Maria, uirgo ante conceptum, uirgo post partum. Structure and Argument in Augustine’s Nativity sermon 191
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At ﬁrst sight, it is not easy to identify the structure and argument of Nativity sermon 191. Augustine does not make explicit the steps he takes in this sermon and, furthermore, the existing arrangement into sections (derived from the Maurists’ edition) does not correspond to these steps. It is, however, possible to identify the structure and argument on the basis of a relatively quick and easy twofold method, which examines the text for use of language (changes of sentence type, unusual particle order, and uncommon word and/or constituent order) and for use of Scripture (changes in Scriptural texts and/or quotations or clusters of Scriptural references). If the markers pointing to transitions uncovered by analysing the use of language are identical to the markers pointing to transitions uncovered by analysing the use of Scripture, these are markers pointing to transitions between parts of the text. In sermon 191, this method results in a division into three internally coherent parts, in which a central didactic moment is preceded by a preparation and followed by a conﬁrmation. The central didactic moment expresses suggestions that must be adopted if a person is to be able to change his (or her) inner disposition from pride to humility. The information contained in the preparation for the didactic moment sets the hearer on the path towards this moment, while the information contained in the conﬁrmation of the moment inspires the hearer to put its teachings into practice. This division into three parts clariﬁes the structure of the sermon. This structure cannot be discerned on the basis of the traditional rhetorical rules, which Augustine incidentally also repeats elsewhere (although not without qualifying them). The tripartite division also clariﬁes the argument. Understanding and recognising this trains a spotligh on the force of Augustine’s strategy as a preacher.
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