The Subtle Art of Plagiarizing God: Augustine’s Dialogue with Divine Otherness

In A. P. DeBattista, J. Farrugia & H. Scerri (eds.), Non Laborat Qui Amat. Valletta, Malta: pp. 51-68 (2020)
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From the beginning, Augustine's "Confessions" presents itself as a dialogue with God. Taking a cue from Ludwig Feuerbach’s "The Essence of Christianity [Das Wesen des Christentums]," this dialogue can easily be dismissed as a projection of the self. This would imply that the divine otherness is nothing more than a mirror of one’s own fears and preferences. “Does this critique,” I asked myself in this piece, “really do justice to a position like that of Augustine?” For a long time, I did not know how to approach what I had — provisionally — called Augustine’s dialogue with God. It appeared to me that Augustine, in an accidental and indirect way, had re-invented the Platonic dialogue and had turned it into a new Christian genre. “It is true,” I told myself, “that the genre of the Confessions shows family resemblances with the hagiography and the autobiography. But most certainly it cannot be reduced to these genres.” The Greek words ‘hagios’ (holy) and ‘autos’ (self) are in flagrant contradiction with the intention of the Confessions. Augustine tries to stay clear of any claim of holiness and only highlights his own ‘self’ to immediately question it. “Is the Platonic dialogue,” I asked myself, “not a far more appropriate predecessor for Augustine’s dialogue with God?” Both types of dialogues can be seen as true dia logoi in which at least two different voices emerge. However, contrary to what one would expect, it is not the dialogue form itself that frames these two voices. Instead the two voices emerge within the discourse of a single speaker, incorporating true otherness within the discourse of the self. Building on these reflections, I explore how Augustine's dialogue with God succeeds in eluding Feuerbach's charge of self-projection.

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Martijn Boven
Leiden University


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