Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Kenneth Steinhauser - Curiosity in Augustine's Soliloquies

In the sol., ratio asks Augustine why he has not taken a wife. Augustine answers: “On this account, for the sake of the freedom of my soul, I have enjoined myself – with due justice and good reason, I think – not to covet, not to seek, not to marry a wife.” Ratio counters with a pointed comment: “I am not at present interested in what you have decided, but I want to know whether you are still struggling or whether you have by this time overcome lust (libidinem) itself. For this concerns the health of your eyes (Agitur enim de sanitate oculorum tuorum)” (sol. 1, 10, 17). In this essay, I maintain that the last sentence of the passage refers to curiositas, although neither the term itself nor its cognates appear in the sol. In his later writings Augustine often discusses the three cardinal vices: uoluptas, curiositas, and superbia, which also correspond to the three temptations of the devil at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry: Tria sunt ista, et nihil inuenis unde tenetur cupiditas humana, nisi aut desiderio carnis, aut desiderio oculorum, aut ambitione saeculi. Per ista tria tentatus est dominus a diabolo (ep. Io. tr. 2, 14).  In sol. 1, 10, 17, ratio presses Augustine on these matters. Here at the beginning of his Christian life, after his conversion yet prior to his baptism, Augustine is experiencing the same three temptations that Jesus underwent. First, ratio asks Augustine about his desire for riches. Augustine responds that since reading Cicero’s Hortensius riches have not been his desire. Then, ratio queries Augustine about his ambition for honors, which Augustine states he has only recently renounced. These vices of greed and pride correspond to superbia. Second, ratio inquires concerning a possible wife, who by Augustine’s own admission would enslave his soul, leading him away from the life of philosophy. This relates to curiositas or the desire of the eyes. In sol. the health of the eyes, sanitas oculorum, implies the threat of its opposite: namely, weakness of the eyes or concupiscentia oculorum (cf. conf. 10, 30, 41). Third, ratio mentions the enjoyment of food which is uoluptas or carnal pleasure. The structure of sol. 1, 10, 17 leads to the conclusion that ratio is confronting Augustine with three deadly desires: superbia, curiositas, and uoluptas. At Cassiciacum Augustine communicates these three concepts but without the precise vocabulary and logical systematization which will be supplied later by 1 John 2:16 as his thought develops in a theological context.

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