Isaac the Syrian, also called Isaac of Nineveh, lived and wrote during “the golden age of Syriac Christian literature” in the seventh century. Cut off by language and politics from the Churches of the Roman Empire and branded “Nestorian,” the Church of the East produced in isolation a rich theological literature which is only now becoming known to outsiders. Yet over the centuries and in all parts of Christendom, Isaac’s works have been read and recommended as unquestionably orthodox.
This paper will explore why, when book 1 of De Doctrina Christiana is really about love, Augustine persisted in using the categories of signs and things, and use and enjoyment, even though they give rise to so many difficulties, and proved so inimical to what he actually wanted to say. It argues that, in fact, these classical categories are subverted and transformed by Augustine’s treatment of the double commandment of love of God and love of neighbour and his conviction that God can ultimately be known only by a ‘knowledge of the heart’- one which leads, not to an exercise of the intellect but to doxology or praise of the unknowable, ineffable God. It takes issue with recent trends in Augustine scholarship which, in examining Augustine’s debt to Stoicism, appear to have undermined his doctrine of grace and loving knowing.
Carol Harrison is Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, Christ Church
The power of words over minds has long been recognised: Plato and Socrates worried about it and the great Roman orator Cicero believed those who excelled in it should lead the Roman Republic. Indeed, the art of rhetoric has been considered something akin to sorcery—the ability of eloquent people to manipulate wills has been the object of admiration and of fear. Today, the same power can be seen at work in consumer culture, with its relentless shaping of people’s desires, their ideas of happiness and even their identities – all for profit.
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