The "de Ordine" of St. Augustine

Dissertation, Boston College (1999)
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Abstract

This dissertation labors to understand the meaning and order of the De ordine of St. Augustine. In doing so, it focuses on three cardinal hypotheses. ;First, that the De ordine is Augustine's response to a trilogy of philosophical dialogues by Cicero: On the Nature of the Gods, On Divination, and On Fate. Indeed, all of the Cassiciacum dialogues can be explained in this light. Augustine's Contra Academicos is a response to Cicero's Academica, and his De beata vita is a response to Cicero's Tusculan Disputations and On the Ends of Goods and Evils. The significance of this is that it not only leads to a reassessment of Augustine's relation to Cicero, but that it changes the parameters in which a number of controversies surrounding the Cassiciacum dialogues can be resolved. ;Second, that the dialogue aims at provoking an intellectual conversion in the reader every bit as much as it does at teaching something about order. Self-knowledge is, both literally and figuratively, the center of the De ordine. This knowledge, which presupposes a proper distinction between the sensible and the intelligible and which consists of knowing one's ability to know, enables one to catch a proper glimpse not only of the unity of the whole but of God Himself Understanding the centrality of self-knowledge in the De ordine also enables one to discern the tight unity undergirding what at first blush appears to be a meandering amalgam of various topics. ;Third, that the goal of initiating the reader into the path of self-knowledge explains not only Augustine's use of the dialogue genre, but his transformation of it Conspicuous among Augustine's modifications is the way in which the dialogue imitates what it describes. Of these mimetic characteristics, the theme of the "chain" is perhaps the most significant. Augustine refers to his dialogue as a chain and hints that it is imitating the "enchained" structure of being itself. If this is true, understanding the De ordine will enable one to understand the whole

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