Augustine: Christian Truth and Fractured HumanityAugustine: Christian Truth and Fractured Humanity
Carol Harrison

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(PUBOxford University)A brilliant new study on how Augustine's views of Christian doctrine and the fallenness of humanity led to a decisive break with classical ideals, thus reshaping the whole of Western thought. Vividly paints in the social and cultural milieu of late Roman antiquity. 299 pages, softcover.
     

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From the foreword

Forewords are usually written last, when the author has already exceeded the agreed word limit and time is pressing. This one is no exception to that rule.

The subject of this book is a ridiculously ambitious one which I agreed to in a moment of madness because it seemed to fill such an obvious game in the vast oceans of secondary literature on Augustine, and promised to be just the book I needed to recommend to the students who yearly enroll for the Augustine and his Age course which I teach at Durham. I can now better understand why the gap is there but hope that it will not loom so obviously for my students when they are set adrift on the seas of Augustine scholarship. If nothing else, it points out the main landmarks of Augustine's thought and time, indicates why they are there, how they might best be viewed and how to find out more about them.

Two elements of Augustine's context, which seem to have exercised the greatest influence on his theology, structure this book; these are his cultural and social context. The first three chapters examine the philosophical, literary and ethical aspects of Augustine's cultural context; the last three chapters consider the social context for Augustine's reflections upon the Church, forms of Christian life in the world and the nature of the two cities. Themes which ordinarily structure general books on Augustine, such as his biography, his conversion, his controversies with Manichaeans, Donatists or Pelagians have been immersed in this general structure and surface at relevant points. I have, however, been careful to observe a chronological perspective when dealing with specific themes, but they necessarily run alongside each other, or create cross currents, rather than forming a consecutive whole.
One them unifies the whole book--the transition from paganism to Christianity--and it is this which I have attempted to express in its title, Christian Truth and Fractured Humanity. For Augustine lived at a time of transition--from a classical pagan past to a new Christian empire--initiated by the conversion of the Emperor Constantine to Christianity in A.D. 312. Of course, paganism and the thought world and social structures that went with it were not suddenly obliterated, rather there was a slow, unsteady, faltering and rather ambiguous process of confrontation, accommodation, rejection and coercion before an identifiably 'Christian' culture and society, founded upon a conviction that Christianity was the true philosophy and true religion, emerged. The real extent and limits of Christianization--in culture and society--is one of the questions which arise in both parts of the book.

Another, perhaps less well-noted, transition from a classical to a Christian culture and society, takes place in Augustine's theology of the fall of mankind. His doctrine of original sin, and the way in which it fractures and vitiates mankind's ability to know or to will the good, marks a decisive break with classical ideals of the all-sufficiency of reason or the attainability of perfection, and forms the hallmark of his theology in all its aspects. In this respect, more than any other, Augustine broke with classical thought, to propound what has become the distinctive theology of Western Christendom. How this happened, in specific contexts, is examined throughout this book.