The originality of Augustine’s conception of the will has been the subject of vigorous debate. By analyzing a wide variety of texts from Augustine’s corpus ranging across the full chronological breadth of his career, this dissertation contributes a new perspective to the conversation. Augustine’s thinking on will, it demonstrates, deserves more than just a page in the story of the history of western thought. His evolving view tells a tale unto itself with changes and chapters of its own that are vital to grasping the complexity, and novelty, of Augustine’s thinking on this topic. Augustine’s understanding of the will involves two further stories: the story of Augustine’s development as a thinker and the overarching story of redemption he finds in Christian scripture. As he matures, Augustine layers page upon page onto his conception of will. Ultimately, the Bishop of Hippo comes to believe that the events of creation, fall, redemption and eschaton all have drastic consequences for how human willing works, and even for what it “is.”
Augustine’s most creative contributions to the notion of the human will do not derive from articulating a monolithic, universal definition of the will. Rather, Augustine innovated by developing differing descriptions of the will appropriate to differing contexts. Augustine depicts four different kinds of human will: the created will, which he describes as a hinge (cardo); the fallen will, a link in a chain (ansula catenae) that binds human beings to sin; the redeemed will, which is a root (radix) of love; and the fully free will to be enjoyed in the next life when perfection is made complete. Augustine’s view of the will is “theologically differentiated” in that the will functions in radically different ways in these diverse theological settings. His contribution is a multi-faceted conception of the will whose differing faces have been cut to fit the shape of his theology and the biblical story it seeks to describe.