Saint Augustine and the Western Christian World-View
By Lewis Loflin
A very influential and great philosopher and theologian of Late Antiquity, Saint Augustine of Hippo is the most important of the Latin Church Fathers. His works, especially his Confessions (a self-biography) and City of God, helped distinguish the Church in Western Europe from the Church as it developed elsewhere.
Augustine did have one opponent and his name is Pelagius, a British monk. The church went along with Augustine and declared Pelagius a heretic in the West, but he was cleared in the East.
In Confessions that I read in college we have a profile of a disturbed and unhappy man. As a child he complained of wanting to play like other children yet goes on to talk about harsh beatings for neglecting his studies and how his parents "enjoyed" his torment. He never married, but bore a son with a concubine that he fell in love with. He grieved when she was sent away and he couldn't marry her because of some social custom he never went into. His father died before he went to Italy. He would grieve later for his mother and the sacking of Rome.
He was born to Latin speaking parents of mixed religious beliefs on November 13, AD 354 at Thagaste, in the north African province of Numidia. Augustine's father, Patricius, was a pagan and his mother (Saint Monica) while a Christian still held some pagan ideas. Their mixed beliefs caused confusion for Augustine and led him to question religion in general. It made sense that Augustine searched for truth, as well as deciding at a later date to convert to Christianity. It should be noted that his religious confusion, search for truth, and deep emotional pain in his personal life twisted his vision of Christianity once he did convert.
Financed by a family friend at the age of sixteen, Augustine moved to Carthage to study rhetoric. At seventeen he read Cicero's "Hortensius" which further inspired him to know the truth. Soon Augustine joined the Manichees. The Manichees were a religious group that stressed purity of life and the need to place emphasis on the importance of Christ.
One point not brought out in Confessions is, "Who are the Manichees?" When he wrote his biography the Manichees were a well known and altering type of Christianity. Drawing from Christianity, Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism/Mithraism and Greek paganism, their main theme was all creation (flesh) was evil. They believed all sex, even in marriage including the birth of children was evil and sinful.
Even more important is the Gnostic and Manichean influence was very strong in Alexandria, Egypt and in my opinion that along with Neo-Platonism would influence the Trinity. The Christianity of the 4th century was not the Christianity of most early Christians or anything Jesus ever taught. See Gnosticism, an Overview.
By 384 Augustine was unsatisfied with the Manichees and he broke away to open the New Academy, a school of rhetoric, in which he became the official orator of Milan. Much of his time seem to be spent trying to get his pupals to pay him. Augustine was finally converted to Christianity in 386 and was baptized the next year. The damage was already done.
It was in 397 that Augustine began his autobiographical Confessions. His intention for this work was to give an account of his conversion to Christianity. Augustine also expressed his ultimate desire for truth and happiness therein. Just page after page of happy self-loathing. He finished his Confessions in 401. Shortly thereafter he began work on another book during that period which was titled City of God. In it, Augustine traced the story of the human race from the time of Adam and Eve in the Tigris-Euphrates river region to his own time.
Augustine remained Bishop of Hippo until his death in 430 AD.
Also see the following:
Also see the following:
Augustine invented the concept of Original Sin as we have it today. From the Encarta Multimedia Encyclopedia on Original Sin,
Original Sin, in Christian theology, the universal sinfulness of the human race, traditionally ascribed to the first sin committed by Adam. Theologians advocating original sin argue that the concept is strongly implied by the apostle Paul, the apostle John, and even by Jesus himself.
Tertullian of Carthage: (150-225) advised that: "Divine revelation, not reason, is the source of all truth." The struggle between reason and revelation has been the hallmark of the church. See Deism. The ancient Greeks knew the world was round and the earth circled the sun, but "revelation" said the opposite so scripture was right, reason was wrong. Augustine would further expand on this.
Augustine's idea that we are responsible for Adam's "Fall" is a direct contradiction of Ezekiel 18 where God clearly says only the sinner will die and their children are innocent. The Bible never mentioned Original Sin as such, and Jesus never implied it in this manner.
In 410, when Augustine was in his fifties, Visigoths sacked Rome, a disaster for which the classical consciousness was unprepared. Pagans and Christians blamed each other for the disaster. Even Christians expressed anxiety, "Why were the righteous also suffering?" Where was the kingdom of God on earth that had been prophesied? Augustine was further shattered emotionally.
Augustine's The City of God was a response to the crisis of the Roman Empire in the same manner that Plato's Republic was a reaction to the crisis of the Athenian polis. But whereas Plato expressed hope that a state founded on rational principles could remedy the abuses of Athenian society, Augustine maintained that the worldly city could never be the central concern of a Christian. He said that the ideal state could not be realized on earth, that it belonged only to heaven.
The misfortunes of Rome, therefore, should not distress a Christian unduly, for Christianity belonged to the realm of the spirit and could not be identified with any state. The collapse of Rome did not diminish the greatness of Christianity, for the true Christian was a citizen of a heavenly city that could not possibly be pillaged by ungodly barbarians, but would endure forever. Compared to God's heavenly city, the decline of Rome was unimportant. The welfare of Christianity was not to be identified with Rome's material progress or even its existence. Thus like the Manichees he saw nothing worthy in world at all, but that doesn't mean he would ignore it.
He stipulated that although the earthly city was the very opposite of the heavenly city, it was a reality that people must face. Christians could not reject their city entirely, but must bend it to fit a Christian pattern. The city that someday would rise from the ruins of Rome must be based upon Christian principles. Warfare, economic activity, education, and the rearing of children should all be conducted in a Christian spirit. Although the City of Man was ever evil, imperfect, and of no consequence in comparison to the City of God, it was not about to disappear and be replaced by the Kingdom of God on earth.
See Good Wars by Darrel Cole.
Finally, like Tertullian, Augustine repudiated the distinguishing feature of classical humanism-the autonomy of reason. (This wasn't the atheistic secular humanism of today.) For him, ultimate wisdom could not be achieved through rational thought alone; reason had to be guided by faith. Without faith there could be no true knowledge, no understanding. Philosophy had no validity if it did not first accept as absolutely true the existence of God and the authority of his revelation.
In conclusion Augustine's influence on Western Christianity is second only to Paul and Jesus. His great influence on Luther and Calvin would distort Protestant outlooks as well. His outlook on the City of God and City of Man is still the vision of repressive Puritanism and modern Protestant fundamentalism.
Marvin Perry, Western Civilization, Ideas, Politics, and Society, 2nd edition. Pages 167-70
It would be unfair to judge "The City of God" by the standard of
modern exegetical and historical scholarship. Augustin's
interpretations of Scripture, although usually ingenious and often
profound, are as often fanciful, and lack the sure foundation of a
knowledge of the original languages; for he knew very little Greek and
no Hebrew, and had to depend on the Latin version;
He often wastes arguments on absurd opinions, and some of his own opinions strike us as childish and obsolete. He confines the Kingdom of God to the narrow limits of the Jewish theocracy and the visible Catholic Church.
He could, indeed, not deny the truths in Greek philosophy; but he derived them from the Jewish Scriptures, and adopted the impossible hypothesis of Ambrose that Plato became acquainted with the prophet Jeremiah in Egypt (comp. De Doctr. Christ. II. 28), though afterwards he corrected it (Retract. II. 4).
He does not sufficiently appreciate the natural virtues, the ways of Divine providence and the working of His Spirit outside of the chosen race; and under the influence of the ascetic spirit which then prevailed in the Church, in justifiable opposition to the surrounding moral corruption of heathenism, he even degrades secular history and secular life, in the state and the family, which are likewise ordained of God.
In some respects he forms the opposite extreme to Origen, the greatest genius among the Greek fathers. Both assume a universal fall from original holiness. But Augustin dates it from one act of disobedience,--the historic fall of Adam, in whom the whole race was germinally included.
From: The Philosophy of History, 1874, pp. 17 sqq.
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