Augustine's Hermeneutic of Humility: An Alternative to Moral Imperialism and Moral Relativism

Journal of Religious Ethics 22 (2):299 - 330 (1994)
Abstract
Augustine's concept of human will was not one of sheer irrational volition, as modern readers too easily assume and as Albrecht Dihle has claimed. Rather, for Augustine a certain kind of knowledge is necessary for the healing and righting of the will. In Augustine's hermeneutic of humility his theory of the will and his notion of saving knowledge meet. It is in humble recognition of God's own humility that the person, in fact, finds integration. More than historical curiosity or psychological theory is at stake in our interpretation of Augustine, however. A more nuanced reading allows us to recognize moral and philosophical relativism as a frustrated reaction to the Christian tradition's own failure to take its call to humility seriously by consistently positing its truth-claims through witness, conversation, and church council rather than willful imposition and hierarchical decree. A constructive way of articulating "pro-life" opposition to abortion illustrates the "hermeneutic of humility" and contrasts with the approach of the recent papal encyclical "Veritatis splendor".
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