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Augustine's ConfessionsPhilosophy in Autobiography$
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William E. Mann

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199577552

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199577552.001.0001

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Intelligible Matter and the Genesis of Intellect

Intelligible Matter and the Genesis of Intellect

The Metamorphosis of a Plotinian Theme in Confessions 12–13

(p.181) 8 Intelligible Matter and the Genesis of Intellect
Augustine's Confessions

Christian Tornau

Oxford University Press

This chapter investigates the transformation the Neo-Platonic notion of intelligible matter undergoes when it is put to the service of Augustine’s exegesis of Genesis in Books 12 and 13 of the Confessions. Among the traditional properties of matter, Augustine privileges changeability and potentiality, i.e. precisely those features that in his theology distinguish the unchangeable Creator from changeable creation. As creation comprises both intelligible and sensible realities, matter does not, as in the Greek philosophical tradition, separate corporeal and incorporeal being but is a distinguishing mark of both insofar as they are created. For this reason, Augustine gives the notion of intelligible matter much greater prominence than Plotinus in whom he presumably found it. He reinterprets intelligible matter as a real negative potentiality which—in a manner foreign to the classical tradition—he views from an ethical perspective, equating it with the intelligible created beings’ pseudo-freedom to sin.

Keywords:   intelligible matter, potentiality, creation, Plotinus, sin

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