Saturday, 2 May 2015

Marleen Verschoren: How to interpret Monnica's intervention in Augustine's De ordine

In his Retractationes Augustine mentions ‘the important question of whether the order of divine Providence embraces all things, the good and the evil’ (Retr. 1,3) as the central theme of De Ordine, a treatise Augustine wrote at Cassiciacum in 386 CE. Crucial is the correct interpretation of Monnica’s contribution to the dispute: ‘Tum mater: Ego, inquit, non puto nihil potuisse praeter dei ordinem fieri...’ (Cf. De ordine 2, 7, 22-23). Monnica is represented as a true philosopher who lives a life with high ethical standards. She is a philosopher ‘by personal worth’ (vitae merito) (cf. De ordine 1,1). Modern translations differ largely on the interpretation of Monnica’s words. This has to do with the double negation (non ... nihil...) in the Latin text as well as with the existence of (different) kinds of evil (e.g. moral vs. penal). Nevertheless, a correct interpretation of Monnica’s view (and that of the other participants in the discussion) seems to be crucial in order to understand De ordine as a whole, and in order to understand the relationship between evil and ordo iustitiae in particular. In discussion with recent literature (e.g. Pacioni, Trelenberg) I would like to offer a comprehensive understanding of Monnica’s insights, which must be – according to Augustine –  illuminated by the participation in God’s light. I will also demonstrate that these insights are in line with Augustine’s own insights on divine providence and evil which we find in other of his early works (dialogues and antimanichaean treatises).

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