Outward Signs: The Powerlessness of External Things in Augustine's Thought

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This book is, along with Inner Grace (OUP 2008), a sequel to Phillip Cary's Augustine and the Invention of the Inner Self (OUP 2000). In this work, Cary argues that Augustine invented the expressionist type of semiotics widely taken for granted in modernity, where words are outward signs giving inadequate expression to what lies within the soul. Augustine uses this new semiotics to explain why the authority of external teaching, including Biblical authority, is useful but temporary, designed to lead to a more permanent Platonist vision granted by the inner teacher, Christ, who is the eternal Wisdom of God. In fact, for Augustine we literally learn nothing from words or other outward signs, which are useful only as admonitions or reminders pointing out the right direction for us to look in order to see for ourselves, with the inner eye of our own mind. Even our knowledge of other people is ultimately a matter of seeing what is in their souls, not putting faith in their words.

Cary argues that for Augustine outward signs cannot give us knowledge because all bodily things are fundamentally powerless, incapable of conveying an inner good to the soul. This also leaves no room for a concept of efficacious external means of grace not even the flesh of Christ. The sacraments, which Augustine was the first to describe as outward signs of inner grace, signify what is necessary for salvation but do not confer it. Baptism, for example, is necessary for salvation, but its power is found not in water or word but in the inner unity, charity, and peace of the church.

Along with its companion work, Inner Grace, this careful and insightful book breaks new ground in the study of Augustine's theology of grace and sacraments.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Phillip Cary's Inner Grace and Outward Signs together constitute a fascinating account of how Augustine's Platonism shaped his account of grace, of faith, of language, of sacraments indeed, of almost everything he ever wrote about. Cary's discussion was full of surprises for me; the Augustine that emerges is much more strange and much more creative than the Augustine I thought I knew. Many readers won't like this new Augustine; Cary's treatment will be controversial. But it is so remarkably original and so thoroughly documented that no Augustine scholar will be able to ignore it." —Nicholas Wolterstorff, Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Yale University; Senior Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia

"Philip Cary's new books, Inner Grace and Outward Signs, are major contributions to scholarship on Augustine. They are also controversial ones, since the upshot of one of his central arguments is that Augustine not only doesn't but can't have any genuine sacramental theology because on his assumptions there can be no intimate and transformative causal connection between material objects and inner states. Cary supports this argument with learning, wit, and intellectual passion. It deserves what it will undoubtedly receive, which is much lively discussion." —Paul J. Griffiths, Duke Divinity School

"Augustine's thought has informed the mind of the Christian West for the past sixteen centuries, and occasionally a book is published that marks a watershed in Augustinian scholarship. Cary's book Outward Signs is, I believe, such a book. Like many important books on Augustine, Cary's is both brilliantly enlightening, and bound to rouse fruitful controversy." —Roland Teske, Donald J. Schuenke Professor of Philosophy, Marquette University

"These two handsome volumes by Phillip Cary complete a trilogy on Augustine's theology...Altogether the trilogy constitutes an energetic and challenging interpretation of Augustinian theology." —Journal of Religion

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195336498
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 4/2/2008
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Phillip Cary is Professor of Philosophy at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA, where he is also Scholar-in-Residence at the Templeton Honors College.

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Table of Contents

Introduction Expressionist Semiotics and the Powerlessness of the External 3

Pt. I Words from Which We Learn Nothing

1 Before Words Were Signs: Semiotics in Greek Philosophy 17

2 From Scepticism to Platonism: The Concept of Sign in Augustine's Earliest Writings 45

3 How Words Became Signs: The Development of Augustine's Expressionist Semiotics 65

4 Why We Learn Nothing from Words: The Epistemology of Augustine's Semiotics 87

5 Believing Persons: Theological Implications of Augustine's Semiotics 121

Pt. II Powerless Sacraments

6 Sacred Signs of Inner Unity: Augustine and Medieval Sacramental Theology 155

7 The Efficacy of the Church's Baptism: Against Donatists and Pelagians 193

8 New Testament Sacraments and the Flesh of Christ 221

Notes 263

Bibliography 323

Index 335

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