Augustine Concluded

The vast mountain of Augustinian scholarship keeps growing. It long ago surpassed a book version of Mt. Everest, so much so that no single scholar or group of scholars could master it all. This is true of Augustine's work alone. Peter Brown claims that Isidore of Seville once "wrote that if anyone told you he had read all the works of Augustine, he was a liar" (Brown 1972: 311). One always has the sense with Augustine that one has but scratched the surface. Indeed, his works have not yet been translated entirely into English. That project is now underway, and there are some 17 volumes of his homilies alone that have made their way into translation. Much of the new scholarship on Augustine remarks, often with a sense of critical wonderment, on just how "contemporary" he is given the collapse of political utopianism, by which I mean attempts to order political and social life under an overarching Weltanschauung that begins, as any such attempt must, with a flawed anthropology about human malleability and even perfectibility. We recognize, looking back, the mounds of bodies on which so many political projects rest, including the creation of the nation-state system we took for granted for over three centuries and now observe to be fraying around the edges.

The teleology of historic progress is no longer believable, although a version of it is still touted by voluptuaries of techno-progress or genetic engineering that may yet "perfect" the human race. The presumably solid underpinnings of the self gave way in the twentieth century under the onslaught of Nietzsche and Freud. Cultural anthropology taught lessons of cultural contingencies. Contemporary students of rhetoric have rediscovered the importance and vitality of rhetoric and the ways in which all of our political and social life and thought must be cast in available rhetorical forms.

None of this would have surprised Augustine. What would sadden him is the human propensity to substitute one extreme for another: for example, a too thoroughgoing account of disembodied reason gives way to a too thoroughgoing account of reason's demise. Importantly, one must rescue Augustine from those who would appropriate him to a version of political limits or "realism" that downplays his insistence on the great virtue of hope and the call to enact projects of caritas. That does not mean he should be called to service on behalf of "markets and democracy." It does mean he can never be enlisted on behalf of the depredators of humankind.


Augustine, St. (1961). The Confessions. New York: Penguin

-(1963). De Trinitate, trans. S. McKenna. Washington DC: Catholic University of

America Press.

-(1972). The City of God, trans. H. Bettenson. Baltimore: Penguin.

-(1984). Augustine of Hippo, Selected Writings, trans. M. T. Clark. New York: Paulist.

Brown, Peter R. L. (1967). Augustine of Hippo, A Biography. Berkeley: University of California Press.

-(1972). "Political Society." In R. Markus (ed.), Augustine: A Collection of Critical

Essays, 311-35. Garden City: Doubleday Anchor. Burt, Donald X. (1999). Friendship and Society: An Introduction to Augustine's Practical Philosophy. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. Elshtain, Jean Bethke (1987). Women and War. New York: Basic Books. -(1995). Augustine and the Limits of Politics. Notre Dame, Ind.: Notre Dame University Press.

Markus, Robert (1970). Saeculum: History and Society in the Theology of St. Augustine.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Milbank, John (1990). Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. Oxford: Blackwell.

O'Donovan, Oliver (1987). "Augustine's City of God XIX and Western Political Thought."

Dionysius 11, 89-110. Wetzel, James (1992). Augustine and the Limits of Virtue. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Williams, Rowan (1987). "Politics and the Soul: A Reading of The City of God." Milltown Studies 19-20, 55-72.

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