Sunday, 10 February 2019

Rachel Teubner: From the Psalmic to the Lyric: Transformations of Genre in Augustine’s Confessiones 9

Does the embedding of the psalmic voice within a quasi-biographical account constitute a transformation from the psalmic to the lyric? In recent years, scholars have often reflected on the multivocal quality of Augustine’s homiletic corpus, particularly in his Enarrationes in Psalmos. Augustine’s Confessioneshave been implicated in these efforts (e.g., Williams, 2004; Cameron, 2012; Rigby, 2017). But does this assimilation of the voices of the Enarrationes and Confessiones obscure an important difference of genrebetween Augustine’s preaching and his sui generisautobiographical work? This short communication will probe this generic difference through a close reading of Augustine’s appeals to Psalm 4 in Confessiones9.4.8-11, as compared with his treatment of Psalm 4 in Enarrationes in Psalmos.Drawing on Erich Auerbach’s analyses of Augustine’s rhetorical style in Mimesisand “Sermo Humilis,” I shall argue that Augustine’s use of the Psalms in his Confessiones constitutes a departure from the homiletical to the lyric, understood as genre rather than as discourse. Whereas prosopological exegeses tend to emphasize the theological unity of persons in Augustine’s reflections on the psalms – the unity of the individual, the church and the person of Christ – Augustine’s appeals to the psalms in Confessiones dwell on what is quixotic and spontaneous in the drama of human life. This comparative analysis yields insights not only into the distinctive genre of Confessiones, but into the different functions of the psalms in capturing the experiences of shifting desire and adversity of circumstance on the way to salvation.

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