In Augustine's Confessions, I.18, he writes:

et certe non est interior litterarum scientia quam scripta conscientia, id se alteri facere quod nolit pati. quam tu secretus es, habitans in excelsis in silentio, deus solus magnus, lege infatigabili spargens poenales caecitates supra inlicitas cupiditates, cum homo eloquentiae famam quaeritans ante hominem iudicem, circumstante hominum multitudine, inimicum suum odio inmanissimo insectans, vigilantissime cavet, ne per linguae errorem dicat: Inter omines, et ne per mentis furorem hominem auferat ex hominibus non cavet.

The key phrase for my question is translated by Henry Chadwick as follows:

[The speaker] is indifferent to the possibility that the emotional force of his mind may bring about a man's execution.

The same portion is translated a bit differently by Edward Pusey:

[He] takes no heed, lest, through the fury of his spirit, he murder the real human being.

Note the difference between "bring about a man's execution" and "murder the real human being." This may seem inconsequential, but in Christianity, there's a teaching that hatred or anger is akin to murder (see Matthew 5:21–22), which could theoretically allow Pusey's translation to be read as "he sin against the real human being" or "he murder the real human being in his heart."

My question, thus, revolves around this distinction:

  • Does the Latin text specifically indicate, or strongly imply, capital punishment as the outcome of the speaker's eloquence?
  • Is the physical death of the man clearly indicated?
  • Or is a metaphorical interpretation possible or likely?

This question is inspired by an answer to a question regarding Augustine's views on capital punishment. If Chadwick unjustifiably makes the connection to capital punishment, perhaps this passage tells us nothing about Augustine's view of the practice.

  • 1
    Is hominem ex hominibus auferre a common expression in Christian Latin? I have never seen it, and understanding its connotations seems important here. – Joonas Ilmavirta Apr 26 '16 at 12:52
  • 1
    Words meaning remove often mean "kill" in Latin, like tollo. Lewis & Short say aufero is synonymous with tollo and a few similar words. They also offer "kill" as a subsense. So I think the connotation of murder is probably present—or at least it would be in classical Latin. – Cerberus Apr 26 '16 at 14:07
  • (Caveat: Long time since I read the Confessions.) Isn't the context of this passage more about the wrongheadedness of worrying about making grammatical errors by speaking incorrectly (as, say, a rhetorician would, or an orator) even though the force of the words may be meant to convict someone who faced the death penalty. That is, Augustine suggests that worrying about what the words are used for is more important than worrying about using them in a grammatically correct fashion. I think I prefer Chadwick because it captures the idea that the speaker's words may bring about the execution. – jon Jul 10 '16 at 17:52
  • See also O'Donnell's summary of this portion of the Confessions (1.18.29): 'Two patterns of order are superimposed on each other here, with their similarities drawn out to contrast the values they represent. Order and law exist in human language as it is used here, but it is all shown to be a fraud, and a killing one at that, by the hidden order and law of God that works in and through even the deeds of his most perverse opponents.' – jon Jul 10 '16 at 17:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.