‘The Consultation of Sacred Books and the Mediator’

(2013) Naoki Kamimura, ‘The Consultation of Sacred Books and the Mediator: the Sortes in Augustine’, Studia Patristica 70 (Leuven: Peeters) 305-315.
Originally delivered at 16th International Conference on Patristic Studies held at Oxford University, Oxford, on 9 August 2011.
In the Confessions, after telling the audience about his internal struggle with desires, Augustine relates the famous tolle lege incident in a garden in Milan where Augustine happened to read a codex of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. With regard to the act of consulting a sacred book, Augustine appears to follow a venerable tradition in late antiquity, in which these words tolle lege chanted by children indicate a procedure of the oracle. Augustine also recorded the conversation he had with a knowledgeable physician, Vindicianus, earlier in the Confessions (4.3.5-6) where they discussed how astrological predictions often turned out to be correct. Vindicianus pointed out the prediction drawn from the consultation of a book of poetry. Yet, remarkably, although he concluded that the true predictions by astrologers were produced not by skill but by chance (‘non arte sed sorte’), Augustine’s attitude was not simply negative. Not only in the Confessions, but in some works (e.g. De diversis quaestionibus octoginta tribus 45.2: Epistula 55.37), he was concerned about a source of inspiration for the oratorical process that had played such a crucial role in his conversion. Why did Augustine think about this kind of oracle? How did he follow the custom in late antiquity? In this paper I shall argue the significance and impact of this phenomenon in the thought of Augustine.
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