The identity of the true believer in the sermons of Augustine of Hippo: A dimension of his Christian anthropology

Coleen Hoffman Gowans, Fordham University


The Sermones ad populum of Augustine of Hippo reveal the active dimension of his Christian anthropology. Here he answers the question "Who is the true believer?" by tracing a path through the heart. Exploration of Augustine's understanding of the term cor shows that he regards the heart as the deepest center of personal identity. In the heart, divinity and humanity encounter one another in profound relationship of mutuality. Augustine's focus on the heart offers further insight into the unity of flesh and spirit. The dignity and richness of true identity which he finds in the heart is inclusive of both sexes. Establishing the foundational nature of cor for the active dimension of Augustine's Christian anthropology draws significant implications from the sermons. As inner teacher and physician, Christ is alive within the heart of every believer as wisdom and healing power through which the believer is enabled to come to fullness of identity. As the gracious gift of God, the Holy Spirit brings the true believer to birth in freedom from the anonymous mass of those whose hearts are hardened in resistance to claiming their real identity, and guides the heart to true delight in the realization of all one is in God. For Augustine, the heart is the way through which the self is extended toward the human community. Within the heart, the believer embraces an identity which brings one into right relationship with others. Although Augustine emphasizes the idea of loving others in God, this view does not detract from the dignity and vitality of human relationships. To love one another in God means loving the person for all he or she really is as imago Dei. For Augustine, fullness of identity is attained when the believer enters into eternal life in the direct presence of God. Only the pure of heart, in whom love is rightly ordered, may behold God. Enjoying God together in fullness of being, believers finally live in relationship as it was meant to be: fully loving, without pretense. It is this life that becomes an everlasting celebration of the heart.

Subject Area

Theology|Religious history|Rhetoric|Composition

Recommended Citation

Gowans, Coleen Hoffman, "The identity of the true believer in the sermons of Augustine of Hippo: A dimension of his Christian anthropology" (1996). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9628336.