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To Make An End Is To Make A Beginning

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To Make an End Is to Make a Beginning

The implicit reader assumed by my commentary on the *Confessions* must be a hardy soul. Learned, patient, willing to accept a fierce discipline in order to approach a venerable text whose mixture of readily accessible and infuriatingly remote passages invites alternately glib and uncomprehending readings. Somewhere between those readings lies the possibility of a reading at once more arduous and less plagued by spots of blank incomprehension. The years I spent writing this commentary were ones in which I struggled to achieve such a reading and to make it possible for others. I made a firm decision not to do the reading for others and then just present the results in some tidily wrapped package. There were already too many tidily wrapped packages offering such readings, and it was a wearisome business to distinguish the good ones from the bad. No, I thought, the time had come to stop coddling the reader with presents and turn her loose on the text with a new set of grappling hooks, meaning-extractors, and nuance-detectors.

But not every reader would be grateful. We have come to expect in our culture of the book that "classics" will be managed as user-friendly pleasure gardens, Disneylands of the mind, full of wonders, but demanding no serious thought and holding no real risks. To write a commentary of this sort was to thrust the reader out instead into a kind of wilderness survival training program. No one ever gets lost in Disneyland, but only a few get through wilderness survival training unscathed.

The choices I made in presenting this commentary were arguable in the extreme. Many would prefer Disneyland, while others will object vociferously to my characterization both of my own work and of the alternative forms I am so dismissivley rejecting. To them I would say only that the kind of reading I struggled for seemed worth the years of sometimes almost trance-like work I put into it, and still seems to me worth the effort for those readers willing to spend the time (now happily for them much less than I spent on the project) in a like manner.

The gender of a pronoun three paragraphs back suggests the *only* detail in which my learned reviewers whose work is printed in this volume fail to match my implicit reader, and it is a failing over which they had little control. In every other regard, Sheerin, Burns, and Lawless have trekked the wilderness valiantly, found their own bearings, and come back with readings of the text and commentary decidedly their own. I am grateful for their kind words, and more grateful for their criticisms and disagreements. I disagree with little they have said and will rather use the space generously offered me by the editor, in this and in many other ways a valued colleague through these years, to comment on a few of the most helpful points made by the reviewers and then to say a few words about the next tasks for readers of the *Confessions*.

The want of an apparatus criticus that Sheerin observes is a deliberate choice for two reasons: (1) the editions of Knцll, Skutella, and Verheijen all present successive refinements of what is essentially the same apparatus (the current reprinting of Skutella presenting the information in the most lucid and accurate form), hence repetition seemed nugatory in the absence of any serious prospect of expanding the base of manuscript evidence on which we depend; (2) given the depth of the commentary, it seemed better to incorporate all discussion of textual matters in the primary notes, and thus to reintegrate textual criticism with hermeneutics, a unity too often neglected in our time.

Patout Burns's observations about my philological blinders are just. This is partly the prudence of limited ability, partly an ideological choice. I confess that I side with the tradition of Courcelle in insisting on verbal links wherever possible, and find that the more expansive method of "pattern exegesis" practiced by Robert O'Connell, whose work Burns finds more valuable than I do, to be dangerously subjective. O'Connell's work remains highly controversial and I have had private communication from Augustinian scholars of standing rebuking me for paying it as much credit as I do. I will say that I have found his work everywhere stimulating if often infuriating, and I could not have read Augustine so well without him, but I cannot go very far in agreement with him; hence I have cited him less often even than perhaps he deserves. The debate over his theses can and should continue.

One one point I can underline agreement with Burns by further reference. I do indeed think that the paragraphs 17-22 of Book 7 mark an important stage in Augustine's development (and I think I say as much at vol. 1, p. xxxiii, and vol. 2, p. 435). Of the three questions that drove Augustine to Manicheism (3.6.10), one (the seemingly bad behavior of the Old Testament fathers) was resolved for him by Ambrose's sermons on the spirit and the letter, another (the question of God's body or bodilessness) was resolved in the first paragraphs of Book 7 before the reading of the *platonicorum libri*, and then the third, the origin of evil, is precisely what is resolved in those paragraphs 17-22 between the first attempted ascent and the second attempt, which I characterize as successful in Plotinian terms as Augustine understood them. The lingering disappointment that drives him to Paul, to the Incarnate Christ, and to Baptism, is not with an ascent that failed, but with one that succeeded and proved disappointing. On quiet nights I think I can hear the Augustine of this turning point in the text crooning softly the old Peggy Lee melody, "Is That All There Is to a Mystical Ascent?" Happily for Augustine, there was more, and Ostia (I have argued) is the place where he found it. On the place of *ordo* in A.'s thought, I have a fair amount to say in a note on 1.7.12, and here mark only that in the triad modus-species-ordo (which Augustine uses as a trinitarian image in the *de natura boni* shortly after *Conf.* and elsewhere), order is the distinguishing quality of that in the world that reflects the third person of the trinity, the dynamic force that sets all in motion, the animating goodness of the world; hence the place of *ordo* at just this point in the *Conf.* narrative is indeed as important as Burns suggests.

I come away from George Lawless's commentary on my essay in Augustinian literary biography chastened and curious. The judgment I uttered on the *de utilitate credendi* is one that I still hold: reasonable readers will differ; but when I find myself differing with Lawless, I mark down that I must return to the topic when the time is right and give it a thorough



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