George Lawless, OSA

Patristic Institute (The Augustinianum)

and the Gregorian University


In the world of Augustine scholarship the year 1992 was anything but an annus horribilis, as it was for Queen Elizabeth of England. Two notable publishing events occurred about the same time: one at the Fondazione Lorenzo Valla in Milan, the other at the Clarendon Press, Oxford University, Oxford. In both cases we have the fulfillment of a desideratum expressed, as we shall note below, on more than one occasion by distinguished researchers on Augustine of Hippo.

Sant'Agostino, Confessioni. Libri I-III (Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, 1992) CLXIII, 259 pp. is the first of a projected five volume commentary on the Confessions of Saint Augustine. The first of these five volumes includes: a general introduction, a generous bibliography (with additional listings supplied by each of the three commentators for each of the first three books of confessiones), a revised Latin text, and let it be noted that l'apparato critico della nostra revisione é ridotto all'essenziale (CLXVIII, n. 1). A translation into Italian with biblical citations at the foot faces the Latin text. The book thus divides roughly into two-thirds general introduction, bibliography and Latin-Italian texts, and one-third commentary with specialized bibliography for each of the first three books.

The other noteworthy publishing event from an Augustine standpoint will be the subject of the following reflections: James J. O'Donnell, Augustine, Confessions. I. Introduction and Text, lxxiv-206; II. Commentary on Books 1-7, xiv-484 and III. Commentary on Books 8-13, xiv-481. Indexes. (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1992). Here we have in three volumes the magnum opus et arduum of an American scholar published in England, the product of a single hand, always with rigorous acknowledgment of scholarly debts. The author is Professor of Classical Studies and Director of the Center for the Computer Analysis of Texts at the University of Pennsylvania. In contrast, the Milanese publication, when completed in five volumes, will reflect the composite work of eleven European scholars, five from Italy, five from France and one from Spain. To pass judgment upon the Fondazione Lorenzo Valla volume at this time would be premature. However, to point out some fundamental differences in the structure of both commentaries is useful.

               Fondazione Lorenzo Valla,            J.J. O'Donnell 

               134 pp.                            71 pp. 
               Jacques Fontaine                    
               no footnotes                       150 footnotes 
               32 pp                              Well sign-posted 
               José Guirau                      in comm. 
               Latin                              Latin 
               Manlio Simonetti 
               Libri I-III                        Libri I-XIII 
               Italian                            None 
               Gioacchino Chirini 
  Book I       34 pp                              95 pp 
               Luigi F. Pizzolato 
  Book II      27 pp.                             40 pp 
               Paolo Siniscalco 
  Book III     41 pp.                             59 pp 
               Marta Cristiani 
               none                               58 pp.

More than a Commentary

O'D. describes his three volumes as a working tool, contributing to dialogue. . . My practice has been to refrain from commentary in my own voice wherever possible, and to allow the texts to speak for themselves (Intro., lxiv-lxv). A superb illustration of this technique is revealed at the outset under the lemma: per ministerium praedicatoris tui, the final words of 1. 1. 1. The reader is free to conclude: Ambrose? Christ? Paul? or simply the generic term itself. Another example is found at 10. 33. 50, in cuius oculis mihi quaestio factus sum et ipse est languor meus, which glosses the earlier text at 4. 4. 9, factus eram ipse mihi magna quaestio.

While he disavows any intention of fulfilling the declared desideratum of scholars such as W. Theiler, G. N. Knauer, M. Pellegrino and W. Steidle, a more precise objective is announced two pages earlier (Intro. lxii): 1) to furnish a generous sampling of biblical language in conjunction with Augustine's interpretation of the Bible in the confessiones, 2) to search out illustrative materials from Augustine's myriad writings and to juxtapose them alongside the text of the confessiones, 3) to acquaint readers with the views of modern scholars where they shed light upon the text, and 4) to reflect upon the text of the confessiones and to interpret it within the context of the above materials.

O'D's text is surprisingly lean (the overview of each of the thirteen books of the confessiones is a model of faithful compression), and it is richly laden with detail. There is a sense of material critically selected and shaped, seldom accumulated, except to illustrate or to corroborate the text of confessiones. A somewhat Tacitean or Senecan economy of expression is detected in the following sentences which delineate the contours of A's thought within a brief compass: This Micawberish decisive indecision encompasses the last half of Bk. 5, restated at 5. 10. 18 and at 5. 14. 25, and evoked in retrospect at 6. 10. 17 and 6. 11. 18, then one last time at 8. 7. 18" (ii. 304); commenting on participatio at 7. 18. 24: This is the only place in confessiones where participation moves downward" (ii. 463); The history of creation is the history of an ascent (iii. 310); and, lastly, at iii. 300, Not all scripture is scriptural for Augustine.

Seasoned familiarity with A's thought and writings beyond the text of confessiones yields such informative sentences as: (M)ore than a third of A's surviving oeuvre consists of transcripts of sermons (ii. 350); For A. `authority' is in its origin empirical rather than innate (ii. 354); The last four books of the Confessions have suffered the same relative want of celebrity that has befallen the last six books of the Aeneid (iii. 153); and, lastly, Augustine is verbose about doctrine, close-mouthed about ritual . . . What is clear is that cult was decisive for him: without cult, no Christianity (Intro., xxix).

The more than nine-hundred pages of commentary are set out in a conservative manner not much different from Aelius Donatus' commentary on Terrence or Servius' commentary on the poems of Vergil, or the Grammaticae Romanae Fragmenta collegit, recensuit Hyginus Funaioli. Editio Stereotipa, 1907 (B.G. Teubner: Stuttgart, 1969).

In terms of layout the Latin (a single word, a phrase, a clause, sometimes a short sentence), is given in boldface type at the head of each entry. The rest of the entry is presented in a style that is crisp and incisive with an almost dart-like quality. There are many variations as to the length of the entry. At 10. 29. 40, for example, Da quod iubes et iube quod vis earns a full page. In the next section at 10. 30. 41 the lemma, a concupiscentia carnis . . . saeculi merits four pages of commentary. Cross-references to ancient authors, other writings of A., including the confessiones, and the Bible are singularly noteworthy features of the commentary. To attribute such an exhaustive account of A. and the Bible simply to the effective use of electronic word retrieval tells only part of the story. O'D's firsthand familiarity with confessiones and with all of A's writings guides his use of computer-based analyses. He makes it both easy and interesting for his reader to examine the trajectory of loquaces, cupiditates, libido, ecclesia, allegoria, intus et foris, errores, uox (102x in confessiones), continentia and many other words.

At 11. 3. 5 the alliterative sine strepitu syllabarum expresses the transience and imperfection of human speech. O'D offers his reader three instances of this favorite theme with A. in Bk. 11, and three cross- references each to earlier books of confessiones and other writings of Augustine. We learn, for example, that the third paragraph (9. 10. 25) in the audition at Ostia is a single sentence (183) words. At 6. 10. 16 we are informed that codices is used Always of `book- as-artefact,' never `book-as-text.' Somewhat surprisingly to some scholars, the famous admonitus at 7. 10. 16 has nothing to do with any theory of Platonic reminiscence. Before the reader gets to the lemma, admonitus which introduces the first of A's attempts at Plotinian ecstasy, a more-than-three- page reflection proves as interesting as instructively rewarding.

Selective listings of variant readings in the text are noted in the commentary thus indicating O'D's strengths as a classical philologist. At 12. 5. 5, for example, three punctuations are possible involving a full stop and a question mark. The manuscript evidence seemingly precludes the addition of amen after the last word of confessiones, aperietur at 13. 58. 53. At 13. 20. 27 we note the vulgar error of a scribe who thinks he knows what he is doing. In one case there are as many as seven variant readings: prensabam / pensabam / pensabo / praesonabam / personabam / praesentabam / praestabam, 1. 8. 13.

While plentiful secondary sources attempting to fathom A's psychological make-up are cited, the commentary wisely eschews any psycho-historical approach to A., for fear both of overreaching its author's qualifications as a classical philologist, and of generating such controversial insights as one finds, for example, in Jean Leclercq's application of modern psychologies to Saint Bernard and his monks, Monks and Love in Twelfth-Century France (Oxford, 1979) and, more recently, in W.W. Meissner's Ignatius of Loyola. The Psychology of a Saint (Yale University Press, 1992), from which studies readers learn more about Freud than about Bernard or Loyola.

Some Distinguishing Features

The author sets forth in luminous prose and refined analysis the strongest grounds for belief thus far presented, in my opinion, for tilting the evidence, respectively, in the direction of 4th-and-5th-century public esteem for religious cult; toward the importance of Christian asceticism and the Bible gaining ascendancy over the attraction of philosophy; and, lastly, in favor of the significance of the garden scene at Milan as weighty determining factors in the overlapping stages of A's conversion to Catholic Christianity, without prejudice either to the persuasive force of Ambrose's preaching or to the appreciable influence of Neoplatonism. O'D's sifting of the evidence, his nuanced argument and his subtle shifts of emphases in each of the above areas can not be ignored by future interpreters of the confessiones. I am persuaded that O'D makes an authoritative case in a comprehensive manner for reading Augustine on Augustine's terms. Accordingly, we know more about what happened in the garden at Milan than we know about what happened when A. and Monnica were leaning on a window which opened on another garden inside the house where they were waiting for a boat to sail to North Africa. O'D understands the satellite of scriptural citations and reverberations, notably Sirach 18:1, at 9. 10. 25 as situating Ostia in an expressly Christian context (iii. 124). Seldom timorous once he has amassed the evidence, O'D is more than seldom powerfully persuasive: The subtext, wholly invisible to Mandouze and Courcelle, is that for all the scriptural parallels (italics his), the substance of the event was different for its Christianization; indeed, the parallels have the effect of calling attention to the differences (iii. 124).

Beyond any doubt O'D discerns at de libero arbitrio 1. 11. 22 a passage hitherto unnoticed by other scholars which anticipates, in much the same manner as de beata uita 1. 4, contra academicos 2. 2. 3-6, de utilitate credendi 1. 2 and 8. 20 and other early writings, the narrative portions of confessiones (i. xlvii-lvi).

By extending the boundaries of our present knowledge of Cicero and his influence upon Augustine, O'D breaks new ground at 1. 7. 12 (ii. 49), 11. 2. 2, 11. 18. 24 and elsewhere. This helps to explain why Cicero fills more than four columns of citations in the Index of Ancient Authors, appreciably more references than either Plotinus or Porphyry.

More than any other student of the confessiones, so far as I am aware, O'D explicates in detail the trinitarian structure of the last three books of confessiones. Cumulatively, his commentary makes the strongest case thus far for defending the unity and artistic integrity of the work in its entirety. Trinitarian patterns are sign-posted throughout all thirteen books of confessiones, and he indicates these triads or a single/double element from among them ad verbum. In many of these instances the perspective is frequently rhetorical rather than theological or philosophical (ii. 48, n. 17).

Along similar lines our commentator both modifies and extends significantly the research of Horst Kusch by delineating the subtle presence of 1 Jn 2:16, the three temptations, concupiscentia carnis, concupiscentia oculorum, and ambitio saeculi, both in their original and alternative, sometimes inverted sequence. This triadic pattern O'D traces meticulously as lending structure to the first eight books as well as to this second half of Bk. 10" (10. 30. 41).

While O'D assuredly gives due weight to the pervasive presence of Neoplatonism as a subtext in almost everything A. wrote (ii. 417), his arduous efforts to restore proper perspective in this difficult matter seem to have been adumbrated some eighty years ago by the trenchant observation of a theologian who noted that the trinities of the Neoplatonists and the Trinity of the church writers have scarcely anything in common but the number three (H. R. Mackintosh, The Doctrine of the Person of Christ (Edinburgh, 1912) 161). We shall say more about this vexed question below.

Another turn of the kaleidoscope reveals specific points of contact between the 13th chapter of Tobias as it relates to the overall contents and general structure of confessiones (ii. 6-7). In like manner O'D establishes a remarkable congruence between the themes of Psalm 4 and the dynamic of A's thought in confessiones (iii. 91-2). A helpful hypothetical reconstruction of Genesis 1 and 2:1-3, as close an approximation to the text A. had before him at the time of confessiones, greatly facilitates the reader's understanding of Bk. 13 (iii. 344-5; see also 13. 34. 49 at iii. 416-7). It comes as no surprise to read: No one verse of scripture (Gen 1:1) is quoted and echoed so frequently in confessiones (iii. 302). The author likewise adjusts the kaleidoscope for those many readers of confessiones who forget that A's concern with time in Bk. 11 is prompted by an exegetical interest in Gen 1:1 rather than any proto-scientific inquiry into ancient physics or natural philosophy (11. 22. 28 at iii. 286). The reader is doubly advised: Bear in mind that access to copies of the scriptural texts was not easy and universal (3. 5. 9). Yet at the same time: The kernel of truth is that Christianity was a profoundly and publicly textual and historical community (6. 5. 7).

A fifteen page Index of Scriptural Passages lists 45 columns of biblical texts (3 columns to a page). By far the greatest number of citations belongs to the Book of Psalms (12 cols.), with Genesis, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians together seemingly vying for second place (3 cols. each).

Both Archive and Commentary

O'D's three volumes are also an archive. The early section in the lengthy Introduction entitled A Century of Scholarship, i. xx- xxxii, is supplemented munificently in the commentary, punctuated as it is with secondary sources by scholars of every persuasion from many nations including the most recent wave of research from Japan. This archival nature of the author's researches is generously attested by his methodical account starting at the turn of the century and followed in the second decade of this century by Prosper Alfaric who sequentially aligned two Augustines, the philosopher and the penitent, while failing to realize that Augustine could be both at the same time.

By accentuating the importance of Ambrose's preaching during the first six months of 386 and by overstating the case for A's attempts at Plotinian ecstasy, Pierre Courcelle some forty years ago, according to O'D, shifted the focus away from the tolle lege scene in the garden at Milan to the preliminary stages which led up to it. A penetrating examination of Courcelle's researches and reactions to these researches by Willy Theiler, John J. O'Meara and others would constitute a book in itself. O'D thoroughly investigates the literature in such areas, for instance, as the possible existence of a Milanese circle, the extent of Ambrosian influence upon A., the relative importance of Plotinus, Porphyry, Cicero and others in shaping the contours of A's life and thought.

To the Parisian School, if we may call it that , O'D's criticism of both Courcelle and Mandouze may appear to be unduly harsh. Yet I believe he is both fair and nothing short of professional in his judicious corrections and emendations of both French scholars who have appreciably enlarged our knowledge of A., as O'D himself is the first to recognize. See Introduction xxv. n. 26; 3. 12. 21; 6. 11. 18-19; 7. 10. 16; 7. 17. 23; 8. 12. 29; 9. 4. 8; 9. 10. 24 and 11. 2. 3 end. See also Excursus: Alypius, Paulinus, and the Genesis of the Confessions, ii. 360-3.

There is no provincialism here, with respect to geographical locality or authorial perspective, as O'D strives to enlarge the perimeters of human understanding in favor of a more catholic (the lower capital is deliberate), interpretation befitting so worthy a classic which has been described by Ludwig Wittgenstein as conceivably the most serious book ever written (Rush Rhees, ed., Recollections of Wittgenstein (Oxford, 1984) 90). One thus perceives in O'D's craftsmanship the historical development in Augustine studies, a development away from the application of 19th-century historical-critical methodologies toward ressourcement, more specifically, toward the discovery that the odyssey of A's soul, his spiritual Aeneid, owes fewer debts than has been hitherto acknowledged to what was formerly identified in oversimplified terms as the Platonism of the Fathers.

A final turn of the kaleidoscope reveals four indexes: 1) Augustine's Works, 2) Ancient Authors, 3) Scriptural Passages, and 4) General Index of a rather modest size. While realizing that its inclusion was probably considered to be too cumbersome, I urge yet another Index of Modern Authors. At first sight the range of secondary materials is so staggering and comprehensive as to preclude a special index in this regard. But the value of the three volumes would thereby be notably enriched. In like manner, an Index of Variant Readings throughout all thirteen books (in Bk. 1 alone I counted more than forty loci), would provide ready access for specialists who wish such matters.

Quaedam Quaestiones

O'D's description of A's first book composed as a priest at Hippo, the dreadful de utilitate credendi -- unconvincing, lamely argued, poorly organized (i. xliii), is unfair and, on this account, invites more exacting study. The book was addressed to Honoratus urging him to abandon Manicheism and to examine Catholic doctrine. In the Retractationes 13. 6 Augustine cited his own words of de utilitate credendi without any gloss: Let this book stand on its own two feet; when your mind is more at ease (Honoratus), I shall perhaps be more inclined (to take up) further matters. A. himself does not find fault with de utilitate credendi as he does elsewhere in the retr. with several other writings, as we shall note below. In fact, A. accounts for the somewhat flexible and tentative character of the book by saying: (I)t was my hope that after this beginning I would write to him (Honoratus) in the future about matters which I had not included here (retr. 13. 6).

Elsewhere O'D tells us: When we read, for example, at de utilitate credendi 4. 10-5. 11. . ., it is hard to feel that we are not far from the classroom (iii. 300). In another context O'D aligns de utilitate credendi with contra academicos as a philosophical treatise (ii. 388). De utilitate credendi 1. 2 and 8. 10 anticipates the confessiones as O'D has indicated (i. liv-lv), and it records for the first time in A's writings four senses of Scripture (de utilitate credendi 3). All these features noted by O'D in his commentary mitigate to some extent his forceful indictment of de utilitate credendi in his Introduction.

While A's proselytizing temperament is understandably evident in this treatise, the mlange of autobiographical, biblical, philosophical and theological interests combines with a modicum of classroom technique, without any echo of the literary artifice found in the Cassiciacum dialogues (confessiones 9. 4. 7), thereby intensifying A's concern for his addressee. Tangents are not really tangents in such an earnest work and digressions can be construed as footnotes in the contemporary sense. Like Henri Marrou, O'D correctly credits A. with an improvisational musical mode of composition; the idiom, they tell us, is jazz, not classical. May I ask whether O'D's estimate of de utilitate credendi, as was the case with Marrou in a much larger context, invites a palinode?

Ordination to the presbyterate, O'D informs us, brought a real shock to Augustine and opened a difficult and frustrating period of his life, when one literary project after another fell to pieces in his hands and a desperate writer's block settled on him (i. xlii). Does one possibly credit A. with too much talent as a writer by conferring upon late 4th-century livres d'occasion the term literary project with too rigorous a 20th-century resonance? Here O'D overstates the case during an interval of A's life which is bracketed by his ordination as a priest and bishop, respectively, and marked further by his re- reading of Saint Paul at the urging of Simplicianus. His writer's block, we are told further, claims its last victim in the unfinished torso of de doctrina christiana, . . . (i. xliii). O'D cites five works (one of which is lost), and three Pauline commentaries to bolster his point of view which is somewhat at variance with his later gloss on 11. 2. 2 at iii. 255 where he says: But it is hard to believe that the man who could write (9 distinguished works are enumerated alongside two collections of sermons totalling more than 300), could weary (italics his) of a literary task.

O'D's attribution of writer's block to A. during this demanding period of adjustment to priestly ministry can be challenged on three fronts: 1) his selective listing of A's writings fails to include a like number of writings composed within the same time-frame, 2) except for the de mendacio, O'D sidesteps for the most part what the bishop says about these writings in his Retractations, and 3) so one-sided an emphasis on the inability of a writer to find his authorial voice in a written medium does not take into sufficient account the irksome negotium of pastoral responsibilities thrust upon A. in 391 and, consequently, the regrettable loss of otium which he had treasured so much at Thagaste until that time.

First of all, O'D's failure to include the abecedarian psalmus contra partem Donati and the de agone christiano unduly eclipses two somewhat distinctive compositions whose latinity is imaginatively and effectively directed towards the rudes ac simplices among the faithful. Both the acta contra Fortunatum manichaeum (Retractationes 1. 16) and the de fide et symbolo (Retractationes 1. 17) were originally oral compositions delivered in the presence of public audiences, respectively, each designated by their author as a disputatio, each of which A. subsequently transcribed into a liber. In the latter instance he tells us that the thought sequence does not quite square with the format of the Creed regularly given to catechumens and entrusted by them to memory. In his own words in his review of contra Adimantum, yet another disputatio -- responsio and quaestiones -- responsiones (Retractationes 1. 22), A. sometimes resorted to sermons by way of direct response to a situation; some issues he never attended to; some more pressing questions got sidetracked and, finally, other matters A. simply forgot. The impasse which O'D detects in writings, therefore, during this difficult time of transition, as with so much else in A., invites several explanations.

Secondly, close inspection of the works which O'D cites in his Introduction, xlii. n. 69 reveals that de Genesi ad litteram imperfectus liber was completed in two installments, 393/4 and near the end of A's life, as O'D has duly noted. Meanwhile, A's inexperience, tirocinium, as a biblical exegete succumbed to the weight of so heavy a burden in an interpretative study which he described as negotiossimum ac difficillimum (Retractationes 1. 18). When this book later turned up as the bishop was reviewing all his writings, although A. had previously ordered it to be destroyed, he then requested that it be preserved as not without use, non inutilis, for a fuller understanding of his early efforts at biblical exegesis.

Although it is reviewed at Retractationes 1. 21, contra epistolam Donati haeretici is no longer extant, yet there is nothing in the Retractationes to suggest that the author did not find his proper voice in its composition. We simply do not know.

Expositio quarumdam propositionum ex epistola apostoli ad Romanos (55 pp. in CSEL) is the product of notes taken at random from conversations with colleagues, fratres, very likely about the time A. attended the Council of Carthage, 26 June 394. His brothers requested a written account of A's responses to their questions. It is not clear whether A. dictated the book on location in Carthage or waited until he returned to Hippo (Retractationes 1. 23). Unlike the two commentaries on Romans, Expositio epistolae ad Galatas, although concise, is complete (Retractationes 1. 24). Evidently its author was satisfied with its intact status as a literal interpretation of Paul (89 pp. in CSEL). A's second commentary on Romans, Epistolae ad Romanos inchoata expositio presents us with a different situation. A. suspended the work temporarily, so he thought at the time, in order to examine the issue of sin against the Holy Spirit as this is recorded in the Scriptures (c. 14 f.). The magnitude of the work itself necessarily limited the commentary to the first seven verses of Romans in a single volume (36 pp. in CSEL). So exacting a task, however, soon taxed A's developing exegetical talents to such a pitch that he turned to less demanding matters (Retractationes 1. 25).

Lack of time to refute the so-called Foundation Letter of Mani in its entirety prompted A. to refute only its early sections. For this reason he made jottings, adnotationes, so as to highlight the remainder and bulk of the document, evidently a basic text or primer of Manicheism which is no longer extant. A. expressly hoped that a more propitious time would enable him to make a rebuttal of the entire letter (Retractationes 2. 2). In the long run, as O'D correctly points out, the contra Faustum was the fruit of this postponement.

From the time of its initial composition, as O'D again reminds us, the author of de mendacio faulted its lack of clarity and its circuitous argumentation, liber. . .et obscurus et anfractuosus (Retractationes 1. 27). A. found the book to be so irritating that he ordered it to be struck from the list of his writings. After he had completed another book entitled contra mendacium, some twenty-five years later, the bishop again ordered the earlier work to be suppressed. When, however, the earlier opusculum turned up as he was reviewing all his writings, A. commented upon it since it contained materials which he had omitted from the later work. He then ordered it to be preserved in the catalogue of his writings.

In this first of two books on lying, eloquence, eloquium noli quaere, was not an issue nor was there excessive preoccupation with words, prope nulla fuit cura uerborum, as A. sought truth completely at variance with lying and deception by linking himself with his reader, ut quaeramus cum quaerentibus, in a book hastily composed, de celeritate, regarding a subject of eminently practical importance to North Africans, in ipsis quotidianis actibus nostris. The book is characterized by the words quaerere / pertractare / quaestio / ipsa tractatio / sententia nostra. All this we learn in the introduction, mend. 1. By the time we reach the conclusion (mend. 44) we are advised to regard the work as a disputatio, yet a disputatio whose chief marks appear to be consideratio and pertractatio. For this former professor of rhetoric now turned busy parish priest the rules of composition were seldom inflexible.

The unfinished character of the first three books of de doctrina christiana, once again as O'D reminds us, was remedied when the bishop took notice of it late in life. Its completion during the years 426/7 has the advantage of reflecting the lifelong cumulative experiences of a seasoned practitioner as both preacher and biblical exegete only a few years before his death in 430. There is no denying that the intervening span of years which transpired before termination of de doctrina christiana enriched significantly the production of a better book.

While contexts are never the same in the composition of the eight books described above in the Retractationes (each work noted by O'D), conceivably the only element common to each of them is their characteristic feature as un livre d'occasion. From the perspective of book- production, however, these are the least studied among all A's voluminous writings. O'D's remarks, therefore, almost in the nature of obiter dicta, set out in a footnote of modest size rather than in the body of the text, prod scholars to undertake further investigative studies in order to form a more balanced judgment in this matter.

My own viewpoint after some exploratory work on the de mendacio, for example, is to suggest that the bishop, while disarmingly honest on two occasions by ordering its deletion from his writings, was, it seems to me, unreasonably harsh with himself in his reflection on its composite structure. In addition, such works as psalmus contra partem Donati and de agone christiano, were as venturesome as they were without a hint of any inability to communicate their author's thoughts in two published media, each with pronounced distinctive flavors. As a forerunner of much medieval poetry, the former, ps. c. Don. with its 297 verses, is noted for its alphabetical structure, its accentual rhythms sharply at variance with the qualitative accents of Classical Latin poetry, the medial and terminal rhyme of its refrain, innovative features which facilitated ready memorization among rank and file Christians. The latter treatise, agon., reveals a Latin syntax shot through with the straightforward style of the sermo humilis, tailored to articulate in catechetical fashion both the regula fidei and the praecepta vivendi for the benefit of unlettered Christians. Both these writings shed light upon the range of A's overreaching pastoral interests, triggered by a host of new experiences (his first attempt at New Testament exegesis, for example, in his de sermone Domini in monte), which thwarted but hardly diminished his talents as a writer.

Finally, mention should be made of the routine demands, liturgical and otherwise, which filled out A's day as a new priest and pastor. For readers of this journal it is unnecessary to outline myriad procedural and disciplinary factors extending from the drunken behavior of North Africans in 391 while celebrating the laetitiae in honor of the first martyr- bishop of Hippo, St. Leontius, to Valerius' consecration of A. as co- adjutor bishop, thereby contravening canon 8 of Nicaea, a violation A. refused to repeat many years later after his nomination of Eraclius as his successor to the see of Hippo. Such circumstances as these rather than writer's block better explain both the uneven and unfininshed nature of A's writings during a time of difficult transition in his life.

From my privileged position I raise a minor point in an area of great interest to myself. In an enlightening introductory comment on monasticism, 8. 6. 15, the text of Io. ev. tr. 97. 4 refers only to monasteria as a nouum nomen; it says nothing of monachi, except by way of inference. O'D is far more competent than this reviewer to designate each of the above words as a neologism. For my part it surely is a quibble rather than a query to suggest that loanword is conceivably preferable to neologism, since the words were adapted from the Greek monacos and monasterion so as eventually to have become naturalized in the Latin language in the same manner as words such as baptismus and xenodochium.

While it is the nature of a commentary to be suggestive rather than conclusive or definitive (recall O'D's rubric working tool, contributing to dialogue . . .), I wonder whether it is possibly misleading to say at 4. 13. 20 (ii. 248) but beauty gradually loses its hold on A's ways of thinking. I have in mind ciu. Dei, completed in 426/7, where variants of pulcher and pulchritudo punctuate the text at prominent intervals.

Finally, to say of cum aeterno in silentio uerbo tuo at 11. 6. 8 (iii. 267) that the doctrine of the silent Word (oxymoron) is a forced solution, fails to take into account that A., for all his preaching and plethora of print, is more apophatic than many scholars are willing to acknowledge. Recall the incisive observation at 1. 4. 4: et uae tacentibus de te, quoniam loquaces muti sunt. This strain of apophaticism in A's thought is detected early in the de ordine 2. 16. 14: deus melius scitur nesciendo. Two citations from a letter and a sermon, respectively, point to this deep undercurrent in A's mature thought: (1) the famous remark to Anicia Faltonia Proba, docta ignorantia in ep. 130. 15. 28, and (2) Omnia possunt dici de Deo, et nihil digne dicitur de Deo in Io. eu. tr. 13. 5. Fondness for the phrase Verbum infans in sermons indicates further the extent to which God-talk necessarily prompted the language of oxymoron and paradox. In de doctrina christiana 1. 6. 6, written about the same time as the early books of confessiones, this tension in A's thought is exquisitely expressed thus:

Quae pugna uerborum silentio cauenda potius quam uoce pacanda est. Et tamen deus, cum de illo nihil digne dici possit, admisit humanae uocis obsequium, et uerbis nostris in laude sua gaudere nos uoluit.

Difficulties in Commenting on Augustine

Three volumes of nearly one-thousand pages with half a million words which endeavor to explicate the text of confessiones (itself a text of 78,000 words), are entitled to nod from time to time, like Homer, as Quintilian noted long ago. I do believe, however, that O'D has succeeded admirably in fulfilling the four chief objectives that he established for himself, as these are outlined at the beginning of this essay.

By all odds A. is the most difficult of the Latin Fathers to comment upon because a researcher or a number of scholars has invariably broken ground before another scholar sets foot on it. There are many other factors as well: 1) the sheer bulk of A's writings, more than 5,125,00 words, 2) the prismatic and dialectical / dialogical character of A's thought begrudgingly lends itself to systematization, 3) we moderns crave a certainty of interpretation which ancient sources refuse to yield, and 4) knowledge of many interdisciplinary skills is required in order to meld historical fact with environmental and cultural factors in such a way as to be able to decode the extent to which personal, pastoral and polemical experiences have shaped A's thought as this is exhibited in the confessiones. O'D fittingly warns his readers: Just when we are best at explaining (italics his) Augustine, we are then perhaps furthest from his thought (Intro., xix). O'D's commentary reinforces John Burnaby's observation a few generations ago: The system which generally goes by the name of Augustinianism is in great part a cruel travesty of Augustine's deepest and most vital thought (Amor Dei: A Study of the Religion of St. Augustine (London, 1928) 231).

While O'D's impressive work canvasses a number of theological and philosophical issues at least in summary fashion, its main thrust is plainly literary-philological interpretation, during the course of which O'D sheds light on many dark terminological corners. This commendable focus inevitably leaves untouched the analytical frames, the logical underpinnings, the dialectical hypotheses, the inductive moves, and the modes of demonstration that sustain A's unrelenting ratiocination. Because of this unavoidable limitation, many sections, whose words and phrases are shrewdly glossed, are left analytically unexposited. A perusal of the treatise on time (11.14.17 -- 29.39), for example, yields little of what A. is driving at in this compact exercise in analysis. The essentials of A's argumentation have had to yield place to the overriding literary-philological interests. In short, this is a superb accomplishment in a number of respects and an immeasurably rich contribution toward A's analytical profile in the confessiones.

Thankfully, our author did not follow Horace's advice about setting the work aside for nine years prior to publication. In mid-life A. cited another warning of Horace: Once a word is in print, there is no way to retrieve it (Epodes II.3. 390; Epistula 143. 4). Earnest scholar that he is, O'D has already, I suspect, set in motion what Karl Barth called his Wendung in conscious imitation of A's Retractationes. Unlike Henri Marrou, my guess is that O'D's Reconsiderations (to employ his own translation of A's original title) will not require a separate fascicle. Thanks to the technical sophistication splendidly manifest in the production of these three volumes so princely a Press will incorporate corrections, emendations and more refined clarifications into a work which deserves to remain well into the next century a landmark in the history of Augustine scholarship.