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  • Print publication year: 1998
  • Online publication date: August 2010

4 - Augustine


True and false wisdom

We now have a reasonable reconstruction of what Augustine found in the “books of the Platonists”; this is the right way into interpreting Augustine's understanding of God and the soul, since (as Augustine tells us in Confessions VII) he reached this understanding by reading and meditating on the books of the Platonists. Turning now from the Platonists to Augustine himself, we can see how he uses the intellectual material of Platonism to work out an understanding of God and other things, compatible with Christianity and explicating the intellectual content of the Christian scriptures. Following Henry's rules of method, our primary evidence must be “Augustine's own testimonies on the writings of the philosophers which he has read, on the circumstances in which he read them, on the intellectual or moral profit which he drew from them, and on the impressions with which they left him.” Augustine testifies explicitly and systematically to his reading of the books of the Platonists in Confessions VII, and only there; so this book, with some supporting material, will provide our point of departure. Once we have learned from Augustine himself what intellectual profit he drew from Platonism, and how he applied it to his Christian intellectual project, we can turn to the treatises and dialogues where he tries to carry out this project, and observe how he actually does what, in the Confessions, he says he is doing.