Vincent Hunink

review of:

Christian Nadeau, Le vocabulaire de saint Augustin Paris:  Ellipses,

2001.  Pp. 63.  ISBN 2-7298-0780-2.  

text published in: BMCR 2002.04.05

'Il semble pour le moins nai+f de pre/tendre pre/senter l'ensemble du

corpus augustinien par l'interme/diaire d'un lexique d'une soixantaine

de pages'. This is the first sentence of a new, small lexicon on

Augustine, compiled by Christian Nadeau (N.), and beforehand most

readers will readily agree. How could the vast oeuvre of the Church

Father ever be summarized in so small a space?


The unexpected conciseness of the book appears to be due to the format

of the series of which it forms part. In this series, called

'Vocabulaire de...', the basic teachings of famous philosophers (from

Aristotle to Kant, Hegel, Marx and Merlau-Ponty) are illustrated by

means of the most significant key words relevant to their thinking.


One would expect the editors to aim only at a very general audience of

students and readers of philosophy and theology. In this book, however,

N. also explicitly addresses himself to specialists of late antiquity

and readers who are well versed in Augustine's thought. Again, this

seems a huge claim for a book of only 60 pages!


The shortness of the book allows me to give a full list of the lemmata,

in the exact form in which they are given in the book (but without the

italics): a^me (anima, animus, spiritus, mens); amour, de/sir

(appetere); autorite/ (auctoritas); be/atitude (beatitudo, beata vita,

fruitio Dei); beau; bien (bonum); charite/ (caritas; dilectio proximi);

cite/s; cogito; concupiscence (concupiscentia, cupiditas, libido,

pe/che/); Dieu; distension de l'a^me (distensio animi [sic!]);

e/ternite/ (immortalite/); e^tre (esse, essentia, natura); fin (telos);

gra^ce; jouissance et utilite/ (frui-uti); justice; liberte/, libre

arbitre; loi naturelle (lex naturalis); mai^tre inte/rieur; mal;

Maniche/isme; me/moire; ordre (ordo); passions (passiones);

Pe/lagianisme; philosophie; raison (oratio); re/gion de dissemblance

(regio dissimilitudinis); sagesse; signe (signum, verbum, nomen, res);

temps; Trinite/; verbe; ve/rite/; volonte/.


All 37 lemmata are divided into three parts, reflecting three levels of

philosophical difficulty. The first part (marked with one asterisk)

contains a working definition, and is meant for the beginning student;

the second one (two asterisks) reflects a more scientific approach of

the theme, and aims at advanced students; the third part (three

asterisks) is described by N. in rather vague terms as a more free

approach allowing for a broader interpretation, for instance on the

echoes of a term within the context of the whole oeuvre.


Let me give one example, the lemma on the 'word' (verbe). Level 1

distinguishes between the human and the divine word, the latter being

an image of God himself. The human word reflects human thought, and, by

analogy, anything that approaches or corresponds to the principle of

love, as it is established among the creatures of God. Level 2

describes how the Word for Augustine is the principle of truth and

represents God. Three passages from Augustine are briefly quoted for

further thought: it is impossible to imitate the divine word in an

adequate way; truth may only be seen in its manifestations, that is,

where something is existent rather than inexistent; whatever exists

comes closer to the truth of the divine word in as much as it imitates

the truth of the divine word. Finally, level 3 briefly argues that the

human word proceeds from the divine word, and that all truth found by

man comes from the teaching of his 'inner master', and so that every

act of reason is in essence an act of belief or an act of love for God.

(The whole lemma takes one page.)


As the above summary shows, matters are quickly brought to a fairly

abstract philosophical level. It is also clear that N. focuses almost

exclusively on philosophical aspects. Much could be added, for

instance, on the Word as a symbol of human communication, on which

Augustine has written several remarkable passages. Finally, the

treatment of this lemma is typical for the systematic approach in the

lexicon: every concept is seen as part of a closed system directed

towards God, and there seems to be no place for any criticism or

unsettling questions whatsoever.


Having said this, the choice of lemmata also seems to reflect this

concern of presenting Augustine only as great thinker of a coherent

system. One misses lemmata which might have tackled more debatable

issues, such as predestination or the use of force, or, to add the

inevitable items: women, sex, and the body.


Readers are thus presented an Augustine who does not seem to be a

polemical thinker of flesh and blood, raising problems and putting

questions, but a rather abstract inventor of what looks like eternal

truth beyond discussion. Accordingly, I doubt whether the lexicon will

stimulate many readers in their reading of Augustine. Personally I

would not suggest it as introductory reading for my students in the

department of classics. Those, however, who are interested in the

relation between philosophy and theology may find some useful points in


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