Prayer after Augustine

A Study in the Development of the Latin Tradition

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Jonathan D. Teubner
Changing Paradigms in Historical and Systematic Theology
  • Oxford, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , March
     2018.
     272 pages.
     $85.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780198767176.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In Prayer after Augustine: A Study in the Development of the Latin Tradition, Jonathan Teubner treats readers not simply to an Augustinian theory of prayer but to an Augustinian tour through the halls of prayer in the centuries following Augustine. Teubner describes an Augustinian trajectory of prayer rather than a post-Augustine historical theology of prayer.

The book serves both historical and theoretical purposes. Teubner’s stated goal is simple: “to encourage philosophical, moral, and historical theologians to think about what it might mean that the ‘Augustinian tradition’ formed in a distinctively Augustinian fashion, and to consider how this affects how they use, discuss, and evaluate Augustine in their work” (1). This tour begins with Augustine as the original master and guides readers through the story of how the master influenced those who came after him. Specifically, Teubner adeptly analyzes the writings of Boethius and Benedict to discover how and in what ways they were influenced by the master. The “kinematics” of Augustinian prayer, according to Teubner, are demonstrated in the reception and the adaption of Augustine by the later Latin tradition. Hence, Teubner has produced a fascinating study of historical theology and provides fresh insight into the transmission of theological tradition. 

The book is made up of two parts, bookended with a “Theological Prelude” and an “Ethical Postlude.” In part 1, Teubner analyzes Augustine’s works about prayer. Chapter 1 is an exploration of the early works, including Soliloquia, De moribus, and De magistro. Teubner traces the development of Augustine’s thought on prayer as it evolves from a Platonic yearning for the ratio (“reason”) towards God to the confrontation of self “as a stranger in its own country” (49).

In chapter 2, Teubner assesses Augustine’s development of prayer as a rejection of immediate soul ascent and affirms an eschatological fulfillment of prayer that develops patience in the participant. Specifically arising from his work in De sermone Domini in monte, Augustine asserts that in prayer “one inevitably encounters the ontological difference between divinity and humanity” (61).

Chapter 3 further elaborates upon Augustine’s vision of prayer as that of purification by exploring the theme of totus Christus (“the total Christ”) as the “form of the Christian’s education into how to pray and live as the body of Christ in this world” (67). Teubner concentrates his energy in this chapter on the Enarrationes in Psalmos as well as the concept of induere (“to put on”) by identifying Augustine’s insistence of “putting on” Christ in order to appropriate the proper posture of prayer. This process produces a “grammar” for the Church by which those in Christ are able to “speak back” to God “through the voice of the totus Christus” (79).

Part 2 takes the Augustinian theology of prayer from part 1 and charts its influence within the writings of Boethius and St. Benedict. Teubner spends two chapters focusing on each person and their writings, exploring the traditions of what he calls “Augustinianism 1” and “Augustinianism 2.”

Of these monikers Teubner notes: “Augustinianism 1 refers to the citation, reference, and particular allusion to a writing from Augustine’s Pen. . . . Augustinianism 2 is the use of certain general orientations and constellations of thought from Augustine without necessarily sharing specific doctrinal positions” (15) Boethius was directly influenced by Augustine’s vision of prayer found in De trinitate and Ep. 130 (128). Boethius not only inherited Augustine’s understanding of prayer as desire and “reaffirming human finitude” (160) but also encourages readers to see how prayer “in some sense ‘completes’ the argument and drama of the Consolation” (147). Benedict inhabits Augustinianism 1, according to Teubner, by picking up on Augustine’s totus Christus in order to promote monastic unity. His Augustinianism 2 is best seen in the “Christification of fraternal relations in the life of prayer” (207)

This work is historical theology at its finest. Teubner masterfully leads readers through the course of appropriation and development of Augustine’s thought on prayer. Not only does he deal artfully with the primary sources of Augustine, Boethius, and Benedict, but he provides a thoughtful analysis of Augustinian appropriation for modern historical theologians via his “Ethical Postlude.” In this postlude, Teubner provides the proverbial icing on the cake with an engagement of the place of tradition within modernity, as critiqued by Alistair MacIntyre and Jeffrey Stout. Teubner finds their analysis lacking in accounting for the role of tradition in understanding development. Teubner thus provides a “reconstellation” of Augustine and the Augustinian traditions that followed. Indeed, Teubner has aptly shown how Augustine and those who patterned themselves after him can guide us to see a more complete constellation of prayer. In so doing, we can come to better understand the dynamic nature of tradition.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Coleman M. Ford is Director of Professional Doctoral Studies and Assistant Professor of Christian Formation at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and L.R. Scarborough College.

Date of Review: 
July 30, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jonathan D. Teubner is Fernand Braudel Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

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