• Chad D. Schrock
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In the Confessions and City of God—consolations of the self and sacred history, respectively—Augustine aligns and overlays self and sacred history to produce a distinctive narrative form common to them both. Cruces of conversion and incarnation permit Augustine’s and Israel’s early wanderings to seem linear, leading up to moments of perfect revelatory clarity. But the narratives’ formal quality carries beyond these ideal closures into a posthistory in which revelatory sense recedes with the passage of time. As a Christian in the Confessions, Augustine still sins; his church in the City of God had allied with a Rome that has just fallen to the Goths. From this posthistory he writes, needing consolation for the loss of direct contact with what time has carried away. The consolation inherent in his narrative form depends upon past authoritative revelation but is available in his present only through interpretive improvisation. He and his church must, and can, find ways to read and re-present divine meaning once made immanent in history. This book is the first scholarship on Augustine to document in detail the form his two great narratives share.


Narrative Form Eternal Truth Figural Reading Hebrew Scripture Linear Narrative 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Discussion of Robertson’s oeuvre coalesces around his magisterial A Preface to Chaucer: Studies in Medieval Perspectives (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962). E. Talbot Donaldson, “Patristic Exegesis in the Criticism of Medieval Literature: The Opposition,” Speaking of Chaucer (London: Athlone Press, 1970), pp. 134–53,Google Scholar
  2. is the seminal critique of Robertsonian criticism. Alan T. Gaylord, “Reflections on D. W. Robertson Jr., and ‘Exegetical Criticism,’” Chaucer Review 40 (2006), pp. 311–12, 314–21, nimbly provides a short history of Robertsonian criticism and its discontents.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 2.
    D. W. Robertson Jr., “The Doctrine of Charity in Mediaeval Literary Gardens: A Topical Approach through Symbolism and Allegory,” Speculum 26 (1951), pp. 24–5, sketches a critical paradigm for medievalists based on this passage. The translation is taken from Saint Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Library of Liberal Arts, trans. D. W. Robertson Jr. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997), hereafter OCD.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Lee Patterson, Negotiating the Past: The Historical Understanding of Medieval Literature (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987), pp. 160, 201.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For recent commentary, see Eileen C. Sweeney, Logic, Theology, and Poetry in Boethius, Abelard, and Alan of Lille: Words in the Absence of Things, The New Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave, 2006), pp. 63–125;Google Scholar
  6. and Christopher J. Martin, “Denying Conditionals: Abaelard and the Failure of Boethius’ Account of the Hypothetical Syllogism,” Vivarium 45 (2007), pp. 153–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    For recent discernment of Langland’s influence on specific Chaucerian passages, see Frank Grady, “Chaucer Reading Langland: The House of Fame,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 18 (1996), pp. 3–23;Google Scholar
  8. Joan Baker and Susan Signe Morrison, “The Luxury of Gender: Piers Plowman B.9 and The Merchant’s Tale,” William Langland’s Piers Plowman: A Book of Essays, ed. Kathleen M. Hewett-Smith (New York: Routledge, 2001), pp. 41–67;Google Scholar
  9. and George D. Economou, “Chaucer and Langland: A Fellowship of Makers,” Reading Medieval Culture: Essays in Honor of Robert W. Manning, ed. Robert M. Stein and Sandra Pierson Prior (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), pp. 290–301.Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    Every author except the anonymous author of the Stanzaic Morte cites Augustine vigorously, whether in the text we examine here or in other works, and we can assume the anonymous author of the Stanzaic Morte knows Augustine as well. The Stanzaic Morte’s attentiveness to ecclesiastical matters leads Richard Wertime, “The Theme and Structure of the Stanzaic Morte Arthur,” PMLA 87 (1972), p. 1082, to speculate that he may have been a member of a religious order.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 9.
    I owe this methodological formulation to David Aers, Salvation and Sin: Augustine, Langland, and Fourteenth-Century Theology (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), p. xi. It is the best phrase I know to access the kind of untraceable intellectual history that permits us to know so much more about (for instance) Derrida, Freud, Kant, and even Augustine himself than we have read, even if our knowledge is unsatisfactorily simplistic, in cultural caricature. These kinds of intellectual caricatures are often replicable, in the way I am describing, exactly because their oversimplification renders them accessibly schematic, without the messy and complicated details.Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    The medieval diagnosis of the Christian world as senescent derives from Augustinian parallels between microcosmic and macrocosmic history. After the high maturity of the world when Christ lived in it, the world is doddering or dwindling toward its apocalyptic end in death. James M. Dean, The World Grown Old in Later Medieval Literature, Medieval Academy of Books 101 (Cambridge, MA: The Medieval Academy of America, 1997), surveys the topic in Jean de Meun, Dante, and Middle English literature and provides a catalogue of tropes.Google Scholar
  13. John M. Fyler, Language and the Declining World in Chaucer, Dante, and Jean de Meun, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature 63 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), links the medieval belief in the world’s senec-titude with the problematic referentiality of its language. On the medieval influence of Augustine’s microcosmic and macrocosmic parallels, as well as of other competing schemes in his and other writings,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. see J. A. Burrow, The Ages of Man: A Study in Medieval Writing and Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986);Google Scholar
  15. Mary Dove, The Perfect Age of Man’s Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986);Google Scholar
  16. and Elizabeth Sears, The Ages of Man: Medieval Interpretations of the Life Cycle (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  17. 11.
    For histories of conversion that cite Augustine as paradigm, see, for example, Karl Joachim Weintraub, The Value of the Individual: Self and Circumstance in Autobiography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978);Google Scholar
  18. William C. Spengemann, The Forms of Autobiography: Episodes in the History of a Literary Genre (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980);Google Scholar
  19. and Jerry Root, “Space to Speke”: The Confessional Subject in Medieval Literature, American University Studies, Series II: Romance Languages and Literatures 225 (New York: Peter Lang, 1997).Google Scholar
  20. 12.
    Tertullian, Apologetical Works, Fathers of the Church, A New Translation 10, trans. Rudolph Arbesmann, Sister Emily Joseph Daly, and Edwin A. Quain (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1962), ch. 50.Google Scholar
  21. 13.
    Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), p. 80.Google Scholar
  22. See also R. W. Southern, Medieval Humanism and Other Studies (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1970), pp. 89–90, on conventions of the consolatio genre, including the comforting proportion between one’s own suffering and the greater or lesser suffering of others.Google Scholar
  23. 15.
    For important analyses of both scriptures as open narrative forms, see John Goldingay, Israel’s Gospel, vol. 1 of Old Testament Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003);Google Scholar
  24. and N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God 1 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  25. 16.
    Jessica Rosenfeld, Ethics and Enjoyment in Late Medieval Poetry: Love after Aristotle, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature 85 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 32, has drawn the only specific comparison between Augustinian and Boethian consolation I have found: “Augustine and Boethius together bequeath a model of reconciliation between love for earthly beauty and rejection of earthly mutability—this literary model allows praise for the world once one’s conversion away from the world has been effected, and consolation that springs from both mutable fortune, recognized as such, and a knowledge that a life beyond fortune exists after death.” That is, both Augustine and Boethius can praise the world from a perspective secured safely outside it. For Augustine, however, conversion and incarnation are historical events that paradoxically secure access to eternal meaning at a temporal point. That difference creates a distinctively Augustinian narrative form and ethical mandate, despite his common conviction with Boethius that temporal meaning inheres in an eternal God.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Chad D. Schrock 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chad D. Schrock

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations