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Augustinian Studies

Volume 50, Issue 2, 2019

Charles G. Kim, Jr.
Pages 197-214
DOI: 10.5840/augstudies201961354

“Ipsa ructatio euangelium est”
Tapinosis in the Preaching of Augustine, with Special Reference to sermo 341

In a curious turn of phrase that he offered to a particular congregation, Augustine claims that a belch became the Gospel: “Ipsa ructatio euangelium est.” The reference comes at the end of a longer digression in Sermon (s.) 341 [Dolbeau 22] about how John the Evangelist, a fisherman, came to produce his Gospel, namely he belched out what he drank in. The use of a mundane word like ructare in an oration concerning a divine being contravenes a rhetorical prohibition known as tapinosis. This kind of speech was prohibited in ancient oratory because it humiliated the subject of the declamation, and this was especially problematic if the subject was divine. According to Augustine’s reading of scripture, if the divine willfully chose to be humiliated in order to teach humility to others by example, then the person delivering a speech about the divine could contravene this oratorical vice. This article argues that Augustine does precisely that in s. 341 by examining the reasons for Augustine’s use of the terms ructare and iumentum. Specifically, it traces their usage in various Latin texts from Cicero to Plautus to the Psalms. It argues that the virtue of humility is manifest in the very language which Augustine deploys all along the way.