The Wound of Grief: Stoicism and Grief in Augustine’s City of God

As a part of a growing interest in theological anthropology and the place of emotions in human life over the last twenty-five years, there has also been an increase in scholarly work on Augustine’s view of the emotions (Wetzel, “Prodigal Heart”; Wessel, “On Compassion”; Cooper, “Love and Belonging”; Starnes, “Augustine’s Conversion”). Most of this study, however, has focused on a few primary sections of his major works, including Confessions, Books 4 and 9, and City of God, Books 9 and 14. While these are significant sections for understanding Augustine’s view of emotions, limiting the discussion to these sections has meant that scholars have tended to focus primarily on how Augustine differed from the Stoics in allowing a place for legitimate grief. Little work has been done, however, on the specific circumstances in which Augustine saw grief as appropriate, and because of this, the nature and purpose of Augustine’s response to Stoicism may not have been fully realized.
James Wetzel (“The Limits of Virtue,” “Parting Knowledge,” “Augustine: A Guide to the Perplexed”) and others (Wessel, Starnes, Kidd) have primarily emphasized the way Augustine came to reject Stoic principles in legitimizing grief over personal sin, suggesting that his transformation of sadness from a negative passion to an indicator of virtue is a striking departure from Stoicism. While this observation is significant, I argue that Augustine’s presentation of the ills of life in City of God 19.4–8 reveals much greater complexity in his response to Stoic theories of eupatheia and apatheia than has previously been discussed. Furthermore, I suggest that in these sections Augustine was using the experience of grief, alongside the nuanced theological anthropology provided in Book 14, as an apologetic tool to draw the Stoic to the truth of the Gospel.
In the proposed paper, I briefly survey recent work (Wetzel, Kidd, Starnes) on the relationship between Augustine’s view of the emotions and Stoicism and consider the way in which Augustine’s description of the ills of life in this world in City of God, Book 19.4-8 might add to our understanding of his earlier discussion of Stoicism and emotions in the incarnation and resurrection from Book 14.8-9 by presenting additional circumstances in which he viewed grief as appropriate. In so doing, I seek to expand on the work of Wetzel, Kidd, and Starnes by examining the ways Augustine both retains and rejects Stoic understandings of passions and eupatheia in order to present Christianity as a compelling answer to the difficulties of life.

6 thoughts on “The Wound of Grief: Stoicism and Grief in Augustine’s City of God”

  1. Yet another doctoral student
    Yet another doctoral student kind of paper. Possibly need to consider whether we can have so many PhD students from Baptist seminaries, just from the perspective of broad representation. Yet this one looks solid and scholarly, like the others.

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  2. Essential Augustine
    The thesis confronts some of Augustine’s most personal essentials–anthropology and philosophy–and confronts them with Stoicism. Primary sources, critical thought, and clarity all mark this proposal. And it’s interesting.

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  3. I appreciate the approach of
    I appreciate the approach of querying which of Augustine’s works should be included in the conversation about his theological views on this topic. Well-researched proposal.

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  4. Excellent and solid proposal; suggested grouping
    Hannah will do an excellent job.

    Suggested Augustine session:

    Brad Green (election and reprobation)
    Hannah Turrill (Stoicism and Augustine)
    Thomas Holsteen (Platonism and Augustine)
    J. Chan (Roman Empire and Augustine)

    I predict a well-attended session.

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