He composed it while in his lay community in his home North African town of Thagaste. This is also the case with his works, LXXXIII Questiones ("Eighty three Questions")," De Genesi contra Manichæos ("On the Book of Genesis against the Academics"), and De Vera Religione ("On the True Religion.")
The only participants in the dialogue in De magistro are Augustine and Adeodatus, his son who was then about eighteen years of age. Adeodatus died soon after this time. According to Augustine’s Confessions, On the Teacher is based on the type of dialogues in which Augustine and Adeodatus engaged. It is a polished work, and is likely the reflective compilation of a number of conversations; certainly, it is far too orderly to be the transcript of one conversation.
It demonstrates that at this period of his life Augustine was interested in the liberal arts as a way of turning the mind away from the corporeal and towards its proper concern for the incorporeal. De magistro is also a proud father’s writing down his philosophical discussions with his son.
Augustine produced a number of dialogues in the years 387 and 389, the period between his moral conversion and his baptism. On the teacher is of a slightly later period, for it is the only one that was based on conversations in Africa (at Thagaste) rather than in Italy (at Cassiciacum). On the teacher is the only dialogue mentioned by name in his Confessions, and the only one for which Augustine saw so need to correct in any way in his Retractions (Rertractiones in Latin).
The first ten chapters of De magistro contain the dialogue between Augustine and his son, Adeodatus, upon the general question of what can be learned from a teacher. The final four chapters reveal the epistemology of Augustine on the subject of truth. The questions raised by Adeodatus are indeed profound. The concluding words are by Adeodatus, the natural son of Augustine. It is thought highly probable that, as well as being brilliant, he was highly devoted to his father.
As much as anything else he wrote, these next few sentences from De Magistro ("On the Teacher") in the following paragraphs illustrate the role that Augustine carves out for professional educators and for how they teach: ". . . Who is so foolishly curious that he would send his son to school in order to learn what the teacher thinks? But all those disciplines that teachers claim to teach, even those of virtue and wisdom, they explain with words. Then those who are called students consider within themselves whether what was said is true, each consulting that inner truth according tho his own ability. Thus they learn." (De Magistro)
In De Magistro, Augustine asks how anyone can learn anything of eternal value in a world where evil exists. He then proposes an answer to his own question. He says that those with faith in God become the subject of divine illumination. This introduces Augustine's doctrine of the "internal teacher." This is Christ, who for Augustine is the source upon which human knowing is based. This conviction is echoed again in Augustine's De doctrina Christiana ("On Christian Doctrine").
While no tutor on earth can teach anything absolute, he or she nevertheless may assist a student to recognise choices that will lead to God. The only one who can impart true – that is, eternal – knowledge is Christ. For Augustine, Christ alone is the teacher of humanity. "One who hears (a teacher) likewise sees those things with an inner and individual eye. He knows the matter of which I speak because of his own contemplation, and not by means of the words of the teacher. Hence I do not teach even such a person, although I speak what is true and he hears it. For he is taught not by words, but by the realities themselves made manifest to him directly by God revealing them to his inner self." (De Magistro, 40)
The conclusion in De magistro is that the teacher can only guide and inspire because in the final analysis real learning happens within the pupil. The learner must turn to God from truth. Education is necessarily religious in nature. In De Magistro, Augustine shows great awareness that much of what we need to believe falls outside the austere standards of his Platonic conception of knowledge and understanding. Among the most prominent of these are those beliefs that are based on the Bible. (De Magistro 11, 37; and cf.12, 39)
Another related feature of the epistemology of Augustine is his willingness to accept that much of our belief about the world must as a matter of practical necessity rest upon trust and authority. He states in De Magistro that we cannot hope to verify all our beliefs about history and even many beliefs about the present are a matter of trust. (De Magistro 11, 37) Here as elsewhere, he emphasises the role of belief as opposed to understanding, pointing out not only that we must believe many things that we cannot understand but also that belief is a necessary condition of understanding.
See below for an English translation of De Magistro on the Internet.Links
The Teacher. By St Augustine. PDF file, original source not stated. http://www.nyu.edu/classes/gmoran/augustine.pdf
Teaching “On the Teacher” by St Augustine. Published by R.D. Anderson in Religions magazine, 2015 file:///C:/Users/Michael/Downloads/religions-06-00404%20(1).pdf (Note: This URL will not "click." It is necessary to "cut and paste" this URL, and then to paste it into an Internet window.)
Teaching and Learning: An Augustinian Perspective. By Raymond Canning in the Australian Journal of Theology No.3 (August 2004) Abstract: This article gives seeks to illuminate the topics of teaching and learning from an Augustinian perspective. It demonstrates how Augustine’s writings are a rich resource for philosophical, theological and pastoral reflection on teaching and learning. It critically examines the connection between Augustinian pedagogy and Augustinian ethics, that is to say, with love for God and neighbour. It goes on to demonstrate that for Augustine the two interpenetrate, and draws conclusions for current educational practices, as the love of truth put in the service of love of neighbour, especially in his/ her love for truth. http://aejt.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/395647/AEJT_3.4_Canning.pdf
Augustine on the impossibility of teaching. By Peter King in Metaphilosophy magazine in 1998. http://individual.utoronto.ca/pking/articles/Augustine_on_Teaching.pdf
Augustine and Teaching, influence. A brief description prepared for use by university students. Contains a bibliography. http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1778/Augustine-St-354-430.html The Educational Theory of St Augustine of Hippo. By George J. Yogis in 2002. http://www.newfoundations.com/GALLERY/Augustine.html
For further reading
A current English translation of De Magistro appears in the book entitled Against the Academicians and The Teacher, translated by Peter King, Hackett Publishing Company, 1995, ISBN: 0872202135.
BibliographyAUGUSTINE, ST. 1952. The First Catechetical Instruction (400), trans. Joseph P. Christopher. Westminster, MD: Newman Press.AUGUSTINE, ST. 1968. The Teacher (389), trans. Robert P. Russell. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press.AUGUSTINE, ST. 1997a. On Christian Teaching (426), trans. R. P. H. Green. New York: Oxford University Press.AUGUSTINE, ST. 1997b. The Confessions (400), trans. Maria Boulding. New York: Vintage Books.BROWN, PETER. 1969. Augustine of Hippo. Berkeley: University of California Press.CHADWICK, HENRY. 1996. Augustine. New York: Oxford University Press.RIST, JOHN M. 1999. Augustine. New York: Cambridge University Press.STOCK, BRIAN. 1996. Augustine the Reader: Meditation, Self Knowledge, and the Ethics of Interpretation. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.