The Fall of the Soul in Book Two of Augustine’s Confessions

in Vigiliae Christianae
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The purpose of the paper is to show a mutual interaction of Platonic and Christian ideas in the pear theft narrative from Book Two of the Confessions. Augustine is provocatively questioning the Platonic theory of good, evil, and love by suggesting that in the theft he loved evil itself. He is considering three possible explanations, but is not fully content with any of them. Not having any better theory than the Platonic one, Augustine is suggesting that moral evil is completely beyond understanding. What is new in Augustine’s provocative analysis is placing the irrationality and incomprehensibility of moral evil in the context of the “I-Thou” relationship of the soul with God.

The Fall of the Soul in Book Two of Augustine’s Confessions

in Vigiliae Christianae




For summaries see E. Kevane‘Christian Philosophy: the Intellectual Side of Augustine’s Conversion’Augustinian Studies 17 (1986) 49-83 and R. Crouse ‘Paucis mutatis verbis: St. Augustine’s Platonism’ in R. Dodaro G. Lawless (eds.) Augustine and His Critics: Essays in Honour of Gerald Bonner (London – New York 2000) 37-50. Cf. also R. Sorabji Time Creation and the Continuum: Theories in Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Ithaca 1986) 163-73; J.J. McEvoy ‘Neoplatonism and Christianity: Influence Syncretism or Discernment?’ in T. Finan V. Twomey (eds.) The Relationship between Neoplatonism and Christianity (Dublin 1992) 155-70; P. Cary Augustine’s Invention of the Inner Self. The Legacy of a Christian Platonist (Oxford 2000) 45-60; C.G. Vaught Encounters with God in Augustine’s Confessions (Albany 2004) 37-42; B. Dobell Augustine’s Intellectual Conversion: the Journey from Platonism to Christianity (Cambridge 2009).


Cf. BlumenthalPlotinus’ Psychology5.


RistPlotinus120. Cf. also J.N. Deck Nature Contemplation and the One. A Study in the Philosophy of Plotinus (Toronto 1967) 34-42.


O’BrienThéodicée Plotinienne48. Cf. also D. O’Brien ‘Plotinus on Matter and Evil’ in L.P. Gerson (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Plotinus (Cambridge 1996) 185-7.


Cf. R.D. Williams‘Good For Nothing? Augustine On Creation’Augustinian Studies 25 (1994) 11.


J. Wetzel‘Splendid Vices and Secular Virtues: Variations on Milbank’s Augustine’Journal of Religious Ethics 32 2 (2004) 276.


Cf. G.W. Schlabach‘Friendship As Adultery: Social Reality and Sexual Metaphor in Augustine’s Doctrine of Original Sin’Augustinian Studies 23 (1992) 130-34.


Cavadini‘Book Two’32-3.


Gaul‘Augustine on the Virtues’249.


L. Asher‘The Dangerous Fruit of Augustine’s Confessions’Journal of the American Academy of Religion 66 2 (1998) 247.


Cf. J.C. Cavadini‘The Darkest Enigma: Reconsidering the Self in Augustine’s Thought’Augustinian Studies 381 (2007) 119-123 and 128; J.P. Kenney ‘Confession and the Contemplative Self in Augustine’s Early Works’ Augustinian Studies 381 (2007) 135-7 and 146. About the role of pride in Augustine’s concept of sin see also W.M. Green Initium omnis peccati superbia: Augustine on Pride as the First Sin (Berkeley – Los Angeles 1949); Macqueen ‘Contemptus Dei’ 227-93; B. Kent ‘Augustine’s ethics’ in E. Stump N. Kretzmann (eds.) The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (Cambridge 2005) 217-20; S. MacDonald ‘Petit Larceny the Beginning of All Sin: Augustine’s Theft of the Pears’ in W.E. Mann (ed.) Augustine’s Confessions. Critical Essays (Lanham 2006) 45-69.


Cf. GreenInitium omnis peccati superbia413-6.


Cavadini‘Book Two’31.


Gaul‘Augustine’s on the Virtues’ 248-9; Asher ‘The Dangerous Fruit’ 238-9; MacDonald ‘Petit Larceny’62-3.


Cavadini‘Book Two’30.


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