Protreptic and paraenetic: perspectives on the transition in book 10 of Augustine’s Confessions

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The article forms part of a bigger project on the nature of exhortative texts as well as an endeavour to arrive at a nuanced description of the exhortative characteristics of Augustine’s Confessions. Here the focus is on the paraenetic characteristics discernible at the opening of book 10 of this work (10.1.1 to 10.4.6) and the contrast this represents with the preceding books of the Confessions, which may be regarded as primarily protreptic in character. The approach followed is situated within the theoretical framework of post-structural narratology and genre studies and highlights primarily the communicative purpose(s) and the intended audience(s) of the passages under consideration.

While authors like O’Donnell (1992:151) and Vaught (2006:27-8) also comment on the transition that takes place in the tenth book of the Confessions, the current study investigates how this transition may be described in terms of a swing towards a paraenetic communicative purpose and a focus on an insider audience of advanced Christians. The arguments about the paraenetic characteristics of the passage under consideration are based to a large extent on the authoritative Lund and Oslo definitions of paraenesis (Starr and Engberg-Pedersen 2004:3, 4).

The introduction to the article situates the current research against the background of a growing tendency to refer to the Confessions as a protreptic and motivates the focus on the opening chapters of book 10. This is followed by a short section on the theoretical presuppositions underpinning the research which includes a concise exposition of the broad definitions ofprotreptic and paraenetic used here in terms of communicative purpose and intended audience, and some explanatory remarks on each of the phrases. The third subsection of the article discusses the Lund and Oslo definitions of paraenetic and how these are applied to the analysis of Confessions 10.1.1 to 10.6.4.

Section 4 provides a concise discussion of the opening paragraph of the ninth book as well as the meditation on Psalm 4 in Confessions 9.4.7 to 9.4.11. This is designed to provide a perspective on Augustine’s presentation of his feelings immediately following the conversion described in book 8 as well as the protreptic communicative purpose and the Manichaean intended audience of the meditation on Psalm 4, in order to highlight the contrast with the opening of book 10.

The fifth section of the article constitutes the main arguments about the paraenetic characteristics of paragraphs 10.1.1 to 10.4.6. Subsection 5.1 is a discussion of the contrast between the opening of book 9 and that of book 10 and the changed emphasis of the author (now writing about a period roughly ten years later than that described in book 9) in book 10. Augustine’s narrative here places more emphasis on hope for the future and the continued struggle to live as a Christian in the meantime, and reflects a somewhat less optimistic attitude compared with the almost euphoric tone of the opening of book 9.

Subsection 5.2 investigates a number of remarks about the communicative purpose of the tenth book expressed in the opening paragraphs: the author requests his audience to praise God for any positives in his life and especially to pray for him in his ongoing struggle to live in the way he now expects of himself. He also makes explicit that his audience is supposed to read his life story with the purpose of examining their own lives and making an effort at self-improvement. The communication situation that may be reconstructed from what is said in 10.1.1 to 10.4.6 seems to reflect that described in the Lund and Oslo definitions as the typical communication situation of paraenetic discourse. While Augustine does not provide concrete advice about “practical (‘ethical’) issues of everyday life” (Starr and Engberg-Pedersen 2004:3) or about “moral practices” (Starr and Engberg-Pedersen 2004:4) per se, it can be said that an important communicative purpose implicitly expressed here is to strengthen the audience’s “commitment to … shared ideological convictions” (Starr and Engberg-Pedersen 2004:3) and that the rhetoric “does not anticipate disagreement” (Starr and Engberg-Pedersen 2004:4).

This leads to an exploration in subsection 5.3 of the relationship between speaker and intended audience that may be deduced from the opening paragraphs of book 10. On the one hand the narrator identifies with his audience by emphasising that he is involved in the same daily struggle to live the Christian life as they are, and does not seem to assume a position of authority. On the other hand there are indications that both author and audience would have taken for granted that he is, in fact, speaking from a position of authority, something the Lund definition posits as a key characteristic of paraenesis. An emphasis here, as in earlier books of the Confessions, on the fact that the narrator speaks the absolute truth before an all-knowing God and utters words instilled in him by the same God contributes to the authority with which he speaks. Augustine’s renown and the authority the audience would ascribe to his life story are also implicit in the remark that he has undertaken to write about his present state of mind in response to requests by friends and acquaintances as well as others who have only heard about his story. Offering his own story as an exemplum for the audience (an example for conversion in books 1 to 9 and an example for living the Christian life in books 10 to 13) certainly also presupposes a position of authority.

The last subsection (5.4) highlights the author’s repeated emphasis in the opening paragraphs of book 10 on the fact that he is now speaking to an audience of insiders, sharing his convictions about God and Catholic Christianity. First there is a renewed explicit indication that, in spite of the prayer stance maintained throughout the Confessions, a human audience is now foremost in the author’s mind and that this audience can trust Augustine’s version of his life story because their ears are opened by caritas. In 10.4.5 and 10.4.6 there is increasing insistence on the fact that the audience envisaged in book 10 consists of those who share the narrator’s worldview: they are repeatedly described with the adjective fraternus in 10.4.5. In 10.4.6 a series of phrases occur which point out that the confession is addressed to an intimate group of similarly minded individuals: “the sons of man who believe, those who partake of my joy, those who share in my mortality, my co-citizens, the travel-partners of my journey, both the ones who went before and those who will follow, and the companions of my life”. Following this, the phrases servi tui andfratres mei are used for the first time in the Confessions to refer to Augustine’s inner circle, the audience long regarded as the primary intended audience of the whole of the Confessions, but which I have argued are not the only, or even the primary, intended audience of the first nine books of the work.

The conclusion to the article reiterates my observation that in the Confessions, as in other exhortative works, protreptic and paraenetic communicative purposes occur within the same literary work; that an analysis of the Confessions based on the work of scholars of paraenetic literature may enhance our understanding of the transition that takes place in book 10 of this work as well as contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the exhortative characteristics of the work as a whole.

Keywords: Augustine, communicative purpose, Confessions, exhortative literature, fratres, intended audience, paraenetic, protreptic, protrepticus, servi dei.


Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Protreptiek en paranese: perspektiewe op die wending in boek 10 van Augustinus se Confessiones

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