Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Augustine and Modernity

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Augustine and Modernity

Article excerpt

Augustine and Modernity, By Michael Hanby. Radical Orthodoxy Series. New York: Routledge, 2003. xii + 292 pp. $120.00 (cloth); $39.95 (paper).

Augustine and Modernity joins the corpus of Augustinian scholarship fighting over the soul of Augustine. The book is intended for an academic audience, and I highly recommend it for those versed in the area. Utilizing a multidisciplinary perspective, Hanby takes issue with two narratives: the philosophical narrative of Charles Taylor (and others) that Augustine's concept of the self is an important link between Plato and Descartes; and the theological narrative of Colin Gunton (and others) that the foundation of Augustine's Trinitarian thought is rooted in neoplatonisin, which reduces the soteriological and ecclesiological significance of the Trinity and leads to monistic, anti-Trinitarian tendencies in Augustine.

Hanby clearly and persuasively positions himself in opposition to these narratives in formulating the twofold argument of the book. On the one hand, the modern Cartesian self and its attendant nihilism and dichotomies (spirit/ flesh, history/eternity) derives from a Stoic concept of the person that is fundamentally at odds with Augustine's anthropology. On the other hand, a correct view of Augustine takes his Trinitarian thought as the center-with his Christology and ecclesiology as keys-and leads to a robust alternative to the modern (Cartesian) self.

One of the great benefits of this book is the way Hanby relates Augustine's cosmology to his soteriology and Trinitarian thought (chap. 2), and uses this as the context for reconstructing Augustine's anthropology, especially his moral psychology (chap. 3). Hanby rightly contends that Augustine's cosmology (and ontology) describes a universe determined most fundamentally not by the natural laws of physics but by God's love. Within this context, the self is most basically formed not by biological structure but by moral structure, not by the various relations of atoms but by the self's relation to God's love. Insofar as this divinely instituted ordo amoris is restored and mediated by Christ, and sustained by the church, the Augustinian self is fully itself within a Christological and ecclesiological context.

In delineating this context, one dimension that seems a bit underdeveloped in Hanby's analysis is the role of justice in Augustine's soteriology and conception of the ordo amoris. …

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