Inner Grace: Augustine in the Traditions of Plato and Paul

Inner Grace: Augustine in the Traditions of Plato and Paul

Inner Grace: Augustine in the Traditions of Plato and Paul

Inner Grace: Augustine in the Traditions of Plato and Paul

Synopsis

Augustine's epochal doctrine of grace is often portrayed as a break from his earlier Platonism, but in Inner Grace Phillip Cary argues it should be seen instead as the way Augustine's Platonism developed as he read the apostle Paul. Augustine's concept of grace as an inner gift that moves, turns and strengthens the will from within requires a Platonist conception of the soul's inner relation to the Good. What he adds to this conception is that grace is needed not only for the mind to see God but also for the will to turn away from lower goods and love God as its eternal Good, and even for it to choose faith in Christ, the temporal road by which the soul journeys to God. Thus, over the course of Augustine's career the scope of the soul's need for grace expands outward from intellect to love and then to faith. At every stage, Augustine insists that divine grace does not compromise or coerce the human will but frees, helps, and strengthens it--precisely because grace is notan external force but an inner gift of delight. But as his polemic against the Pelagians develops, increasingly more is attributed to grace and less to the power of free will. At the end of his career, this results in an explicit doctrine of predestination, according to which it is ultimately God who chooses who shall be saved. Behind predestination, therefore, is divine election, which Augustine understands as God choosing some rather than others for salvation. This contrasts with the Biblical doctrine of election, Cary argues, in which some are chosen for the blessing of others: e.g., Israel for the nations and Christ for the world. In this Biblical doctrine, grace and blessing are external rather than inner gifts because they always come to us from others outside us.

Excerpt

This book is the second in a series of three, all of which concern the inner and the outer in Augustine. the first, Augustine’s Invention of the Inner Self: the Legacy of a Christian Platonist, investigates the origins of inwardness or interiority (and by the way, I make no distinction between “inner,” “inward,” “internal,” and “interior”) and particularly of the new and distinctively Augustinian concept of a private inner space of the self, an inner world into which we may enter to look for what is higher and more divine than ourselves. in addition to its interest for the history of psychology, the Augustinian concept of inner self is of great importance in theology because it allows us to conceive of the divine Other as present within the self—acting, helping, speaking, and teaching inside us. This sets the stage for Augustine’s resolutely inward conception of divine grace, which is the topic of the present book.

The inwardness of grace in turn brings into focus what is at issue in the concept of sacraments as external means of grace, which is a key topic of investigation in the third book of the series, Outward Signs: the Powerlessness of External Things in Augustine’s Theology. That book will follow closely on the heels of this one, which is why so many detailed references to it are found in the footnotes here. It argues that for Augustine neither words nor sacraments can convey to us a divine gift or grace, precisely because they are external. Augustine has much to say about how external things may serve as signs of what is inward or divine, but in contrast to later medieval theologians he does . . .

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