Augustine and the Cure of Souls

Revising a Classical Ideal

Paul R. Kolbet

Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity

Augustine and the Cure of Souls situates Augustine within the ancient philosophical tradition of using words to order emotions. Paul Kolbet uncovers a profound continuity in Augustine’s thought, from his earliest pre-baptismal writings to his final acts as bishop, revealing a man deeply indebted to the Roman past and yet distinctly Christian. Rather than supplanting his classical learning, Augustine’s Christianity reinvigorated precisely those elements of Roman wisdom that he believed were slipping into decadence. In particular, Kolbet addresses the manner in which Augustine not only used classical rhetorical theory to express his theological vision, but also infused it with theological content.

This book offers a fresh reading of Augustine’s writings—particularly his numerous, though often neglected, sermons—and provides an illuminating point of entry into the great North African bishop’s life and thought.

Paul R. Kolbet is Lecturer in Early Christianity at Yale Divinity School and Co-Chair of the Augustine and Augustinianisms Group of the American Academy of Religion.

“For someone who does not know Augustine well this book will be an excellent introduction to his thought from an absolutely crucial viewpoint. Augustine’s preaching, teaching, and attempts to reach the minds and hearts of his congregation have been largely overlooked. This book has the great virtue of demonstrating why these were important.” — Carol Harrison, Durham University

“In this insightful and lucid study Kolbet leads his readers across the boundaries of ancient philosophy, psychology, rhetoric, and theology. He examines the ancient practice of the ‘cure of the soul’ and charts its Christian appropriation by Augustine. The volume offers its own medicinal promise—the reordering of our contemporary understanding of early Christianity and its complex association with classical culture.” — John Peter Kenney, St. Michael’s College

Reviews

“In Augustine and the Cure of Souls, Paul R. Kolbet . . . reminds us how deeply Augustine was shaped by the ancient world’s rhetorical tradition and shows how he both drew upon it and upended it in his long career of preaching Christ. . . . Because Kolbet’s concern is historical, we should not expect his Augustine to answer all of our questions. But as Kolbet has shown, Augustine has much more to say to us today than we might think. Augustine held that the best way to understand him was to observe his ministry in action, and by patiently doing so, Kolbet has done today’s ministers a great service.” — Christian Century

“By placing Augustine in his historical and personal context, the link between his thinking and actual life is made and his sermons are situated in the cultural, philosophical, theological and liturgical context of that period. . . . This study is a new and promising step in the very recent and blooming study of Augustine’s sermons.” — Louvain Journal of Theology and Canon Law

“This is a highly readable study on ‘Augustine’s reception of classical traditions of the cure of souls and his transformation of these classical traditions in his Christian rhetoric.’ . . . the book is an admirable presentation of Augustine’s developing thought and its relation to the classical culture in which he was educated, and brings together in an illuminating manner topics previously served less well by separate treatment. It is certainly a book to recommend to students of Augustine and to would-be catechists or preachers.” — Journal of Theological Studies

“Augustine and the Cure of Souls is a fine and thought-provoking book. Kolbet makes a persuasive case that Augustine’s pastoral theory and homiletical practice can be better understood when seen as part of a long line of development of the broad stream of Greco-Roman philosophico-rhetorical therapy and as a self-consciously Christian appropriation thereof.” — The Medieval Review

“Kolbet’s illuminating and original study bridges a wealth of diverse Augustinian themes through the lens of rhetoric.” — Theological Studies

“The special value of Kolbet’s work is the author’s thorough treatment of Augustine’s classical background and the continuity between that knowledge and his own practice as a preacher.” — Religious Studies Review

“Kolbet has written a very useful book. It is meritorious how he has interwoven Augustine’s life, work, and thoughts into insights on Augustine’s indebtedness to the ancient philosophical tradition and Roman past as far as the psychagogical formation of mankind is concerned.” — Journal of Religion

“Kolbet does a masterful job of surveying the classical literature of ancient therapeutic practice and showing how Augustine relates to it at the various stages of his development. Focusing on this theme shows the reader a particular vision of Augustine as a pastor within his Roman and Hellenistic context.” — Anglican Theological Review

“Paul Kolbet is to be congratulated on this book, which reminds us what Augustine owed to the dominant cultural force of his society. . . . a study which will be of the greatest value to all who seek a better understanding of the shaping and operation of Augustine’s remarkable intellect.” — Journal of Ecclesiastical History

“. . . Provides an excellent introduction for early modernists of recent developments in Augustine studies in thinking of Augustine as theological rhetor and rhetorician. . . . _ Augustine and the Cure of Souls_ is a superb disclosure of Augustinian psychagogy, one that can enable new work in Augustine’s theory and practice of the sermon.” — Sixteenth Century Journal

“Kolbet’s study, gathering in multiple strands of intellectual and social history, resituates significant elements of Augustine’s thought within what was then a still vital stream of ancient rumination on the healing power of words while also revealing the limits of those traditions for a bishop who remained convinced that full convalescence was reserved for another realm.” — Church History

“This lucid and thoughtful book explores the idea that ‘psychagogy’ was an important guiding theme and grounding project throughout Augustine’s life. ‘Psychagogy’ is understood in two senses: as guidance for one’s own soul and that of others. What is involved is a process that combines intellectual or scholarly and ethical or spiritual dimensions. Crucially, for Augustine, as Kolbet presents him, the process forms an ongoing, and inevitably incomplete, journey towards spiritual understanding.” — Journal of Roman Studies

“Augustine and the Cure of Souls is a great read for anyone. Relative novices find here a well-integrated picture of Augustine and great examples of his adaptation of his classical inheritance, of his turning the ‘pagan water’ into the ‘Christian wine.’ More seasoned scholars, in turn, can test some of their commonly accepted stereotypes as well as find new and important ways of seeing the well-known texts of Augustine.” — The Thomist