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Confessions was written between — CE, suggesting self-justification as a possible motivation for the work. With the words "I wish to act in truth, making my confession both in my heart before you and in this book before the many who will read it" in Book X Chapter 1, [15] Augustine both confesses his sins and glorifies God through humility in His grace, the two meanings that define "confessions," [16] in order to reconcile his imperfections not only to his critics but also to God.

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Augustine does not paint himself as a holy man, but as a sinner. For example, in the second chapter of Book IX Augustine references his choice to wait three weeks until the autumn break to leave his position of teaching without causing a disruption. He wrote that some "may say it was sinful of me to allow myself to occupy a chair of lies even for one hour. Due to the nature of Confessions, it is clear that Augustine was not only writing for himself but that the work was intended for public consumption.

Confessions thus constitutes an appeal to encourage conversion. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources.

Language and Love: Introducing Augustine's Religious Thought through the Confessions Story

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  1. by Saint Augustine.
  2. Language and Love.
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Augustine, Confessions ed. Oxford University Press. Hackett Publishing. Harmonds worth Middles ex, England: Penguin Books. Book IX, Chapter 1. Harmondsworth Middlesex, England: Penguin Books. Book X, Chapter 1. Nor are they equidistant from Augustine, who will be the focus of this book.

Historia Monachorum 15 PL The passages we have considered, however, have all in some sense helped shape the religious and intellectual tradition to which he belonged. And each shows a complex attitude towards language, in part spelt out explicitly, but to a greater extent implicit; none of these writers is known primarily as a linguistic theorist.

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Among the Christian writers it is notable how their attitudes compare with those found in classical authors more generally. Moreover, each of the Christian writers cited is in some way inconsistent, or at best ambivalent, about the power of language. These educated Christian authors, then, inherit and develop a classical tradition of thought about the nature and correct use of language.

This tradition is modiWed by their familiarity with various biblical passages in which language plays a key part. The mission of the Christian Church begins with the bestowal of the gift of speaking or being understood to speak in foreign languages Acts —13 , thereby undoing the division of tongues in the story of the Tower of Babel Genesis —9.

Saint Augustine (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

These passages do not all point in one direction, but rather aVord material for reXection and elaboration by Christian intellectuals. Augustine himself is both an important witness to ancient thought on language and the single most important exponent of Christian language theory in the West.

His early works include a dialogue on the nature of language and signs, the de Magistro of ; he also composed a treatise on grammar, probably to be identiWed with the work preserved as the Ars Augustini pro Fratrum Mediocritate Breviata,15 and a summary of Stoic logic, the Principia Dialecticae. Between and he composed a major work on Christian education, the de Doctrina Christiana, which is itself largely concerned with the interpretation of the Scriptures and so with the linguistic and philosophical questions of intention, hermeneutics, and signiWcation.

In the work which principally concerns us here, the Confessions —9 , he is similarly preoccupied with the importance of language both in human life generally, and in particular in relation to God. In Book 1 of the work, he moves from being a baby, an in-fans lacking any knowledge of language, to being a schoolboy orator.

From here he becomes Wrst a student, then a teacher of rhetoric; he also falls in with the Manichees, a group characterized—in his mind—by their incessant talking. His rhetorical career reaches its acme with his appointment as Court Orator in Milan; but his move to Milan allows him to hear the sermons of Bishop Ambrose, as a result of which he rethinks his Manichee views on the interpretation of Scripture.

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  • His consequent spiritual crisis leads him to abandon the profession of rhetoric, as being incompatible with his profession of Christianity. In the last three books of the work we encounter Augustine as a diVerent sort of language professional, a Christian commentator revealing the hidden meaning of the biblical Creation narrative. The Ars Breviata remains diYcult of access. Further bibliography on Augustine the grammarian is currently available at. At this point our enquiry might go in one of several directions.

    Traditional studies tend to treat the higher philosophical questions of the relation of language to theology in relative isolation to questions on the history of grammar and the theorization of language—which are in turn treated separately from the more strictly philological approach, with its interest in the individual words and constructions used by the author.

    The extent to which Augustine is an individual author, with linguistic preferences of his own, is seen as a matter for the literary critic, or at best the stylistician. In the course of this enquiry we will make two claims. First, that the Confessions is a work in which language is especially important. This is true not just in the sense that all literary works are Wrst and foremost pieces of language, nor in the sense used by those critics according to whom all texts are ultimately recursive and self-referential.

    It is true in a stronger and more speciWc sense.

    Secondly, that much of the interest in the Confessions lies in the ways in which Augustine stretches at language, through metaphor, paradox, and the delicate tension between classical and Christian uses. Ancient linguistic theory in general is now excellently covered in a single accessible volume by Law ; the work of Vecchio on Augustine, whom she recommends, non vidi.

    Language and Love

    For a fascinating account of the diVerent attitudes among the Church Fathers to the knowability and eVability of God, see Young It appears before us as a trophy torn from the grip of the unsayable after a prolonged struggle on the frontier between speech and silence. What was at stake was more than words. Having noted the biblical allusion John , cited at Confessions We have the biblical citation taken as the Leitmotif, we have some striking if rather impressionistic metaphors trophies and frontiers , and we have an analysis of the text in question far more challenging than is familiar or comfortable.

    We may respond to his challenge in various ways. It is hard to make 12 Language in the Confessions of Augustine a convincing case for this—Augustine is, after all, the theologian par excellence through whom the Hellenistic concept of the absolute, immutable deity was canonized in Western Christianity—though Augustine himself is supremely aware of the tension caused by the relation between an eternal God and a temporal creation.

    Put in these terms, the question is potentially answerable through traditional linguistic means.


    This is most obviously done by comparing similar usages by the same author. This appears, then, to be a point of contact between John and the Hermetic corpus. We might look at other Greek writings—the Septuagint being the prime candidate—for similar constructions. Although this argument is developed speciWcally with reference to the interpretation of the Scriptures, it is at least possible that he would have accepted it as a sound principle of interpretation of his own writings.

    This problem is posed here in its stronger form, and Augustine might have modiWed his position to state that we should accept only those interpretations which are in line with other known truths. But in fact his theory of language, as outlined in the de Magistro, takes a diVerent route. The biggest objection to applying this theory to non-Scriptural use of language is that humans may not be speaking the truth, in which case they may not have intended us to learn a truth in the Wrst place.

    But though Augustine admits that only God never lies, and that humans may lack the self-knowledge to know that they are lying, he still expects his readers to make the charitable assumption that he is telling the truth But his questioning of the traditional interpretation rests on a sound linguistic observation.

    In formal terms, the verb facere tends not to have veritas or other nouns formed from adjectives as its object. Although the phrase was one he had taken over from biblical Latin, he was in principle free to paraphrase, smooth it down, or omit it altogether. Instead, he chose not to. What follows is an examination of some of the linguistic choices he makes in the Confessions, and a consideration of the place of language within the wider scheme of the work. Much of Book 11 of the Confessions is taken up with a meditation on the relationship between God and the 22 In this respect, the formal parallel between veritatem facere and voluntatem patris facere breaks down, in that voluntas is not transparently deadjectival.

    Sermo 15 created universe. The obscurity of the original is reXected in both the Latin and English translations. The words require some exegesis if any sense is to be made of them at all. It is not surprising to Wnd the basic verb of speaking occurring repeatedly in a biographical memoir such as the Gospel according to John.

    But there is good reason to think that it is specially important in John, and that particular tradition of Christian linguistic mysticism was particularly important for Augustine. Something similar is true also of the Confessions. Again, it is only to be expected that the basic verb of speech loquor will occur many times in a biographical work.

    But a number of them do command special consideration, in particular the biblical citations. Predictably, the Gospel according to John is the major single source of these. It is notable that when Augustine quotes John repeatedly in this passage, and recapitulated at The logic of the verse is unclear even in the Greek what is the connection between being the Beginning and speaking?

    But Augustine immediately spells out his interpretation of it in language reminiscent of his work The Teacher de Magistro. In The Teacher he presents a dialogue between himself and his son Adeodatus about the nature of language locutio. It suggests any sort of communication of information, or supposed information. Sermo 17 at all: a word tells us nothing unless we know what it means, and it is virtually impossible to explain that except in terms of other words.

    But in fact we do communicate. But God also communicates through the physical world. This idea is not unique to Augustine, or even to Christian writers in general. There is good reason for thinking that he wrote the Confessions partly to answer those who criticized his appointment as bishop of Hippo on the grounds that he had been a prominent Manichee before his conversion. Again, he does this partly through the careful marshalling of biblical allusions. Consider the account he gives in Book 10 of his search for God in the elements of the physical world: You have smitten my heart with your word, and I love you.

    But even heaven and earth and everything in them tell me from every direction that I should love you, nor do they cease from telling everyone.