Saint Augustine reader of Genesis

Paolo Di Leo, University of Pennsylvania


Since the end of the 19th century a debate has began about the dependence of Augustine's speculation on Plotinus and Porphyry's thought. Many scholars have seen Augustine speculation and even his understanding of Christianity as a disguised version of Platonism. In Augustine's Confessiones, however, one can observe an unprecedented stress on the idea of the "self' as an entity determined by temporality. The "I" appears in the Confessiones with a centrality never seen before: this "I" does not limit himself to tell us his story, which becomes the story, but reflects on who he himself is and what it means to say "I". What is at stake is the emergence of the "self" as something bound to time, but at the same time held together by its relation to Eternity. Starting from an acknowledgment of the special place occupied by the idea of the "self" in the Confessiones, we can wonder what were the paths that led to this new vision, and from what sources. This work demonstrates that the idea of the "self" as a temporal being first dawned on Augustine's mind while he was writing the De Genesi contra Manichaeos. It is through a reflection on the act of Creation and on the ontological relation and difference between the Creator and the creature that Augustine first understood as a new acquisition the temporality of the human soul. If this new point of view, however, represents a revolution and a change of perspective regarding the understanding that the previous philosophical tradition, as represented especially by Neo-Platonic speculation, had had of the human soul, the full comprehension of its theoretical consequences is something Augustine himself understood only over time. Thus, the De Genesi contra Manichaeos is for us a document of the progression of his thought: although having asserted the temporality of the human soul, Augustine keeps thinking of the perfect state of the soul (beatitudo) in terms that exclude temporality as a positive constituent and are still very dependent on the ancient philosophical models.

Subject Area

Classical studies|Religion|Philosophy|Metaphysics|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Di Leo, Paolo, "Saint Augustine reader of Genesis" (2010). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3429162.