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Petites etudes Augustiniennes.

By Goulven Madec. Pp. 389. (Collection des Etudes Augustiniennes. Serie Antiquite, 142.) Paris: Institut d'Etudes Augustiniennes, 1994. ISBN 2 85121 142 0. Paper FB 1287,73.

The final piece in this collection of twenty essays is entitled `En finira-t-on avec saint Augustin?'. It is a fiercely polemical piece in which Madec takes up the case for Augustine in response to anti-Augustinian comments in a journal entitled Golias. One contributor had the temerity to suggest `Pour en finir avec saint Augustin...', to which Madec responds, `Eh! non; c'est mon gagne-pain. J'ai la chance--la charge aussi--de frequenter Augustin tous les jours depuis 35 ans; et, contrairement a bien d'autres theologiens , il ne m'ennuie pas encore, meme au sujet du peche originel'. Madec's boundless enthusiasm and devotion to Augustine, his heartfelt empathy with, and sensitive appreciation of, his thought are the result of years of exposure to Augustine spent at the Institut des Etudes Augustiniennes in Paris, as a member of an Augustinian community, working on Augustine, teaching courses on Augustine, editing texts for the Bibliotheque Augustinienne; and years surviving exposure to the torrents of secondary literature on Augustine which it has been his job to collate and review for the Bulletin and Revue des Etudes Augustiniennes. One would have to possess an anima naturaliter augustiniana to survive all this--and Madec indubitably does.

Madec's doctoral thesis was on Ambrose (Saint Ambroise et la Philosophie, Paris, 1974), he has written on John Scotus Eriugena (Jean Scot et ses auteurs, Paris, 1988), a writer greatly influenced by Augustine, articles on whom are included in this volume, but the vast body of his work has been on Augustine: editions, a book--which unfortunately has not yet been translated into English--on his Christology (La Patrie et la Voie, Paris, 1989) and a large- number of articles and pieces d'occasion on a wide variety of themes. Twenty of them, published over a period of twenty years, are collected in the present volume under the deceptive but alluring title `Petites Etudes Augustinennes': for they are all potent distillations of profound scholarship--late Beethoven quartets in the guise of bagatelles. Perhaps Madec the critic and reviewer has simply had to read too many books and has thereby learnt to appreciate and refine the art of making a point with simplicity, precision, lucidity--and brevity. For this, we must be thankful, and not make the egregious mistake of Research Assessment Exercises and judge someone by the volume of their output.

As with all great composers, Madec has an unmistakable tone, a unique way of orchestrating his thoughts, so that one paragraph--sometimes a sentence--will suffice to identify the author. He never hides behind the authorial `we', but states his case directly in the first person. He does not mince his words or suffer fools gladly; the tone is frequently polemical; he has a knowledge of Augustine's work which is second to none and uses extensive quotation to elucidate his arguments. Similarly, his vast knowledge of secondary literature is evidenced in detailed bibliographical references. His interpretation works from a sympathetic reading to conclusions which seem so obviously right and at harmony with Augustine's thought that one wonders how anyone (and he definitely has his critics) could ever think otherwise.

There are also characteristic themes which recur in different essays and on which variations are played. Chief among these is Madec's preoccupation with the role played by philosophy in Augustine's thought. The first two papers treat this subject in the broader context of the Fathers' attitude to philosophy--with the `Christianisation of hellenism' and the `Platonism of the fathers'. The Fathers' attitude, Madec maintains, is essentially simple: they maintained that they possessed the whole truth in Christianity and neither sought to `Christianise' hellenism, or hellenise `Christianity' but rather attempted to identify and claim the truth, wherever it was found, as their own, and then to illustrate and defend it. In the second essay he traces the diverse scholarly evaluations of the Fathers' use of Platonism in this context (and provides a very useful bibiography), beginning with H. Dorrie's extreme repudiation of it and concluding with E. R. Dodds' more moderate insights into the cultural koine that pagans and Christians shared. Madec aligns himself with Dodds (a rare reference to an English scholar here) in suggesting that it is in terms of this wider cultural melange, rather than of doctrinal syntheses, that we ought to attempt to appreciate the so-called `Platonism' of the fathers. So, Augustine came across Neoplatonism in the cultural milieu of Milan, through various individuals who were influenced by it in different ways. Madec suggests that the now classic idea of a `Neoplatonic circle' in Milan is in fact the construct of scholars--if a circle existed at all it centred on Augustine, his relations with the different individuals forming the spokes. Madec traces the influence of Augustine's reading of the libri platonicorum throughout his works, from Contra Academicos to De Trinitate, and summarizes his findings with a list of the features of `platonisme a l'augustinienne' which perhaps deserve to be summarized here since they are constantly reiterated by Madec at crucial points in the rest of the papers included in this volume. Augustine acknowledges that the Platonists know God's essence, absolute Being, and often uses Rom. 1:19-23 in this context (Madec's now classic article on this is in Recherches Augustiniennes, 1962, 273-309). Through Platonism the soul is able to transcend materiality, sensation, and imagination: thus it enabled Augustine to break with the Manichees and grasp the transcendence of God and the spirituality of the soul. The Platonists do not have the authority necessary to convince everyone of the truth of their doctrine, but now the authority of Christ is revealed and Platonists must acknowledge His truth and humble themselves before the Logos incarnate: this was demonstrated to Augustine in 386 by Simplicianus. Platonism suffers the contradiction of a good theology and poor religious practice; Christianity restores the coherence between theory and practice, between true philosophy and true religion: Platonism finds its fulfilment in Christianity.

So, when Madec turns in paper three to the old chestnut of `Neoplatonism in the conversion of Augustine' to review a hundred years of the debate (another occasion for extensive bibliography), and in paper four to consider `God in the conversion of Augustine' the above features appear again. Another major theme is also developed in these two essays: Augustine's Christianity. In his book on Christology and at important points throughout these essays, Madec urges that Augustine was never not a Christian. As he states in paper four `c'est une conversion philosophique qui se passe entierement dans le champ du christianisme; car Augustin etait chretien de naissance; il avait bu le nom du Christ avec le lait de sa mere; il avait recu le sacrement des catechumenes; gravement malade, il avait reclame instamment le bapteme du Christ...'. Even when he became a Manichee he was not leaving the Church--Manichaeism was for him a purified and superior form of Christianity. As a sceptic he refused to commit his soul to their care because they ignored the saving name of Christ. After his experience of Neoplatonism, guided by Simplicianus, he continued to reflect on the role of Christ: `Il y avait done, chez Augustin, un attachement indefectible a la personne du Christ; et le denouement de la crise finale devait logiquement etre chretien' (p. 73). Though highly disputed, this is, of course, the most obvious, the simplest explanation of Augustine's conversion--it is also original and a mark of Madec's clarity of vision in interpreting Augustine--a breath of fresh air after much stale debate.

Madec never lets us forget that Augustine was a rhetor, someone who `wrote' by declaiming, or praying, hands upraised, in language full of images. Thus, alongside the familiar philosophical and religious aspects of Augustine's conversion, in paper five he sets the `metaphorical'--his use of images of turning and returning, of inferiority and transcendence, of ascent and descent, of form, deformity, and reformation. The Porphyrian sources of the images--inferiority, conversion, transcendence--are examined in paper six, where Madec draws attention to an article by J. Pepin which discusses Augustine's De Immortalitate Animae--an otherwise much neglected work--and its dependence on Porphyry's Zetemata. They are further examined in paper nine on `Conversion, Interiority and Intentionality' where the Neoplatonically inspired movement inwards is shown to be also a movement of transcendence, of finding one's true being in God who is interior intimo meo et superior summo meo. The image of ascensio is further investigated in paper eight, a masterly article written for the Augustinus Lexicon.

Paper ten on `Philosophia christiana' and paper twelve on 'The De ciuitate dei as De vera religione' return to examine some of the features of `platonisme a l'augustinienne', especially the relation between Christian auctoritas and Platonic ratio. The latter, Madec stresses, is not some sort of independent faculty or natural revelation, but is due to the soul working under the influence of the illuminating Word, Christ, who is Wisdom and the true Mediator. The philosophers must therefore abandon their proud presumption and humbly confess the Word incarnate in order to truly grasp the truth. This is the universal way of salvation which Porphyry and others mistakenly sought in theurgic rites. There is therefore only one true philosophy, philosophia christiana, which is in fact true religion. In paper twelve Madec develops these insights in relation to City of God. Ancient cities were, he observes, politico-religious entities, defined by their cult. The true city, like true philosophy, is that which worships the true God. In this sense Augustine's De ciuitate dei is in reality a De vera religione, and it is not surprising to find that the latter work foreshadows the former in many respects, or that the first half of De ciuitate dei culminates by opposing Christ's mediation and the Christian mysteries as the universal way of salvation with philosophical elitism and demonic mediation. Madec agrees with Van Oort in seeing the rest of De ciuitate dei as a rhetorical confirmatio of this insight, in the form of a narratio of Christian history which doubles (as in De Catechizandis Rudibus) as a catechism.

Paper thirteen, entitled `Le communisme spiritual' was written for a Festschrift for the late Luc Verheijen and takes up his work on the regula to illustrate how the distinction between those who seek their own good (proprium) and those who seek the common good (commune) was a constant feature of Augustine's understanding of Christian life from the very beginning; a Neoplatonic theme which, when Christianized, inspired two of Augustine's major works--the Confessiones and the De ciuitate dei.

There follow papers on `Tempora Christiana' (fourteen--an exhaustive list of texts which make use of this expression in order to reconsider R. A. Markus' use of it in Saeculum); Eriugena (fifteen) and (sixteen); Anselm (seventeen).

The last three papers are somewhat idiosyncratic. Paper nineteen is a polemical piece, `Saint Augustin est-il le malin genie de l'Europe' which surveys Augustine's influence through the ages. Paper twenty, `En finira-t-on avec saint Augustin?' we have mentioned above. Paper eighteen, `Les embarras de la citation' is the fruit of Madec's reflections on his work as reviewer and critic at Etudes Augustiniennes and is a plea for restraint in the use of italics to indicate quotations, or `tacit' quotations, in the editing of texts--for example, biblical quotations in the Confessiones. Rather, the reader ought to be free to read a text `qui ne soit pas perturbee par d'incessants artifices qui signalent intempestivement de pretendus corps etrangers. Bref, je souhaite qu'on leur presente un texte lisse, exempt de toute intrusion des resultats de l'erudition philologique' (p. 313). Philology, he maintains, shatters the unity of a text into fragments, artificially separating what the original author chose to integrate. In other words, Hands off!--scholarship can go too far.

Madec, the epitome of the erudite scholar, is well aware of the limitations and frustrations of the scholar's art. For this reason, among many others, he deserves an attentive reading. His work stands out among the finest on Augustine this century.
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Author:Harrison, Carol
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1997
Words:2000
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