Disciplining Christians: Correction and Community in Augustine's Letters  -     By: Jennifer Ebbeler
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Disciplining Christians: Correction and Community in Augustine's Letters

Oxford University Press / 2012 / Hardcover

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Product Information

Format: Hardcover
Number of Pages: 272
Vendor: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 2012
Dimensions: 9.25 X 6.13 (inches)
ISBN: 0195372565
ISBN-13: 9780195372564

Publisher's Description

Disciplining Christians reconsiders several of Augustine's most well-known letter exchanges, including his famously controversial correspondence with Jerome and his efforts to engage his Donatist rivals in a letter exchange. It reads these letters with close attention to conventional epistolary norms and practices, in an effort to identify innovative features of Augustine's epistolary practice. In particular, it notes and analyzes Augustine's adaptation of the traditionally friendly letter exchange to the correction of perceived error in the Christian community. In transforming the practice of letter exchange into a tool of correction, Augustine draws on both the classical philosophical tradition and also scripture. His particular innovation is his insistence that this process of correction can-and often must-be done in the potentially public form of a letter exchange rather than in the privacy of a face-to-face conversation. This is particularly true when the perceived error is one that has the potential to jeopardize the salvation of the entire Christian community. In offering epistolary correction, and requesting reciprocal correction from his correspondents, Augustine treats his practice of letter exchange as a performance of Christian caritas. Indeed, in his view, the friendliest correspondence was that which was concerned solely with preserving the salvation of the participants. In recognizing Augustine's commitment to the corrective correspondence and thus reading his letters with attention to their corrective function, we gain new insights into the complicated dynamics of Augustine's relationships with Jerome, Paulinus of Nola, the Donatists, and Pelagius.

Author Bio


Jennifer V. Ebbeler is Associate Professor of Classics, at the University of Texas at Austin.

Editorial Reviews


"Jennifer Ebbeler has written an important book on the letters of Augustine of Hippo.... Her book is an important contribution to the study of Augustine, late antique Christianity and ancient epistolography."--Robin Whelan, Journal of Roman Studies


"Anyone looking for a more in depth understanding of Augustine and the development of literary strategies in Late Antiquity will be rewarded by perusal of this book."--Bradley M. Peper, Marginalia


"This thoughtful work will no doubt attract specialists in late antiquity and early Christianity as well as those with an interest in the famous African church father."--Owen M. Phelan, Religious Studies Review


"Jennifer Ebbeler's book expertly examines Augustine's letters in depth as classically influenced works."--Michael T. Martin, History: Reviews of New Books


"Writing an original and insightful monograph on Augustine is difficult given the number of studies produced each year. But Ebbeler succeeds. Building on her prior work in this area, she advances our understanding of Augustine's thoughts on discipline, friendship, and correspondence, and of the innovative strategies he employed in transforming the customary practices in these areas. Most importantly, her use of a literary approach and her emphasis on the independent value of his epistolary correspondences highlights and helps to fill a lacuna in recent Augustine scholarship." --The Marginalia Review


Ebbeler has written a bold and original monograph, full of fresh insights. It is warmly recommended to all those who are interested in Augustine and the literary culture of Late Antiquity."--Winrich Löhr, Bryn Mawr Classical Review


"Disciplining Christians is an interesting and persuasive study of St. Augustine as a letter-writer, in particular of his controversial insistence on debating with and disciplining his correspondents. It offers many useful observations about epistolary conventions in antiquity and about Augustine's relationships with some of the key figures of his age."--Scott Bradbury, Smith College


"Against a subtly drawn background of late antique epistolary mores, Jennifer Ebbeler spotlights Augustine's subversive (though doomed) attempt to transform the 'friendly letter' into a novel medium of mutual correction. By doing so, Ebbeler deftly exposes yet another social fault line that traces Augustine's unique vision of a truly Christian society."-Dennis Trout, University of Missouri


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