The Integrated Self: Augustine, the Bible, and Ancient Thought

The Integrated Self: Augustine, the Bible, and Ancient Thought

The Integrated Self: Augustine, the Bible, and Ancient Thought

The Integrated Self: Augustine, the Bible, and Ancient Thought

Synopsis

Well before his entry into the religious life in the spring of 386 C.E., Augustine had embarked on a lengthy comparison between teachings on the self in the philosophical traditions of Platonism and Neoplatonism and the treatment of the topic in the Psalms, the letters of St. Paul, and other books of the Bible. Brian Stock argues that Augustine, over the course of these reflections, gradually abandoned a dualistic view of the self, in which the mind and the body play different roles, and developed the notion of an integrated self, in which the mind and body function interdependently.

Stock identifies two intellectual techniques through which Augustine effected this change in his thought. One, lectio divina, was an early Christian approach to reading that engaged both mind and body. The other was a method of self-examination that consisted of framing an interior Socratic dialogue between Reason and the individual self. Stock investigates practices of writing, reading, and thinking across a range of premodern texts to demonstrate how Augustine builds upon the rhetorical traditions of Cicero and the inner dialogue of Plutarch to create an introspective and autobiographical version of self-study that had little to no precedent.

The Integrated Self situates these texts in a broad historical framework while being carefully attuned to what they can tell us about the intersections of mind, body, and medicine in contemporary thought and practice. It is a book in which Stock continues his project of reading Augustine, and one in which he moves forward in new and perhaps unexpected directions.

Excerpt

The major theme of the essays in this collection is the configuration of the self in Augustine of Hippo.

Augustine’s concept of the self is traditionally understood to be a product of rhetorical and philosophical influences, as well as his personal manner of approaching questions of identity through autobiography. Throughout the book I speak of this way of conceiving the self as “integrated.” in adopting this term I have in mind Augustine’s use of different disciplines in giving form to his notion of the self, as well as one salient feature of his thinking. This consists in replacing a dualistic view of the self, which he took over from Platonic and Neoplatonic sources, with a view that is largely inspired by the Bible, in which mind and body are given roughly equal roles in the self’s makeup.

In Chapters 2 and 3 I draw attention to a second feature of Augustine’s thinking about the self. This is its pragmatic nature. Nowhere in his writings do we come upon a purely conceptual scheme for the self’s configuration. His attitude to questions involving the self, personal identity, or the notion of the individual is on the whole practical rather than theoretical, and even when theoretical, for example in speaking of will, memory, and time, he is strongly influenced by his personal experience. This is particularly true of his statements on the self in the Confessions, where many of his important insights on the subject are found.

In approaching the self in this manner, Augustine made frequent use of a pair of literary strategies, neither of which was his invention. One of these was the Socratic method of self-examination, which is utilized extensively in his early writings and the Confessions. This is often found in the form of an interior dialogue, that is, as a conversation that takes place entirely within his own thoughts. the other literary technique that he repeatedly employed was sacred reading (lectio divina), which originated in Jewish and Christian devotions and had become a regular feature of monastic life in his time. This type . . .

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