McInerney: The Greatness of Humility: St Augustine on Moral Excellence
MCINERNEY, Joseph J.
The Greatness of Humility: St Augustine on Moral Excellence
Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick, 2016. 198 p.
ISBN: 978-1-4982-1816-0, $26.
There have been a number of substantial and excellent books on Augustine in recent years and such important authors as Robin Lane Fox and Rowan Williams have made his life and thought available to a new generation of students. McInerney’s book is a worthy addition to the list, as he focuses on one central aspect of Augustinian thought: “The thesis of my study is that the height of human greatness includes and is dependent upon humility” (p.4). He sets out the place of humility in ancient thought, paying particular attention to Aristotle’s antipathy to it, and then locates it at the centre of Augustine’s account of Christian life. He then turns his attention to the challenge posed to this view by David Hume and Friedrich Nietzsche. They are well chosen adversaries as they offer a potentially devastating critique of Augustine’s moral project. McInerney argues that they do not succeed but it is a strength of the book that it takes on two of the profoundest critics of Christian ethics since the Enlightenment. Hume denied that reason could ever solve the grounding problem in ethics, whilst that “master of suspicion” Nietzsche, thought humility “one of those sham virtues foisted upon the strong by the slave morality” (p.149).
This would be a good book for students who want to get behind a rather one-dimensional text book picture of a great Christian thinker. It would be particularly valuable to those interested in developments in Christian thought, and the modern challenges to them.
Mark Dorsett, The King’s School, Worcester