February 5th, 2005


Theological Notebook--Augustine Seminar, Day 1

Here's the kickoff class notes from our first day in Michel René Barnes' doctoral seminar on Augustine.

Theo 261: Augustine
Dr Michel Barnes
January 24, 2005 Class Notes
Anthony Briggman

* I would have been rather disappointed if I had not been able to open the notes for this course with a few classic quotes. As is typical, Dr Barnes took a moment to discuss his preference for the use of surnames when in his presence. After attributing this preference to his “whimsical arbitrary use of power,” he then concluded this announcement by referring to this preference as his one idiosyncracy “outside of which I am sweetness and light!” Mr Harris quietly observed that while Dr Barnes may possess only one idiosyncracy: it is one “with many footnotes.”

* I would also like to take a moment to note that our esteemed professor failed to discuss the optional title by which his students (if they be so bold) may address him. I attribute this forgetfulness to the bottle of morphine pills that sat so conspicuously on his right-hand side, and simply hope that this oversight will be remedied shortly.

Introductory comments with regard to studying Augustine:

* The dominant way of approaching Augustine has been to analyze his work with respect to his philosophical influences. Since the early 20th century the thesis has existed that Augie really converted to neo-platonism (N-P), rather than to Christianity (espoused by Alaric). Consequently, the relationship between Augie’s faith and his (presumed) philosophy has had a significant role in determining the prima facie manner in which he has been read and understood (e.g., note Chadsworth’s repeated footnotes which point toward Plotinus: the philosopher who scholars typically have in mind when the refer to Augie’s N-P). However, the idea that Augie really converted to N-P, and not to Christianity, has been largely discredited and is no longer the majority consensus. Yet, this opinion frequently continues to shape incoming scholarship “like missing teeth.”

Augie + N-P = N-P, really

* Mr Novak inquired as to the reasoning that led to Augie been read through an N-P lens. Dr Barnes responded with a two-part answer:Collapse )
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Theological Notebook--Augustine Seminar, Day 2

Class Notes for 1-26-05
Daniel Lloyd

Two important aspects to reading Confessions must always be:
1. It is comprised of the details of his life as he remembers them.
2. He inserts contemporary concerns into the work as they are dramatized or revealed to the reader, retrospectively of him.
In other words, Confessions must be read as both “historical” in its autobiographical context as well as with contemporary reflections.

Dr. Barnes pointed out that some scholars see no connection between the story presented in Confessions and the actual “facts” of Augustine’s life. Mr. Novak asked what the arguments were that supported the position. Dr. Barnes listed three. First, these scholars point to an incongruity between the texts written at the time (such as De magistro and Soliloquies) and the depth of his Christianity as presented in the Confessions. According to the primary sources of the time, Augustine doesn’t seem as Christian as he says he was in the Confessions. Second, Confessions fits nicely into a stylistic genre of the time which leads some scholars to say that he was really just using a rhetorical structure popular at the time. Third, some scholars argue that the theological agenda seems so strong that Augustine would have had to shape the story to fit his theological goals.

Some broad concerns which dominate the contents of Confessions:
1. His rejection of Manichaeism (as in the polemic against it)
2. His attraction to and later rejection of skepticism
3. Add also his rejection of astrology and determinism
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