Prayer after Augustine: A Study in the Development of the Latin Tradition by Jonathan Teubner
Prayer after Augustine: A Study in the Development of the Latin Tradition
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018
Pp. viii + 257. $88.00.
The word "after" in the title of Jonathan Teubner's Prayer after Augustine ought not to be read as meaning simply "subsequent to" or "chronologically following." Rather, it should evoke the more substantial sense of "in the footsteps of" or "in the manner of." Teubner's monograph on prayer in the Augustinian tradition is not so much about how the practice or theory of prayer developed in the centuries immediately following the death of Augustine—although he devotes careful work to unearthing the legacy of Augustine in the writings of Boethius and Benedict—as it is about the way theological tradition is transmitted and adapted, the "kinematics," as he puts it. From this multi-layered study emerges an astute rendering of Augustine's understanding of prayer, a new approach to the early Augustinian tradition independent of the perennial Pelagian focus, and a theory of tradition that challenges the reigning options in modern theological ethics.
The historical meat of Teubner's study is divided into two parts, each with four chapters. Part I examines how Augustine's understanding of prayer develops diachronically in his writings. Chapter One, "Learning to Pray," examines Augustine's earliest works, especially the Soliloquia, De moribus, and De magistro. Through these texts Teubner traces the development of Augustine's understanding of prayer from a Platonic reaching of the ratio toward God to a reflexive turning inward upon oneself as unknown. In Chapter Two, "Prayer as Acceptance of Time," Teubner demonstrates how Augustine comes to reject a view of immediate ascent in favor of an eschatologically fulfilled ascent whose temporal delay cultivates a purified desire through a life of patience in time. This argument develops through readings of De vera religione and De sermone Domini in monte that highlight the practices of scripture reading and communal prayer that embody and enliven [End Page 152] this theory. Chapter Three, "Prayer as Reception of the Other," fleshes out this vision of purifying prayer by unpacking Augustine's understanding of the totus Christus. Highlighting Augustine's use of the verb induere, Teubner focuses on the Enarrationes in Psalmos, through which he illustrates how prayer is both the means for incorporation into the totus Christus and the fruit of such incorporation, as Christian existence becomes defined by a dialectic of desire and patience nurtured by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Part I concludes with Chapter Four, "Prayer as the Hope of Wisdom," in which Teubner comes to Ep. 130 and the De trinitate. His reading turns upon two terminological pairs—scientia/sapientia and deprecari/precari—which he reads as mutually informing. Deprecari represents the prayer for purification while precari signifies the desire for participation in God. Scientia pairs with deprecari inasmuch as it is linked with the humility of Christ's incarnation, the very humility that Christians must take on (induere) if they are to reach the sapientia for which they desire (precari). Thus, Teubner concludes his analysis of Augustine's approach to prayer by highlighting not only the tension of desire and patience but also the virtue of hope that sustains the Christian within that life-long tension that is the life of prayer.
In Part II, Teubner traces the influence of this Augustinian approach to prayer within the writings of Boethius and the Rule of St. Benedict. Each figure receives two chapters, one for what Teubner terms "Augustinianism 1" and another for "Augustinianism 2," categories he describes in the introduction: "Augustinianism 1 refers to the citation, reference, and particular allusion to a writing from Augustine's pen. . . . Augustinianism 2 is the use of certain general orientations and constellations of thought from Augustine without necessarily sharing specific doctrinal positions" (15). In chapter 5, "The Augustinianism 1 of the Opuscula sacra," Teubner argues that "Boethius' very mode or practice of inquiry is influenced by Augustine's use of prayer in De trinitate and Ep. 130" (128). That is to say, following Augustine, Boethius emphasizes the nature of prayer as desire, in this case the desire to understand the Trinity that leads us into God's very mystery that we are unable to understand. The next chapter, "The Augustinianism 2 of The Consolation of Philosophy," tackles the attempt to reconcile divine providence and free will in Boethius's most famous work. Here again, in Boethius's intellectual pursuit of divine understanding, "prayer emerges at the edge of human capacity, reaffirming human finitude" (160). For Teubner, though, this is not simply a repetition of Augustine's views on prayer but a repurposing of them for Boethius's own philosophical ends.
Turning from Boethius to Benedict, Chapter Seven examines the Augustinianism 1 of the Rule. As Teubner himself notes, much of this chapter is a recapitulation of previous scholarship, and the primary emphasis falls on the theme of fraternal relations, a horizontal approach to monastic practice that departs from the more vertical emphasis of eastern influences found in Cassian or the Rule of the Master. As in Augustine's depiction of the totus Christus, prayer functions for Benedict to unite the brothers into a holy community. Part II's final chapter, "The Augustinianism 2 of the Rule of St. Benedict," examines the conversatio, or common life, prescribed by the Rule. Focusing specifically on chapters 3, 7, and 71–72, Teubner argues for a "Christification" of the monastic life within the [End Page 153] Rule whereby the Augustinian view of prayerful Christian existence, defined by desire, patience, and hope, is adapted to and itself adapts the monastic traditions that Benedict inherited.
For many readers, Teubner's interpretation of Augustine's embodied theology of prayer and its multi-faceted reception by Boethius and Benedict would already make this a substantial study, one essential for scholars of Christianity in the late antique West. But through his introductory chapter and "Ethical Postlude," Teubner adds another level of theoretical significance to his work. In these bookends, he engages the place of "tradition" within modernity and its late twentieth-century critics, especially Alisdair MacIntyre and Jeffrey Stout. Without rehearsing Teubner's thick analysis of the dispute between MacIntyre and Stout, we can summarize by saying that Teubner believes neither ethicist provides a theory of tradition that accounts for the way in which traditions can contain within themselves the very mechanism for their own development and change, without relying on some external, quasi-Hegelian force to move things along. Teubner believes his "Augustinianism 2" model can account for the "kinematics" of tradition by allowing us to see the way a given writer can "reconstellate" the pieces of a given tradition in order to meet the needs of new cultural contexts and respond to the impulses of multiple traditions held alongside one another.
Teubner's repeated use of the term "reconstellation" reminds us that the arrangement of the same stars can always be redrawn with new lines and viewed from different points in space. Perhaps this is why someone like Augustine and the tradition(s) indebted to him are always able to be fruitfully reimagined by new generations of scholars. With Prayer after Augustine, Jonathan Teubner emerges as one such promising scholar whose work will no doubt continue to guide our eyes to the lines connecting the stars of the past with those of the present.