Thursday, 30 June 2011

Anthony Cirelli - Formed in the love of Christ: Augustine's Logocentric Anthropology

In any consideration of Augustine’s anthropology, it has been routine for many moderns to be critical or even dismissive of the influence wrought by his early encounter with the neoplatonic metaphysical tradition, which he became acquainted with through Victorinus’ translated works of Plotinus.  In this, critics seem to assume that Augustine’s mature, i.e., Pauline, understanding of Christian anthropology alone matters. Indeed, given Augustine’s own occasional invective against “the Platonists” one may be justified in thinking that there are two distinct phases to his anthropology, i.e., one, early and naive (neoplatonic) and one dogmatic and mature (Christian).  Yet, without maintaining and building upon (hence, never abandoning) this neoplatonic foundation, Augustine’s profound and original insights into the nature and meaning of man, insights that have been foundational for the West’s subsequent reading of the person, would never have been possible.  What Augustine accepted and built upon was the central and grounding platonic belief in the reality of form.  Where Augustine expressed his originality, and so was able to bridge the Christian and neolatonist traditions, was in his remarkable transformation and absorption of this belief into a Christological construct which brought a concrete personal tone to, and overall consummation of, neoplatonic metaphysics.

In this presentation, I hope--through a brief textual analysis of his Confessions--to reinvigorate the conversation (i.e., over the question of the importance of neoplatonism on Augustine’s overall anthropology) by conveying how Augustine did not depart from his platonic foundation in the construal of his anthropology so much as complete it with his Christological insights.  In order to do this in a timely fashion, I will have to articulate a) how Augustine was able to absorb the entire metaphysic of form into the pre-existent Word of god, and so render an identity between them in order to demonstrate that b.) form was in fact, for Augustine, an encounter with a concrete, historical person: namely, the incarnate Word Jesus Christ, and that only a love for the source of form, i.e., the concrete person of Jesus, is any meaningful anthropology possible. In short, my goal is to articulate Augustine’s unique transformation of platonic form and then to connect this insight with the necessity of a love for a distinct person—the person of the Logos of God—for any meaningful Christian anthropology. 

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