The Limits of Grief in Augustine of Hippo’s Sermones 172-173 and Sermo 396


This contribution explores select sermons of Augustine relating to the pastoral and existential phenomena of grief and human mortality (ss. 172-173 and s. 396). In particular, it evaluates these themes in conversation with philosophical reflections on human nature in the City of God, Books 13-14. Drawing upon Platonic and Stoic views in the latter, St. Augustine prefers a more compassionate and permissive understanding of human emotion in the former. Nevertheless, the author argues that while Augustine makes extensive textual appeal to Pauline and Johannine sources, which is likewise evident in his philosophical work, he remains implicitly committed to a cognitivist theory of emotion also in his preaching. In order to support this claim, I first present the philosophical traditions at work within the biblical horizon of the City of God, through a careful reading of pertinent texts, including work of Sarah Byers. Second, I attend to shifts of tone and emphasis detected in three public sermons, two of which have been successfully dated to 418 and 419, where evident differences of genre and audience help to account for Augustine’s heightened pastoral sensitivity. This comparative approach illuminates, finally, how the bishop of Hippo maintains philosophical continuity and navigates his pastoral responsibilities.


Augustine of Hippo; Preaching; Cognitive Theory of Emotions; Stoicism; grief

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Published : 2021-06-15

Grabau, J. (2021). The Limits of Grief in Augustine of Hippo’s Sermones 172-173 and Sermo 396. Vox Patrum, 78, 293-310.

Joseph L. Grabau
University of the Incarnate Word  United States