An Evening with Robert Louis Wilken

15 10 2009

StAugustine

AG and I went to a talk at Notre Dame Seminary here in New Orleans given by the noted Christian scholar, Robert Louis Wilken. A former Lutheran pastor and a convert to the Catholic Faith in 1994, Dr. Wilken this night gave a talk entitled, “Reading St. Augustine in the 21st Century”. Dr. Wilken, as many will know, is an expert in early Christian thought, having written and edited such books as Remembering the Christian Past and On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ. He is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia as well as having taught at many notable universities around the world. He is also a New Orleans native, having grown up in the lower Ninth Ward, and gave a biographical prelude to his talk on how good it was to be back in his hometown. There was a good turnout for the event on a rainy Friday night, and the talk itself was followed by a lively and equally interesting Q & A session.

Dr. Wilken decided in his limited time to tackle perhaps the most prolific and influential of ancient writers, St. Augustine of Hippo. Wilken had to start out surveying the vast expanse of Augustine’s thought and writings, not to mention his equally impressive legacy on Western thought. He began with some rather broad yet profound themes that Augustine touched upon in his writings: time, memory, the self, and the soul. In these, what is most important is the “inner life” of man; it is the “most important part of being human”. In Augustine, above any other thinker in antiquity, we have a “turn towards the self”. In no other author then or now can we get a deeper sense of the “inner life” as it journeys towards the truth. For Augustine, reflection and the turn towards the self were a “step on the way back to God”. His task was to explore the infinitely vast universe within, of which the outer universe is but a mere shadow, and there find God.
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