From Feasting to Fasting, the Evolution of a Sin: Attitudes to Food in Late Antiquity

By Veronika E. Grimm | Go to book overview

9

AUGUSTINE AND ASCETIC PRACTICE

Augustine (354-430) wrote his Confessions not before the year 397, a time when he could look back on his conversions from Manichaeism to Platonic philosophy and then to sexual continence until finally, fulfilling his mother’s fervent wish, he was baptized into orthodox Christianity. More than that, he wrote it when he was already the Catholic bishop of Hippo and also the head of a monastic community. The work, a brilliant Catholic theological propaganda tract, is written as an autobiography, or more precisely, as a self-revelatory soliloquy addressed to the ears of God. It covers the period of Augustine’s life from birth at Thagaste in 354 to the death of his mother on their return to Africa from Italy after his own acceptance of baptism in 387, depicting the man’s long journey from his mother’s womb to the womb of his mother’s church.

It has been noted that this autobiography has a pointedly didactic aim. Its intended audience was not God alone: ‘I desire to act in truth, making my confession both in my heart before you and in this book before the many who will read it. ’ 1 Some see a connection between the pattern of the Confessions and Augustine’s method for the instruction of catechumens, 2 others believe that the work was addressed to Catholic ascetics in order to explicate the writer’s views on the nature of asceticism. 3 Whatever audience it was aimed for, the Confessions invite the reader to follow the progress of ‘a great sinner’ on his way to becoming a ‘great saint’, 4 or at least an ascetic, first-class Christian. In the last parts of the book after the biographical details, Augustine examines in depth his own inner life; this self-analysis proffers a kind of blueprint for the proper or desirable way of relating to God and to the world on the part of the Christian.

The problems of food and drink in Augustine’s own ascetic life are discussed in Book X of the Confessions, where he reviews the various

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From Feasting to Fasting, the Evolution of a Sin: Attitudes to Food in Late Antiquity
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Jewish Background 14
  • 2 - The Graeco-Roman Background 34
  • 3 - Food and Fasting in the Pauline Epistles 60
  • 4 - Food and Fasting in the Acts of the Apostles 74
  • 5 - Clement of Alexandria 90
  • 6 - Food and Fasting in the Works of Tertullian 114
  • 7 - Food and Fasting in Origen and Eusebius 140
  • 8 - Jerome and Ascetic Propaganda 157
  • 9 - Augustine and Ascetic Practice 180
  • Conclusion 191
  • Notes 198
  • Bibliography 267
  • Index 278
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