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Open Access 23.11.2022 | Original Article

Repression, Retraction? Re-reading!

Book-Destruction and Literary Self-Criticism in Augustine of Hippo

verfasst von: Kai Preuß

Erschienen in: Society

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Abstract

Since there have been books, there has been a need to get rid of them. From powerful magical formulae and heretical wisdom to the early drafts of poetry, authorities and writers tried to remove certain texts from circulation, or tried to inhibit or steer their reception. In the first part, this article gives a brief overview of forms of book-disposal, voluntary and involuntary, in antiquity and points to their significance for Augustine of Hippo in particular. In a second section, the article features Augustine’s Revisions (Retractationes), a commentary on his own literary production and an innovative effort to gain control over the reception and interpretation of his own works. In this late retrospection, Augustine employs the persona of a self-critical author—fallible and pressed by the duties of his office but always in pursuit of God’s truth—that allows him to reconfigure his authorial past in relation to himself, his texts, and his audience. The article will trace the implications of Augustine’s self-fashioning for the recurrent problem of controlling the reception and interpretation of written works.
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Introduction

It is the tragic nature of authorship: the moment a text is (by whatever medium) released into the public sphere, the author loses control of it. The words only attributable to him or her by the act of publication are by this very act put into the hands of readers, recipients, critics, and interpreters of all kinds. To salvage one’s work from the abyss of interpretation, to get (back) control over its meaning, is a problem almost as old as literature. Two ways, largely, have emerged to solve this problem. First, the disposal of books, their banishment or destruction, eradicating the problem of interpretation altogether. And second, the use of more text—para-, intra-, inter-text—trying to set guidelines for the proper understanding of the original work.1
Augustine of Hippo, author of the Confessions and one of the most influential Christian writers from antiquity, knew both.2 In what follows, I will first give a very brief overview of the material disposal of books in antiquity and its significance for Augustine, who turned out to be rather limited in his support for the destruction of heretical books. That is why in the second part I will deal with Augustine’s Revisions (Retractationes), one of his later works in which he comments on his own literary production. Tracing how he uses this retrospective to reconfigure the relation of author, text, and audience, I will present the Revisions as a different and arguably more sophisticated answer to the recurrent problem of controlling the reception and interpretation of written works.

Getting Rid of Books in Antiquity

Since books exist, there is the problem of getting rid of them. The very quality of the written language, to remember something regardless of specific individuals and their mnemonic capacities, or, to put in more technical terms—the power of text to provide information for an almost unlimited range of future communicative interaction—has endowed written documents with an aura of awe and reverence, not only in explicitly sacral contexts.3 The high esteem in which the faculty of writing was held in early civilization can be seen from the position of the scribe as member of a highly specialized caste as well as from the modes of disposal employed when it came to written objects.4
Some of them seem, to the modern eye, rather peculiar. Text on papyrus could, of course, always be torn to pieces or burnt. Stone or clay tablets, the primary writing material in the Ancient Near East, would have to be shattered or molded anew when still wet (burning them would only make them durable, in fact). Sometimes, however, and in particular when facing texts with religious meaning, texts containing curses and spells and speaking about higher powers and daemons, the wish to make a text disappear took the form of burying it or throwing it into a river or the sea. Buried documents could have the dubious advantage of being dug up again. This happened to a number of books, supposedly written by legendary Roman king Numa revealing the true meanings of sacred rites. According to ancient tradition they were found by accident in the year 181 BC, but the senate ruled these scriptures to be dangerous for the state and ordered them to be burned.5
Most notably the sinking of a document into streaming water hints at ideas of carrying away the text without touching it and thereby awaking its probably harmful powers. On the other hand, fire could be seen as cleansing and neutralizing the maculation that might emanate from the incriminated writings and from its authors. The distinction between the various dimensions of text—its material, its content, its writer and its recipient—is not yet as strongly pronounced here as it would become later, when these drastic measures disappear or live on only as part of the dramatic self-fashioning of writers.6
Beside an author’s voluntary destruction of his work, the phenomenon of official suppression of texts is as known to antiquity as it is to later times. Occasionally there is an element of obliteration in effigie to these practices: burning the books instead of the author as a symbol of the author’s damnation, hinting to uncanny connections between the author and his text.7 The reasons for a ban on certain texts and ideas could be political or religious but also educational and most often these aspects were inseparable, as in the famous case of Socrates, who, however, did not leave any writings to be banished, relying on the more flexible (and evasive) character of orality. Under the circumstances of pre-modern production and distribution of texts, it is hard to tell how successful attempts to repression might have been anyway.
Limiting, with Augustine in mind, our view to the Roman world, we see that the book-market consisted largely of authors making copies of their books available to friends and peers, urging them to make copies of which then again copies could be made. There were public book-sellers, obviously making a living out of this, but no publishing houses, no book-fair, no ISBN, in short: no centralized system of distribution that could be targeted with attempts of repression.8 Let alone the fact, that the institutional mechanism for policing action of that scale was not at all available in ancient times. Even the Later Roman Empire with its impressive bureaucracy held, compared to modern standards, a negligible amount of what Michael Mann calls “infrastructural power”.9
The peculiarities of ancient book distribution and the limits of ancient administration also affect the more subtle forms of making text or specific versions of a text disappear. It is not surprising that under the conditions just outlined pre-censorship as it was and is instituted in many modern regimes, was unattainable in antiquity. All forms of censorship could, if ever, only affect books already published in one way or the other. Attempts in this direction might, of course, backfire. The well-known phenomenon that the effort to suppress a text might bring about the very publicity and scandal one was to avoid in the first place did already occur to antiquity.10
Furthermore, a significant part of the ancient literary production is preserved in extracts by those opposing it. This is especially the case for the wide spectrum of pagan, philosophical or non-orthodox (“heretical”) literature that, in a long and by no means linear process, came to find itself outside of the more or less clearly defined set of ideas, creeds, dogmas and ideologies that is known as Catholic Christianity. While there was no interest in the deliberate preservation of heterodox knowledge, Christian authors might occasionally quote their enemies, sometimes quite extensively, in order to refute them and by this retain their ideas after all.11 How reliable these often incoherent and always partisan quotations are is a question of some difficulty for the historian.
The flip-side of these indirect testimonials are the well documented cases of book-destruction by Christians, be it by ecclesiastic authorities or spontaneous mobs. The obliteration of books in a religious context is not exclusive to Christianity; on the contrary, Christian scriptures had themselves been burnt, most notably during the so-called Great Persecution under Diocletian at the beginning of the fourth century. Manichean books were banned as well, a practice which was continued under Christian emperors. The same holds true for astrologers and magicians, whose profession frequently aroused suspicion.12 Simply to have these books in possession was dangerous, irrespective of what they might be used for, if at all.13
A more specifically Christian object of censorship were heretical texts, expressing deviant strands of Christian doctrine.14 In the fourth century, the most influential group was the Homoeans, Christians opposing the trinitarian creed adopted at the Council of Nicea in 325. Texts of these “Arians”, as they were polemically called after their most distinguished spokesman, were to be destroyed according to a decree by Emperor Constantine.15 The mere possession of relevant texts was punishable by death.16 It has to be said, however, that the most dramatic losses occurred in the centuries following the disappearance of the Roman Empire in the West through the transmission or rather non-transmission of certain manuscripts, the mechanisms of which are not always clear to us. In a world of manuscripts, chances for the complete loss of texts are reasonably high even without purposeful destruction,17 whereas some books intended for destruction survived outside the empire in other languages like Syriac.18

Augustine on the Suppression of Writings

On the backdrop of this development, one might be surprised to find few traces of book-destruction in the writings of Augustine, bishop of Hippo (354–430).19 Though he is sometimes accused of being a spiritual forefather of the inquisition (an honor not quite deserved), Augustine does not seem to be an advocate of intellectual purges.20 This might seem all the more surprising since contemporaries already saw his life as a series of struggles against enemies of the Catholic truth.21
Augustine started his distinctly Christian literary career distancing himself from the Manicheans, of whom he had been a member himself in his twenties. As a bishop, he engaged with the Donatists, a rival and by no means marginal Christian denomination in Africa.22 This inner-Christian conflict, started by a dispute over the occupation of the bishop’s see in Carthage, lasted over a century and by the time of Augustine was shaped by an ever growing involvement of imperial legislation including the use of state force against Donatist clergy. Augustine’s change of heart—initially he was opposed to coercion—and his eventual defense of this involvement resulted in a number of texts that have in later times been used as a justification for religious violence.
Augustine wrote against various so-called heretical movements (Arianism among them), but his later years were marked by the dispute with a group of theologians aligning with Pelagius, a monk from Britain who dissented with Augustine on the topics of freedom of will and the role of grace in salvation.23 All this happened, by the way, in a world still inhabited by a significant number of pagans (as Christians called the attendants of various non-Christian cults and worship-practices), whom Augustine tried to convince in letters and treatises.24
However, never did he in all these struggles openly call for the destruction of his enemies’ writings, even though, as pointed out above, there were laws banning the scriptures of certain groups, among them the Manicheans. But Augustine was never about free speech per se and even encouraged the destruction of books of unwelcome content. On one occasion, he preached against mathematici, a loose term for astronomers, astrologers, and similar crafts assorted with paganism in some way or other. He spoke about a man, apparently known to the community, who had dedicated himself to astrology and denied human responsibility for various sins, including adultery. But after having converted to Christianity this same man ran home, fetched his books, and took them to the church to be burnt.25 Augustine was pleased. To him this was an impressive demonstration of a change of heart and he relates it to a story in the bible (Acts 19.19) about the burning of similar writings in Ephesos. This book-burning is, however, rather a personal (albeit public) act of cleansing than an act of policing. As the texts go into the flames, Augustine says, the convert enters a state of refreshment (refrigerium). The ancient link of text and author or reader echoes powerfully through these words.
On a more general and less dramatic note, Augustine expressed his sympathies for Plato’s idea of a restriction of literary genres on philosophical grounds.26 He was not alone in this. A council of African clergy in Carthage decreed that bishops should read pagan books and heretical ones only if need be (pro necessitate et tempore).27 Need could arise when divergent views required refutation. At one point, Augustine argues that books of deviant Christian groups are best disposed of.28 Nevertheless had he himself apparently read these books and a lot of pagan philosophy as well. Always the teacher, he had a keen sense of the fine line between deterrence and attraction when it came to non-Christian wisdom.29 Especially non-idealistic, non-Platonic philosophy fell under the verdict of being wrong, deceitful and seductive to all kinds of sin.30 Stoic authors, he presages, will burn in hell, trapped by the very daemons their teachings defended as gods.31 Drawing upon Cicero, he opts for censorship of morally (mostly sexually) objectionable theater shows, a huge topic in the first books of City of God and in apologetic writing in general.32
That said, even without the explicit call for the proscription or destruction of books, Augustine is by no means a proponent of freedom of thought and unhindered circulation of knowledge. Like many people in antiquity (and maybe not only then), he attributes significant power to the written (as well as the spoken) word, be it wholesome or destructive. That he still did not argue for the obliteration of his enemies’ scriptures might in part have to do with the nature of the respective conflicts. Manichean writings were, as was said, already banned by imperial legislation. The Donatist controversy, in contrast, was not so much about dogmatic differences but about the self-understanding of the local African church, its history, and its tradition. Donatists claimed that they represented the true, unsullied church, whereas the Catholics were accused of having clergy among their ranks who cooperated with the persecutors. Questions arose if a renewed baptism was necessary or who held the right to possession of a particular church. Besides the fact that the church had no police force and the imperial legislation had not ordered the destruction of Donatist writings there simply were no central texts to suppress.33 This often violent fight was carried out as much in the streets as it was at the desk. Texts were circulating on a more local level aiming at particular groups and by the time Augustine got wind of them, he felt they were in need of refutation.
The Pelagian controversy, in which he engaged until the very end of his life, was a much more intellectual affair, happening mostly in writing. But here things were complicated. While Augustine wrote numerous letters and treatises to convince his contemporaries of the dangers of Pelagius’ teaching, he could not rely on a broader consensus. A council in Jerusalem could find no heresy, Innocence, bishop of Rome could; his successor Zosimus again could not (but was convinced shortly after).34 And even after 418, when the Emperor had intervened and a Synod in Carthage officially condemned Pelagius, one of his followers, Julian of Eclanum, was able to engage Augustine in a fierce debate. During this debate Augustine’s enemies quoted his own writings, arguing that they just held a view he had taken himself in his earlier days. Simply banning enemy books, even if possible, would not have helped him much. That Augustine had a more complex relationship to the history of texts and their change in meaning and significance is shown by one of his most peculiar works, the Retractationes, which brings us to the matter of self-censorship, retractions, and curating one’s own publications.35

Self-Censorship and Augustine’s Retractationes

As is to be expected, Antiquity did not only know the extrinsically motivated disposal of written works. There were numerous cases in which an author himself would try to destroy or alter his already published writings. The informal means of distribution in antiquity had consequences also for the author’s relationship to his own work. It is, for one thing, not so easy to determine, at what point a book is actually published. Sometimes an author would read (or even send) earlier versions of a text to friends at the risk of never getting it out of circulation again. As the poet Horace most aptly put it: “Only what is not published, can be destroyed. The voice once sent away cannot find her way back.” (Ars Poetica, 389–390) Unfinished texts could literally be taken from the author’s desk and be copied.
This happened to Augustine with his work On the Trinity, the first twelve books of which went into circulation in an unauthorized and, as Augustine later stressed, not properly revised version. Augustine was furious and decided to abandon the project altogether. Urged by his brethren, however, he later changed his mind and published a completed (now fifteen books) and slightly reworked edition with a new preface. But compromises had to be made so that the new edition would not render the already circulating books worthless.36
This episode gives us a rare glimpse into the turbulent life of an ancient book. It also points to the media the author could use to take control over the reception of his (involuntary) publication. Augustine chose a letter (ep. 174) (that was later to become the preface) to comment on the history of his work.37 The modern author’s authentication of a text by virtue of a properly published edition or re-edition, respectively, is not an option for the ancient writer. On the other hand, the, again compared to modern circumstances, very small print run, provided the author with greater chance of getting his hand on all copies of a particular work, in case he wanted to make changes to it.38
As Augustine’s troubles show more often than not it was too late for this. The bishop of Hippo had shortly after his appointment around 396 established himself as a figurehead of the African Catholic Church and by the end of his life he was one of the leading theological thinkers in the Western Empire. His numerous works—93 by his own count, hundreds of sermons and letters not included—were circulating in Africa, Italy and other parts of the Latin speaking world, but also in the Greek part of the Empire.39
About the independent life of his texts Augustine could do as little as every other author. Being the innovative writer he was, however, he devised a literary tool to regain at least some control over his works’ post publication. It is known to us as the Retractationes, a title not to be translated with Retractions, but Revisions, for in the majority of cases this book does anything but retract a title.40 On the contrary, the Revisions are a book presenting books, abstracting, commenting on, reaffirming them and so trying to shape how they are to be read and understood.41
Augustine makes the premises of his enterprise quite clear. In the introduction, he tells us that he wrote this book, “to give it into the hands of those people from whom I cannot retract and emend what I have already published.”42 It reads like an answer to the aphorism of Horace. The plan was to go through all he had written, works (libri), letters, and homilies (tractatus). Only the libri, alas, he finished before his death.
Driven by his responsibility before God and his fellow humans, the old bishop is about to set a few things right, or so he says. Modern scholarship on Augustine has carved out more concrete and more strategic motives behind this rather general declaration.43 They begin to show, when we take a look at proportions. Following the prologue, the Revisions consist of two books, the first one dealing with Augustine’s work from the beginning down to his consecration as bishop (396). The second contains all titles written since then. The Revisions were published sometime in 427, three years before Augustine’s death, so most of his work is included. What immediately strikes the reader is that even though the first book only discusses twenty-seven titles, it is almost double the size of the second book, which contains sixty-seven titles. The older work was seemingly in need of much more critique and commentary.
A second imbalance allows us to render this diagnosis more precise. Of the individual works, many are dealt with in one or two paragraphs stating their title, content, and the first line (for identification). The commentary on the early On Free Will (de libero arbitrio, three books written between 388 and 395), however, stretches over six paragraphs, making it one of the most extensive ones. The reason Augustine has so much to say about this early not especially voluminous work is the Pelagian controversy already mentioned. Augustine had learned that his adversaries had quoted this early work about sin and free will as evidence, stating that he himself had held their position, namely that human will is free in choosing between good and evil, a position that the later Augustine criticizes for diminishing the role of God’s grace.
Augustine uses the revision of his works to deal with this situation.44 His answer is to argue for strict continuity. At no point was he in agreement with what those heretics bring forth, he states. He did, in fact, leave out some things that were not relevant back then. But if they had been, he would have written what he is writing now. In short, he was cited unfairly and out of context. We see the persona of the author emerge behind the multiplicity and variety of his writings that obviously had started to develop their own life. The author must step in, as the coherence of his work is disputed.
Throughout the text of the Revisions, Augustine’s defense follows a double strategy. Willingly, he concedes all sorts of flaws and errors, factual some, stylistic others, some regarding the textual basis for his exegesis. But none of them really get down to the nitty-gritty. In his major theological works, he finds no mistakes of any substance.45 Once on solid ground there is no need to move.
Even his decidedly philosophical writings, written as a young man before his baptism in 387, are not altogether retracted. They circulate anyway, he notes, and that is why they receive corrections, too. What is corrected, however, is mostly their style or their parlance, to be more precise. Captivated by the Platonic ideas of the philosophical circles of Milan he had begun to couch his intellectual endeavors in the appropriate language.46 His later self-critique centers on the use of specific philosophical terminology. When speaking about the soul’s ascent to heaven instead of using the neo-platonist term “returning” (redire) he just should have said “go” (ire).47 In another text he had spoken about “fortune” (fortuna) way too carelessly or had jokingly (iocando) treated the Muses as Goddesses.48 Such teasing, he sees now, is dangerous as it clouds the necessary demarcation against the pagan culture.
He also censures his early praise for Plato, not so much because he abandoned his thinking, but because such commendation is not properly given to a pagan thinker.49 None of this is about the actual philosophical principles of Platonism which Augustine never ceases to think very valuable and compatible with Christianity to a large extent. The distance he takes in retrospect is mostly born out of a growing factionalism.50
The strategic considerations that evidently stand behind the conception of the Revisions should not, however, obscure the manifold implications of Augustine’s self-fashioning for questions of authorship in general. The interplay of literary production, the author’s beliefs, and his personal life is of eminent interest in an author who had already decades before used a retrospective to narrate and shape his present appearance. We are talking about the Confessions, of course, Augustine’s great reinvention of the autobiographical genre. The thirteen-book prayer gives a (highly selective) narrative of Augustine’s search for truth and beatitude ending in his conversion and baptism.
But even before the Confessions Augustine had pioneered in the field of literary forms. In a small work from his time in Italy (386), he lets reason (ratio) get into conversation with his own self. They talk about philosophical and theological questions, revolving around the nature of the mind, the self and God. Augustine called this documentation of an internal dialogue soliloquia, talks to oneself.51
All three of these works present forms of self-exploratory and self-explanatory writings. They draw much of their ambiguity and fascination of the fact that in them the author very much deals with himself. The addressee varies as does the literary form: One time Augustine talks to God in a prayer-monologue, another time it is a dialogue with himself; and the Revisions are a list of commentaries directed at a human audience, but—as we will see—expounding on the author’s biography in light of divine norms. All of them are animated by the tension between self-reference and publicity.52 We listen to or read of Augustine talking to and about himself.
In all of these cases one can find precursors or works comparable in style and intent.53 But none of this diminishes the originality of Augustine’s literary endeavor and the clarity with which especially the Revisions show an author’s persona created in dialogue with his own work.54 They are self-talk on the public stage and looking at the specific author-persona emerging here might offer a basis for interesting historical comparisons.

The Self-Critic’s Authorial Persona

The striking biographical distribution of objectionable places in Augustine’s works conveys the idea of a continuous progress. Augustine says that explicitly in the prologue: “Whoever reads my works in the order they are written might find that I have made progress in writing.” The topos of personal progress is found throughout the Revisions.55 It serves to integrate older opinions now deemed, if not wrong, at least misleading. But even works that are now more or less obsolete, because Augustine abandoned them and wrote a newer version later, are included, “as a useful testimony of my early attempts in expounding the holy scriptures”.56 In feeding the image of the author’s progress even roads not traveled might point into the right direction. But Augustine’s idea of progress is not as simple as it seems.
In the strictly theological domain, the mature Augustine rejects the idea of a continuous and therefore intellectually controllable progress towards salvation.57 The wanderings (peregrinatio) of Christians in this world he speaks of in the City of God are more of a roaming around, ended by God’s grace when the predestined number of the chosen is fulfilled, than the incremental approximation to a goal.58
As an author, however, Augustine seems to believe in a more linear form of progress, without ever reaching perfection, though. This enables him to censor himself in retrospect while at the same time reaffirming the basis of his intellectual development.59 In the end, it is no less than the truth, God’s truth, he is looking for in each and every work he has ever written. And this truth is the same as it ever was and ever will be. The entanglement of personal change and unchangeable, eternal truths runs through all of Augustine’s thinking and it sets, as we have seen, the limits for his self-censorship: Details of exegesis might be seen different ways, but when parts of the truth are reached, e.g. as regards God’s grace, there is no room for accommodation.60
The fallible author appears only vis-à-vis the transcendent warranty of the truth he is pursuing. At the same time clinging to eternal truth and progressing through time, the authorial biography of Augustine mirrors the existential tensions at the core of his theology. And accordingly, Augustine depicts himself not as an innovator, because God’s truth is not to be created by the author but discovered by the believer.61
Another salient feature of Augustine’s reflection on his own publications is the reference to external influences affecting the composition or dissemination of many of his writings. While the major works like the Confessions, his commentary on Genesis or the City of God seem to be written on his own accord, already the books On the Trinity are, as we saw, published the way they are only because Augustine yielded to the pressure of his clergy. Many more minor works are indicated as having been composed at the request of others.62 Most of his literary production, he implies, came into being in response to external constraints.
Irrespective of the different titles’ histories (and of the topical character of such claims), this presentation serves to shape the authorial persona. It shows Augustine as someone pressed by the necessities of his office and—more general—of his duties as a Christian: the brothers that need answers, the parishioners that need counseling, the enemies of the church that need rebuttal.62
The very act of public speaking presents itself as a necessity put on Augustine’s shoulders by his environment and, in the end, by his own talents. In the prologue to the Revisions Augustine tells us that “wherever I was, I was forced to speak in public and only rarely was I ever allowed to be silent and listen to others.”63 His enormous gifts had him being put on every possible stage and he was afraid, that among the sheer mass of words he had uttered, some might be considered unnecessary. Others had prevented him from adhering to the words of St. James (1,19): “let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak”. Augustine truly mastered the art of self-confidently being humble. And the recourse on necessity plays a dominant role in it.
But now that the words are out, Augustine the writer and speaker assumes a new role, that of a judge. “With the strictness of a judge” he will muster his writings, he says, and “with the stylus of the censor” he will mark his mistakes. And he does so “in front of the one teacher” (sub uno magistro) whose judgment he tries to evade. His is the only one that counts.64 This language of moral (self-)criticism in dialogue with God brings the Revisions again very close to the Confessions.65 Here as there this self-examination and self-evaluation took place in front of a transcendent Other whose salutary powers may eventually secure the unity of authorial criticism and religious truth. Thanks to God Augustine knows he has not simply changed: he has made progress.
This unity is where Augustine most decidedly departs from the present day’s author, who will likewise draw criticism from time to time and hopefully change his mind. Other than Augustine, however, our modern writer will have to engage with his or her opponents in the social sphere. He will have to respond to opinions and objections, defend and explain himself in a language dictated by the systems he is willing to participate in.66 And above all he will have to acknowledge it is this very interaction that decides about the validity of his claims.67 Helpful as they may be for the reader now and then, Augustine’s Revisions never really involve human agents as partners in negotiating truth via criticism. The relation towards the audience is unidirectional: they are to be convinced.68 Even when Augustine, following a common habit of ancient letter writing, asks a reader for criticism, the divide between (deficient) human knowledge and divine truth is protecting the latter from any earthly contingency.69 Plurality of opinions is, in fact, a sign of error.70 In the end, his text is conspicuously solipsistic.71
At the same time the Revisions show that factual rectification and the emendation of a text is only one, and probably not the most interesting dimension of authorial self-criticism. There are intricate ties between the text, the author and the audience that such acts makes visible. Also today retractions are not primarily about making a text and its contents vanish (which is hard enough on the all-remembering internet), but about making the author or editor admit his mistake, guilt, or failure and perform some kind of penitential gesture (an outright Christian motif).
That said, for Augustine, reconsidering his own work is not only about shaping his reception and trying to control the interpretation of his thought. It is the expression and creation of an author-persona whose contours—imperfect, humble, willing to learn, constantly progressing towards a higher truth—in some way mirror his theological convictions. Not least did the very composition of the Revisions assemble—out of innumerable texts, scriptures, and copies—the one entity we now call the Augustinian oeuvre, even though only very few people may ever lay their hands on it in its entirety.72
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Fußnoten
1
See Obermeier 1999, p. 20.
 
2
His works are cited according to the standard of the Augustinus-Lexikon. Texts are taken from the Corpus Augustinianum Gissense. Translations are mine.
 
3
For a history of Writing, see e.g. Powell 2009.
 
4
On the destruction of books, see mostly Speyer 1981, Sarefield 2006, and Rohmann 2016.
 
5
See Sarefield 2006, p. 288. The story is reported by Livy (39.16.9 and 40.29.11) and Valerius Maximus (1.1.12) and later picked up again by Augustine (civ. 7.34).
 
6
E.g. Cicero (ad Quint. fr. 2.12.1) threatening to throw his de Re Publica into the same sea he is watching while writing it, if it would not turn out to his liking; see for this and others Speyer 1981, p. 39.
 
7
See Speyer 1981, p. 31.
 
8
The extent to which there was a publishing industry comparable to modern implications of the term is disputed between “modernist” and “primitivist” views. On this, see (with a fuller bibliography) Iddeng 2006.
 
9
Mann 2008; see also Ando 2017.
 
10
See Speyer 1981, p. 88 for, among others, the example of an historian under Emperor Tiberius whose popularity rose after the burning of some of his works.
 
11
Two give just two examples: Origen’s Contra Celsum is the refutation of a work by said Kelsos, an educated pagan and critic of Christianity, who is quoted in many paragraphs by Origen. Augustine proceeds similarly when dealing with a man called Faustus in his Contra Faustum Manichaeum. Faustus was an important representative of the Late Antique religion of Manicheanism in North Africa and is also quoted to some extent, which makes this work a useful source for Manicheanism as well as for Augustine’s critique of it. On Manicheanism see Lieu 2019; Oort 2020.
 
12
See Fögen 1997.
 
13
See Sarefield 2006, p. 290.
 
14
See Sarefield 2006, 291–292.
 
15
On Homoeans/Arians see Hanson 1988; Berndt and Steinacher 2014.
 
16
Speyer 1981, 149–150.
 
17
Sarefield 2006, p. 295 notes that “bookburning does not appear to have been a particularly effective method for eradicating prohibited books.” Suppression might even have facilitated preservation by keeping books out of circulation.
 
18
See Sarefield 2006, p. 292.
 
19
A classic biography is Brown 1967. A new one with the focus on his early years is Fox 2015.
 
20
Lancel 1999, p. 429; Nuffelen 2020, p. 116.
 
21
At the end of Possidius’ Life of Augstine we find a list of all his works (the indiculum) categorized by opponents.
 
22
The classic is Frend 1952; most comprehensive is Shaw 2011.
 
23
On him, see Rees 1998.
 
24
On the Jews, who do not feature as theological opponents in the same way, see Fredriksen 2008 and the respective chapter in Nirenberg 2013.
 
25
Aug., en. Ps., 61.23. In Aug., Io. ev. tr., 8.8–10 Augustine speaks of “us burning their books”, which might point to a more active part on his side, but not necessarily. The basis for such acts could be a law of 409 (CTh 9.16.12) ordering the banishment of mathematici and the burning of their books.
 
26
Aug., civ., 2.13.
 
27
Munier 1974, 345 (can. 16).
 
28
Aug. nat. b. 47.
 
29
Rohmann 2016, p. 223.
 
30
Rohmann 2016, p. 118.
 
31
Civ. 19,9. Nevertheless, on the occasion of their mentioning in the Acts (17.18), he gives a very short introduction into the teachings of Epicureans and Stoics (s. 150).
 
32
Aug., civ., 6.5–8; on this, see Barnes 2010.
 
33
On Donatist texts, see Tilley 1997.
 
34
Innocence in one of his letters called for the banishment of and trampling on (damnandum atque calcandum) a Pelagian text, see Speyer 1981, p. 152.
 
35
On this, see Drecoll 2002; Tornau 2011.
 
36
Aug., ep., p. 174; Aug., retr., 2.15.1.
 
37
In another case, regarding his early work On music, Augustine also used a letter (ep. 101) to explain his work and why it should no longer be read (it felt too pagan to him now). The sixth and final book was written later and was, according to the author, still worth reading as it made the Christian point more clear. In any case, the first five books were already circulating and found an interested readership.
 
38
Emonds 1941, p. 15.
 
39
On various aspects of reception, see Pollmann 2013.
 
40
On the misleading translation, see already Eller 1949, p. 173; Burnaby 1954, p. 85.
 
41
Literature on the Retractationes is, compared to Augustine in general, not extensive. It starts with the seminal 1905 article by A. Harnack, Harnack 1905. Important contributions are Ghellinck 1930; Eller 1949; Burnaby 1954; Madec 1996; Eigler 2004; Clark 2005; Pollmann 2010; Müller 2016; Müller 2018.
 
42
Aug., retr., prol. 3.
 
43
Most clearly in Müller 2016.
 
44
The first mention of Augustine’s intention to conduct something like the later revisions is found as early as 411/12 in a letter to his friend Marcellinus (ep. 143). Already back then, the context is the perceived mis-quotation of his work on free will. See Müller 2016, 117f.
 
45
See Müller 2018, p. 1180.
 
46
On early Augustine, see Fox 2015.
 
47
Aug., retr., 1.1.3.
 
48
Aug., retr., 1.3.2.
 
49
Aug., retr., 1.1.4.
 
50
A more philosophical issue would be the later Augustine’s emphasis on the physical resurrection of the body and the rehabilitation of the bodily dimension of human existence this implies, a tenet that is, obviously, at odds with platonic teachings. See Harnack 1905, pp. 1115–1118.
 
51
See Stock 2010. On Augustine's contribution to the idea of the self see also Cary 2000 and the chapter on Augustine in Siedentop 2014.
 
52
Augustine was well aware of this constellation, see Aug., conf., 11.3 and Aug., conf., 10.2.
 
53
See Müller 2016. E.g. the second century writer of medical treatises Galen has written two works regarding his own reception: one is a catalog of his works, the other a short introduction into his teaching, see Pollmann 2010. This endeavor served also to protext against forgery or false attributions (benign or not). On the phenomenon in general see Grafton 1990; for antiquity see Speyer 1971.
 
54
See Eigler 2004, p. 175; Obermeier 1999, p. 53.
 
55
See already Aug., ep., 142.
 
56
Aug., retr., 1.18. This is the case with his first shot at a commentary on the literal meaning of Genesis (de genesi ad litteram), which he had intended to destroy but now, working on the Revisions, had found again by chance. Meanwhile, the work was replaced by twelve books of the same name.
 
57
See O’Meara 2003, p. 157.
 
58
See Claussen 1991.
 
59
And of the practice of his writing, cf. Obermeier 1999, p. 56: “Offenses committed by the word are atoned for by the word.”
 
60
For this, see Pollmann 2010, 415 f.
 
61
See Pollmann 2010, p. 414.
 
62
Phrases like “pressed”, “urged”, or “asked by my brethren” (iubentibus/urgentibus/interrogabar a fratribus) or ones that express a need to respond (inruit causa respondi) abound in the retractationes, see Aug., retr., 1.23.1, 1.26, 2.11, 2.15,1, 2.37. The work itself was written urgentibus fratribus, as he points out at the very end, see retr. 2.67.
 
63
Aug., retr., prol., 2.
 
64
Aug., retr., prol., 2.
 
65
See Brachtendorf 2017, p. 222 sees the “Retractationes as confessions about his life as an author after 386.”
 
66
Augustine did that, too, on many occasions, in disputes public and private, documents of which are to be found e.g. in Aug., retr., 2.39f. But this had no effect on his understanding of learning as progressing towards God’s truth (with the help of God).
 
67
If these interactions have to be limited to human agents is debated, see Latour 2005.
 
68
Augustine goes as far as linking his success as a writer to the ability of his texts to convert people to Christianity, see Aug., ep., 2*.3.
 
69
See letter 37 to Simplicianus, bishop of Milan, whom Augustine sent a text asking for comment, “because I know what is God’s gift (dei data) and what my errors (mea errata).” On these premises, Augustine might very well try to establish an exchange of mutual criticism, as in the difficult correspondence with Jerome (see, e.g., ep. 82.31). But the frankness of critique he calls for is not so much a scientific procedure as a question of ethics, mainly of humility. On this see Ebbeler 2012.
 
70
Aug., retr., prol., 2.
 
71
In the very first paragraph Augustine wards off critiques by saying that it would be stupid to criticize his self-criticism, and whoever might find something objectionable in his works is only corroborating his point, Aug., retr., prol., 1. A wonderful example of how authorial self-criticism tends to give texts a certain autonomy while protecting the author, see Obermeier 1999, p. 13. All the more when the benchmark of critique is God.
 
72
See Eigler 2004, p. 183. This holds true even though not all writings we know of have found their way into the Revisions, see Müller 2018, p. 1183. See also Bourdieu 2017.
 
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Metadaten
Titel
Repression, Retraction? Re-reading!
Book-Destruction and Literary Self-Criticism in Augustine of Hippo
verfasst von
Kai Preuß
Publikationsdatum
23.11.2022
Verlag
Springer US
Erschienen in
Society
Print ISSN: 0147-2011
Elektronische ISSN: 1936-4725
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s12115-022-00789-7