St Augustine's Confessiones : the role of the imago Dei in his conversion to Catholic Christianity

Roos, Andre (2011-03)

Thesis (MPhil (Ancient Studies))--University of Stellenbosch, 2011.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Although St Augustine of Hippo (354–430 C.E.) was raised as a Christian, he refuted Catholicism as a youth in his search for divine wisdom and truth. Like the biblical prodigal son, he first had to realise the error of his aversion (turning away from the Catholic Church) before he could experience conversion (returning to the Catholic faith). Augustine narrates certain central events of his life in the Confessiones as a series of conversions, leading him from his native Roman North Africa to his conversion to Catholic Christianity in the Imperial City of Milan. Philosophy, especially Neo-Platonic thought, played a crucial role in his conversion process, as did the influence of St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, and other Neo-Platonic intellectuals in Milan. Neo- Platonism also influenced Augustine's conception of the imago Dei (image of God). Although Augustine’s teaching of the concept of the imago Dei is found in all his works (but mainly in De Trinitate), a survey of the literature has shown that the way in which this concept is used to inform, structure and advance his conversion narrative in the Confessions, has not yet been investigated in a structured manner. In order to address this gap in scholarly knowledge, the thesis attempts to answer the following research question: How did the concept of the imago Dei inform and structure Augustine's conversion narrative, as recounted in his Confessiones, taking into account the theological and philosophical influences of Ambrose and the Neo-Platonists of Milan on his spiritual development? The investigation was conducted by an in-depth study and analysis of the Confessiones and relevant secondary literature within the historical, philosophical and religious framework of the work. An empirical approach, by means of textual analysis and hermeneutics, was used to answer the research question. The analysis of the Confessions is limited to its autobiographical part (Books 1 to 9). In order to carry out the analysis, a theoretical and conceptual framework was posited in Chapters 1 to 4, discussing the key concepts of conversion and of the imago Dei, as well as explaining the influence of Neo-Platonism and Ambrose on Augustine. In Chapter 5, this conceptual framework of the nature of the imago Dei is complemented by a literary framework for the Confessions to form a metaframework. The textual analysis was done within the meta-framework with reference to certain endowments (attributes) imprinted in the image, namely personality, spirituality, rationality, morality, authority, and creativity. The main conclusion is that Augustine's personal relationship with God had been harmed by the negative impact of sin on these endowments of the divine image in him. His gradual realisation that God is Spirit, his growth in faith, and his eventual acceptance of the authority of Scripture and of the Catholic Church, brought about the healing of the broken image of God in Augustine and also the restoration of God’s likeness in him. This enabled Augustine to be reconciled to God through Christ, who is the perfect Image of God, and helped to convert him to the Catholic Church, which is the Body of Christ.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Alhoewel die Heilige Augustinus, Biskop van Hippo (354–430 n.C.), as Christen grootgemaak is, het hy as jong man die Katolisisme verwerp in sy soektog na goddelike wysheid en waarheid. Soos die verlore seun van die Bybel, moes hy eers die fout van sy afkerigheid (wegdraai van die Katolieke Kerk) insien voordat hy tot bekering (terugkeer tot die Katolieke geloof) kon kom. Augustine vertel sekere kerngebeure van sy lewe in die Confessiones (Belydenisse) as ‘n reeks van bekeringe, wat hom gelei het van sy geboorteplek in Romeins-Noord-Afrika tot sy bekering tot die Katolieke Christendom in die Keiserstad Milaan. Filosofie, veral Neo-Platoniese denke, het ‘n deurslaggewende rol gespeel in sy bekeringsproses, soos ook die invloed van die Heilige Ambrosius, Biskop van Milaan, en ander Neo- Platoniese intellektuele in Milaan. Neo-Platonisme het ook Augustine se begrip van die imago Dei (Godsbeeld) beïnvloed. Alhoewel Augustinus se leer oor die begrip imago Dei in al sy werke aangetref word (maar veral in De Trinitate), het ‘n literatuurstudie uitgewys dat die manier waarop hierdie begrip gebruik word om sy bekeringsverhaal in die Confessions toe te lig, vorm te gee en te bevorder, nog nie op gestruktureerde wyse ondersoek is nie. Om hierdie leemte in vakkundige kennis te vul, poog hierdie tesis om die volgende navorsingsvraag te beantwoord: Hoe het die begrip imago Dei Augustinus se bekeringsverhaal toegelig en vorm gegee, soos vertel in sy Confessiones, met inagneming van die teologiese en filosofiese invloede van Ambrosius en die Neo-Platoniste van Milaan op sy geestelike ontwikkeling? Die ondersoek is uitgevoer deur middel van ‘n grondige studie en ontleding van die Confessiones en toepaslike sekondêre literatuur binne die historiese, filosofiese en godsdienste raamwerk van die werk. ’n Empiriese benadering, by wyse van teksontleding en hermeneutika, is gebruik om die navorsingsvraag te beantwoord. Die ontleding van die Confessiones is beperk tot die outobiografiese deel (Boeke 1 tot 9). Om die ontleding uit te voer, is ’n teoretiese en konseptuele raamwerk vooropgestel in Hoofstukke 1 tot 4, waar die sleutelbegrippe bekering en imago Dei bespreek is, asook die invloed van Neo-Platonisme en Ambrosius op Augustinus. In Hoofstuk 5 word hierdie konseptuele raamwerk vir die aard van die imago Dei aangevul deur ’n literêre raamwerk vir die Confessions om sodoende ‘n metaraamwerk te vorm. Die teksontleding is gedoen binne die metaraamwerk met verwysing na sekere geestesgawes (eienskappe) wat in die beeld neerslag vind, naamlik persoonlikheid, spiritualiteit, rasionaliteit, moraliteit, outoriteit, en kreatiwiteit. Die hoofgevoltrekking is dat Augustinus se persoonlike verhouding met God geskaad is deur die negatiewe impak van sonde op hierdie geestesgawes van die Godsbeeld in hom. Sy geleidelike besef dat God Gees is, sy groei in sy geloof, asook sy uiteindelike aanvaarding van die gesag van die Bybel en van die Katolieke Kerk, het meegebring dat Augustinus se gebroke Godsbeeld en -gelykenis herstel is. Daardeur is Augustinus met God versoen deur Christus, wat die volmaakte Godsbeeld is, en sodoende is hy bekeer tot die Katolieke Kerk, wat die Liggaam van Christus is.

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