Setting rules for becoming Christian: Augustine’s polemical treatise De fide et operibus in context

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Abstract

The treatise De fide et operibus, written at a turning point in Augustine’s life (412-413) against unnamed opponents who questioned the necessity of pre-baptismal discipline, provides a remarkable example of the significance of Christian initiation for dictating rules of behaviour and defining Christian membership. Instead of assuming that the work was composed as a one-off reaction to a marginal problem, I argue that the treatise has to be set in a context of diverging practices of initiation and that, like his opponents’ writings, it precisely aimed at establishing norms based on a detailed exegesis of authoritative passages. Moreover, I show that Augustine’s position, aiming at enforcing strict rules of admission for converts and catechumens, has to be set in continuity with Augustine’s broader emphasis on rules of behaviour for catechumens and baptised Christians alike. Expanding on what he had progressively taught in his sermons and earlier works, and perhaps written in connection to his regular participation in the teaching of catechumens in Carthage, where he stayed for some time in 412-413, this treatise, shaping how the catechumenate should be organised and understood in late antique Africa, provides a striking and neglected synthesis of Augustine’s thinking.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-114
Number of pages42
JournalRevue des Études Augustiniennes
Volume64
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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