Explorations in Augustine's Anthropology

by Fabio Dalpra (Volume editor) Anders-Christian Jacobsen (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection 246 Pages
Open Access


What is a human being according to Augustine of Hippo? This question has occupied a group of researchers from Brazil and Europe and has been explored at two workshops during which the contributors to this volume have discussed anthropological themes in Augustine’s vast corpus. In this volume, the reader will find articles on a wide spectrum of Augustine’s anthropological ideas. Some contributions focus on specific texts, while others focus on specific theological or philosophical aspects of Augustine’s anthropology. The authors of the articles in this volume are convinced that Augustine’s anthropology is of major importance for how human beings have been understood in Western civilization for better or for worse. The topic is therefore highly relevant to present times in which humanity is under pressure from various sides.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • The Reception of the Concept of Participation in Early Christianity: Origen’s On First Principles and Augustine’s On the Trinity. (Fabio Dalpra)
  • A Man Victimized by Doubt: Skepticism as an Antropological Problem for Augustin in Contra Academicos (Ivan Bilheiro)
  • The Soul in Augustine’s Dialogue De quantitate animae (Lenka Karfíková)
  • Being, Human Being, and Truth in Augustine’s De Magistro: A Christian “Ontoanthropology” of the Self (Humberto Araújo Quaglio de Souza)
  • “Diabolum potius poneret”: Augustine’s reception of Origen’s Commentarii in Epistulam ad Romanos in Epistle 157 (Morten Kock Møller)
  • Augustine on human freedom and free will (Anders-Christian Jacobsen)
  • The Fall of the Will: An Investigation of the Will of Man Before and After the Fall in De civitate Dei (Eva Elisabeth Houth Vrangbæk)
  • Augustine of Hippo’s Anthropology in The Trinity (Fabio Dalpra)
  • Augustine’s Anthropology in tractatus in Iohannem 15 (Monnica Klöckener)
  • Augustine on Human Resurrection (Margrethe Kamille Birkler, Anders-Christian Jacobsen)
  • The Influence of Augustine of Hippo on The Rule of Benedict’s Anthropology (Antonio Henrique Campolina Martins)
  • Bibliography
  • Indices
  • Series index

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The present volume Explorations in Augustine’s Anthropology is the outcome of a long and comprehensive cooperation between scholars from Brazil and Europe. The editors of this volume received a grant from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to support cooperation between three institutions, Aarhus University, Federal University of Juiz de Fora, and Federal Institute of Science and Technology of Southern Minas Gerais. The theme of the cooperation was Augustine’s anthropology. One of the results of this was two workshops. The first workshop was hosted by the Núcleo de Estudos Agostinianos (NEA-UFJF) and took place in March 2017 at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora, Brazil. This workshop brought Brazilian and Danish scholars together. The second workshop took place at Aarhus University in March 2018. This workshop was organized in cooperation with the research project The History of Human Freedom and Dignity in Western Civilization and included once again researchers from Brazil and several European countries. We wish to express our gratitude towards The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the European Commission (Marie Skłodowska-Curie programme) who funded the network activities and the workshops.

The workshops had a broad approach to Augustine’s anthropology. The volume therefore includes contributions which address a wide range of topics related to Augustine’s anthropology.

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Augustine of Hippo’s views are entirely embedded in the domains of anthropology. In relation to his personal pursuit of truth, as poignantly described in the Confessiones, the meaning of the human existence is examined throughout his writings under a variety of perspectives. Thus, anyone willing to grasp the features of his anthropological thoughts needs to be prepared to track a winding path. A path that is simultaneously devious and marvelous in its manifold expressions.

Generally, it can be said that such a multifaceted anthropology is the outcome of both Augustine’s distinctive biography and the philosophical and theological conflicts in which he was involved from youth to old age. Such concrete events profoundly shaped his understanding and his experience of what it means to be human.

Even with the definitive episode of his conversion into Christianity, the pursuit for the most fundamental questions on human being did not diminish. Quite the opposite, it only amplified his eagerness towards understanding the human existence as deeply as possible, under impression of the Christian faith. Henceforth, he would come to deal with the foremost themes of Christianity at that time, such as creation, incarnation, Trinity, resurrection, the free will, original sin, so as to uncover these themes’ significance for the comprehension of the human being.

Thus, the task of reflecting on Augustine’s anthropology demands a relentless effort. In fact, the complexity and the manifoldness of its expressions bring about almost insurmountable difficulties to anyone who intends to attain a systematic account of it. The divergences which result both from the maturation of his thoughts and from the different theological themes and conflicts he had to handle cannot be set aside. It is the breeding ground of his anthropology. Therefore, in order to unveil the intersecting point which allows us to connect the several faces of such an anthropology, one needs to embrace the richness of its manifold expressions.

Not surprisingly, this diversity is mirrored in the wide range of themes brought to the table by the authors in this volume.

First, Fabio Dalpra investigates the Platonic influence on one of the cornerstones of Early Christian anthropology, i.e., the concept of participation as it is expressed by Origen of Alexandria and Augustine of Hippo.

In sequence, shedding light on the anthropology in Augustine’s early works, Ivan Bilheiro reflects on the effect of the skeptical doubt on human existence according to Augustine’s first extant work, Contra academicos; Lenka Karfikova investigates the meaning and function of the soul in the ←9 | 10→dialogue De quantitate animae; and Humberto Quaglio discusses Christ’s role as in De magistro. These articles all show how intensively Augustine in the first years after his conversion and baptism strives to formulate Christian theology including theological anthropology by use of philosophical traditions especially Platonism.

Moving into a reflection on free will and human freedom, Morten Møller argues for the influence of Origen’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans on Augustine through the analysis of themes such as baptism, free will, and original sin; Anders-Christian Jacobsen studies Augustine’s understanding of human freedom and free will and the significance of these for his theological anthropology; and Eva Elisabeth Vrangbæk examines Augustine’s account of the will of human beings before and after the fall according to De civitate Dei. The question of human freedom and free will occupied Augustine from the beginning to the end of his career as philosophical and theological author.

The next three articles focus on Augustine’s late writings. Fabio Dalpra analyses the anthropology in De Trinitate by using the theory of human beings as images of God as a unifying theme in the treatise. Monnica Klöckener analyses the human relationship with God in Tractatus in Iohannem 15, where Augustine interprets the Johanine story about the woman at the well in the Gospel of John 4:1–42. Margrethe Kamille Birkler and Anders-Christian Jacobsen deal with the issue of the resurrection of the human body, while having in mind two major works of Augustine: Enchiridion and De Civitate Dei.

At last, concluding the volume, Antonio Henrique Campolina debates the reception of Augustine’s anthropology in the early stages of Western Monasticism.

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Fabio Dalpra

The Reception of the Concept of Participation in Early Christianity: Origen’s On First Principles and Augustine’s On the Trinity.1

Abstract: By attending to the main features of Plato’s concept of participation, this work aims to shed light on its reception in Early Christianity via Origen’s On First Principles and Augustine’s On the Trinity.

1. Introduction

The first and fundamental reference to the concept of “participation” is found in Plato. Generally speaking, he makes use of this concept to explain the relation between the Forms/Ideas and the sensible things. As such, it is a theoretical cornerstone of so-called Platonic dualism. According to Brochard, “la théorie de la participation est, comme celle de la démonstration de l’existence des Idées, et autant qu’elle, la partie essentielle du système de Platon.”2

Plato conveys the idea of participation by way of two verbs: μεταλαμβάνειν and μετέχειν.3 Inasmuch as sensible things receive reality from Ideas by partaking in them, there exists a qualitative difference between the domain of the Ideas, eternal and unchangeable, and the domain of the sensible things, finite and changeable. As Plato writes, “consider then, he said, whether you share my opinion as to what follows, for I think that, if there is anything beautiful besides the Beautiful itself, it is beautiful for no other reason than that it shares in [scil. μετέχει] that Beautiful, and I say so with everything.”4 ←11 | 12→On the one hand, there is Beauty itself: the single, fundamental idea of Beauty. On the other hand, there are beautiful things, which receive their beauty from the Idea. Just as beautiful things participate in Beauty, sensible things take part in the full range of seminal Ideas. So, participation is a principle that undergirds the constitution of reality as such. This conception expresses what can be called the common grammar of Plato’s theory of Ideas and participation. We find it expounded across several dialogues: Cratylus, Symposium, Republic, Phaedrus, Phaedo, Timaeus.

It is reasonable to suppose that such a “grammar,” like any other, demands logical regulation. And, indeed, in the Phaedo, one encounters a foundational principle of this logic. After a long debate concerning the relation between opposite Ideas, e.g., oneness and twoness, smallness and bigness, hot and cold, Plato argues, “not only does the opposite not admit its opposite, but that which brings along some opposite into that which it occupies, that which brings this along will not admit the opposite to that which it brings along.”5 Here we find the famous principle of non-contradiction.

So far, then, the formal logic of the common grammar of participation comprises the union of three basic principles:

a) the uniqueness and separateness of the Ideas in relation to the sensible things

b) the qualitative difference between the absoluteness of the Ideas and the relativity of the sensible things which partake in them

c) the non-contradictory relation between opposite Ideas.6

Be this as it may, Plato’s reflection on the theory of Ideas and participation constitutes an unfolding dialectical process that is not so straightforward as it might first appear. In fact, his own theory would become the object of critical scrutiny in the dialogues Parmenides and Sophist.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2021 (September)
Augustine of Hippo Anthropology Human being Philosophy Reception of Augustine’s anthropology Theology
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 246 pp., 1 tables.

Biographical notes

Fabio Dalpra (Volume editor) Anders-Christian Jacobsen (Volume editor)

Fabio Dalpra is an associate professor in Humanities at the Federal Institute of Science and Technology of Southern Minas Gerais. He has a PhD degree in Religious Studies at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora in Brazil. His areas of interest are Late Antique Philosophy and Patristic Studies. Anders-Christian Jacobsen is a professor at Systematic Theology, Arts, Aarhus University, Denmark, where he is a member of the interdisciplinary and international research center Center for the Study of Antiquity and Christianity (C-SAC) as well. He is furthermore Treasurer of the International Association of Patristic Studies (IAPS/AIEP), leader of the EU-funded Marie Curie ITN-network The History of Human Freedom and Dignity in Western Civilization, and associate fellow at Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies (AIAS). His research focus on patristics, especially on Origen, Irenaeus, and Augustine.


Title: Explorations in Augustine's Anthropology