The Nameless Lover: Friendship, Asceticism, and Anthropology in Augustine

Scholars such as Philip Burton have praised Augustine as a “highly trained and careful language professional” who as a writer did not carelessly employ or omit words. This paper will contemplate the significance of the omission of the name of Augustine’s pre-conversion mistress from his spiritual memoir, “Confessions.” Its thesis will be that Augustine’s decision to leave his lover unnamed functions literarily to demonstrate the reordering of his love toward its proper object, God, and illustrates Augustine’s theocentric understanding, evident throughout his writings, of both anthropology and love. The paper’s argument will take two main steps. First, the name’s omission will be considered in light of both Augustine’s eagerness to explicitly identify a host of other beloved individuals who featured in his life story and in light of his realization that he, as a human, was made by and for God. Second, a comparison of Augustine’s description of his lover and his descriptions of his friends, scattered throughout “Confessions” and his letters, will foreground his concurrent emphases on self-renunciation and fervent friendship as proper characteristics of a Christian anthropology. While building its case, the paper will draw on established scholarly analysis of Augustine’s linguistics and anthropology, and will investigate a surprising Augustinian literary device in Graham Greene’s “The End of the Affair.” The paper will close by suggesting that the namelessness of Augustine’s lover, while morally complex, is a clue to the enrichment of our present-day theological anthropology and the potential of human friendship in this world and the next.

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