Night and days in Cassiciacum: The anti-Manichaean theodicy of Augustine’s De ordine
AbstractIn his early dialogue ‘On order’ (De ordine) Augustine dramatises a discussion of theodicy in which the Manichaean solution is clearly rejected, even though the debate ends in aporia. It is argued in this paper that the dialogue’s dramatic setting at the villa in Cassiciacum is strongly
reminiscent of Manichaean imagery and the stock motifs of the Manichaean mythological system. It is proposed in the dialogue itself, that the scenic elements (Augustine’s ill health, night and darkness, the dawning day, dirt and ugliness, fighting cocks) have the character of
signs which illustrate the significance of the not-beautiful and the negative in the divine order. The dialogue setting thus presents an ontological scale that leads from the levels of reduced being up to the highest being, linking night or darkness to light or day, dirt to purity, sickness to health, defeat to victory, the ugly to the beautiful. The dialogue setting becomes a semiotic system in which even the ontologically deficient forms of phenomenon always also refer to something at the highest level, namely the omnipotent divine creator. The scenic design of De ordine can thus be read as an extension of the Manichaean system of codes, and hence as a
message also addressed to a Manichaean readership.
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