Augustine’s Confessions

Augustine’s Confessions

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Texts and Ideas Spring 2015
Professor Renzi
Paper II—Augustine’s Confessions
Due in Lecture, Monday, April 6th
Write 3–5 pages as prompted below. Note well that a failing grade will be
assigned to any paper submitted unstapled or without page numbers.

As a reader of scripture, Augustine has a complex interpretive approach. On the
one hand, he thinks that his scriptures recount true facts (e.g., the birth, death, and
resurrection of Jesus). On the other, he recongizes that where, for example, the Genesis
creation story is at odds with the “scientific” neo-Platonic account of creation, that what
must be sought is an exegesis of the scripture’s “spiritual” meaning. Indeed, Augustine
maintains that individual readers are able to find valid spiritual meaning in the Biblical
texts even if their human authors did not understand those meanings. So, again, if Moses
thought the creation story literally true, and it is not, this does not preclude another reader
from uncovering a latent, spirtual meaning in Genesis (as Augustine seeks to do in the
last book of the Confessions).
Attending to how Augustine uses his personal experience as a kind of evidence,
consider his use of scripture in the Confessions. Limiting yourself to the books we have
read, explain how Augustine uses his life story as proof of the “truth” (as he would call it)
of scripture. How does Augustine’s approach to the interpretation of scripture allow us to
understand the autobiographical account of the Confessions as a kind of performative
exegesis?
In framing your response, you will want to focus closely on one or a small
number of instances. While you are free to consider any aspect of Augustine’s treatment
of scripture, it is clear that his engagement with the epistles of Paul underlies the whole
of the Confessions autobiography, and that Augustine clearly expects his readers to be
familiar with details of Paul’s life (e.g., as recounted by Paul himself in the Letter to the
Galatians).
Taking that epistle as typical of Paul’s style, note that Augustine makes extensive
use of other of Paul’s writings. Though modern scholars now doubt the authencity of
some of them, Augustine would have known the following ancient canon of Paul’s works.
Letters Attributed to Paul
[Rom.] Romans [1 Thess.] 1 Thessalonians
[1 Cor.] 1 Corinthians [2 Thess.] 2 Thessalonians†
[2 Cor.] 2 Corinthians [1 Tim.] 1 Timothy†
[Gal.] Galatians [2 Tim.] 2 Timothy†
[Eph.] Ephesians† [Titus] Titus†
[Phil.] Philippians [Philem.] Philemon
[Col.] Colossians† [Heb.] Hebrews†
† authorship doubted.

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