Soundings in St. Augustine's Imagination

By Robert J. O'Connell | Go to book overview

Introduction

One can understand why a student of rhetoric or poetry might set himself to exploring the workings of St. Augustine's imagination, but why should the subject interest a philosophical interpreter? Some years ago, that question was put to me by a renowned Augustine scholar, in rolling, sepulchral terms that insinuated, unmistakably, that the burial service they announced was my own. I had presented for scholarly discussion a series of preliminary excavations into the imaginative sub-cellar that, to me at least, appeared to underlie Augustine's account of his conversion in A.D. 386. That sub-cellar, or, as I came later to conclude, that catacomb-network of sub-cellars, seemed to wind tortuously in a labyrinth of crazy configurations, snake about into a number of dust-piled nooks and cobwebbed corners, where an occasional acrid reek hinted that old bones might lie concealed.

Alas, I was much younger then, fresh (and, yes, green) from the heady excitements of graduate studies in Paris; my mistake was to think that I might communicate my baroque Sherlockian suspicions contagiously enough to provoke this particular circle of Augustine scholars to, ah well, not quite sit up, but at least blink fitfully as they dozed through my exposé. Hubris, indeed. I ended my presentation in a burst of voluble enthusiasm; a cloud of pipesmoke gradually cleared; then that voice, round and sonorous as Big Ben's tolling through a London fog, solemnly pronounced sentence upon this most recent recruit to the inexhaustible battalions of great Hippo's heretical interpreters. "This," the Voice intoned, not angrily, but sadly, disappointedly, "has much more to do with scientia than with Augustinian sapientia."

Nothing truly significant, then, was to be found by dissecting Augustine's imagery. Wordless nods all around; a brief but perfunctory discussion, doubtless for courtesy's sake. After a decent interval the jury rose, its members exchanged a few congenialities with each other, wished each other good evening, and departed into the night.

Time was when a comparable attitude prevailed in the interpre-

-1-

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Soundings in St. Augustine's Imagination
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • Introduction 1
  • I- • Basic Images 19
  • 1- The Omnia- "All Things" 21
  • 2- Peregrinatio Animae 69
  • 3- Fove Precantes, Trinitas 95
  • II- Variations on the Peregrinus Image 141
  • 4- The Peregrine Prodigal 143
  • 5- The Christian Odysseus 174
  • 6- Augustine''s "First Conversion" 197
  • 7- Homecoming to Ithaca 221
  • 8- Deliciosae Lassitudines 246
  • Epilogue- LInes for Future Research 285
  • Notes 291
  • Bibliography 293
  • Indices 297
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