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Sacrificing the Son In Augustine's Confessions


In his most recent exploration of semiotics in Augustine's
Confessions, Eugene Vance argues that its story "must be
read ... not only as the drama of a young man's conversion
to his mother's faith, but also as the story of a no less
dramatic conversion of his classical rhetorical models of
reading and writing to those of the Christian Word."1 The
importance of the rhetorical conversion depicted within the
narrative suggests that Augustine expected readers to apply
these Christian rhetorical models to the narrative itself.
If this is indeed true, then our method in interpreting the
first ten books of the Confessions should parallel that of
Augustine's exegesis of the Genesis Creation story in its
final three books. Vance, in reading the text this way,
shows how Augustine's rhetorical conversion is inextricably
linked to his familial relationships: the figurative
understanding of Augustine's mother Monica shows that the
Confessions constitutes a "verbal tomb," intended as a
monument, for her. 

I would like to follow Vance's lead by suggesting that
Patricius's joy upon seeing his son's pubescence in the
bathhouse (Conf. 2.3.6) signals that this father-son
relationship is to be read figuratively as a reversal of
the relationship between that most paternal and patriarchal
of Old Testament figures, Abraham, and his son Isaac.
Jerome Baschet, arguing that "the network of kinship plays
a major, structuring role in the medieval world, in the
organisation of society as well as in its representations,"
shows that Abraham plays a seminal role in this network.2.
Abraham "is both the formidable and the pathetic father,
the hero of sacrifice," he notes: formidable in that
"[b]elonging to the chosen people means being a child of
Abraham, a member of semen Abrahae," and pathetic in that
he is willing to sacrifice his offspring according to God's
command.3 We can thus apply Erich Auerbach's classic phrase
about the binding of Isaac, "fraught with background," to
the depiction of the Patricius-Augustine relationship.4
Because of its silent Biblical background, this depiction
of kinship should be understood by reference to the
preeminent element of this network of kinship, the Trinity,
whose familial structure fulfills and perfects that of
Abraham and Isaac. Augustine's heightened sense of the
spiritual possibilities of sacrifice renders the Patricius-
Augustine submission to concupiscence that much more
devastating, for like the binding of Isaac, it has
implications well beyond its pathetic human elements.
Augustine's rhetorical conversion to God's Word has the
power to reveal the divine workings behind Patricius's
simple reaction to the dangerous knowledge acquired in the

The method by which Vance and I arrive at these readings is
not only inscripted in final three books of the
Confessions, but also suggested by the chronology of
Augustine's writings: "Curiously, just as Augustine began
to elaborate on the nature of tropes" in De doctrina
christiana, Vance notes, "he suddenly interrupted his text,
not to return to it until the end of his life, some thirty
years later." One of the last sentences before this
interruption "may therefore be conceived as a prelude to
the Confessions": "Quod cum apparuerit, uerba, quibus
continetur, aut a similibus rebus ducta inueniuntur aut ab
aliqua uicinitate attingentibus" ("When a figurative
locution appears, the words of which it is composed will be
seen to be derived from similar things or related to such
things by some association" [doctr. 3.25.34]):5 
Similitude and association, metaphor and metonymy: these,
for Augustine, are the master-tropes governing all
allegoresis, by which literal meanings are converted to
spiritual ones. Such a theory is doubly pertinent to the
Confessions, since it deals very explicitly with the
conversion of a sinful rhetorician through the tricks of
his very own trade.
The master of that trade is Ambrose, whose sermon De Isaac
uel anima "seduced" the young Augustine, as Pierre
Courcelle has established, into a Christian rhetoric.6 But
Courcelle does not explain the intellectual purpose of that
historical incident: as Vance argues, Ambrose is equally
important because he showed Augustine how the scriptures
verbalized the young man's personal struggles. At the time,
Augustine claims, the Christian content of Ambrose's
sermons was distasteful to him: "verbis eius suspendebar
intentus, rerum autem incuriosus et contemptor adstabam"
("I hung on his diction in rapt attention, but remained
bored and contemptuous of the subject-matter" [5.13.23]).7
But this paragraph emphasizes his ignorance of these
sermons' effect, suggesting that perhaps we should not
accept the young rhetorician's point of view at face
value.8 Thus, in arguing that "it was not Ambrose's method
alone, but also the content of his discourse that affected
Augustine so deeply," Vance suggests that "Ambrose's
figural exegesis of the Isaac story in [this] sermon
offered some very powerful medicine to the young man now
bereft of a woman he still desired and under considerable
pressure both to marry and to submit to his mother's
In particular, Ambrose's reliance upon the sensual language
of the Song of Songs to explain the figural importance of
Isaac would have appealed to a someone in Augustine's
situation. As Vance summarizes, "Isaac may be interpreted,
respectively, both as the messiah who is the spiritual
bridegroom of the human soul, and as the human soul longing
for the Church as its spotless bride. Inversely, Rebecca is
both the Church as bride and the desiring human soul
panting for its messiah." This exegesis showed Augustine
that he could displace his sexual longing with a spiritual
longing for the Church, in the person of his mother: 
The pertinence of this figural exegesis, with its
interesting chiasmus of gender and parental roles, to
Augustine's relationship with his mother and Ambrose is
hard to deny. If Rebecca as bride is, for Isaac, a
surrogate for his mother Sara, and if Rebecca is
figuratively the church, then Augustine's conversion (and
marriage) to the church of aged Monica is also a figurative
union with the church as a surrogate mother, exactly as the
Biblical Rebecca had been for Isaac.
It is precisely Augustine's strong sexuality that enabled
the application of Ambrose's sermon to his own life: "[B]y
his sermon, [Ambrose] kindled in the libidinis servus
[6.15.25] who was Monica's debauched son a purified erotic
love for the church, both as a virginal bride and as a
surrogate mother," Vance argues. "Ambrose gives full
credence to the libidinal impulses in Augustine that are
quite literally crying out for transfiguration." 
If only because it shows how far Augustine must turn to be
united with "the church of aged Monica," the depiction of
Patricius as a negative inversion of Abraham complements
this figural narrative quite well. But there is no need to
confine such figurative reading to the figures of Ambrose
and Monica: I suggest that the sermon on Abraham, which
immediately preceded that on Isaac, provides an intertext
by which we understand how Patricius fits into Augustine's
figurative construct. Whereas Abraham demonstrates his
faithfulness through his willingness to serve God by
sacrificing his whole world in the person of his son,
Patricius instead displays his carnality and rejection of
God. He serves the world, which is, in Ambrosian terms,
carnal desire. As Vance points out, it is Augustine's
carnality that enables Ambrose's profound impact:
"libininis servus eram" ("I was a slave of lust"
[6.15.25]). While Abraham is willing to sacrifice his
beloved son upon God's command, Patricius is ready to
sacrifice his son not to God but to the world, and, more
explicitly, to what Augustine himself called (in his De
libero arbitrio) libido.9 
Ambrose's De Isaac uel anima does not concern the sacrifice
of Isaac, yet as Vance asserts, this story "held special
appeal at a time when persecutions of Christians ... were a
thing of the past, yet fresh in memory." Moreover, the
binding of Isaac was a foundational event for Christian
art, liturgy, and allegoresis. Sarcophogi, for instance,
frequently depicted Abraham's interrupted sacrifice in
juxtaposition with the miracles of healing and reviving
performed by Christ:10 
The story of Isaac was prominent in the iconography of
early Christianity not only because it celebrated in a
poignant way a new covenant between humans and their
once-vengeful God, but also because it underscored
transformations of the sacrificial act upon which Christian
life, as well as its liturgy, was grounded. Isaac remained,
for Augustine, a model for his own priesthood, precisely
because it launched a motif of sacrifice first transformed
into the circumcision of the Jews and then perfected by
Christ on the cross, whom Christians must now spiritually
The iconographic tradition not only juxtaposes the binding
with Christ's miracles, it also resembles those miracles by
transforming the Old Testament event into its fulfillment
before viewers' eyes. As Vance argues, it thus literalizes
precisely the terms upon which Augustine grounds his
discussion of tropology: "the most prominent visual
'figures' or master-tropes linking the Old Testament
Isaac's interrupted sacrifice with New Testament miracles
are, precisely, metaphor and metonymy--similitudo and
vicinitas, to cite Augustine's exact terms at that place
where he interrupted the De doctrina christiana to begin
the Confessions." While perhaps De Isaac uel anima was the
more immediate catalyst for Augustine's rhetorical
conversion, nevertheless the sermon on Abraham would have
registered profoundly for Augustine as a commentary on that
very process--exegesis--that it enacted. 
Vance displays considerable skill in dealing with a number
of different texts and discursive models, and his method
reaps large rewards. However, I would like to add an
important point to his analysis: Augustine, or the makers
of the sarcophagi, need have gone no further than the
Pauline exegesis of Genesis 22 to have found a basis for a
spiritualized notion of similitudo. Augustine himself would
later cite these passages to proove that Isaac would be
restored to him: 
Sic intellectum est et in epistula ad Hebraeos, et sic
expositum. "Fide," inquit, "praecessit Abraham Isaac
temptatus et unicum obtulit, qui promissiones suscepit, ad
quem dictum est: In Isaac uocabitur tibi semen, cogitans
quia et es mortuis suscitare potest Deus." Proinde addidit:
"Pro hoc etiam eum et in similitudinem adduxit;" cuius
similitudinem, nisi illius unde dicit apostolus: "Qui
proprio filio non pepercit, sed pro nobis omnibus tradidit
(It is in this way the passage in the Epistle to the
Hebrews is also to be understood and explained. "By faith,"
he says, "Abraham overcame, when tempted about Isaac: and
he who had received the promise offered up his only son, to
whom it was said, In Isaac shall thy seed by called:
thinking that God was able to raise him up, even from the
dead;" therefore he has added, "from whence also he
received him in a similitude." In whose similitude but His
of whom the apostle says, "He that spared not His own Son,
but delivered Him up for us all?" [civ. 16.32])11 
Isaac does not just prefigure Christ; he is, literally, a
similitudo. The binding of Isaac, even without the benefit
of Paul's term, is easily given to Christian figurative
interpretation. That Augustine bases his reading on the
term similitudo, therefore, demonstrates the centrality of
this notion to his exegesis. Moreover, if Augustine's
doctrines concerning tropes do indeed serve as a prelude to
the Confessions, as Vance suggests, then the bishop could
easily have taken the exegesis of this particular story as
an inspiration for his own new project. Sacrifice and bonds
of family, after all, are crucial in both this foundational
text of allegoresis and his own life. Genesis 22 might thus
have prompted Augustine to consider how his own life could
be profitably presented in figural terms. 
Despite having established this crucial relationship
between the interrupted sacrifice and the Confessions,
Vance abandons this story since it does not feature the
sexual overtones so important to both Augustine's narrative
and his rhetorical education. In suggesting why the content
of De Isaac uel anima would have attracted Augustine, Vance
distinguishes the "very different thrust" of its sexual
themes from that of the previous sermon. But while the
explicit thrust of the stories is indeed different--as
Ambrose's dependence on the Song of Songs in his
allegoresis of the De Isaac suggests--Augustine's
explanation of libidinous reading in De doctrina christiana
shows that in Genesis 22, as well, Augustine might well
have seen a lesson about concupiscence. In granting many of
his narrative's actors and sites--his parents, Ambrose, and
the bathhouse--figural as well as literal meanings,
Augustine weaves the motif of sacrifice into his own story. 
Because Genesis 22 exemplifies Old Testament scriptural
prefiguration of the Christ event, Augustine would easily
have understood Paul's exegesis of that text as a prime
model for his own practice. Its opposite is quite carefully
termed "carnal" interpretation, for in De doctrina
christiana Augustine uses fornification as an analogy for
sinful interpretation of God's Word. He considers those
who, by reading scriptures literally, find support for
their sinful ways: "Quod nisi dominante cupiditate et
ipsarum quoque scripturarum, quibus euertenda est,
satellitium quaerente, non faciet" ("Unless he is dominated
by cupidity and seeks protection for it in the very
Scriptures by means of which it is to be overthrown, no one
will do this" [3.18.26]). Men who think they find lechery
in the scriptures are acting out the concupiscence in their
own moral practices: 
Nam si multis uxoribus caste uti quisquam pro tempore
potuit, potest alius una libidinose. Magis enim probo
multarum fecunditate utentem propter aliud, quam unius
carne fruentem propter ipsam. Ibi enim quaeritur utilitas
temporum opportunitatibus congrua, hic satiatur cupiditas
temporalibus uoluptatibus implicata inferiorisque gradus ad
deum sunt, quibus secundum ueniam concedit apostolus
carnalem cum singulis coniugibus consuetudinem propter
intemperantiam eorum, quam illi, qui plures singuli cum
haberent, sicut sapiens in cibo et potu nonnisi salutem
corporis, sic in concubitu nonnisi procreationem filiorum
(For if because of the times a man could then use many
wives chastely, a man may nevertheless use one wife
libidinously. I commend more a man who uses the fecundity
of many wives for a disinterested purpose than a man
enjoying the flesh of one wife for itself. In the first
instance a utility congruous with the circumstances of the
time is sought; in the second a cupidity implicated in
temporal delights is satiated. They are on a lower step
toward God to whom the Apostle "by indulgence" allowed
carnal commerce with one wife because of intemperance than
those who, although they had several wives, sought in
intercourse with them only the procreation of children in
the same way that a wise man seeks only nourishment in food
and drink. [3.18.27])
Augustine makes it explicit that those who not only enjoy
the flesh of a wife, but also believe that "men of old"
behaved this way, are caught in the snares of the libido:
"et quod ipsi laqueis libidinis obstricti uel in una non
faciunt, nullo modo in multis fieri posse arbitrantur"
("And since they who are caught in snares of libido do not
behave in this way with one wife, they think it could not
be done in any way with many" [3.19.28]). This example
displays the fundamental distinction with which Augustine
began his treatise: "Frui est enim amore inhaerere alicui
rei propter se ipsam. Vti autem, quod in usum uenerit, ad
id, quod amas obtinendum referre, si tamen amandum est"
("To enjoy something is to cling to it with love for its
own sake. To use something, however, is to employ it in
obtaining that which you love, provided that it is worthy
of love" [1.4.4]). The persons of the Trinity are the only
things to be enjoyed (1.5.5): wives, therefore, should be
used only for procreation, not for sexual enjoyment.
Likewise, and crucial to the theory expounded in De
doctrina christiana, words are properly used to obtain the
knowledge of the Trinity. 
This theory might not seem pertinent to the binding of
Isaac: Paul's exegesis, after all, epitomizes precisely the
opposite of libidinous interpretation. But the story's
focus on procreation brings it closer to the sexual issues
both invoked in De doctrina christiana and dramatized in
the Bible's following chapters on Isaac's marriage to
Rebecca.12 Augustine could have found in Genesis 22 a
lesson easily applied to the temptation of lechery, for it
is Abraham's reward for his faithfulness that endues the
Isaac-Rebecca union with such significance: 
Et uocauit angelus Domini Abraham secundo de caelo dicens:
Per me ipsum iuraui, dicit Dominus, propter quod fecisti
uerbum hoc et non pepercisti filio tuo delicto propter me,
nisi benedicens benedicam te, et multiplicans multiplicabo
semen tuum tamquam stellas caeli et tamquam harenam, quae
iuxta labium maris. Et hereditate possidebit semen tuum
ciuitates aduersariorum, et benedicentur in semine tuo
omnes gentes terrae, quia obaudisti uocem meam. 
("And the Angel of the Lord called unto Abraham from heaven
the second time, saying, By myself have I sworn, saith the
Lord; because thou hast done this thing, and hast not
spared thy beloved son for my sake; that in blessing I will
bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as
the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the
seashore; and thy seed shall possess by inheritance the
cities of the adversaries: and in thy seed shall all the
nations of the earth be blessed because thou hast obeyed my
voice" [Gen. 22:16-18; civ. 16.32])13 
It is not difficult to see how the blessing of Abraham's
seend would, in Vance's words, offer "some very powerful
medicine" to the young Augustine as he wrestled with his
desire for his concubine, his mother's wish that he marry,
and her pressure on him to accept Christianity. Although it
is true that, as Vance shows, the Isaac story, because of
its radical revision of the ethical and moral priorities of
fourth- century spirituality, offers a "very different
thrust" from that of Abraham, nevertheless the two
narratives complement each other in their theme of the
blessing of offspring. 
Although Augustine does not describe the binding of Isaac
as a sacrifice to libido, in a striking passage in a sermon
on Christ's genealogy he shows that he did indeed extend
the notion of filial sacrifice to the sexual realm. Like De
doctrina christiana, this sermon stresses that scriptural
marriages were intended for procreation, but the difference
between the two is crucial. The sermon adds the element of
parental responsibility: "Hinc intelligite, fratres mei,
quid senserit Scriptura de illis parentibus nostris, qui
sic erant conjugati, ut solam prolem de conjugibus
quaererent" ("Hence, my brethren, understand the sense of
Scripture concerning those our ancient fathers, whose sole
design in their marriage was to have children by their
wives"). Even those who had many wives treated them with
honor, he insists, and our marriage contracts stress the
same purpose: "recitantur tabulae, et recitantur in
conspectu omnium attestantium, et recitatur, 'liberorum
procreandorum causa,' et vocantur tabulae matrimoniales.
nisi ad hoc dentur, ad hoc accipiantur uxores, quis sana
fronte dat filiam suam libidini alienae?" ("The contract is
read, read in the presence of all the attesting witnesses;
and an express clause is there that they marry 'for the
procreation of children;' and this is called the marriage
contract. If it was not for this that wives were given and
taken to wife, what father could without blushing give up
his daughter to the lust of any man?" [s. 51.13.22]).14 In
this sermon Augustine assumes that parents have the
capacity to give away their daughters, and the obligation
to do so wisely.15 Perhaps the story of Lot's offer of his
virgin daughters to the men of Sodom underlies Augustine's
horror: "'sunt mihi duae filiae quae nondum nouerunt uiros;
producam illas ad uos, utimini illis quomodo placuerit
uobis; tantum in uiros istos ne faciatis iniquum'" ("'I
have two daughters who as yet have not known man: I will
bring them out to you, and abuse you them as it shall
please you, so that you do no evil to these men" [Gen.
19:8; qu. hept. 1.42]).16 
If daughters are gifts to husbands--or, in some instances,
sacrifices to abusive men (as was Monica)--what, then, is
the role of sons? They are not given in marriage, for they
are to find a wife. Nevertheless, sons can be given as
well, as the Abraham story demonstrates: Isaac is an
offering, holocaustum, to God (Gen. 22:2). More important,
his role as an offering prefigures the sacrifice of Christ,
as Augustine remarks in continuing his explanation of the
term similitudo: "Propterea et Isaac, sicut Dominus crucem
suam, ita sibi ligna ad uictimae locum, quibus fuerat et
inponendus, ipse portauit" ("And on this account Isaac also
himself carried to the place of sacrifice the wood on which
he was to be offered up, just as the Lord Himself carried
His own cross" [civ. 16.32]). The clearest statement that
the Son is a gift, of course, is John's famous verse: "sic
enim dilexit Deus mundum ut Filium suum unigenitum daret"
("For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten
Son" [John 3:16]).17 Finally, the name of Augustine's son,
"Adeodatus," indicates his recognition that his son is a
gift from God. Daughters and sons would seem, therefore, to
occupy very different roles in the economy of early
Christian families and belief systems. While daughters are
gifts to future husbands in the everyday world, sons are
gifts only when born, not as sacrifices but instead as
signs of God's grace. Only in the symbolic worlds of the
scriptures and Christian cosmology can sons be given as
sacrifices; and even there, unlike their sisters, sons have
agency, or at least the virtue of participating willfully
in these sacrifices, as Isaac's and Christ's willing
burdens testify. 
In the Confessions, Augustine the author dismantles,
perhaps unconsciously, this hierarchy of the holy
sacrifices of sons over the matrimonial gifts of daughters.
He does so, I suggest, by depicting the young Augustine's
relationship with his father Patricius in the context of
both of the sacrificial narratives outlined above: this
father-son relationship negatively reflects the spiritual
nature of Abraham's and Isaac's, for Augustine, like the
daughter in sermon 51, is sacrificed on the altar not of
the Lord, but of libido. But while Augustine occupies the
feminine slot in this sacrifice, nevertheless he retains
that important element of agency: for the purpose of the
first nine books of the Confessions, after all, is to show
that the protagonist's errors are his own, and that his
salvation was always within his own reach. Like Isaac and
Jesus, Augustine is a willing participant in his sacrifice.
He writes that he gave himself to lechery: "ubi eram? et
quam longe exulabam a deliciis domus tuae anno illo sexto
decimo aetatis carnis meae, cum accepit in me sceptrum (et
totas manus ei dedi) vesania libidinis, licentiosae per
dedecus humanum, inlicitae autem per leges tuas?" ("Where
was I in the sixteenth year of my flesh? Far away in exile
from the pleasures of your house. Sensual folly assumed
domination over me, and I game myself totally to it in acts
allowed by shameful humanity but under your laws illicit"
[2.2.4]). Indeed, it is this lustfulness that keeps him
from converting even after he has intellectually accepted
Augustine's program of allusions to the prodigal son, a
program in which the passage just quoted participates,
illuminates both Patricius's role in Augustine's figurative
construct and the notion of the son as a sacrifice. As a
contemporary prodigal son, the young Augustine is both
imprisoned to licentiousness and promised an eventual
joyful return to the father.18 It is within this program of
allusions that Patricius is depicted as a negative father.
James J. O'Donnell notes that the allegorical reading of
this story, in which the departure from home is equated
with original sin, adds pressure to the real father-son
relationship of the Confessions: 
By the flexibility of that allegorical reading, the story
then becomes the story of Augustine himself, a man whose
relationship with his own father was difficult and
strained, apparently unmarked by any final reconciliation.
When Augustine is baptized (which on the theological level
represents a return of the prodigal to the paternal God),
he is at the same time being reconciled with Patricius--or
at least with Patricius' own final disposition to accept
baptism. 19 
If Augustine is the prodigal son, then his father has a
particularly important role, for which he is perhaps not
very well qualified. Had Augustine given the story an
innovative reading, he could have focused on those
attributes of the Lucan father that parallel those of
Patricius: "The story itself seems to invite reflection on
the prodigality of the father as much as of the son,"
O'Donnell points out, "but this reading seems alien to the
interpretation of Augustine and his time...."20 I suggest
that, because this story is not conducive to his secondary
project of dramatizing his father's failures, Augustine
interweaves allusions to the binding of Isaac, a story
against which he can easily reveal these failures, among
those to the prodigal son. Augustine was thinking of both
sons, prodigal and submissive, in tandem when writing the
Confessions: the passage that inititiates the
Augustine/prodigal son parallels, in fact, depends not only
upon the Biblical story, but also upon Ambrose's sermon on
Isaac, which does not itself refer to the prodigal son. 21 
The construction of the Patricius-Augustine relationship,
therefore, reverses that of the exemplary Abraham-Isaac
relationship: the opposite depiction of such crucial themes
as paternal duties, serving the Lord, and the promise of
posterity suggests that the bathhouse episode can be
understood as a carnal revision of Abrahm's spiritual
sacrifice. The similarities are strong enough to suggest
that perhaps Patricius's joy upon his son's pubescence
amounts to a willingness to sacrifice his son to
concupiscence, reversing Abraham's sacred faithfulness.
Patricius falls under heavy censure for his failure to keep
his son on the path of righteousness: 
Sed ubi sexto illo et decimo anno, interposito otio ex
necessitate domestica, feriatus ab omni schola cum
parentibus esse coepi, excesserunt caput meum vepres
libidinum, et nulla erat eradicans manus. quin immo ubi me
ille pater in balneis vidit pubescentem et inquieta indutum
adulescentia, quasi iam ex hoc in nepotes gestiret, gaudens
matri indicavit, gaudens vinulentia in qua te iste mundus
oblitus est creatorem suum et creaturam tuam pro te amavit,
de vino invisibili perversae atque inclinatae in ima
voluntatis suae. 
(In my sixteenth year idleness interposed because of my
family's lack of funds. I was on holiday from all schooling
and lived with my parents. The thorns of lust rose above my
head, and there was no hand to root them out. Indeed, when
at the bathhouse my father saw that I was showing signs of
virility and the stirrings of adolescence, he was overjoyed
to suppose that he would now be having grandchildren, and
told my mother so. His delight was that of the intoxication
which makes the world oblivious of you, its Creator, and to
love your creation instead of you. He was drunk with the
invisible wine of his perverse will directed downwards to
inferior things. [2.3.6])
Patricius's failure is first marked by an absence--"nulla
erat eradicans manus"--but it then becomes much more
grievous in that he actively celebrates his son's carnal
development. The contrast with Abraham's high paternal
standards could hardly be starker: while Abraham
unquestioningly follows God's seemingly horrible command,
Patricius, drunkenly loving God's creation, remains
oblivious of God. By invoking the binding of Isaac,
Augustine can reflect on the prodigality of the father: Leo
Charles Ferrari points out that "Augustine's interpretation
of this distant country ["peregre ... in regionem
longinquam," Lk. 15.13] is that it signifies forgetfulness
of God: 'regio longinqua oblivio Dei est.'"22 Both
Augustine, as the prodigal son, and Patricius, as the
negative Abraham who is forgetful of God, inhabit distant
regions whose figurative signification is opposite to that
of the distant mountain to which the Lord sent Abraham. 
Patricius's joy in the promise of carnal posterity most
strikingly contrasts with the blessing of Abraham's seed as
a reward for his faithfulness. Abraham's spiritual reward
signals his spiritual worthiness; Patricius's delight,
however, not only reveals his carnality, but also his
presumption: in contrast with Abraham, he rejoices before
any display of worthiness, and in spite of his
unfaithfulness. This desire for grandchildren is especially
perverse when we remember that Augustine condemns those
marriages intended only for sexual pleasure rather than
procreation. At least such marriages might literally die
out, leaving no progeny behind; Patricius, however,
celebrates the potential for offspring precisely because
now concupiscence might now engender even more
concupiscence. This celebration of generative carnality
amounts to a perverse parody of the blessing of Abraham's
seed. In De civitate dei, Augustine remarks upon the body's
proper role as a sacrifice: "Corpus etiam nostrum cum
temperantia castigamus, si hoc, quem ad modum debemus,
propter Deum facimus, ut non exhibeamus membra nostra arma
iniquitatis peccato, sed arma iustitae Deo, sacrificium
est" ("Our body, too, is a sacrifice when we chasten it by
temperance, if we do so as we ought, for God's sake, that
we may not yield our members instruments of unrighteousness
unto sin, but instruments of righteousness unto God" [civ.
10.6]). Patricius, however, uses his son's body for
precisely the opposite purpose: to sacrifice to the false
idol intemperance. The bathhouse episode depicts Patricius
and Augustine sinning both bodily, through their
celebration of the flesh, and rhetorically, through their
dramatization and concretization of interpretive sin as
figured in De doctrina christiana. 
Before Ambrose's arrival, Monica is complicit in, if
anxious about, the behavior of her son and husband. While
she knows that Patricius's joy is misguided--"illa exilivit
pia trepidatione ac tremore" ("She shook with a pious
trepidation and a holy fear" [2.3.6])-- she nevertheless
does not fulfill her role as well as she might have: "sicut
monuit me pudicitiam, ita curavit quod de me a viro suo
audierat, iamque pestilentiosum et in posterum periculosum
sentiebat cohercere termino coniugalis affectus, si
resecari ad vivum non poterat" ("Although she had warned me
to guard my virginity, she did not seriously pay heed to
what her husband had told her about me, and which she felt
to hold danger for the future: for she did not seek to
restrain my sexual drive within the limit of the marriage
bond, if it could not be cut back to the quick" [2.3.8]).
Monica's family is slipping away from her guidance--their
sinfulness has even infected her judgment--and Augustine's
rhetorical practice reflects his bodily carnality: as he
writes about his subsequent encounter with the Bible,
"tumor enim meus refugiebat modum eius et acies mea non
penetrabat interiora eius" ("My inflated conceit shunned
the Bible's restraint, and my gaze never penetrated to its
inwardness" [3.5.9]). This state of spiritual flux prepares
the reader for the interconnected reconfigurations of both
Augustine's family and his rhetorical practices that effect
his escape from the bonds of concupiscence on both fronts.
These changes enable the bishop to construct what Vance
identifies as the "verbal tomb" for his mother. 
Ambrose's appearance, as we have seen, is the catalyst for
these reconfigurations. He thus fills an important role in
Augustine's depiction of his family: Vance remarks: "On an
obvious level, his new teacher displayed a specifically
paternal charity: 'that man of God received me in a
fatherly fashion' [paterne, 5.13.23], and this demeanor
made of Ambrose a welcome antitype both of the
paterfamilial Patricius and of those grammarians who had
dispensed the justice of a wrathful God in their classroom
beatings." Ambrose can also serve as husband to Monica: 
Given that Monica had never enjoyed her conjugal duties and
had considered marriage as the legal slavery of wives to
their husbands, the surge of spiritual love that Monica
felt for Ambrose--this 'angel' sent by the very God she had
always yearned to wed--was the perfect opposite of her
carnal tribulations with the violent and unfaithful
Vance locates this new familial structure within the
development of Augustine's thought:
[T]he burgeoning triangle of Ambrose, Monica and Augustine
amounted to a radical recasting of the nuclear family as a
spiritual bond from which all of the traumas of real
experience were now expunged. This is a waypoint, perhaps,
toward Augustine's theology of the Trinity, but this latter
will demand an expulsion of woman (in the person of Mary)
from the bond of the Father and Son, and the inclusion of
the yet-to-be-defined Holy Spirit.23 
In this reconfiguration, the real-life traumas are
expunged, so that the crisis that arose in the bathhouse,
amounting to a real sacrifice by a real father, becomes in
the narrative a negative prefiguration of Augustine's
victory over lustfulness upon his baptism. The real-life
sacrifice to which daughters are subject, therefore, is
transformed into that figural plane of Christian cosmology
occupied by the sacrifices of Isaac and Christ. The
expulsion of woman from the Trinity thus parallels the
expulson of daughters from Augustine's depiction of
Given that, as Vance has shown, Augustine's use of
similitude and association in the Confessions raises the
text's events to the figural plane, what role does the
negative bathhouse scene play in Augustine's spiritual
development? I suggest that the location of the episode in
the bathhouse prefigures the miraculous transformation of
earthly water into three spiritual substances: wine, with
the connotation of the eucharist; the Word of God, as
represented by Ambrose's sermons; and baptism, so important
in Book 9, in which the bathhouse appears again. The
juxtaposition of water and wine in the sacrificial
episode--Patricius is "gaudens vinulentia" and "de vino
invisibili perversae atque inclinatae in ima voluntatis
suae"--suggests a parody of Jesus' first miracle at the
wedding at Cana. The water of the bathhouse turns into the
wine of Patricius's carnal excitement. Moreover, wine, like
sex, can be used for the glory of God (as in the sacrament
of the eucharist), but its misuse constitutes a grave sin.
This is why Augustine defends Monica against charges of
drunkenness for wishing to bring cakes and wine to the
memorial shrines of the saints in Milan: "pietatem ibi
quaerebat," he explains, "non voluptatem" ("Her quest was
for devotion, not pleasure" [6.2.2]); and also why, in his
"verbal tomb" for her, he emphasizes Monica's victory over
alcoholism (9.8.18). Just as Patricius perverts the notion
of procreation, so too does he act with the perverse will
of intoxication. 
Augustine also uses water as a figure for the Word of God
in Confessions 6.1.1, when Monica crosses the ocean to
Milan. Augustine's revision of Genesis 22-- so crucial to
his conception of similitudo--to occur in a bathhouse helps
to explain his later use of aquatic imagery to consider
tropological issues. The paragraph concerning Monica's
arrival also offers the most explicit evidence that
Ambrose, by means of his divine words, has taken over
Patricius's role. This passage thus carries a palinodic
force, for the errors of the bathhouse scene are recalled
and corrected here. The negative associations of water
appear when Augustine writes, "et veneram in profundum
maris, et diffidebam et desperabam de inventione veri" ("I
had come into the depth of the sea. I had no confidence,
and had lost hope that truth could be found" [6.1.1]). His
mother's faith, however, could overcome such depths: "nam
et per marina discrimina ipsos nautas consolabatur, a
quibus rudes abyssi viatores, cum perturbantur, consolari
solent, pollicens eis perventionem cum salute, quia hoc ei
tu per visum pollicitus eras" ("During a hazardous voyage
she encouraged the crew themselves who are accustomed to
offering consolation to frightened travellers with no
experience of the deep sea. She promised them a safe
arrival, for in a vision you had promised this to her"
[6.1.1]). Having arrived in Milan, Monica remains hopeful
about her son's spiritual prognosis, and she relies on
Ambrose's words to buoy her faith: "tibi autem, fons
misericordiarum, preces et lacrimas densiores, ut
accelerares adiutorium tuum et inluminares tenebras meas,
et studiosius ad ecclesiam currere et in Ambrosii ora
suspendi, ad fontem salientis aquae in vitam aeternam" ("To
you, fount of mercies, she redoubled her petitions and
tears, begging that you would hasten your help and lighten
my darknesses. She would zealously run to the Church to
hang on Ambrose's lips, to the fount of water bubbling up
to eternal life" [6.1.1]). In retrospect, we can more fully
see Patricius's actions as a perversion: he runs, rejoicing
in his news, from the bathhouse to Monica, but in the later
palinodic episode it is Monica who runs ad fontem salientis
aquae of Ambrose's sermons. At issue in both episodes are
words and life: Patricius's carnal words celebrate the
barren life of licentiousness, whereas Ambrose's spiritual
words prompt Monica's prayers for her son's resurrection
from his sickness. The emphasis on Ambrose's sermons shows
once again that spiritual interpretation is crucial to
avoiding the dangers of concupiscence. Patricius should
have seen his son's pubescence as an opportunity to lead
him on the right path, and we readers should understand
these events in a figural context. 
Both the figurative and literal levels of Augustine's
narrative culminate in his most important sacrifice in the
text, the sacrifice of himself in the sacrament of baptism.
Baptism, Augustine believed, signals the Christian's
participation in the fulfillment of the Old Testament
figurae, for it supersedes the sign of faith instituted by
Abraham: "circumcisio quippe fuit illius temporis
sacramentum, quod praefigurabat nostri temporis baptismum"
("of course circumcision was the sacrament of that time,
which prefigured the baptism of our time" [nat. et or. an.
2.11.15]).24 Likewise, the dominance of baptism in Book 9
of the Confessions signals that Augustine's conversions, to
both the rhetorical models of the Christian Word and to his
mother's faith, are complete. For even though the narrative
of Monica's arrival in Milan, and of her encounter with
Ambrose, corrects the sacrifice depicted in the bathhouse
scene, it nevertheless does not represent a compete
redemption of that episode. Had Patricius fully succeeded
in offering his son to licentiousness, both he and
Augustine would have been spiritually dead. The baptisms of
both of them, as well as Augustine's friends and son, in
Book 9 represent their deaths to the body: it is therefore
no coincidence that so many important figures, including
both Monica and Patricius, die in this book. For Augustine
understands this sacrament as the death of the self and a
sacrifice to God: "Vnde ipse homo Dei nomine consecratus et
Deo uotus, in quantum mundo moritur ut Deo uiuat,
sacrificium est" ("Thus man himself, consecrated in the
name of God, and vowed to God, is a sacrifice in so far as
he dies to the world that he may live to God" [civ. 10.6]).
In the largest sense, therefore, any non-Christian death
can be seen as a negative figure of Christian baptism, or
as a sacrifice to a false idol. In a Christian narrative of
conversion, such deaths can be effectively dramatized by
depicting the unfulfilled promise of baptism. The bathhouse
episode presents an obvious example: its waters,
figuratively interpreted, remind the reader that the path
to God leads to baptism. The waters should indeed prompt a
sacrifice--but one signaled by baptism, not by the
celebration of libido. 
The figural relationship between the waters of the
bathhouse and those of baptism is further suggested by the
re-appearance of the baths when Augustine mourns Monica's
death. This episode begins at her funeral with the ritual
re-enactment of Christ's sacrifice, the fulfillment of the
binding of Isaac, which, as Vance has reminded us,
"underscored transformations of the sacrificial act upon
which Christian life, as well as its liturgy, was
grounded." This liturgy provides a backdrop for Augustine's
discussion of his struggle with tears: "Cum ecce corpus
elatum est, imus, redimus sine lacrimis. nam neque in eis
precibus quas tibi fudimus, cum offerretur pro ea
sacrificium pretii nostri iam iuxta sepulchrum, posito
cadavere priusquam deponeretur, sicut illic fieri solet,
nec in eis ergo precibus flevi ..." ("When her body was
carried out, we went and returned without a tear. Even
during those prayers which we pured out to you when the
sacrifice of our redemption was offered for her, when her
corpse was placed beside the tomb prior to burial, as was
the custom there, not even at those prayers did I weep"
[9.12.32]). As an adolescent, Augustine had been the victim
of a sacrifice to libidinousness that had marked his
distance from his mother's faith; now, he has been united
with both his mother and her faith. In baptism, he has died
so that his spirit might live; in the so-called "vision at
Ostia" he has achieved communion with Monica; and at her
funeral he offers sacrificium pretii nostri. His family and
faith are complete, as signified through the sacraments of
baptism and eucharist, through which he can sacrifice
himself to God. 
Augustine realizes that his sacrifice to libidinousness has
been redeemed in his acceptance of the sacraments. Why,
then, does he cry? He knows that Monica is in the city of
God and that he will again see her there. His sadness and
tears belie the joy that he should be feeling. These
struggles lead him to the bathhouse: "visum etiam mihi est
ut irem lavatum, quod audieram inde balneis nomen inditum
quia graeci balanion dixerint, quod anxietatem pellat ex
animo" ("I decided to go and take a bath, because I had
heard that baths, for which the Greeks say balaneion, get
their name from throwing anxiety out of the mind"
[9.12.32]). In effect, Augustine is attempting a baptism of
the body, a cure for his ailment through literal cleansing.
But the efficacy of the baptismal sacrament renders this
literal attempt moot. Moreover, this return to the
bathhouse raises the textual ghost, at least, of Patricius
and his carnal sacrifice, for it would be difficult for
Augustine's readers to forget the horror of the first
bathhouse scene. It is therefore appropriate that his
spiritual father's words--which, we will remember,
Augustine has already likened to a fontem salientis
aquae--signal his recovery: "ut eram in lecto meo solus,
recordatus sum veridicos versus Ambrosii tui" ("Alone upon
my bed I remembered the very true verses of your Ambrose"
[9.12.32]). Whereas Patricius displays a drunken idolotry
that serves God's creation, Ambrose's recognition of the
Creator can root out Augustine's most recent sin: "deus,
creator omnium / polique rector vestiens" ("Creator of all
things. / You rule the heavens" [9.12.32]). With this
assurance, Augustine can finally offer the sacrifice of
spiritual tears for those who are not baptized: "Ego autem,
iam sanato corde ab illo vulnere in quo poterat redargui
carnalis affectus, fundo tibi, deus noster, pro illa famula
tua longe aliud lacrimarum genus, quod manat de concusso
spiritu consideratione periculorum omnis animae quae in
Adam moritur" ("My heart is healed of that wound; I could
be reproached for yielding to that emotion of physical
kinship. But now, on behalf of your maidservant, I pour out
to you, our God, another kind of tears. They flow from a
spirit struck hard by considering the perils threatening
every soul that dies in Adam" [9.13.34]). Augustine prays
that his spiritual tears might effect the baptism of those
souls outside the faith, and continues by offering
petitions for his mother's sins (9.13.35). Having conquered
his habit of earthly tears, he has finally learned how to
drink from the fountain of the Creator, to sacrifice his
former carnal self to the will of God. 
The Confessions not only records, but also enacts spiritual
sacrifice. Augustine opens books 4, 5, 8, and 9 with the
idea of sacrifice. 25 In Book 4 he offers himself: "da mihi
... immolare tibi hostiam iubilationis" ("Allow me ... to
sacrifice to you a victim of jubilation" [4.1.1]); in Book
5, his confessions themselves: "Accipe sacrificium
confessionum mearum" ("Accept the sacrifice of my
confessions" [5.1.1]). Finally, he recalls Psalm 115: 17 in
the proems of both Books 8 and 9. Here is the opening to
the book of baptisms: "O domine, ego servus tuus, ego
servus tuus et filius ancillae tuae: dirupisti vincula mea,
tibi sacrificabo hostiam laudis" ("O Lord, I am your
servant, I am your servant and the son of your handmaid.
You have snapped my chains. I will sacrifice to you the
offering of praise" [9.1.1]).26 If Isaac can literally be a
similitude, then by extension Augustine's text can
literally be a sacrifice, which indeed is one of the
bishop's fundamental understandings of the term
"confession." This, finally, explains why the Isaac story
is so crucial to the idea of allegoresis: for a sacrifice
is properly a sign that points to the charity of both the
one sacrificing and God. Augustine writes: "Sacrificium
ergo visibile invisibilis sacrificii sacramentum, id est
sacrum signum est.... Proinde verum sacrificium est omne
opus quo agitur ut sancta societate inhaereamus deo,
relatum scilicet ad illum finem boni quo veraciter beati
esse possimus" ("A sacrifice, therefore, is the visible
sacrament or sacred sign of an invisible sacrifice....Thus
a true sacrifice is every work which is done that we may be
united to God in holy fellowship, and which has a reference
to that supreme good and end in which alone we can be truly
blessed" [civ. 10.5, 6]). Particular scenes like the ones
concerning the bathhouse, as well as the structure of the
narrative, achieve their fullest meanings when readers find
signification beyond the story of a young man's
conversions. Augustine would hope that the understanding of
Patricius's joy in the bathhouse as both a sacrifice to
libido and as a parodic inversion of the Isaac story
constitutes participation in the sacrifices of praise and
baptism. This is where the reader's agency should become
congruent with not only Augustine's, but also even Isaac's
and Christ's. The narrative of the Confessions depicts the
protagonist's willing sacrifice of himself to God, which
rectifies his father's earlier sacrifice to licentiousness.
Equally important, however, is the author's act of
sacrifice in the creation of a work--a visible, sacred
sign--so that his readers might unite in holy fellowship
with God. This is perhaps the sacrifice Augustine most
ardently sought after in composing the Confessions, for the
act of making signs of praise constitutes a sacrifice that
will, he hoped, remain for eternity, along with the blessed
seed of Abraham. 
1 Eugene Vance, "Grave Art: Early Christian Tombs and
Figures of Mourning in Augustine's Confessions," presented
to the Augustine Seminar at the University of Pennsylvania,
James J. O'Donnell, Director, January 31, 1994. For two of
Vance's other articles on Augustine's semiotics, see
"Augustine's Confessionsand the Poetics of the Law," and
"Saint Augustine: Language as Temporality," in Mervelous
Signals: Poetics and Sign Theory in the Middle Ages
(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986), 1-33 and
34-50, respectively; further references are in the former
essay, 3n. Back
2 Jerome Baschet, "Medieval Abraham: Between Fleshly
Patriarch and Divine Father," MLN 108 (1993): 738. Back
3 Baschet, 743. Back
4 Erich Auerbach, "Odysseus' Scar," in Mimesis: The
Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans.
Willard R. Trask (1946; Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1953), 12. Back
5 Quotations are from de doctrina christiana, ed. Joseph
Martin, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina (hereafter
CCSL) 32 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1962), and will hereafter be
cited in the text; translations are from On Christian
Doctrine, trans. D. W. Robertson, Jr., The Library of
Liberal Arts (Indianapolis: Bobbs- Merrill, 1958). Back
6 Pierre Courcelle, Recherches sur les Confessions de saint
Augustin (1950; 2nd ed. Paris: E. de Boccard, 1968),
124-132. Back
7 Quotations are from Augustine, Confessions, ed. James J.
O'Donnell, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992), and will be
cited in the text; citations from O'Donnell's critical
apparatus will appear by volume and page number. English
translations are from Henry Chadwick's translation (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1991); I have occasionally
silently modified some of his punctuation. Back
8 "ad eum autem ducebar abs te nesciens, ut per eum ad te
sciens ducerer" ("I was led to him by you, unaware that
through him, in full awareness, I might be led to you");
"sed longe est a peccatoribus salus, qualis ego tunc
aderam, et tamen propinquabam sensim et nesciens" ("From
sinners such as I was at that time, salvation is far
distant. Nevertheless, gradually, though I did not realize
it, I was drawing closer") (5.13.23). In the next
paragraph, Augustine again claims that the sermons'
Christian content was beginning to influence him: "et dum
cor aperirem ad excipiendum quam diserte diceret, pariter
intrabat et quam vere diceret, gradatim quidem" ("While I
opened my heart in noting the eloquence with which he
spoke, there also entered no less the truth which he
affirmed, though only gradually" 5.14.24). Back 
9 See Augustine, de libero arbitrio, ed. W. M. Green, CCSL
29 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1970), esp. and
10 Vance's talk was accompanied by slides of such
sarcophogi. Back
11 In this text Augustine quotes Hebrews 11:17-19 and
Romans 8:32. Quotations are from de civitate dei, ed.
Bernard Dombart and Alphonse Kalb, CCSL 47-48 (Turnhout:
Brepols, 1955), hereafter cited as civ. in my text.
Translations are from The City of God, trans. Marcus Dods
(New York: Modern Library, 1950). Back
12At least one author has found an application of the
story's structure to sexual treachery: in Their Eyes Were
Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston likens the proposed
marriage of the protagonist Janie to the sacrifice of
Isaac. When Janie asks, "Who Ah'm goin' tuh marry off-hand
lak dat?", her grandmother Nanny responds: "De Lawd will
provide" (1937; rpt. Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
1978), 27. Back
13 Except where noted, quotations of the Bible are from
Augustine's own citations, which often differ drastically
from those of the Vulgate. I therefore cite both Biblical
text and the text of Augustine's in which it is found. On
the problems of citing scriptural texts in Augustinian
scholarship, see O'Donnell, I: lxix-lxxi. Back
14 Augustine, sermon 51, ed. Migne, Patrologiae Latinae,
vol. 38, col. 345. Part of this is also quoted in
O'Donnell, III: 119, as a note to Augustine's phrase
"tabulas quae matrimoniales vocantur" (9.9.19). I adopt
O'Donnell's punctuation for those sentences he cites. Back
15 For an anthropological survey of women's role as gifts,
see Gayle Rubin, "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the
'Political Economy' of Sex," in Toward an Anthropology of
Women, ed. Rayna R. Reiter (New York: Monthly Review,
1975), 157-210; esp. 171- 77. Back
16 Augustine, Quaestionum in Heptateuchum, ed. I. Fraipont,
CCSL 33 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1958); the translation is from
the Douay version of the Bible. I am grateful to Carolyn
Jacobson for suggesting the relevance of Lot to this topic.
17 This is the Vulgate version and Douay translation. It is
interesting to note that Augustine's knowledge of this
passage differs drastically from ours: the closest he comes
to quoting it is in de catechizandis rudibus: "ut
diligeremus deum, qui sic nos dilexit, ut unicum filium
suum mitteret, qui humilitate nostrae mortalitatis indutus
et a peccatoribus et pro peccatoribus moreretur" (cat. rud.
17.28), ed. I. B. Bauer, CCSL 46 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1959).
Not only did Augustine know this passage in different
wording, he also did not cite it nearly as frequently as
one would expect from its contemporary reputation
(according to various word searches on the CETEDOC Early
Christian Latin Writings CD-ROM). Back
18 On Augustine's use of the prodigal son in the
Confessions, see Georg Nicolaus Knauer, "Peregrination
Animae," Hermes 85 (1957): 216-48; Leo Charles Ferrari,
"The Theme of the Prodigal Son in Augustine's Confessions,"
Recherches Augustiniennes 12 (1977): 105-18; and O'Donnell,
II: 95-98. The program begins in earnest at 1.18.28. Back
19 O'Donnell, II: 97. Back
20 O'Donnell, II: 95- 96n. Back
21 See Knauer, 219, who refers to Courcelle, 126ff, in
pointing out that Ambrose does not refer to the Prodigal
Son in De Isaac vel anima. Back
22 Ferrari, 107. Augustine's interpretation is in qu. ev.
2.33, quoted at length in O'Donnell, II: 97. Back
23 R. Howard Bloch makes a similar point about the
expulsion of woman from Augustine's gendered theology: "In
the sacramental theology elaborated by Augustine,... the
relation of the signified to its sign is cast as a relation
of the speaker to his word that is also given an explicitly
familial cast in the relation of Father to Son, who
occupies the position of the woman with respect to the
man," he notes, subsequently quoting De Trinitate (PL
8:936). "The goal of Augustine's theology of the sign, and
of history, is precisely a transcendence of the body by a
journey through perception and cognition toward the
male-defined intellectio that he associates with a union of
parent and child. This union, which is indistinguishable
from the sacrament itself, not only implies a return of the
Son to the Father, but represents a convergence of the form
of knowledge with its object, a recuperation of the names
that are the 'images of things.' Thus, the paternalized
relation between father and son, between the speaker and
his word, implies an ontological priority of origin to
effect, of engenderer to engendered, which, in philosophy,
is expressed as a priority of the genre over its species"
(Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic
Love [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991], 34). Back
24Augustine, de natura et origine animae, ed. Charles F.
Urba and Joseph Zycha, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum
Latinorum 60 (1913; rpt. New York: Johnson Reprints, 1962);
my translation. This text is entitled de anima et eius
origine in the Migne's edition. In this and many other
passages that discuss baptism as the fulfillment of
circumcision, Augustine follows the example of St. Paul.
Paul uses literal circumcision to represent the old law;
those beholden to the new covenant have circumcised hearts
(Rom. 2:29). Those with circumcised hearts, Paul's
following chapters imply, are those who have been baptized
into Christ's death and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-11). Back
25 See O'Donnell, III: 73. Back
26 O'Donnell notes that the indicative guture sacrificabo
here is a change from the subjunctive sacrificem in Book 8
(III: 4, 73). Back 


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