In Search of Transcendent Order in A Violent World
This dissertation is a comparative study of spiritual cultivation in Early Daoism and the spiritual teaching of Augustine's Christianity. My goal is to examine how early Daoism's founder, Laozi, and the Christian bishop, Augustine of Hippo, characterize the fulfillment of humanity through religious transformation. My argument is that the metaphysical speculations that figure in their works---and which scholarly readers often emphasize---are offshoots of profound practical, soteriological concerns. These soteriological concerns reveal that the primary interest for both writers was to discover those spiritual and intellectual practices that could most effectively mediate between human experience and the manifestation of transcendent order. This study takes its inspiration from pioneering instances of comparative theology (particularly works by Francis Clooney S.J. and Lee Yearly), and focuses on the cross-reading of texts. For Laozi, the basic text used in this study is. For Augustine, the primary text is de Trinitate, with some Daode Jing closely related writings. Both texts play similar formative roles in their respective religious traditions. My methodology also makes heuristic use of Bernard Lonergan's study of the fourfold operation of human consciousness as experience, understanding, judgment and decision. This general description of human consciousness is a useful framework to draw out similarities and differences in these texts. The primary thematic interest of the thesis is ethical. I explore how early Daoism and Augustine's Christianity were both animated by the concern to confront human violence through spiritual exercises and the renewal of authentic humanity. In comparing Daode Jing and de Triniate, I consider the ways that each author's encounter with social violence shaped their intellectual projects. Laozi and Augustine's search for transcendent order was motivated by the hope of overcoming disordered human desires. This task required an understanding of human participation in transcendent order which could be realized in direct realms of experience, through knowledge of the operations of interior consciousness and the practice of daily spiritual exercises. Though both thinkers are often treated in dogmatic or philosophical terms, their primary interest was in practical spirituality, a way of living. Both Laozi and Augustine searched for `the Way" for disciples of their respective traditions to nurture personal life and to maintain hope as a religious community in a turbulent world. These issues are dealt with in four chapters. In Chapter One I develop my theoretical framework and the categories of the hermeneutics of consciousness. In Chapter Two I reconstruct the political-religious context of Chinese culture that the author of Daode Jing criticized . Against this context, I then explain in Chapter Three Laozi's major insights into the nature of transcendent order, particularly his understanding of its character as Three in One (Self-so, Nothing and Something), specified in Daode Jing. In Chapter Four I expound Augustine's development of the doctrine of the Trinity as the fundamental signature of divine reality, which is also reflected in the structure of human subjectivity. This leads to Chapter Five where I consider these two views as dialogical partners and advance the view that a juxtapositional reading of these two texts leads to new insights through the way that each can be said to develop a distinctive interpretation of the concept "effortless action."