Friday, 1 May 2015

Timo Nisula: "This three-headed hellhound" - Evil desire as the root (radix) of all sins in Augustine's sermons

Augustine's quest for the origins of evil is not restricted to his theological treatises. The function of evil desire (cupiditas, concupiscentia) as the root (radix) of all sins is present in the corpus of his sermons as well
For Augustine and his audience, the image of the root served as a useful tool both in ethical instruction and introspection: What kind of love resides in the hearts of the listeners? How do evil actions stem from the interior root of cupiditas?
Sermons on the biblical source texts of the image (1 Jn 2,16; 1 Tim 6, 10) show how triplex concupiscentia not only structures the preacher's speech but also works as a dynamic exhortation to join cena domini (e.g. s. 112).
As may be expected, the search for the basic cause for all evil actions led Augustine to Adam. In the context of his sermons, Augustine is keen to point out to his audience how "our" fate was sealed already in Adam, and how "we were there [sc. in Paradise] as if in a root" (s. 294,15). Augustine often presented pride and greed to the audience as the two forms of the ultimate sin, providing also vivid examples to the audience.

As in Augustine's theological treatises, the image of the root had its polemical purposes also in his sermons. Being a gifted rhetorician, Augustine could use the same ammunition in dealing with different targets.

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