter heading) in which we patiently reside until prayer’s beatific fulfilment in the eschaton.
Whilst this is an articulate account of prayer in De trinitate which helpful sets up the remainder of Teubner’s study, I want to enrich that account with a wider reading of the overall movement of De Trinitate and what that teaches us about prayer. I recognise and am grateful to Teubner for his interest in broadening research on Augustine’s canon, and particularly for drawing the reader’s attention to some of Augustine’s lesser-known writings. Here I seek to bring Teubner back to classical research on Augustine’s core canon, not as a critique of Teubner’s focus, but as a means of extending his arguments in conversation with other areas of modern scholarship.
Alongside the likes of Edmund Hill, Mark McIntosh, and Matthew Levering, I understand De trinitate to be as much an exercise in spiritual ascent as it is a simple treatise on the Trinity. The work is framed at crucial moments in instances of prayer and Augustine regularly guides and instructs the reader as one would expect in a spiritual exercise. Moreover, the work begins with the divine missions—in which the Son and Holy Spirit descend—and culminates in the divine perfecting of the image of God in humans, which bring us at last to the beatific vision.
By beginning De trinitate with the divine missions as presented in Scripture, Augustine insists that it is here that our contact with the Trinity emerges: we encounter the Son as sent in the Incarnation, and the Holy Spirit as sent at Pentecost. It is in light of these divine missions that De trinitate IV and XIII explore how it is that through his incarnation and crucifixion, Christ mediates for us. Whilst Augustine insists that the sending of the Spirit is received in transitory revelations (dove, fire, etc.), the sending of the Son is intricately tied to embodiment. It is in the Incarnation that the economic life of the Trinity reaches its fulfilment and it is in the crucifixion of this embodied Christ that his mediatory work is achieved.
I wish to argue that here lies a further consistency between Augustine’s understanding of our engagement with the Trinity in De Trinitate and his emphasis on the totus Christus as a means of understanding prayer, particularly as portrayed in the Enarrationes in Psalmos. In both we discover the importance of the body of Christ.
I recognise that, whilst the minutia of my argument varies, I am in general agreement with Teubner’s own conclusions regarding the Enarrationes and De trinitate. However, I would like to push him to think further about the implications of the importance of the body of Christ, as regards the corporate nature of prayer.
Firstly, I wonder if there is more to be explored regarding the Church as that which makes up the body of Christ praying in totus Christus. That is, what might Augustine’s ecclesiology offer to enrich our understanding of what he meant by prayer? In places Teubner rightly remarks that we must be sensitive to “the ecclesial background” behind Augustine’s writings (see 84, for instance), but he does not address the ecclesial context of prayer explicitly in the first half of his study. How might Teubner consider Augustine’s statements on the church in his Enchiridion, Civitate Dei, or anti-Donatist texts, for instance?
Secondly, I wonder whether anything more might be made of the connection between Augustine, Boethius, and Benedict’s theories of prayer and their praxis, particularly in terms of gesture? Teubner does himself recognise the dangers of too spiritualised an understanding of prayer; he points to the need for “reference to the body” lest a study of prayer “resist any consistent analysis, for there would be no shared points of reference even between two practitioners who share the same doctrinal idiom” (8). I would be fascinated to know if there were any correlations between what we know of gestures of prayer as they apply to Augustine, Boethius, and Benedict, be they in the spirit of Augustinianism 1 or 2. Teubner begins this conversation with his recognition that Boethius describes the changing posture of the prisoner in his Consolation (146–47), and his account of the importance of places of prayer in both Benedict’s Rule and Augustine’s Epistula 211 and Regula (181–84). I would be keen to ask Teubner whether there is more to be added as regards gesture of prayer, or whether his relative silence on the topic is as a result of a lack of evidence or discussion in Augustine, Boethius, or Benedict?
Extending Tradition 1 and Tradition 2
Teubner’s second core interest in Prayer after Augustine, and arguably the centre of his project, is the question of tradition, and how it might be mapped between different thinkers. His argument depends on his insightful differentiation between Augustinianism 1 and 2. I am particularly struck that this separation of two types of tradition (more generally named Tradition 1 and Tradition 2), offers a realistic account of how tradition develops. It is in the very nature of intellectual influences, to find their expression not only in quotation and citation, but more often than not in the sharing of resonances, albeit oriented within different historical, and thus intellectual, contexts. This insight is particularly helpful to modern scholarship, insofar as it asks us as modern scholars to be alert to the resonances of influences in those we study, and honest about the broadest of influences on our own thought, beyond who we choose to quote or cite.
I do, however, have two directions in which I would like to push Teubner regarding his use of Augustinianism 1 and 2. The first regards Augustine’s own sources, and the second the complexity of positing Augustine’s own theology as a specific entity which influences others.
First, then, the question of Augustine’s sources. In his introduction, Teubner makes clear that questions about Augustine’s relation to Platonism are not within the remit of his study (22). I wonder, however, if Teubner’s introduction of the concepts of Tradition 1 and 2 in this study, might thereafter contribute to the debate over the place of Platonism, and other “pagan” sources, in Augustine’s writings. In other words, if we approach Augustine seeking to find a Platonism 1 and 2, or perhaps a Cicero 1 and 2, how might this help us in rearticulating the debate about Augustine’s continuation with his own sources?
Debate regarding Platonism in Augustine centres on to what extent Augustine continues to be a Platonist following his “conversion” as accounted in Confessiones VIII.12.28–30. Might I suggest that the to-and-fro over this question could be bypassed, even turned into a more constructive conversation, if it were two separate questions: one, over Augustine’s use of Platonist sources, and the second, over Augustine’s sharing of certain constellations with Plato and later Neo-Platonists, reformulated in light of his own conversion to Christ.
Secondly, I would like to push Teubner to talk further about the complexity of Augustine’s own thinking as pertains to the development of an Augustinian tradition (in form 1 or 2). Whilst my own reading of Augustine tends to lie with the likes of Carol Harrison, and her argument for a fundamental continuity in Augustine’s thinking, it is hard to deny that there is at least some movement between Augustine’s early and his mature theology. Teubner hints at this development in his occasional reference to “Augustine’s developing thought” (34) or “Augustine’s mature doctrine of prayer” (85). I would be keen to hear Teubner respond to how this development (albeit a continuity) in Augustine’s thought corresponds with an Augustinianism 1 and 2 in the writers that follow Augustine. “Which” Augustine, for want of a better phrase, are the likes of Boethius and Benedict citing or with “which” Augustine do they share similar constellations of thought?
It is to Teubner’s credit that his Prayer after Augustine has sparked such a variety of questions. His accounts of both prayer and tradition are creative and shrewd, and I am indebted to this study for the forming and development of my own research. Above all, it is the care and insight with which Teubner weaves together prayer and tradition which is particularly insightful. “Prayer, as a ‘tradition’ is a peculiar thing to handle,” Teubner states at the outset (1); he proves himself an able and erudite person to take on the task.
Never Beyond Christ
Jonathan Teubner’s monograph Prayer after Augustine invites the reader to embark on an intriguing journey through the meandering paths of the Latin theological tradition not only with the help of textual quotations but especially through theological themes and patterns of practices that might sometimes be elusive but betray none the less unmistakable similarities. Prayer is one of the most rewarding themes for an inquiry of this kind since it inextricably combines theology and practice and can therefore be probed not only in theoretical literature but also in descriptive texts. In the face of the wealth of material dealt with in Teubner’s monograph, I will confine my response to a selective appraisal of his take on the traditions I am more familiar with, namely Benedict’s Rule and Augustine’s De Trinitate. I will argue that while Augustine’s influence on the Rule of St. Benedict is undeniable, it is doubtful whether it can be supported with the help of the tenuous philological argument based on Benedict’s choice of the Latin word conversatio instead of conversio (incidentally this argument overlooks the crucial importance of conversion—“conversion”—in Augustine’s thought). More fundamentally, the whole idea of predicating the role of the Holy Spirit and access to contemplation on an “epistemic failure” in Augustine’s thought is debatable both exegetically and theologically. From the viewpoint of the exegesis of Augustine’s thought, the tension between words and desire in prayer is thoroughly consistent with his understanding of the role desire plays in the process of knowledge. From a theological viewpoint, it is the outcome of Teubner’s argument, which is questionable, namely the idea that contemplation happens when the Holy Spirit takes over from Christ in our prayer and in our knowledge of God. This idea is incorrect from a theological viewpoint because it implies that somehow access to contemplation requires us to leave behind Christ (that is Incarnation and the sacramental economy). Moreover, it cannot be attributed to Augustine, as it becomes clear when we unpack his Trinitarian approach to contemplation with the help of his doctrine of the image of God.
The Augustinianism of Benedict’s Rule
Teubner successfully strengthens an idea which has been argued before, namely how rewarding it is to look at the Rule of Benedict as a case study of Augustine’s groundbreaking impact on Western spirituality. Benedict assiduously chiseled his text over several decades and he is believed to have significantly expanded it towards the end of his life (the traditional date for his death is 547). Although possible allusions to Augustine’s works can be found throughout the Rule, unambiguous and noteworthy quotations are located in one of the final chapters dedicated to the role of the abbot and, as it happens, they focus on love—the abbot should hate the vices but love the persons (Rule of St. Benedict 64.11 [from now on RB]), and he should aim at being loved rather than feared by his brothers (RB 64.15). It is difficult to establish whether Benedict actually read Augustine’s works but compared to earlier chapters the last section of the Rule exhibits a significant shift in the way love operates in the spiritual life which exhibits unmistakable Augustinian overtones (170–71; cf. Adalbert de Vogüé 1995, who argues that the influence of Augustine reached Benedict after 530). Mainly under the influence of Cassian (himself influenced by Evagrius), some of the programmatic earlier chapters of the Rule see love as the culmination of ascetical effort, as for example in the chapter on humility (which is the longest in the rule): spiritual life is compared to the climbing of a ladder in which love is the final step and appears as the result of the effort of perfection (RB 7.66ff.). This order is turned upside down in chapter 72 where love is not only the apex but also the origin and the incentive of the endeavour to overcome vices and is seen as a form of eagerness (zelum), one might say a “longing,” to do everything possible to make relations in the community more harmonious (RB 72).
Teubner is right, therefore, in his attempt to detect the Augustinianism of Benedict’s Rule not only through the scrutiny of quotations or allusions, but also by highlighting the aspects of Benedictine spirituality which echo Augustine’s exegesis of Paul’s injunction to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17)—which Augustine famously rendered as “Desire without ceasing” (Augustine, Epistulae 9.18, quoted by Teubner 91). According to Augustine, Paul’s sentence does not mean that we should say prayers all the time, but entertain a “continuous desire filled with faith, hope and love” (91). Since contemplating God face to face is reserved for the life to come, Christian existence should be seen as “a hope that is caught between desiring the beata vita and waiting patiently for it as a gift” (85). It is this “hopeful patience that links Christian existence and prayer” (24).
It can obviously be argued that like most of the monastic tradition Benedict does not rule out a more literal exegesis of Paul’s sentence. His Rule prescribes that nuns and monks should recite the psalms for several hours every day and live in almost continuous silence (RB 6) so as to pray as frequently as possible (RB 4.56: “devote yourself often to prayer”). But according to Benedict, monastic life should be prayerful as a whole and in all its aspects, from the more spiritual to the more mundane. Thus, nuns and monks should be mindful of God’s presence at all times (see for example the first degree of humility in RB 7.10–30), should constantly rely on God’s forgiveness (RB 4.74), patiently bear one another’s limitations (RB 72.5), and seek God not only in the oratory, but also in communal life, eating, working, studying, and even sleeping. All these activities are meticulously codified by the Rule precisely so that they can all contribute to the unifying aim of monastic life, namely that nothing should be preferred to the love of Christ (RB 4.21; cf. 5.2 and 72.11), and thus give life to an ecosystem in which everyone can reach eternal life, not individually but jointly, “all together” (RB 72.12). Teubner perceptively identifies these aspects of Benedict’s project of life: “For Benedict the monk becomes increasingly aware of the ‘presence’ of God in the externalities of the monastic life. Just as the process of induere is essentially a communal task for Augustine, for Benedict induere occurs through the coenobium, the life in common” (200; it should be observed however that the word coenobium indicates the place where monks live in common and not communal life).
It is debatable, however, whether this dynamic aspect of Benedict’s asceticism can be deduced from his use of the expression conversatio morum (201), not least because scholars find it difficult to agree even just on how to translate this expression (see study by Terrence G. Kardong in the bibliography; also see Adalbert de Vogüé 1971, for whom conversatio morum is a synonym for “monastic life” and highlights the intention of conversion professed by the monk). Teubner thinks that “one of the most important theological decisions Benedict made in his Rule was to replace the Master’s use of conversio with conversatio,” and thinks that “the provenance of this term is most likely Augustinian.” However, Teubner does not provide any textual support for this assertion other than the assertion that conversio is less suitable because it “suggests a one-time ‘conversion’ or ‘turning around,’ as Augustine fancied his own conversion to Christianity to be at the time he wrote his Confessions” whereas “conversatio implies a continual or repeated ‘turning around,” suggesting a lifelong project of ‘conversion’ to Christ” (201). “Conversio,” however, definitely does not mean a one-time conversion for Augustine. On the contrary, it is one of the pivotal principles of his doctrine of creation and consequently of his metaphysics, his ethics, and his spirituality: it is not enough for God just to create the world; integral to the act of creation there is a call (revocatio), a conversion (conversio), and a formation (formatio): through his Word, God summons the contingency of created reality into a movement of conversion, or adhesion to God (cf. Vannier 1997). We are those who exist not only because we are created by God, but also insofar as we are constantly converted to God both metaphysically and ethically, and the weight that propels us in this constant movement, in this conversio towards God, is love. This is the meaning of one of Augustine’s most well-known aphorisms: “My weight is my love. Wherever I am carried, my love is carrying me” (Confessions 13.9). Even despite the dubious relevance of the philological argument of conversatio morum, however, Augustinian influences on the Rule of St. Benedict are undeniable and it is likely that in some significant way they account for the dynamic role that love (and zelum, which echoes “longing” or desire) plays in Benedictine asceticism and which makes the whole monastic life a realization of Paul’s injunction to pray without ceasing.
A Tension between Words and Desire in Augustine?
Beyond this fairly well-attested portrait of Benedictine spirituality, however, Teubner intends to tackle some alleged tensions in Augustine’s thought, namely the relation between desire and knowledge of God, faith and vision (or contemplation), Christology and the role of the Holy Spirit in the economy of salvation. According to Teubner, the clearest instance of this tension can be found in the same sentence quoted above where Augustine gives his interpretation of Paul’s sentence from 1 Thessalonians:
We, therefore, always pray with a continuous desire filled with faith, hope and love. But at certain hours and moments we also pray to God in words . . . the Apostle said, Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). What else does that mean but, “Desire without ceasing the happy life,” which is none but eternal life, and desire it from him who alone can give it? Let us always desire this and always pray for this from the Lord God. But at certain hours, by the words of prayer, we call the mind (mens) back to the task of praying from other cares and concerns, which in a sense cool down the desire. (Epistulae 9.18)
Teubner argues that this text signals a tension between words and desire. Words can indeed play an instrumental role in rekindling our desire but only “at certain hours” because the place of prayer is not the mind but the heart: “In contrast to the Egyptian tradition’s use of language to focus the mind on God, Augustine’s use of language renders it not entirely necessary, strictly speaking. Language is meant, more minimally, to redirect, to remind the heart of its desire for the beata vita” (91). In Teubner’s interpretation, this tension between desire and the mind leads to an impasse. The mind cannot fathom an eternal object like the beata vita. He quotes Augustine, who says,
How, after all, do we express, how do we desire what we do not know? For, if we were completely ignorant of it, we would certainly not desire it, and again, if we see it, we would not be desiring it or seeking it with groans. (Epistulae 130.15.28)
This is how Teubner explains Augustine’s dilemma: “While a temporal object can be reasonably desired (i.e., it is an object that one has the potential, if not actual, capacity to know), an eternal object such as the beata vita falls outside the domain of knowable objects. It is, therefore, initially plausible to conclude that one’s temporal desires will not adequately ‘aim’ at the right object.” This, he ventures, is an “epistemic problem, common to theologies of contemplation” (88). He locates here what he repeatedly refers to as an “epistemic failure” (92) and casts it onto Augustine’s dialectic between scientia and sapientia in the De Trinitate. Roughly speaking, scientia for Augustine is the knowledge of God that we have through faith in this life while sapientia is the contemplation granted to those who will see God face to face in the life to come, but which also is inaugurated in this life somehow. Now, according to Teubner because knowledge of God through faith only takes us up to a certain point, we can talk about an “epistemic failure.” He argues that far from being accidental, this “failure” is meant to happen since it is only in such failure that the Holy Spirit can emerge: “It is through the weakness or failure of faith or scientia that the Holy Spirit emerges. . . . Scientia can only become sapientia through ‘failure,’ or rather at the point where the human person reaches her limit and is left with no other device or scheme than to trust that the Holy Spirit’s ‘groaning’ is completing her scientia” (107). We are told that the way in which the Holy Spirit is supposed to emerge from this failure is through his “inexpressible groans” that allow desire to stretch beyond the reach of mind: “It is in this epistemic failure of prayer and the subsequent negations that the Holy Spirit emerges to ‘intercede for us with inexpressible groans’” (92). According to Teubner, this understanding of the relation between Christology and pneumatology would be enshrined in Augustine’s use of precari as it appears in one of his epistles:
For to speak much in praying is to do something necessary with superfluous words, but to petition (precari) him much to whom we pray (precari) is to knock with a long and pious stirring of the heart (diuturna et pia cordis excitatione pulsare). For this task is very often carried out more with sighs that we words (plus gemitibus quam sermonibus), more with weeping that with speaking (plus fletu quam affatu). (Epistulae 130.10.20)
The fact that precari appears in the De Trinitate with the same meaning at the beginning of the fourth book (Trin. 4.1) is taken by Teubner as “‘key’ to the epistemic problem of scientia and sapientia in book 13, and warrants [Teubner’s] more general claim that prayer is the practice of inquiry that transposes one from scientia to sapientia. . . . For Augustine the transposition from scientia to sapientia is ultimately completed by the ‘groanings’ of the Holy Spirit in and through creaturely failure” (97).
Why It Is Incorrect to Talk about “Epistemic Failure” in Augustine
Unfortunately, however, this interpretation is not supported by the texts quoted by Teubner and is difficult to reconcile with Augustine’s thought. To start with, the very passage from the fourth book of the De Trinitate quoted by Teubner in support of his interpretation points us in a different direction. Augustine is describing the nature of true scientia, that is the true knowledge of the self which leads to knowledge of God (this being the main idea behind the doctrine of the image of God which is the object of the second half of the treatise). This knowledge is beyond our human possibilities and is accessible only to those “who have been roused by the warmth of the Holy Spirit and have already woken up to God” and are thus enabled to “look at themselves in God’s light” and to “pray with all confidence once they have received the free gratuitous pledge of health through the one and only saviour and enlightener granted us by God” (Trin. 4.1). That Christ should be called both saviour and enlightener points to a crucial aspect of Augustine’s soteriology, namely the identity between revelation and reconciliation: we know God only to the extent that we let ourselves to be reconciled to the Father through the missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Behind this soteriological point lies Augustine’s distinctive epistemological claim that knowledge is coextensive with love. Christ is both our saviour and our enlightener (that is, it is he who allows us to know God) because of his hypostatic union: the Son of God has taken up our humanity in such a way that in Christ we deal with God himself. Each action accomplished by Christ on earth, his humility, his obedience, his love, his death on the cross, are attributable to God so truly and fully that we are entitled to talk of the “humility of God” (Trin. 13.22), and the “obedience of God” (Trin. 13.22). It is true that contemplation of God and of eternal realities (which Augustine refers to as sapientia) will be possible only in the life to come. However, because of the hypostatic union, some historical realities (those which are the object of scientia) give us a true knowledge of God—some historical realities, that is, bridge the gap between scientia and sapientia, namely everything that Christ said and did for us and the sacraments (including Scripture) that make Christ’s salvation present to the life of the Church throughout the centuries:
Our science [scientia] therefore is Christ, and our wisdom [sapientia] is the same Christ. It is he who plants faith in us about temporal things, he who presents us with the truth about eternal things. Through him we go straight toward him, through science toward wisdom, without ever turning aside from one and the same Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and science (Col 2.3). (Trin. 13.24)
Now, the way in which the Holy Spirit plays a role in this process does not have anything to do with a “failure” of scientia. Any alleged tension between Christ and the Holy Spirit, scientia and sapientia, knowledge and love in the economy of salvation should rather be deciphered in the light of Augustine’s firmly trinitarian understanding of knowledge of God.
What a Truly Trinitarian Approach to Contemplation Looks Like
On the one hand it is true that knowledge of Christ’s historical words and deeds (object of scientia) allows us to know the Father and eternal realities (object of sapientia), since, as Jesus says, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). On the other hand, however, the De Trinitate contains a long discussion about the Son’s invisibility even in the Incarnation which leads Augustine to say that in Christ the Son of God “both could and could not be seen”: “He could be seen as made and sent; he could not be seen as the one through whom all things were made” (Trin. 4.26). What does this mean? Simply that even in the Incarnation we do not have God at our ready disposal: we do indeed in Christ see God but this is possible only to the extent to which we are enabled to do so through the Holy Spirit. This is how Augustine explains why the sending of the Holy Spirit under the form of a dove in the New Testament is not simply a theophany through creaturely means like all the other manifestations of God in the Old Testament. Just like the Incarnation, the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is a “mission” (and not a simple theophany) because on that occasion there is a revelation of the intra-trinitarian identity of the third person of the Trinity—on that occasion the Holy Spirit acts in the economy of salvation according to what he is in the life of the Trinity. In the Trinity the Holy Spirit is the love that binds the Father and the Son; in the economy he is the love that makes us believers in Christ because he creates in us that faith (that is knowledge) which works through love (fides per dilectionem): “In order that faith might work through love, the charity of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us (Rom 5.5)” (Trin. 13.14).
In other words, the Holy Spirit for Augustine is not that which substitutes words with groans as Teubner argues, but he who allows us truly to know God precisely through Christ’s words, deeds and sacraments. This depends on the most basic of the Christian principles about prayer: We can never go beyond Christ, that is beyond Word and Sacraments, in our relation with God in this life—but Word and Sacraments give us access to God only thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit or, in other words, faith only works through love.
The Way Desire Works for Augustine
This is why in Augustine’s epistemology knowledge and love can never be separated. Teubner spots an “epistemic failure” in the passage by Augustine quoted above: “How, after all, do we express, how we desire what we do not know? For, if we were completely ignorant of it, we would certainly not desire it, and again, if we see it, we would not be desiring it or seeking it with groans” (Epistulae 130.15.28). But here Augustine simply is describing the normal way in which desire works not only in the knowledge of God but of any other reality. Desire does not need to know something fully to long for it. Most of the time desire has some vague sense of the enjoyment it will find in something and it is this which sets off the process of trying to know it (cf. Trin. 9.18). At the risk of being simplistic, for the sake of clarity we can say that for Augustine we do not desire because we know, but we bother inquiring about anything at all only because desire first incites us to do so. This also means that the completion of knowledge does not consist in forming an idea of our intentional object but in being united to it, in enjoying it, in one way or the other—through love. This is why knowing for Augustine is always “knowledge with love” (Trin. 9.15).
Praying without Ceasing and the Image of God
Where does all this leave us then with regard to Augustine’s exegesis of Paul’s sentence from 1 Thessalonians, namely that “praying without ceasing” means “desiring without ceasing”?
The answer to this question does not need to be premised on alleged “epistemic failures” but is to be looked for in the doctrine of the image of God, which can be seen as the mature version of Augustine’s spirituality in the light of his doctrine of creation, epistemology, anthropology, soteriology, and pneumatology (I am aware, of course, that “spirituality” is a modern category but we should not deny its usefulness when it comes to trying to describe the right way of being in relation with God). The image of God is not that which in us looks like God (cf. the ill-fated strand of Augustinian scholarship that sees the image primarily as an analogy of the Trinity in our mind), but that which allows us to be in a relation of knowledge and love with God and consequently to enjoy (frui) God (cf. Trin. 7.12: “it is image in such a way as to be ‘to the image’”; “ita imago est ut ad imaginem sit”). Paraphrasing one of Augustine’s most suggestive aphorisms, we are the image of God in the sense that we are made by and for (relation with) God and that we can find rest, that is fulfilment, only in being united to God (Augustine, Confessions 1.1: “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you”). If we look for an equivalent for “praying without ceasing” in the De Trinitate, we find it in the passage where Augustine states that we are granted access to real cultus, that is real prayer (or worship) when memory, knowledge and love (the triad that constitutes our image) are transformed by God—that is when we are reminded of God and are given, in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, the possibility of knowing God by loving him:
This triad of the mind is not the image of God because the mind remembers and understands and loves itself, but because it is also able to remember and understand and love him by whom it was made. And when it does this it becomes wise (sapiens). . . . Let it worship (colat) the uncreated God, by whom it was created with a capacity for him and able to participate in him (Trin. 14.15).
In other words, there is no need to leave words, that is Christ, behind for our worship to reach God (and obviously here “worship” designates the fulfilment of our relation with God). Worship (that is prayer) only happens through the historical realities that have become the object of faith—the words and deeds of Christ, Scripture, the sacraments (scientia)—and which, because of the hypostatic union and of the role of the Holy Spirit, allow us to truly know and love God, to truly contemplate him (sapientia). The key to a theological understanding of prayer is not to be looked for in antagonizing Christ and the Holy Spirit but in an truly trinitarian understanding of the way we know, desire and love in the economy of salvation.
For a more details about Augustine’s trinitarian approach to prayer and contemplation, see Luigi Gioia, The Theological Epistemology of Augustine’s De Trinitate (OUP, 2016). A summary of the argument of the monograph can be found in Luigi Gioia, “Augustine’s De Trinitate,” in T&T Clark Companion to Augustine and Modern Theology, ed. C. Pecknold and T. Toom (London: T. & T. Clark, 2013), 3–19. The text is available online at https://www.academia.edu/4347088/_Augustine_s_De_Trinitate_T_and_T_Clark_companion_to_Augustine_and_modern_theology_Pecknold_C._and_Toom_T._ed._T_and_T_Clark_London_2013_3–19.
An exhaustive list of allusions and quotations of Augustine in the Rule of St. Benedict can be found online in “Augustine and Benedict,” http://archive.osb.org/rb/augben.html.
Kardong, Terrence G. Benedict’s Rule: A Translation and Commentary. 483. Liturgical, 1996.
Vannier, Marie Anne. Creatio, conuersio, formatio chez S. Augustin. Editions Universitaires Fribourg Suisse, 1997.
Vogüé, Adalbert de. La Règle de saint Benoît. Vol. 6:1324–29. Cerf, 1971.
———. “S. Augustine et S. Benoît.” Itineraires Augustiniens 13 (1995) 27–38.
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.
1.7.21 | Jonathan Teubner
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.