Augustinian Studies

Volume 54, Issue 1, 2023

Adam PloydOrcid-ID
Pages 43-56

The Place of De magistro in Augustine’s Theology of Words and the Word

This article investigates the place of De magistro within Augustine’s developing theology of words and the Word through a reverse chronological reading. This is necessary because, despite its emphasis on words, De magistro never refers to Christ as the “Word.” It would be easy, therefore, to see it as unrelated to the theological emphasis on that title in later works such as De trinitate. A reverse chronological reading, however, establishes Augustine’s developing understanding of the relationship between words and the Word in a way that moves us from a full-throated theology of divine and human speech backward into more exploratory engagements with nascent ideas. When this reverse trail is traced, we can begin to see De magistro as one key starting point for it by providing warrant for seeing the inner Christ as necessarily the Word of God, even if not explicitly named as such. Such a reading adds deeper theological significance to a text often read only in terms of its contribution to semiotics and epistemology. In this reading, De magistro is an essential text for understanding Augustine’s fuller theology of language not only because of its early sign theory but because it sets the soteriological stage for our growth into the likeness of Christ the Word.