Artículo de investigación
Vol: 1 N°. 2 19-36
DEFINING ECCLESIA: AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO’ S ANTI-DONATIST USE OF JOHN 19:23-24 (ON CHRIST ’S ‘SEAMLESS TUNIC’)
Definiendo ecclesia: el uso antidonatista de Agustín de Hipona de Juan 19:23-24 (acerca de la túnica sin costuras del Cristo)
Recibido: 21 de noviembre de 2017 Aprobado: 20 de febrero de 2018
Este artículo intenta contextualizar la interpretación de Agustín de Hipona de dos versos de la pasión joánica, Juan 19:23-24, dentro del legado de la recepción bíblica norafricana y especialmente en diálogo con la posición donatista respecto a la naturaleza de la Iglesia, su relación con Cristo y su rol en el mundo presente. Las principales preguntas que serán examinadas acá serán: 1) ¿cómo la “túnica de Cristo” sirve como inspiración para la interpretación simbólica entre los autores latinos; y 2) ¿cómo una lectura tan “tipológica” de Juan 19:23-24 —y su antecedente en el texto de los Salmos 21:19— tiene lugar en un campo más amplio como lo es el de la polémica antidonatista de Agustín? Presentando evidencia relevante, comienzo por discutir varias referencias de Agustín acerca de la tunica desuper texta cronológicamente, que se encuentran principalmente en el Tractatus in Iohannis Evangelium, al igual que en sus sermones. La perspectiva esencial de Agustín a la imagen de la túnica del Cristo nunca se aleja radicalmente de sus propias lecturas tempranas, aunque surgen más tarde algunas diferencias. En consecuencia, continúa la preocupación por el impacto del per totum en Juan 19:23 sobre el desarrollo del entendimiento de Agustín de la redención del Cristo, del regalo del Espíritu Santo y acerca de la extensión de la Iglesia por el mundo (toto terrarum orbe diffusam). A la luz de estos elementos, a pesar de que podamos comenzar a sospechar que Agustín promueve una forma de universalismo, su catolicidad es una descripción mucho más justa y acertada de este esfuerzo por superar el exclusivismo donatista. Entre estos dos extremos, el catolicismo de Agustín puede ser detectado dentro del horizonte de este par
de versos y de su relación con la Iglesia de África del Norte.
Palabras clave: polémica religiosa, interpretación bíblica, sermones de Agustín
This article seeks to contextualize Augustine of Hippo’s interpretation of two verses of the Johannine Passion, John 19:23-24, within the North African legacy of biblical reception. In particular, it evaluates appearances of the verse in dialogue with Donatist positions on the nature of the Church, its relation to Christ, and its role in the present world. The principal research include: 1) how does the tunic of Christ serve as inspiration for symbolic interpretation among Latin authors; and 2) how does such a typological reading of John 19:23-24—and its antecedent in the text of Psalm 21:19—occur within the broader field of Augustine’s anti-Donatist polemic? In presenting relevant evidence, I discuss various references to the tunica desuper texta chronologically, found principally in his popular sermons and Tractates on John. Augustine’s essential approach to the image of Christ’s tunic never radically departs from his earliest readings, however differences of emphasis later emerge. A leading concern, therefore, remains the impact of per totum, in John 19:23, upon Augustine’s developed understanding of Christ’s redemption, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the extent of the Church throughout the world (toto terrarum orbe diffusam). In this light, although one may begin to suspect that Augustine advocates a form of universalism, his catholicity is a more fair and accurate description of this effort to surmount Donatist exclusivism. Between these two extremes, Augustine’s catholicism may be detected even within the limited horizon of this pair of verses and their relationship to the Church in North Africa.
Keywords: religious polemic, biblical interpretation, sermons of Augustine
As Augustine of Hippo pointed out in his early work De consensu euangelistarum (cons. eu.), the Gospel of John often included details which were otherwise omitted in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. This judgment also appears in the third book of the same work, where, after accounting details of Christ’s Passion recorded in the Synoptic Gospels, Augustine declares that the distribution of Christ’s clothing among the soldiers (Mt 27:35, Mk 15:24, Lc 23:34, Jn 19:23-24) was documented rather briefly by the first three Evangelists—“John, on the other hand,” he continues, “explained this fact more distinctly, whatever may have actually happened.”2 At this point in his comments, Augustine then cites the pair of verses from John, and proceeds in his ‘harmonizing’ of the Gospels. This biblical image, as Augustine would take into account many times elsewhere, drew upon the words of the Psalm, “they divided my garments among themselves, and cast lots for my clothing (uestem)” (Ps 21:19).3 In the Gospel of John, this parallel description of uestimenta and uestem found in the Psalm is clearly interpreted in view of the clothing that was divided, on the one hand, and the tunic—seamless, and woven from the top, throughout—, on the other (Jn 19:23). In short, the tunic was to become a part of the Christian imagination through the centuries, and not only in patristic North Africa. This article seeks to trace the underlying trajectory of Augustine’s own reading of this text across his episcopal career as bishop of Hippo, in light of the North African polemics of ecclesial identity, but without extensive recourse to other pre-Augustinian sources.
For Augustine, this Johannine distinction and especially the words given to describe the tunic would become significant not only for the possible symbolic and spiritual depths of interpretation, but also for their implications in his own context of anti-Donatist polemics, and the latter point forms my primary interest here. Over the course of his writing and preaching, Augustine frequently appeals to the same passage, often in commenting on the Psalm verse and its relation to the Passion, especially that found in the Gospel of John. While the polemical context caused by the presence of Donatism in North Africa is not always at the foreground of Augustine’s exegesis, it nevertheless forms a historical center-point in tracing a genealogy of Augustine’s interpretation. By highlighting key moments of this developing form of symbolic and polemical exegesis, I hope to illuminate one aspect of Augustine’s mode of exegetical argumentation, by which he simultaneously sought to console and edify his own readership or congregation, as well as to confront an opposing party, the pars Donati, with a distinct—Johannine—vision of the Church. Naturally, this set of observations builds upon the excellent scholarship about the totus Christus hermeneutic, which has revealed how Augustine viewed Christ in relation to the Church—most movingly, perhaps, in his Christological reading of the Psalms. The evidence Augustine already highlighted in 399/400(?) A.D. in his harmony of the Gospels cons. eu. would take on new forms of significance in the following years.4
Although the Gospel of John includes the tunic as a literal piece of evidence, it seems to have lent itself to a metaphorical, metonymical emblem of the spiritual people of God. As Edmund Hill writes, “the seamless robe of Christ has always been seen as a figure of the Church” (Hill, 1993, p. 245, n. 18).5 augustine of hippo on John 19:23-24
Whether he was aware of any previous Latin tradition of interpreting the verse, or of other—possible Alexandrian—(spiritual) interpretations, Augustine of Hippo made rather extensive use of this small reference to Christ’s tunic over the course of his preaching and exegetical career. Though he does not mention Cyprian of Carthage in conjunction with his reading of John 19:23-24, who offers at least one even earlier symbolic interpretation of the verse in his work On the unity of the Church, Augustine clearly builds upon pre-existing polemics in North Africa on the limits and nature of the Church of Christ. Key evidence of this practice is his frequent reference to ‘dissident’ Christians, when citing the verse after the year 400 A.D. Examining a selection of his prominent anti-Donatist readings of the verse(s) will serve to demonstrate in greater details Berrouard’s 1969 observation, that although Augustine’s principle allegorical reading of the text remains fundamentally unchanged, nevertheless one does find various departures in his explanation of how precisely to justify the terms of comparison.6 These I will hope to explore in what follows, starting from the earliest data and moving through Augustine’s later works that mention the image, common to both the Psalms and the Gospel of John, but expanded in the latter and amplified still further by Augustine.
In Guelferbytana sermon (s. Guelf.) 2, dated near 397 A.D., Augustine celebrates the “great and ineffable sacrament of the Lord’s passion” at the solemn Good Friday liturgy.7 Though he does not mention Donatists by name, Augustine nevertheless takes great issue with haeretici, who in their denial of Christ and his Church are worse than those who crucified the Lord, for not even they divided the garment of Christ,8 “None of the faithful divide the love of Christ […] because in a spiritual way they love unity.”9 Thus, although heretics may rip apart the sacraments, they cannot divide the Church.10
In s. Dolbeau 21, dated to 404 A.D., Augustine writes that the “tunic was intended as a sign”, both in the sense that it could not be divided, and in that it was “woven from above” (desuper texta).11 These two dimensions, both indivisibility and heavenly origin, are given metaphorical or symbolic meanings by Augustine, in that the worshipping community of Christian faithful respond as one to the call in the Psalm: “Lift up your hearts” (“unde nobis dicitur sursum cor”), so that those who do so “cannot be divided into parts, because they will belong to that tunic which cannot be divided”.12 Such unity, in turn, through appeal to the image of the tunic, forms Augustine’s closing exhortation to the faithful in this sermon: “And if you really have lifted up your hearts, you are woven from the top, from above. If you are woven from the top, you cannot be divided.”13
Augustine commented on the Fourth Gospel throughout his career as bishop of Hippo. Indeed, it had an impact upon his conversion experience, from experiments in Platonic—or Plotinian—mysticism to the Nicene-Christian faith.14 As one recent study convincingly suggests (Cameron, 2017), a “Johannine-based” Christology is evident in the description of this movement found in book 7 of the Confessions, written in the years soon after Augustine’s episcopal ordination. I would like to suggest, in affirming the author’s categories of Johannine citation and the broad observations about the use to which Augustine put key verses over time, that the specific reading(s) of John 19:23-24 advance and support the totus Christus hermeneutic, thus bridging from Christology to (anti-heretical) ecclesiology. In short, this pair of verses—rather than primarily acting as material for Augustine’s developing sense of spiritual self-conception, as Cameron seems to offer in his coherent analysis—presents evidence of how the bishop of Hippo appropriated other Johannine texts in his own social and polemical context. This ecclesiological ground, in contrast to one that is more purely Christological and soteriological, shows Augustine at work in delivering the Gospel to his fellow human beings, rather than strictly along the path of upward striving for eternal wisdom and truth (Cameron, 2017, p. 15);15 while Augustine’s doctrine of the Church—if we may speak in such terms—arises from the person and work of Christ, animated by the love of the Holy Spirit. The application of these realities within time and space occurs within the frame of human experience. I will not explore the lines of synthesis and interplay that exist within Augustine’s exegetical projects in this paper, in particular the relation of biblical sources in forming his (anti-Donatist) hermeneutic; however, I will turn in the following sections to consider questions that arise in Augustine’s later interpretation of Christ’s tunic, which are partially answered and yet complicated by the addition of Pauline texts and theological or ecclesiological concepts.16
Tractate 13 (406/407 A.D). If the polemical under-current were not already implicit in Augustine’s reception of John’s description of Christ’s seamless tunic, “woven from above”, in the (relatively) early s. Guelf. 2 and s. Dolbeau 21—as introduced above—, the thirteenth of his Tractates on John openly reveals the broad range of application envisioned by Augustine, not only as a simple image useful as spiritual edification, but also as an icon that would serve to represent Christian identity and unity against those who would threaten these ideals—in particular, the so-called Donatists. Delivered in 406 or 407 A.D., Io. Eu. Tr. 13 forms part of a set of sixteen tractates heavily imbued with a baptismal and sacramental theology directed sharply against the “Donatists”—a dissident sect of Christianity in North Africa with which the Catholic bishops engaged in fierce debate.17 First as a schism, and ultimately as a religion declared illegal by the Roman state, Donatist clergy separated themselves from their Catholic (or Caecilianist) opponents out of conviction that their church alone was the true and authentic church.18 Catholic priests and bishops, on their view, were impure, morally unsuitable to perform baptism into the new nature of Christ. For Augustine, however, the minister was a mere instrument of the Lord, who alone was the giver of new life at the waters of baptism. To question an entire generation or more of Christian priests and their congregations was, for Augustine, to lay waste to Christian unity in Africa. His ideal, instead, was one of union with the Church at Rome, spread throughout the world; yet even if that was his political and social agenda, his message—whether before Donatists or Catholics—was always ecclesial unity with Christ.
Even on this short account of the explicitly anti-Donatist currents in the early Tractates on John, it should be easy enough to see in first outline why Augustine, at least on occasion, chose to appeal to John 19:23 while correcting Donatist positions. The earliest evidence above already suggests that such a framework was in place. In one key passage (Io. Eu. Tr. 13.13.3), where Augustine meditates on the theme of spiritual purity through the Johannine and Pauline image of the bride and the bridegroom (for example, Jn 1:33, 3:29; Eph 5:21-30), Augustine asks the bride, Christ’s Church, to recall the vestment of her groom, that is, Christ. Augustine prompts his audience:
You are the bride; acknowledge the vesture of your bridegroom. For what vesture were lots cast? Ask the gospel. See to whom you have been espoused; see from whom you receive pledges. Ask the gospel. See what it says to you during the passion of the Lord. ‘There was a tunic’ there; let us see what sort, ‘woven from the top’ (John 19:23). What does a tunic woven from the top signify except love? What does a tunic woven from the top signify except unity (quid significat nisi caritatem… nisi unitatem)? (Halton and Rettig, 1988, p. 57; cf. Willems, 1954, p. 138)19
Just as he had observed years previously (cons. eu. 3.39), only the Johannine passion contained the key elements of this image, with clear reference to the antecedent in the Psalm. The description of the tunic itself in the key phrase “woven from the top” (“desuper texta”) here as before occupies Augustine’s first attention. On his allegorical reading, with its roots in the African exegetical tradition as early as Cyprian of Carthage (Berrouard, 1993), Augustine looks primarily to the love (caritas) and unity (unitas) communicated by the Johannine symbol of Christ’s tunic.20 With his questioning, quid significat, Augustine furthermore seems to evoke a sense that the Gospel itself interprets the Psalm text in such a way, as if signifying the union of Christian charity. With the principles of spiritual exegesis in place, the very Latin text of John seems to generate for Augustine a polemical argument against the Donatists, and a positive view of the Church as resembling the tunic of Christ.
In his analysis, to this extent, Augustine has not departed from the simple lines of interpretation found in his previously delivered sermons. Yet, in what follows, he points out that not even Christ’s executioners divided his garment,
For [the gospel] says, “They said to one another, ‘Let us not divide it, but let us cast lots for it.”’ Look, that which you heard the Psalm tell of. The persecutors did not tear (non conscinderunt) the clothing; Christians divide the Church (christiani ecclesiam diuidunt)” (Halton and Rettig, 1988, p. 57; Io. eu. tr. 13.13.3)21
Thus, in what is also a noteworthy verbal shift, Augustine points out that not even the persecutors tore Christ’s tunic, an action which only Christians themselves ever perform symbolically in the practice of schism and the harsh realities of internal divisions within the Church. The Latin Gospel text just quoted by Augustine includes the phrasing: “dixerunt inter se: non diuidamus eam,” in reference to the words of the soldiers (milites), who crucified Jesus. Augustine shifts this verb, adopting instead non conscinderunt in reference to these men; preferring to re-apply the biblical term instead to contemporary Christians, who divide (diuidunt) the body of Christ (Io. Eu. Tr. 13.13, CCSL 36, p. 138). The same Latin reading of John 19:24 occurs at s. Dolbeau 21.18, dated to the same period of Augustine’s career, while the earlier cons. Eu. 3.39 and later Io. Eu. Tr. 118.1-2 prefer instead non scindamus eam. These various uses may reflect a variety of Latin biblical MSS, Augustine’s own appropriation of a ‘mental text’, or his use of local Gospel books (Houghton, 2008). In producing an obvious shift from the Latin biblical text to the two parties in comparison—the Roman milites, on the one hand, and Christiani, on the other—Augustine may make his point even stronger.22 The distinction may well hold, as Augustine returns in following sections of to apply the reading, conscindunt, to the schismatic effects of the Donatist party: “they tear apart unity, that is the tunic of love” (Io. Eu. Tr. 13.15, author’s translation) (Io. eu. tr. 13.15).23
Augustine’s interest in tractate 13, however, is not isolated merely to this one verse within the passion; nor do the twin elements of unity and Christian love exhaust his reason for embracing the tunic as a symbolic reference point against Donatists. Rather, this rapid and decisive interpretation of verse 23 is embedded within an argument for the universality of Christ’s Church, and even the universality of his redemption. Building upon the bridal imagery introduced above, Augustine turns in the following section to declare:
Let us see clearly what he has bought. For he bought there [sc. On the Cross] where he paid the price. For how great [a domain] (pro quanto) did he pay it? If he paid it for Africa, let us be Donatists and not be called Donatists but Christians, because Christ bought Africa alone, although even here there are not only Donatists. (Io. eu. tr. 13.14.1)24
After entertaining this option, which he dismisses, Augustine turns to quote from the Psalm, “All the ends of the earth (uniuersi fines terrae) shall remember and turn to the Lord; all the nations (uniuersae patriae gentium) shall adore in his sight; for the kingdom is his and he shall rule the nations” (Ps 21:28-29; Io. eu. tr. 13.14.2).25 Appealing to these words in order to justify his view of God’s reign stretching beyond the shores of Africa to include “all the nations” (uniuersae patriate gentium), Augustine continues his appeal to the same Psalm, read—as he tells his audience—both among the Donatists and the Catholics on the week before Easter (Io. eu. tr. 13.14.2).26
With his repeated call to “pay attention” (intendite), Augustine wishes to correct the Donatist form of typologically reading the Psalm itself; and not only the text of the Psalm, but also the act of Christ’s passion and death. The tunic is no afterthought in Augustine’s mind, but rather serves to underscore the wholeness of Christ’s Church and the totality of his achievement. In contrast to the apparent Donatist ecclesiology, of the Church confined to Africa, Augustine launches a polemical-spiritual reading of John 19:23-24. As the anti-Donatist emphasis on the wholeness of Christ’s redemption demonstrates, Augustine seems to believe that he has landed on a key point of difference: “Christ redeemed the whole (totum), and yet you say, ‘here you have part’” (author’s translation) (Io. eu. tr. 13.14, CCSL 36, 139).27 By preferring a part, rather than the whole, Augustine’s opponents in North Africa make themselves the followers of a mere human, in place of Christ (Io. Eu. Tr. 13.13, CCSL 36, p. 139). In a later reading, as the following section makes clear, Augustine identified this ‘wholeness’ within the text of John 19:23-24 in the words per totum, which do not figure into his approach directly here, emphasis being instead laid on the tunic’s form (tunica desuper texta), and the Johannine reference to the Psalm in the words of John 19:24 (non diuidamus eam).
Commentary on John: Tractate 118 (ca. 419-422 A.D.). Augustine would return to the tunic of Christ in the course of his expansive commentary on John some years later in Io. Eu. Tr. 118. For this reading, which was more likely to have been composed in writing rather than delivered as a public homily, Augustine opens himself up to other aspects of John’s text, and he finds good reason for doing so, since only John’s gospel contains so many details. Echoing his initial observations about the Johannine passion in his harmony of the Gospels, Augustine observes how while the other gospels spoke “more briefly” (“breuius”) and even “obscurely” (“clause”), John speaks “most openly” (“apertissime”) (Io. eu. tr. 118.2, CCSL 36, p. 654).28 While Matthew, Mark and Luke only call to mind the fact that Christ’s clothing (uestimenta eius) was divided, with an indirect reference to the text of Ps 21:19, John also indicates in verse 23 that the clothing was divided into four equal pieces: “Iohannes autem et quot partes de uestimentis eius fecerint […] id est quatuor, ut singulas tollerent” (Io. Eu. Tr. 118.2, CCSL 36, p. 655). On Augustine’s reasoning, the four separate pieces were each designated for a single soldier; yet, this literal interpretation swiftly becomes symbolic.
Thus, if mention of the Donatists, which appeared plainly in tr. 13, recedes from view, the ecclesial concept developed over the course of many finely argued debates and frequent careful reading of the Scripture remains. Firstly, Augustine notices that the number of parts into which Christ’s garments were divided, which corresponded to the number of soldiers present who cast lots, in fact represents the universality of his redemption: “Perhaps someone may ask what significance there is in the division which was made of the garments into so many parts and in that casting of lots for the tunic.” Regarding the divided clothing, Augustine responds that
The four-parted clothing (quadripartita uestis) of the Lord Jesus Christ represented his four-parted Church (quadripartitam… ecclesiam), spread throughout the world, of course, which consists of four parts (quatuor partibus), and to all the same parts distributed equally, that is, harmoniously. And because of this he says elsewhere that he will send his angels to gather his elect from the four winds (a quatuor uentis)—and what is this except from the four parts of the world, east, west, north, and south (nisi a quatuor partibus mundi)? (Halton and Rettig, 1995, Io. eu. tr. 118.4, p. 41)29
This apparent universality of being spread throughout the whole (toto… terrarum orbe diffusam; concorditer distributam) recalls Augustine’s insistence in the previous tractate that Christ’s purchase was not only for one corner of the earth, even Africa, but of the whole (totum emit). To be fair, however, the mention of angels gathering the elect (electos eius) from the four corners of the earth indicates that Augustine most likely does not hold to a more complete form of universal salvation. The force of his position may be seen most clearly, in this context, with Augustine’s use of the participles diffusam and distributam, as well as the use of the descriptors aequaliter and concorditer. Thus, in the very least, Christ’s purchase of the whole ensured that the Church would be universal in the sense Augustine is wont to repeat continually, which would not necessarily entail a doctrine of universal salvation.30
In this light, Augustine also finds this universality (or catholicity) when he considers the tunic for which lots were cast. Yes, the tunic “signifies the unity of all the parts which is held together by the bond of love” (continetur uinculo caritatis), echoing Io. Eu. Tr. 13 and the three Pauline passages cited here (1 Cor 12:13, Eph 3:19, Col 3:14); and yes, the tunic is without seam (inconsutilis), because in the Church God gathers all into one through the presence and work of the undivided Holy Spirit. Yet, on Augustine’s interpretation in order to explain this unity amidst the many parts, the Gospel of John also adds the phrase, per totum, “throughout”. For not only was the cloth “woven from the top” (“desuper texta”), it was so woven throughout, which offers Augustine further grounds for postulating his view of the Church as spread throughout the world, beyond the shores of Africa (Augustine, 1995, Io. eu. tr. 118.4).31 Every part, Augustine concludes—from the Johannine image—, belongs to the whole: “and from this whole, as the Greek language indicates, the Church is called catholic” (Halton and Rettig, 1995, Io. eu. tr. 118.4).32
The use of per totum touches on Augustine’s ecclesiology and its relation to Donatism in another way, as much as he conceived of the Church as “spread throughout the world”. This Latin phrase, toto… terrarum orbe diffusam, used above in this tractate in order to describe the four-part nature of the Church, that corresponds to Christ’s clothing that was divided, again makes use of the Latin word totus. Even in his earlier writings, and certainly once he counters the Donatist controversy in full swing in his treatise de baptismo (400 A.D.), his letter against the Donatist bishop of Carthage Parmenian (c. ep. Parm., also 400 A.D.), and his response to the Donatist Petilian (c. litt. Pet., 400/403 A.D.), Augustine frequently described the Catholic Church as catholica ecclesia… toto orbe diffusa—“spread throughout the whole world”.33 As I must repeat only in passing, the term also reflects Augustine’s well-studied totus Christus hermeneutic, which further conditions his reflections on “wholeness”, “unity”, and “universality” or “catholicity”. Both of these dimensions— the sense of the Church spread throughout the world, and the particular use of totus to describe the Church in other contexts—are integral in one way or another to Augustine’s reading of John 19:24, and the linguistic or philological associations that evidently occurred to him in the course of his exegesis and religious polemics.
Ep. 76 to the Donatists (404 A.D.). Augustine would also draw upon the citation of Psalm 21 found within the text of John’s verse in his personal correspondence, which I would like to highlight here. In ep. 76 (404 A.D.), for example, writing to a Donatist audience Augustine again mentions the “Passion of the Lord” (“passio domini”), insisting with Paul in his letter to the Galatians that, like Abraham, “in whom all nations are to be called blessed” (Gal 3:16, cf. Gn 22:18), so also Christ’s purchase was the “whole world” (“ille totum orbem redemit”) (Augustine, ep. 76.1, CSEL 34/2, p. 325).34 Referring again to Psalm 21, Augustine begs his audience to understand the “cost with which we are redeemed” (“quo pretio redempti sumus”), whereupon he cites the biblical link about the division of clothing found in both John and the Psalms, with special attention to the tunicam caritatis desuper textam: “Why do you wish to become the dividers of our Lord’s clothing, and even of that tunic of love, woven from above, which not even his persecutors divided?” (Augustine, ep. 76.1, CSEL 34/2, p. 325).35 The Donatists, Augustine asserts, have “separated themselves from the unity of the whole world”, and the image of the undivided tunic stands as an unblemished, contrasting ideal to the unity that has been broken (Augustine, ep. 76.1, CSEL 34/2, p. 325).36 This image and the force of Augustine’s interpretation continues in rather uninviting terms with John 19:23-24, both setting the tone of his ensuing polemics, even while being taking up into the broader stream of his anti-Donatist argumentation. As the two tractates on John indicate in distinct ways, the tunic of Christ described in John 19:23-24 stands for the indissolubility of the Church, as well as—for Augustine, it seems—its global nature, that is, its catholicity. Each of these two elements stands out as clear expressions of Augustine’s counterclaims in response to Donatist positions.
In his analysis of Augustine’s typological interpretation of the Bible, Hubertus Drobner explains that, as a “divine sign of salvation […] [t]he sacrament always unfolds in three steps: the Old Testament figure (type, image)—its fulfillment in New Testament times and presence in the sacraments of the Church—and its eschatological perfection at the end of times […]” (Drobner, 2006, p. 160).37 As he concludes, “[t] ypology thus makes clear that all times together, past, present and future, form one continuous and consequent history of salvation” (Drobner, 2006, p. 160).
In the typology presented here, Augustine looks in turns at the verse of the Psalm, and the text of John, thus accounting for both the Old Testament pre-figure, and its New Testament fulfillment, which explicitly includes the sacraments of the Church. While I have not rehearsed the careful observations about Augustine’s reading of Psalm 21 as a whole, made by Drobner and others, what I hope to have suggested here is how the Johannine reading of one verse (or one pair of verses), and Augustine’s own reception of the same, proved to be a valuable symbol in his own polemical activity against the Donatists. As en. Ps. 21.2.9 and s. Guelf 2.2 demonstrate, Augustine granted that the sacraments of the Church, or, more precisely, the sacraments of Christ had been divided through the course of the Donatist controversy. Yet, like the seamless tunic, the love of Christ in and for his Church remained unharmed. If the later developments of Augustine’s appropriation of these verses in Io. Eu. Tr. 13, tr. 118, and ep. 76 suggest a deepening of his anti-Donatist tendencies in reading this verse, such a picture may well hold the day as a fair assessment. Even in the later reading of tr. 118, Augustine at least seems to have Donatist positions in mind when he explores how best to understand John 19:23-24, even as he takes his exegesis in new directions, present only in seed form in the previous tractate.
Building upon earlier North African and outside Latin interpretations of these verses, if not other potential sources, Augustine found any number of opportunities to remind his audience—whether Catholic or Donatist—of the significance of Christ’s seamless tunic as a symbol of indissoluble love. In the examples I have outlined above, one may find that Augustine made appeal to John in two principle ways: first, as a potent correction of Donatist theologies, through selective citation and exegesis of Johannine images and sayings. The evidence presented above should indicate this phenomenon clearly. What is less obvious with whether Augustine, secondly, may have set out correcting Donatist theology while also proposing an improved North African reading of the Latin text of John. The frequency of Augustine’s reading of John 19:23-24 could only lightly suggest that his contemporary Donatist bishops were, in fact, expressing a similar interpretation of the same Johannine image in their own homilies, letters and polemical writings. If earlier (or later) sources were to indicate this theory were in fact the case, then Augustine’s exegesis becomes all the more charged with polemical intent.
- PhD Researcher in the History of Church and Theology at the Catholic University of Leuven’s Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies. Email: email@example.com
- Augustine, cons. eu. 3.39, CSEL 43, p. 323, “[…] breuiter a tribus dictum est. Iohannes autem distinctius hoc explicat, quemadmodum gestum sit.”
- On Augustine’s reception of Psalm 21, see Drobner (2006); on the ‘seamless tunic’ of John 19:23, see Bouchard (2005), Berrouard (1993, 937f.) and Aubineau (1970).
- Already in the mid-4th century, Fortunatianus of Aquileia in his recently studied Latin Commentary on the Gospels made note of the significance of these verses. In a comment on Matthew 10:9-10, “Do not own gold or silver or money or a bag or sandals or a stick or two tunics,” Fortunatianus explains the last phrase and it mention of tunics by reference to John 19:23-24: “The heretics and schismatics who gather outside the Church appear to strive for two tunics, although there is only one tunic which is knit together by the faith of the unity of the one Church and sewn from above (meaning heavenly), which the soldiers examined and refused to tear” (Houghton, 2017, pp. 48-49). The one tunic, on this interpretation, resembles “the love of the one Church,” which schismatics and heretics undermine by setting up assemblies “outside the Church”. Like the seamless garment of Christ, the ‘one’ Church cannot be divided. While Fortunatianus does not quote the pair of verses to the letter, this author clearly has in mind the account given in the Gospel of John, which is the only canonical text that offers any description or mention whatsoever of the tunic, in particular, among Christ’s clothing. Moreover, the sole phrase quoted the Gospel, here, “desuper texta” (“sewn from above”) surely led the editor to identify this citation as Johannine. The ‘spiritualized’ meaning given to this pair of words, though not explored at length, suggests simply that the tunic was divine, perhaps as a testimony to Christ’s own divine nature, or even more likely as indirect reference to the Holy Spirit, which animates and guides the Church in the absence of Christ’s physical presence. Augustine echoes such an allusion to the Holy Spirit in his early Psalm commentary, on Psalm 21, dated to 392 A.D.
- See, for example, Cyprian of Carthage, De unitate ecclesiae 7, CCSL 3, p. 254, “Hoc unitatis sacramentum, hoc uinculum concordiae inseparabiliiter cohaerentis ostenditur quando in euangelio tunica Domini Iesu Christi non diuiditur omnino nec scinditur sed, sortientibus de ueste Christi, quis Christum potius indueret, integra uestis accipitur et incorrupta adque indiuisa tunica possidetur. Loquitur ac dicit scriptura diuina: ‘De tunica autem, quia de superiore parte non sonsutilis sed per totum textilis fuerat, dixerunt ad inuicem, «Non scindamus illam sed sortiamur de ea cuius sit.»’”
- See Berrouard (1993, p. 937), “[…] si son exégèse allégorique reste la même, les arguments qu’il invoque pour la justifier sons souvent différents.”
- s. Guelf. 2.1, Morin, p. 450, “[…] magnum et ineffabile sacramentum dominicae passionis sollemniter hodie celebramus.”
- s. Guelf. 2.2, Morin, p. 451, “[…] sed teneamus quod significabat illa uestis desuper texta, quam nec illi diuiserunt qui Christum occiderunt.”
- s. Guelf. 2.2, Morin, p. 452, “[…] possunt ergo per multos haereticos diuidi sacramenta Christi: nullus fidelium scindit uel diuidit caritatem Christi; sed qui pertinent ad partem sortis sanctorum in lumine, ipsi eam tamquam propriam tenent, quia spiritaliter diligunt unitatem.”
- See also en. Ps. 21.2.19, CCSL 38, p. 127, “sacramenta sibi haeretici diuidere potuerunt, caritatem non diuiserunt.”
- Hill, 1997, pp. 162-163.
- Augustine, 2009, s. Dolbeau 21.18, p. 296, “significatum est quare non meruit diuidi desuper texta. quid est quod desuper texitur? unde nobis dicitur sursum cor. itaque qui sursum habet cor, diuidi in partes non potest, quia ad illam tunicam quae non potest diuidi pertinebit.”
- Augustine, 2009, s. Dolbeau 21.18, p. 296 “et si sursum cor habetis, desuper texti estis; si desuper texti estis, diuidi non potestis”. For additional support that demonstrates the individisbility of the Holy Spirit, also see for example: c. Faust. 12.14 and en. Ps. 62.17.
- On this point, note also the recent study Kenney (2013).
- As one helpful reviewer pointed out to me, it may be more accurate and appropriate to identify the contrast I am developing merely as a potential distinction, which does not further entail direct conflict.
- Cameron (2017, pp. 15-16) ends on a fine note, alluding to the relation between Pauline and Johannine texts in Augustine’s interpretative point of view, and arguing that “overemphasis on Augustine reading Paul may obscure the depth of his debt to John.” As the above paragraph in my own text should make clear, I aim in this article and elsewhere to address how the sequence of his readings of John in light of the Donatist controversy illustrate the relationship between his social activity and exegetical praxis.
- About the preference to identify the Donatists as ‘dissident’ rather than by their (previously) more common epithet, see Shaw (2011, p. 11 et passim). Ployd (2015) has studied most recently these sixteen tractates in depth, for their conjunction of anti-Donatist and pro-Nicene theological positions.
- I find the use of Caecilianist in reference to the opposing party—that of Optatus and Augustine— too unfamiliar, and inapt in that, at least to my mind, Augustine would never have conceived of himself as such.
- “Sponsa es, agnosce uestem sponsi tui. Super quam uestem missa est sors? Interroga euangelium; uide cui desponsata sis, uide a quo arrhas accipias. interroga euangelium; uide quid tibi dicat in passione domini. erat ibi tunica; uideamus qualis: desuper texta. desuper texta tunica quid significat nisi caritatem? desuper texta tunica quid significat nisi unitatem?”
- Again, the intrinsic and essential link for Augustine of the love of God to the Holy Spirit as the means and mediator to our humanity cannot be ignored; e.g. trin. 6.5.7.
- “hanc tunicam adtende, quam nec persecutores Christi diuiserunt. ait enim: dixerunt inter se: non diuidamus eam, sed sortem super eam mittamus. ecce unde audistis Psalmum. uestem persecutores non consciderunt; christiani ecclesiam diuidunt.”
- According to Lewis and Short’s Latin dictionary, the two terms diuido and conscindo do not appear to differ in degree or essential meaning of dividing or destroying. My suggestion here is that by applying the words of the Latin Gospel text to christiani, thus creating an even stronger verbal echo and antithesis, Augustine seems to emphasis the lamentable divisions of the Church of Christ, and even to assign some measure of guilt to the parties involved.
- “euidenter ergo, fratres mei, nihil prodest istis seruare uirginitatem, habere continentiam, eleemosynas dare; omnia illa quae laudantur in ecclesia, nihil illis prosunt, quia conscindunt unitatem, id est, tunicam illam caritatis.”
- “aperte uideamus quid emerit. ibi enim emit, ubi pretium dedit. pro quanto dedit? si pro Africa dedit, simus Donatistae, et non appellemur Donatistae, sed christiani; quia Christus solam Africam emit, quamquam et hic non soli Donatistae.”
- “quid ibi emit, audite: commemorabuntur et conuertentur ad dominum uniuersi fines terrae; et adorabunt in conspectu eius uniuersae patriae gentium: quoniam ipsius est regnum, et ipse dominabitur gentium.”
- “ibi in ipso Psalmo ubi dictum est: foderunt manus meas et pedes, dinumerauerunt omnia ossa mea [Ps 21,17sq.]; ubi passio domini apertissime declaratur; qui Psalmus omni anno legitur nouissima hebdomada intento uniuerso populo, imminente passione Christi, et apud nos, et apud illos Psalmus iste legitur.” For additional evidence in the corpus of Augustine, see Berrouard (1993, p. 704), also cited in Halton (1988, p. 58, n. 55: en. Ps. 21.2.28-29; Io. ep. tr. 2.2); also cf. Drobner (2006, passim).
- “agnosce, totum emit, et tu dicis: partem hic habes.”
- “sed de partitione et sortitione uestimentorum eius non est praetereunter loquendum. quamuis enim omnes euangelistae quatuor huius rei meminerint, ceteri tamen breuius quam Iohannes; et clause illi, iste uero apertissime.”
- Cf. CCSL 36, 656, “quaerat forte aliquis, quid significet in tot partes uestimentorum facta diuisio, et de tunica illa sortitio. quadripartita uestis domini Iesu Christi, quadripartitam figurauit eius ecclesiam, toto scilicet, qui quatuor partibus constat, terrarum orbe diffusam, et omnibus eisdem partibus aequaliter, idest concorditer distributam. propter quod alibi dicit missurum se angelos suos, ut colligant electos eius a quatuor uentis; quod quid est, nisi a quatuor partibus mundi, oriente, occidente, aquilone et meridie?”
- Here, my point is simply to distinguish between the universal Church as catholic, building upon the metaphor of the Johannine tunic, from universal salvation—which identifies the purchase of Christ with all of humanity. Unfortunately, time and space do not allow any further commentary or evidence.
- “tunica uero illa sortita, omnium partium significat unitatem, quae caritatis uinculo continetur… inconsutilis autem, ne aliquando dissuatur; et ad unum peruenit, quia in unum omnes colligit.”
- “unde et hic cum dixisset: desuper contexta, addidit: per totum. quod si referamus ad id quod significat, nemo eius et expers qui pertinere inuenitur ad totum; a quo toto, sicut Graeca indicat lingua, catholica uocatur ecclesia.” Here, the Latin word which corresponds to the Greek root of katholikos is totum; and like the use of per totum in Augustine’s Latin bible, the Greek text of John also contains the same root, describing the kitōn (“tunic”) as “without seam, woven from the top, throughout”, araphos, ek tōn anōthen hyphantos di holou (see Aland et al., 2012, Jn 19:23). It was for good reason, and understandable, that early Christians, even well before the time of Augustine, would have inferred a reference to the Church from this phrase—most notably in this context, Cyprian of Carthage, in the text already alluded to above—, and here the bishop of Hippo draws a further connection for the sake of his audience of fellow Latin Christians, whether Donatist or Catholic.
- See, e.g. cons. eu. 1.13; c. ep. Parm. 1.1, 2.10, 2.19, 3.27-28; bapt. 3.6, 3.14, 4.23.
- “erigite oculos cordis et considerate totum orbem terrarum, quo modo in semine Abrahae benedicuntur omnes gentes. tunc ab uno credebatur, quod nondum uidebatur; uos iam uidetis et adhuc inuidetis. passio domini pretium est orbis terrarum, ille totum orbem redemit et uos cum toto orbe ad lucrum uestrum non concordatis, sed potius in damnum uestrum in parte litigatis, ut totum perdatis.”
- “quare diuisores uestimentorum domini esse uultis et tunicam illam caritatis desuper textam, quam nec persecutores eius diuiserunt, tenere cum toto orbe non uultis?”
- “ut quid uos a totius orbis unitate nefario schismatis sacrilegio diuisistis?”
- See n. 31 for bibliography.
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- Berrouard, M.-F. (1993). La tunique tissée depuis le haut. In Bibliothèque Augustinienne 71 (pp. 937-938). Paris: Institut des Études Augustiniennes.
- Bouchard, M.-N. (2005). La tunique sans couture: symbole de l’unité de l’église. Collectanea Cisterciensia, 67(4), 313-321.
- Cameron, M. (2017). Augustine and John’s Gospel from Conversion to Confessiones. Augustinian Studies, 48(1/2), 263-278.
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