Philosophy from Descartes to Hegel revolves around the pole of subjectivity. Since Hegel’s explorations of the realm of ‘objective spirit’ (especially the dramatic interpersonal version in The Phenomenology of Spirit), the attention of philosophers has moved to the intersubjective, with increasing awareness of the linguistic, cultural, social and historical embeddedness of the individual consciousness (see V. Hösle, Hegels System, Hamburg, 1987, 381-5). Hegel forms the bridge between the age of subjectivity, and the age of intersubjectivity. He preempts subsequent historicist insight by his insertion of individual thought in the movement of society, and he projects a vision of the political order based on interpersonal recognition (Anerkennung), a term much discussed in recent Hegel scholarship (L. Siep, Anerkennung als Prinzip der praktischen Philosophie, Freiburg, 1979; A. Wildt, Autonomie und Anerkennung, Stuttgart, 1982; T. M. Schmidt, Anerkennung und absolute Religion, Stuttgart, 1997; R. R. Williams, Hegel’s Ethics of Recognition, Berkeley, 1997), and one that still offers a humane and reflective challenge to the rationalistic models of capitalism. As Merold Westphal observes, ‘It is to Hegel that we must turn for the first clear statement of situational epistemology. For not only is the I that thinks caught up in the We of social praxis as its context, the condition of its possibility, but the We of social praxis is caught up in the history of traditions as its context’ (Hegel, Freedom and Modernity, Albany, 1992, 82). Hegel shows that the positivist outlook that puts the realities of state power or of finance above recognition of the subject is lacking in legitimacy, and also that those who make subjectivity an idol, opposing it to interpersonal responsibility, are fixated in an anachronistic and reactionary position.
Augustine has often been the bulwark of such a reactionary confinement to the horizons of subjectivity. But the fault lies less in Augustine than in his readers. A focus on individual subjectivity limited the reception of Augustine’s thought in sixteenth and seventeenth century controversies on grace and predestination; the anti-Pelagian texts, central to these controversies, do not in any case fully exhibit the intersubjective reach of his thought. Maurice Pontet remarks that Augustine speaks of such issues as predestination in a more humane way in the interpersonal situation of preaching, ‘plus humain dans ses Sermons que dans ses traités. À son insu son auditoire l’instruit et le redresse; il exerce sur lui le travail de la postérité’ (L’exégèse de S. Augustin prédicateur, Paris 1945, 514).
Cartesian questions about epistemology and the cogito likewise favoured an ego-centred reading of the early writings and the Confessions. Though twentieth century readings have done more justice to the corporative nature of his thought, a philosophical retrieval of Augustine as a thinker of objective spirit remains a desideratum. Scholarship on Augustine and on Hegel converges in the recognition that an intersubjective framework is the key to the coherence of their respective intellectual visions. At the threshold of the new millennium, the mutually supplementary insights of these two master-thinkers – whose historical impact was in some respects fearful – demand to be critically reappropriated as resources for clarifying the bases of social life and for constructing a truly intersubjective and thereby just and peaceful society.
EARTHLY AND HEAVENLY FRIENDSHIP
Augustine’s interpersonal thinking, and his interpersonal style of communication, have roots in his own experience of personal relationships, notably as recounted in the Confessions. The affective and dialogal character of his writing is not a relaxation from philosophical rigour, but marks a higher concentration of insight. The affective material is thoroughly penetrated and clarified by a steady intellectual gaze, and the dialogal tone represents not loose chat but the enactment of lucid communication, which brings the thought itself to its ripest completion. This interpersonal performance has the integrating force that Hegel found in the Notion (Begriff) If we have so far failed to do justice to Augustine as an integral thinker, it is because we have not been willing to confer on the structures of interpersonality their full ontological and conceptual status.
Thus the passages on friendship in Confessions IV and IX are not sentimental reminiscence, but imply a theological vision of the relation between earthly and heavenly community, more formally set out in De civitate dei XIX. The touching narrative of Book IV culminates in a vision of friendship that orchestrates Ciceronian themes in more impassioned style:
“These and the like expressions, proceeding out of the hearts of those that loved and were loved again, by the countenance, the tongue, the eyes, and a thousand pleasing gestures, were so much fuel to melt our souls together, and out of many make but one. This it is that is loved in friends; and so loved, that a man’s conscience condemns itself, if he love not him that loves him again, or love not again him that loves him, looking for nothing from his person (ex eius corpore), but indications of his love”. (IV 13-14, trans. Pusey)
It is perhaps because they themselves are fixated on subjectivity at the expense of interpersonality that psychoanalysts persist in seeing Augustine as a narcissistic monad, trapped in ‘unhealthy and unhappy interpersonal relationships’ (D. Capps and J. E. Dittes, ed., The Hunger of the Heart, West Lafayette,1990, 95), endlessly voluble about himself and oblivious of others, and projecting a punishing God to meet his needs both for self-expansion and self-correction. These perceptions stem from a propensity to interpret every utterance, however eloquently joyful, as an indication of pathology, so that the vision at Ostia, for example, becomes a scene of sublimated incest.
But the happiness that courses through Augustine’s prose, the continuus motus animi, is not merely the contentment of spinning the cocoon of the ‘egotistical sublime’. It is rooted in the joy of conversing with friends. Even when in more laborious attempts at clarification or systematization his thought becomes entangled in dualisms or reified categories (as occasionally in the De trinitate, where substantializing conceptions of God and the soul impede a free thinking of God as Spirit), the dynamic of shared questioning tends to overcome this. In contrast to Hegel’s monologal style of delivery, noted by his students (Hösle, 447), Augustine freely bares his heart to his readers – his addressees – and engages them as partners in thought. If other persons did not exist, the world of Plotinus and the God of Plotinus would look much the same. But Augustine’s God comes into focus as that which the saints and angels enjoy together and as the very medium in which we can enjoy one another.
Augustine was perhaps most solitary as a schoolboy weeping for Dido. From his adolescence on, he is constantly discussing with friends the issues that plague him. Thoughts come to him, or leap into life, in the act of conversation, or later of preaching, and even the most arduous cogitations of solitude never lose touch with these dialogal origins. The Soliloquies show how the dialogue pursued with friends continues inwardly. His mind hums with inner voices – the voice of truth as the interior master; the dialogue between continence and the vanities in Confessions VIII 26-7; the many voices of Scripture. ‘Dans les Confessions, les propos échangés entre humains sont plutôt plus rares que ces “voix” de toute espèce’ (P. Courcelle, Recherches sur les Confessions de saint Augustin, Paris, 1968, 291).
At the summit of contemplation, all these voices will fall silent so that one can hear God himself speak (Conf. IX 25). This is not to say that the voices are an idle noise. One might see them as forming an analogical ladder of communication, with at its top the divine Word that is found in utter silence.
Despite their fuller knowledge of the texts, some theologians have missed even more completely than the psychologists the element of interpersonal delight in which Augustine’s thought moves. Or if they have noticed it they have seen is as a pagan contamination of the biblical commandment of love of neighbour. For Karl Holl, Augustine was the chief corrupter of Christian morals, and followers of Anders Nygren worry about ‘les éléments nuisibles aux moeurs’ in his eudaemonistic cult of the beata vita (G.Hultgren, Le Commandement d’amour cbez Augustin, Paris, 1939, 52), almost as if he had preached la dolce vita. Perhaps distaste for the homoerotic Greek conception of love of beautiful forms lies in the background of such censoriousness. If so, the critics’ worst suspicions would be confirmed by the paean to friendship quoted above, especially when read in tandem with the condemnation of homosexual activity in III 15 and the earlier reference to the ‘cauldron of unholy loves’ in which ‘I defiled the spring of friendship with the filth of concupiscence’ (III 1). The commandment of love, for Nygren’s followers, becomes a painful test of Christian authenticity, in which any trace of common human affection is regarded as a betrayal. But their talk of pure self-forgetting love is ultimately a narcissistic posture, whereas for Augustine love always has something to do with real others. Friendship is a fundamental structure of Augustine’s existence and thought. The commandment of charity does not supervene on this as a bolt from the blue, calling for its suspension. Charity rather enlarges friendship, freeing it from pain, limitation and anxiety.
For friendship intensifies our consciousness of what Shakespeare calls ‘sad mortality’: ‘To love that well which thou must leave ere long’ (Sonnets 65, 73).Its fragmentary and fragile quality, yielding a mere glimpse of joy, calls for a heavenly consummation. ‘Heaven is the inner dynamic of all friendship’ (L. Boros, Im Menschen Gott begegnen, Mainz, 1967, 76). In Confessions IX the horizons of friendship extend to embrace the communion of saints. The moral conversion recounted in Book VIII brings Augustine into a new intimacy with his friends. It is an interpersonal event, for it is shared immediately by Alypius. Romans 13:13-14 is the text that breaks the bondage of Augustine’s will; Romans 14:1, which immediately follows, becomes Alypius’s charter of moral freedom: ‘This followed, “him that is weak in faith, receive”, which he applied to himself, and disclosed to me… without any turbulent delay he joined me’. The conversion also immediately brings a new intimacy with his mother: ‘Thence we go into my mother; we tell her…; she leaps for joy, and triumpheth, and blesseth thee… And Thou didst convert her mourning into joy… in a much more precious and purer way than she erst required, by having grandchildren of my body’ (VIII 10). Augustine’s conversion is an intensely individual, subjective event, yet it is sustained and accompanied from the start by the Christian community. Later, he never preaches to that community from the outside, but articulates its vision of faith from within.
The phrase ‘convert her mourning into joy’ (Ps. 30:11) suggests John 16:21: ‘she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world’. Augustine is born again by his conversion and baptism, and in a sense Monica gives birth to him anew. Book IX begins with the words: ‘O Lord, I am Thy servant, and the son of Thy handmaid’ (Ps. 116:16). Augustine situates himself anew in relation to God and in relation to his mother. He is a child again: Pusey translates ‘garriebam’ as ‘my infant tongue spake freely to Thee’ (IX 1). ‘It pleased Alypius also to be with me born again in Thee… We joined with us the boy Adeodatus, born after the flesh, of my sin… Him we joined with us, our contemporary in grace [Sociavimus eum coaevum nobis in gratia tua]’ (IX 14). Monica takes care of the community ‘as though she had been the mother of us all; so served us, as though she had been child to us all’ (IX 22). It is as if charity, not less imaginative than eros, multiplies the possibilities of human relationship, creating new and paradoxical bonds of kinship.
Augustine is now living a heavenly life, and he looks forward to the full realization of the communion of saints. References to the future life, or rather to the present blessedness of the saints, abound: ‘Thou now requitest Verecundus for his country-house of Cassiciacum, where from the fever of the world we reposed in Thee, with the eternal freshness of Thy Paradise’ (IX 5). The play of images brings heaven and earth into intimate interconnection, as again when he writes of Nebridius:
“Now he lives in Abraham’s bosom. Whatever that be, which is signified by that bosom, there lives my Nebridius, my sweet friend... For what other place is there for such a soul? There he liveth, whereof he asked much of me, a poor inexperienced man. Now lays he not his ear to my mouth, but his spiritual mouth unto Thy fountain, and drinketh as much as he can receive, wisdom in proportion to his thirst, endlessly happy. Nor do I think that he is so inebriated therewith, as to forget me; seeing Thou, Lord, Whom he drinketh art mindful of us”. (IX 6)
The bosom of Abraham was a puzzling topic for the Fathers, and Augustine distinguishes it from paradise, the heaven of the angels (see É. Lamirande, L’Église céleste selon saint Augustin, Paris, 1963, 210). The conversation of friends with its unsolved questions or, in the scene at Ostia, its incomplete grasp of the joy to which it aspires, is consummated in heaven when it opens directly onto the divine. Interestingly, in De civitate dei (XII 9; XX 9), Augustine counts the souls of the departed as members of the earthly church, not the heavenly triumphant one. The departed are no longer pilgrims and exiles, yet they remain in solidarity with the church’s struggle toward the final resurrection, a consummation they eagerly await. They do not immediately move to a plane that would estrange them from the friends left behind.
The founder and guardian of the Christian fellowship is God, a vivid and active personal presence throughout the story. God is the invisible third party in all the interpersonal relationships described, and he is present not merely as a shared object of contemplation but as an active arranger. He arranges that Verecundus should die in the faith ‘lest remembering the exceeding kindness of our friend towards us, yet unable to number him among Thy flock, we should be agonized with intolerable sorrow’ (IX 5). What the reader gathers is that for one leading a converted life, in obedience. the hand of God is sensed in every incident.
Augustine wants to share his experience with those who are spiritually blind: ‘With what vehement and bitter sorrow was I angered at the Manichees, and again I pitied them’ (IX 8). ‘Oh that they could see the eternal Internal (internum aeternum; the internal Eternal), which having tasted I was grieved that I could not shew It them’ (IX 10). ‘I was consumed with zeal against the enemies of this Scripture’ (IX 11). Augustine’s zeal to convert others springs up immediately with his own discovery of truth. Despite the evil to which such zeal has led, its roots lie in a sense of interpersonal responsibility and a thirst to communicate. In the many Buddhist narrations of conversion and enlightenment, the breakthrough to vision may immediately arouse a bodhisattva’s compassionate desire to free all beings from delusion and suffering, but it would be hard to find a case in which the note of anger is sounded, since anger is viewed entirely negatively in Buddhist ethics. There is a note of fanaticism in Augustine’s convert zeal; the love of souls is already becoming a persecutory passion.
The climax of Book IX is the contemplative elevation shared with his mother at Ostia, which reveals what the bliss of heavenly friendship is like. That friendship is in immediate conjunction with the enjoyment of God. Augustine may have done all the talking at Ostia: ‘Dicebamus’ (XI 25) at the start of their reported conversation becomes the singular ‘dicebam’ (XI 26) at the end. He initiates his mother, probably in simpler biblical language, into the method of Plotinian ascent which must have been fashionable in Christian Neo-Platonist circles in Milan (Courcelle, 226). Yet psychologically there is an equality between the two: ‘both are leading and both are following; in friendship there is no precedence’ (Boros, 71). Shared reflections create a strong intersubjective bond, even apart from contemplative experience. As Scotus Eriugena writes: ‘When I understand what you understand I am made your understanding, and in a certain way that cannot be described I am created in you. In the same way when you clearly understand what I clearly understand you are made my understanding, and of two understandings is made one, formed from that which we both clearly and without doubt understand… I am created in you and you are created in me’ (Periphyseon IV, PL 94:780, trans. O’Meara). Augustine has captured the stillness of friendship, as ‘an existential resting of the person in a foreign being’, in which ‘two persons become inward to one another; their entire being has the same “vibration”’ (Boros, 71). This intersubjectivity provides a medium in which both the creation and the Creator come into perspective more roundly and serenely than was the case in the solitary metaphysical vision of Milan (VII 16).
Courcelle points out that the experience at Ostia is recounted in the same Plotinian vocabulary (from Enneads I 6 and V 1) as that of Milan a year earlier and is marked by the same note of longing and incompletion. But James J. O’Donnell correctly rejects the textual positivism underlying this, and remarks that the Plotinian elements are totally transformed by their insertion in a new context with a different dynamic (Augustine: Confessions, III, Oxford, 1992, 122-4). It may be that Augustine does nor count himself among the pagans and Christians who attained the fulness of contemplation (Courcelle, 222-5). Nonetheless, the Ostia experience takes us to the sixth level, ingressio, if not the seventh, contemplatio, as distinguished in De quantitate animae 79. What it may lack in mystical ultimacy it makes up for in human or communal completeness, a rich interpersonal grounding. Perhaps all that distinguishes Ostia from Milan is this interpersonal context, the friendship of the community and the secure setting it provides for Augustine’s spiritual life. But this is a radical distinction, and its full force is missed by those who see intersubjectivity as merely a supplement to or a distraction from subjectivity. Book VII is the loneliest book of the Confessions, culminating in an upward leap or vision. Book IX is the most communal, climaxing in this listening to a gracious word emerging in the silence, given as quasi-eucharistic nourishment. The incompletion of his momentary glimpse of Truth does not now throw Augustine back on a sense of sin and alienation from God as in Book VII, but becomes the eschatological groaning of the pilgrim church as it longs for the lasting joy of heaven. The move from the subjectivity of Book VII to the intersubjectivity of Book IX brings Augustine’s thought into its homeground.
THE CONTROVERSY ABOUT EROS AND AGAPE
Augustinian caritas carries the social weight of the classical ideal of friendship as well as its eudaemonistic features, both of which are fully realized in heaven, the place of perfected society and fullest enjoyment of one another in God. Some see Augustine as restraining the eudaemonistic features, replacing love of the friend as ‘another self’ with a more dutiful altruism, in obedience not to the dynamic of eros but to God’s authoritative command (Hultgren, 257). But in Augustine love of neighbour is nor primarily a command; the command serves only to advance and order a disposition already natural to human beings. He warmly declares that nothing is more sociable than the human race (De civ. dei XII 8). The command of love is not a foreign body in an otherwise eudaemonistic system.
The idea of enjoying one another in God is central to Augustine’s conception of charity. It is the moment of fullest reconciliation and integration in his vision. Love of God is an end in itself, but insofar as love of neighbour ripens into a ‘frui’, it too can be seen as an end in itself: ‘Frui est enim amore inhaerere alicui rei propter se ipsam’ (De doctrina christiana I 4). Concupiscence deflects our enjoyment of neighbour to the service of egoism, but charity enlarges it to the love of God and of one another in God. The contrast expressed in the principle, ‘diligendus est propter deum, deus uero propter seipsum’ (I 28; ‘he is to be loved for the sake of God, but God for his own sake’), tends progressively to be toned down. At first Augustine taught that only God is the object of ‘frui’ in the proper sense and that our love of neighbour in view of God is a matter of ‘cum delectatione uti’ (I 37). Later texts such as De civitate dei are more positive in preaching a ‘frui inuicem in Deo’, avoiding the vocabulary of ‘uti’ where other human beings are concerned. Within the De doctrina christiana itself Augustine is deflected from a rigorous application of the category ‘uti’ to love of neighbour by a biblical text: Philemon 20: ‘Ego te fruar in domino’ (Gr. onaimen en kyriô); or perhaps it was his wish to be so deflected that led to his discovery of and interpretation of this text.
Love of neighbour is not an onerous task accomplished to prove one’s love of God, but can become directly a ‘frui deo’: ‘Cum autem homine in deo frueris, deo potius quam homine frueris’ (I 37; ‘when you enjoy man in God, you enjoy God rather than man’). To enjoy one’s neighbour in God is the summit of Augustine’s eudaemonism. Just as his faith aspires to blossom in ‘intellectus’, not in a sacrificium intellectus, so his charity blossoms in joy, not in a grim moralism. Charity is the highest enjoyment. ‘Caritatem voco motum animi ad fruendum deo propter ipsum et se atque proximo propter deum; cupiditatem autem motum animi ad fruendum se et proximo et quolibet corpore non propter deum’ (III 16; ‘charity I call the impulse of the mind to love God for himself and to love oneself and one’s neighbour for the sake of God, cupidity the impulse to love oneself and the neighbour and any body not for the sake of God’). The logic of enjoying the neighbour in God is clarified when brought into the horizon of Johannine thought: ‘Deus caritas est’ (I John 4:8). ‘Qui ergo plenus est caritate, plenus est Deo’ (Enn. in Ps. 98, 4 ; ‘whoever is full of charity, is full of God’). Love of neighbour is an end in itself, not only because it is really love of God, but because love is itself God.
A moralistic conception of the order of charity prevents some interpreters of the earlier texts from soliciting this theme more eagerly. Nygren does not mention it at all. He identifies love with desire and supposes that when the object of desire is attained, love ceases: ‘Perfect fruitio Dei means in principle the cessation of love’ (Agape and Eros, London 1953, 511); he tendentiously takes the phrase ‘non se beatos amando putant, sed fruendo’ (De civ. dei VIII 8; ‘let them think themselves happy in loving, but in enjoying’) to mean that love ceases when enjoyment is attained, a quite unreal supposition; ‘Amor ergo inhians quo amatur cupiditas est, id autem habens eoque fruens laetitia est’ (De civ. dei XIV 7.2; ‘love yearning for the loved object is cupidity; possessing and enjoying it, it is joy’).
Alberto di Giovanni (La dialettica dell’amore, Rome, 1965) blandly reduces frui proximo to a varant of uti proximo; no ‘dialectic’ emerges. R. Teste (in his contribution to Congresso internazionale su s. Agostino, Rome, 1987) underlines the richer view of love in De doctrina christiana relative to De vera religione, but fails to focus on the theme of enjoying the neighbour in God. Josef Brechten notes that the emergence of the frui homine theme in De doctrina christiana I 35 (‘Haec autem summa merces est, ut ipso perfruamur et omnes, qui eo fruimur, nobis etiam invicem in ipso prefruamur) contradicts the previous stress on uti, a contradiction finessed by the semantics of I 37 and by the formula ‘frui proximo propter deum’ (III 16; ‘this is the highest reward, that we enjoy him, and all who enjoy him also enjoy one another in him’) which lies halfway between frui proximo in deo and the strict uti-formula ‘diligere proximum propter deum’ (III 10). Nygren wanted to free agape from the Babylonian captivity of its aborption into Augustine’s caritas-synthesis; Brechtken thinks Nygren doesn’t go far enough: ‘In his quite narrow-minded and reckless efforts to fit love of neighbour somehow (i.e. at any cost) into his system fixed on frui-uti, Augustine finally grasps at quite absurd conceptual means (frui in deo)’. But it looks as if it is Brechtken himself who is guilty of the ‘petty manoeuvering with the frui-uti’ of which he accuses Augustine (Augustinus Doctor Caritatis, Meisenheim am Glan, 1975, 194; for a corrective see T. J. Van Bavel, ‘The Double Face of Love in St. Augustine’, Congressio internazionale su s. Agostino, 55-68.
The dynamics of God’s agape are not so foreign to Augustine as Brechtken assumes and not as severely thwarted by his ‘fixed idea of a finally still somehow fruitive love of neighbour’ (133). Nor is Nygren’s view, followed by Brechtken, that the New Testament entirely excludes fruitive eros entirely convincing, Though medieval scholastic puzzles about how one could love God more than oneself did nor occur to Augustine (they smack of idle theorizing rather than gospel radicality in any case), neither did he rigorously impose an egotistic conception of love as appetitus. (Both the ‘physical’ and the ‘ecstatic’ conceptions of love distinguished by P. Rousselot [Pour l’histoire du problème de l’amour au moyen âge, Münster, 1908] have Augustinian roots; see O. O’Donovan, The Problem of Self-Love in St. Augustine, Chicago, 1981, 145-52.) Rather his basic conviction that all that is, by the very fact that it is, is good, showed up the folly of fallen self-love, which cuts itself off from the enjoyment of true being, but also cuts off the self-laceration of those who would separate love of God from enjoyment of his goodness. What exists is good, and therefore lovable; a rightly ordered love reflects the true order of the cosmos; being, goodness, and happiness go together: ‘Inde necesse est, ut fiat homo beatus, unde fit bonus’ (Ep. 130.3; ‘hence it is necessary that man be made blessed when he is made good’).
This ontological vision cannot be scoured away as Hellenistic rationalism obscuring God’s authoritative revelation of agape. If love is an appetite for Augustine, that also means that God’s love is a devouring claim: ‘Totum exigit te, qui fecit te’ (Sermo 34, 1; ‘he claims thee totally, who made thee’). It is devouring not because God is hungry, but because our whole being gravitates to him. The Augustinian ego is a claimed subject, a relational subject, always in movement; the idea of self-love in such a context is actually equivalent to the idea of self-abandonment, self-forgetfulness, dying to self: ‘si te non dederis, perdis te’ (ib.; ‘if you give not yourself, you lose yourself’).
Interpersonal communion is a core-va1ue in Augustine’s conception of love. That this is not merely the goal of a pagan appetitus, as Brechtken, the most violent critic of Augustine’s caritas-synthesis, comes close to suggesting (198-9), but lies at the heart of the New Testament, can be seen from the Farewell Discourses in John’s Gospel. A purist de-Platonizing of Christian discourse on love is an impossibility. It would presuppose that the agape-tradition exists in an undiluted form, immune to contamination from Greek sources. But even in the New Testament the language of agape is developed in lively interaction with the ideas of the surrounding cultures. When the eros-religion and the agape-religion are opposed as heathenism and absolute truth, history is subjected to a drastic critical purgation which it can scarcely sustain. It is illuminating to bring out the differences between eros and agape, but as Karl Barth (always rather prone to soften Lutheran oppositions) points out (KD IV/2, 837), one cannot realistically expect that history will at any point separate what it has so intricately entangled. Nygren’s purism would discredit all non-Christian thinking about love, which is not only religiously unecumenical and culturally barbaric but overrides everyday human experience and the normal usages of the word ‘love’, thus leaving the Gospel high and dry (as in Kierkegaard’s strained discourse on love, which Brechtken admires). Augustine introduces into Christianity a profound meditation on human need and desire; there are ample openings for this in the scriptural text, but Nygren’s purism closes them off. Augustine’s discourse of love is warranted at every step by his own experience; unless one can show that the experiences recounted in the Confessions could have been better lived and better understood if Augustine had used only purely biblical categories, it is futile to question the existential credentials of his vision.
To Nygren’s either/or Catholic thinkers have replied with a rather bland both/and, which dulls perception of the tensions or contradictions within the tradition. Augustine is constantly weaving a unitary language of the spiritual realm from his two sources, the Platonist and biblical traditions, and the seam between them, with the occasional dropped stitches, marks the conventionality and constructed quality of his vision. The Augustinian synthesis began to crumble when Luther insisted on the specificity of the biblical event of agape, not to be integrated into Platonist systematizations of eros or recuperated within the regime of Platonist interiority. Augustine’s concept of love is one of the major fields for deconstructive questioning in view of an overcoming of metaphysics in Christian tradition. There is a tendency to reification in his massive identification of God and love: ‘Si deus dilectio, quisquis diligit dilectionem, deum diligit’ (In Epist. Joh. lX 10; ‘if God is love, whoever loves love, loves God’). The Johannine ‘God is agape’ refers to a total situation in which God is known as gracious, forgiving, reconciling. Augustine takes it as a straight metaphysical definition and builds on it the neat patterns of his ordo caritatis, discussing the metaphysical status and interrelationships of divine and human love in a variety of ingenious arrangements. Right through the middle ages a reified notion of charity produces an effect of woodenness in theology, whether in developments on the Holy Spirit as the mutual love of Father and Son or in discussions of grace and charity as infused substances or habits. We must read Augustine against the grain, not only by freeing the agapeic aspects of his text from their envelopment by eros-structures, but by querying the discourse of eros itself as to its existential sense. In uncovering the tense inner pluralism of Augustine’s language of love we need not seek to discredit it. Rather we can let the pluralism play again in all its wealth of suggestion.
The insights of the critics of Augustinian caritas need to be reinvested in a more differentiated reading of Augustine’s texts, attentive not only to chronological and contextual differences between different parts of the corpus, but aiso to the inner tensions within an individual text. Augustine has a rich palette of differing emphases. and the critical reader should begin by engaging with and continuing the deconstructive play between these emphases in the texture of his writing. To judge a priori that Hellenistic ideas must represent a corruption of pure biblical morality is a rather doctrinaire hermeneutical stance, whose fruitfulness has been exhausted. The great compendium of insights generated by the critique of Hellenized Christianity in Harnack’s History of Dogma can be reinvested in a less judgemental reading of individual texts, which will reanimate the tradition by revealing the tense struggle between divergent historical forces that is writ into its composition
THE INTERPERSONAL ABSOLUTE
If there is a gap in Hegel between his Logic, which culminates in subjectivity, and his Realphilosophie, which overleaps the bounds set by the Logic when it comes to deal with social realities, there may be an analogous gap in Augustine between basic doctrines about being and the soul and his more comprehensive interpersonal vision of love. But it might also be argued that the interpersonal relation of love is no less foundational to his thought than are its ontological and noetic principles. Esse, nosse, velle (diligere) are as consubstantial as the three divine Persons they shadow forth. If for Plato, as Hösle claims, the Good beyond being is the ‘absolute Idea’, then for Augustine, who follows Porphyry in ‘telescoping’ the Plotinian hypostases, the absolute Idea is a love which is coterminous with being, truth, and the good.
This Idea comes to itself as ‘absolute spirit’ when love is realized in community, especially in the heavenly community wherein we adhere to God in a holy society. The heavenly city has the supreme transparency and integration of the Plotinian Nous, which it translates into the key of personal communion. This corresponds to the improvement on Hegel desiderated by Josiah Royce: ‘the community will be the ruling category of such a philosophy’ (quoted, Hösle, ch. 4, n. 210).
Hegel undid the integration of his vision of ethical society (Sittlichkeit) when he reached the level of absolute spirit, giving the latter an ahistorical character beyond the concerns of society. He opted for ‘the pure theoria of a thinking that withdraws from the world’, a kind of intellectual Epicureanism, bordering on nihilism (ib., 433). In contrast, Augustine’s social vision rises to its highest pitch at the level of absolute spirit. This level operates in the temporal sphere through the pilgrim church, the body of Christ, and it does so in prophetic interaction with the entire social realm of ‘objective spirit’. His Plotinian background (partly shared by Hegel) would have shown Augustine that absolute spirit is realized in artistic and philosophical creativity too; but any reflections he offers on this are quickly recuperated by the dominant theological framework. His sense of the historical embeddedness of spirit, even in its highest attainments, and of the eschatological proviso hanging over all of these, opens the possibility (again not exploited by Augustine himself) of facing the full complexity of religious pluralism and of the différance of the absolute under the conditions of time, whereas Hegel wants to eliminate such historical open-endedness.
One should note however that the idea of divine interpersonality is not the foundation of Augustine’s interpersonal vision. Much modern discourse on this topic has a tritheistic character which Augustine would abhor. Hösle, urging that interpersonality is a transcendental absolute, providing a logical foundation for the transition from subjective to intersubjective spirit in Hegel’s Realphilosophie, places excessive emphasis on the interpersonal character of the Christian God (126-7, 654); he faults Augustine’s Trinity for being insufficiently interpersonal (657). Indeed Augustine like Hegel has inherited the spirit of Greek intellectualism, that sees the highest activity as theoria, a ‘play of love with itself’ (391), and this prevents him from projecting personality onto God in a naively anthropomorphic style. Hegel goes further, reducing the Trinity to a modalistic dynamism of impersonal Spirit and using Christian terms such as kenosis to evacuate the Christian language of its orthodox sense, as Cyril O’Regan shows (The Heterodox Hegel, Albany, 1994, 129-40). Walter Jaeschke, though unlike O’Regan he sees Hegel as critical of the Gnostics rather than a sympathizer with them, comes to a similar conclusion (Die Vernunft in der Religion, Stuttgart 1986, 317-23).
In early texts Augustine strips natural community (family etc.) of concreteness and individua1ity, in order to make place for the supernatural bonds uniting a community centred on the love of God; the links between natural and Christian love are attenuated, as the principles of charity are spelt out in contrast with the self-interest of temporal, earthly bonds (see Hultgren, 175-6): ‘Nec sic quidem ab homine homo diligendus est, ut diliguntur carnales fratres vel filii vel coniuges vel quique cognati aut affines aut cives. Nam et ista dilectio temporalis est’ (De vera religione 88; ‘Man is not to be loved by man as fleshly brothers or children or spouses or relatives of fellow-citizens; for that love is temporal’). However, the interplay between natural relations and supernatural ones becomes richer in later reflections on marriage, friendship, civic order. It is a tendency of Augustine’s critics to focus excessively on the early writings, neglecting the richer and more complex discourse emerging in the later corpus, or at least to quote indiscriminately from earlier and later texts.
The Gospel of the Kingdom impels Augustine to break with natural community and to project the ideal of the heavenly community, prepared here and now by the pilgrim church. This eschatological orientation introduces a fruitful tension into his social thinking, a critical and sceptical stance toward constituted orders. Augustine’s eudaemonism is paradoxically what gives ethical and eschatological tension to his thought. For if beatitudo is the goal of philosophy, pursued variously by each of Varro’s 288 sects (De civ.dei XIX 1-3), the reality that Christian philosophy bravely faces is that beatitudo is absent in this mortal life, an absence most acutely felt in the interpersonal realm: consider the worries and treacheries of human intercourse (XIX 5), the errors of human judgement (XIX 6), the confusion of tongues which makes it easier for two mute animals to communicate than for two men of different speech, so that a man will prefer the company of his dog to that of a foreigner (XIX 7). Even sincere friendship is radically insecure: ‘We worry not only lest our friends be afflicted by humger, wars, diseases, imprisonment, and in such servitude they suffer things we are not able to think of, but also – a far more bitter fear – lest they change to perfidy, malice and crookedness’. Our sorrow at their betrayal is greater than if they had died (XIX 8] Augustine has a nostalgia for mutual transparency of hearts, such as we find in Rousseau or in Virgil:
Quid natum totiens, crudelis tu quoque,
Falsis ludis imaginibus? Cur dextrae iungere dextram
non datur ac veras audire et reddere uoces? (Aeneid I 407-9)
One might trace connections between this heartfelt plea to an elusive mother(Venus, goddess of love) and the later scene in which the offended shade of Dido turns aside from the weeping Aeneas and returns to her husband (VI 450-76). Monica is associated with Dido in Augustine’s odyssey; the tears he sheds for Dido as a boy are reciprocated by her tears for his conversion. Alienation from the mother or from friends is the great disturbance of social harmony for Augustine, and the church community is imagined along these axes. Father-centred familial models and the hymeneal image of the Bride of Christ have less hold on his imagination.
Sensitivity to the fragility of human bonds is what more than any other experience prompts Augustine to sigh for an eschatological peace: ‘So great is the good of peace that even in earthly and mortal things nothing is heard of more gladly, nothing is craved for as more desirable, nothing better can be found’ (XIX 11) ‘Eternal and perfect peace’ is the ‘supreme good of the City of God’ (XIX 20). This peace takes concrete form as the mutual transparency of the blessed who enjoy one another in God: ‘Pax caelestis civitatis, ordinatissima et concordissima societas fruendi Deo et inuicem in Deo’ (XIX 13.1). Philosophers saw the importance of vita socialis, but the Christian vision stresses it far more: ‘Quod autem socialem vitam volunt esse sapientis, nos multo amplius approbamus’ (XIX 5; ‘that they wish the life of the sage to be social, we far more approve’). Although it may be true that unlike Hegel and Marx, ‘Augustine puts peaceful reconciliation in no dialectical relationship with conflict’ but brings in ‘the code of a peaceful mode of existence, which has historically arisen as “something else”, an altera civitas, having no logical or causal connection with the city of violence’ (J. Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, Oxford, 1990, 389), nonetheless there is a close logical relationship between the defects Augustine isolates human society and the resolution of these defects in the communion of saints, and in addition there is a positive continuity between earthly and heavenly vita socialis.
The gap between the turmoil of earthly society, where justice has always to be established, and the perfection of the eschatological society, never tempts Augustine to a flight from society to a merely inward realm or to the morose excesses of Pascal’s pessimism about social relationships; the terrestrial city is not simply identified with the civitas diaboli (see H. Inglebert, Les Romains chrétiens face à l’histoire de Rome, Paris, 1996, 477-81; H.-X. Arquillière, L’Augustinisme politique, Paris, 1955, 64). Yet Augustine is the ‘owl of Minerva’ of Roman society; grasped in its essence, it is by the same stroke outmoded, and we hear the cockcrow of a new social order, medieval Christendom (see Hösle, 437-9). Christianity is a radical ‘moral’ critique of ancient Sittlichkeit, but it also shapes a new social order; thus, paradoxically, Augustine’s revolutionary radicality over against Roman society provides the bases of the medieval establishment. Augustine sets up a forward-straining dynamic from the present social and ecclesial order towards the equally social future consummation. Only those who strive for peace here will enjoy it there. This tension is quite the opposite of Hegel’s celebration of present social structures,his ‘Angst vor dem Sollen’ that prompts him to declare that ‘is’ and “ought’ already or always coincide. Hösle points out that this Zusammenstimmung of ‘is’ and ‘ought’ is best realized in subhuman forms of existence, which is what marks them as subhuman (256-7). Westphal comments: ‘To follow the implications of his own dialectical holism for an understanding of both knowledge and the intersubjectivity which underlies it, Hegel would have to say that no human society yet corresponds to its concept’ (87). Hegel abandons a theory of the State that would be based on genuine community at paragraph 321 of the Rechtsphilosophie, in what Westphal deplores as a ‘failure of nerve’, a failure to draw the implicit lesson of the Phenomenology of Spirit on the need for a radically new form of social life that would provide the real life context for ‘absolute knowledge’.
Earthly politics aim at mere pax terrena; the church approves this quest, but relates or orders it to the ultimate goal of the pax caelestis (XIX 17). (For a critique of this ‘referre ad’ structure, whereby Augustine ‘uses’ the temporal in view of the eternal, see Brechten, 19-24.) This may not be an entirely satisfactory integration of the two spheres. Hegel has a far more wholesome, mature, integrated grasp of the laws of family, civil society, and statehood than Augustine has. Augustine’s social thought is dominated by a macroscopic vision of providence, filing up the number of the elect from Eden to the eschaton; this does not encourage him to give full intrinsic weight to social realities; his reprise of the classical vita socialis tradition robs it of the rooted quality, the substantiality, it had in Cicero, for example. The ideals of celibate community are exalted at the expense of appreciation of the common civic and familial virtues, which tend to be reduced to a moralistic measure. Augustine lived at a tangent to the realities of marriage and family. His appointment to the post of supreme expert on sex and marriage in the Latin West has been a very costly choice. But whatever the deficiencies of his social vision on the earthly plane, he did carry the idea of community to the highest realms of absolute spirit, where Hegel tends rather to lose it from view.
The heavenly church is rarely referred to as the body of Christ (Lamirande, 253), perhaps because the notion is so closely associated with the memory of Christ’s sufferings, and the continued suffering of his members on earth in their striving toward the final consummation. Sacrificial living on earth has as its purpose ‘ut sancta societate inhaereamur Deo’ (X 5; ‘that we may inhere in God as a holy society’), and this is fulfilled when human beings and angels ‘sunt una civitas dei, eademque vivum sacrificium eius vivumque templum eius’ (XII 9.2; ‘are one city of God, his living sacrifice and living temple’). In heavenly charity the ontological and noetic fulfilment anticipated in the earthly order of love is finally attained. Augustine’s descants on the bliss of heaven are not a luxury, but the capstone of his thought, its point of definitive arrival.
‘Erimus in quadam civitate: fratres, quando de illa loquor, finire nolo, et maxime quando scandala crebrescunt. Quis non desideret illam civitatem, unde amicus non exit, quo inimicus non intrat, ubi nullus tentator est, nullus seditiosus, nullus dividens populum dei, nullus fatigans ecclesiam in ministerio diaboli?... Erit ergo pax purgata in filiis dei omnibus amantibus se, videntibus se plenos deo, cum erit deus omnia in omnibus. Commune spectaculum habebimus deum; communem possessionem habebimus deum; communem pacm habebimus deum’. (Enn. in Ps. 84, 10). ‘We shall be in a certain City: brethren, when I speak of this I do not wish to stop, and especially when scandals abound. Who does not yearn for that city, where friends do not leave nor enemies enter, where there are no tempters, no traitors, no dividers of the people of God, none who harass the Church in the service of the devil?... There will be a purified peace among the children of God who love themselves seeing themselves full of God, when God will be all in all. God will be our shared spectacle, our shared possession, our shared peace’.
The social character of heavenly beatitude is not developed in detail. ‘Augustine scarcely lingers on this aspect of the blessed life, though one feels it everywhere present: union with the angels, shared praise, participation in the same good. From time to time a more explicit expression: familia, societas dilectionis dei, societas beatitudinis, consortium illorum civium supernae Ierusalem, deus vita communis, patria communis, socialiter gaudentes’ (Lamirande, 245). The blessed are one heart and one soul (De bono coniugali 21). Our ancient solidarity in sin yields to a solidarity in love of God: ‘Communis fuit perditio, communis sit inventio’ (Sermo 115.4; ‘shared was the loss, let the finding be shared’).
Augustine’s theories of love and society have an archaic simplicity which it would be foolish to imitate today. The idea, propounded by some contemporary theological extremists, that the institutions of modern secular democracy need to be referred to the church for their justification or completion, stems from a failure to recognize the pluralism now inescapably writ into interpersonal experience. (An example of such extremism: W. T. Cavanaugh, in J. Milbank et al., ed. Radical Orthodoxy, London, 1999, 182-200.) The location of all higher spiritual achievements in the church, with the state serving only as a policing organization, is a vision Hegel associates with a time of barbarism (Rechtsphilosophie, par. 270). A general reference of the realm of objective spirit to that of absolute spirit can no longer be concretized as the specific reference of the democratic State to the Christian Church. The institutions of democracy are the body that freedom has given itself – ‘the concept of liberty become the world at hand and the nature of self-consciousness’ (par. 142) – and the means of exercising the virtues of freedom; these are modern achievements only in part anticipated in the ancient republican polis (see D. Rosenfield, Politique et liberté, Paris, 1984, 182). The Church can help the further development of these institutions, but they have an autonomous dynamic which repels any interventionist ambitions of the Church. If there is a ‘crisis of legitimation’ in modern democracy, its resolution lies not in a return to Augustine but in a fuller development of natural law thinking. Augustine judges society from above, but Hegel luminously deduces the categories of social life from within, as unfoldings of the idea of freedom.
Christian agape, enacted in the church communiy, and invoked in critique of society, has to recognize the autonomous merits of the earthly city, which can no longer be written off as a monument built on foundations of pride and self-centredness. Post-Hegelian reflection on the social realm, as in Marx and Weber, illuminates the concrete conditions in which the agape-community lives and in which it has a field for action. The claim that agape can override these conditions and redefine social reality in purely biblical terms is a formula for simplistic revolutionary fundamentalism. Social study of biblical history itself shows that the law of love has always had to reinterpret itself in function of complex political and social circumstances which it has not been able to redraft from scratch.
Archivio di Filosofia 69 (2001)