Over the course of the past two centuries, Augustine's ecclesiology has been subject to interpretations that overdraw the distinction between the visible and invisible dimensions of the church, sometimes reducing the church to a purely spiritual, invisible reality, over against the visible church celebrating the sacraments; the empirical community is incidental, at best, and can be discarded. By contrast, this book argues that the church is a mystery that is visible and invisible. Far from discarding the visible, Augustine places greater emphasis on the empirical church as his thought develops.This study traces Augustine's ecclesiology from early writings to later works in order to demonstrate this thesis. His early thought is heavily influenced by Platonism and tends to focus on the ascent of the individual soul. After his study of Scripture in the 390s, Augustine gives priority to participation in the visible, sacramental community. In his mature thought, the church is one mystery (mysterium, sacramentum) revealed by Scripture, with visible and invisible aspects.
This book explores Augustine's exegesis of biblical images of the church, such as body of Christ, bride of Christ, city of God, and sacrifice, in order to show how the visible community is intrinsic to the mystery of the church.
James K. Lee is assistant professor of the history of early Christianity in Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. He received his PhD in History of Christianity from the University of Notre Dame. He has published articles in journals such as Studia Patristica, Nova et Vetera, and Augustinian Studies, and in 2010, he received the Kaneb Center Award for Excellence in Teaching from the University of Notre Dame.