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‘The Torrent of the Human Race:’ The Concept of Movement in the Works of Saint Augustine and Its Impact on the Medieval Imagination

Augustine‘The Torrent of the Human Race:’ The Concept of Movement in the Works of Saint Augustine and Its Impact on the Medieval Imagination

By Christopher A. Dunn

Writing Across the Curriculum, Vol.6 (2012)

Introduction: Saint Augustine lived, taught and wrote at the end of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth centuries CE, a time of great change. The familiar structures of the Roman Empire were first wobbling, then collapsing around him as the Vandals besieged his own city of Hippo, in North Africa. It was evident that “Roma” was not “Eterna” but temporary and transitory. In such circumstances, it is not surprising that Augustine enunciated an epistemology, a theology and ultimately an eschatology in which movement and change played a central role. Augustine’s view of the paramount importance of movement in all these aspects would inform and imbue the culture of the Middle Ages for a thousand years after his death.

For Augustine, movement was essential in four respects. First, it described the nature of the relationship between an eternal God and a finite, temporal, material world. Second, movement constituted the basic imperative of the Christian message: man’s soul is compelled to move toward God or perish eternally. Third, movement provides the key to understanding God’s message to mankind as revealed in the Scriptures through “signs” that engage the human mind and encourage it toward a deeper understanding of the true, spiritual reality. Finally, movement is the fundamental condition of earthly history, a rushing “torrent” that will inevitably, and perhaps imminently, lead to the Last Judgment and the ultimate union of the elect with God. Each of these four aspects of movement can be found in Augustine’s work.

Click here to read this article from Writing Across the Curriculum



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