Good Argument/ Topic for an Essay on St. Augustine?
May 16, 2010 10:27 PM   Subscribe

Good argument/ ideas for an essay on St. Augustine's work?

I took a seminar on St. Augustine this semester, but I got very sick and fell horribly behind on the reading. Now I have to write the final paper and I'm completely overwhelmed and at a loss for ideas!

It should be some sort of text-based, analytical argument essay, and the paper itself needs to be 20 pages. I'm just brainstorming for something interesting to write about that will lend itself well to an essay and won't be too challenging to do.

I can take a medical incomplete for this, but I'd just really like to get it over with if possible.

I would really, really appreciate any ideas at all.

Thank you
posted by howgenerica to Religion & Philosophy (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How about something to do with how Augustine's views on women/sexuality/gender influenced Christianity/Western society?
posted by Chrysalis at 10:51 PM on May 16, 2010

Toward the beginning of Augustine's Confessions, he argues that human beings are born with a sinful nature, and gives the example of the covetous looks that even tiny babes cast toward things they want. I was never comfortable with his argument for various reasons (though that's neither here nor there), but I was reminded of these few lines of the book when I recently read an article about some research into the moral sense of very young children and babies.

It would be interesting to juxtapose Augustine's concept of sin in infants with this recent research. Whether or not it would be appropriate to bring in modern perspectives would depend on the nature of the seminar and the professor, I suppose. Anyway, I read your question and this immediately came to mind.

Good luck with whatever you choose to write about!
posted by jingzuo at 10:53 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Augustine in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a reasonably brief survey that covers a number of key issues. If your course is on his philosophy, you might look though that and see if anything catches your interest, then you could look at the relevant parts of his writings (which are noted in the entry). The entry mentions a number of points of traditional scholarly debate that might be good jumping off points. (Obviously you would mention this entry in your bibliography.)

Also, presumably your professor knows that you're behind. Once you've done some digging to find a topic, you could see if he or she has suggestions on how to keep it manageable.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:09 PM on May 16, 2010

I don't really think this would be a quick and easy topic, but you might be able to find a simple approach to it.

Augustine seems to have mixed thoughts on good and evil. On the one hand he feels that sin is a matter of individual choice, and yet evil exist in the world on it's own, without an actor, or to put that another way much of the word is evil for him. I think a paper showing those two contradictory views would be interesting (and certainly could remain totally text based), but I think it would take a good degree of familiarity or a whole lot of skimming to do it thoroughly.

Finding the dualism within Augustine (and it is a strong force in Christian traditions, though not really in Christian theology (well some orthodox Christian theology), and it's one of the main features of many early heresies. (They didn't like Mani much, but Augie had been a follower of his up until he was outlawed in the Roman Empire) But none of that would really have to go into your paper.

It has been a long time since I read Augustine (and I never really studied him, came at it as a history major and was interested in the heretic and heresies more than his philosophy). So I'm not sure how hard it would be to explore all this.
posted by Some1 at 12:25 AM on May 17, 2010

How about Augustine and slavery? That's a nice self-contained topic that doesn't require you to delve too deeply into the systematic basis of Augustine's theology. Peter Garnsey, Ideas of Slavery from Aristotle to Augustine (1996), will give you a good introduction to the topic. With Garnsey's help you can identify the key passages on slavery in The City of God and focus your paper on these, using other secondary sources to help you explore the relationship between sin and slavery in Augustine's thought.

I was also struck the other day by a sentence in Lucy Beckett's TLS review of Henry Chadwick's Augustine of Hippo: A Life (2009), which said something to this effect (I'm quoting from memory), that 'for Augustine, corruption in the church could never be a good enough reason to leave it'. That would be an interesting topic for a paper, looking at Augustine's attitude to scandal and corruption in the church. Again the City of God would be an obvious place to start, plus the secondary literature on Augustine and the Donatists.
posted by verstegan at 2:48 AM on May 17, 2010

St. A. originated the idea of a 'just war' which is crucial to US and UK foreign policy today.
posted by londongeezer at 3:47 AM on May 17, 2010

Start by noting that Russell said of the City of God: "Like some other very great books, it composes itself, in the memory of those who have read it, into something better than at first appears on rereading."

Then give your impression of the City of God, which may be something other than at first appears on actually reading it.
posted by Phanx at 5:00 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd try writing on his solution to the problem of evil. Augustine tends to be treated as the first to appeal to free will as an explanation of evil and suffering; the existence of these are puzzling if God is all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing. There's always lots to say about theodicy.
posted by Beardman at 6:50 AM on May 17, 2010

If you are going to do Augustine's theodicy keep in mind that it's a really popular topic. There is a lot of work done in that area (both theodicy in general and Augustine's theodicy). For example, J.L. Mackie has a great essay "Evil and Omnipotence." Start there. I'd actually stay way from the free-will angle and look at his view of evil as a privation.

I would think that an examination of how well his neo-Platonic metaphysics meshed with the Church doctrine of his time or, more interesting, Church doctrine of later times such as transubstantiation.
posted by oddman at 8:25 AM on May 17, 2010

Compare Augustine's view of original sin to that of Aquinas and Pelagius. I have also found his discourse on memory and time quite fascinating (Confessions Book X)
posted by yoyoceramic at 9:11 AM on May 17, 2010

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