This page will treat Augustine’s writings at Carthage in the year 380, in Milan, Cassiciacum, Rome and Thagaste, i.e., all his writings before he became a priest. "Do we know anything save what is beautiful? But what then is beautiful? What is it that allures us and delights us in the things that we love? Unless there was grace and beauty in them they could not possibly draw us to them." (Confessions 4, 13, 20) Here in his Confessions, which he wrote in 397 when he was 41 years of age and two years a bishop, Augustine recalls the questions that fascinated him when at the age of twenty-four years in 380 he had been a teacher of rhetoric at Carthage.
At that time, those thoughts had led to his writing his first publication, a treatise called De Pulchro et Apto, ("On the beautiful and the fitting." Possibly it was little more than the equivalent of a term paper that a student would write. By the time of the composition of the Confessions, he professed to forgetting how many books it contained (Confessions 4, 13, 20). By then he had lost his copy of it; some scholars suggest he may previously have destroyed it because later he thought it of insufficient merit to be preserved. Fortunately, in the Confessions he summarises the book. He says that his aim had been to distinguish between that which is beautiful in itself and that which is beautiful only in relation to another thing. This was not an effort to speak about God or creation in the Christian tradition, for at that time he believed in a Manichean dualism, i.e., that good and evil were two separate but opposing forces.
The next publication of Augustine is his first one that still exists. It is Contra Academicos, which he wrote in 386, and followed soon afterwards at Cassiciacum by the Soliloquies (one of his earliest writings) and the other works listed in the paragraphs below. The Soliloquies was a dialogue between Augustine and his reason. It gives a valuable insight of his state of mind and his progress of thought between the time of his intellectual conversion and his baptism. It begins as a moral and physical assessment of Augustine as he begins his time of retreat and reflection as Cassiciacum.
It reveals a wondrous balancing of philosophical ideas and quotations from the Bible. Book 1 of the Soliloquies was probably written late in the year 386, and it was probably a year before Book 2 was written. Whereas Book 1 sets out the spiritual and philosophical questions that Augustine personally then faced, Book 2 offers some conclusive insights he received in the meantime. For example, Book 2 begins with his famous prayer, noverim me, noverim te ("Lord, let me know myself, and let me know You"). His reason has now led him to see that his love of knowledge is the basis for his love of life, and neither truth nor the human soul will ever die.
In his early post-Cassiciacum writings, De immortalitate animae ("On the Immortality of the Soul") continued this theme, and he may originally have begun this work as Book 3 of the Soliloquies.The Soliloquies reveals a wondrous balancing of philosophical ideas and quotations from the Bible. He addressed it to "God… the True and Perfect Life…. The Good and the Beautiful…. The Intelligible Light in, by and through which all intelligible beings are given light." (Soliloquies 1, 2-3)
The works written at Cassiciacum (Contra Academicos, De Beata Vita, De Ordine, and Soliloquies) are called Dialogues because of their classical style. Several of these Cassiciacum writings mirror the style and manner of the dialogues of Cicero - an ancient Latin author much admired by Augustine. Even so, they now featured a content that was Christian, although influenced by the thought of the Greek philosopher, Plato.
The mother of Augustine, Monica participated at Cassiciacum. She was one of the characters written down in two of the dialogues, De Vita Beata ("On the Blessed Life") and De Ordine ("On Order'). They are much more focused on philosophy than those written soon afterwards at Rome and Thagaste (such as De Libero Arbitrio, De Vera Religione, De Musica, and De Moribus). By this time Augustine had become more facile with the Scriptures, and when his renewed confrontation with the Manichees required him to give a more precise defence of Christian teaching.
The fact that these Dialogues at Cassiciacum are different in tone and religious quality to the Confessions can be explained. Firstly, the Dialogues were written when Augustine had been only a seeker of the Christian faith, rather than as yet a Christian scholar. In contrast, the Confessions were written by him after he had attained practical pastoral insight and had become a leader and teacher in the church. Secondly, the tone of the Dialogues was philosophical, and that of the Confessions primarily spiritual and theological - although philosophy definitely was not excluded from them.
At Cassiciacum in the summer months of 386-387, Augustine had not yet attained the reflective depths to have made the Dialogues of Cassiciacum a more obvious prelude of the style and spiritual tradition of his Confessions that were written a full ten years later. AN2112