Saint Augustine and the Fall of the Soul: Beyond O’Connell and His Critics

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Much scholarship has been geared toward Saint Augustine in recent with almost revival-esque fervor. To begin to dig into the corpus of Augustine literature, let alone Augustine’s own writings, is a task mainly left to those veiled behind the walls of academia. This volume, Saint Augustine and the Fall of the Soul: Beyond O’Connell and His Critics (Catholic University of America Press, 2006) seeks to bring one of the debates in Augustine scholarship to the forefront by not only citing the example of O’Connell’s writing but also to clarify and correct his previous work on the subject.

The first section of this volume is intended to, “Clear the air for the possibility of the second half”, which seeks to work towards some scholarly consensus of the thought life of Augustine on the question of the fall of the soul (Preface). The first five chapters lay bare the writings of O’Connell in order to introduce the reader to the history of the question and the various sources which it was drawn from. He examines four areas in regards to O’Connell and his earlier works; The Fall of the Soul in Augustine, The Hallmarks of Plotinus’s Doctrine of Soul in the Young Augustine, Augustine’s Rejection of the Fall of the Soul, and Augustine’s Final Theory of Man. These matters are treated with fairness by Rombs, the author, as he grapples with each topic.

The second portion of the book seeks, as noted earlier, to draw a consensus. Rombs states that he comes down somewhere between the left and right of the issue in an attempt not to offend scholars on either side. He points out the dynamic aspect of the thought life of Augustine which developed over a lifetime of study instead of overnight, as is the case with some early theologians.

In the last four chapters he examines Augustine’s Early Assimilation of Plotinus, A Narrowing of Plotinian Assimilation, the Origin of the Soul in Late Augustine, and a Solidarity with Adam and Augustine’s Later Anthropology. These four chapters are heavy laden with an evaluation of the mind of Augustine which was ever expansive as one can see from the amount of words penned by him. To sort through the mind of Augustine would be equal to sorting the oceans waters with a syringe and being able to come up with some sort of analysis on the other end.

This book is intended for scholars who have some vested interest in Augustinian literature. I would not recommend this volume for the reader looking to open the floodgates on this early theologian. I found it useful, having at least some knowledge of the subject, in placing Augustine, at least categorically, among the great church fathers. It’s a good argument, well written, and fairly critiqued. I appreciate the people who spend their lives on the corpus of literature from this era so that little guys like me have some sense of the monster intellect the church has produced through the centuries.

Saint Augustine & The Fall Of The Soul: Beyond O'connell & His Critics
Ronnie J. Rombs / Catholic University of America Press, 2006
Review Copy Courtesy of Catholic University of America Press
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