I take great pleasure in responding to Han-luen Kantzer Komline’s Augustine on the Will: A Theological Account. Beyond our shared interest in Augustine, I have deep appreciation for Han-luen’s professional example and personal kindness. It is not surprising that the power of Han-luen’s clear, patient, and erudite theological mind has led her first monograph to receive such recognition as the Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise, not to mention the consideration of this Sapientia symposium.
In Augustine on the Will, Kantzer Komline effectively grounds Augustine’s developing theological account of the will in his gradually deepening encounter with Scripture. She brings methodological precision and analytic rigor to Augustine’s diffuse account of the will. Since effusive praise of Kantzer Komline’s work is not likely to generate productive theological conversation, let me offer a few questions intended to stimulate further reflection on the topics of economy, ecclesiology, and eschatology.
Whose Economy? On the Divine Physician’s Economy of Salvation
How does God’s therapeutic administration of the economy of salvation, termed for a time as the dispensatio temporalis, bear upon Augustine’s theologically differentiated account of the will?
Augustine had a rich notion of “economy” (dispositio, dispensatio) rooted in the Apostle Paul, the Christian tradition, and his rhetorical training. Generally speaking, he understood economy to refer to the order, arrangement, and historical enactment of God’s eternal plan for human salvation. Creation is God’s economic, well-arranged, and persuasive speech.See, e.g., Mark F. M. Clavier, Eloquent Wisdom: Delight in the Theology of Augustine of Hippo, Studia Traditionis Theologiae 17 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014). As the way to eternal fellowship with the Father (the goal), Augustine also takes Christ’s humanity—in life, death, resurrection, and ascension—to be God’s speech. In Christ, God reveals the arrangement of his eloquent speech in creation and in Scripture. It is through the prism of Christ’s cross that we can see God’s gift of creation as analogous to a well-ordered speech or book through which he has arranged to reveal and to give himself. In conjunction with the inner workings of grace, God arranges sensible things, historical events, and scriptural words to awaken our minds and reorient our hearts. God’s eloquent “speech-acts” are intended not only to inform but to persuade. Although God’s will is entirely efficacious and cannot be frustrated (for God knows his creatures perfectly), we invest divine expressions with false meanings and direct them towards unsavory ends apart from the grace by which faith is possible. It is by the blood of Christ that Wisdom speaks most persuasively, dismantling our creaturely attachments and opening up our intellectual recognition and affective gratitude for God’s loving mercy. As Kantzer Komline exhibits, Augustine derives his fourfold division of ante legem, sub lege, sub gratia, in pace from the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans to speak about the dramas of Scripture, salvation history, and the Christian life as containing four acts. These four acts form one way Augustine speaks about the order God has given to the economy of salvation. In other words, he takes from Scripture the ordered sequence of the economy, of how God is at work in history and human lives to bring human beings from the original state of goodness through their fallen state and to a life of graced willing that culminates in the peace of unending fellowship with God.
But Augustine believes that as free creatures, we also exhibit an openness, not unlike all of creation, to the continuing operation of God.
The economy offers a wider context for the stages into which Kantzer Komline argues Augustine’s account of the will is differentiated. God not only creates human beings with freedom of will, but also offers the grace of Christ and the Spirit by which we can proceed from before the law, through the law, into a life under grace, and unto eternal peace. As creatures, we stand in dependence upon God. In our freedom, we are able to turn away from God, desiring what is less than God and suffering the consequences of our disordered desire. But Augustine believes that as free creatures, we also exhibit an openness, not unlike all of creation, to the continuing operation of God. Here the heart of the question arises: What are we to make of God’s therapeutic providence as it is enacted in the economy? The economy of salvation can be viewed as the way God chooses to carry out his eternal plan by virtue of his therapeutic providence. In this economy, God is the divine physician at work in the world caring for human souls (cura animi), especially those he not only calls but also chooses. Perhaps Kantzer Komline’s lack of explicit engagement with this framework simply represents limitations of scope and the choice to focus instead on the agency of Christ and the Holy Spirit. But I wonder if there might be an underlying concern regarding recent assertions of the import of economy and psychagogy to Augustine’s theology.See, e.g., Michael Cameron, Christ Meets Me Everywhere: Augustine’s Early Figurative Exegesis, OSHT (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012); Paul R. Kolbet, Augustine and the Care of the Soul: Revising a Classical Ideal (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010).
What Ecclesiology? On the Whole Christ to which the Church Belongs
What is the role Augustine envisions for the church in the bestowal of a good will upon human beings by Christ the mediator?
As Kantzer Komline outlines, Augustine affirms in Against Julian 4.3.32–33 that Christ the mediator gives the grace by which God and human persons are reconciled and united (pp. 249–51). She also notes the significance of the “the whole church” praying together the Lord’s Prayer as the corporate context in which Christ transforms “members of Christ’s one body” to love and worship God and to be united in love with one another (p. 323). However, there is an apparent reluctance to connect Augustine’s conception of Christ’s mediation of grace to his notion of the “whole Christ” (totus Christus). Does the church to which Christ unites himself in a mystery (Eph 5:32), prefigured by the one flesh of Adam and Eve, have a role to play in Christ’s transformation of the human will that goes beyond it being the mere “context”? Certain readings of Augustine’s totus Christus concept blur the distinction between Christ and the church or authorize an upward (i.e., Pelagian) trajectory of participation.For an example of the former tendency, see David Vincent Meconi, The One Christ: St. Augustine’s Theology of Deification (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2013), 176. On the latter, see Jonathan D. Teubner, Prayer after Augustine: A Study in the Development of the Latin Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 67–78. My own view, however, is that Augustine himself maintains the distinction and articulates the Word’s downward assumption of human nature in Christ, which makes possible the union with Christ by which we eventually enjoy heavenly participation in God’s own life. In other words, the crucified Christ mediates salvation to those who enter his Body by the grace of Christ given in faith and the sacraments of the church so that they may participate in the risen Christ spiritually and then bodily. In any case, what role does Augustine’s conception of the church as Christ’s Body play in the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in transforming believers’ wills?
Let me provide an example downstream of this question to show how it becomes particularly interesting as it concerns the will. In response to questions from Boniface, a fellow Numidian Bishop, about the “mechanics” of infant baptism, Augustine elaborates his interpretation of baptism as a sacrament. In baptism, an infant is “reborn through the spiritual will of others,” by the “power” of the sacrament of “baptism unto salvation” and “in the holy joining together of the body of Christ.”Epistle 98.1 (CSEL 34.2: 520; trans. WSA II/1: 426, modified). Augustine recognizes that in the case of infant baptism, the wills of the sponsors, which are united in and by the Spirit, benefit the infant: The water externally presents the sacred sign of grace, and the Spirit internally produces the benefit of grace, removing the bond of sin and reconciling to God the good of nature; the two bring the human being who was born of Adam to rebirth in the one Christ. The Spirit, then, who brings the child to rebirth is shared in by the adults who present the child and by the little one who is presented and reborn. And so through this society formed by one and the same Spirit the will of the sponsors benefits the little one who is presented.Epistle 98.2 (CSEL 34.2: 521–22; trans. WSA II/1: 427).
The Spirit, in and through the water and the wills of the sponsors, produces the sacramental mystery that causes the rebirth by which the recipient is freed from sin and the devil, reconciled to God, and incorporated into Christ’s Body. In baptism, there is a union of the signum or res significans of the water with the res significata of the Spirit, but just as the Spirit would be united with the will of the adult recipient, in infant baptism the Spirit works conjointly with the wills of the sponsors. Does this mean that if the sponsors’ willing was deficient in some way the infant’s baptism would fail to mediate grace and incorporate the infant into the church? In the same letter, Augustine shifts the focal point to “the holy and undivided love” of the “universal society of the saints and believers” as the mother church who gives birth to all who are baptized.Epistle 98.5 (CSEL 34.2: 526; trans. WSA II/1, 429). Augustine reveals here his unique formulation of the societas Christi as the means of the Spirit communicating Christ’s work to those who become his members in baptism. The Holy Spirit operates not only in the water and the wills of the sponsors, but in the entire community of the faithful whose unified love communicates the grace of Christ to the infant, consecrating the infant for the life of faith that includes participation in the church and her sacraments and is consummated with entry into eternal life with God.
Which Eschatology? On an Eternal Life of Unsatisfied Satisfaction
What can Augustine’s reflections on the interplay of satisfaction and ongoing desire in eternal life teach us about the nature of the eschatological will?For Augustine, life with God is characterized by an ongoing desire for more. In a sermon preached in the Spring of 411, Augustine explains that life with God will have a liturgical shape such that “we are not going to slumber and do nothing . . . our whole activity will consist of Amen and Alleluia.” To ensure that his listeners understand what he means, Augustine clarifies that “it isn’t in fleeting sounds that we shall be saying Amen and Alleluia, but with the affection of the mind and heart.” In other words, “we shall of course be saying Amen, but with a kind of never satisfied satisfaction. Because there will be nothing lacking, you see, that’s why complete satisfaction; but because what is not lacking will always be giving delight, that’s why, if one can so put it, it will be an unsatisfied satisfaction.”Sermon 362.29 (PL 39: 1632–633; trans. WSA III/10: 265–66). Emphasis added. For Augustine, life with God is characterized by an ongoing desire for more. This desire is always met, yet always sought after, a co-mingling of fulfillment and desire.
In his continued study of the Psalms and in his On the Trinity, Augustine develops the dynamic of fulfillment and desire in eternal life with God by reference to Psalm 105:4: “seek the Lord and be strengthened, seek His face always.” In the first book of On the Trinity (1.3.5), Augustine cites this verse to signal that this work is concerned with our journey in this life (sub gratia) towards God, our homeland (patria). At the beginning of book nine, Augustine adduces the verse to chasten the self-congratulatory pride that leads people to think they have reached satiety in God. Early on in the final book, Augustine raises the question of what Psalm 105:4 has to teach us about the journey to God. In his answer, Augustine notes that God is an incomprehensible good that must be “both sought in order to be found and found in order to be sought,” “sought in order to be found all the more delightfully” and “found in order to be sought all the more avidly.”On the Trinity 15.2.2 (CCSL 50A: 461; trans. Hill, WSA I/5, 395–96). Put elsewhere in terms of the ardor of our everlasting love for God, Augustine declares, “let not the finding of the beloved put an end to the love-inspired search; but as love grows, so let the search for one already found become more intense.”Expositions of the Psalms 104.3 (CCSL 40:1537; trans. Boulding, WSA III/19, 186). What might it mean for the eschatological will that Augustine commends us to enjoy God enough to seek him evermore? In anticipation of this eschatological dynamism, I have enjoyed an unsatisfied satisfaction of Han-luen Kantzer Komline’s Augustine on the Will. Thus, I offer these questions as a satisfied expression of gratitude and an unsatiated request for further reflection.
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