Augustinus-Lexikon, edited by Cornelius Mayer (Redaction: Karl Heinz Chelius). Volume 1. Basel: Schwabe & Co. AG, 1986-94. ISBN (series) 3-7965-0854-5; (volume 1) 3-7965-0964-9. Pp. lx, col. 1298.
Planned since 1976, appearing in print in fascicles since 1986, this distinguished work of reference aims for completion in (apparently) six or seven volumes (1200 articles are promised, while this volume comprises approximately 200 -- and an index volume is also promised), most of which will be published in the twenty-first century. It is ambitious and impressive. The Basel publishing house of Schwabe stand as heirs of Froben, Amerbach, and Petri, and so descend directly from the first collected edition of Augustine's works published there in 1506. As a physical artifact, the handsome and well-made volume is a tribute to its origins and will long endure on our library shelves.
But the underpinnings of the work are anything but traditionalist in some respects at least. As early as 1983, the editors had constructed an electronic edition of the works of Augustine (now released to the public as the Corpus Augustinianum Gissense -- see below), and in that year began a project of collecting and standardizing a bibliography of the modern secondary literature on Augustine (also on the CAG CD). In both areas, they built on the work of others, in some cases incorporating it directly to serve the needs of Augustinian scholars. (The American scholar can only look on as well with admiration at the report that the work has been generously supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the Mainz Akademie der Wissenschaften.)
In the German tradition of the encyclopedic handbook, it deals in alphabetical order with concepts, persons, places, institutions, and objects which are of importance for Augustine's life, work, and teaching. The articles appear in German, English, and French -- sometimes with disconcerting effect, as when the article on "causa" begins with English topic headings, then a section in French, then three pages in English, a result of dual authorship.
The Augustine industry has always been mainly devout, Catholic, and European, for all that Augustine's readers have been far less homogeneous and often quite cantankerous. This volume still stands in a very respectful tradition -- indeed, the very decision to construct a work is a measure of respect that carries itself throughout the pages of this volume. But the editors make an unusual observation in the front matter (xii: English version): "Furthermore, the fact should not be concealed that the expo sure given to Augustine's thought in recent publications has been increasingly accompanied by critical discussion of that thought. It should be obvious that this broadening of the scope of controversial disputation with the Church Father will promote, rather than curtail, research into him and his thought." The effect of that sensitivity is a mixture of openness and defensiveness, all quite discreet. In the selection of topics, for example, there is some tendency to preoccupy oneself with Augustine as authority figure for contemporary theological concerns, hence an article on "abortus" (abortion), which would scarcely get five columns if it were not a live issue today. (This predilection may also underlie some of the more puzzling choices: why "calix " [chalice] is present is a puzzle before and after reading the brief article -- at a guess, the intention had been to trace the origins of a liturgical term, but in fact A. offers precious little information on that point.)
The 200 articles here come from 75 authors, drawn chiefly from western Europe; David Pingree, the historian of astrology/astronomy, is the only non-European author I can detect in the group. It is very much the generation of the students of the postwar giants: Madec and Markus and O'Daly are here, but not (alas) Courcelle and Armstrong and O'Meara. Strength has been matched to strength (hence O'Daly on anima/animus (great lucidity in a dozen pages), Lancel on "Africa" [20 elegantly concise pages illustrated by 3 maps -- regrettably the only illustrations in the volume apart from the frontispiece reproduction of the 6th-century Lateran portrait of Augustine]), which is on the whole what one would expect and wish, though it is sometimes more interesting to ask scholars to write for an encyclopedia on the topic they have not yet treated, rather than one they have treated too often. The judgment here was in favor of reliability rather than venturesomeness.
There are more articles on "concepts" (if we include in that category e.g. Biblical figures) than anything else; people come in second. Each of A.'s works, surviving and lost, gets an article. Some of the "concept" articles include paired entries, such as abstinentia/continentia, caro/spiritus (with cross-reference from the second term's alphabetical site). The alphabetical sorting is useful in many respects, but disjoints some things otherwise. Separate articles for "canon" and for "canon scripturarum" offer some confusion: the former deals with the word's history and points towards its future in "canon law" (strictly an anachronism in A.), while the second deals with A.'s position on the content of the biblical canon. Between the two articles it is hard to see (unless you know what you are looking for already) how close A. stands to the head of the tradition of using the word "canon" for the inclusive list of scriptures. Meanwhile, cross-references to an article on "sacra scriptura" suggest that there is more to wait for on biblical topics.
One of the most useful items in the volume is the 17-page tabulation in the front matter of Augustine's works, their titles, and their editions, including variants of titles and references to Possidius' indiculum and to the retractationes of Augustine. One still regrets the absence of a comprehensive index of sermons (one must still rely on Verbraken's Études critiques sur les sermons authentiques de Saint Augustin and Frede's Kirchenschriftsteller) and letters (one must still rely on Goldbacher's CSEL edition), though both of those corpora will need to be reviewed in future articles, presumably "epistulae" and "sermones"; perhaps it is timely to register a wish to see extensive and detailed tables at that point. Similarly, one looks in vain for a chronological table of Augustine's life ; in its stead, we will still use Perler, Les voyages de saint Augustin (1969) and may will perforce use the tables in Brown's biography (1967).
The bibliographies and annotations arranged article by article are very useful and very accurate. The scholarship throughout is accurate, current, and detailed. I have used the work intermittently since the first fascicle was published in 1984 and have found it everywhere reliable. My own practice makes it more a work of reference for specific details and current states-of-question; it would take a different kind of reader to judge the value of given articles as introductions to important topics or works. There, the only drawback is the multilingual nature of the collection, meaning that monoglot Americans at least will struggle with much of the volume's content; but to be sure, this multilingual approach is more accessible than would have been the case if the volume were only in German. In each of the three languages, there has been evident care taken to achieve clarity of style, with great success.
The only serious frustration is inevitable, the frustration at incompleteness. The work is, of course, a fragment of a whole. Some of what is not here can be discerned from cross-references and other indications. It appears that the woman Augustine lived with through his 20s and then sent brusquely away when she obstructed Monnica's plans will appear here only as a section "La mére d'Ad." in the article on Adeodatus. It is too early to tell how articles on hot button items like "woman" will be handled , and without even a tentative list of lemmata-to-come, one is not sure even in which volume to expect such a topic.
The articles on A.'s works are clearly valuable for the minor works, where a Forschungsbericht and summary of contents can be of considerable value for many researchers. For major works, the results are more various. O'Daly on de civitate Dei is concise and helpful. E. Feldmann's article on the Confessions is one of the two longest in the work and consists in fact of several short essays on important topics (unity, date, style), but has a difficult task keeping a balance between informing the novice and satisfying the expert concerning a work where the gap between novice and expert is so wide.
How will we use this book? Who will "we" be? The person who comes to this book and uses it well will be someone already self-defined as a serious student of Augustine. Librarians confirm this by their choices. One of our great research universities has a single copy of this volume, shelved in its Classics seminar. Another has three copies, one in open stacks, one in the Classics seminar, and one in a divinity school reference area. Neither chooses to place this volume in the general reference area where the widest variety of scholars and students would come -- they will make do with the Theologische Realenzyklopädie or, alas, failing a comparably up-to-date work in English, the New Catholic Encyclopedia (already 30 years old). But the scholar who knows of this should not hesitate to recommend it strongly to those who come asking for guidance in matters Augustinian.
One single point of absolute delight: at columns 372-3, a complete list of names of animals mentioned in Augustine, from the accipiter to the vultur, dozens of them, a few with Greek names. The article on "animal" to which that list is appended is in fact one of the freshest things in the book: an article on a topic that one does not sighingly recognize as utterly familiar and predictable. There are too few of those. But putting the obvious scholar to the obvious topic sometimes indeed strikes sparks , as with P. Petitmengin's fourteen columns on "codex" -- showing that A. uses the newfangled word for biblical texts, "volumen" still for his own works, but that we can rarely prove that A. is thinking of anything but the codex form of writing.
The promise of an index volume cruelly teases those of who may not live to see it or will at least come into possession of it only after many years. Only when that is completed will it really be possible for the student or the scholar to come to this set and ask "What did A. think of . . .?" whatever subject, and find an answer rapidly. As indicated above, this work falls on a boundary between the ages of print and electronic texts, with its lineage back to the earliest days of print and its association with the electronic edition of A.'s texts. Though there are some first hints of collaborative reference works a-building on the Internet, no project comparable to this has yet found a home there. And yet the opportunity is real: to make material available as it is written (the alphabetical tyranny of multi-volume encyclopedias usually means that some articles are written promptly and then published decades later), to add pictorial material in abundance cheaply, and to find multiple ways to organize and search information. This great achievement is destined to live out its days on the shelves of libraries whose patrons are simultaneously discovering alternate ways to seek and find information of the sort it contains.
The reviewer should confess at the end a potential apparent conflict of interest, but one that in fact increases my admiration for this volume. I am a member of the editorial board of a one-volume English language encyclopedia devoted to Augustine in preparation under the editorship of the editor of this journal. He would hasten as I do to emphasize that our volume will be in no way a competitor for the AL, but a respectful junior colleague addressing a very different audience. I mention the association chiefly to aver that in the course of our work, I have acquired a greater measure of respect for those who would wrestle the complex and multifarious data of the life and work of this protean thinker into the discreet orderliness of a work of reference. Any such work is a product of compromises and delicate adjustments, to say nothing of the labor that goes into filling all the gaps, coping with refractory contributors, etc. That work is largely invisible here. The result, in short, is a work of reference that no research library should be without and that every student of Augustine will want to own.