Criticism of St. Augustine

From: The Philosophy of History, 1874, pp. 17.

It would be unfair to judge "The City of God" by the standard of modern exegetical and historical scholarship. Augustine'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 was even prejudiced at first against Jerome's revision of the very defective Itala, fearing, in his solicitude for the weak and timid brethren, that more harm than good might be the result of this great and necessary improvement. His learning was confined to biblical and Roman literature and the systems of Greek philosophy.

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 Augustine dates it from one act of disobedience,--the historic fall of Adam, in whom the whole race was germinally included.


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