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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  January 2002

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION January 2002

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Subject:

Re: hermeneutics of suspicion, deferral to the end of time

From:

Dennis Martin <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 28 Jan 2002 17:19:56 -0600

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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

I must add that I think it a calumny on Augustine to claim that he deferred any theodicy to the end of time.  That the fallen world would endure to the end of time and be reborn and recreated of course--that's the New Testament claim.  But the possibility of individual conversion and re-creation, or re-formation of the deformed imago Dei, going even beyond the original state of paradaisiacal innocence, and of doing so in societies of individuals, indeed in Christian societies, mixed as they were with hypocrites and secret sinners, that he believed all that was possible is evident.  Would everyone be converted and society be totally perfect before the Eschaton? Of course not.  But is a Christian society impossible for Augustine?  Certainly not--why did he bother with writing the _City of God_ if he thought it impossible until the end of time?  The consummation and perfection awaits the end of time, yes, but what can be accomplished and built in the intervening time, long or short though it may be, is not insignificant for Augustine--he devoted his life to it's furtherance.

Perhaps you assimilate Augustine to Hobbes because you read him through Hobbeseian (and Calvinist and Jansenist) eyes--you will, of course, insist they are Landesian eyes and of course they are.  But there are "pessimistic" and "optimistic" readings of Augustine throughout the centuries.   Which of them  is the most accurate one?  Calvin's reading of Augustine or Jansenius's or Hobbes's or Landes's may indeed be more accurate than Martin's.   Is one forbidden to argue that one or these is superior without being accused of thinking all others "invalid"?  I do believe that a "hope-filled" reading of Augustine is more valid than a "pessimistic" one.  But I do not assume that my views invalidate all others when I propose as more accurate this reading.  I assume that anyone who proposes readings of historical characters or movements on this list proposes them as superior without assuming they invalidate all others.  This was Augustine's point in Book VII of the Confessions: that merely establishing that some things are better and some worse, some higher and some lower does not "invalidate" anything.   When we propose a way of understanding someone from the past we implicitly claim it is superior to other ways, for, otherwise, why propose it for consideration by others?  Why would I hold a view, an interpretation if I did not believe it superior in interpreting the evidence than other views are, at least in some degree?   Why would Richard Landes hold a view and set it forth and seek to convince me of its truth unless he thought it a more true interpretation of Augustine than mine?

Let a thousand views be set forth.  But don't ask me to accept them all and please don't say that if I choose not to be persuaded by them and set forth another I am assuming them all invalid, unless by "invalid" one means in the root sense of the word, "weak" or "weaker."   But of course, we all believe that the interpretations we arrive at by our examination of evidence, to the degree we hold them to be stronger than the alternatives, are stronger and the others weaker.  And if we truly aren't sure whether view X is stronger than view Y, then we would say so to ourselves and refrain from putting it forward for the convincing of others.

Dennis Martin

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