Wednesday, June 15, 2005

"I started a joke/which started the whole world crying...."

Somehow, over at Eschaton, comments about Dr. Howard Dean turned into a brief discussion of Augustine of Hippo (one never know, do one?). And this got mentioned:
Is this the Augustine who went on to become St. Augustine? Interesting that he had a libertine youth before his sudden repentance, especially on the subject of sex. Reminds me of dubya's sudden "born again" moment. - int argc, Smiling Conqueror
Which led me to respond with this:
Where the whole concept of such a 'conversion' began. It later became a staple of frontier American Christianity largely because Luther was an Augustinian monk. Indeed, Krister Stendahl (a Lutheran pastor and scriptural scholar) argues convincingly that Augustine's Confessions is the beginning of the interiorization of self-consciousness in Western thought, which reach its fullest flower in European Romanticism.

Which was, not coincidentally, the age of Soren Kierkegaard, one of the forerunners of Existentialism. Augustine and Romanticism both greatly effected Rousseau, who in turn had a profound influence on German and French Existentialism, and on modern phenomenology.

There is an 'eternal golden braid' that reaches from Paul through Augustine to modern philosophy. (Did I mention the connection to Paul? No? Drat!)

Which led to the good Prior to respond with this:
Augustine's conversion would have been the first

If not for St. Paul...
Prior Aelred
and then this:
I find one of the fascinating things in the West is that Augustine's invention of the individual goes underground until the 12th Century Renaissance (Bernard of Clairvaux, Aelred of Rievaulx) -- Augustine was influential in between, but not the Confessions -- rather his Commentaries, esp on John & the Psalms

Whence self consciousness, does it wax & wane with community centeredness? Does it relate somehow to introversion & extroversion (do extroverts have souls? ) -- the Enneagram?
Prior Aelred
And since the topic was so intrinsically fascinating, and I didn't want the light of it to go out, I brought it over here (besides, these are my public notebooks. I'm laying out a variety of ideas, trying to see which ones I can develop into something fruitful, or at least worth the attention).

But already I realize how long this is going to go. So I'll try to make essential connections first, then connect the dots a bit later.

First, the self-consciousness we are all so sure is a part of human nature, is actually just a social construct. It's a way of viewing the world we are taught, as part of our human identity. (The whole concept of identity is a fascinating one. We are all appalled at the thought of men like Socrates engaging in sexual activities with young men or even young boys. While Paul condemned the practice, the Hellenistic Greeks apparently considered it perfectly civilized behavior. Partly because we now identify ourselves as sexual beings, we condemn the alleged actions of Michael Jackson. Sexual scars, we understand, do lasting damage. But is that because of human biology, something immutable? Or because of human society? Is our identity, in other words, a social construct? Or a biological necessity?)

So, per Krister Stendahl, the interiorization of self-consciousness in Western culture begins with Augustine, who taught us to read Paul as the originator of Christian self-consciousness. "Wrteched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death?" (Romans 7:24, REB). In Stendhal's reading, that famous statement does not say what we've all been taught it says. That's one point to return to.

Another is the idea of individuality. Prior Aelred is right (as usual) that it does not follow a clear line from Augustine to the present. In many ways, Augustine was ahead of his time. It took the Augustinian monk Martin Luther to put Augustine again at the center of Western consciousness and conscience. We can trace that line, too, with a little help from our friends. And it is no coincidence that a Lutheran seminary student, Søren Kierkegaard, reasserted the primacy of the individual in mid-19th century Denmark. Nor that he did it at the very apogee of Romanticism in Europe. And what is the connection between individualism and community? What are the boundaries there, between Same and other?

Lastly, we can even enter into the conversation about "call" v. "conversion." Stendahl argues that Paul's experience on the road to Damascus is not exactly a conversion at all, as it is not a change from one religion to another (!). And again Augustine is our model: not only was Paul "blameless before the law" as a good Pharisee (something Augustine makes abundantly clear in the Confessions that he was not; blameless, that is), but Augustine went from pagan to Christian (and finally non-Pelagian), while Paul went from Jew (or perhaps Hebrew is less anachronistic) to: the first Jew for Jesus?

We have several places to go with these issues.

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