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Title: The emergence of Augustine's early ecclesiology (386-391)
Author: Alexander, David Campbell
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1995
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This thesis is an attempt to determine the nature and development of Augustine's understanding of the church between his conversion (386) and his 'conscription' into the priesthood (391). The results of this study reveal that Augustine did begin to think 'ecclesiologically' during this period. Indeed, his ideas about the church are intimately intertwined with his personal development and they coalesced into what can be called his first ecclesiological synthesis. Before his baptism (387), Augustine's Christianity evidenced no significant ecclesiological interest. His conversion was influenced heavily by neo-Platonism but was clearly Christian in character. It was his interaction with a small number of Milanese Christian neo-Platonists (including Ambrose) that most directly contributed to his conversion; ecclesial motivations were absent. At Cassiciacum, neo-Platonism was the basic intellectual construct employed to seek an understanding of the world and Christian faith. The connection between Augustine's new Christian lifestyle and the church was not obvious at the villa. His pre-baptismal Christianity was primarily individualistic, though his penchant for communal life and interaction was also beginning to manifest itself. The little-discussed stay at Milan just prior to and following Augustine's baptism (April 24/25, 387) provided the seedbed of his earliest ecclesiological ideas. Differences which appear in his writings after Milan strongly suggest that Augustine's instruction there as a catechumen was more significant than is often indicated. The importance of the church, crystalized in his view of the church as Catholic teacher and 'mother of all Christians', emerged in his writings at Rome (387/388). In these works, written after his baptismal experience, he described Christian beliefs as the teachings of the church, something he had not done in the Cassiciacum Dialogues. While it is not possible to identify his motivation with exactness, an analysis of relevant treatises demonstrates that Augustine absorbed these ideas of the church, if only in root form, from Ambrose and the general atmosphere of Catholic Milan. In Rome, Augustine was increasingly exposed to Catholic Christian groups which were seeking to live out an ascetic ideal. Monastic/ascetic development in the West was still in a formative phase, and while Augustine did not imitate any of these examples, he was influenced by them. In addition he assumed the role of Catholic apologist, specifically against the Manichees, a move which reflected his new affinity with the 'rare and high office of teacher' in the church. Returning from Italy to his home town of Thagaste, North Africa in the late summer of 388, Augustine was finally able to sift through and consolidate the many influences which he had encountered in Italy. He conceived of himself as one in the 'service of God' who was connected to the church in allegiance, but not in an institutional or official way. He identified with the 'learned men of the Catholic church' but adopted the role of an independent Christian teacher in his writings and communal activities. The structure of his Thagaste community was the result of a number of factors {e.g. the tradition of philosophic otium), among which the rising western monastic and ascetic trends provided significant but not exclusive input. At least through 390 the community is not properly understood as a monastery, though in some ways it was moving towards this form. Augustine also began at Thagaste to think of the church as a theological object and as encompassing all believers (e.g. clergy, hermits, laity, etc.). An ascetic, but not extreme, ideal was the proper outworking of 'spiritual' Christianity for all. The seeds of Augustine's later well-known ecclesiological ideas (such as the wheat and tares, or the church as the city of God in the world and history) can be observed at Thagaste. Finally at Thagaste in late 390, identifiable ecclesiological understandings of the church in the world, in history, and of Augustine's own position in the church emerged. On the basis of his understanding of the church as a theological entity and the home of the 'spiritual', and motivated by his own Christian goals, Augustine decided that he would establish a clear, institutional connection to the church. His first, 'monastic' ecclesiological synthesis (part of an overall 'religious' synthesis in On True Religion) crystalized in his decision to establish a monastery. It was also the motivation behind his trip to Hippo - to 'recruit for' and 'found a monastery'. This construct was never fully implemented but left its legacy in many of the practical ecclesial innovations which Augustine brought to the see at Hippo and in the ecclesiological foci which found expression in his later works.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available