Outward Signs: The Powerlessness of External Things in Augustines Thought

Hardcover | February 4, 2008

byPhillip Cary

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We are used to thinking of words as signs of inner thoughts. In Outward Signs, Philip Cary argues that Augustine invented this expressionist semiotics, where words are outward signs expressing an inward will to communicate, in an epochal departure from ancient philosopical semiotics, wheresigns are means of inference, as smoke is a sign of fire. Augustine uses his new theory of signs to give an account of Biblical authority, explaining why an authoritative external teaching is needed in addition to the inward teaching of Christ as divine Wisdom, which is conceived in terms drawn fromPlatonist epistemology. In fact, for Augustine we literally learn nothing from words or any other outward sign, for the truest form of knowledge is a kind of Platonist vision, seeing what is inwardly present to the mind. Nevertheless, because our mind's eye is diseased by sin we need the help ofexternal signs as admonitions or reminders pointing us in the right direction, so that we may look and see for ourselves. Even our knowledge of other persons is ultimately a matter not of trusting their words but of seeing their minds with our minds. Thus, Cary argues here, outward signs for Augustine are useful but ultimately powerless because no bodily thing has power to convey something inward to the soul. This means that there can be no such thing as an efficacious external means of grace. The sacraments, which Augustine was the first todescribe as outward signs of inner grace, signify what is necessary for salvation but do not confer it. Baptism, for example, is necessary for salvation, but its power is found not in water or word but in the inner unity, charity and peace of the church. Even the flesh of Christ is necessary but notefficacious, an external sign to use without clinging to it.

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We are used to thinking of words as signs of inner thoughts. In Outward Signs, Philip Cary argues that Augustine invented this expressionist semiotics, where words are outward signs expressing an inward will to communicate, in an epochal departure from ancient philosopical semiotics, wheresigns are means of inference, as smoke is a sig...

Phillip Cary is a Professor of Philosophy at Eastern College in St. Davids, Pennsylvania where he is also Scholar-in-Residence at the Templeton Honors College.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:352 pages, 9.25 × 6.13 × 0.98 inPublished:February 4, 2008Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195336496

ISBN - 13:9780195336498

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Expressionist Semiotics and the Powerlessness of the ExternalPart I: Words from Which We Learn Nothing1. Before Words were Signs: Semiotics in Greek Philosophy2. From Skepticism to Platonism: The Concept of Sign in Augustine's Earliest Writings3. How Words Became Signs: The Development of Augustine's Expressionist Semiotics4. Why We Learn Nothing from Words: The Epistemology of Augustine's Semiotics5. Believing Persons: Theological Implications of Augustine's SemioticsPart II: Powerless Sacraments6. Sacred Signs of Inner Unity: Augustine and Medieval Sacramental Theology7. The Efficacy of the Church's Baptism: Against Donatists and Pelagians8. New Testament Sacraments and the Flesh of ChristConclusion

Editorial Reviews

"Phillip Cary's Inner Grace and Outward Signs together constitute a fascinating account of how Augustine's Platonism shaped his account of grace, of faith, of language, of sacraments indeed, of almost everything he ever wrote about. Cary's discussion was full of surprises for me; the Augustine that emerges is much more strange and much more creative than the Augustine I thought I knew. Many readers won't like this new Augustine; Cary's treatment will be controversial. But it is so remarkably original and so thoroughly documented that no Augustine scholar will be able to ignore it." --Nicholas Wolterstorff, Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Yale University; Senior Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia "Philip Cary's new books, Inner Grace and Outward Signs, are major contributions to scholarship on Augustine. They are also controversial ones, since the upshot of one of his central arguments is that Augustine not only doesn't but can't have any genuine sacramental theology because on his assumptions there can be no intimate and transformative causal connection between material objects and inner states. Cary supports this argument with learning, wit, and intellectual passion. It deserves what it will undoubtedly receive, which is much lively discussion." --Paul J. Griffiths, Duke Divinity School "Augustine's thought has informed the mind of the Christian West for the past sixteen centuries, and occasionally a book is published that marks a watershed in Augustinian scholarship. Cary's book Outward Signs is, I believe, such a book. Like many important books on Augustine, Cary's is both brilliantly enlightening, andbound to rouse fruitful controversy." --Roland Teske, Donald J. Schuenke Professor of Philosophy, Marquette University