Original Research

Mimetic desire in Augustine’s Confessiones as a model for natural theology and virtue ethics

Godfrey T. Baleng
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 58, No 1 | a3030 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v58i1.3030 | © 2024 Godfrey T. Baleng | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 17 October 2023 | Published: 05 March 2024

About the author(s)

Godfrey T. Baleng, The Unit for Reformational Theology and the Development of the South African Society, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


This article examined the concept and notability of mimetic desire in Augustine’s autobiographical work Confessiones. Mimetic desire is based primarily on the knowledge that there is a Perfect Being, viz. God, ideal forms (in Platonic idiom), which may be known and imitated by humans. Mimesis demonstrates that humans have a natural capacity and tendency to imitate and possess what others have. Despite this, in popular culture, mimesis has the connotation of feyness and is discouraged in place of inventiveness. The culture and spirit of our day promote originality and inventiveness without an understanding of the human nature and its inherent mimetic desires. The concept of mimetic desire is rooted in Rene Girard’s theory of anthropology but can be traced back as far as Plato’s Republic. Therefore, this interdisciplinary concept has been explored through Augustine’s narratological composition of Confessiones. The introspective tone and cultural forming narratives that make up Confessiones were succinctly examined in the context of mimetic theory. The triangular structure of mimetic desire was further explored to gain a better understanding of how Augustine relied on mimesis in his conversion to Christianity. The choice of imitating authentic models led to Augustine’s moral renewal, and likewise such implications are relevant to modern-day Christians. Moreover, this article aims to promote the concept of mimesis as an ideal practise concerning human nature and conditioning, towards a virtuous and morally acceptable society. The results of this article underline the importance of narrative theory and friendship in developing positive cultures through mimesis. Through contrasting Augustine’s earlier Manichaean life and his later Christian life, an illustration of mimetic desire can be drawn, and for Augustine, this could only mean Christ.

Contribution: This article contributes to the ongoing interdisciplinary studies of ontology, anthropology, theology, and sociology. By interpreting or reading Augustine’s Confessiones through the lens of mimetic desire, this article offers an alternative perspective on Augustine’s natural theology and virtue ethics. It further presents the conceptual framework of mimesis on Christian and Platonist praxis of the ideal forms. Moreover, the article of the narratological composition of Confessiones expounds the importance of interpersonal relationships in our spiritual growth. The triangular structure of mimesis was further expounded in the context of interior life, viz. interior homo [inner man] as the ultimate model.


mimetic desire; Augustine; Rene Girard; Confessiones; narrative theory; friendship; ethics; interior homo.

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