Ecumenism, Christian Origins, and the Practice of Communion

By Nicholas Sagovsky | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Augustine and the story of communion

The full and committed acceptance of Catholic Christianity by Augustine, who was baptised by Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, on Easter Eve 387, was one of the defining moments of western culture. Augustine, more than any other thinker, has been the shaping genius of western self-understanding. He developed and mouldeda'gr and narrative'1 of and for humanity with which we are still overwhelmingly engaged. It was a narrative that made sense of his own experience and the experience of the Church in history and which, through the ideological power of the Christian tradition for more than fifteen hundred years, imposed much of that sense on others.

Our task is to investigate the contribution made by Augustine to the developing understanding within the Christian tradition of all that is suggested by the Greek term koinonia. Greek did not come easily to Augustine. His knowledge of Platonist writings, which profoundly in¯uenced his theological understanding, was a knowledge acquired through writers like Marius Victorinus, who translated from Greek into Latin. In Augustine, we observe a critical moment in the development of a western, Latin tradition of theological re¯ection on the common life. A full account of this development would attend to the history of the church in Rome, in Gaul, and in North Africa as the context of the writings of Irenaeus, who bridges the traditions of east and

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1
This 'grand narrative' is perhaps more accurately thought of as a series of interlocking 'grand narratives' which sometimes come into tension with each other: Plotinus' narrative of the soul's exitus andreturn(cf. R. J. O'Connell, St Augustine's Confessions, The Odyssey of Soul (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 1969)); and also the biblical narrative of the Creation, and the human 'journey' from the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem.

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