The Augustinian Theology of W.H. Auden

The Augustinian Theology of W.H. Auden



School or Department

English, Literature, and Modern Languages



When W.H. Auden returned to Christianity in the early 1940s, he identified himself with what he called an 'existential' method of spiritual and literary inquiry, which the writings of St. Augustine helped him define as a mode of thinking that not only allows for human subjectivity, but emphasizes the hopes, fears, needs, desires, and anxieties of the individual. Augustine thus became for Auden a model of a thinker who seamlessly merged psychological reflection with philosophical speculation and theological insight, and it is this combination of introspection and theoretical investigation that shapes much of Auden's later poetry. The Augustinian Theology of W.H. Auden illustrates that Augustine's thought is a major influence on Auden's postconversion poetry and prose. Auden encountered Augustine both directly, through his reading of the Confessions, and indirectly, through several of Auden's contemporaries, such as Reinhold Niebuhr, Charles Norris Cochrane, and Charles Williams. Stephen J. Schuler argues that Augustine provided Auden with the language of privation to describe the nature of moral and social evil, enabling him to make sense of the pervasive anxieties produced by World War II. Augustine's works also offered Auden a rationale for his intuition that the physical world, and especially the human body, is intrinsically good. Auden's struggle to reconcile the implications of his Augustinian theology with his attitudes toward romantic love and sexuality are explained by Schuler, who demonstrates how the Augustinian theology of Reinhold Niebuhr helped shape Auden's ideas about human identity and community, which is defined and maintained by love in all its various forms. Finally, Schuler analyzes Auden's Augustinian view of the ethics of poetry. By examining the presence of Augustinian ideas in Auden's poetry and prose, Schuler establishes the Augustinian origins of several crucial but often misunderstood features of Auden's work as well as the importance of Augustine in shaping and articulating the concerns of Auden's later poetry.



Publication Date



University of South Carolina Press


Columbia, South Carolina, United States of America


Christianity | English Language and Literature | Poetry

About the Author

Dr. Schuler teaches English at Cedarville University and serves as the chair for the Department of English, Literature, and Modern Languages.

The Augustinian Theology of W.H. Auden