. 3
( 12)


what Catherine Pickstock has aptly called ˜˜the eschatological
morning™™ (1997: 273). To learn to speak our being in this way is a
dif¬cult lesson; in this life we are never more than children at
doing it.27
Augustine™s account of agency offers an account of asymmetrical
freedom similar to Wolf™s, but he develops it within a richer
metaphysic and reverses her asymmetry. According to Wolf, we are
responsible for good action even if we are determined to it, while,
were we psychologically determined to bad acts, that determination
would exculpate us. According to Augustine, we are never respon-
sible for good action precisely because it has a reason, and hence a
cause, beyond us in God; but we are ultimately responsible for bad
action, for we are the ¬nal, if irrational, cause of it:

Now if we conclude that a good will also has no ef¬cient cause, we
must beware of giving the idea that the good will of the good angels
is uncaused in the sense of being co-eternal with God. In fact, since
the angels were themselves created, it follows that their will must
also be created . . . [and thus] as soon as they were created they
adhered to their Creator with that love with which they were
created. And the rebellious angels were separated from fellowship
with the good [angels] by [their] act of will (which was evil in the
very fact that they fell away from the good will), and they would not
have fallen away, had they not willed to do so. (DCD 12.9)28

27. For more, see Mathewes 2002a and 2003, Mennell 1994, and J. S. O™Leary 1985.
28. For a congruent later elaboration of these themes, see Anselm 1998.
66 A Theology of Public Life

Some thoughtful, more philosophically minded exponents of
Augustine, such as James Wetzel, ¬nd this a weakness in Augustine™s
philosophical account. They argue that Augustine™s account of ori-
ginal sin poses intractable problems to his overall account because
the originary sin, on this account, must be radically spontaneous,
and the thrust of Augustine™s overall anthropology is directed at
showing that our pretensions at possessing such agency are pride-
fully delusionary (1992: 201“17).
But while Augustine did in fact conclude that while voluntary sin,
in the case of the Fall, is not intelligible qua voluntary sin, it is still
real, because it can be seen as the perverse af¬rmation of some
lesser good over a greater, if it is to be seen as intelligible, and hence
as an action at all. Voluntary sin is thus possible, albeit under the
guise of af¬rming some other, lesser good (as can be seen in the
confessiones™ story of the delight the young Augustine took in the
community of thieves stealing the pears in the garden). It can exist,
though never properly as ˜˜voluntary sin™™; we can de¬ne it as an act
that fails to be itself.
This may sound paradoxical. But for Augustine the paradox lies
in the limits of our own comprehension, not in reality itself. We
do not suf¬ciently attend to the cosmological and historical
dimensions of Augustine™s account of sin. He admitted that an act
of pure voluntary sin was impossible for humans to undertake; it
would require a power of agency so unconditioned as to be
effectively suprahuman. But such suprahuman entities exist: the
angels. We often forget that for Augustine it is not only goodness
that is suprahuman; evil is as well. There is a cosmological
dimension to the story of the Fall, for all the main actors in what
we think of as ˜˜the human moral drama™™ are, crucially, not
human (or, in Christ™s case, not merely human): our corruption
stems from our temptation by the angel Satan, who was already
corrupted by a wholly self-willed act of radical evil, and our sal-
vation stems from the redemptive act of God. And there is a his-
torical dimension to the Fall as well: humans are not created
wicked, but become so, in a technical sense, accidentally. We are,
of course, responsible for this accident, as it occurred because of
our free will. But to say that does not explain why our free will
was actualized in this manner. What it shows us is that humans
can so violate the order of things that their acts violate not only
Life before God

the moral law and the laws of nature, but even the order of
intelligibility itself. Such actions cannot be understood, but only
described. And we had this freedom before the Fall, but lost it in
the Fall, and became chained to sin. Grace does not ˜˜restore™™ this
capacity to us; rather, grace is the refusal henceforth to use this
˜˜capacity™™ to revolt.
The philosophical criticisms of Augustine™s account, then, miss
these cosmological and historical elements of the story of our
freedom “ how, in Augustine™s account, our freedom has changed
across time. In eliding this aspect of Augustine™s analysis, such
critics subtly alter the overall picture that Augustine proposes. It is
simply not the case that grace “ conceived as the absolute love of
God and hence not ¬nally distinct in form or content from the
original love offered to (and at that time accepted by) Adam and Eve
before the Fall “ is totally determinate. If it were, human beings
could not have fallen as they did, unless God willed their sin. But
Augustine is not a Calvinist. Thus there is a signi¬cant ˜˜libertarian™™
leaven needed in what the philosophical critics take to be Augustine™s
compatibilist dough; and the leaven changes the whole in sig-
ni¬cant ways “ not least in challenging the adequacy of terms such
as ˜˜libertarian™™ and ˜˜compatibilist™™ for describing Augustine™s
Augustine™s account refashions our understanding of the place of
agency in the world and before God, and thereby refutes char-
acterizations of his account of divine sovereignty as heteronomous “
for there is no self, strictly speaking, apart from and primordially
independent of God. God, recall, is ˜˜closer to me than myself.™™ We
are most fully free when we assent to being the sorts of beings we
already are, and though we are permitted partially to dissent from
God™s plan, our dissent cannot be more than partial; God™s loving
sustenance of us forbids us to annihilate ourselves so totally as that.
Furthermore, this picture af¬rms that God™s goodness, as manifest
in and by the world, should be (and gracefully is) met by an ˜˜active
gratitude™™ that responds, in its microcosmic integrity, to the
integrity of the world.29 What Augustine teaches is that we must
trust both the world and our true desires “ that we must, in fact,
trust the world through and in those desires.

29. For this formulation of the idea, I am indebted to Derek Jeffreys.
68 A Theology of Public Life

Augustinian anthropology and theology:
reimagining autonomy
Far from being incoherent, Augustine™s work offers an account
of human agency far superior to dominant modern pictures.
As moderns we typically conceive of ourselves as ex nihilo actors
and knowers, subjects originally alone and outside of the world and
intervening in it, bootstrapping ourselves into knowledge and
pulling ourselves into existence by the hair.30 Augustine does not
share this faith, and with good reason. His theological anthropology
illuminates how we exist as fundamentally part of a larger order “ in
the world and before God “ in ways superior to contemporary
alternatives. It has implications beyond our mere self-understanding.
We turn to those now.

Reimagining autonomy after Augustine
The worries that Augustine™s theological anthropology elicits
from us re¬‚ect deep confusions about the character of our exis-
tence, confusions rooted in our understanding of autonomy. We
typically picture autonomy as an ideal of total self-determination,
but ultimately this picture is totally alienating: it not only implaus-
ibly immunizes humans against any worldly in¬‚uences, but also
undermines the very possibility of our own intelligibility. It is
simultaneously existentialist and consumerist, Jean-Paul Sartre at
the Wal-Mart(re), making our agency a futile passion.
On what grounds can the self be understood to determine itself ?
Perhaps we are willing to say that ˜˜Because I willed it™™ is the best
we can do for an explanation for one™s actions, and that such is
the price of freedom. But this misses the point, because as a
re¬‚ective agent I have no reason to identify with this ˜˜I™™ that stands
at the fount of all my actions. Indeed, this ˜˜I™™ seems to be less me
than an alien thing at the base of my agency. Thus this picture of
autonomy, so often assumed today, does not secure me from any
outside interference, but just the opposite: it transfers my agency
to an unintelligible, hence effectively external, voluntary force. In
securing the self™s reality against determinism, this picture of

30. See Burrell 2004: 147 and passim.
Life before God

autonomy goes too far, and leaves the self a gilded bird in an
iron cage.31
This confused account of autonomy urges us to see Augustine™s
account as either a subjectivist, indeed solipsistic, egoism or an
objectivist determinism. On the one hand, many miss the way in
which Augustine anchors the self in the created world by placing
the divine other at the heart of the created self. Such critics thus
mistake Augustine™s anthropology for a solipsistic egoism, both
because it seems that his eudaimonism allows self-interest to elbow
out all genuine concern for the other (though the word ˜˜genuine™™
shows already how very tenuous this worry is), and because it seems
that his concern for the inner depths of the mind turns the world
into merely intellectual stimulation of only secondary importance.32
On the other hand, many miss the way in which Augustine grounds
the limits of agency and virtue in the very character of agency and
virtue. They thus mistake Augustine™s anthropology for a hetero-
nomous determinism, because it seems that his account of grace
subverts the role of true human agency, reducing us to puppets
whose strings are the vectors of ˜˜vertical™™ causality emanating from
God. In brief, both interpretive routes end in the worry that on
Augustine™s account either the self obliterates all otherness,
including God, or that otherness consumes the self.
These worries are misplaced, and gain the plausibility they have
for us as a result of modern subjectivism of the sort exempli¬ed by
Descartes. If one begins with the Cartesian cogito, uprooted from the
world, then not only is one stuck with Descartes™s problem of get-
ting from the mind to the world, but anything outside the mind will
be alien to it and thus a threat to it, a contender against it. But
we need not begin with the Cartesian cogito; the mind, as John
McDowell puts it, simply ˜˜ain™t in the head™™ (1992: 39). Mind is
always already related to other realities, and is ˜˜given™™ to itself from
outside of itself. For Augustine, the ˜˜giftedness™™ of mind is not
simply an epistemological fact, or merely an ontological one, but
properly a theological truth: mind is from God. The very features of

31. See Asad 1993: 13, on the relation between modern concepts of autonomy and
consumerism. For connections between consumerism and nihilism, see
B. Schwartz 2004, Friedman 1990, and Block 2002. I thank Markella Rutherford
for conversations regarding these issues.
32. See O™Donovan 1980.
70 A Theology of Public Life

his anthropology that we, in our resolute subjectivism, ¬nd contra-
dictory are the features that, rightly understood, could model a way
to overcome the dichotomies that make it so dif¬cult for us to
understand how we can think, and will, and act responsibly.

Towards an Augustinian understanding of engagement
Once we revise our understanding of Augustine™s thought, we
see that preconceived ideas about Augustinian ˜˜politics™™ need
changing as well. The most popular representations of Augustine
depict the self as isolated from others, trapped in self-ignorance, and
able to think of the good only negatively, in terms of a perennially
absent God. This eventuates in politically minimalist interpretations
of Augustinian politics. But such interpretations are more decisively
stamped by our modern understanding of the self than by August-
ine™s. When we exorcise this understanding of the self, new possi-
bilities appear.
First, as regards worries about ˜˜otherworldliness,™™ what is
assumed by such concerns is that the world as it stands is somehow
a relatively coherent, relatively integral whole (say, a ˜˜body™™)
within which religious commitments (which are often understood
to be merely ˜˜spiritual™™) can at best ˜˜supervene™™ upon or comple-
ment material reality. Augustine™s theology helps here by remind-
ing us that the concept of a pure ˜˜nature™™ is a fable. Grace is not a
superradditum to nature, but rather an integral part of the created
order. In this dispensation, the political realm cannot be ¬nally
forbidden as a place of theophany, though neither can it be assumed
as structurally inevitable. Chapter 2 will discuss these issues in more
The question of moral rationality, and of the cognitive status of
religious claims, seems to be at its heart a question of how our
subjective experiences of valuing can be legitimated in a world of
plural subjectivities and plural value claims. Often Augustine is
invoked as a thinker who insisted on the necessary secularity of the
public realm, for fear of an idolatrous caesaropapism. The con-
temporary worry expressed here, fundamentally about ˜˜intoler-
ance,™™ is captive to a dichotomy between what has been labeled
˜˜objectivism™™ and ˜˜relativism,™™ between the desire to defuse
subjectivity by scientistically reducing subjects to objects, and the
Life before God

af¬rmation of ˜˜pluralism™™ as a simple capitulation to difference.
While most thinkers recognize this dichotomy as misleading, if not
downright pernicious, we have had little success in overcoming it.
(Witness the interminable debate between ˜˜communitarians™™ and
˜˜liberals™™ in political theory and theology.) Our failure here re¬‚ects
the belief that within an ontology that pictures the world as an
archipelago of alterities, each negotiating its way around the others,
it is morally insensitive not to worry that one™s imposition of one set
of beliefs on another is really nothing but an imposition. (This is one
good reason why some of the best accounts of political community
today, such as Judith Shklar™s Ordinary Vices and Jeffrey Stout™s Ethics
After Babel, are grounded on fear.)
Suppose, however, that we approach questions of moral and
religious rationality, and thus the nature of pluralist communities,
from the Augustinian assumption that otherness is already at the
base of the self. Doing this would give us more patience. We would
admit that the attempt to engage one another most fully as parti-
cular and historical persons, an engagement including ˜˜rational™™
debate (whatever that may turn out to be), may yet allow us to ¬nd
an account of genuinely universal moral and religious reason;
meanwhile, in the interim, we are in no way required to surrender
our own local rationalities (as if it were some mark of neighborly
respect to blindfold everyone out of despair of coming to a common
point of view). Furthermore, Augustine™s account offers us a new
vision of what reason is. It is not an autonomous, critical-transcend-
ental evaluative module, for that would have all the problems of
modern conceptions of autonomy discussed above; rather, it is most
fundamentally a form of attention, attending to the ends the agent
desires, and deciding how best to pursue those ends. Reason really is,
or truly ought to be, the slave of the passions; but the passions
themselves are not merely subjective whimsies, but rather have a
normative structure and metaphysical valence, as indicative of the
manifold relations between ourselves and the rest of the world.
Augustinians therefore see the question of ˜˜toleration™™ much more
complexly as a matter of dialogue and conversation, dedicated not to
avoiding confrontations with one another but to attempting to eng-
age each other™s ˜˜otherness™™ genuinely. Otherness is not a negative
challenge, a Leibnizian ˜˜windowless monad,™™ or a sheer mass of
antimatter. It is a positive gift, eliciting in us the responsibility to
72 A Theology of Public Life

transform our lives in and through the other™s reception. Chapter 3
will discuss these issues more thoroughly.
The ¬nal question is the political one of the relations between
individuals, their various associations and communities, and the
political community that demands, legitimately or illegitimately,
their ¬nal commitment in the saeculum. This too is a form of the
question of how we should accommodate otherness “ though this
time within our own community, however ˜˜thick™™ it may be. In
such debates, Augustine plays a crucial role as a straw man: radical
communitarians accuse him of promoting ˜˜Constantinianism,™™
while more liberal thinkers accuse him of authoritarianism and
anti-individualism in politics. Both groups worry that Augustine™s
emphasis on communal authority can elide true otherness, whether
that otherness be another community or an individual person.
Historically, both have reasons for their concern. But should we
respond to the fact that society is immoral by suggesting that
smaller groups, or individuals, will somehow be more upright? Or
should we surrender our most proximate political power to some
extra-human institution or text, whether that is Scripture or the
Constitution? Surely any such ˜˜surrender™™ is not what it claims to
be, but rather a simple refusal of responsibility for our own inter-
pretations of such texts. The political problematic is continuous
with the theological problematic, and can be neither resolved by
the liberal public/private distinction, nor avoided by the radical
communitarian inside/outside dichotomy. Augustine™s theological
anthropology, depicting us all as always both inside and outside the
community, because we are inside and outside ourselves “ can lead
to strong claims about the importance of public life. Part II of this
book explores these points.

In their various ways, these disparate worries all expose a
crucial disjunction between Augustine™s thought and our own
received intuitions, the relation between selfhood and otherness.
We, as moderns and as fallen humans, understand ourselves as
properly our ownmost possession “ fundamentally separate from
one another, from the world, and from God. But this self-under-
standing, on Augustine™s picture, is delusory. It is why we can speak
Life before God

of the fundamental human fault as superbia, and why privacy, on a
philosophical and theological level, is so ultimately dubious for this
tradition. But it is as much an expression of nihilating despair as it is
of presumptive pride; for this presumption of self-possession, which
requires the self to posit an abyss between itself and the rest of
creation, may well be secondary to the despair that imagines that
God has abandoned us.
Augustine™s theology shows how grace works against this pride
and despair. On his account, we have abandoned God, but God™s
action in Christ, from the beginning of time, will be the way that
God overcomes our estrangement and returns us to God “ and
through God, to our neighbors, to creation, and even to ourselves.
The ground of his theological anthropology is his conviction that at
the core of the self is an other, God; but this other is more intimate
to me than I am to myself “ interior intimo meo. As Denys Turner has
argued, for Augustine ˜˜the language of interiority is self-subverting™™;
to go deeply into the mind is to go beyond it; to turn inward and
descend into the self is simultaneously to reach outward and ascend
to God (1995: 69). Augustine™s basic moves, especially his arguments
about human knowing and acting, and the place of the human
knower and actor in the world and before God, begin from this
insight. The world is not ¬nally fractured into self and other; the
divisions and separations marking every moment in our fallen
world do not reach down to the basic character of reality itself.
Augustine™s theology is, then, all about learning how to be com-
mitted to the world and to God in the right way. This is a picture
none of us fully understands, let alone fully accepts; yet our
understanding of it is thus irremediably associated with a hope-
fulness that its true intelligibility will be made eschatologically
apprehensible. But how do we practically inhabit this eschatological
hopefulness? That is the topic of Chapter 2.

Life in the world

We say amisse,
This or that is:
Thy word is all, if we could spell. George Herbert, ˜˜The Flower™™

What does it mean to live in hope? And what are the theological
preconditions and implications of a life so lived? In hope, we see the
world as revelatory of more than its immediate, and super¬cial, self-
presentation. In hope we af¬rm our con¬dence in God™s sovereignty,
and our conviction that God will be all in all. In hope, we see the
world as intelligible only as God™s story “ not properly a ˜˜world,™™
with the spurious posture of autonomy that that word conveys, but
rather as Creation, an event, irrepressibly expressing a self-trans-
cending reference, the act of a loving Creator. We see the world as
signi¬cant, the ˜˜semiosis™™ of God, and we live in the world, during
the world, in hope, by participating in that semiosis “ by treating
the world as not exhaustively immanently and immediately
signi¬cant, but as crucially transcendentally and eschatologically
But today, during the world, it is not obvious that the world
˜˜means™™ more than itself, that it has a signi¬cance, and signi¬ca-
tion, beyond the literal. Augustine recognized this dif¬culty: ˜˜The
existence of the world is a matter of observation, the existence of
God a matter of belief™™ (DCD 11.4). So hope must ¬nd a way to bring
to expression this currently obscure but theologically foundational
fact. We must ¬nd an ontology that can bear the weight of our hope “
a language through which we can see the world as broken but still

Life in the world

signi¬cant, albeit signi¬cant in ways that will be made fully clear
only in the eschaton. That is what this chapter tries to sketch.
Chapter 1 argued, against many critics™ suspicions, that an
Augustinian theological anthropology offers a quite plausible and
attractive picture of the human in the world and before God. This
picture presents the self as fundamentally a sufferer, more passive
than active, whose being is ˜˜given™™ to it as a gift, and who properly
participates in her or his being through ecstatically responsive
confession of this givenness, a confession ¬rst of all to God, but
to creation as well. But such a defense of the Augustinian account
does not silence critics™ concerns so much as relocate them: once
driven from their positions criticizing Augustine™s direct theological
anthropology, they reposition themselves and shift their ¬re on to
the implications of that vision for our dealings with the world. For
many thoughtful people are troubled by what they see as that
vision™s implications, namely, an inevitably estranged and instru-
mental view of the world. They fear that such an attitude is hazar-
dous to our very existence; we are living so far beyond our means
that our present behavior threatens to consume our future.
Whether we agree with these fears or not, it is hard to deny that we
are caught in ways of life that seem excessive and destructive. This
is not a matter of individuals™ wanton rapaciousness; there are
material and structural forces shaping our behavior. But those
structural forces did not pop up ex nihilo; they are at least partly
caused by broadly cultural realities, by our behavior and beliefs.
Many thinkers locate the root of the problem in our inherited
religious traditions, whether living or merely a cultural residue. While
the details of the problem are disputed, the structure of the critics™
diagnoses and their proposed remedies are identical: they diagnose
our root problem to be a residual ˜˜otherworldliness™™ surviving as a
relic of our earlier religious worldviews, and they prescribe as a pur-
gative a more diligent worldliness, a love for immanent material
existence “ a more emphatic af¬rmation of the intrinsic value and
fragility of both non-human nature and human society.1 And if we
want to change them, at least part of our energy must be dedicated to
changing those behaviors and beliefs. How can we do this?

1. See L. White 1967, Lovibond 1982, and Keller 1997. For a nice contrast, see Rupp
76 A Theology of Public Life

Typically this otherworldliness manifests itself, the critics believe,
in a fundamentally instrumentalizing attitude towards the material
world. One of the most popular targets for such charges is the trad-
itional language of ˜˜using the world.™™ And the most prominent
spokesperson for this view is Augustine. He contrasts two basic
attitudes that we can take towards things: ˜˜using™™ them and
˜˜enjoying™™ them. To enjoy something is to value it wholly in itself
and for itself; to use something is to value it for its instrumental
value for another end. The object of enjoyment is that which allows
the enjoyer to ¬‚ourish; thus the eye enjoys the light by which it sees
(DCD 8.8). What makes us ¬‚ourish? No material thing in itself; thus
we should ˜˜use™™ the material things of this world and, properly
speaking, ˜˜enjoy™™ only the wholly immaterial reality of God (DDC
1.3.3“4.4).2 A radical instrumentalism seems latent here, one which
undermines all attempts to invest other creatures with genuine
value; Augustine™s thought seems to instrumentalize all creation “
even, at times, the divine “ for the sake of the self. In brief, the
challenge is one fundamentally against Augustine™s eudaimonism,
to the effect that any ethic ¬nally oriented towards the self™s
exclusive happiness must deny the ¬nal independence of others.
This charge has textual support in Augustine™s writings, especially
in his notorious claim that the two ˜˜cities™™ of humanity are dis-
tinguished by their loves, ˜˜the earthly city [governed] by a love of
self carried even to contempt of God, the celestial city [governed] by
a love of God carried even to contempt of self™™ (DCD 14.28). The
critics understand Augustine as suggesting that love of God, and not
just love but even concern for the world, ¬nally are incompatible.
Unsurprisingly, this account has not received many hosannas in
recent years. The general project designated by this language “
which I shall call the use-paradigm “ is taken to represent the
nihilistic, world-hating, life-denying, ascetical and (nastily) ˜˜meta-
physical™™ attitude of the anti-ecological ˜˜other.™™ Normally it is
contrasted with another view, apparently diametrically opposed;

2. There are interesting and complex questions about the status of other humans
in this text; for a fascinating account of this, focusing on how hard Augustine
found it to construct an adequate language within which to articulate the right
relation to the neighbor in the world, see O™Donovan 1982. More generally see
Baer 1996, van Bavel 1986, and O™Donovan 1980.
Life in the world

˜˜loving the world.™™3 Here we will not directly assess the con-
temporary alternatives to this position, but we should note that the
slogan of ˜˜loving the world™™ gains determinate meaning by what
Nietzsche would call ˜˜nay-saying,™™ an activity of externalizing and
denouncing what one does not want “ without determining whe-
ther what one does not want is actually there, or only a fable con-
cocted by one™s imagination. And yet in the case of ˜˜loving the
world,™™ what is denounced is in fact a fable. We need a more
complex analysis of what these purportedly contrasting slogans in
fact obscure.
We can begin this analysis by looking at what, beyond slogans,
these critics offer as an alternative. They typically propose a
respectful recognition of and sensitivity to limits, a recognition that
human aims must be restrained by some absolute boundaries, that
human desires may simply not be justi¬ably realizable. Different
thinkers understand these limits differently, but the formal analysis
of the problem is the same: our Promethean tendency always to
overstep, never to be satis¬ed, never to have enough. For them we
must observe proper limits, without which we will inevitably
destroy whatever happiness we have with our various rapacities.
Such claims echo ancient Stoic demands that we live in accord
with nomos, and that such life primarily involves a practice of
restraint on our part. But this is wrong. Of course we should
recognize the propriety of limits, of basic commandments that must
not be violated, basic covenants that cannot be broken. But God™s
desire for humans is not fundamentally proscriptive, concerned
with setting limits.4 And humans would be mutilated by attempts to
make our longings perfectly ¬nite and mundane. Instead, we should
seek not fundamentally to limit our desires, but to have them
reoriented towards their properly in¬nite end. We should care
about the world not more, but in a different way than we currently
do. Our loves must be not restrained but reoriented. By aiming to
recover the practices Augustine once designated with the phrase
˜˜using the world,™™ perhaps we can make ourselves less ravenous
creatures, and hopefully place less strain on our world.

3. For an especially thoughtful and well-developed example, see Keller 1997. See
also Nussbaum 2001: 549“50.
4. For a good discussion of this, see Barth 1957: 553.
78 A Theology of Public Life

To begin to support these claims moves us quickly towards a
general ontology of creation as Creation, an ontology that can
explain why no ˜˜enough™™ will work. Sketching such an ontology is
this chapter™s task. The reasons for our persistent psychological
transgression go deep in us, and indeed in the fabric of the cosmos
itself. The world is not de¬ned by ¬nitude, and so our desires are not
so ¬xable and limitable; we are always called beyond ourselves by
creation™s excessiveness. The problem is not that we remain too
otherworldly, but that we are not ˜˜otherworldly™™ enough; better,
the proper language we should use to understand our condition is
not the fundamentally secularist language of ˜˜otherworldliness,™™
but rather the fundamentally religious language of idolatry. We
have made an idol out of the world. This does not mean that the idol
is intrinsically evil; on the contrary, typically the created things
made into idols are themselves victims of the idolaters.
Modernity™s quarrel with Augustine is thus fundamentally about
ontology, about the nature of creation itself. To understand this
ontology, we must begin by undertaking a careful analysis of the
two apparently quite distinct tasks which the language of ˜˜use™™
plays in Augustinian thought. For ˜˜use™™ is not simply a straight-
forward axiological and ethical term for Augustine; it bears an
equally primordial exegetical and semiotic signi¬cance. For Augus-
tinians, to talk about ˜˜using™™ things is to speak simultaneously in a
moral and hermeneutical register.
Doing this involves offering a far more theological reading of
the practical human project than is common today, and not only
among non-religious people. Effectively most of us are secular
moralists, imagining that morality is a fundamentally this-worldly
reality, one built around apparently mundane virtues like pru-
dence.5 Yet even so this-worldly a virtue as prudence hides theolo-
gical valences; for, as the philosopher Peter Geach has argued,
˜˜˜prudence™ and ˜providence™ are in origin two forms of the same
Latin word; etymologies are often misleading, this one is not™™ (1977:
70). The human adventure in this world is never simply mundane.
This is not one more argument for the moral necessity of God.6

5. See McCloskey 1994, D. M. Nelson 1992, Baier 1994, and Hariman 2003.
6. See Taylor 1989 and Gamwell 1995 for two powerful examples of such
Life in the world

Such arguments suggest that God™s value lies in underwriting,
orienting, and energizing our moral projects; they thereby instru-
mentalize what should be ultimate. But providence fundamentally
transforms our ˜˜moral™™ projects, and God will change us radically
in ways we, before the eschaton, cannot foresee. Our understanding
of the relation between prudence and providence must be trans-
¬gured. True prudence is a deeply theologically informed approach
to valuing and inhabiting our existence, one that is properly char-
acterized by the phrase ˜˜using the world.™™
Understanding the anthropological, theological, and ontological
implications of this phrase is the task of this chapter. The use-
paradigm recognizes that our desires are not fully satis¬ed by any
assemblage of worldly goods. Those who wish to contain prudence
wholly within ˜˜worldly™™ interests cannot do so, because real pru-
dence tells, against them, of the illimitable nature of our desires.
Nonetheless, this use-paradigm is not hostile to or dismissive of the
world, for it sees the world itself as an expression of God, the
medium through which we encounter God. It is not so much self-
centered as self-subverting: in approaching the world in this way,
we ¬nd that we do not so much use the world as discover that God is
using the world, and us in it, for purposes which we only glimpse
short of the eschaton. This use-paradigm implies a surprisingly
powerful and theologically insightful vision of life in the world, a
vision that we can yet inhabit. A new version of the tradition of
Augustinian religious asceticism reveals and in turn relies on a
powerful, and attractive, ontology which we would do well to
recover. The chapter ¬rst abstractly sketches the crucial ontological
claims of this picture. It then describes the meaning of Augustine™s
language of ˜˜use™™ and ˜˜enjoyment.™™ Finally, it explores how this
use-paradigm re¬‚ects a general theological ethic, a general account
of how to understand ˜˜life in the world™™ as life lived when ˜˜the
world™™ is properly understood as Creation.

From scarcity to gratuity: an Augustinian ontology
of creation
We begin from the idea that the basic ontological fact for
Augustine is that creation is a work of love, and shows the marks
of love “ so much so that love is itself the fundamental ontological
80 A Theology of Public Life

truth about creation.7 Augustine™s profoundly dynamic picture of
love connects our ˜˜worldly™™ activities to our putatively ˜˜other
worldly™™ concerns. His account of love is dynamic in two direc-
tions. To be worldly, we ¬nd we must raise issues that are properly
theological, while our theological interests are always cashed out in
worldly ways. And both of these dynamics, drawing ˜˜worldly™™ and
˜˜otherworldly™™ concerns together, are rooted in the Augustinian
analysis and diagnosis, simultaneously psychological and ontolo-
gical, of the variety of human loves that should be properly
ordered according to caritas, the principal and root love of the soul
for God.
It is precisely on this issue “ the true nature and proper reor-
ientation of the self™s loves “ that many critics think the Augusti-
nian account is deeply ¬‚awed. Such critics accuse Augustinians of
so ¬xating on the self™s salvation that everything else is instru-
mentalized for the sake of the self. Typically they stop at the psy-
chological picture Augustinians propose; but the basic objection is
really to the account of creation from which this psychology
springs. The critics charge that this Augustinian psychology and
ontology of love attempts to serve two masters at once “ namely,
the local, particular, immanent attachments we have to worldly
things, and the universal and transcendent attachment we sup-
posedly have to God. They worry that these two objects of love
inevitably come to oppose one another, and that the worldly loves
inevitably lose.8
This worry is typically directed at the use-paradigm.9 There are
two aspects to this charge. The ¬rst, more easily dealt with, is the
claim that the eudaimonist ethic implied in the use-paradigm ulti-
mately instrumentalizes all of material reality including other
people for the pursuit of an immaterial “ and typically for the
critics, at least less real “ end, rendering genuine relationships
impossible. The second, and more dif¬cult, is the claim that
Augustine™s use of this distinction instrumentalizes even the divine
for the self™s own ends. But in fact the real issue is ontology “ the
nature of Creation itself “ and so ¬nally we must address that.

7. The sketch here offered has many af¬nities with Davies 2004.
8. See Nygren 1957; for a response, see Burnaby 1938 and 1970.
9. See O™Connor 1983.
Life in the world

Love as dynamic from psychology to ontology
The accusation that eudaimonism leads inexorably to global
instrumentalism is simply the suspicion that the distinction
between use and enjoyment, once put in play, swiftly transforms
genuine concern for the other into rapacious self-interest. But
Augustinians can challenge this accusation, on both anthro-
pological and ontological grounds.
Speaking anthropologically, they can challenge the picture of the
self the accusation assumes “ a picture which grants the self a sort of
absolute Cartesian self-subsistence in which it is not genuinely
involved with anything outside of itself. To the contrary, as Chapter 1
argued, Augustinians insist that we exist necessarily in a world: we
are ˜˜hard-wired,™™ so to speak, with other-regard, and our abandon-
ment of others harms us more immediately than it harms others.
Our condition as so hard-wired is best seen through appreciating
the central place Augustine™s psychology reserves for the concept of
love. Love (amor) is the ˜˜root™™ of the soul, and when the soul is
properly oriented in the love that is caritas, it is a unifying force,
equally for our own self-integrity, our relationship with God, and our
relationship with our neighbor.10 In loving rightly, one becomes an
instrument of God, a vehicle for God™s love of the world. How this is
manifest differs as regards objects and humans. As regards objects,
one discovers that caritas entails that one treat them not as one™s
proper possession but as fundamentally part of God™s natural order;
hence one is called to respect their integrity and essential autonomy
from one™s own self-interest. (This does not mean never intervening
in non-human nature, or treating all of creation as ˜˜wilderness,™™ for
some parts of the non-human world require our intimate involve-
ment, in stewardship and shepherding.11) As regards people, one
discovers that caritas is community-building: as this energy directs
the self toward conversion back to God, it also urges the self to seek
communion with others. Nor is such caritas-funded respect really a

10. See in Io. ep 1.12; 10.10. Theologically speaking, not only is God™s love for us prior
to our love for God, but when we love, there is a ˜˜mutual indwelling,™™ we in
God and God in us. See in Io. ep., 7.6“7; 8.14.
11. Too often some sort of human/nature divide is implied in ecology; for
stimulating challenges to this, see Cronon 1995 and Milbank 1997: 257“67. I
thank Willis Jenkins for conversations on these matters.
82 A Theology of Public Life

form of violence, for it puts no pressure on us to be intolerant of
others™ difference from us; we love others in friendship and treat
them as we would God (in Io. ep. 8.5). But this is not simply a new
technique for political life; Augustine aims for an affective revolution
which would trans¬gure politics. When Augustine says, ˜˜Love and
do what you will,™™ he does not mean ˜˜Do what you will, insofar as
that ˜you™ designates the you that you were before love reoriented
your affections™™ rather, love has so transformed you that you now
behave in a new way (in Io. ep. 7.8).
The egocentric perspective may be where we start from in this
fallen life, and we may be generally teleological in our behavior; but
proper attention to our most basic desires reveals to us that many of
those most basic desires implicate us in reciprocal relations with
realities outside ourselves.12 While we are entrusted with the care of
ourselves in a special way, not only are genuine self-concern and
genuine other-regard compatible, but the former even requires the
latter. For Augustine, the self loves both the neighbor and God,
though the two cannot be loved apart from each other. In fact
neighbor-love is given existential precedence for us today, because it
is more concrete, palpably demanding, and less readily susceptible to
self-deception; hence ˜˜in loving the brother whom you see, you will
be loving God at the same time.™™13 The relative independence of
humans as legitimate subjects of proximately ¬nal worthiness is
ensured, for Augustine, by Christ™s injunction that the greatest of the
commandments is to love God, and the second greatest is to love one™s
neighbor as oneself.

Ontology and confession
The anthropological response to the skeptical accusations
about eudaimonism is not the only one. There is an ontological
response as well, one that rejects the idea that love is a zero-sum

12. This is how I read Augustine™s discussion of the necessary theological and
anthropological presuppositions of ˜˜Love™™ in de Trin. 8. The most famous form
of this argument is that of Bishop Butler: ˜˜Love of our neighbor would teach us
thus to appropriate to ourselves his good and welfare, to consider ourselves as
having a real share in his happiness™™ (1983: 59). I thank Eric Gregory for
conversations regarding this.
13. See also de Trin. 8.8.12 and ad Gal. 45. For a relentlessly developed account of
this, see Canning 1993, esp. 420: ˜˜Turning to the neighbor forms such an
integral part of human turning to God that the latter may be de¬ned by it.™™
Life in the world

game “ that our ˜˜reserves™™ of love are ¬nite and must be carefully
marshalled, like water in a drought.14 But this is a misperception.
The world is love because God is love; hence, by loving through God,
we love ourselves and all creation most perfectly (ep. 140.21.53“8).
This is not simply romantic praise of reality; it has implications for
the nature of reality itself: the universe we inhabit is not ¬nally
¬nite in the way that classical thinkers held, and our inhabitation of
it is not ¬nally a matter of knowing one™s place, of ¬tting into a slot
in the ¬nite bureaucracy of natural categories. The real problem
with our loves “ their perversion towards worldly things “ is not at
its heart a problem of love™s quantity, but of love™s quality, so to
speak, love™s ordering. Our fundamental problem is not scarcity but
excess, the excess of emotion and passion, of violence and desire, of
goods and evils. The problem is not that we have too little; it is that
we have too much “ too much desire to be satis¬ed, too many things
to love. These excesses readily attach (and attach us) to wrong causes
and false gods. In contrast to the classical ideal of the wisely (and
wearily) prudential sage, his exemplum of the actor in public life is
that of the judge, the ˜˜public servant™™ torn by the excesses he must
confront “ excesses of wants and needs, of violence and desires, of
goods and evils. For Augustine the fundamental dif¬culty we face is
not how to make the most of a diminished thing, but rather how to
respond to the gratuities visited upon us in a world where axiolo-
gical mercantilism no longer applies, if ever it did.
This plenitude is not simply a fact about creation but is rooted in
the nature of God, for Augustine; particularly in the dialectical
character of God™s transcendence and immanence, the participatory
yet monarchial ontology that this dialectic entails, and the way this
dialectic underlies and illuminates his understanding of love, par-
ticularly love as fundamentally excessive, of necessity gratuitous.
God is ˜˜the cause which causes and is not caused™™ “ the most real,
indeed perfect existence, in which all other realities, insofar as they
exist, have their being (DCD 5.9).15 God is both the absolutely

14. For a general suspicion of monotheism relying on such a vision of scarce goods,
see R. Schwartz 1997: x“xi. I thank Leora Batnitzky for calling my attention to
this work.
15. See further Gen. ad litt. 8.26: ˜˜Without any distance or measure of space, by His
immanent and transcendent power He is interior to all things because they are
all in Him.™™
84 A Theology of Public Life

transcendent source of all existence “ because God is immune from
the imperfections and mutations which mark all of our ˜˜this-
worldly™™ existence “ and yet (and yet therefore), the essentially
immanent presence of all existence “ because God is precisely the
life and truth by which we participate in, and know, existence. But
God is not captured within such realities, but always transcends
them; that is in part (negatively) what it means for God to
be in¬nite.
So all of reality is made by something, and lives from something,
that is ˜˜more™™ than that reality itself. Humanity in particular, by
being made in the imago Dei and made for communion with God, is
more than itself; and the more that it is, is love. A certain form of
love is what the self ¬nally is. Today, in our current sinful state of
grasping egoism, what this right love is “ what we essentially are “ is
not easily visible to us. But a way has been made available to us, in
Christ: we should love the world because God loves it, and in the
way that God loves it “ which is a depth of love so great that God
enters into the world in the person of the Son. But we must love the
world in God, by participating in God™s love of it. By participating in
God™s love of the world (and in particular in God™s love of the people
of the world) we come to know God; but ˜˜knowing God™™ here is not
just spectatorial observation and representation, but rather real
participation: we ˜˜know™™ precisely insofar as we manifest God™s
love, insofar as we become sacraments of it. (This is because all love
is God™s love, and in a way all love simply is God.) So the world is
love because God is love. Hence Augustine™s account of love, while
psychological, is also and at least equally ontological; it is a claim
about the nature of love itself, and by extension of the nature(s) of
what we love.
Because God is love, and loves creation with the sincerity of God™s
whole being, our ˜˜worldly™™ and ˜˜otherworldly™™ loves are not
autonomous, not even relatively so; re¬‚ection on one pole ineluct-
ably leads to the other. How does our love of the world lead to love
of God? Why can™t our worldly concerns stay merely mundane? The
Augustinian reply is straightforward, though it does not admit of
direct validation: they cannot stay mundane because we are not
simply mundane. Our loves are not simply loves of created goods;
we cannot ˜˜clip™™ our desires to restrict them to the purportedly
˜˜natural™™ world. The world simply does not satisfy all our desires.
Life in the world

They are as gratuitous as the rest of creation. This need not deni-
grate worldly things; it only acknowledges that, genuine goods
though they may be, they are not all we seek “ after all, happiness
and security, if one wishes to distinguish them, are not the sorts of
things we can purchase (no matter what advertisements say).
Indeed, this account offers a more humane vision of worldly goods,
as it reminds us that we ought to avoid an attitude of overvaluing
them, which will lead inevitably to our being disappointed by them.
His command that we use the world is not fundamentally about
how we should act towards other things, but rather about what
effect we should expect other things to have on us “ that we should
not expect them to do more than they were designed to do for us.
This is sound practical advice; material things are simply too frail to
do duty as adequate theological stand-ins, and to expect such per-
fection is a mark of moral immaturity. Accusations that Augustine is
a ˜˜misamorist™™ (e.g. Baier 1994) fail to see that he is not worried
merely that we could harm ourselves in loving others, but more
basically that we will harm them, expect too much from them, in
treating them as our ˜˜ultimate good™™ “ such treatment abuses their
¬nitude. Given this setting, we can try to change our desires, or
allow that their horizon extends beyond the world. Augustinians
opt for the latter course, and so aim proximately to use but not
enjoy the worldly goods. Hence worldly concerns, far from needing
to be made theological, always already are theological: care for the
world already is a mode of comportment which has as one of its
purposes the satisfaction of theological longings, however normally
misconstrued these longings (and their ˜˜satisfactions™™) may be.
All this means that ˜˜instrumentalizing™™ some things for the sake
of others is an inevitable fact of who we are as creatures “ creatures
who organize ourselves around, and orient ourselves by, axiological
˜˜navigation points.™™ For Augustine our ˜˜use™™ of worldly things is
inevitable; what can change is simply the use to which we put them.
Everyone worships some ˜˜god,™™ some central axiological value
around which they organize their lives, and for which they instru-
mentalize other things, aims, and, at times, even people. One
cannot not love: as Augustine put it, ˜˜there is no one who does not
love; but he asks what he should love. Therefore I do not exhort you
not to love, but to choose what we should love™™ (sermo 34.2). We
ought to try not to suppress our affections, but to reorient them. The
86 A Theology of Public Life

contrast between ˜˜enjoy™™ and ˜˜use™™ does not distinguish what
should be loved from what should not be loved; it is rather a contrast
in how one should value things. As Rowan Williams put it, ˜˜The
language of uti is designed to warn against an attitude towards
any future person or object that terminates their meaning in their
capacity to satisfy my desire, that treats them as the end of desire,
conceiving my meaning in terms of them and theirs in terms of me™™
(1989b: 140). The use-proposal urges us, not to instrumentalize the
neighbor, but to value all things for their real worth “ as God values
them, in love. Augustine is not Kant™s sap; his use of ˜˜use™™ is not
most fundamentally a prescription to treat all things as means, but a
proscription, forbidding us to expect things to be God, and forbid-
ding us from acting as if we deserved from them some sort of ulti-
mate happiness.
Yet not only are even our worldly concerns inevitably theological;
Augustine™s theology “ understood as a practice of imitatio Dei (as the
mode of participatio Dei) “ is equally worldly, concerned with the
right order and valuation of the world. His God is not the deistically
indifferent and static watchmaker, but is rather a triune God whose
inner being is always already in dynamic relation, and whose rela-
tionship to the world is one of life-giving immanent empowerment
(as well as transcendent sovereignty). If we come to know God
through our deepening inhabitation of love of our neighbors, the
converse is also true: we know our neighbors properly only insofar
as we know them in and through God, in and through God™s
knowing them. We know God through engagement with the world,
and we know the world through deepening engagement with God.
Far from being an essentially extrinsic superadditum to some pre-
sumptively wholly ˜˜natural™™ end, this participation in God, as grat-
uitous and ˜˜unnatural™™ as it seems, is our natural destiny. God has
decided to be ˜˜God-for-us,™™ and so we ultimately participate in that
gratuitous love; and in this world, we turn to God, we are converted
to amor Dei, through loving our neighbors. (Recall here Augustine™s
insistence that neighbor-love can give determinate shape to love of
God.) If our worldly involvements press us to confront the root
source of our love, our caritas, that re¬‚ection in turn forces us to
confront the givens of our attachments and affections. The world
turns out on Augustinian grounds to be not just the inert arena of
our salvation, but also a dynamic partner with us in working that
Life in the world

salvation out. Augustine™s two dynamics, that is, force the human to
be worldly and otherworldly simultaneously, because we are natur-
ally ˜˜supernatural.™™
How can love guide life in this world? How are we to enact love in
a world where love has no place to rest its head? Augustine™s answer
lies in the idea of the activity of confession, a double confession,
itself doubly doubled. This confession is double ¬rst of all in what it
is about: initially one™s sin, but also praise of God; secondly it is
double in its audience: both to God and to one™s fellow humans
(ennar. 138.1; in Io. ep. 1.6). The primordial theological activity of
confession, that is, is both profoundly private and public, psycho-
logical and political, ˜˜vertical™™ and ˜˜horizontal.™™ ˜˜Confession™™ here
does not mean what we typically take it to mean; it is not funda-
mentally an exhibitionism, that desperate (and violent) stand-in for
openness which is manifest so pathetically on TV talk shows. It is
not fundamentally about the communication of autobiographical
data; it is more an orientation, an awareness of and openness to the
others surrounding oneself “ an openness to transforming, and
being transformed by, them. In it we ¬nd ourselves decentered, we
¬nd that we are no longer the main object of our purposes, but
participate in something not primarily our own. This confession,
then, is itself a turning to the other, not in the interests of mutual
narcissism “ which makes the other only a consolation prize for
having to be already ourselves “ but as an openness to transforming,
and being transformed by, the other.
There is no security in this. But none should be anticipated, or
even hoped for, in this life. Our hopes must anticipate a transcen-
dental satisfaction, and we should seek to be ˜˜trained by longing™™
for the end (in Io. ep. 4.6). But this training takes place here, and we
cannot escape it, or the conditions of this journey, before our
Contrary to common suspicions, then, Augustine™s project is not
world-denying but world-af¬rming; it simply af¬rms more than the
˜˜material™™ world. So understood, his proposal helps us resist the

16. This is the root of Augustine™s criticism of Donatism. For him, the heresy of the
Donatists is that they assume a dualism between world and God and seek to
abandon the world; against this Augustine replies, ˜˜Were there no saints in the
world at large? Was it right for you to condemn them unheard?™™ In Io. ep.
88 A Theology of Public Life

various reductionist materialisms so powerful today, for it acknowl-
edges that our ends transcend any worldly satisfaction, but are
revealed through our worldly loves to stretch towards a transcendent
God who is present in, but not exhausted by, creation.

Right ˜˜use™™: towards an Augustinian materialism
Now that we have sketched the fundamental ontology and
dynamics of Augustine™s caritas, we must articulate how this account
plays out practically in human existence. The language of ˜˜use™™
turns out to be the proper form for love™s practical expression. How
does this language do this without fundamentally instrumentalizing
the world? Here I argue ¬rst that, in context, Augustine™s use-para-
digm is a way of af¬rming the value of the world, and second that
this paradigm should eventuate in practices of using that are all
forms of stewardship of creation.

Augustine™s use of ˜˜use™™
Augustine uses the rhetoric of ˜˜use™™ to detail and promote the
fundamental mode of comportment that he favors for our worldly
existence. The use-paradigm was his attempt to formulate, against
the opposition both of the asceticism then popular in elite Christian
circles and of the puritanical conservativism prevalent among cul-
tured pagans, a distinctly Christian rationale for apprehending and
rightly valuing the world. It attempts to show how we can af¬rm the
goodness of the created order as created, without treating it as an
ultimate good.
Part of our failure to understand Augustine is due to semantic
changes: his word utor, which we translate as ˜˜to use,™™ is as John
Rist notes a standard ˜˜Latin locution “ found also in earlier English,
e.g. ˜He used him well™ “ indicating how people are to be ˜treated™;
the notion of exploitation is not to be read into it™™ (1994: 163“4).17 It
no longer has that ¬‚exibility in most modern languages. Beyond
language dif¬culties, however, we also fail to appreciate how his
philosophical theology complicates his practical proposal some-
what. The dialectic of divine immanence and divine transcendence

17. See also de Trin. 10.17.
Life in the world

so basic to his theology and ontology gives the charges of dualism
their super¬cial credibility, yet also forbids dualism any genuine
place in the schema. It underlies and connects the various terms
Augustinians use to describe sin, and gives that language its illu-
minative, analytic, and practical power. That dialectic serves as the
metaphysical link between the basically theological language of
˜˜sin as idolatry™™ and the initially therapeutic language of ˜˜sin as
disordered loves™™: disordered loves are essentially idolatrous, for
they cause us to worship an idol of our own making as God, and
idolatry is necessarily a matter of disordered loves, for it calls us to
love and worship some partial end as the source of our true ful¬ll-
ment. God™s immanence thus serves to remind us of the enormous
impiety of any ontological favoritism of some segment of creation
over another. But if God is in all things, God is not simply the sum of
all things, not identical with creation as a whole; God™s transcend-
ence means that to worship all things as God is to miss the point
just as egregiously. It is dangerous to say that God is somewhere in
particular, but it can be just as dangerous to say that God is every-
where, or nowhere. The dialectic of transcendence and immanence
serves as a critical tool against all forms of idolatry, both those that
implant God too immanently within the world, and those that
remove God too transcendently from it.
Furthermore, Augustine™s texts are always shaped by deeply felt
practical and pastoral purposes; doctrine is made for humans, not
humans for doctrine. The rhetoric of Augustine™s call for us to love
God even to the contempt of the world is, in this light, a rhetorical
aid to help change our order of loves, grounded on his conviction
that this conversion will occur only by transforming our desperate
attempts to rest in and on things of this world.18 The use-paradigm
in general, and particularly his more extreme formulations of it
(such as his language of contemptus mundi and contemptus sui), often
tempt people to think that he locates the problem ¬nally in the
objects of our loves; but Augustine treats each of these errors as
formally identical manifestations of idolatry. The real problem with
each form of sin is not the disparate objects, but the sort of love they
express towards these objects. The worry here is more dispositional

18. A strategy employed elsewhere as well; see Calvin™s Institutes, II.viii.54, on
the role of ˜˜love of neighbor™™ as using our self-love against ourselves.
90 A Theology of Public Life

than metaphysical: Augustine does not want us not to love the
world, but rather to change how we love it, as a whole and in its
component parts.19
Such an af¬rmation of the world was almost unheard of in
Augustine™s day. His era has been called, not without reason, an ˜˜age
of anxiety™™; while it is hard to establish any psychological pessimism
intrinsic to the era, the rhetorical forms of the age tended to encour-
age expressions of a fundamentally negative assessment of worldly
existence “ and this rhetoric in all likelihood had an effect on, if not
an origin in, the consciousness of individual thinkers. Yet despite
these larger cultural (and even perhaps ecclesial) tendencies, Augustine
became ˜˜ever more deeply convinced that human beings had been
created to embrace the material world™™ (P. Brown 1988: 425; see also
R.Williams 1994). His position grew like a pearl around his central,
granular insight: we are part of the world, and we are in a way the
vehicles of God™s love for the world, vessels of the world™s redemp-
tion, just as we were the engines of its corruption. No straightforward
dualism “ neither the Manichees™ evasion of responsibility, nor the
Pelagians™ furiously juridical moralism “ would do. The world is not
ultimately the problem; we are. Indeed, for him, dualism is simply
one more form of escapism; the use-paradigm helps us resist all
escapisms and insists instead on the necessity of our engagement
with the world. His proposal of the use-paradigm was meant rhet-
orically, not to restrict his contemporaries™ participation in the phy-
sical world, but to urge them towards such participation, against their
temptations at recoil from it “ to ¬‚ush them out of their safe caves
(and, if not down from their ivory towers, off of their marble stelai)
back out into the world. In terms of marriage and human sexuality,
in terms of the Christian™s responsibilities towards the civic order, in
terms of the mixed nature of the church “ in case after case after case,
Augustine encouraged Christians to move towards deeper commit-
ment to ˜˜worldly™™ affairs, and to distinguish themselves from those
who would seek to escape this condition.
Thus the use-paradigm does not disallow love of the world; it simply
attempts to advise us how best to inhabit that altogether appropriate
love. But what does that advice come to? That is what we turn to next.

19. See R. Williams 1989a: 11.
20. See Markus 1990b.
Life in the world

Practices of using
So Augustine thought that our worldly attachments were of
soteriological import. But we must not hear in this a semi-Pelagian
proposal of a salvi¬c technology, as if we can choose to do this. We
do not do the changing; we are changed, by God, and made vessels
of caritas, which we should have been all along. Augustine wants us
to understand ourselves as suffering our ongoing transformation by
God of all of our various loves into an integral framework anchored
in amor Dei. To elucidate this idea, this section discusses two facets
of this transformation: how we should understand ˜˜possession,™™
and how we should understand disposession, or giving away. Both
of these practices re¬‚ect Augustine™s broader theological depiction
of our problem in terms of gratuity rather than scarcity.
As regards possessive use of objects, the ¬rst thing to note is that
˜˜using™™ objects does not mean treating them as fundamentally
disposable. To use something does not mean not to love it, for some
things that are to be used are also to be loved, albeit not all things.
Nor need use and enjoyment be sequential, so that humans would
˜˜use™™ now and defer enjoyment for later. God™s transcendent pres-
ence is not temporally teleological (in any straightforward sense, at
least). We do not use and then enjoy; we must enjoy God now,
simultaneously with using God™s creation. One may well ˜˜use™™
objects properly by treasuring them, by respecting their autonomy
from one™s own particular interests; we respect the mundane
goodness of things as they are separate from us, as they are in God.
This is more apparent in aesthetics than in ethics.21 In so treas-
uring objects “ whether pieces of art, or beloved books, or what
have you “ one ¬nds that their increased intrinsic value gives them
more autonomy. They are, so to speak, less yours, less an extension
of your ego, and more themselves, the more you love them. Value
over¬‚ows your own subjective grasping of things, and inheres in the
things themselves: you can love things so much, that is, that you
feel others must come to value them as well, that you must share
them with others. Art is not art unless it is displayed; the object is

21. As Iris Murdoch suggests, ˜˜virtue is au fond the same in the artist as in the good
man in that it is a sel¬‚ess attention to nature™™ (1970: 41; see also 86“91). Cf.
Soskice 1992, which provides a useful and provocative challenge to this
92 A Theology of Public Life

made more valuable by being communicated to others. Hence even
material goods can be gratuitously pleasurable: they need not
always imply a zero-sum system, in which the possession of a thing
by one forbids its possession by others.22 And what goes for material
goods goes too for immaterial ones; as Augustine says:
A man™s possession of goodness is in no way diminished by the
arrival, or the continuance, of a sharer in it; indeed, goodness is a
possession enjoyed more widely by the united affection of partners
in that possession in proportion to the harmony that exists among
them. In fact, anyone who refuses to enjoy this possession in
partnership will not enjoy it at all; and he will ¬nd that he possesses
it in ampler measure in proportion to his ability to love his partner
in it. (DCD 15.5)
In ˜˜possessing™™ things in this way “ a way which, again, entails
acknowledging their rightful autonomy “ one is already moving
towards understanding how we might undertake various practices
of giving.
This Christian attitude towards materiality as part of a larger
worldview, captured in the language of caritas, differed dramatically
from the alternatives available on its appearance, such as the pagan
Roman practice of euergetism, of giving elaborate parties for the
poor. Euergetism was a form of social capital for the Roman nobil-
ity, a way of showing their magnanimity, and thus was necessarily
tied to naming or knowing the giver, for their greater glory; Chris-
tian charity, in contrast, was exempli¬ed in (and idealized as)
anonymous giving, a giving whose aim was realized not in the
visible response of recipients or one™s peers but rather in the giving
(which was always a sharing) itself.23 For Christians the point of
caritas was the communal repetition and participation in God™s
gracious love of creation (through the Trinity).24 Giving is not so
much an act of the self as the self™s new mode of being.
Practically, speaking about non-human creation, the general form
of this behavior is stewardship: the cultivating and agapic care for

22. For more on Augustine on property, see MacQueen 1972 and T. Martin 2005. For
antecedents for such an ˜˜Augustinian materialism,™™ see Innes 1995.
23. Of course both euergetism and caritas are ideal types. See Veyne 1990: 19“34,
P. Brown 2002, 1992: 89“91, 96, and 1997: 30“1. For a general historical
overview, see Davis 1996. For Augustine in particular, see DCD 2.20; 5.15, and
Canning 1993: 420.
24. These rival visions of ˜˜glory™™ will appear again in Chapter 5 below.
Life in the world

things other than oneself, not on the grounds that such care is
ultimately what the self wants, but rather because it is what the
things as designed by God elicit from us. This stewardship is a form
of prudence “ a prudence that knows that the value of worldly
things lies not simply in their immanent literality but also in their
signi¬cance, in what they are for; a prudence that chooses therefore
not to hoard but to store up treasures in heaven. This prudence is a
quiet virtue, of self-effacing modesty, distinguished by the quality of
the attention it encourages to what is before you. It is a virtue that
cannot be given a useful abstract, theoretical formulation, but can
only be exhibited in practice.25
Yet a question still pesters us: Is such a ˜˜prudence™™ really poss-
ible? All of this may sound attractive, and even plausible, as a way of
managing our attachments to the world. But the image of control
folded into the idea of ˜˜managing™™ is precisely what many
(including, of course, Augustinians) ¬nd problematic about this
account. ˜˜Management™™ seems a way of cooling our passions until
they are lukewarm at best. But this is impossible, critics argue:
either the warmth of the attachments will decay ever further until
they end in cold indifference, or (or perhaps alongside this) the
attempt at management will fail to get at those passions which drive
us most deeply, and so contribute to our unknowing of ourselves.
Either way, managing our passions seems problematic as a strategy
for existence. We seem to be back with the problem of the Puritans,
seeking to domesticate what is essentially undomesticable. Any
such attempt at managing our loves will undermine their pro-
fundity as loves “ that is, as pathe, passions, things we suffer, things
which we cannot command. This is a general worry about any
˜˜theological ethic™™ “ the worry that, rhetorically at least, such
proposals simply offer us new technologies: devices which ulti-
mately retain the self™s sovereignty, leaving it in ¬nal control “ as
the serpent says, like God. How could prudence and providence
conceivably cohere?
To answer this question, we must recall that this Augustinian
materialism is not the most basic level of the theology. It is premised
on the right love of God and on the idea that our lives are found

25. For an example, see the discussion of Augustine™s own ˜˜prudential™™ exercise of
authority in Chapter 4 below.
94 A Theology of Public Life

ecstatically and exegetically in wondering inquiry into God. We turn
to that next.

Prudence and providence: inhabiting the
hermeneutics of caritas
This chapter ¬rst explored the ontological framework that
legitimates the perceptual change necessary to move from a picture
of reality as fundamentally ¬nite, with the basic problem being one
of scarcity, to a picture of reality as a superabundant plenitude, with
the basic problem being one of gratuity. Following this, the chapter
then detailed the practical contours of our response to this gratuity.
But we have not yet addressed the deep theological question of how
this response is not just one more way of managing reality rather
than a genuine way of participating in God™s work. We still may
think of ˜˜our™™ prudence as a polite though ultimately autonomous
response to God™s providence, rather than seeing it as the way we
participate in the rhythms of God™s providence. We have not yet
grasped the real inner connection between prudence and prov-
We grasp this by realizing that the logic of the use-paradigm shifts
from an ˜˜ethical™™ register to a ˜˜hermeneutical™™ and exegetical one “
or rather, that the inner logic of the ethical is revealed as having
been fundamentally exegetical all along. And it is at this point that
prudence and providence come together. For Augustine, the use-
paradigm is not ¬nally a freestanding ethical ˜˜technology of the
self™™ which he recommends for our autonomous projects of self-
formation; it is rather a description of the practical interpretive
framework which all people, whether they acknowledge it or not,
employ. Distinguishing between ˜˜use™™ and ˜˜enjoyment™™ is not most
fundamentally an ethical strategy, but rather an inescapable
anthropological-hermeneutical activity. The ethical enactment of
the use-paradigm is, for Augustine, simply (though not merely) our
manifestation of this interpretive framework in and through the
materiality of our lives. It is the way we come to inhabit the her-
meneutics of charity.
In arguing this, it will help brie¬‚y to explore Augustine™s most
elaborate discussion of the use-paradigm, found in de doctrina
Christiana. Here the use-paradigm is not most fundamentally
Life in the world

deployed ethically but exegetically, within the context of Augustine™s
account of doctrina “ a term referring not only to the content of what
is taught but also and more deeply to the process of learning itself “
and speci¬cally as the regulative framework for interpreting Scrip-
ture. More speci¬cally it gets deployed as a tool in the exegesis
which Augustine sees as the primary practice of faith. The project of
˜˜using™™ the world turns out to be our basic mode of comportment
in this life only because that comportment is more fundamentally
an act of interpretation, and to be more precise, an act of exegesis “
initially of the Bible, but fundamentally of the whole world,
revealing it to be what R. A. Markus calls a ˜˜cosmic text™™ (1996: 34;
see also Greer 1986). In this ¬nal section I want to sketch something
of the radical consequences of this fact through exploring brie¬‚y
the story of the Christian life as sketched in de doctrina.26

The nature of ˜˜Christian teaching™™
We begin by deconstructing the ˜˜received story™™ of de doctrina
Christiana. Typically the work is presented as a constitution, the
˜˜charter of Christian culture,™™ concerned essentially with the vali-
dation, systematization, and communication of a determinate and
closed set of doctrines by authenticated preachers to a passive
audience awaiting tutelage. On this account, the text is concerned
with two things: how to discover the doctrines, and then how to
preach what is discovered. We undertake the process of discovery
centrally by interpreting Scripture, guided by Augustine™s hermen-
eutical rules, discerning through its signs God™s purposes for us. We
then proceed to preach this, both by our lips and in our lives. Such is
de doctrina™s received story.
But some of the book™s elements reveal fractures in this story, and
if we attend to them more fully, a quite different picture appears.
First, Augustine™s techniques of exegesis are not wholly dis-
tinguished from his ecclesiology, his vision of the church. The Bible
is the central and primary text, but it is neither immediately nor
ultimately a necessary text; there are monks in the wilderness who

26. For more see Grif¬ths 1999, Bright 1999, Van Fleteren and Schnaubelt 2002,
Dawson 2002, Pollmann 1996, Turner 1995b, Young 1997. More generally, see
also Jacobs 2001a and 2001b.
96 A Theology of Public Life

have no access to the Bible but who are living holy lives (DDC
1.39.43). What matters is that we participate in the body of Christ,
and practice the rule of charity. This participation entails active
scriptural interpretation as well: exegesis is not essentially a special
spiritual performance of a cognitive elite, it is fundamentally a
practice of the whole church, both together and in its component
individuals. Indeed, the activity of exegesis is in a way just what the
church most fundamentally is.
Furthermore, the internal structure and external boundaries of
the church are profoundly unstable, and this complicates the top-
down ˜˜¬‚owchart™™ model of ecclesial-pedagogical management that
some seem to take the text to support. The practice of exegesis
involves all the possible readers in the church. Any interpretation
that can advance the rule of charity is legitimate, and so all believers
are properly full participants in the communal exploration of God™s
word: as Gerald Bruns puts it, ˜˜these mysteries, so far from being
incomprehensible to the many, are accessible to every sort of
understanding “ capable of being taken now in one sense, now in
another . . . The Scriptures are a public rather than a secret text; the
truth has been tempered to a plurality of understandings™™ (1984:
161). This is part of why Augustine af¬rms the church™s reality as
mixed; there are saints living outside the ecclesia, and there are
citizens of the earthly city present in the visible church.27 The body
of Christ is wounded at its side and is not now seamless. We may
say, then, that the community of interpreters is open both ˜˜hor-
izontally™™ “ to those outside it “ and ˜˜vertically™™ “ to all those
within it, no matter what their literacy.
Second, the practices and products of textual analysis, as we
usually understand it, are not the ultimate point of this herme-
neutics of caritas, in two ways. First of all, scriptural exegesis is not
understood as an algorithmic device for producing the right doc-
trinal formulae, or generating the ˜˜plain sense™™ of the text,
understood as a conversation-stopper. Many have noted that
Augustine™s exegesis is promiscuous, open to multiple readings and
endless allegory. But the purpose of this exegetical promiscuity is
not to showboat, or develop useful exegetical muscles; it is more

27. This is visible most famously in DCD but is also present in DDC and in his
general preaching against the Donatists, in in Io. ep.
Life in the world

fully to subvert the boundaries of text and world, to show how the
world is read through the text. Exegesis precedes ontology; indeed,
ontology is but a province of exegesis. As Rowan Williams says,
˜˜The sign-quality of the world is not to be trivialized into a mere
system of ciphers, puzzles that yield solutions, ¬xed material sym-
bols for a ¬xed immaterial object or set of objects™™ (1989b: 146).
Secondly, the interpretive endlessness thus recommended reveals
that the Bible is not read ultimately as a cryptogrammatical end in
itself; it is read to understand God™s plan for the world, and ulti-
mately as a vehicle for understanding God. ˜˜Learning from Scrip-
ture is a process “ not a triumphant moment of penetration and
mastery, but an extended play of invitation and exploration™™
(R. Williams 1989b: 142). In reading the ˜˜signs™™ and ˜˜things™™ of the
Bible, we discover that the history recorded therein is best under-
stood allegorically, as a language God speaks to us. Not only do we
read the signs to get at the things; we grasp the things when we
grasp them as signs “ we must understand them as things which
¬nally refer beyond themselves to something else.28 From this
Augustine draws the larger conclusion that the world itself is God™s
sign, God™s poem. We must come to see and understand the ˜˜sign-
character™™ of the world, its reality as fundamentally semiotic.
Nonetheless, Augustine is not quite aligned with contemporary
intertextual theological approaches. His hermeneutical playfulness
is not ¬nally frivolous or narcissistically con¬ned to textuality; it is
ontological in its ambitions, and eschatological in its orientation.
Augustine is sensitive to how the metaphor of ˜˜world as text™™ can
encourage a ˜˜resting in the book™™ without moving out from it into
the world. Again, Rowan Williams has it right: ˜˜Only when, by the
grace of Christ, we know that we live entirely in a world of signs are
we set free for the restlessness that is our destiny as rational creat-
ures™™ (1989b: 141). We should be suspicious of a too exclusive
attention to the ˜˜literal sense™™ of the Bible, and af¬rm not just the
validity but even the necessity of paraphrase. We should avoid what
R. A. Markus calls a ˜˜servitude to the literal™™ (1996: 23). Paraphrase is

28. I am indebted to Michael Cameron for enormously helpful conversations about
Augustine™s understandings of signs and things, and for a reading of selections
from his forthcoming book on Augustine™s ennar. On the sacramental and
textual character of the world in late antique thinking, see Conybeare
2000: 91“130.
98 A Theology of Public Life

not, in fact, a heresy; it is the life of the text. The ˜˜literal sense™™ is an
eschatological sense, and during the world a regulative sense “ one
that does not resolve problems so much as encourage us to discover
how our world and our time can be found intelligibly in the text.29
Insofar as it aims at extracting from the text a rather systematic
theological and doctrinal grammar, such a project is, ironically
enough, at once too instrumentalizing of the Bible (in the sense of
exploiting its texts for a thoroughly ¬xed a priori purpose) and not
instrumentalizing enough (in the sense of refusing to develop the
Bible beyond itself ). We must resist ˜˜carnal™™ or literal readings
which anxiously assume that we must be in charge, and that we
must achieve the right representation of understanding ˜˜inside™™
our heads. Such an aesthetic focus is premised upon a Cartesian
account of understanding as representation; but if, as Wittgenstein
said, understanding is most primordially ˜˜knowing how to go on,™™
the community as a whole undertakes ˜˜exegesis™™ of Scripture by
enacting the Scriptures in the everyday life of the church. Scripture
is not an aesthetic artifact to be admired; it is a workbook, and our
engagement with it is our entry into a broader mode of comport-
ment during the world. The ultimate aim is not to get the Bible
˜˜right™™ in some sort of representational manner, but to ¬nd ways to
use it.30
This gets us to the third and last major modi¬cation we must
make to the usual story of de doctrina Christiana. For if exegesis is not
¬nally a textual practice aimed at a right representation of the
Scriptures as an artifact, the nature of ˜˜preaching™™ in this setting is
also signi¬cantly different from what we usually take it to be. It is
not the top-down transferal of some propositionally determinate
semantic content from the preacher™s intellect to the audience™s,
like a memo; it is the attempt to exhibit, and to invite others more
fully to enter into, the ongoing communal activity of exploring the

29. See R. Williams 1991: 132 and Tanner 1987.
30. See Markus 1996. Gerald Bruns argues that the medieval analysis of the ˜˜four
senses of scripture™™ worked to contain and control exegesis, so that the
scholastics were opposed to ˜˜licentious interpretation,™™ and ˜˜medieval
hermeneutics appears to be less a method of polysemy than a critique of it™™
(1992: 140). In contrast, Mary Carruthers argues that the ˜˜levels™™ of exegesis are
best construed ˜˜as ˜stages™ of a continuous action.™™ See Carruthers 1992: 165.
For an interesting defense of allegorical reading in late antiquity, see
Lamberton 1986.
Life in the world

world as framed and illuminated by the Scriptures.31 As Augustine
says, a preacher™s life is her or his truest speech (DDC 4.29.61; see
also T. Martin 1998).
In light of these modi¬cations to the usual story, we can see that
de doctrina Christiana is not about the project of ˜˜¬guring out™™ how
to ¬nd and authorize some determinate set of doctrinal beliefs in
the Bible and then to impress them into the souls of a stupe¬ed
audience of rudes in the pews.32 Understandings of Augustine that
assume some such approach inevitably attribute to him some sort of
˜˜semiotic anxiety™™ (see Irvine 1994: 265“71). But what a modern
academic habitually sees as anxiety is simply, for Augustinians, the
life of the church. We must ˜˜think of interpretation on the model of
a social practice rather than as a certain type of mental operation™™
(Bruns 1984: 164), a practice whose aim is twofold. First of all, and
this admits (though only theoretically) of some real realization, the
community aims to train itself to come to see through the Bible™s
eyes “ to use the Scriptures as lenses, in Calvin™s phrase. De doctrina
Christiana is a theo-political ethnography of sorts, depicting a com-
munity of interpreters, working together in an ongoing and endless
process of interpreting Scripture as the key for understanding their
lives, and consequently bringing the wisdom gained existentially
thereby to the task of interpreting Scripture. The goal of this com-
munal enterprise is not the realization of some apocalyptically ¬nal
and stable complete ˜˜decryption™™ of the text, for such is not to be
had; we are too ¬nite and too ¬‚awed, and the text is in¬nitely rich.33
Rather, second, the church uses the Bible to discern God™s word
in the world “ or better, to discern the world as God™s word, as
sacramentum, theophanic, charged with divine signi¬cance. And the
emotion felt through this practice of discernment is not anxiety but
rather the intoxicating anticipatory hopefulness of the joy to come
in the eschaton. The fundamental liturgy of the church is this
practice of communally using Scripture as a device for transforming
vision, a tool to help us see and speak aright.

31. There is no need to understand this ˜˜understanding™™ as literally a ˜˜content.™™
See Bruns 1984: 162.
32. See Harmless 1995.
33. See Markus 1996.
100 A Theology of Public Life


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