Who is Augustine of Hippo?
Augustine of Hippo (13 November 354 – 28 August 430 AD) was a Roman African, early Christian theologian and Neoplatonic philosopher from Numidia whose writings influenced the development of the Western Church and Western philosophy, and indirectly all of Western Christianity. He was the bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa and is viewed as one of the most important Church Fathers of the Latin Church for his writings in the Patristic Period. Among his most important works are The City of God, De doctrina Christiana, and Confessions.
According to his contemporary, Jerome, Augustine “established anew the ancient Faith”. In his youth he was drawn to Manichaeism and later to neoplatonism. After his baptism and conversion to Christianity in 386, Augustine developed his own approach to philosophy and theology, accommodating a variety of methods and perspectives. Believing that the grace of Christ was indispensable to human freedom, he helped formulate the doctrine of original sin and made seminal contributions to the development of just war theory. When the Western Roman Empire began to disintegrate, Augustine imagined the Church as a spiritual City of God, distinct from the material Earthly City. His thoughts profoundly influenced the medieval worldview. The segment of the Church that adhered to the concept of the Trinity as defined by the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Constantinople closely identified with Augustine’s On the Trinity.
Augustine is recognized as a saint in the Catholic Churches, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion and as a preeminent Doctor of the Church. He is also the patron of the Augustinians. His memorial is celebrated on 28 August, the day of his death. Augustine is the patron saint of brewers, printers, theologians, and a number of cities and dioceses. Many Protestants, especially Calvinists and Lutherans, consider him to be one of the theological fathers of the Protestant Reformation due to his teachings on salvation and divine grace. Protestant Reformers generally, and Martin Luther in particular, held Augustine in preeminence among early Church Fathers. Luther himself was, from 1505 to 1521, a member of the Order of the Augustinian Eremites.
In the East, his teachings are more disputed, and were notably attacked by John Romanides. But other theologians and figures of the Eastern Orthodox Church have shown significant approbation of his writings, chiefly Georges Florovsky. The most controversial doctrine associated with him, the filioque, was rejected by the Orthodox Church as Heretic Teaching. Other disputed teachings include his views on original sin, the doctrine of grace, and predestination. Nevertheless, though considered to be mistaken on some points, he is still considered a saint, and has even had influence on some Eastern Church Fathers, most notably Saint Gregory Palamas. In the Orthodox Church his feast day is celebrated on 15 June.Historian Diarmaid MacCulloch has written: “[Augustine‘s] impact on Western Christian thought can hardly be overstated; only his beloved example Paul of Tarsus, has been more influential, and Westerners have generally seen Paul through Augustine’s eyes.”
Augustine of Hippo (Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis;13 November 354 – 28 August 430 AD), also known as Saint Augustine, Saint Austin, is known by various cognomens throughout the Christian world across its many denominations including Blessed Augustine, and the Doctor of Grace (Doctor gratiae).
Hippo Regius, where Augustine was the bishop, was in modern-day Annaba, Algeria.
Childhood and education
Augustine’s family name, Aurelius, suggests that his father’s ancestors were freedmen of the gens Aurelia given full Roman citizenship by the Edict of Caracalla in 212. Augustine’s family had been Roman, from a legal standpoint, for at least a century when he was born. It is assumed that his mother, Monica, was of Berber origin, on the basis of her name, but as his family were honestiores, an upper class of citizens known as honorable men, Augustine’s first language is likely to have been Latin.
At the age of 11, Augustine was sent to school at Madaurus (now M’Daourouch), a small Numidian city about 19 miles (31 km) south of Thagaste. There he became familiar with Latin literature, as well as pagan beliefs and practices. His first insight into the nature of sin occurred when he and a number of friends stole fruit they did not want from a neighborhood garden. He tells this story in his autobiography, The Confessions. He remembers that he did not steal the fruit because he was hungry, but because “it was not permitted.” His very nature, he says, was flawed. ‘It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own error—not that for which I erred, but the error itself.” From this incident he concluded the human person is naturally inclined to sin, and in need of the grace of Christ.
At the age of 17, through the generosity of his fellow citizen Romanianus, Augustine went to Carthage to continue his education in rhetoric, though it was above the financial means of his family. In spite of the good warnings of his mother, as a youth Augustine lived a hedonistic lifestyle for a time, associating with young men who boasted of their sexual exploits. The need to gain their acceptance forced inexperienced boys like Augustine to seek or make up stories about sexual experiences.
It was while he was a student in Carthage that he read Cicero’s dialogue Hortensius (now lost), which he described as leaving a lasting impression, enkindling in his heart the love of wisdom and a great thirst for truth. It started his interest in philosophy. Although raised to follow Christianity, Augustine decided to become a Manichaean, much to his mother’s despair.
At about the age of 17, Augustine began an affair with a young woman in Carthage. Though his mother wanted him to marry a person of his class, the woman remained his lover for over fifteen years and gave birth to his son Adeodatus (372–388), who was viewed as extremely intelligent by his contemporaries. In 385, Augustine ended his relationship with his lover in order to prepare himself to marry a ten-year-old heiress. (He had to wait for two years because the legal age of marriage for women was twelve.) By the time he was able to marry her, however, he instead decided to become a celibate priest.
Augustine was from the beginning a brilliant student, with an eager intellectual curiosity, but he never mastered Greek—he tells us that his first Greek teacher was a brutal man who constantly beat his students, and Augustine rebelled and refused to study. By the time he realized that he needed to know Greek, it was too late; and although he acquired a smattering of the language, he was never eloquent with it. However, his mastery of Latin was another matter. He became an expert both in the eloquent use of the language and in the use of clever arguments to make his points.
Move to Carthage, Rome, Milan
Manichaean friends introduced him to the prefect of the City of Rome, Symmachus, who while traveling through Carthage had been asked by the imperial court at Milan to provide a rhetoric professor. Augustine won the job and headed north to take his position in Milan in late 384. Thirty years old, he had won the most visible academic position in the Latin world at a time when such posts gave ready access to political careers.
Although Augustine spent ten years as a Manichaean, he was never an initiate or “elect”, but an “auditor”, the lowest level in the sect’s hierarchy. While still at Carthage a disappointing meeting with the Manichaean Bishop, Faustus of Mileve, a key exponent of Manichaean theology, started Augustine’s scepticism of Manichaeanism. In Rome, he reportedly turned away from Manichaeanism, embracing the scepticism of the New Academy movement. Because of his education, Augustine had great rhetorical prowess and was very knowledgeable of the philosophies behind many faiths. At Milan, his mother’s religiosity, Augustine’s own studies in Neoplatonism, and his friend Simplicianus all urged him towards Christianity. Not coincidentally, this was shortly after the Roman emperor Theodosius I had issued a decree of death for all Manichaean monks in 382 and shortly before he declared Christianity to be the only legitimate religion for the Roman Empire in 391. Initially Augustine was not strongly influenced by Christianity and its ideologies, but after coming in contact with Ambrose of Milan, Augustine reevaluated himself and was forever changed.
Augustine arrived in Milan and visited Ambrose in order to see if Ambrose was one of the greatest speakers and rhetoricians in the world. More interested in his speaking skills than the topic of speech, Augustine quickly discovered that Ambrose was a spectacular orator. Like Augustine, Ambrose was a master of rhetoric, but older and more experienced. Soon, their relationship grew, as Augustine wrote, “And I began to love him, of course, not at the first as a teacher of the truth, for I had entirely despaired of finding that in thy Church—but as a friendly man.” Eventually, Augustine says that he was spiritually led into the faith of Christianity. Augustine was very much influenced by Ambrose, even more than by his own mother and others he admired. Within his Confessions, Augustine states, “That man of God received me as a father would, and welcomed my coming as a good bishop should.” Ambrose adopted Augustine as a spiritual son after the death of Augustine’s father.
Augustine’s mother had followed him to Milan and arranged an honest marriage for him. Although Augustine accepted this marriage, for which he had to abandon his concubine, he was deeply hurt by the loss of his lover. He wrote, “My mistress being torn from my side as an impediment to my marriage, my heart, which clave to her, was racked, and wounded, and bleeding.” Augustine confessed that he was not a lover of wedlock so much as a slave of lust, so he procured another concubine since he had to wait two years until his fiancée came of age. However, his emotional wound was not healed, even began to fester. It was during this period that he uttered his famous prayer, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”
There is evidence that Augustine may have considered this former relationship to be equivalent to marriage. In his Confessions, he admitted that the experience eventually produced a decreased sensitivity to pain. Augustine eventually broke off his engagement to his eleven-year-old fiancée, but never renewed his relationship with either of his concubines. Alypius of Thagaste steered Augustine away from marriage, saying that they could not live a life together in the love of wisdom if he married. Augustine looked back years later on the life at Cassiciacum, a villa outside of Milan where he gathered with his followers, and described it as Christianae vitae otium – the leisure of Christian life.
Christian conversion and priesthood
Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.
He later wrote an account of his conversion – his very transformation, as Paul described – in his Confessions (Confessiones), which has since become a classic of Christian theology and a key text in the history of autobiography. This work is an outpouring of thanksgiving and penitence. Although it is written as an account of his life, the Confessions also talks about the nature of time, causality, free will, and other important philosophical topics. The following is taken from that work:
Late have I loved Thee, O Lord; and behold,
Thou wast within and I without, and there I sought Thee.
Thou wast with me when I was not with Thee.
Thou didst call, and cry, and burst my deafness.
Thou didst gleam, and glow, and dispel my blindness.
Thou didst touch me, and I burned for Thy peace.
For Thyself Thou hast made us,
And restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease.
Late have I loved Thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new.
In 391 Augustine was ordained a priest in Hippo Regius (now Annaba), in Algeria. He became a famous preacher (more than 350 preserved sermons are believed to be authentic), and was noted for combating the Manichaean religion, to which he had formerly adhered.
In 395, he was made coadjutor Bishop of Hippo, and became full Bishop shortly thereafter, hence the name “Augustine of Hippo”; and he gave his property to the church of Thagaste. He remained in that position until his death in 430. He wrote his autobiographical Confessions in 397–398. His work The City of God was written to console his fellow Christians shortly after the Visigoths had sacked Rome in 410.
Augustine worked tirelessly in trying to convince the people of Hippo to convert to Christianity. Though he had left his monastery, he continued to lead a monastic life in the episcopal residence. He left a regula for his monastery that led to his designation as the “patron saint of regular clergy”.
Much of Augustine’s later life was recorded by his friend Possidius, bishop of Calama (present-day Guelma, Algeria), in his Sancti Augustini Vita. Possidius admired Augustine as a man of powerful intellect and a stirring orator who took every opportunity to defend Christianity against its detractors. Possidius also described Augustine’s personal traits in detail, drawing a portrait of a man who ate sparingly, worked tirelessly, despised gossip, shunned the temptations of the flesh, and exercised prudence in the financial stewardship of his see.
Death and veneration
Shortly before Augustine’s death, the Vandals, a Germanic tribe that had converted to Arianism, invaded Roman Africa. The Vandals besieged Hippo in the spring of 430, when Augustine entered his final illness. According to Possidius, one of the few miracles attributed to Augustine, the healing of an ill man, took place during the siege. According to Possidius, Augustine spent his final days in prayer and repentance, requesting that the penitential Psalms of David be hung on his walls so that he could read them. He directed that the library of the church in Hippo and all the books therein should be carefully preserved. He died on 28 August 430. Shortly after his death, the Vandals lifted the siege of Hippo, but they returned not long thereafter and burned the city. They destroyed all of it but Augustine’s cathedral and library, which they left untouched.
Augustine was canonized by popular acclaim, and later recognized as a Doctor of the Church in 1298 by Pope Boniface VIII. His feast day is 28 August, the day on which he died. He is considered the patron saint of brewers, printers, theologians, and a number of cities and dioceses. He is invoked against sore eyes.
In October 1695, some workmen in the Church of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro in Pavia discovered a marble box containing some human bones (including part of a skull). A dispute arose between the Augustinian hermits (Order of Saint Augustine) and the regular canons (Canons Regular of Saint Augustine) as to whether these were the bones of Augustine. The hermits did not believe so; the canons affirmed that they were. Eventually Pope Benedict XIII (1724–1730) directed the Bishop of Pavia, Monsignor Pertusati, to make a determination. The bishop declared that, in his opinion, the bones were those of Saint Augustine.
The Augustinians were expelled from Pavia in 1700, taking refuge in Milan with the relics of Augustine, and the disassembled Arca, which were removed to the cathedral there. San Pietro fell into disrepair, but was finally rebuilt in the 1870s, under the urging of Agostino Gaetano Riboldi, and reconsecrated in 1896 when the relics of Augustine and the shrine were once again reinstalled.
In 1842, a portion of Augustine’s right arm (cubitus) was secured from Pavia and returned to Annaba. It now rests in the Saint Augustin Basilica within a glass tube inserted into the arm of a life-size marble statue of the saint.
Views and thought
Augustine’s large contribution of writings covered diverse fields including theology, philosophy and sociology. Along with John Chrysostom, Augustine was among the most prolific scholars of the early church by quantity of surviving writings.
Augustine was one of the first Christian ancient Latin authors with a very clear vision of theological anthropology. He saw the human being as a perfect unity of two substances: soul and body. In his late treatise On Care to Be Had for the Dead, section 5 (420 AD) he exhorted to respect the body on the grounds that it belonged to the very nature of the human person. Augustine’s favourite figure to describe body-soul unity is marriage: caro tua, coniunx tua – your body is your wife.
Initially, the two elements were in perfect harmony. After the fall of humanity they are now experiencing dramatic combat between one another. They are two categorically different things. The body is a three-dimensional object composed of the four elements, whereas the soul has no spatial dimensions. Soul is a kind of substance, participating in reason, fit for ruling the body.
Augustine was not preoccupied, as Plato and Descartes were, with going too much into details in efforts to explain the metaphysics of the soul-body union. It sufficed for him to admit that they are metaphysically distinct: to be a human is to be a composite of soul and body, and the soul is superior to the body. The latter statement is grounded in his hierarchical classification of things into those that merely exist, those that exist and live, and those that exist, live, and have intelligence or reason.
Like other Church Fathers such as Athenagoras, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and Basil of Caesarea, Augustine “vigorously condemned the practice of induced abortion”, and although he disapproved of an abortion during any stage of pregnancy, he made a distinction between early abortions and later ones. He acknowledged the distinction between “formed” and “unformed” fetuses mentioned in the Septuagint translation of Exodus 21:22–23, which incorrectly translates the word “harm” (from the original Hebrew text) as “form” in the Koine Greek of the Septuagint. His view was based on the Aristotelian distinction “between the fetus before and after its supposed ‘vivification'”. Therefore, he did not classify as murder the abortion of an “unformed” fetus since he thought that it could not be said with certainty that the fetus had already received a soul.
Augustine held that “the timing of the infusion of the soul was a mystery known to God alone”. However, he considered procreation as one of the goods of marriage; abortion figured as a means, along with drugs which cause sterility, of frustrating this good. It lay along a continuum which included infanticide as an instance of ‘lustful cruelty’ or ‘cruel lust.’ Augustine called the use of means to avoid the birth of a child an ‘evil work:’ a reference to either abortion or contraception or both.”
See also: Allegorical interpretations of Genesis
In City of God, Augustine rejected both the contemporary ideas of ages (such as those of certain Greeks and Egyptians) that differed from the Church’s sacred writings. In The Literal Interpretation of Genesis Augustine took the view that God had created everything in the universe simultaneously, and not over a period of six days as a literal interpretation of Genesis would require. He argued that the six-day structure of creation presented in the Book of Genesis represents a logical framework, rather than the passage of time in a physical way – it would bear a spiritual, rather than physical, meaning, which is no less literal. One reason for this interpretation is the passage in Sirach 18:1, creavit omnia simul (“He created all things at once”), which Augustine took as proof that the days of Genesis 1 had to be taken non-literally. As an additional support for describing the six days of creation as a heuristic device, Augustine thought that the actual event of creation would be incomprehensible by humans and therefore needed to be translated.
Augustine also does not envision original sin as causing structural changes in the universe, and even suggests that the bodies of Adam and Eve were already created mortal before the Fall.
Augustine developed his doctrine of the Church principally in reaction to the Donatist sect. He taught that there is one Church, but that within this Church there are two realities, namely, the visible aspect (the institutional hierarchy, the Catholic sacraments, and the laity) and the invisible (the souls of those in the Church, who are either dead, sinful members or elect predestined for Heaven). The former is the institutional body established by Christ on earth which proclaims salvation and administers the sacraments, while the latter is the invisible body of the elect, made up of genuine believers from all ages, and who are known only to God. The Church, which is visible and societal, will be made up of “wheat” and “tares”, that is, good and wicked people (as per Mat. 13:30), until the end of time. This concept countered the Donatist claim that only those in a state of grace were the “true” or “pure” church on earth, and that priests and bishops who were not in a state of grace had no authority or ability to confect the sacraments.
Augustine’s ecclesiology was more fully developed in City of God. There he conceives of the church as a heavenly city or kingdom, ruled by love, which will ultimately triumph over all earthly empires which are self-indulgent and ruled by pride. Augustine followed Cyprian in teaching that the bishops and priests of the Church are the successors of the Apostles, and that their authority in the Church is God-given.
Augustine originally believed in premillennialism, namely that Christ would establish a literal 1,000-year kingdom prior to the general resurrection, but later rejected the belief, viewing it as carnal. He was the first theologian to expound a systematic doctrine of amillennialism, although some theologians and Christian historians believe his position was closer to that of modern postmillennialists. The Catholic Church during the Medieval period built its system of eschatology on Augustinian amillennialism, where Christ rules the earth spiritually through his triumphant church.
During the Reformation theologians such as John Calvin accepted amillennialism. Augustine taught that the eternal fate of the soul is determined at death, and that purgatorial fires of the intermediate state purify only those that died in communion with the Church. His teaching provided fuel for later theology.
Although Augustine did not develop an independent Mariology, his statements on Mary surpass in number and depth those of other early writers. Even before the Council of Ephesus, he defended the Ever-Virgin Mary as the Mother of God, believing her to be “full of grace” (following earlier Latin writers such as Jerome) on account of her sexual integrity and innocence. Likewise, he affirmed that the Virgin Mary “conceived as virgin, gave birth as virgin and stayed virgin forever”.
Natural knowledge and biblical interpretation
Augustine took the view that, if a literal interpretation contradicts science and our God-given reason, the Biblical text should be interpreted metaphorically. While each passage of Scripture has a literal sense, this “literal sense” does not always mean that the Scriptures are mere history; at times they are rather an extended metaphor.
See also: Original sin
Augustine taught that the sin of Adam and Eve was either an act of foolishness (insipientia) followed by pride and disobedience to God or that pride came first. The first couple disobeyed God, who had told them not to eat of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17). The tree was a symbol of the order of creation. Self-centeredness made Adam and Eve eat of it, thus failing to acknowledge and respect the world as it was created by God, with its hierarchy of beings and values.
They would not have fallen into pride and lack of wisdom, if Satan hadn’t sown into their senses “the root of evil” (radix Mali). Their nature was wounded by concupiscence or libido, which affected human intelligence and will, as well as affections and desires, including sexual desire. In terms of metaphysics, concupiscence is not a being but bad quality, the privation of good or a wound.
Augustine’s understanding of the consequences of original sin and the necessity of redeeming grace was developed in the struggle against Pelagius and his Pelagian disciples, Caelestius and Julian of Eclanum, who had been inspired by Rufinus of Syria, a disciple of Theodore of Mopsuestia. They refused to agree that original sin wounded human will and mind, insisting that human nature was given the power to act, to speak, and to think when God created it. Human nature cannot lose its moral capacity for doing good, but a person is free to act or not to act in a righteous way. Pelagius gave an example of eyes: they have capacity for seeing, but a person can make either good or bad use of it.
Like Jovinian, Pelagians insisted that human affections and desires were not touched by the fall either. Immorality, e.g. fornication, is exclusively a matter of will, i.e. a person does not use natural desires in a proper way. In opposition to that, Augustine pointed out the apparent disobedience of the flesh to the spirit, and explained it as one of the results of original sin, punishment of Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God.
Augustine had served as a “Hearer” for the Manichaeans for about nine years, who taught that the original sin was carnal knowledge. But his struggle to understand the cause of evil in the world started before that, at the age of nineteen. By malum (evil) he understood most of all concupiscence, which he interpreted as a vice dominating people and causing in men and women moral disorder. Agostino Trapè insists that Augustine’s personal experience cannot be credited for his doctrine about concupiscence. He considers Augustine’s marital experience to be quite normal, and even exemplary, aside from the absence of Christian wedding rites. As J. Brachtendorf showed, Augustine used Ciceronian Stoic concept of passions, to interpret Paul’s doctrine of universal sin and redemption.
The view that not only human soul but also senses were influenced by the fall of Adam and Eve was prevalent in Augustine’s time among the Fathers of the Church. It is clear that the reason for Augustine’s distancing from the affairs of the flesh was different from that of Plotinus, a neo-Platonist who taught that only through disdain for fleshly desire could one reach the ultimate state of mankind. Augustine taught the redemption, i.e. transformation and purification, of the body in the resurrection.
Some authors perceive Augustine’s doctrine as directed against human sexuality and attribute his insistence on continence and devotion to God as coming from Augustine’s need to reject his own highly sensual nature as described in the Confessions. Augustine taught that human sexuality has been wounded, together with the whole of human nature, and requires redemption of Christ. That healing is a process realized in conjugal acts. The virtue of continence is achieved thanks to the grace of the sacrament of Christian marriage, which becomes therefore a remedium concupiscentiae – remedy of concupiscence. The redemption of human sexuality will be, however, fully accomplished only in the resurrection of the body.
The sin of Adam is inherited by all human beings. Already in his pre-Pelagian writings, Augustine taught that Original Sin is transmitted to his descendants by concupiscence, which he regarded as the passion of both, soul and body, making humanity a massa damnata (mass of perdition, condemned crowd) and much enfeebling, though not destroying, the freedom of the will. Although earlier Christian authors taught the elements of physical death, moral weakness, and a sin propensity within original sin, Augustine was the first to add the concept of inherited guilt (reatus) from Adam whereby an infant was eternally damned at birth.
Although Augustine’s anti-Pelagian defense of original sin was confirmed at numerous councils, i.e. Carthage (418), Ephesus (431), Orange (529), Trent (1546) and by popes, i.e. Pope Innocent I (401–417) and Pope Zosimus (417–418), his inherited guilt eternally damning infants was omitted by these councils and popes. Anselm of Canterbury established in his Cur Deus Homo the definition that was followed by the great 13th-century Schoolmen, namely that Original Sin is the “privation of the righteousness which every man ought to possess”, thus separating it from concupiscence, with which some of Augustine’s disciples had defined it as later did Luther and Calvin. In 1567, Pope Pius V condemned the identification of Original Sin with concupiscence.
See also: Predestination
Augustine taught that God orders all things while preserving human freedom. Prior to 396, he believed that predestination was based on God’s foreknowledge of whether individuals would believe, that God’s grace was “a reward for human assent”. Later, in response to Pelagius, Augustine said that the sin of pride consists in assuming that “we are the ones who choose God or that God chooses us (in his foreknowledge) because of something worthy in us”, and argued that God’s grace causes individual act of faith.
Scholars are divided over whether Augustine’s teaching implies double predestination, or the belief that God chooses some people for damnation as well as some for salvation. Catholic scholars tend to deny that he held such a view while some Protestants and secular scholars have held that Augustine did believe in double predestination. About 412 AD, Augustine became the first Christian to understand predestination as a divine unilateral pre-determination of individuals’ eternal destinies independently of human choice, although his prior Manichaean sect did teach this concept. Some Protestant theologians, such as Justo L. González and Bengt Hägglund, interpret Augustine’s teaching that grace is irresistible, results in conversion, and leads to perseverance.
In On Rebuke and Grace (De correptione et gratia), Augustine wrote: “And what is written, that He wills all men to be saved, while yet all men are not saved, may be understood in many ways, some of which I have mentioned in other writings of mine; but here I will say one thing: He wills all men to be saved, is so said that all the predestinated may be understood by it, because every kind of men is among them.”
Augustine upheld the early Christian understanding of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, saying that Christ’s statement, “This is my body” referred to the bread he carried in his hands, and that Christians must have faith that the bread and wine are in fact the body and blood of Christ, despite what they see with their eyes.
Against the Pelagians, Augustine strongly stressed the importance of infant baptism. About the question whether baptism is an absolute necessity for salvation, however, Augustine appears to have refined his beliefs during his lifetime, causing some confusion among later theologians about his position. He said in one of his sermons that only the baptized are saved. This belief was shared by many early Christians. However, a passage from his City of God, concerning the Apocalypse, may indicate that Augustine did believe in an exception for children born to Christian parents.
Augustine’s contemporaries often believed astrology to be an exact and genuine science. Its practitioners were regarded as true men of learning and called mathemathici. Astrology played a prominent part in Manichaean doctrine, and Augustine himself was attracted by their books in his youth, being particularly fascinated by those who claimed to foretell the future. Later, as a bishop, he used to warn that one should avoid astrologers who combine science and horoscopes. (Augustine’s term “mathematici”, meaning “astrologers”, is sometimes mistranslated as “mathematicians”.) According to Augustine, they were not genuine students of Hipparchus or Eratosthenes but “common swindlers”.
Epistemological concerns shaped Augustine’s intellectual development. His early dialogues [Contra academicos (386) and De Magistro (389)], both written shortly after his conversion to Christianity, reflect his engagement with sceptical arguments and show the development of his doctrine of divine illumination. The doctrine of illumination claims that God plays an active and regular part in human perception (as opposed to God designing the human mind to be reliable consistently, as in, for example, Descartes’ idea of clear and distinct perceptions) and understanding by illuminating the mind so that human beings can recognize intelligible realities that God presents. According to Augustine, illumination is obtainable to all rational minds, and is different from other forms of sense perception. It is meant to be an explanation of the conditions required for the mind to have a connection with intelligible entities.
Augustine also posed the problem of other minds throughout different works, most famously perhaps in On the Trinity (VIII.6.9), and developed what has come to be a standard solution: the argument from analogy to other minds. In contrast to Plato and other earlier philosophers, Augustine recognized the centrality of testimony to human knowledge and argued that what others tell us can provide knowledge even if we don’t have independent reasons to believe their testimonial reports.
See also: Just war theory
Augustine asserted that Christians should be pacifists as a personal, philosophical stance. However, peacefulness in the face of a grave wrong that could only be stopped by violence would be a sin. Defence of one’s self or others could be a necessity, especially when authorized by a legitimate authority. While not breaking down the conditions necessary for war to be just, Augustine coined the phrase in his work The City of God. In essence, the pursuit of peace must include the option of fighting for its long-term preservation. Such a war could not be pre-emptive, but defensive, to restore peace. Thomas Aquinas, centuries later, used the authority of Augustine’s arguments in an attempt to define the conditions under which a war could be just.
Included in Augustine’s earlier theodicy is the claim that God created humans and angels as rational beings possessing free will. Free will was not intended for sin, meaning it is not equally predisposed to both good and evil. A will defiled by sin is not considered as “free” as it once was because it is bound by material things, which could be lost or be difficult to part with, resulting in unhappiness. Sin impairs free will, while grace restores it. Only a will that was once free can be subjected to sin’s corruption. After 412 CE, Augustine changed his theology, teaching that humanity had no free will to believe in Christ but only a free will to sin: “I in fact strove on behalf of the free choice of the human ‘will,’ but God’s grace conquered” (Retract. 2.1).
The early Christians opposed the deterministic views (e.g., fate) of Stoics, Gnostics, and Manichaeans that were prevalent in those first four centuries. Christians championed the concept of a relational God who interacts with humans rather than a Stoic or Gnostic God who unilaterally foreordained every event (yet Stoics still claimed to teach free will). Every early Christian author with extant writings who wrote on the topic prior to Augustine of Hippo (412) advanced human free choice rather than a deterministic God. Augustine taught traditional free choice until 412, when he reverted to his earlier Manichaean and Stoic deterministic training when battling the Pelagians. Only a few Christians accepted Augustine’s alteration of Christian free choice until the Protestant Reformation when both Luther and Calvin embraced Augustine’s deterministic teachings wholeheartedly.
The Catholic Church considers Augustine’s teaching to be consistent with free will. He often said that anyone can be saved if they wish. While God knows who will and won’t be saved, with no possibility for the latter to be saved in their lives, this knowledge represents God’s perfect knowledge of how humans will freely choose their destinies. However, after 412 CE, Augustine exchanged the traditional Christian defense of divine foreknowledge of human free will choices to explain predestination for a more Stoic and Gnostic/Manichaean view of deterministic predestination wherein the will was not free except to sin.
Sociology, morals and ethics
Augustine led many clergy under his authority at Hippo to free their slaves “as an act of piety”. He boldly wrote a letter urging the emperor to set up a new law against slave traders and was very much concerned about the sale of children. Christian emperors of his time for 25 years had permitted sale of children, not because they approved of the practice, but as a way of preventing infanticide when parents were unable to care for a child. Augustine noted that the tenant farmers in particular were driven to hire out or to sell their children as a means of survival.
In his book, The City of God, he presents the development of slavery as a product of sin and as contrary to God’s divine plan. He wrote that God “did not intend that this rational creature, who was made in his image, should have dominion over anything but the irrational creation – not man over man, but man over the beasts”. Thus he wrote that righteous men in primitive times were made shepherds of cattle, not kings over men. “The condition of slavery is the result of sin”, he declared. In The City of God, Augustine wrote he felt that the existence of slavery was a punishment for the existence of sin, even if an individual enslaved person committed no sin meriting punishment. He wrote: “Slavery is, however, penal, and is appointed by that law which enjoins the preservation of the natural order and forbids its disturbance.” Augustine believed that slavery did more harm to the slave owner than the enslaved person himself: “the lowly position does as much good to the servant as the proud position does harm to the master.” Augustine proposes as a solution to sin a type of cognitive reimagining of one’s situation, where slaves “may themselves make their slavery in some sort free, by serving not in crafty fear, but in faithful love,” until the end of the world eradicated slavery for good: “until all unrighteousness pass away, and all principality and every human power be brought to nothing, and God be all in all.”
Against certain Christian movements, some of which rejected the use of Hebrew Scripture, Augustine countered that God had chosen the Jews as a special people, and he considered the scattering of Jewish people by the Roman Empire to be a fulfillment of prophecy. He rejected homicidal attitudes, quoting part of the same prophecy, namely “Slay them not, lest they should at last forget Thy law” (Psalm 59:11). Augustine, who believed Jewish people would be converted to Christianity at “the end of time”, argued that God had allowed them to survive their dispersion as a warning to Christians; as such, he argued, they should be permitted to dwell in Christian lands. The sentiment sometimes attributed to Augustine that Christians should let the Jews “survive but not thrive” (it is repeated by author James Carroll in his book Constantine’s Sword, for example) is apocryphal and is not found in any of his writings.
For Augustine, the evil of sexual immorality was not in the sexual act itself, but rather in the emotions that typically accompany it. In On Christian Doctrine Augustine contrasts love, which is enjoyment on account of God, and lust, which is not on account of God. Augustine claims that, following the Fall, sexual passion has become necessary for copulation (as required to stimulate male erection), sexual passion is an evil result of the Fall, and therefore, evil must inevitably accompany sexual intercourse (On marriage and concupiscence 1.19). Therefore, following the Fall, even marital sex carried out merely to procreate the species inevitably perpetuates evil (On marriage and concupiscence 1.27; A Treatise against Two Letters of the Pelagians 2.27). For Augustine, proper love exercises a denial of selfish pleasure and the subjugation of corporeal desire to God. The only way to avoid evil caused by sexual intercourse is to take the “better” way (Confessions 8.2) and abstain from marriage (On marriage and concupiscence 1.31). Sex within marriage is not, however, for Augustine a sin, although necessarily producing the evil of sexual passion. Based on the same logic, Augustine also declared the pious virgins raped during the sack of Rome to be innocent because they did not intend to sin nor enjoy the act.
Before the Fall, Augustine believed that sex was a passionless affair, “just like many a laborious work accomplished by the compliant operation of our other limbs, without any lascivious heat”; the penis would have been engorged for sexual intercourse “simply by the direction of the will, not excited by the ardour of concupiscence” (On marriage and concupiscence 2.29; cf. City of God 14.23). After the Fall, by contrast, the penis cannot be controlled by mere will, subject instead to both unwanted impotence and involuntary erections: “Sometimes the urge arises unwanted; sometimes, on the other hand, it forsakes the eager lover, and desire grows cold in the body while burning in the mind… It arouses the mind, but it does not follow through what it has begun and arouse the body also” (City of God 14.16).
Augustine believed that Adam and Eve had both already chosen in their hearts to disobey God’s command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge before Eve took the fruit, ate it, and gave it to Adam. Accordingly, Augustine did not believe that Adam was any less guilty of sin. Augustine praises women and their role in society and in the Church. In his Tractates on the Gospel of John, Augustine, commenting on the Samaritan woman from John 4:1–42, uses the woman as a figure of the Church in agreement with the New Testament teaching that the Church is the bride of Christ. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Augustine was a strong advocate of critical thinking skills. Because written works were still rather limited during this time, spoken communication of knowledge was very important. His emphasis on the importance of community as a means of learning distinguishes his pedagogy from some others. Augustine believed that dialectic is the best means for learning and that this method should serve as a model for learning encounters between teachers and students. Augustine’s dialogue writings model the need for lively interactive dialogue among learners.
He recommended adapting educational practices to fit the students’ educational backgrounds:
- the student who has been well-educated by knowledgeable teachers;
- the student who has had no education; and
- the student who has had a poor education, but believes himself to be well-educated.
If a student has been well educated in a wide variety of subjects, the teacher must be careful not to repeat what they have already learned, but to challenge the student with material which they do not yet know thoroughly. With the student who has had no education, the teacher must be patient, willing to repeat things until the student understands, and sympathetic. Perhaps the most difficult student, however, is the one with an inferior education who believes he understands something when he does not. Augustine stressed the importance of showing this type of student the difference between “having words and having understanding” and of helping the student to remain humble with his acquisition of knowledge.
Under the influence of Bede, Alcuin, and Rabanus Maurus, De catechizandis rudibus came to exercise an important role in the education of clergy at the monastic schools, especially from the eighth century onwards.
Augustine believed that students should be given an opportunity to apply learned theories to practical experience. Yet another of Augustine’s major contributions to education is his study on the styles of teaching. He claimed there are two basic styles a teacher uses when speaking to the students. The mixed style includes complex and sometimes showy language to help students see the beautiful artistry of the subject they are studying. The grand style is not quite as elegant as the mixed style, but is exciting and heartfelt, with the purpose of igniting the same passion in the students’ hearts. Augustine balanced his teaching philosophy with the traditional Bible-based practice of strict discipline.
Apart from those, Augustine is probably best known for his Confessions, which is a personal account of his earlier life, and for De civitate Dei (The City of God, consisting of 22 books), which he wrote to restore the confidence of his fellow Christians, which was badly shaken by the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410. His On the Trinity, in which he developed what has become known as the ‘psychological analogy’ of the Trinity, is also considered to be among his masterpieces, and arguably of more doctrinal importance that the Confessions or the City of God. He also wrote On Free Choice of the Will (De libero arbitrio), addressing why God gives humans free will that can be used for evil.
Philosopher Bertrand Russell was impressed by Augustine’s meditation on the nature of time in the Confessions, comparing it favourably to Kant’s version of the view that time is subjective. Catholic theologians generally subscribe to Augustine’s belief that God exists outside of time in the “eternal present”; that time only exists within the created universe because only in space is time discernible through motion and change. His meditations on the nature of time are closely linked to his consideration of the human ability of memory. Frances Yates in her 1966 study The Art of Memory argues that a brief passage of the Confessions, 10.8.12, in which Augustine writes of walking up a flight of stairs and entering the vast fields of memory clearly indicates that the ancient Romans were aware of how to use explicit spatial and architectural metaphors as a mnemonic technique for organizing large amounts of information.
Augustine’s philosophical method, especially demonstrated in his Confessions, had continuing influence on Continental philosophy throughout the 20th century. His descriptive approach to intentionality, memory, and language as these phenomena are experienced within consciousness and time anticipated and inspired the insights of modern phenomenology and hermeneutics. Edmund Husserl writes: “The analysis of time-consciousness is an age-old crux of descriptive psychology and theory of knowledge. The first thinker to be deeply sensitive to the immense difficulties to be found here was Augustine, who laboured almost to despair over this problem.”
Martin Heidegger refers to Augustine’s descriptive philosophy at several junctures in his influential work Being and Time. Hannah Arendt began her philosophical writing with a dissertation on Augustine’s concept of love, Der Liebesbegriff bei Augustin (1929): “The young Arendt attempted to show that the philosophical basis for vita socialis in Augustine can be understood as residing in neighbourly love, grounded in his understanding of the common origin of humanity.”
Jean Bethke Elshtain in Augustine and the Limits of Politics tried to associate Augustine with Arendt in their concept of evil: “Augustine did not see evil as glamorously demonic but rather as absence of good, something which paradoxically is really nothing. Arendt … envisioned even the extreme evil which produced the Holocaust as merely banal [in Eichmann in Jerusalem].”
Augustine’s philosophical legacy continues to influence contemporary critical theory through the contributions and inheritors of these 20th-century figures. Seen from a historical perspective, there are three main perspectives on the political thought of Augustine: first, political Augustinianism; second, Augustinian political theology; and third, Augustinian political theory.
Thomas Aquinas was influenced heavily by Augustine. On the topic of original sin, Aquinas proposed a more optimistic view of man than that of Augustine in that his conception leaves to the reason, will, and passions of fallen man their natural powers even after the Fall, without “supernatural gifts”. While in his pre-Pelagian writings Augustine taught that Adam’s guilt as transmitted to his descendants much enfeebles, though does not destroy, the freedom of their will, Protestant reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin affirmed that Original Sin completely destroyed liberty (see total depravity).
According to Leo Ruickbie, Augustine’s arguments against magic, differentiating it from miracle, were crucial in the early Church’s fight against paganism and became a central thesis in the later denunciation of witches and witchcraft. According to Professor Deepak Lal, Augustine’s vision of the heavenly city has influenced the secular projects and traditions of the Enlightenment, Marxism, Freudianism and eco-fundamentalism. Post-Marxist philosophers Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt rely heavily on Augustine’s thought, particularly The City of God, in their book of political philosophy Empire.
Augustine has influenced many modern-day theologians and authors such as John Piper. Hannah Arendt, an influential 20th-century political theorist, wrote her doctoral dissertation in philosophy on Augustine, and continued to rely on his thought throughout her career. Ludwig Wittgenstein extensively quotes Augustine in Philosophical Investigations for his approach to language, both admiringly, and as a sparring partner to develop his own ideas, including an extensive opening passage from the Confessions. Contemporary linguists have argued that Augustine has significantly influenced the thought of Ferdinand de Saussure, who did not ‘invent’ the modern discipline of semiotics, but rather built upon Aristotelian and Neoplatonist knowledge from the Middle Ages, via an Augustinian connection: “as for the constitution of Saussurian semiotic theory, the importance of the Augustinian thought contribution (correlated to the Stoic one) has also been recognized. Saussure did not do anything but reform an ancient theory in Europe, according to the modern conceptual exigencies.”
In his autobiographical book Milestones, Pope Benedict XVI claims Augustine as one of the deepest influences in his thought.
Maria Antonia Walpurgis revised the five-part Jesuit drama into a two-part oratorio liberty in which she limits the subject to the conversion of Augustine and his submission to the will of God. To this was added the figure of the mother, Monica, so as to let the transformation appear by experience rather than the dramatic artifice of deus ex machina.
Throughout the oratorio Augustine shows his willingness to turn to God, but the burden of the act of conversion weighs heavily on him. This is displayed by Hasse through extended recitative passages.
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