- Saint Augustine
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Augustine had no answer, and for a time he accepted the answer of the Manichees.
He became an adherent of the sect and one of their more skilful debaters. Augustine became a professor of rhetoric in Rome and then in Milan Gradually he became more of a neo-platonist in philosophy and grew more interested in Augustine of Hippo — 33 Christianity, partly under the influence of Bishop Ambrose of Milan. Augustine came to believe that he was only held back from faith by what he now regarded as a sinful physical relationship with his mistress.
It was an accepted social practice in the ancient world for a young man to take on a long-term sexual partner—usually of a lower class—without committing himself to marriage. After a dramatic conversion experience which Augustine recounts for us as taking place in the context of the reading of the Bible he spent a period of retreat at Cassiacum , finally returning to Africa in to establish a sort of monastery with a group of friends.
He abandoned his mistress and desired to devote himself to a life of philosophical reflection. The relation between faith and sexuality remained a source of profound tension in his life, his thought and his legacy to the Church. He was baptised in and became a priest in , becoming Bishop of Hippo in ; he was to remain in that position until his death on 28 August Augustine was the most influential theologian in the West during the period between St Paul and Martin Luther.
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He was deeply influenced by Pauline thought, and Luther was steeped in the Augustinian tradition throughout his life. His influence was exercised through his voluminous writings, not least in connection with three central theological disputes—with the Manichees, with the Donatists and with Pelagius. He had an abiding influence on political theory through his magisterial reflection in The City of God. But his most frequently read book was undoubtedly his Confessions , which moulded the spiritual life of Western Christendom for a thousand years. God is addressed in praise, penitence and faith, through reflection on the human condition.
The work owes a great deal to the classical educational tradition yet is steeped in biblical quotations and centres on a profound spiritual encounter. Classical education had aimed at the creation of a higher type of humanity which was the purpose of all human effort. There seemed to be a universal desire for mystical union with God, typified in the Enneads of Plotinus, to which Augustine often makes reference.
It is a highly disciplined exercise. In the Confessions he turned to the form of continuous prayer, characterised by a spiritual humility which, by attributing all to the grace of God, avoids the self-consciousness of others such as St Patrick, his near contemporary, but which none the less was moulded by all the accomplishments of his classical education. In the Confessions Augustine tells us of his early education, of his difficulties learning Greek his studies were almost all in Latin and arithmetic, his sufferings at school, his journeys further afield to Madaura for lessons in grammar and rhetoric, and to Carthage.
Fifty key christian thinkers 34 He was, as he said himself, largely a self-made man, with the limitations of a provincial education, yet clearly he was extremely well educated.
Despite his frequent criticism of the classics, he uses all the literary categories of the rhetorical schools. What deeper influence did classical culture have on his thought? But Cicero was a theological sceptic, and secular Latin literature was to produce no solution to the urgent problem of the reality of God. Fortuitous acquaintance led Augustine to Manichaeism, with its cosmology based on the ancient Persian dualism of light and darkness, and a materialistic pessimism based on its conception of evil being embedded in the material world.
Ultimately however the Manichees could provide no satisfactory solution to his problems. With platonism came the answer to the problem which had forced Cicero into scepticism and had bedevilled Manichaeism, the affirmative answer to the possibility of non-material reality in the concept of the Forms. The late platonists considered Forms not as solid objects but as non-material existent things, the total corpus of which is in some sense fused with the divine mind that created them, and the reminiscence of which, and thus knowledge of God, is possible by direct perception.
Augustine was now sure of the existence of an incorporeal reality that was God, but was unaware of the next step, until he found that pearl of great price—the Bible. Now an awakened awareness of the power of evil paved the way for an increasing understanding of sin. He was to find an answer in the Genesis creation sagas to the neo-platonic problem of the fusion of creator and created i. At once with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart.
The Augustine of Hippo — 35 philosopher had become a Christian and the impact on all subsequent Christian theology was to be profound. Augustine could now add the second part of the Johannine prologue to his previous platonic understanding of the divine. Yet he still had some way to go. Even in the first work, the Soliloquies, the way to God cannot be completely articulated in Christian terms as the retention of the platonic concept of memory suggests. Only after , with the transformative role of grace, as distinct from conversion to the faith, can a comprehensively Christian theology be said to be achieved.
What is now distinctive about the Christian education which for Augustine replaces the classical one? The reception of the gist of faith is followed by a renewed search for understanding in the examination of the work of creation the last books of Confessions. The learning of specific facts is a reminiscence from the time when we learned the facts. But how do we remember God now?
Augustine is quite prepared to use platonic imagery and, if need be, to disregard some of its implications. God is paradoxically most present when he is most hidden. Yet there is no necessary connection between God and man of the sort suggested by Plato. The question of the Christian assertion of the total separation of God from his creation arises most acutely in his consideration of questions arising from Genesis, i. Above all Augustine had to combat the equation of time with eternity and the resulting conception of God as part of a non-created ever-recurrent cycle.
Although he has used the cyclic concept readily to express the fleeting nature of human life, now he uses the Aristotelian notion of the divine life as a movement complete in each minute.
What is phishing?
Yet unlike many of the Psalms there is little sense in the Confessions of a complete separation of God and man. The sense of the divine presence is always very real to Augustine, and the relationship is of a very close communion. This evocation of the one who is most hidden and yet most present plays a considerable role in transforming the work from a collection of scattered biblical quotations and philosophical fragments within an autobiographical framework into a living prayer of adoration.
It could be argued that Augustine never quite attained the breadth and minute erudition that we find in the writings of his Cappadocian counterparts. Yet he grasped the basic tendencies of the classical mind and could apply these methods to the problems of his time. To this, the new educational programme of the Bible added what was lacking, as God met him in the context of his Word. This the Greek writings did not contain.
The book is saturated in the piety of the Psalms, and therefore of the sense of God as a living presence. God, most secret and most present, is the source of adoration. The new paideia or education of the Bible adds to the old what was lacking. Everything is asked for from God, moves towards God, and is accepted, found and opened up in God. This is a radically God-centred theology. It is also Christ-centred, but not perhaps as consistently as it might at first seem.
Critics have sometimes thought to detect a strongly Stoic framework of determinism, softened by the language of Christological imagery. Certainly in the treatment of the problem of evil we have a sense that the framework, and therefore the solution, in the form of the non-reality of evil as being the absence of Good, is influenced by the platonic insistence that since everything that is is created by God, it must therefore be good.
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For Augustine the Manichee God might be pictured as a realm divided against itself, including good and evil. There could be no possibility of evil in God himself. Being is good. The created world is good, created out of nothing by God. Evil is only the absence of Good.
The source of evil is lost in the mystery of human freedom and is ultimately inexplicable. The angels fall, human beings fall, the universe itself is beautiful, and our awareness of death and decay is due only to our mortal frailty which does not perceive the larger harmony that exists. Evil arises because of human sin. In a fateful linkage for the subsequent treatment of sex in the Christian tradition Augustine linked the mechanical transmission of sin down Augustine of Hippo — 37 through the generations to the act of procreation.
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Though the act of conception is not evil, the physical desire that makes it possible is evil. Hence human sin, based on lust, is at the heart of suffering and disaster in the cosmos. We are all born into the condition of original sin in this manner. Baptism into the Church deals with the stain of this sin but its effects continue in our daily lives. This understanding of sin as essentially an individual matter in the context of intimate human relationships has had incalculable consequences, often adverse, in the Christian world.
For example, apart from hugely complicating the development of personal relationships in society, it has led to an underestimation of the corporate and social dimensions of sin, not least in the economic sphere. Augustine was one of the seminal figures in the history of Christian thought and life. His virtues and achievements, and his mistakes, were to have great influence in the West. His polemical writings against the Donatists were to influence the understanding of the Church as a broad Church, full of the sheep and the goats until the Second Coming.
The Donatist church was a church that existed alongside the Catholic church in North Africa and was numerically superior in many areas. During the persecution instituted by the Emperor Diocletian —5 many Bishops and priests had, as demanded, handed over copies of the scriptures to be burned by the civil authorities. In the view of the Donatists such people had deprived themselves of spiritual power by their actions and they refused to follow bishops and priests who had themselves betrayed the Church or to accept the validity of bishops and priests who been ordained by such people.
Augustine argued that the Church was a mixed community hence the sheep and goats analogy made up of the truly pious, but also of the wicked and unfaithful. Its holiness did not lie in the holiness of its members but in its participation in Christ. Augustine conceived of the Church as both visible and invisible.
The visible Church is the empirical and sociological reality that we can see and this is a mixed community. The invisible Church is known only to God and consists of those who are truly elect.
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The sacraments that are distributed to everybody belong to Christ and do not depend upon the holiness or perfection of the priest or bishop for their effectiveness. By means of these distinctions Augustine gave the Catholic church a theology that enabled them to be an inclusive community rather than a separated sect for the morally perfect. The Pelagian controversy arose out of a dispute with the British monk Pelagius around Pelagius took issue with certain teachings of Augustine about sin, baptism and the way that grace functions in the life of the believer.
Pelagius felt that human beings could co-operate with the grace of God as received through the sacraments and the teaching of Christ and could perfect themselves morally.
Habermas: The Key Concepts
The importance of human free will was stressed and the understanding of infant baptism as dealing with original sin was denied because babies, having no free will, could not sin. In response Augustine outlined his notion of original sin. He argued that sin originated in Fifty key christian thinkers 38 the transgression of Adam and that it has been ingrained into human nature by physical heredity. We are born therefore with a sinful taint or quality.