Augustine and Augustinianism (RS 150), Spring 2001

MWF 11:30-12:35 p.m.

Telford Work
Porter Center 15
(805) 565-6087
Office Hours: by appointment

Course Syllabus

  3. TEXTS


Imagine an afternoon of scrounging through your grandparents' attic. You find a box with portraits and memorabilia of an ancestor. You take the box downstairs to show your folks, and as it is opened and emptied, stories begin to flow for hours. This is the ancestor: The one who came to America and settled in the town whose phone book today has pages of people with your last name. And as you look and touch and hear, you notice that he looks astoundingly like you -- even though his dress, expressions, and backgrounds belong to another world.

This course explores the context, teaching, and influence of such an ancestor: St. Augustine of Hippo, without a doubt the most influential "Western" Christian thinker.

Hans von Campenhausen says of Augustine, "irrespective of school and denomination he attracts pagans and Christians, philosophers and theologians alike by his writings and makes them come to terms with his intentions and his person." This is as true of the twenty-first century (it is, finally, the twenty-first century) as it is of the fifth. Whether or not one agrees with him, here is simply no getting around this man in the intellectual, social, political, and of course religious West. An introduction to him is indispensible to a liberal arts education worthy of the name (and moreso to a Christian liberal arts education).

Our survey will study several features of St. Augustine's life: First, the bishop's historical context in Roman North Africa at the end of Antiquity. Second, some of his most influential writings. Third, the traditions of Augustinianism that have flowed out of Augustine's life and into our worlds ever since. These have shaped the Western theological landscape profoundly; but their legacy reaches firmly into "the rest of" our lives: Politics, psychology, literature, philosophy, history, marriage and friendship. So our survey of a man is in a way a primer, or a refresher, of many of the anchors of our selves and our educations.

My goals are several: First, a reasonably thorough, reasonably comprehensive introduction to Augustine and Augustinianism. Second, the experience of a deep study of a life. In a world where we devote seconds to major world events, minutes to debates and discussions of lasting import, and hours to rock stars and sports figures, I want you to learn how to spend months studying one human being, in both his contemporary and future contexts. We're going to "make room for depth." Third, an exercise in historiography, where we learn how texts and contexts create and inform each other. Fourth, an opportunity to think theologically and philosophically, systematically and occasionally, long and hard, as we follow in the footsteps of a master, tracing both his triumphs and failures, both his lasting achievements and his tragic mistakes. Names for this practice are "discipleship" and "scholarship." Fifth, an appreciation of how a Father of the Church has made us who we are -- how the mannerisms and facial features of that long-departed ancestor have somehow become our own, whether we like it or not. Sixth, training in how to read difficult texts. (Welcome to my world.)

At all points we will pay particular attention to historical context. We will ask what work these texts did among their original audiences, and what work they have done in their later communities (Catholic, Protestant, civil, and post-Christian). How do they reflect Augustine's and his church's changing situations? How have traditions appropriated these ideas according to their own changed situations? How have their reclaimed Augustine, and how have they remade Augustine after their own image and expectations?

As in all history courses, we will see how (1) our pasts form us, and (2) we form our pasts. "History" is not a self-contained, stable deposit of information that passively awaits our investigation. Rather, history is a living project where what we retrieve is shaped by what we expect, and what we retrieve changes how we live and think (and what we expect to retrieve in the future). Through our look back upon this aspect of the Christian faith, we will revive the past, and the past will revive us.


Sleepy students, beware: This is a seminar, not a lecture course. Class time will concentrate on student presentations and discussions. I will offer occasional lectures, especially on our "big-picture" questions. And of course I will mount my soapbox regularly. Nevertheless, we will usually be hearing from (and interrupting) students. You will be responsible not only for the content of your own presentations, but also for your colleagues'.


Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo.
Brown's biography of Augustine is a masterpiece and a classic. Brown brings to life fourth-century North Africa, Augustine's mother and acquaintances, the Christian movements and thinkers of the day, and of course the man at the center of all the action, with startling depth and beauty. You should read this book simply to learn how well some people can write. (You certainly won't learn that from me.) While it has recently been revised and reissued, either edition will be adequate.

Allan D. Fitzgerald, ed., Augustine through the Ages: an Encyclopedia.
I will never doubt divine providence again, now that this encyclopedia has arrived (one month after I proposed teaching this course). It seems that the articles here cover every imaginable area of Augustine's life, thought, and influence. Some of its articles will be required; I encourage you to use others as you find them helpful to your presentations and papers.

Augustine, Confessions.
I can't believe I got away without reading this text until I was a professor myself. You won't! This short text is not only a pioneering work of autobiography, but an introduction to Augustine's "theological life" (concentrating on surprising details and overlooking others) that has forever shaped the way Westerners understand Christian faith, life, and spirituality. My mother-in-law read it, and couldn't believe Augustine wasn't a modern. That's how much we still think like him.

Augustine, City of God.
This is by far our most intimidating text. Even I'm scared of it. Yet The City of God Against the Pagans is the epitaph of Roman antiquity, the blueprint for the medieval world, the Oedipal father-text for the modern world that eventually prevailed over the Middle Ages -- and maybe even the roadmap "back" to postmodernity. Its ideas and figures captivated the imaginations of whole worlds. It will captivate us too. We will read only selections.

Augustine, On Christian Doctrine.
This quite accessible manual for preachers is one of the most influential homiletics texts in the Western tradition. It includes Augustine's theory of signification, his rationale for the use of worldly disciplines (such as grammar and rhetoric) in the service of biblical interpretation, brilliant suggestions for resolving interpretive problems, and a long persuasive theological justification for the use of allegory. You will learn here that language is a deeply and irreducibly theological good, and its use can only be properly appreciated and disciplined by the gospel itself.

Augustine, On the Trinity.
This work combines apologetics, a whole scheme of interpreting Old Testament texts about God, spirituality, and what today would be called systematic and philosophical theology. In fact, it did it so successfully that On the Trinity permanently shaped Western thinking about God. Remember the Filioque? It starts here. As one of the high points of Augustine's career, On the Trinity is a seminal work in theology -- and one of the intellectual forces that drove the theological split between East and West.


John M. Rist, Augustine: Ancient Thought Baptized.
In this surprisingly compact volume, Rist does what seems impossible: He organizes Augustine's contributions to philosophy and theology,
and describes the Christian transformations of Greco-Roman thought that Augustine (usually) achieved. His topics constitute one more indicator of the depth and breadth of Augustinianism's range: Language and signification; faith and reason; soul, body, and personhood; love, will, and virtue in human (and divine) action; social and political life; marriage and sexuality; and divine power, predestination, and providence. I would have assigned it if its 300 pages would not have cut into our reading of Augustine himself. Instead, I have made it an analysis of it an alternative to the final exam.

Carol Harrison, Augustine: Christian Truth and Fractured Humanity.
From the cover: "This book sets Augustine in his cultural and social context showing how, as a Christian, he came to terms with the philosophical and rhetorical ideals of classical culture, and, as a bishop, with the ecclesiastical, ascetic, and political structures of late antique society."

Augustine, Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love.
Let's translate "enchiridion" into "handbook." This is Augustine's introduction to the Christian faith, written to catechize an interested contemporary layman -- Augustine's "Four Spiritual Laws," so to speak. It's a fascinating glimpse at what the fourth century considered Christianity's "fundamentals." They look a lot more Catholic than Protestant. Our four measly spiritual laws pale by comparison. Since I've assigned this text for RS 20, I thought, why not include it here?

Other Augustinian writings.
Many more primary-source texts can be found at and


1. Attendance at class sessions and participation in discussions is required. If this is true of lecture courses, it is even more so in seminars.

2. Each of you will give a 20 minute in-class presentation on a text (or some section of one), a theme, or a chapter from Brown. Here you will provide helpful context for other students, make observations, and raise questions for us to discuss. This amounts to about two tightly written, single-spaced pages. Please distribute copies to your classmates on the day of your presentation. (You may also e-mail me an HTML copy for publication on this site.) Your presentation will count as 20% of your final grade.

3. Everyone who is not presenting that day will bring a one-page typewritten brief that (1) summarizes the reading, and (2) asks a question for discussion. These prepared statements will raise the quality of discussion markedly. I will collect these after class, and grade them as follows: "+", "-", or "0" (for absences). These will comprise 20% of your final grade. No late briefs will be accepted, though I will accept briefs ahead of time for excused absences.

4. You will write a 12-page analysis of an Augustinian text, idea, historical period, or trajectory of thought (in other words, 12 pages on "something Augustinian"). This should be on another topic than your in-class presentation, but I may be willing to make exceptions if you bring in sufficient additional material (further research, or answers to questions raised in your presentation). In this assignment, you will probably need to draw on secondary sources beyond the course reading. The analysis is meant to develop and test your ability to draw on historical and theological works in, and especially after, your time at college. Analyses will be due April 27, the last day of class. Your analysis will count as 40% of your final grade.

As you prepare to write your paper, please refer to my suggestions for writing papers for helpful suggestions, cautions about Internet "research", ultimata regarding late papers and plagiarism, and so on.

5. There will be a final exam on presentations and readings that covers the entire course. The exam is meant to develop and test your ability to recall and especially to use the course material. Your final exam will count as 20% of your final grade. Unless it is a take-home exam, it will be held Wednesday, May 2, at 8 a.m. Alternately, philosophically inclined students can submit a ten-page analysis of Rist, so long as you do its "optional" readings before those class-times.

6. To stimulate discussion, this class will have its own e-mail discussion group you will use to take class discussions into and out of class sessions. This is a place for you to post questions and thoughtful answers to the questions of others. I will lurk, responding and posing questions only when I consider it necessary. Send e-mail to

All of these assignments are meant not only to teach you theological history, but to help you continue to learn after this course is over. For a while you may feel somewhat at a loss for a good angle for your presentation or analysis. This too is part of your training: I would rather you feel this way now than later, when Westmont's resources are no longer at hand to guide you!


Date Subject Reading
(required/ recommended)
Mon. 1/8 Welcome!   Telford Work
Wed. 1/10 Assignments syllabus, Brown preface, Conf introduction Telford Work
Fri. 1/12 Setting Brown chs 1-3; "Life, Culture, and Controversies of Augustine"; Conf bks 1-3, "Sin" Telford Work
Mon. 1/15 (Martin Luther King Day)    
Wed. 1/17 Manichaeism Brown chs 4-5; Conf bk 4; Brown chs 6-7; "Mani, Manichaeism"; "Goodness," "Evil," "Anti-Manichaean Works"  
Fri. 1/19 Fourth-Century Catholicism Brown ch 8; Conf bks 5-6, "Women," "Christian Influences on Augustine" ('Before His Conversion')  
Mon. 1/22 Neoplatonism Brown ch 9; Conf bk 7; "Plato, Platonism"; "Plotinus"; "Classical Influences on Augustine" (through 'Philosophy and the Liberal Arts'); "Porphyry"  
Wed. 1/24 Conversion Brown ch 10; Conf bk 8, "Interiority," "Mysticism"  
Fri. 1/26 Into Leadership Brown chs 11-15; Conf bk 9  
Mon. 1/29 Confessions Brown ch 16; Conf bk 10; Rist ch 1  
Wed. 1/31 Confessions: Legacy "Confessiones," "Renaissance to Enlightenment" ('Modern Self') Marilyn McEntyre
Fri. 2/2 Donatism Brown chs 17-19; "Donatus, Donatism," "Donatist Bishops"  
Mon. 2/5 Donatism: Response Brown chs 20-21; "Anti-Donatist Writings," "Baptism" (through '2. Controversy with the Donatists'), "Eucharist"  
Wed. 2/7 Donatism: Legacy "Discipline" Telford Work
Fri. 2/9 Biblical Interpretation Brown chs 22-23; Doc prologue and bk 1, "Sign," "Uti/frui"  
Mon. 2/12 Signification and Allegory Doc bks 2-3; "Doctrina Christiana, de," "Hermeneutical Presuppositions," "Figure, Allegory," "Rhetoric," "Sacraments"  
Wed. 2/14 Interpretation: Legacy Doc bk 4, "Virtue" Christy Bisenius
Fri. 2/16 Teaching Conf bks 11-13, "Preaching"; Enarr (choose the chapter for the Psalm of your choice), "Sermones"; Serm (choose one), "Enarrationes in Psalmos," "Prayer"; Rist ch 2 (no TW)
Mon. 2/19 (Presidents' Day) Brown ch 24  
Wed. 2/21 Trinity Trin bks 1-2, 3-7, "God"  
Fri. 2/23 Trinity "Trinitate, de"; Trin bks 8-10, 11  
Mon. 2/26 Trinity Trin bks 12-13, bk 11 ch 1, bk 12 ch 15, bk 13 ch 20, bks 14-15; "Ratio, Reason, Rationalism"  
Wed. 2/28 Trinity: Legacy "Holy Spirit," "Filioque" (none)
Fri. 3/2 Epistemology "Mind," "Knowledge," "Memory," "Intellectus," "Contemplation and Action"; Rist ch 3 Heidi Marx-Adams
Mon. 3/5


"Person," "Anthropology," "Image Doctrine," "Ethics" (through 'Ordo amoris'), "Soul," "Will"; Rist ch 4

Wed. 3/7 Disaster Brown chs 25-26  
Fri. 3/9 City of God: Introduction Brown ch 27; "Civitate Dei, de"  
Mon. 3/12 Refutations of Paganism Civ bk 1 chs P-3, 33-36; Civ bk 2 chs 2-3, 21, 29; Civ bk 3 chs 1, 31; Civ bk 4 chs 3-4, 11-12, 27-28; Civ bk 5 chs P-1, 2, 8-11, 15-17, 20, 21, 24; Civ bk 6 ch 1; Civ bk 7 chs P, 6, 29-31; Civ bk 8 chs 1, 4; Civ bk 10 chs 1-3, 6-7, 19-20, 32; Civ bk 11 ch 1; "Neoplatonism"  
Wed. 3/14 Two Cities: Origin and Development Civ bk 11 chs 9, 10, 11, 19; Civ bk 12 chs 1-2, 8, 23, 28 (last paragraph); Civ bk 13 chs 13-15; Civ bk 14 chs 1, 6, 11-16, 26, 28; Civ bk 15 chs 1-2, 4-7, 17, 21; Civ bk 16 chs 10, 17, 42, 43; Civ bk 17 ch 16; Civ bk 18 chs 1-2, 22, 41, 51; "Fall," "Pride," "Genesis Accounts of Creation" Telford Work
Fri. 3/16 Two Cities: Ends Civ bk 19 chs 4-7, 12-13, 17, 21, 24, 26; Civ bk 22 chs 1, 24, 29-30; "Eschatology," "Church" (relevant sections), "Peace," "Love"; Rist ch 5  
Mon. 3/19 Two Cities: Review Brown ch 27 (again); "Ethics" ('Political Ethics,' 'Social Ethics,' 'Lying and War'); Rist ch 6 (none)
Wed. 3/21 Donatism: Resolution Brown ch 28; "War," "Church and State"; Corr Don Telford Work
Fri. 3/23 Pelagius: Sin and Grace Brown ch 29; "Pelagius, Pelagianism," "Grace," "Anti-Pelagian Works"  
3/26- 3/30 (Spring recess)    
Mon. 4/2 Pelagianism: Response Brown ch 30-31, "Guilt", "Spiritu et Littera, de"  
Wed. 4/4 Julian: Sex and Infant Baptism Brown ch 32; "Concupiscence," Nup; "Ethics" ('Sexual Ethics'), "Baptism" ('3. Controversy with the Pelagians'), "Original Sin" (relevant sections), "Marriage" (no TW?)
Fri. 4/6 Predestination Brown ch 33; "Predestination," "Possibility," Corr Grat; "Cassian, John"; Rist ch 7 (no TW)
Mon. 4/9 Denouement Brown 34-36; "Fifth Century"  
Wed. 4/11 Trajectories: Medieval "Gregory I," "Carolingian Era, Early," "Carolingian Era, Late," "Political Augustinianism" Telford Work
4/13- 4/16 (Easter recess)    
Wed. 4/18 Trajectories: Scholastic "Scholasticism, Early," "Anselm," "Thomas Aquinas," "Scholasticism, Late," "Renaissance Humanism," "Erasmus" Telford Work
Fri. 4/20 Trajectories: Lutheran "Luther, Martin," "Reformation, Augustinianism in the," "Trent, Council of"  
Mon. 4/23 Trajectories: Reformed "Councils of Orange," "Calvin, John"  
Wed. 4/25 Trajectories: Modernity "Renaissance to Enlightenment," "Kierkegaard," "Heidegger, Martin," "Political Thought," "Theology, Modern" Telford Work
Fri. 4/27 Trajectories: Postmodernity

Rist ch 8 (Analyses Due!)

Telford Work
Wed. 5/2, 8 a.m. Final Exam   Telford Work