On Creativity, Liberty, Love and the Beauty of the Law

Todd Breyfogle



On Creativity, Liberty, Love and the Beauty of the Law introduces readers to Augustine’s understanding of law as an arena in which the possibilities of creative freedom are reconciled with the needs of natural and civil order. It places Augustine’s conception of law in the broader mosaic of his ideas about how human beings are bound together individually, socially, and spiritually. Seasoned readers of Augustine will see this fundamental element of his thought in a different light, even as those less familiar with Augustine are introduced to the thrill of following him as he makes sense of the complexities of nature, history, and the human spirit.

Law, for Augustine, is a binding command which manifests itself in the order of nature and the civil order alike. Augustine’s account of creation puts human beings—and human freedom—at the center of the cosmic order as the pinnacle of perfection, not in fact but in possibility. To understand Augustine’s account of law is to come to understand human beings as participating in the fashioning of beauty, the reconciliation of matter and spirit, of the disparate parts of existence into the image of fittingness and proportion. It is in this spirit that Augustine can say both ‘the law of liberty is the law of love’ and ‘love and do what you will’.

The book offers readers the tools for reading Augustine and an initiation into an Augustinian way of thinking—particularly his concern to see how parts fit into wholes. Even as we read Augustine, Augustine reads us and forces us to reconsider, to reimagine the contemporary order of things. Augustine understood that the form of narrative affects the content. Most of Augustine’s non-polemical works defy generic categorization. This book is structured and written in a similar spirit—a thoughtful meditation in an Augustinian voice which is both authentically Augustinian and audible to the contemporary ear. Put differently, the book aims to show rather than tell; it aims to enact an Augustinian conception of beauty even as it tells about it.


“In this beautifully written and meditative book, Breyfogle develops the social, educational, and aesthetic tapestry of Augustine's mind. The result is altogether refreshing, for he restores an 'inner warmth' to our reading of Augustine on law and justice.” –  Russell Hittinger, Warren Chair of Catholic Studies and Research Professor of Law, University of Tulsa, USA

“Traversing a diverse range of Augustine’s works, and with a light and illuminating touch, Breyfogle succeeds in capturing Augustine’s theological, ethical and political vision as a coherent and living whole. He displays beauty as a binding theme, not only in Augustine’s treatment of music, where one might expect it, but also in his conceptions of law and justice. Augustine emerges as more meditative than polemical, but nonetheless with an incisive and countercultural message for our day.” – Susannah Ticciati, Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology, King’s College London, UK

The Author

TODD BREYFOGLE is Director of Seminars at the Aspen Institute, USA. Educated at Colorado College, Oxford (as a Rhodes Scholar) and the University of Chicago's Committee on Social Thought, he has lectured at universities in the USA and abroad and in 2012 was elected to the Senate of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Dr. Breyfogle is editor emeritus of The American Oxonian and edited Literary Imagination, Ancient and Modern (University of Chicago Press, 1999). @ToddBreyfogle

On Education, Formation, Citizenship and the Lost Purpose of Learning

Joseph Clair



The looming crisis in higher education appears to be a matter of soaring costs and crushing student debt, but the problem is actually much deeper. It is a crisis of soul; a question of the very purpose of learning and the type of people that our educational system produces. Today, in the age of academic hyper-specialization and professional knowledge, the moral and spiritual purposes of learning have been eclipsed by a shallow view of career and success. On Education, Formation, Citizenship, and the Lost Purpose of Learning turns to the influential figure Augustine of Hippo to explore how he saved the liberal arts at the end of the Roman Empire and how his inspiring vision can do the same for higher education today. It offers a roadmap for reviving the soul of education – presenting concrete ways that the intellectual practices and economic enterprise of learning can lead once more to a fulfilled life of knowing God and loving others.


“Joseph Clair compellingly responds to the current milieu in which higher education has largely lost its moral and spiritual moorings. By reappropriating Augustine's legacy, he shows us how higher education can shift from an emphasis on self-fulfillment to an emphasis on knowing God, civic responsibility, and loving others. This book will have a profound impact on anyone who cares about higher education today; it should be required reading for anyone who wants to help institutions develop a stronger mission, culture, and approach to student learning.” –  D. Michael Lindsay, President, Gordon College, USA

“The power of Augustine's biography and rhetoric can obscure how he transformed learning and reading into a way of life for an age uncertain of its cultural ideals and tempted by despair. In this graceful book-rooted in ancient wisdom yet without nostalgia-Joseph Clair revives this influential Augustinian legacy in the service of a dynamic vision of liberal arts education that is both aspirational and practical for our critical moment.” –  Eric Gregory, Professor of Religion and Chair of the Council of the Humanities, Princeton University, USA

“The university as we know it is a tin-man: a machine without a heart that churns out students in its image. In this provocative book, Joseph Clair shows a way to renew the university by giving it a heart-and a soul. He does so by taking us to one of the West's most important products and proponents of the liberal arts: Augustine. The result is a refreshing take on our contemporary challenge.” –  James K.A. Smith, Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College, USA, and author of You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

The Author

JOSEPH CLAIR is Director of the William Penn Honors Program and Associate Dean for the Liberal Arts at George Fox University, USA. He received his doctorate from Princeton University and an M.Phil from the University of Cambridge where he studied as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. He is the author of Discerning the Good in the Letters and Sermons of Augustine (Oxford University Press, 2016).

On Love, Confession, Surrender and the Moral Self

⇒ Ian Clausen



In this book, readers chart Augustine’s journey to confession. This journey is ‘the long surrender’ of the title. It indicates that Augustine’s early writing career was an outworking of his own inner turmoil and discovery; and that both were to summit, triumphantly, on the Confessions (AD 386-401).

The long surrender is therefore both an emotive challenge to the reader and a framework. As an emotive challenge, it hints that this book will call on resources of sympathy and discernment that its readers will find as they are stimulated to voyage inside themselves—to some of the very same places that Augustine was to pass through on his own journey.

As a framework, the long surrender is an invitation to interpret Augustine’s early writing career as an on-going, developing process: a process whose chief result was to shape a conception of the moral self that has lasted and prospered to the present day. For Augustine, the moral self was something that only became fully constituted through the awareness and honesty of confession. This led him to his famous conclusion that its motive energy must be ‘the weight of love’ (Conf. XIII.ix.10), and that this love demands a satisfaction from the God who resides beyond all time. This was at once a serious challenge to the classical theories of moral action and their historically determinate character. But it was also a liberating and enlarging doctrine, whose noetic and eidetic insights have gone on to be a constant presence in the intellectual history of the West.

By tracking the rise and development of this moral self in Augustine, readers are finally brought to consider the implications were we to efface this self and attempt to ‘free’ the moral life from its religious connotation.

This is a book about the animating centre of the moral life; how that centre is love; and how it is love that makes us these restless creatures of introspection, migration and hope.


“The passionate desire to know who we are and where we are going, a passion we usually associate with Augustine's Confessions, is uncovered and explored by Ian Clausen in this discussion of Augustine's earlier writings. While engaging throughout with other scholarly treatments of those writings, Clausen never lets his readers forget that much more than scholarly debate is at stake in the questions Augustine invites us to ponder.” –  Gilbert Meilaender, Senior Research Professor of Theology, Valparaiso University, USA

“This is a book that will be valued by those who want the help that a close and sensitive reading of Augustine can give, and to acquire a fresh view of how the human agent emerges into view in Augustine's earlier works. Building upon the most important new developments in interpretation of the early Augustine, Ian Clausen helps us to see how the pedagogic aspirations of Augustine's first writings are meant to elicit moral self-awareness, and so open the way for the mature awareness of the moral self that appears in the Confessions.” –  Oliver O'Donovan, Professor Emeritus, Christian Ethics and Practical Theology, University of Edinburgh, UK

“This book offers a fresh approach to Augustine’s timeless thoughts on the perennial human quest for self-location. Rather than seeing Augustine as a normative theologian, this reading presents an Augustine who in his unconditional search for truth discovers love as the vector generating meaning and direction to his, and by extension our, life. All who enjoy engaging with the big questions of today regarding human existence will find the reflections offered in this book a rewarding and perhaps surprising read.”
Karla Pollmann, Professor of Classics and Head of the School of Humanities, University of Reading, UK

The Author

IAN CLAUSEN (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is the Arthur J. Ennis Postdoctoral Fellow at Villanova University, USA. He previously held a two-year post at Valparaiso University as a Lilly Postdoctoral Fellow. His research centers on Augustine and the Augustinian moral tradition, and extends to twenty-first century debates on technology, moral theory and formation, and the good life. His publications appear in journals such as Augustinian Studies, Religions, Expository Times, Radical Orthodoxy, and Studies in Christian Ethics. He is a former British Marshall Scholar.

On Ethics, Politics and Psychology in the Twenty-First Century

John Rist



Augustine in the Twenty-first Century brings the fifth-century bishop of Hippo and principal constructor of later Western European thought back to earth to comment on the contemporary philosophical, ideological and theological scene, and to promote traditional Catholic Christianity against a variety of our fashionable ‘talking heads’: utilitarians and other consequentialists, Kantians, Hobbesian contractarians, rights-theorists, pragmatists, advocates of political panaceas whether ‘liberal’ or more obviously totalitarian, and theologians who think they must ‘come to terms with’ rather than refute what Augustine must see as the Western drift to a mindless conventionalism or nihilism.

He argues that the dethronement of the Christian God and his replacement by the worship of ‘Choice’ engender the degradation and depersonalization of the human individual, the ‘official’ disappearance of honesty from public and private life, the increasing loss of any sense of responsibility or commitment, the banishment of beauty, and the substitution of slogans for thought in moral and political discourse.

Augustine having been washed up among other refugees off the coast of Sicily, the book concludes with the transcript of an interview he granted—at the instigation of Anna Rist—to a British radio corporation.


“Most books on St. Augustine try to tell us what he said and what he meant in his own day and age. In this book John Rist does the opposite and tells us what Augustine would say if he were with us here and now. Rist does for Augustine what Plato did for Socrates, he brings him to life in the time of the reader. He speaks as Augustine would in response to our present circumstances: How can we still say “I” in an age of impersonal science, must theology be deductive and systematic, do we create ourselves and our gods, or do we look for salvation? The book is colorful and insightful as it addresses our theological, political, and moral situation.” –  Robert Sokolowski, Elizabeth Breckenridge Caldwell Professor of Philosophy, Catholic University of America, USA

"In this twenty-first-century polemic inspired by the early Christian controversialists, Rist offers an updated and corrected “Augustine” who is informed by his own deep and wide knowledge of intellectual history. Ranging over questions of philosophical and theological methodology, philosophy of education, epistemology, moral psychology, ethics, and legal and political theory, he marshals this learning to argue for the enduring importance of Augustine and to radically critique the ethical and political theories of modernity." – Sarah Byers, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Boston College, USA

The Author

JOHN RIST (born 1936 and married to Anna Rist with four children) was educated at Brentwood School and Trinity College, Cambridge. He is Emeritus Professor of Classics and Philosophy at the University of Toronto, and has taught at the University of Aberdeen, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Catholic University of America and the Istituto Patristico Augustinianum in Rome. He has published 16 books—including Plotinus: The Road to Reality (Cambridge 1967), The Mind of Aristotle (Toronto 1989), Augustine: Ancient Thought Baptized (Cambridge 1994), Real Ethics (Cambridge 2001), What is Truth? (Cambridge 2008), Plato’s Moral Philosophy (Washington 2012) and Augustine Deformed (Cambridge 2014) as well as more than 100 articles on ancient philosophy, patristics and ethics. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, was awarded the Aquinas Medal of the American Catholic Philosophical Association (2014) and a doctorate of philosophy Honoris Causa at the Università della Santa Croce in Rome (2002).

On Music, Sound, Affect and Voice

Carol Harrison

Theologians tend to study texts and leave music to musicians and musicologists. In this book I will argue that it is worth trying to take account of what a theologian like Augustine of Hippo made of music, not least because his reflections have been so influential in shaping the attitudes and practices of the Western Christian tradition—both theological and musical. Augustine could certainly not ignore music, either as a theoretical discipline which contributed to understanding the structure of reality, or as something performed and heard, which had an extraordinary power to move and shape the mind and soul of the hearer.

In this book I intend to demonstrate that Augustine’s reflections on how we hear music; what we hear; the effect of hearing and the role of performance, together provide us with a distinctive theology of music, in which music becomes a way of encountering, participating in, and being transformed by God.

Most especially, I will suggest that it is not only a theoretical understanding of music which is of interest in a theological context, but that the temporal, mutable, physical qualities of performed music, apprehended in a non-discursive, intuitive, affective way, are precisely those which prove most effective in the theologian’s attempt to articulate something about the essentially unknowable, ineffable God; that theological reflection on music reveals that knowledge of God is more a matter of ‘sensuous intelligence’ than of rational cognition.

The Author

CAROL HARRISON was born and brought up in the shadow of Durham Cathedral, in the North East of England. She studied theology at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford and the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, before returning to Durham, where she taught for 25 years. She recently returned to Oxford, as Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity and a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral. Her passion for Augustine is rivalled only by her passion for music. This book brings them both together.

On God, The Soul, Evil and the Rise of Christianity

John Peter Kenney


How did monotheism—the belief in an ultimate God—emerge in late antiquity? And how did Catholic Christianity become the driving force in that momentous cultural shift? This book explores those questions by examining the salience of Christianity as it appeared to its greatest Latin expositor, Augustine of Hippo. Its goals are to listen closely to Augustine’s account of his discovery of a transcendent God and to reflect upon this novel belief directly and in his own terms.

Augustine, our source for this endeavor, gives us an unusually clear vantage point to understand the essential ideas that drove this transition in Western culture. He was the great philosopher of Early African Christianity and the arc of his religious trajectory encompassed a wide range of religious options, including Gnosticism, academic skepticism, pagan Platonism, and orthodox Christianity. Augustine allows us to see what seemed novel, powerful, and appealing about Christianity to an especially alert participant at the critical moment of its emergence. And we can discern what convinced him that his soul could enter into communion with divine being itself and that evil was not an elemental reality opposed to God.

If we follow Augustine’s thinking carefully, we can understand his Christian answers to such fundamental issues. But to do so is to uncover a Christianity framed in the discourse of an age distinct from our own, whose shape and focus may seem at times unfamiliar, even startling. And so in some measure, this study is an exercise in recovery, in drawing out strands from a neglected Christianity whose contours may seem quite arresting and whose insights may well be found disquieting.

The Author

JOHN PETER KENNEY is Professor of Religious Studies at Saint Michael’s College, USA. He was previously Professor of Religion and Humanities at Reed College and then Dean of the College at Saint Michael’s. He studied Classics and Philosophy at Bowdoin College and completed his Ph.D. in Religious Studies at Brown University. He is the author of Mystical Monotheism: A Study in Ancient Platonic Theology (Brown University Press/University Press of New England, 1991), The Mysticism of Saint Augustine: Rereading the Confessions (Routledge, 2005) and Contemplation and Classical Christianity: A Study in Augustine (Oxford University Press, 2013).

On Self-Harm, Narcissism, Atonement and the Vulnerable Christ

David Vincent Meconi


The seemingly innocuous act of stealing some pears in his callow youth prompted Augustine to reflect deeply on the nature of sin. It was not the matter but the motive of this act which sent Augustine's mind reeling: we sin because part of us is in love with our own ruin, and we sadly and paradoxically enjoy seeing some of our own beauty destroyed.

Today this phenomenon might not be realized by storming a neighbor's garden, but it is the cutting of one's flesh as a reminder that life can still pulse underneath the numbness, or the addictions that keep voyeurs and even shoppers glued to their internet and their incessant consumption. We know that it's not going to satisfy, but we go back to it over and over, secretly hoping that maybe this time, that pornographic image, or that binge eating, or that last puff of the cigarette might just make us whole!

Here Augustine points out that in such sin we render ourselves our own deities, making us the type of creatures who think they can do whatever they want, as they want, and when they want. Yet, ‘hard-wired’ for the true God, such idols must inevitably be torn down, and the restless heart will either turn to the Crucified One in a humble plea for wholeness, or will continue this life-long destruction of self until there is hardly even a semblance of self left. On Self-Harm, Narcissism, Atonement and the Vulnerable Christ sets out to show how Augustine saw sin as a form of self-sabotage and self-loathing, and how he offers the Body of Christ as the only real antidote to our self-imposed destructions.

The Author

Fr. DAVID VINCENT MECONI, S.J., D.Phil. (Oxon.) is Associate Professor of Historical Theology as well as the Director of the Edmund Campion Centre for Catholic Studies at Saint Louis University; he is also the editor of Homiletic and Pastoral Review. He has published the Annotated Confessions of Saint Augustine (2012), The One Christ: St. Augustine's Theology of Deification (2013), co-edited (along with Eleonore Stump) the Cambridge Companion to Augustine (2014) and most recently, Peter Chrysologus (Routledge), and The Cambridge Companion to Augustine’s City of God. Fr. Meconi is a former Fellow of the Augustinian Institute at Villanova University, and currently serves on the boards of the St. Benedict Forum at Hope College in Holland, MI, as well as on the ecclesiastical board of Boston College.

On Consumer Culture, Identity, The Church and the Rhetorics of Delight

⇒ Mark Clavier


The power of persuasion 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 drive wills whichever way they would 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. Whatever concerns the rhetoricians of old may have had about the sorcery of rhetoric have now come to pass—and even been magnified—by radio, television, mobiles, and the Internet. We live in a world of unremitting rhetoric—the ‘engineering of consent’ (to use the technical term of the PR guru Edward Bernays)—that corrodes societies and deals destruction to the environment.

It is by and large the case that the Church has yet to awaken to the challenge of consumerism. Yet in the great fifth-century theologian of the West, Augustine of Hippo, she has a thinker who not only recognised the power of persuasion but was willing to meet that worldly rhetoric head on with a new rhetoric vectored not on suasion or entertainment but on personal salvation. Drawing upon his own long education in rhetoric, Augustine came to understand profoundly its underlying psychology, and to see clearly that in a fallen world of competing alternatives, heaven can be won or lost through the power of words.

To churches struggling to challenge both the excesses and the underlying potency of consumerism, Augustine offers a God whose Eloquent Wisdom can supersede all worldly rhetoric. By reading consumer culture through the lens of his rhetorical theology, Christians can be awakened to the true destiny of their restless hearts as much as other readers will benefit from a powerful new angle on a phenomenon that they may be taking for granted.

The Author

MARK CLAVIER Mark Clavier was born in the United States but is now Residentiary Canon of Brecon Cathedral in Wales. He served as a parish priest for fifteen years in Maryland, North Carolina, County Durham, and Oxfordshire. He was involved in theological education for five years, first at St Michael's College, Cardiff, where he was Dean of Residential Training and Acting Principal, and then at St Stephen's House, Oxford, where he was Vice Principal and Director of Pastoral Studies. His focus continues to be on the theology of delight, especially within the Augustinian tradition; his research has been fertilised by giving public lectures and conducting retreats on delight and by his frequent walks and treks in mountains and wildernesses.