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Elizabeth Hanson-Smith AUGUSTINE'S CONFESSIONS: THE CONCRETE REFERENT The chief problem facing critics who would consider the Confessions as both a literary work and a philosophical treatise remains the connection between the first nine books, the autobiography, and the last four, the metaphysical speculations on time, eternity, epistemology, and theology. A persistent desire to justify the work as an aesthetic whole has led critics on a search for thematic and structural unity; they have been more successful in the former endeavor than in the latter. The interpretation of the work's plot as a peregrinatio animae, a pilgrimage of the soul, is now generally accepted as definitive; but attempts to find structural unity within that broad outline have not progressed beyond Marrou's characterization of the work as a "musical composition."1 His analogy to music has not been anchored to any concrete structural features of the Confessions and does not illuminate the connections between its content and its form. I shall attempt to prove that a unified structural model for the development of the soul in the Confessions does indeed exist and is outlined in Augustine's earlier discursive work, the De quantitate animae.2 The seven degrees or steps (gradus) of the soul's ascent to God, as sketched in the De quantitate, are deliberately fleshed out and translated into a mimetic, narrative version in the Confessions. Placing the two works side by side gives us a unique opportunity to examine a typically medieval literary form, the educative journey, in its relationship to its philosophical premises. Such a study reveals the inner formal unity of the literary work and, further, provides us with significant evidence for a re-examination of Augustine's Neo-Platonism, his supposed dualism , and his influence on later works, both literary and philosophical. In the Confessions we see one of the earliest Christian blendings of several models: first, the educative journey, the archetypal pattern familiar from the Odyssey, the Aeneid, and even The Golden Ass of Apuleius. Augustine's version, like later medieval cosmologies, also 176 Elizabeth Hanson-Smith1 77 includes a vision of the cosmic order and its relationship to human order, elements of significance in pagan philosophical works such as the Timaeus and the Dream of Scipio. But Augustine's journey also depends upon the Judeo-Christian conception of history as a series of figurae or types of the Messiah: the protagonist of the Christian educative journey joins thefigurae of the Biblical past. Christ's incarnation as Mansoul and his life on earth are the pattern of universal history from Fall to Apocalypse; Christ's life becomes a figurative pattern for the actions of Everyman.3 The Confessions is one of the earliest Christian works to apply this pattern in a narrative context. Augustine was also preoccupied with the Hexaemeron, the six days of creation and the seventh of rest. He views the exegesis of Genesis as an explanation of all subsequent life; the Ages of Man recapitulate the days of creation, as do the sacraments and the seven steps in the ascent of the soul. Thus, to the figurative pattern of Christ's "pilgrimage" from creating Logos to Incarnate God and finally to judge at the Second Coming, Augustine applies the schematic seven-fold ascent found in the De quantitate: the soul passes through the ascending steps of animation, sense, art, religion, tranquillity, initiation, and contemplation—each of which is figured by or patterned on a stage in Christ's life, as represented by the sacraments, and each of which, further, reflects a segment of universal history. The seven steps are not simply the movement of the individual soul, but the progress of Mansoul on its journey to Apocalypse. The stylistic differences between the two works—one an exposition written as Socratic dialogue, the other a metaphorical personal narrative —will no doubt give rise to differing interpretations; but one may, I think, object to certain details I suggest while still agreeing that the De quantitate provides the structuring model. Let me first define the major areas of difference between the two works. In the De quantitate, each of the levels or steps of the soul takes on a discrete, separate...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 176-189
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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