Augustine's Manichaean Dilemma - Vol. 1

Augustine's Manichaean Dilemma - Vol. 1

Augustine's Manichaean Dilemma - Vol. 1

Augustine's Manichaean Dilemma - Vol. 1

Synopsis

Augustine of Hippo is history's best-known Christian convert. The very concept of conversio owes its dissemination to Augustine's Confessions, and yet, as Jason BeDuhn notes, conversion in Augustine is not the sudden, dramatic, and complete transformation of self we likely remember it to be. Rather, in the Confessions Augustine depicts conversion as a lifelong process, a series of self-discoveries and self-departures. The tale of Augustine is one of conversion, apostasy, and conversion again.

In this first volume of Augustine's Manichaean Dilemma, BeDuhn reconstructs Augustine's decade-long adherence to Manichaeism, apostasy from it, and subsequent conversion to Nicene Christianity. Based on his own testimony and contemporaneous sources from and about Manichaeism, the book situates many features of Augustine's young adulthood within his commitment to the sect, while pointing out ways he failed to understand or put into practice key parts of the Manichaean system. It explores Augustine's dissatisfaction with the practice-oriented faith promoted by the Manichaean leader Faustus and the circumstances of heightened intolerance, anti-Manichaean legislation, and pressures for social conformity surrounding his apostasy.

Seeking a historically circumscribed account of Augustine's subsequent conversion to Nicene Christianity, BeDuhn challenges entrenched conceptions of conversion derived in part from Augustine's later idealized account of his own spiritual development. He closely examines Augustine's evolving self-presentation in the year before and following his baptism and argues that the new identity to which he committed himself bore few of the hallmarks of the orthodoxy with which he is historically identified. Both a historical study of the specific case of Augustine and a theoretical reconsideration of the conditions under which conversion occurs, this book explores the role religion has in providing the materials and tools through which self-formation and reformation occurs.

Excerpt

When people in the Christian tradition, or even in the secular culture informed by the Christian heritage, bring up the subject of conversion, they think first of Augustine of Hippo. the concept of conversio owes its dissemination to his masterwork, the Confessions. Yet, despite the way in which the idea of a sudden, dramatic, complete transformation of self has been associated with this work, Augustine actually uses its pages to depict conversion as a lifelong process, a series of self-discoveries and self-departures within a restless journey seeking to find out (as Augustine conceived it) who one really is, or (as we might rather say) who one can be within the particular circumstances and resources of one’s lifetime. His insight into the transilience of the self has a remarkably contemporary sound to it, echoed in a number of modern theories about self-forming processes. Augustine’s story therefore provides us with an opportunity to explore the ways human beings make themselves by their choices and decisions with respect to the variety of identity options they encounter in their historical environment. His story is by no means everyone’s story, but it is an informative one in the fluidity of selfhood it reveals. Before there was Augustine of Hippo, there was Augustine of Thagaste, of Carthage, of Rome, and of Milan; before there was Augustine the Catholic bishop and theologian, there was Augustine the Manichaean. the tale of these men is one of conversion, of apostasy, and of conversion again for a single historical individual, and for several selves.

Augustine made the first serious religious commitment of his life by joining the Manichaean community of Carthage as a young man, and he . . .

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