Augustine’s Moulding of the Manichaean Idea of God in the Confessions

in Vigiliae Christianae
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The present study aims to ask whether Augustine utilised elements of Manichaean theology to give an account of and profile to the Nicene Christian doctrinal system. In the Confessions Augustine links his narrative of the encounter with the Manichaeans, right from the start, to an epistemologically grounded critique of their idea of God (conf. 3.10f.). Whereas the pagan myths can be assigned the function of referring to non-fictional and thus ‘true’ spheres of meaning, the motifs of Manichaean myth are empty forms (phantasmata) without any reference to reality, which they are supposed to explain. The paper argues that this anti-Manichaean critique of myth is the starting-point for a theory of knowledge of God which opposes the biblical imago dei to the Manichaean phantasmata and can thus be understood as having been conceptualised in opposition to Mani’s doctrine of God.

Augustine’s Moulding of the Manichaean Idea of God in the Confessions

in Vigiliae Christianae




On the food metaphors see above p. 537-538 with n. 25; cf. also 3.11 init.: Augustine was as it were a ‘prodigal son’ even “excluded from the husks” that he fed to the swine (i.e. the false gods). The metaphor is continued at the end of 3.11 with the motif of the “Woman Folly” of Pr 9:13-17 who leads passers-by astray with false food (cf. Io. ev. tr. 97.2f.); Augustine cannot solve the “riddle of Solomon” that is he does not realise that this concerns “illusions”. Points scored against the Manichaeans are seen here also by O’Donnell Commentary (as n. 26) 181-184; van Oort Confessiones (as n. 42) 16; D. Shanzer ‘Latent Narrative Patterns Allegorical Choices and Literary Unity in Augustine’s Confessions’ VChr 46 1992 40-56 esp. 44-46.


Cf. on this e.g. M.-A. Aris‘Intellectus’AL 3 2004-2010 652-657.


Thus C. Pietsch‘Imaginatio’AL 3 2004-2010 505f. A theory of the anagogic function of the images and mental ideas is first developed by Augustine in De Genesi ad litteram and in De trinitate where he defines the imago dei in the human spirit as the basis of knowledge of God; see on this R.A. Markus ‘Augustine. Sense and Imagination’ in: The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy 21970 repr. 1995 374-379; I. Bochet ‘Imago’ AL 3 2004-2010 511f. and 515-517; P. Cox Miller The Corporeal Imagination. Signifying the Holy in Late Ancient Christianity Philadelphia 2009 85-96.

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