The Role of Platonism in Augustine’s 386 Conversion to Christianity

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Abstract

Augustine′s conversion to Christianity in A.D. 386 is a pivotal moment not only in his own life, but in Christian and world history, for the theology of Augustine set the course of theological and cultural development in the western Christian church. But to what exactly was Augustine converted? Scholars have long debated whether he really converted to Christianity in 386, whether he was a Platonist, and, if he adhered to both Platonism and Christianity, which dominated his thought. The debate of the last thirteen decades spans an immense body of literature in multiple languages. In this literature, four major views on Augustine′s conversion may be discerned. The first view is associated with Gaston Boissier and Adolph von Harnack, and was famously championed by Prosper Alfaric: that Augustine in 386 converted to neo-Platonism but not to Christianity. Second, there is the view recently promoted by Catherine Conybeare: that Augustine in 386 converted to Christianity and rejected neo-Platonism. Third, there is the view that he converted to Christianity and was also a neo-Platonist; the most famous adherents of this view are Robert J. O′Connell and Pierre Courcelle. Finally, there is the view recently promoted by Carol Harrison: that Augustine committed to Christianity in 386, yet did not utterly reject neo-Platonism; rather, he aimed to develop a Christian faith that was informed by neo-Platonic insight. In this article, I first explain and distinguish these four general views, and then I explain why I prefer the fourth view.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-161
Number of pages11
JournalReligion Compass
Volume9
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2015

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