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Document Details :
Title: On Christian Ascetism
Subtitle: Spiritual Exercises in Saint Augustine's Confessions
Author(s): GRABAU, Joseph
Journal: Studies in Spirituality
Volume: 25 Date: 2015
The present article seeks to address an important point of contact between early Christian ascetic practice and the heritage of Platonism through the end of the fourth century AD. In short, I find marked similarities between Pierre Hadot’s reading of Plato’s Phaedo, for example, and that of St Augustine’s personal prayer book, the Confessions. After outlining essential characteristics of Hadot’s take on spiritual exercises and Augustinian anthropology, I subject the text of the Confessions to critical examination in order to determine whether an emphasis on ‘spiritual exercises’ is indeed present. I argue that similar spiritual practices may be clearly discerned. First, I discuss the distinct ‘Christian’ and Augustinian character of ‘spiritual exercises’ which incorporate biblical typology of Adam and Christ as paradigmatic for the spiritual life. Next, in terms of concrete practices, I then discern from the first four books of the Confessions a series of exercises through which such a path of spiritual progress (i.e. from ‘Adam’ to ‘Christ’) may occur. Of note, I consider the dialectic praxis of 1) contemplative reading, 2) prayer-writing and 3) prayer itself, or ‘pure’ prayer – distinct from Augustine’s written reflections; 4) the role of lectio divina or meditation on Scripture; and, finally, 5) meditation on death. In addition to developing these individual practices, it is the traditional Augustinian anthropology (rooted as it is in a theology of divine grace) that reveals the essential ‘Christian’ contribution of Augustine’s.