Orthodox Readings of Augustine

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Puritanboard Amanuensis
Ed. Demacopolous. St. Vladimir Seminary Press.

The set up of this book was weird. It was published by an Orthodox Seminary, yet most of the authors were Roman Catholics, I think. Most of the authors were quite critical of many Orthodox distinctives. I wonder if the editors/publisher thought all of these things through.

Contents of the book:

Notwithstanding, most of the essays were good. Demacopolas gives an interesting survey of Augustinian studies in the past few centuries. He gives particular notice to the so-called neo-Palamites, noting that they have done the most in framing the Augustinian debate as a fierce East vs. West battle. Interestingly, almost all of the authors in the book, even the pro-Orthodoxy ones, will critique this move of neo-Palamism.

Some of the essays are just weird. Flogaus argues that Palamas was influenced by Augustine. While that's shocking, Flogaus certainly cites his sources and is fairly convincing. Except Flogaus doesn't seem to think that he is actually convincing? It's like "Yeah, Palamas borrowed from St Augustine, but not really." Brian Daley gives an interesting comparison between Maximus and Augustine. While many Westerners (von Balthasar, most notoriously) think there is one pure line of thought from Augustine to Maximus to Aquinas to one's favorite movement today, Daley actually puts the breaks on that reasoning. He does note some similarities between the two authors, but supposes that could simply be the common Catholic consensus of the time, rather than Maximus overtly borrowing ideas from Augustine. Instead, Maximus almost doesn't quote Augustine--if at all--especially in places where it would have been most pertinent had he done so.

Joseph Lienhard discusses Augustine's use of the Cappadocian fathers. It's not clear what Lienhard was actually arguing. I don't remember a specific argument. It is true that Augustine quoted a few of the Cappadocians around a dozen times, but that doesn't prove--nor does Lienhard specifically argue thus--that the Cappadocians were basically Augustinians. I would like to have seen Lienhard specifically interact with Augustine's use of St Basil.

The main event of the show is the Trinitarian discussions by Ayres, Hart, Behr, Bradshaw, and to a strange degree, Jean-Luc Marion. Ayres writes a fantastic essay, even if I demur at points, arguing for a metaphysics of the Spirit. He makes many outstanding insights, most notably that each act of "sending" is also an act of "revealing" (130). Ayres via Augustine sees the revelation of the Spirit as an invitation to reflect on the Triune economy (143).

David Bentley Hart argues that the Nicene ontology destoyed the old pagan metaphysics. The Father did not generate the Logos with respect to creation, nor was the Logos's generation a "second moment" of the Real, but the Logos is the reality of God. Hart makes many insightful points to that respect; unfortunately, he tries to take on David Bradshaw. He says that Bradshaw mistranslated and misunderstood Augustine on "intelligibis," making Augustine to say that the mind comprehends the divine nature. Hart says that's not what intelligibis means. Hart tries to rebut Bradshaw when Bradshaw says that for Gregory of Nyssa the divine names refer to the divine energies primarily, not to the Divine Nature. Yet in the next few sentences Hart admits that for Gregory the divine names refer to how God manifests himself toward us, which is another way of saying they are the divine energies.

David Bradshaw gives a brief summary of his book Aristotle East and West. He notes that for Augustine, truth is defined as convertible with being, and the more united one is, the more being it has. More importantly, for Augustine God's being is identified with God's will--God's eternal act of willing: if God's being is necessary and natural, and God's eternal act of willing is identical with God's being, then could God have willed otherwise? Hart doesn't really give an answer to this question.

Fr Andrew Louth closes with a gentle reminder that we should read Augustine on the psalms, for in the psalms we hear the voice of Christ speaking to us.

This book will be useful for church history seminars but probably little else. My favorite essay, David Bradshaw's, is a summary of his more important larger work--and even then one needs Bradshaw's monograph for the key points.
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