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Reviewed by:
  • The Path of St. Augustine
  • David Vincent Meconi S.J.
William Augustus Banner. The Path of St. Augustine. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1996. Pp. xi + 107. $19.95.

Banner’s primary concern is to introduce readers to some major themes of Augustine’s moral philosophy. Understanding that morality is grounded in both the operations of the will and of the intellect, Banner uses ch. 2, The Pursuit of Wisdom (11–28), to examine the Cartesian and Kantian world views which stand sharply opposed to Augustine’s. In their rejection of knowledge as the adaequatio of the mind to things, moderns have obliterated both the possibility of encountering the external world in its fullness as well as the unity of the human person.

Ch. 3, Being, Truth, and Goodness (31–47), treats God as Being, insofar as God is the immutable ground which makes all human knowing of temporal things possible; God as Truth, insofar as Christ is the inner-teacher shedding light on the otherwise dim human intellect; and God as Goodness, insofar as he is the necessary, changeless standard by which all other goods are measured. According to Banner, therefore, God as immutable being meets the challenges of phenomenalism and skepticism as well as establishes God as the supreme good which makes a life of virtue possible.

Ch. 4, The Moral Life (49–59), examines Augustine’s hierarchy of goods and consequent distinction between that which is to be enjoyed and that which should only be used. For Augustine, human happiness consists in proper loving. One must judge accordingly what is worthy of what type of human love: “To bestow a great affection (amor) upon an inferior or less abiding thing or to withhold a great affection from a superior or more abiding thing is to be deceived about being and one’s own will as being. Happiness is open to those who know upon what to bestow affection and from what to withhold affection. The moral life as well as the life of the intellect depends upon the truth. In finding the truth, there is the finding of God as the highest good and the ground of all good things” (52–53). This finding of truth and goodness must include one’s neighbor in all of his particular endeavors. For, Banner concludes, there is nothing in human culture which should lie “beyond the norms of charity and justice or beyond the transforming power or reason in the service of charity and justice” (59).

Ch. 5, Justice and Culture (61–83), is thus dedicated to Augustine’s understanding of charity and justice as they embrace the whole of human affairs. This section is much welcomed in that many students of Augustine forget that he was not only a man of letters and one not afraid of this world but, as Bishop, one who spent much of his day as legal arbiter and civic leader. Slavery, just war, and the role of custom in the Roman world are treated here in particular.

Ch. 6, Nature and Grace (85–96), portrays Socrates’ and Augustine’s common pursuit: how to achieve the everlasting happiness all desire. If no one wills his own servitude and misery, why do we continually choose to turn away from God? Banner attacks this dilemma through an examination of Augustine’s understanding of freedom and self-knowledge, the remedy which leads to complete dependence upon God. [End Page 336]

Banner, emeritus professor of philosophy at Howard University, combines brevity with alacrity in his introduction to Augustine. There are, however, some significant omissions. Missing are any detailed treatments of Augustine’s understanding of the end of morality, the soul’s relation to the body, the relationship between reason and revelation, as well as an appreciation for any development—chronologically or intellectually—of his writings. Perhaps too introductory for some, this text could nonetheless prove helpful for those wishing an accurate overview of Augustine’s moral thought.

David Vincent Meconi S.J.
Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio

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pp. 336-337
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