Skip to content

Augustine Week

Let me begin, appropriately, with a confession: I have never read Augustine in any thing approaching the depth that he merits. Obviously this is an unacceptable situation. To that end, I have decided to declare this coming week, beginning on Sunday, to be Augustine week. Barth and Yoder will be put aside, movies and my latest HBO series’ will not be viewed (by the way, Ben you may want to check out Carnivale at some point if you haven’t already).

For this week I will be doing a complete readthrough of the Confessions (which I’ve never done before) and I’ll attempt to read as many sections as possible from de Trinitate. So, to that end, I need some feedback from those who have read more of de Trinitate: What segements of the book are really the must-reads would you say?

Should be a good week of reading and posting. Stay tuned. And join in if you wish. Let the reading of Augustine spread!


  1. Bobby Grow wrote:

    I’ve never read Agustine either ;-) . . .

    Seriously, I’ve really only read secondary stuff on him; I will have to remedy that when I’m done with Balthasar. Good reading!

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 12:13 am | Permalink
  2. Derek wrote:

    No City of God? That would give you an easy way to weasel Yoder back in :)

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 3:01 am | Permalink
  3. WTM wrote:


    Read Augustine.


    Concerning ‘De Trin’ – you need to read the whole thing. You will come upon skim-able paragraphs here and there, but it is a very tight-fitting whole and you won’t want to miss out on experiencing it as such. Conincidently, one of the best doctoral seminars here at PTS is taught by Ellen Charry on ‘De Trin’.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 4:18 am | Permalink
  4. Austin wrote:

    I would actually disagree with Bobby about de Trin being tight fitting. Augustine spent 15 years of his life writing this, so it’s not as close of an argument as could be possible. However, it is the best theological Augustine there is, so you should read it all. But…

    Book IV has to be read. This is where he sets out the work of Jesus in the world, and the work of the church.
    Books VIII-XI: This is the “psychological” analogy stuff, although its pretty anachronistic to give it that title. In any case, this is where Augustine circles around the analogies for the Trinity, and is really an interesting look at theological method.
    Book XV: This is where Augustine disavows everything he’s just said in the last XIV books! It’s brilliant.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 5:12 am | Permalink
  5. Evan wrote:

    I think that the focus on the psychological analogy and the last half of de Trin in scholarship is a bit of a distortion of his work. It’s a shame, for instance that the Cambridge Texts in the Hist. of Phil. publishes only VIII-XV.

    I think that V-VII offer a good deal of the doctrinal meat of de Trin, though the first few books are important for his exegetical foundations… but as WTM says, it’s such a sprawling and interconnected work that it’s ideal to read the whole thing.

    Also, I’m not personally as big a fan of Edmund Hill’s translation in the New City Press series- you may want to go with Stephen McKenna’s, which is in the CUA Press series.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 6:53 am | Permalink
  6. Evan wrote:

    Reading some of his sermons on John in tandem with de Trin will also be instructive.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 6:57 am | Permalink
  7. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Be sure to read Augustine’s “Answer to Petilian the Donatist.” He preserved word-for-word a tract from Donatist bishops Petilian and answers him. Petilian seems to have been a pacifist, and Augustine’s response is just aweful.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 7:16 am | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:

    City of God is going to be its own beginning to end project at some point.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 8:00 am | Permalink
  9. myles wrote:

    Re: Augustine–De Trin is pretty great, and yes, reading the last half without the biblical considerations of the front half is to miss the book.

    Re: Petillian–so…are we supposed to applaud the Donatists? As a pacifist, I can’t go that road.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 8:10 am | Permalink
  10. It’s also Augustine week for me, but more because my son will be born sometime in the next seven days and we’ll be naming him Augustine. I look forward to see what you find.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 9:08 am | Permalink
  11. Brad A. wrote:

    “Aweful” or “awful,” Andy? ;-)

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 9:24 am | Permalink
  12. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Oh boy. Awful. Yeah, the opposite of what wrote :)

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 9:50 am | Permalink
  13. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Read the letter.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 9:50 am | Permalink
  14. Halden wrote:

    Andy, I think maybe Myles’ point has to do with the fact that, whatever we may say about this Petillian, many, many of the Donatists were extremely violent and often very aggressive–to the point of killing many Catholic Christians in places that were under Donatist control.

    Certainly I think Augustine handled things wrong with them in many, many ways, but an idyllic picture of the Donatists as the true Christians, let alone pacifists just doesn’t stand up to historical scrutiny.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 9:53 am | Permalink
  15. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:


    That is a superficial read of the Donatists. Of course, the Donatist movement as a whole was not pacifist. Donatist peasants called Circumcellions used violence to overthrow landlords in the countryside, to liberate slaves and to warn creditors to release debtors from their obligations. Nevertheless, many Donatist leaders did not support the Circumcellions. A group called the Rogatists, named after their leader Rogatus, saw the Circumcellions as a complete disgrace and broke away from Donatists who stayed in communion with the Circumcellions. (See Augustine, “Letter 93, To Vincentius.” Vincentius was a Rogatists who wrote Augustine challenging him on his stance on violence. Augustine cynically and brusquely retorted that the Rogatists were only nonviolent because they had no power.) Even Augustine acknowledged that many Donatists did not approve of the Circumcellions stating, “There are certain among you who cry out that these things are, and have ever been displeasing to them.” (Augustine, Contra Pet., Book 1:24.26; cf. Book 1:25.27, my translation from the Latin).

    Donatist theologian, Tyconius, said that the Circumcellions were “superstitious brethren,” and narrated a typical North African ecclesiology, complete with pacifism saying that there were “two cities and two kingdoms, one in the world, one desiring to serve Christ; one desiring to hold sway in this world, the other fleeing the world . . . One kills, the other is killed.”

    Petilian’s treatise covers three main areas in the controversy with the Catholics: true Donatist baptism and false Catholic baptism; denouncing Catholic appeals to secular authority on the grounds of Gospel pacifism and a strict church/state separation; and Donatist justification for separation from Catholicism.

    Petilian, who did not support the Circumcellions, asks why the Catholics transgressed Christ’s teachings on nonviolence: “Where is the saying of the Lord Christ, ‘If you receive a slap on one cheek, prepare the other cheek’? Where is that which he suffered when they spat in his face, who with his own spit opened the eyes of the blind? Where is the saying of the Apostle Paul, ‘If someone hits you in the face?’ Where is that other saying of the same apostle, ‘In injuries above measure, in deaths frequently, in prisons more abundantly’?” and “”Where is the law of God? where is your Christianity, if you not only do violence and put to death, but also order these things to be done?” Petilian categorically ruled out that Christian could kill and imitate Christ stating, “The Lord Christ did not institute for Christians any form of killing, but one of dying.” (All translations are my own from the Latin).

    There was a strong wing of the Donatist church that simply carried on the tradition of pacifism from North African Christianity from Tertullian, through Cyprian and on. It was the Catholics who broke away from the North African traditions in regard to baptism, pacifism and the like. They were the schismatics, not the Donatists.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 10:11 am | Permalink
  16. Halden wrote:

    To be sure I agree that the Donatist movement was variegated. I wasn’t trying to imply that it wasn’t. Actually quite the opposite.

    I’ll see if I have those letters in my collection of Augustine’s political writings.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 10:19 am | Permalink
  17. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Yeah, sorry about the overkill. North Africa from the 2nd to the 4th century is my specialty. Got a esssay coming out in the next issue of the Journal of Early Christian Studies on Cyprian’s catechumenate, how peacemaking and economics were the central components.

    Augustine’s response to Petilian’s quote above is as cynical and lazy as his response to the Rogatus Christian Vincentius. The problem with the Curcumcillions is that Donatist leaders were often not willing to use violence to suppress them. They were a liberation theology in action of sorts. In some ways I even have a lot of sympathy for them. W.H.C. Frend has some fabulous work on the Donatists by the way.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 10:24 am | Permalink
  18. Halden wrote:

    In his book, The Early Church? I have that one.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 10:26 am | Permalink
  19. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Here’s a biblio for you:

    Frend, W. H. C. The Donatist Church: A Movement of Protest in Roman North Africa. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952.
    ———. “The Cellae of the African Circumcellions.” Journal of Theological Studies (new series), 3 (1952): 87–90.
    ———. “Circumcellions and Monks.” JTS (n.s.), n.s. 20 (1969): 542–49.
    ———. “Donatus ‘paene totam Africam decepit’. How?” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 48, no. 4 (1997): 611–27.
    ———. “The North African Cult of the Martyrs: From Apocalyptic to Hero-Worship.” In Jenseitsvorstellungen in antike und Christentum: gedenkschrift für Alfred Stuiber, 154–67. Münster Westfalen: Aschendorffsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1982.

    I have any of the journal articles in pdf and can send them (assuming you don’t have access to JSTOR).

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 10:32 am | Permalink
  20. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Some of the essays, such as “Donatus ‘paene totam Africam decepit’. How?” are in Frend’s book Orthodoxy, Paganism and Dissent in the Early Christian Centuries. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002. That and his Donatist book are two good reads. He was a patristic scholar who I would consider an ally in radical Christian thought. That is rare in patristic studies.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 10:41 am | Permalink
  21. Halden wrote:

    Really, Evan? The New City Press series seems to get such glowing reviews. What do you see as its flaws?

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 10:45 am | Permalink
  22. Evan wrote:

    I felt that Hill’s translation was a bit too colloquial- if I recall he also departs from the chapter headings that have become pretty standard, which can make citations more confusing. I don’t think I have any really damning critiques of it, it’s more of a preference thing. Nor am I a Latin scholar, so I’m not competent to judge the translation as a whole beyond a few isolated incidents. And certainly the New City Press series is a wonderful project… the first comprehensive English translation of Augustine’s works.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 10:54 am | Permalink
  23. Evan wrote:

    By the way, was this resolution instigated by the fact that today is the big A.’s feast day?

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 10:58 am | Permalink
  24. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Yes, Padre.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 11:33 am | Permalink
  25. Nathan wrote:

    I can’t believe a meta-post on Halden’q reading plans generates over two dozen comments. :-)

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 11:50 am | Permalink
  26. Halden wrote:


    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  27. Theophilus wrote:

    If this continues I’m going to start forgetting that when Catholics call Anabaptists “Donatists” it’s meant to be an insult.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 12:34 pm | Permalink
  28. Deb wrote:

    You may be interested to know that today in the RCC it is the feast of St. Augustine.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Permalink
  29. for my two cents I would suggest reading bk X of City of God along with IV of De Trin, both speak of the mediation of Christ and Neoplatonic parodies.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
  30. Nick wrote:

    So I guess that no one thinks that Agustine is as funny as oligarh? Maybe it just caught me because I was moving from the post on Beck’s atrocious spelling skills and his masquerading as an intelligent person to this post, but I thought it was a bit funny.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 2:58 pm | Permalink
  31. Derek wrote:

    Fair enough Halden, lookin forward to your take on that work. Happy reading!

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 5:01 pm | Permalink
  32. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Yeah, that’s what I was getting at with my first comment here.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 5:15 pm | Permalink
  33. myles wrote:

    Re: the Donatists. I’m resistant to commending any group of Christians on the basis of their pacifism. The vast majority of modern work on pacifism reads theological tradition through their commitment to nonviolence, forgetting whatever logic might have led them to this practice. And, thus, my resistance to getting behind a rereading of the Donatists. As both Alex and Halden note, there’s diversity in the Donatists, as there were with the 4th century catholics, and so none of the typologies firmly stick. But you get the point: simply b/c it’s pacfist doesn’t make it prima facie worth retrieving.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 7:31 pm | Permalink
  34. Hill wrote:

    Did I miss the part where it was explained why the typo-ed title never got fixed?

    Saturday, August 29, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink
  35. JCary wrote:

    Whatever you read in De Trin,, don’t fail to end where he ends it, with his concluding prayer. A wonderful place to empty out after the hard work of reading this book.

    Saturday, August 29, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Permalink
  36. roger flyer wrote:

    Halden rules as oligarh. He did not want to buy a vowel.

    Saturday, August 29, 2009 at 7:12 pm | Permalink
  37. Charlie Collier wrote:

    I think it’s important to read Augustine at his worst, as Andy suggests, if only to resist the temptation to reduce the great Latin Doctor to pure light. However, the greater temptation among radical Protestants is to reduce him to pure darkness, precisely on account of the bad texts. I think the more interesting thing to do with these texts is to ask what relation they have to Augustine’s mature theology. I defy anyone to demonstrate how the best Augustine entails the worst. If one could, there would indeed be good reasons to stop reading him. But the more Augustinian thing to do—indeed I think this is the only way to keep faith with Augustine—is to read Augustine against Augustine (after all, he did this over and over again, most profoundly in the Confessions).

    Halden, you could get by with skipping portions of City of God—there are long digressions that can be skipped without loss—but reading excerpts from On the Trinity is dicier. Go for the whole enchilada. You should also read On Christian Doctrine. And if you only read a single secondary source, let that be the second, expanded edition of Peter Brown’s biography. You really do need to know about the contours of Augustine’s life to understand what’s going on in his mature theology. And the new stuff in the expanded edition of the biography is fascinating, as Brown revises his estimate of the old Augustine in light of the new sermons and letters that were recently discovered.

    Monday, August 31, 2009 at 9:04 am | Permalink

Switch to our mobile site