Augustine, St. (354–430)

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St. Augustine, also known as Aurelius Augustinus, was one of the key figures in the transition from classical antiquity to the Middle Ages. He was born at Thagaste, in north Africa, and died as the invading Vandals were closing in on his episcopal city, Hippo. He lived through nearly eighty years of the social transformation, political upheavals, and military disasters that are often referred to as the "decline of the Roman Empire." His life also spanned one of the most important phases in the transition from Roman paganism to Christianity. The old Roman pagan tradition was by no means dead, although the Roman emperors had been Christians since Constantine's conversion some forty years before Augustine was born. Augustine's youth saw the brief rule of Julian the Apostate as well as the last great pagan reaction in the empire, which broke out in the 390s. Nevertheless, it was during this period that the Roman state adopted Christianity as the official state religion. Medieval Europe began to take shape within the framework of the Roman Empire.

Augustine belonged to the world of late Roman antiquity, and its cultural and educational system had a decisive and lasting role in shaping his mind. His education, following the standard pattern of the time, was almost entirely literary, with great stress on rhetoric. Its aim was to enable its recipients to imitate the great literary masterpieces of the past. It tended, inevitably, to encourage a conservative literary antiquarianism. The culture it produced rarely rose above the level of the sterile cult of "polite letters" and generally had little contact with the deeper forces at work in contemporary society. There were many creative minds still at work; but even at their best, their thought was largely derivative. This is especially true of the philosophy of the period. Its stock of learning was in large part contained in compendia, though works of Cicero were still widely read, and those of the Neoplatonist thinkers gave inspiration to both pagans and Christians.

This culture and its educational system were the two sources that supplied the initial impulse for Augustine's thinking. His search for truth and wisdom began with his reading at the age of eighteen of a now lost dialogue by Cicero, the Hortensius. The work made an impact that Augustine could not forget and that he often mentions in his later writings. When he recounts the experience in the Confessions (III, 4, 7), written in his forties, he tells us that it was this work that changed his interests and gave his life a new direction and purpose: the search for wisdom. The search led him far afield; but looking back on it, Augustine could interpret its start as the beginning of the journey that was finally to bring him back to God.

Philosophy and Christianity

It was not until 386 that Augustine was converted to Christianity; he was baptized the following year. Meanwhile, his career as a teacher of rhetoric took him from his native Africa to Italy, first to Rome and then to Milan. During this period he was under the spell of the Manichaean religion. Its teachings appeared for a time to offer Augustine the wisdom for which he had been searching, but he became increasingly dissatisfied with it and finally broke with the sect through the influence of his new friends in Milan, Bishop Ambrose and the circle of Christian Neoplatonists around him. In Milan he learned the answers to the questions that had worried him about Manichaean doctrine, and there he encountered a more satisfying interpretation of Christianity than he had previously found in the simple, unintellectual faith of his mother, Monica. There was no deep gulf between the Christianity of these men and the atmosphere of Neoplatonic thought of the time. At this stage of his life Augustine saw no need to disentangle exactly what belonged to Christian and what to Neoplatonic teaching: What struck him most forcibly was how much the two bodies of thought had in common. The blend of Neoplatonism and Christian belief won his adherence, and the moral conflict recounted in his Confessions (Books VIVIII) ended with his baptism.

Even in 400, when he wrote his Confessions, he spoke of the teachings of the "Platonists" as preparing his way to Christianity. In a famous passage (VIII, 9, 1314) he describes Neoplatonism as containing the distinctive Christian doctrines about God and his Word, the creation of the world, and the presence of the divine light; all these he had encountered in the books of "the Platonists" before reading of them in the Scriptures. What he had failed to find anticipated in Neoplatonism were the beliefs in the Incarnation and the Gospel account of the life and death of Jesus Christ. Later in life Augustine came gradually to see a deeper cleavage between philosophy and Christian faith; but he never ceased to regard much of philosophy, especially that of the Neoplatonists, as containing a large measure of truth and hence as capable of serving as a preparation for Christianity.

From Milan he returned to north Africa and retired to live a kind of monastic life with like-minded friends until he was ordained, under popular pressure, to assist the aged bishop of Hippo as a priest. Within four years, in 395, he became bishop of Hippo. From the 390s onward, all of Augustine's work was devoted to the service of his church. Preaching, administration, travel, and an extensive correspondence took much of his time. He continued to lead a quasi-monastic life with his clergy, however, and the doctrinal conflicts with Manichaeans, Donatists, Pelagians, and even with paganism provoked an extensive literary output. Despite this multifarious activity, Augustine never ceased to be a thinker and scholar, but his gifts and accomplishments were turned increasingly to pastoral uses and to the service of his people. The Scriptures took a deeper hold on his mind, eclipsing the strong philosophical interests of the years immediately preceding and following his conversion.

Augustine did not, however, renounce his philosophical interests. He shared with all his contemporaries the belief that it was the business of philosophy to discover the way to wisdom and thereby to show people the way to happiness or blessedness (beatitudo ). The chief difference between Christianity and the pagan philosophies was that Christianity considered this way as having been provided in Jesus Christ. Christianity could still be thought of as a philosophy, however, in that its aim was the same as that of other philosophic schools. The ultimate source of the saving truths taught by Christianity was the Scriptures, which for Augustine had supplanted the teachings of the philosophers as the gateway to truth. Hence, authority rather than reasoning, faith rather than understanding, came to be the emphasis of "Christian philosophy." For although the pagan philosophers had discovered much of the truth proclaimed by the Christian Gospel, what their abstract speculation had not, and could not have, reached was the kernel of the Christian faith: the belief in the contingent historical facts that constitute the history of salvationthe Gospel narrative of the earthly life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Belief and Understanding

Belief in the above facts was the essential first step along the way to saving truth and blessedness, but it was only a first step. Faith, while required of a Christian, was not in itself sufficient for a full realization of the potential rationality of man. For Augustine, an act of faith, or belief, was an act of rational thinking, but of an imperfect and rudimentary kind. In a late work he defined "to believe" as "to think with assent" (De Praedest. Sanct. 2, 5). The act of believing is, therefore, itself an act of thinking and part of a context of thought. What distinguishes it from understanding or knowledge is best brought out by Augustine in passages where he contrasts believing with "seeing." By "seeing" Augustine meant either vision, literally, or, metaphorically, the kind of knowledge to which its object is clear and transparent. This kind of knowledge could be acquired only through direct experience or through logical demonstration, such as is possible in mathematics and other forms of rigorous reasoning. Believing, though a necessary and ubiquitous state of mind without which everyday life would be impossible, is therefore a form of knowledge inferior to understanding. Its object remains distant and obscure to the mind, and it is not intellectually satisfying. Faith demands completion in understanding.

In this emphasis on the priority of belief and its incompleteness without understanding, we may see a reflection of Augustine's own intellectual pilgrimage. His tortuous quest for wisdom, with its false trails, had ultimately led him to consider the Christian faith as the object of his search. But this faith offered no resting place, for Augustine never lost his passion for further intellectual inquiry. His faith was only the first step on the way to understanding. He never ceased to regard mere faith as only a beginning; he often returned to one of his most characteristic exhortations: "Believe in order that you may understand; Unless you shall believe, you shall not understand." The understanding he had in mind could be fully achieved only in the vision of God face to face in the life of blessedness; but even in this life, faith could beand had to beintensified in the mind by seeking a deeper insight into it. Progress in understanding, founded on faith and proceeding within its framework, was part of the growth of faith itself. After his conversion, then, reasoning and understanding were for Augustine no longer an independent, alternative route to faith. They still had their work, but now within a new setting and on a new foundation.

Some things, like contingent historical truths, could be the objects only of belief; others could be the objects of either belief or understanding (understanding means having an awareness of grounds and logical necessity). For instance, a mathematical theorem can be believed before it is understood. With understanding, however, belief inevitably follows. God, Augustine thought, belongs among the objects that are first believed and subsequently understood. In the process of gaining this understanding, the ordinary human endowments of rational thought, culture, and philosophy have a part to play. They form the equipment of which a Christian may avail himself in the work of seeking deeper insight into the meaning of his faith.

In his De Doctrina Christiana Augustine discusses the ways in which the various intellectual disciplines may serve to assist the Christian in understanding the faith he derives from scriptural sources. Philosophy, along with the other branches of learning, is here seen as subordinated to the service of a purpose outside it, that of nourishing and deepening faith; it is no longer to be pursued for its own sake, as an independent avenue to truth. It is also in De Doctrina Christiana that Augustine uses the image of the children of Israel, on their way to the Promised Land, spoiling the Egyptians of their treasures at God's bidding: In the same way, Christians are bidden to take from the pagans whatever is serviceable in understanding and preaching the Gospel. Again, we may see here a reflection of Augustine's narrowing of interests and the growing dominance of pastoral concerns in his mind. The theoretical statement of his subordination of secular learning and culture and their consecration to the service of preaching the Gospel (in its widest sense) is contained in the program laid down in the De Doctrina Christiana.

Therefore, Augustine is not interested in philosophy, in the modern sense of the word. Philosophical concepts and arguments play a subordinate role in his work; and where they occur, they are usually employed to help in the elucidation of some aspect of Christian doctrine. Typical examples are his use of Aristotle's Categories in an attempt to elucidate the notions of substance and relation in the context of Trinitarian theology, especially in his great work De Trinitate ; his subtle inquiries into human knowledge and emotions, in the second half of the same work, with a view to discovering in man's mind an image of God's three-in-oneness; and his analysis of the temporal relations "before" and "after," undertaken to elucidate the nature of time in order to solve some of the puzzles presented by the scriptural doctrine of the creation of the world. In all these cases and many more, his purpose would be described today as theological. In Augustine's day the distinction between theology and philosophy did not exist, and "philosophy" could beand often wasused in a sense so wide as to include what we should call theology.

To study Augustine's thought as philosophy is in a sense, to do violence to it: It is to isolate from their purpose and context what he would have regarded as mere techniques and instruments. To focus attention on what Augustine would have regarded as belonging to the sphere of means, however, allows us to see something more than a mere agglomeration of philosophical commonplaces derived, in large measure, from Neoplatonism. Augustine's originality lies not only in his determination to use his inherited philosophical equipment but also in the often slight, but sometimes profound, modification it underwent at his hands. And in the service of Augustine's purpose, many old ideas received new coherence and new power to move. Through his "spoiling of the Egyptians" much of the heritage of late antiquity received a new life in the European Middle Ages.

The Mind and Knowledge

At an early stage of Augustine's intellectual development, the skepticism of the Academic tradition of philosophy appears to have presented him with a serious challenge. His early philosophical dialogues, written in the period immediately after his conversion, are full of attempts to satisfy himself that there are at least some inescapable certainties in human knowledge on which we may absolutely rely. The basic facts of being alive, of thinking, or of simply existing are disclosed in one's immediate awareness of oneself. But Augustine did not limit the range of what was indubitably reliable in one's experience; nor did he seek to build an entire structure of indubitable knowledge on the basis of the absolute certainties of immediate awareness and its strict logical consequences, as René Descartes was to do. He tried instead to vindicate the whole range of human knowledge as being capable of arriving at truth, though also liable to err.

His vindication proceeds on two fronts, according to the fundamental duality of knowledge and of the objects corresponding to it. This duality, like much in his theory of knowledge, is of Platonic origin. Plato is the source of his belief that "there are two worlds, an intelligible world where truth itself dwells, and this sensible world which we perceive by sight and touch" (C. Acad. III, 17, 37); and of its corollary, that things can be divided into those "which the mind knows through the bodily senses" and those "which it perceives through itself" (De Trin. XV, 12, 21). Although he never departed from this dualistic theory of knowledge, Augustine also always insisted that all knowledge, of either kind, is a function of the mind, or the soul.

He defines the soul as "a substance endowed with reason and fitted to rule a body" (De Quant. Anim. 13, 22). Augustine's use of the conceptual framework of the Platonic tradition made it difficult for him to treat man as a single, substantial whole. He did, nevertheless, attempt to stress the unity of body and soul in man as far as his inherited conceptual framework allowed. In a characteristically Platonic formula he defines man as "a rational soul using a mortal and material body" (De Mor. Eccles. I, 27, 52). The soul is one of two elements in the composite, but it is clearly the dominant partner: The relation between it and its body is conceived on the model of ruler and ruled, or of user and tool. This conception gave Augustine considerable trouble in his attempt to work out a theory of sense knowledge.

sense and imagination

It was a basic axiom of Augustine's view of soul and body that while the soul can act on the body, the body cannot act on the soul. This is a consequence of the user-tool model in terms of which he understood their relation. The tool cannot wield its user; the inferior in nature has no power to effect or induce any modification in the higher. Augustine could not, therefore, elaborate a theory of sense knowledge in which the bodily affections would in any way cause or give rise to modifications in the soul; nevertheless, he insisted that even sense perception was a function of the soul, one that it carried out through the bodily sense organs. The mere modification of a sense organ is not in itself sense experience, unless it is in some way noticed by the mind. Augustine's problem was to explain this correlation between the mind's awareness and the modification of the organ without allowing the latter to cause or to give rise to the former.

In an early discussion of this problem, Augustine tried to explain the process of seeing as a kind of manipulation by the mind of its sense organs, much like a blind man's manipulation of a stick to explore the surface of an object (De Quant. Anim. 23, 4132, 69). This is very much in line with his general conception of the relation of the body to the mind as that of an instrument to its user, but its inadequacy as an explanation of sense perception may have been apparent to Augustine. At any rate, he later came to prefer an account constructed in quite different terms. This account (elaborated in De Genesi ad Litteram, Book XII and generally underlying his later views, for instance, those stated in De Trinitate ) is based on a distinction between "corporeal" and "spiritual" sight. Corporeal sight is the modification undergone by the eyes in the process of seeing and is the result of their encounter with the object seen. Spiritual sight is the mental process that accompanies corporeal sight, in the absence of which the physical process cannot be reckoned as sense experience (since all experience is a function of mind). Spiritual seeing is not, however, caused by corporeal seeing, since the body cannot affect the mind. Indeed, spiritual sight is a separate process that may take place in the mind spontaneously, in the absence of its corporeal counterpartfor instance, in dreaming or imagining. The mental processes involved in sight and in dreaming and imagination are identical; what is before the mind is, in all these cases, of the same nature. What the mind sees in each case is not the object outside it, but the image within it. The difference between sensation and imagination is that in sensation a process of corporeal seeing accompanies the mental process; this is absent in imagination.

Augustine never quite answers the question of how we may know the difference between perception and imagination. The part, however, which he attributes to attention in the process of sense perception is important and gives a clue: It is attention that directs the mind's gaze, and it appears that it is attention that checks the free play of imagery in the mind. Thus, perception and imagination can be distinguished in experience by adverting to the presence of attention; its presence immobilizes the creative imagaination and ensures that the content of the mind has some sort of rapport with the bodily senses and their world. It is difficult to escape the impression that under the guise of "attention" Augustine has introduced what he had begun by excludingmental process as responsive to bodily change. This is the peculiar difficulty that his two-level theory of man never quite allowed him to escape.

Augustine also speaks of a third kind of sight, one that he calls intellectual. This, the highest kind of sight, is the work of the mind whereby it interprets, judges, or corrects "messages" from the lower kinds of sight. The type of activity Augustine has in mind here is exemplified by any act of judgment on the content of sense perception; for instance, the judgment that an oar partly submerged in water is not actually bent, even though it looks bent. This activity of interpretation and judgment brings us to the second kind of knowledge, that which the mind has independently of sense experience.

reason and illumination

In his account of sense knowledge, Augustine's Platonic inheritance was a source of difficulty. In the elaboration of his views on reason and intelligence, the reverse is the case: Augustine's account of these is largely an adaptation of the fundamental tenets of the Platonic tradition. Typical instances of knowledge that the mind has independently of sense experience are the truths of mathematics. Here Augustine discovered the universality, necessity, and immutability that he saw as the hallmarks of truth. Although he did not believe that knowledge obtained through the senses possessed these characteristics, Augustine widened the scope of truth considerably beyond the necessary truths of mathematics and logic. He thought that our moral judgments and judgments of value, at least of the more fundamental kind, also shared the character of truth. He did not, however, trace this universality and necessity of such propositions to their logical form or to the nature of the definitions and logical operations involved in them. (He wrote fourteen centuries before Immanuel Kant's distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments.)

Like all his predecessors and contemporaries, Augustine thought that this kind of knowledge was just as empirical as sense experience, and that it differed from the latter only in having objects that were themselves superior to the physical objects of sense experience by being immutable and eternal, and therefore capable of being known with superior clarity and certainty. The knowledge open to the mind without the mediation of the senses was conceived as analogous to sight; indeed, Augustine often speaks of it as sight, sometimes qualifying it as "intellectual sight." Its objects are public, "out there," and independent of the mind that knows them, just as are those of physical sight. In its knowing, the mind discovers the objects; it does not create them any more than the eyes create the physical objects seen by them. Together, the truths accessible to this kind of knowledge form a realm that Augustine, following the whole Platonic tradition of thought, often calls the intelligible world. This he identifies with the "Divine Mind" containing the archetypal ideas of all things. He was not, however, the first to take this step; this identification was the key to all forms of Christian Platonism.

Before Augustine, Plato had already used the analogy between sight and understanding. Its details are worked out in the analogy of the sun in the Republic. Here the intellectual "light" that belongs to the world of intelligible forms is analogous to the visible light of the material world. Like the latter, it renders "visible" the objects seen by illuminating both them and the organ of perceptionin this case, the mind. All understanding is a function of illumination by this light. The intellectual light that illuminates the mind and thus brings about understanding is spoken of in various ways by Augustine. Since it is a part of the intelligible world, it is naturally conceived as a kind of emanation from the divine mind or as an illumination of the human mind by the divine. Augustine also refers to it as the human mind's participation in the Word of God, as God's interior presence to the mind, or even as Christ dwelling in the mind and teaching it from within.

Plato had tried to account for the mind's knowledge of the forms in the theory, expressed in the language of myth, that this knowledge was left behind in the mind as a memory of its life among the forms before it was enclosed in an earthly body. After some early flirtation with this theory of reminiscence, Augustine came to reject it; to hold that the mind's knowledge derived from a premundane existence would have raised serious theological difficulties. Therefore, instead of tracing this knowledge to a residue of a past experience, he accounted for it in terms of present experience; it was the result of continual discovery in the divine light always present to the mind. For this reason, too, his conception of memoria became so widened as to lose the reference to past experience that memory necessarily implies in English. Augustine's memoria included what we should call memory; in it, he thought, were preserved traces of past experience, as in a kind of storehouse or a stomach. But memoria included very much more than this. He speaks of our a priori mathematical ideas, numbers and their relations, as being contained in it; and in the course of the tenth book of the Confessions, in which he devotes a long discussion to the subject, the scope is so widened as to extend to our knowledge of moral and other values, of all truths of reason, of ourselves, and of God. It is, in effect, identified with all the latent potentialities of the mind for knowledge.

Memoria and divine illumination are alternative ways of expressing the basis of Augustine's theory of knowledge. The theory is, in its essence, the belief that God is always intimately present to the mind, whether this presence is acknowledged or not. His presence pervades everything and is operative in everything that happens. To this metaphysical principle the human mind is no exception. The only difference between the human mind, in respect to the divine presence within it, and other things is that unlike these other things, the human mind is able to turn freely toward the light and to acknowledge its presence, or to turn away from it and to "forget" it. Whether the mind is present to the divine light or not, however, the light is present to the mind; on this presence is founded all the mind's ability to know.

The manner of operation of this illumination in the mind and what exactly it produces in the mind have been the subject of much debate. This uncertainty is due partly to the enormous variety of expressions used by Augustine to describe the divine light, but it is also partly the result of approaching Augustine's views with questions formulated in terms of concepts between which he would not have made a distinction. It is clear, at any rate, that Augustine did not think that the divine light in the mind gave the mind any kind of direct access to an immediate knowledge of God. This kind of knowledge was, to him, the result of understanding, a goal to be reached only at the end of a long processand not this side of the grave. If, however, we ask further what exactly he thought illumination did reveal to the mind, the answer is more difficult. In particular, if we ask whether he conceived illumination primarily as a source of ideas in the mind or, alternatively, as providing the mind with its rules for judgment, the answer is not at all clear. He did not distinguish as sharply as one might wish between the making of judgments and the formation of concepts; he often speaks of both activities in the same breath or in similar contexts, or passes without the least hesitation from one to the other in the course of discussion. Sometimes he speaks of illumination as implanting in the mind an "impressed notion" (notio impressa ), whether it be of number, unity, wisdom, blessedness, or goodness. Such passages suggest that Augustine thought of illumination primarily as a source of ideas, as providing "impressed notions." It is clear, however, that such "impressed notions" were also to serve as the yardsticks for judging all imperfect participations in individual instances of these notions. And in other passages, again, illumination is spoken of not as supplying any ideas or notions but simply as providing a criterion of the truth or falsity of our judgments.

It was very easy to pass from ideas to judgments in Augustine's way of speaking of illumination. In addition, Augustine's language when he speaks of the mind's judgment made in the light of divine illumination often has further overtones; the judgment he speaks of appears as a kind of foreshadowing of the ultimate divine judgment on all human life and action. The basic reason why Augustine had found Platonic metaphysics so congenial was that it harmonized so easily with the moral bearings of his own views; and its theories, especially in some of their more imaginative and dramatic expressions, allowed themselves to be exploited to serve Augustine's interests as a moralist. In his discussion of knowledge, as in his discussion of the relation of mind and body, ethical considerations very often play the major part. The central theories of Platonic thought buttressed views held by Augustine primarily on account of their moral bearings.

Will, Action, and Virtue

Morality lies at the center of Augustine's thought. There are many reasons for this, the most noteworthy being his conception of philosophy. As we have seen, philosophy was for Augustine far from being an exclusively theoretical study; and morality itself belonged to its substance more intimately than the discussion and analysis of moral concepts and judgments. Philosophy was a quest for wisdom, its aim being to achieve man's happiness; and this depended on right living as much as on true thinking. Hence the practical orientation of Augustine's thoughtan orientation that it shared with most contemporary forms of thinking.

On human conduct and human destiny Augustine's thinking was, of course, molded very largely by the New Testament and by the Christian church's tradition in understanding its conceptions of divine law and commandment, of grace, of God's will, of sin, and of love. Much of this, being specifically theological in interest, lies outside the scope of this presentation of Augustine's thought. What is remarkable is the extent to which Augustine was prepared to read back the characteristic teaching of the Christian church into the works of the philosophers, Plato in particular. Thus he held that Plato had asserted that the supreme good, possession of which alone gives man blessedness, is God. "And therefore," Augustine concluded, Plato "thought that to be a philosopher is to be a lover of God" (De Civ. Dei VIII, 8). Rapprochements of this kind helped to reconcile the Christian and the Platonic teachings to each other; in Augustine's treatment of ethical topics the characteristically Christian themes and distinctively Platonic concepts are so closely interwoven that they are often inseparable.

Augustine is able, therefore, to define blessedness itself in terms that make no reference to any distinctively Christian teaching, for instance, when he says that man is blessed when all his actions are in harmony with reason and truth (cum omnes motus eius rationi veritatique consentiuntDe Gen. C. Man. I, 20, 31). Blessedness, according to this view, does not consist simply in the total satisfaction of all desires. In another discussion Augustine makes this more explicit: While blessedness is incompatible with unsatisfied desires, the satisfaction of evil or perverse desires gives no ultimate happiness; hence blessedness cannot be identified simply with total satisfaction. "No one is happy unless he has all he wants and wants nothing that is evil" (De Trin. XIII, 5, 8; for the entire discussion, see ibid. XIII, 3, 69, 12). The only element in all this that is specifically Christian is the insistence that this happiness cannot be attained by man except with the aid of the way revealed by Christ and of God's grace given to men to enable them to follow it.

The dramatic account, given in his Confessions, of his own turning to God, though steeped in the language of the Bible and throbbing with the intensity of Augustine's feelings, is, at the same time, an illustration of a central theme in Greek metaphysics. The book opens with a powerful evocation of his coming to rest in God; it ends with a prayer for this rest, peace, and fulfillment. This central theme of longing and satisfaction is a commonplace of Greek thought from Plato's Symposium onward. Man, according to the cosmology implicit in this picture, illustrates in his being the forces that are at work in nature in general. Man, like everything else, is conceived as part of a vast nexus of interrelated things within an ordered hierarchy of beings that together form the cosmos. But it is an order in which the components are not stationary but are in dynamic rapport; they are all pursuing their own ends and come to rest only in attaining these ends. Their striving for rest, for completion or satisfaction, is the motive power that drives all things toward their purposes, just as weight, according to this image, causes things to move to the places proper to them in the cosmosthe heavy things downward, the light upward. Augustine thought of the forces that move men as analogous to weight and called them, collectively, love or loves. In a famous passage he wrote, "My weight is my love; by it am I carried wheresoever I am carried" ( eo feror quocumque ferorConf. XIII, 9, 10).

love, law, and the moral order

Man, however, differs from other things in nature in that the forces that move him, his "loves," are very much more complex. Within him there are a great many desires and drives, impulses and inclinationssome of them conscious, others not. The satisfaction of some often involves the frustration of others, and the harmonious satisfaction that forms the goal of human activity appears to be a very distant and scarcely realizable purpose. The reason for this is not only the multiplicity of elements that go into the making of human nature; a further reason is the fact that these elements have been disordered and deprived of their original state of harmony. Augustine interpreted this aspect of the human condition as a consequence of the sin of Adam and the fall of man.

There is, however, a further respect in which man differs from other things in the way his activity is determined. This lies in the fact that even with his disordered impulses, he is notat least not entirelyat the mercy of the conflicting forces within him. His activity is not, so to speak, a resultant of them: He is, in some degree, capable of selecting among them, deciding which to resist, which to follow. In this capacity for choice Augustine saw the possibility of what he called voluntary action as distinguished from natural or necessary behavior. He called this human capacity "will." It is a source of some confusion that he used the term love, or its plural, loves, to designate the sum total of forces that determine a man's actions, whether they are "natural" or "voluntary." As a collective name for natural impulses, "love" is therefore morally neutral; only insofar as the will endorses or approves love of this kind is love morally praiseworthy or blameworthy. Augustine expresses this graphically by distinguishing between loves that ought to be loved and loves that ought not to be loved; and he defines man's moral task in terms of sorting out these commendable and reprehensible loves in himself and putting his loves in their right order.

Augustine's favorite definition of virtue is "rightly ordered love" (as in De Civ. Dei XV, 22). This consists in setting things in their right order of priority, valuing them according to their true worth, and in following this right order of value in one's inclinations and actions. The idea of order is central to Augustine's reflections on morals. Before becoming a Christian, he had believed with the Manichaeans that the existence of good and of evil in the world was accounted for by their different origins, respectively from a good and an evil deity. The Neoplatonism of his Christian friends in Milan helped Augustine find an alternative explanation, one that was more in keeping with the Christian doctrine of one world created by one God. According to this theory, evil had no independent, substantial existence in its own right; it existed as a privation, as a distortion or damage within the good. All evil was thus in some sense a breach of the right relation of parts within a whole, a breach of order of some kind. Hence the great emphasis on order in Augustine's thought, from the time of his conversion to the writing of his last works.

Augustine calls the pattern to which human activity must conform "law." Law is, in the first place, the archetypal order according to which people are required to shape their actions and by which their actions are to be judged. Augustine makes it clear that by "law" he means very much more than the actual legal enactments of public authorities. These "human laws" deal only with a part, greater or lesser, of human conduct; they vary from place to place and from time to time; they depend on the vagaries of individual legislators. The true "eternal law" by which all human behavior is judged leaves no aspect of man's life out of its purview; it is the same everywhere and at all times. It is not quite clear how Augustine conceived the relation between divine and human, eternal and temporal, law. His terminology is variable, and although he thought that human law ought to seek to approach the divine, or at least not to contradict it, he does not appear to have denied its claim to being law even when it failed to reflect the eternal law. Also, as we shall see, he appears to have changed his views on this matter in the course of his life.

The "eternal," or "divine," law is in effect the intelligible world or the divine mind (see discussion of reason and illumination above) insofar as it is considered as the pattern that should regulate activity. The language in which Augustine speaks about the divine law is the same as that which he uses in speaking of the eternal truth, and he believed that the achievement of wisdom consisted in pursuing this truth by understanding and then embodying in oneself the order understood. It is clear that there is no significant difference between "eternal law" and "eternal truth"; the two are identical: Eternal law is eternal truth considered under its aspect as a standard of moral judgment. Thus, the problem of how the eternal law is known to men is the same as the problem discussed above of how the eternal truth is known. Here, too, he speaks of the eternal law as being "transcribed" into the human mind or of its "notion" as being impressed on the mind. The deliverance of conscience or reason as manifested in moral judgment is thus no less and no more than the human mind's illumination by the eternal law, or its participation in it; Augustine describes conscience as "an interior law, written in the heart itself" (lex intima, in ipso corde conscriptaEn. in Ps. 57, 1). He refers to this law, inscribed in man's heart or known to him by reason, as "natural." He can thus speak of law (eternal or natural), reason, and order interchangeably when discussing the ordering of human action to bring about its virtuous disposition.

In defining this order of priority in value, the following of which constitutes virtue, Augustine makes a fundamental distinction between "use" and "enjoyment." These two forms of behavior correspond to the twofold classification of things according to whether they are valuable for their own sake or as means, for the sake of something else. Things valued for themselves are to be "enjoyed," things valued as means are to be "used"; the inversion of the relation between use and enjoyment is the fundamental perversion of the order of virtue. To seek to use what is to be enjoyed or to enjoy what is to be used is to confuse means with ends. The only object fit for enjoyment, in this sense, is God; he alone is to be loved for his own sake, and all other things are to be referred to this love. In elaborating this theory, Augustine was expressing the traditional view that it behooves people to journey through their lives on Earth as pilgrims and not to regard any earthly goal as a fit resting place. This did not, of course, imply, to Augustine's mind, that nothing but God was a fit object of love; on the contrary, it was a way of stressing the need to put loves in their right order and to love each thing with the kind and degree of love appropriate to it. Although he clearly conceived of love as capable of an endless series of gradations, Augustine is usually content to speak of two kinds of love, which he contrasts: charity (caritas ) and cupidity (cupiditas ). The basic distinction is between upright, well-ordered, and God-centered love and perverse, disordered, and self-centered love. A great deal of Augustine's thinking and writing hinges on this distinction.

The individual virtues interested Augustine less than the concept of love. He was content to take over the classical enumeration of the four cardinal virtues. But his own characteristic thoughts on the moral life are always developed in terms of love rather than of any of the virtues. Indeed, as we have seen, he defined virtue in terms of love; similarly, he liked to define the individual cardinal virtues as different aspects of the love of God. This tendency is one of the most important links between what we would distinguish as the theological and philosophical sides of his thought.

The World and God

Order is a key idea in Augustine's reflections on the morality of human behavior. It also plays a large part in his reflection on the physical universe in its relation to God. The world of nature was not in itself an object of particular interest to Augustine. In cosmological thinking of the kind to be found in Aristotle's Physics, for instance, he had little interest. The physical world concerned him only insofar as it was related either to man or to God. Order, then, for Augustine was the expression of rationality. In human action this was something that men should seek to embody in their conduct; in the world of physical and animate nature, which did not share the freedom of human activity, order expressed the divine rationality at work in all natural happenings. To human eyes, however, this order was often glimpsed only in isolated instances, while a great deal of disorder was manifest in the misery, disease, and suffering with which the world is shot through. In part these frustrations of order were held to be due, ultimately, to the initiative of human sin; in part they were held to be merely apparent and capable of being resolved within a perspective larger than that of finite human vision.

Behind the world order stands its author and sovereign ruler, God. All things testify to his presence; the world is full of his "traces" (vestigia ). God's presence in and behind his creation was, for Augustine, not so much something to be established by argument as it was the premise, taken for granted, of a further argument. This argument, to which Augustine returned on a number of occasions, is particularly well expressed in a chapter of his Confessions (X, 6, 9, and 10). He there speaks of putting things to the question in order to allow them to reveal themselves as dependent on their creator. It is clear that what primarily interested Augustine was the questioner's moral attitude: The point of his argument is not so much that the order and beauty of things imply the existence of God, but rather that since God had created them, we must so discipline ourselves as to see things for what they arehis handiworkand to value them at their true worth and worship only him, their creatornot his handiwork. Again, the moral concern is uppermost in Augustine's mind.

This is not the case with the discussion of the problem of time, in Book XI of the Confessions. The problem was forced on Augustine's attention by the scriptural doctrine of creation, but it is clear that it fascinated him and that he pursued it simply because he was interested in it. Manichaean objectors to the Christian doctrine of creation from nothing had raised difficulties about speaking of an absolute beginning. These critics had pointed out that in our ordinary language there is no room for an absolute beginning of the kind envisaged by adherents of the doctrine; we can always ask what happened before something else, even if this was the first of all happenings. Questions of this kind revealed the arbitrariness and absurdity of the belief that God made the world out of nothing: What was God doing before the creation? Why did he create the world when he did and not sooner, or later?

In answer to these difficulties Augustine in effect undertook a critique of the conception of time that underlay them. Such difficulties arise from the fact that time is thought of as having the same kind of being as the events and happenings going on in time; the question "What happened before time?" was thought to be of the same logical form as questions about what happened before any particular events. Augustine denied this assumed logical similarity behind the grammatical similarity of the questions. He pointed out that whereas it makes sense to ask what happened before any particular event, it does not make sense to ask what happened before all events, because time is the field of the relationships of temporal events, and there could ex hypothesi be nothing before the first temporal event. In this argument Augustine in effect rejected the conception of time according to which time has a substantial reality of its own, and he adopted a theory according to which time is the field of temporal relations between temporal events.

He did, however, go further in his reflections on time. Neoplatonic thought had always treated time in close relation to the soul, and Augustine could scarcely avoid discussing this topic. The reality of the past and of the future puzzled him: Can what is not yet but will be, and what is no longer but has been, be said to be? If not, then only the present has any reality. But if only the present is real, then reality shrinks to a dimensionless point at which the future is becoming the past. Augustine resolved the whole problem by locating time in the mind and adopting at the end of his discussion, though with hesitation, a definition of time as "extension [distentio ], I am not sure of what, probably of the mind itself" (Confessions XI, 26, 33).

Another question that the doctrine of creation raised for Augustine concerns the natural activity, functioning, and development of creatures. This problem arose from the need to harmonize the story of the creation of the world in seven days or, according to an alternative version, at once, with the fact that some things came into existence only after the creation took place. Augustine's solution of this problem lay essentially in asserting that God created different things in different conditions; some left his hands complete and ready-made, others in a potential or latent state, awaiting the right conditions and environment for their full development. The latter are analogous to seeds, which are thought of as containing in themselves the fully developed plant in potency; and on this analogy, and using the traditional vocabulary, Augustine called these potentialities for later development "seminal reasons" (rationes seminales, or causales ).

Apart from helping him to resolve the apparent contradiction between the belief in a primordial creation and the concept of continued development as a process of natural causality, this theory of "seminal reasons" also prompted Augustine at least to begin to feel his way toward some conception of nature and natural causality. At times, he comes very close to the later medieval distinction between the "First Cause" and the whole range of "second causes," the distinction according to which things depend in different senses both on God (the First Cause) and on their own immediate or distant created causes. Augustine, too, tried to endow the world of created causes with a specific reality of its own, one distinct from the causal activity of God in the world. In this he did not quite succeed. His failure becomes apparent in his treatment of miracles. He did not treat theseas the Scholastics later did as effects of the First Cause (God) produced without the instrumentality of second causes. He allowed the distinction between the two orders of causality (which he had never clearly formulated and which is hinted at, rather than stated, in his writings) to disintegrate during his discussion of miracles. In this context the very idea of "nature" is so widened as to include the miraculous within its scope. Miracles do not contradict the order of nature; they contradict only our idea of this order, an idea based on our restricted view and limited experience. They are not against nature, since nature is God's will; they are only against nature as it is known to us. The distinction between nature and miracle vanishes here, and in his well-known chapter in The City of God (X, 12) they become synonymous to the extent that nature itself and man, its crown, become the greatest miracles of all.

Individuals in Society

Society was not one of the subjects that loomed large in Augustine's earlier thought. Such hints as he gives us of his conception of society in his earlier works (those written before the mid-390s) suggest that he thought that organized human society and the state were part of the worldly dispensation whereby man is assisted to fulfill his destiny. A properly ordered society, like a properly ordered moral life, is a stage on the way to man's ultimate destination in eternity; and as far as Augustine's hints enable us to tell, he expected a properly ordered society to reflect, particularly by means of its legal institutions, the perfection of the eternal, intelligible world.

In step with his theological development, however, his views on human society underwent profound changes, and by the time that society became an important theme in his reflection, especially in his great work The City of God (written 413427), these views had been radically transformed. An important factor in the course of this transformation was the increasing stress Augustine had come to lay on the power of sin in human life and in all earthly institutions, on man's need for redemption through Christ, and on his need for grace. In the most general terms Augustine came to see man's destiny and his realization of it more in terms of the scriptural pattern of a redemption-history and less in terms of the Neoplatonic theme of the ascent of the soul. Accordingly, human society came to be understood more in terms of its horizontal, historical relationships within the divine plan for men's salvation and less in terms of what we might call its vertical relationship to the intelligible world.

The first event in the course of the biblical redemption-history, man's fall from grace through Adam's sin, is of decisive importance for Augustine's changed attitude to organized human society. To live in society, according to Augustine, was natural to humans; without society they would not be able to realize fully their human potentialities, and the company of their fellow human beings was necessary to them. This, he held, was as true before man's fall as after; even in his state of primal innocence, in full possession of his nature prior to its distortion by sin, man was a social animal by nature; even the life of the blessed in heaven is a social life. But although Augustine believed that man's nature is social, he did not agree with Aristotle that it is also political. Politically organized societythe machinery of authority, government, and coercionis, in Augustine's view, not natural to man. It was a useful and necessary arrangement for man in his fallen condition, and indeed the purpose of political society was to remedy at least some of the evils attendant upon man's fallen state. Its function was to check the social disorder and disintegration that followed from the general loss of order at the Fall. The institutions of government, the subjection of governed to government, and the coercive power of political authority over its subjects are thus but one instance of the subjection of man to man, and this was something that, Augustine held, did not exist in man's primal state of innocence. No slavery, servitude, or subjection could exist in that state of natural integrity; these things make sense only if understood as God's punishment for the sin that incurred the loss of integrity and, at the same time, as his dispensation for coping with the needs of man's condition in his new, fallen state.

Augustine used the traditional language of Christian theology to state his view of political society. For reasons to be considered below, he never drew out, at least not explicitly, the full implications of this view. In this view of society, however, the legitimate functions of the state are very much more restricted in scope than in theories according to which man is by nature a political animal. In Augustine's view, the state's sphere is confined to the requirements of social order and welfare; the individual's ultimate welfare and eternal destiny lie outside its realm of competence, whereas they are very much a part of the state's interest if the state is thought of as an ordinance of nature, as an indispensable means of man's realizing his ultimate destiny. In Augustine's estimate, the task of the state in the economy of salvation would be rather to establish the conditions in which men may work out their own salvation in relative peace and security than actively to promote their individual salvation through legislation and coercion.

The state was, for Augustine, synonymous with the Roman Empire; and having revised his ideas on the state in terms of the large categories of the scriptural redemption-history, he had inevitably to take the measure of the state he knew in this same perspective. Here his ideas make sense only if seen as a rejection of views of the empire generally current among Christians during the fourth century, after the adoption of Christianity by the emperors. The empire, represented as eternal ever since Vergil's day, was now widely regarded among Christians as an essential instrument of divine purpose in history, bound up with the possibility of salvation and destined to last until the end of time. It had been taken up into the dimension of the biblical redemption-history. The sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 gave a profound shock to this mentality. It led Augustine, whose mind had already moved a long way from the popular picture, to devote his greatest work, The City of God, to a reappraisal of the empire's place in the divine providential plan. The upshot was that the empire was no longer allowed an eternal destiny and was removed from the dimension of the redemption-history; the possibility of salvation was not necessarily bound up with it as a means of God's grace. It was simply one of a series of empirical, historic societies. The eternal categories of sin and holiness, of salvation and reprobation, did not apply to it or, indeed, to any other human assembly; they were embodied only in what Augustine called the earthly city and the heavenly city.

The two "cities" consist, respectively, of those predestined to eternal glory and those predestined to eternal torment or, as Augustine also defined them (clearly intending the various definitions to be equivalent), of those who live according to God and those who live according to man, of the altruistic and the selfish, of those whose love is upright and those whose love is perverse, and so forth. In none of these senses, however, have the two "cities" any discernible reality as communities until their final separation at the Last Judgment. In all discernible human communities they are inextricably intertwined. Here again we may see Augustine's modest estimate of the state's function, for when he discusses it in this context, the realm of the state is identified with the sphere in which the concerns of the two cities overlap. Its task is to secure the temporal peace: the order, security, and material welfare that both the wicked and the righteous cities require during their earthly careers. Its concern is with specifically communal, public matters affecting all its members. Citizens of the heavenly city will not, of course, be content with the welfare and peace thus secured: They will use these things but refer their use to the ultimate enjoyment of a peace beyond the terrestrial.

The general tendency of these views of Augustine's was to undermine the extremely close links that had come to exist between the empire and the Christian church, especially during his own lifetime. He was clearly ill at ease with the current representations of this relationship; but there were considerable pressures working on the minds of his contemporaries to keep them active, and Augustine himself was not exempt from their operation. In the course of the struggle with the Donatist movement in north Africa, a dissenting movement increasingly repressed by the imperial authorities, he came gradually and reluctantly to give his consent to the coercive measures that were being brought into use against the movement. His endorsement of these means of repression ran counter to the most fundamental direction of his thought. Although his endorsement must be regarded as a development in his practical, pastoral, and political attitudes rather than as a reversal of his basic views on the nature of political society, it left deep marks on those views. In later centuries his use of the Gospel phrase "Compel them to come in" (Coge intrare Luke 19:23) and its consecration of repression, persecution, and coercion paved the way to much tragedy. It also helped to obscure the most profound and most original of his contributions to Christian political thinking.

See also Neoplatonism.


The most complete and generally reliable Latin edition of Augustine's works is the edition by the Benedictines of Saint-Maur (16791700). It supersedes all earlier editions and was reprinted in J. P. Migne's Patrologia Latina, Vols. 3246 (Paris, 18411842), with some unfortunate variants and errors. It is also the basis of the texts of the works now being published in Bibliothèque augustinienne (with French translation and useful notes). Modern critical editions of many works exist, mainly in Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (Vienna) and Corpus Christianorum. Details are in E. Dekkers, "Clavis Patrum Latinorum," in Sacris Erudiri 3 (1962).

English translations of many works appear in various series, such as Loeb Classical Library, Library of the Fathers, Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Library of Christian Classics, The Fathers of the Church, Ancient Christian Writers, and the Catholic University of America Patristic Studies. A detailed, convenient, and fairly up-to-date list of translations is included in the bibliography by J. J. O'Meara appended to Marrou's Saint Augustine.

Of short introductory works, the best is H. I. Marrou, Saint Augustine (London: Longmans, 1957), translated from the French in the series Men of Wisdom. It contains a brief biography and a discerning characterization of Augustine's thought by a great scholar, as well as a selection of illustrative texts in translation. R. W. Battenhouse et al., A Companion to the Study of St. Augustine (New York: Oxford University Press, 1955), has been superseded by G. Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo: Life and Controversies (London: SCM Press, 1963), as a survey and guide to Augustine's career and literary output. An essential to understanding Augustine in the setting of contemporary education and culture is H. I. Marrou, Saint Augustine et la fin de la culture antique (Paris, 1938), completed by his Retractatio (Paris, 1949). On Augustine as a bishop, see F. van der Meer, Augustine the Bishop (London: Sheed and Ward, 1962).

Among the many books on Augustine's intellectual development and his conversion, P. Alfaric, L'évolution intellectuelle de saint Augustin (Paris: Nourry, 1918), stands behind much of the subsequent controversy; C. Boyer, Christianisme et néo-Platonisme dans la formation de saint Augustin (Paris: Beauchesne, 1920), is one of the best-balanced replies provoked by it. P. Courcelle, Recherches sur les Confessions de Saint Augustin (Paris, 1950), has put the problem on new footing altogether; it is further pursued, with qualifications, by J. J. O'Meara, The Young Augustine (London: Longmans Green, 1954).

Of the philosophical aspects of Augustine's thought, the best general account is E. Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine, translated by L. E. M. Lynch (New York: Random House, 1960). See also the survey by R. A. Markus in Critical History of Western Philosophy, edited by D. J. O'Connor (New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1964).

On particular aspects, see C. Boyer, L'idée de vérité dans la philosophie de saint Augustin (Paris, 1941); J. Guitton, Le temps et l'éternité chez Plotin et saint Augustin, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1955); and E. Dinkler, Die Anthropologie Augustins (Stuttgart, 1934), on the topics named in their titles. M. Schmaus, Die psychologische Trinitätslehre des heiligen Augustinus (Münster, 1907), is the classic work on Augustine's theory of mind and the Trinitarian speculations based on it. Also valuable on his theory of knowledge are J. Hessen, Augustins Metaphysik der Erkenntnis, 2nd printing (Berlin, 1960), and R. Jolivet, Dieu soleil des esprits (Paris: Desclée, de Brouwer, 1934).

On ethical topics, see J. Mausbach, Die Ethik des heiligen Augustins (Freiburg, 1909); T. Deman, Le traitement scientifique de la morale chrétienne selon saint Augustin (Paris, 1957); J. Burnaby, Amor Dei (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1938); and R. Holte, Béatitude et sagesse: Saint Augustin et le problème de la fin de l'homme dans la philosophie ancienne (Paris, 1962). On the state and society the least unsatisfactory accounts are Herbert A. Deane, The Political and Social Ideas of Saint Augustine (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963) and the short treatment by N. H. Baynes, The Political Ideas of St. Augustine's De Civitate Dei (London: G. Bell, 1936).

Many of the most important recent articles on Augustine are to be found in one of the following collections: Augustinus Magister: Communications et actes du Congrès international augustinien (Paris: Études Augustiniennes, 1954); Recherches augustiniennes, Vols. I and II (Paris: Études Augustiniennes, 19581963); Studia Patristica, Vol. VI, edited by F. L. Cross; Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 81 (1962); and in the quarterly journal Revue des études augustiniennes.

The most up-to-date and best-selected bibliography is Bibliographia Augustiniana, appended to C. Andresen, ed., Zum Augustin-Gespräch der Gegenwart (Darmstadt, 1962), which is Vol. V in the series Wege der Forschung. Gilson's book (see above), in which the classified selection of the original is replaced by an alphabetical list in the English translation; B. Altaner, Patrologie, 5th printing (1958); and O. Bardenhewer, Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, Vol. IV (Freiburg, 1924; reprinted 1962), also have good bibliographies. Current literature is surveyed in the bibliographical supplements to Revue des études augustiniennes.

R. A. Markus (1967)


views updated May 17 2018


BORN: 354 CE, Tagaste, Numidia (now Souk-Ahras, Algeria)

DIED: 430, Hippo, Numidia

NATIONALITY: Numidian, Roman

GENRE: Letters, sermons, treatises

On True Religion (390)
On Free Choice (395)
Confessions (401)
The City of God (425)


Augustine was a theologian and bishop of the fourth and fifth centuries who used his intellect and skill with language to strengthen and expand the Christian Church. Born during the decline of the Roman Empire, he provided a bridge between the thought of ancient Greece, interpreted in the light of Judeo-Christian scriptures, and the Middle Ages. His authority as an inspired visionary of the Christian world has remained unparalleled throughout

the history of Christianity. But even if he were not a transitional figure spanning both the ancient and modern worlds, the nature and scope of Augustine's writings would have assured him a prominent place in the history of Western philosophy.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

From Christianity to Manichaeism Augustine (Aurelius Augustinus) was born on November 13, 354 ce, in Tagaste, Numidia (in the modern Souk-Ahras, Algeria). His father, Patrick, a pagan until shortly before his death, was a member of the town council. His mother, Monica, raised a Christian and determined to see her son raised

likewise, ensured that his childhood included what she considered proper religious education. Augustine developed serious doubts concerning Christianity and looked for spiritual fulfillment in philosophy and Manichaeism, a system of belief that claimed the world was created out of a conflict between light and dark substances and that good and evil could be attributed to two separate and distinct deities. Manichaeism strongly appealed to Augustine's intellectual curiosity because it claimed to put everything to the test of reason and because it offered him a deterministic explanation of the existence of evil that left human beings free of personal responsibility.

Although not wealthy, Augustine's parents were intent upon obtaining an excellent education for their son. In the late Roman Empire, education could be an important stepping-stone to high office and great wealth. In 370, after completing his intermediate studies at Madura, about twenty miles from Hippo, Augustine was forced to return to Tagaste while his father attempted to raise money to send him to Carthage for advanced studies. The Confessions (401) provide an intimate picture of the adolescent Augustine during his year at home. With shame he noted that the “bubbling impulses of puberty” had so debased his soul that he “could not see the difference between love's serenity and lust's darkness.” He took a mistress who bore him a son, Adeodatus (the name means “Gift of God”). Spurred on by the pressure of his peers, Augustine descended “deeper into vice to avoid being despised.” So depraved were he and his friends that they stole some pears and threw them to the pigs—the pleasure, Augustine later reflected, “lay in doing what was not allowed,” rather than in eating the pears.

Depression and Return to Christianity After completing his formal education and achieving a fair degree of success as a teacher and scholar, Augustine recorded that he was miserable. He grappled with severe depression, certain that his “hope of discovering the truth,” his life's quest, was futile. Neither Manichaean cosmology nor the wisdom of philosophy had provided the spiritual answers he sought. In desperation, he decided to investigate the religion of his childhood, perhaps under the influence of Ambrose, the eminent bishop of Milan. Listening to his sermons, Augustine learned that scripture could be interpreted allegorically, a crucial insight to a man troubled by the discrepancies he found in Scripture when read literally. Augustine attempted to consult Ambrose privately, only to discover that the busy bishop was not easily accessible. In the end, the answers he craved had to be found on his own.

Retiring to Cassiciacum, an estate outside of Milan, in September of 386, Augustine took up the study of Neoplatonism, a prominent philosophy of his age, and set about investigating the Christian Scriptures. Augustine's reading of the Platonic philosophers, coupled with his increasing exposure to Ambrose's sermons, began to lead him toward a conversion to Christianity. He documented his moment of conversion in Confessions. According to Augustine, he was in a garden engulfed in spiritual turmoil when he heard a voice like that of a child, chanting repeatedly, “Take up and read.” This, Augustine believed, was a divine directive; he opened the Scriptures and read the first thing that he saw: “Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts” (Rom. 13:13-14). Augustine was so overjoyed in this sudden revelation that he went to tell his mother, who had earlier traveled to Milan to be with him. Upon her advice, Augustine sent his mistress away.

To Augustine, the subsequent transformation of his life was nothing short of a miracle. He subsequently gave up teaching and spent the winter with his family in the country. He prepared himself for his new life by coming to terms with his physical passions. He returned to Milan, and on Easter, April 25, 387, he and his son were baptized by Ambrose. In the nearly forty years of priesthood that followed, Augustine worked with unceasing energy and conviction to provide the unity and answers the Church sought.

Works in Literary Context

Trained in rhetoric and armed with an impressive knowledge of scripture and classical philosophy, St. Augustine used his writings to combat those he considered heretical. In fact, his work's wide-ranging influence continues to the present day. As a writer, Augustine was persuasive, and his body of work was prodigious.


Augustine's famous contemporaries include:

Pope Leo I, The Great (380–461): A Roman Catholic pope, Leo I attempted to persuade Attila, King of the Huns, not to sack Rome.

Constantine I (271–337): In addition to establishing Christianity as a major religion in the Roman Empire, Emperor Constantine I also founded the city of Constantinople, a thriving cultural center for the following one thousand years.

Odoacer (435–493): This chieftain and warrior is best known for overthrowing the last emperor of Rome, Romulus Augustus, in 476.

Eusebius (275–339): This bishop is often cited as the “Father of Church History” because he recorded much of the early history of the Christian Church.

Language Skills Scholars view Augustine as one of the most accomplished stylists in Latin literature, emphasizing

his skill in adapting his tone and level of discourse to his subject. H. J. Rose, writing in A Handbook of Latin Literature, deems him “the best stylist of all the Christians” because of his ability “to combine ornateness and simplicity, dignity and a feeling for the colloquial language of the day, to an extent which makes his writings interesting even for the least theologically inclined of moderns and those most out of sympathy with the doctrines which he taught.” Other commentators have praised Augustine's virtuosity in providing access, through language, to the labyrinthine and hidden world of human feelings.

Christianity Triumphant An extraordinarily versatile and original thinker, Augustine did not, as scholars point out, create a system of thought; it is not a unified worldview that Augustine offers, but rather a vision of triumphant Christianity. The starting point of his thought is inner experience, the space in which the mind grasps itself as indubitably real. Augustine identifies doubt as the most significant act of the thinking subject, the mental operation that establishes an individual's existence, since one needs to exist in order to doubt one's own existence. Furthermore, the intellect, by grasping itself, also gains access to the immaterial realm of eternal principles, and, ultimately, to God. However, this encounter with God does not imply complete knowledge of Him. That can be attained only after death, as God remains fundamentally incomprehensible and mysterious to the human intellect.

Creation from Nothing Augustine's Christian philosophy has as one of its cornerstones the tenet that God freely created the world from nothing. Augustine thus opposed the Neoplatonic notion of a world emanating from God through necessity. “Creation from nothing” also necessitates the rejection of the Greek view that the world was formed much like an artist making a finished product from materials at hand. Such a model requires preexisting and independent material for a divine craftsman to work upon. According to Augustine, either such unformed matter must be conceived so abstractly as to be the same as nothing at all, or it is something having form and made by the Creator.

According to the book of Genesis, different forms of things appeared at different times, the successive days of creation. On the other hand, Ecclesiasticus (or Sirach in the Roman Catholic version of the Old Testament) teaches that all things were made together. The appearance of inconsistency vanishes, however, if one says, as Augustine recommends, that all things were created together from nothing but that some were created from nothing in a seminal condition, to be brought to actual formation later.

Understanding of the Soul Augustine's view of the soul is thoroughly Platonic. For him it is a substance distinct from and superior to the body, which is joined to the body by a sort of vital attention. Augustine states that though the soul is something that came to be, it cannot cease to be. To show this, he adapts arguments used in Plato's Phaedo. For example, the soul is what it is because it shares in a principle, life, which does not admit of a contrary. So, being a soul, it cannot die.

A theological problem attends the genesis of the human soul. Does God create each soul individually or did He create all souls together in making Adam's? On the former view, combined with a belief in original sin, God would create something that is evil. On the latter view, Adam would have passed on a human soul to his descendants that was made evil by his sin but was not evil when God created it. Traducianism is the name of the second position, and it was the one to which Augustine was inclined.


Augustine held the view that one's ultimate salvation was predetermined—that, to a certain extent, one's life is already mapped out. Matters of predetermination, free will, and fate have been explored extensively throughout the ages. Certainly there is long tradition in literature and a growing history in film of thinkers struggling to discover whether an individual's future is already laid out or whether one can do something to alter fate.

Minority Report (2002), a film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on a story by Philip K. Dick. In this science fiction film, investigators are able to see crimes before they happen and catch the potential perpetrators just before they perform the crime. When one of the investigators sees that he himself is going to commit a crime, he tries to change his fate.

On the Bondage of the Human Will (1525), a theological treatise by Martin Luther. This work analyzes salvation in terms of Pauline theology and Augustine's writings.

Oedipus Rex (429 BCE), a play by Sophocles. This play tells the story of a king who sends his infant son to his death because of a prediction that he will be slain by his son; however, Oedipus, unaware of his heritage and the prediction, returns to his homeland and unknowingly slays his father.

“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” a sermon by Jonathan Edwards. This 1741 sermon on the topic of God's complete power over human life is a Puritan treatment of the idea of predestination.

Works in Critical Context

Although Augustine's impact on Christianity is undeniable, his work and theories were often met with hostility. In fact, much of Augustine's work can be firmly situated as a response to an existing debate and as the beginning to future debates. Indeed, Augustine's work inspired

pillars of Christianity like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Erasmus. Even though Christian theology has mostly moved beyond the Platonism-influenced beliefs of Augustine, it is difficult to imagine the Christian Church developing the way it has without the profound influence of Augustine.

Predestination During the 420s, another debate connected to the doctrine of free will arose. In “Epistle 194” to Sixtus, a church official in Rome who later became a bishop, Augustine explained his understanding of the doctrine of predestination. The letter became the source of a dispute between monks at a monastery at Hadrumetum in the African province of Byzacena. Several of the monks could not reconcile the seemingly exclusive doctrines of free will and predestination. A deputation was sent to Hippo to hear Augustine's side of the argument firsthand. Augustine wrote On Grace and Free Will to explain his views more thoroughly, but the controversy soon spread to Gaul. Augustine's opponents, prominent ecclesiastics such as John Cassian and Victor of Marseilles, feared that the end product might be spiritual apathy, a pessimistic belief that one would be damned or saved regardless of one's actions.

Augustine replied to the doubters of Gaul with On the Predestination of the Saints and On the Gift of Perseverance, explaining that the two doctrines (free will and predestination) were not mutually exclusive. The controversy, however, was not to be resolved during his lifetime. Prosper of Aquitaine would continue to fight against this “Semi-Pelagianism.”

However, these men were not Pelagians. Their disagreement with Augustine centered on his version of predestination, which they believed was too rigid.

Arguments with Pelagius The better part of the last two decades of Augustine's life was spent confronting the Welsh monk Pelagius (whose real name was Morgan) and his followers. As Christianity became the religion of the empire, conversion became expedient; insincere conversions were frequent. As a reaction to these insincere conversions, Pelagius and his followers taught that people were able to do good merely if they so willed. Virtue was within the grasp of everyone, unaided by grace. Pelagius even used Augustine's On Free Choice (395) to support his position that humans can do good without the grace of God.

Augustine recognized that the teachings of Pelagius endangered the Pauline doctrine of salvation through grace. Salvation is a freely given gift of God, unable to be merited by humans. People can only do good—can only begin to do good—by the grace of God. This argument over the role of grace in salvation and the ability of humans to do good of their own volition surfaced again when Martin Luther and Erasmus went to battle over the same issues. Martin Luther, more or less, sided with Augustine, while Erasmus espoused Pelagius's views.

There has been no definitive resolution to the issue, and the argument continues to rage today.

Responses to Literature

  1. After reading Augustine's work on predestination and salvation, watch at least two films that deal with destiny and fate. (See “Common Human Experience” above.) How do these films approach the questions of free will and predestination? How do these approaches differ from Augustine's in terms of the ability a human has to change his or her future by means of his or her own volition?
  2. Many thinkers have pondered the beginning of the world. Augustine discusses whether or not it is possible to create something out of nothing. In your opinion, what are the implications of believing that the world has been created out of nothing? On the other hand, what are the implications of believing that the world was not created out of nothing? What is your opinion of the controversy?



Battenhouse, R. W. A Companion to the Study of St. Augustine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955.

Bonner, Gerald. St. Augustine of Hippo: Life and Controversies. London: SCM Press, 1963.

Bourke, Vernon J. Joy in Augustine's Ethics. Villanova, Pa.: Villanova University Press, 1979.

Fortin, Ernest. Political Idealism and Christianity in the Thought of St. Augustine. Villanova, Pa.: Villanova University Press, 1972.

Lamirande, Emilien. Church, State and Toleration: An Intriguing Change of Mind in Augustine. Villanova, Pa.: Villanova University Press, 1975.

Zumkeller, Adolar. Augustine's Ideal of the Religious Life. New York: Fordham University Press, 1986.


views updated May 23 2018


Excerpt from the Confessions

Published in Confessions and Enchiridion, 1955

"I was not in love as yet, but I was in love with love; and, from a hidden hunger, I hated myself for not feeling more intensely a sense of hunger. I was looking for something to love, for I was in love with loving."

P erhaps no figure in medieval Christianity was as admired and influential as Augustine (aw-GUS-tin; 354–430). Yet he was a man not only of the Middle Ages, but also of ancient times: he grew up in a world still dominated by the Western Roman Empire, but lived to see the beginning of its end. In this confused, changing environment, Augustine's writings presented an all-embracing view of Christian faith as the one solid rock in a sea of uncertainty.

Augustine grew up in North Africa, which was then part of the Roman Empire, and studied in Carthage. The latter city, located in what is now Tunisia, was a great center of learning—but it was also, as he made clear in his Confessions, a place where a young man could get into a great deal of mischief. While there, Augustine became involved in a number of sexual relationships, one of which resulted in the birth of a son; spent time with a gang of troublemakers called the "wreckers"; and flirted with a faith called Manichaeism (manuh-KEE-izm), which the Church later declared a heresy (HAIR-uh-see), or a belief that goes against established teachings. But it was also in Carthage that Augustine was first set


One of the most significant figures in the early history of the Church, Augustine or Aurelius Augustinus—who became recognized as St. Augustine after his death—helped bridge the period from ancient to medieval times. He grew up in a world heavily influenced by the Roman Empire, but the power of Rome had begun to fade in his time, and Augustine promoted Christian faith as a more stable foundation than any earthly kingdom.

Augustine was born in Tagaste (tuh-GAS-tee) in North Africa, and grew up studying traditional Roman subjects such as rhetoric (RET-ur-ik), or the art of speaking and writing. At home, his parents were divided on the subject of his religion: his father, Patricius, worshiped the old Roman gods, whereas his mother, Monica (later St. Monica) was a devout Christian. As Augustine later recalled in the Confessions, Monica prayed for him often during his wayward youth.

In his teens, he went away to school in Carthage, the greatest center of learning in the area. There he became involved with a woman, and fathered a son out of wedlock. He also flirted with Manichaeism (man-uh-KEE-izm), a religion against which he would argue passionately after he became a Christian. After his schooling in Carthage, Augustine became a teacher in that city and Tagaste, but he was frustrated with discipline problems in the schools, so he decided to move to Rome.

Augustine arrived in Rome in 383, at the age of twenty-nine, and later moved to the north Italian town of Milan (mee-LAHN). There Monica joined him following the death of Patricius, who apparently converted to Christianity on his deathbed. Also in Milan, he came under the influence of Ambrose (St. Ambrose; 339–397), another important figure in the early Church. In July 386, Augustine converted to Christianity, and was baptized the following Easter.

Monica's happiness over her son's conversion was short-lived: as they were preparing to return to Tagaste in 391, she fell ill and died. So Augustine went back alone, to become first a priest and then, in 396, a bishop. In this capacity he acted as spiritual leader over the Christians at Hippo, a city in what is now Algeria, for the rest of his life.

on the path that led to his acceptance of Christianity more than ten years later.

Augustine went on to become one of the greatest defenders of the Christian faith, and after his death he was honored as a saint and early father of the Church. Yet in his Confessions, he laid bare his soul, showing the depths of his inner confusion and the many wrong things he had done in his youth. The book is addressed to God, and is one of the most deeply personal works ever written. In fact, it could be properly called the first real autobiography, or personal history, because it is not nearly as concerned with outside events as it is with the inner life of Augustine himself.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from the Confessions

  • As Augustine notes in the passage that follows, he became "a master in the School of Rhetoric" (RET-uh-rik)—that is, the art of writing and speaking. The first paragraph is among the most widely admired parts of the Confessions, and indeed of medieval literature, displaying as it does a finely tuned sense of balance: not only are his words well chosen, but his placement of them results in a finely crafted piece of literature. His love of rhetoric and learning, in fact, helped put him on the path to God: in the writings of Cicero (106–43 b.c.), a Roman orator or speaker, Augustine first discovered a hunger for higher things. The work to which he refers, the Hortensius, has been lost to history, and in fact most knowledge of it comes from Augustine's writings.
  • Many young people can relate to Augustine's experience of having been "in love with love." In fact, much of what happened to him in Carthage sounds like a tale of troubled youth today: sexual experimentation, unwanted pregnancy, even a brief involvement with a street gang of sorts. The latter were the "wreckers," a group of young student hoodlums, but Augustine never became fully a part of the gang: compared to them, he says, he was "relatively sedate" or calm.
  • The Confessions is addressed to God; hence Augustine's use of the second person (e.g., "you"), though in his case he uses the older thou. The passage is also filled with a clear sense of evil's existence: he refers, for instance, to his "obedience of devils, to whom I made offerings of my wicked deeds"—meaning that by committing sinful acts, he was serving the devil.
  • At the time of the events described in this passage, Augustine was nineteen, and his father had died just two years before. This meant that his family's financial situation was shaky, and therefore he had to study "not to sharpen my tongue," but so that he could get a job. This passage is the only place in the Confessions where he even mentions the death of his father; by contrast, his mother was a major influence on him throughout his life. As Augustine makes clear throughout the book, in place of an earthly father he found God, the heavenly father.

Excerpt from the Confessions

Chapter I

1. I came to Carthage, where a caldron of unholy loves was seething and bubbling all around me. I was not in love as yet, but I was in love with love; and, from a hidden hunger, I hated myself for not feeling more intensely a sense of hunger. I was looking for something to love, for I was in love with loving, and I hated security and a smooth way, free from snares. Within me I had a dearth of that inner food which is thyself, my God—although that dearth caused me no hunger. And I remained without any appetite for incorruptible food —not because I was already filled with it, but because the emptier I became the more I loathed it. Because of this my soul was unhealthy; and, full of sores, it exuded itself forth, itching to be scratched by scraping on the things of the senses. Yet, had these things no soul, they would certainly not inspire our love.

Caldron (usually cauldron)

Caldron (usually cauldron): A large pot.


Dearth: Lack.

Incorruptible food

Incorruptible food: Augustine is referring to spiritual, as opposed to physical, nourishment.


Loathed: Despised.

Exuded itself forth

Exuded itself forth: Spread itself around.

Things of the senses

Things of the senses: Things that provide physical or mental pleasure.

To love and to be loved was sweet to me, and all the more when I gained the enjoyment of the body of the person I loved. Thus I pollutedthe spring of friendship with the filth ofconcupiscence and I dimmed itsluster with the slime of lust. Yet, foul and unclean as I was, I still craved, in excessive vanity, to be thought elegant andurbane. And I did fallprecipitately into the love I was longing for. My God, my mercy, with how much bitterness didst thou, out of thy infinite goodness, flavor that sweetness for me! For I was not only beloved but also I secretly reached the climax of enjoyment; and yetI was joyfully bound with troublesome tics , so that I could bescourged with the burning iron rods of jealousy, suspicion, fear, anger, and strife….

Chapter III

5. And still thy faithful mercy hovered over me from afar. In whatunseemly iniquities did I wear myself out, following asacrilegious curiosity, which, having deserted thee, then began to drag me down into the treacherousabyss, into thebeguiling obedience of devils, to whom I made offerings of my wicked deeds. And still in all this thou didst not fail to scourge me. I dared, even while thy solemnrites were being celebrated inside the walls of thy church, to desire and to plan a project which merited death as its fruit. For this thou didst chastise me withgrievous punishments, but nothing in comparison with my fault, O thou my greatest mercy, my God, my refuge from those terrible dangers in which I wanderedwith stiff neck, receding farther from thee, loving my own ways and not thine—loving avagrant liberty!


Concupiscence: Sexual desire.

Luster (or lustre)

Luster (or lustre): Glow.


Urbane: Sophisticated or worldly.


Precipitately: Steeply.

I was joyfully bound with troublesome tics

I was joyfully bound with troublesome tics: In other words, "I enjoyed causing myself emotional pain."


Scourged: Whipped.


Unseemly: Improper.


Iniquities: Sins.


Sacrilegious: Displaying a strong lack of respect for God.


Abyss: A bottomless pit, like hell.


Beguiling: Misleading.


Rites: Religious ceremonies.


Grievous: Painful.

With stiff neck

With stiff neck: Stubbornly.


Receding: Moving away.

Vagrant (adj.)

Vagrant (adj.): Wandering or wayward.


Rhetoric: The art of writing and speaking.


Sedate: Calm.


Diabolical: Devilish.

6. Those studies I was then pursuing, generally accounted as respectable, were aimed at distinction in the courts of law—to excel in which, the more crafty I was, the more I should be praised. Such is the blindness of men that they even glory in their blindness. And by this time I had become a master in the School ofRhetoric, and I rejoiced proudly in this honor and became inflated with arrogance. Still I was relativelysedate, O Lord, as thou knowest, and had no share in the wreckings of "The Wreckers" (for this stupid anddiabolical name was regarded as the very badge of gallantry) among whom I lived with a sort of ashamed embarrassment that I was not even as they were. But I lived with them, and at times I was delighted with their friendship, even when I abhorred their acts (that is, their "wrecking") in which they insolently attacked the modesty of strangers, tormenting them by uncalled-for jeers, gratifying their mischievous mirth….

Chapter IV

7. Among such as these, in that unstable period of my life, I studied the books ofeloquence, for it was in eloquence that I was eager to beeminent, though from areprehensible andvainglorious motive, and a delight in human vanity. In the ordinary course of study I came upon a certain book of Cicero's, whose language almost all admire, though not his heart. This particular book of his contains anexhortation tophilosophy and was called Hortensius. Now it was this book which quite definitely changed my whole attitude and turned my prayers toward thee, O Lord, and gave me new hope and new desires. Suddenly every vain hope became worthless to me, and with an incredible warmth of heart I yearned for an immortality of wisdom and began now to arise that I might return to thee. It was not to sharpen my tongue further that I made use of that book. I was now nineteen; my father had been dead two years, and my mother was providing the money for my study of rhetoric. What won me in it [the Hortensius] wasnot its style but its substance.

8. Howardent was I then, my God, how ardent to fly from earthly things to thee! Nor did I know how thou wast even then dealing with me. For with thee is wisdom. In Greek the love of wisdom is called "philosophy," and it was with this love that that book inflamed me….


Eloquence: Ability to speak well.


Eminent: Great and honored.


Reprehensible: Not to be admired.


Vainglorious: Proud or haughty.


Exhortation: An appeal, or a call to action.


Philosophy: An area of study concerned with reaching a general understanding of human values and reality.

Not its style but its substance

Not its style but its substance: Not the words or the way they were presented, but their meaning.


Ardent: Eager.

What happened next …

Augustine went on to become perhaps the greatest of the early Church fathers, men who established the foundations of medieval Christianity. During the last thirty-four years of his life, while serving as Bishop of Hippo, Augustine wrote hundreds of works, of which the Confessions and City of God (De civitate) are the most important.

The latter was a response to the sacking, or destruction, of Rome by an invading tribe called the Visigoths in 410. Whereas many Romans claimed that this misfortune had happened because they had rejected their old gods and embraced Christianity, Augustine argued that God was punishing them for exactly the opposite reason: because they had worshiped their idols for so long before embracing the true faith. Augustine died as his own adopted city of Hippo was being attacked by another tribe, the Vandals.

Did you know …

  • The city of Carthage that Augustine knew had been built on the site of another Carthage, destroyed by the Romans in 146 b.c. Founded by Phoenician (foh-NEE-shun) colonists in the 800s b.c., Carthage had been an extremely powerful city-state, and had vied with Rome itself for control of the western Mediterranean. The two cities fought a series of conflicts called the Punic (PYOO-nik) Wars, of which the most notable figure was Hannibal (247–183 b.c.), a general from Carthage who conducted a brilliant military campaign in Italy. When the Romans destroyed Carthage at the end of the Third Punic War, they sowed salt in the ground so that nothing would grow there; but 102 years later, in 44 b.c., Julius Caesar (100–44 b.c.) established the new city of Carthage.
  • The oldest city in North America was named after Augustine: St. Augustine, Florida, founded by a Spanish explorer in 1565. The pronunciation of the names is different, however: Whereas Augustine's name is pronounced "aw-GUS-tin," St. Augustine is pronounced "AW-gus-teen."
  • There is another extremely well known autobiography called the Confessions, this one by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (ZHAHN ZHAHK roo-SOH; 1712–1778). A French philosopher and author who had a tremendous impact on the French Revolution of 1789, Rousseau deliberately chose the title as a reference to Augustine's earlier work. He, too, talked about the reckless misadventures of his youth—but whereas Augustine was sorry for the things he had done, Rousseau seems to have taken pride in his youthful excesses.

For More Information


Augustine. Confessions and Enchiridion. Translated and edited by Albert C. Outler. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955.

De Zeeuw, P. Augustine, the Farmer's Boy of Tagaste. Pella, IA: Inheritance Publications, 1998.

Hansel, Robert R. The Life of Saint Augustine. New York: F. Watts, 1968.

Web Sites

Augustine: Confessions. [Online] Available (last accessed July 28, 2000).

St. Augustine

views updated May 18 2018

St. Augustine

The Christian philosopher and theologian St. Augustine (354-430) is best known for "The Confessions" and "The City of God." After the authors of the New Testament, he has probably been the most influential Christian writer.

The greatest of the Latin Fathers of the Church, Augustine lived during a period in which the Roman Empire was in deep decline and Christianity was taking root as the official religion. It was a time of great political stress and widespread religious anxiety. Augustine's own spiritual struggles reflect the historical transition from a dying pagan antiquity to the Christian Middle Ages. The Confessions reveals much about his formative years, when he strove to overcome his sensual desires, find faith, and understand religious and philosophical doctrines.

Augustine was born at Tagaste (modern Souk-Ahras, Algeria) on Nov. 13, 354. Though his father, Patricius, was to become a Christian only when he was near death, Augustine's mother, Monica, was a devout Christian. She saw to his education in this religion, but in accord with what was then the custom, his baptism into the faith of his mother was deferred. Schooled in Latin grammar and literature at Tagaste and Madaura, Augustine showed promise and was sent to Cartage in 370 to study rhetoric. In Cartage, while successfully pursuing his studies, he abandoned the Christian moral teachings of his early years. He took a mistress, with whom he was to live for 10 years, and fathered a son, Adeodatus (The God-given).

Influence of Manichaeism

At the age of 19 Augustine read Cicero's dialogue Hortensius, a work that was an exhortation to philosophy. According to Augustine, "Suddenly all the vanity that I had hoped in I saw as worthless, and with an incredible intensity of desire I longed after immortal wisdom" (Confessions, III, 4). To this end, Augustine embraced the Persian religion of Manichaeism. The Manichaeans held that in the world there were opposing forces of good and evil, called Ormuzd and Ahriman, respectively. Their struggle with one another was represented in man by the conflict between the soul, the good element, and the body, the evil one. Manichaeism made a very strong appeal to Augustine because of its materialistic outlook and account of evil.

After having taught Latin grammar and literature at Tagaste, Augustine opened a school of rhetoric in Carthage in 373. During this time his confidence in Manichaeism was eroded. In particular, he found in its doctrines neither a satisfactory reason for the conflict of the forces of good and evil nor an account of the nature of human certitude.

In 383 Augustine went to Rome to teach rhetoric. But his students had the unpleasant habit of leaving their instructors just before the payment of fees was due. So the following year he took a civic post in Milan as professor of rhetoric. In Rome, Augustine had become sympathetic to the academic skepticism of Carneades and Cicero. The skeptics thought that certitude about any topic was not attainable and that therefore all of man's beliefs should be regarded as dubious.

Influence of Platonism

In Milan, Augustine was deeply impressed by the sermons of the bishop Ambrose. Around Ambrose there was a community whose members were as much Platonists as Christians. They regarded Platonism as compatible with, and an anticipation of, Christianity. Through reading certain Platonic writings, probably those of Plotinus and Porphyry, and meetings with Christian Platonists, Augustine was brought to accept such a viewpoint. The platonists' spiritualistic metaphysics and their idea that evil was only a privation of good replaced in Augustine's mind his earlier Manichaean materialism.

Augustine's skepticism began to dissolve in the face of his newly acquired convictions. Still, this extraordinary transformation was to him only an intellectual one. What was lacking, and what he now longed for in a state of torment, was the conversion of his will to Christianity and the acceptance of Christ.

Conversion to Christianity

This event is described in the famous "garden scene" in Augustine's Confessions (VII, 12). Upon hearing a child's voice repeating the words "Take and read," Augustine opened his Scriptures at random and saw this passage in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (13:13): "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy, but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences." Augustine then notes, "I had no wish to read further and no need. For in that instant, with the very ending of the sentence, it was as though a light of utter confidence shone in all my heart."

From then on Augustine was a confirmed Christian, and he was baptized by Ambrose on Easter 387. In 388 Augustine returned to Tagaste and established a religious community. Ordained a priest in 391, he founded a similar community in Hippo (modern Bone, Algeria), becoming bishop there in 396. Until 430 Augustine busied himself with pastoral labors and wrote theological and philosophical works. On Aug. 28, 430, Augustine died, while Hippo was under siege by the Vandals.

Augustine's works are far too extensive to list even by title. There are commentaries on parts of the Bible and many disputatious tracts against the Manichaeans, the Donatists, and the Pelagians. His main works are Contra academicos, De beata vita, De ordine, De immortalitate animae, Soliloquia, De libero arbitrio, De quantitate animae (all completed between 386 and 388), De musica (begun between 386 and 388 and finished between 388 and 391), De magistro (composed between 388 and 391), De doctrina Christiana (composed in 396 with a fourth book added in 426), Confessions (400), De Trinitate (begun in 400 and finished in 417), De genesi ad litteram (begun in 401 and completed in 415), The City of God (begun in 413 and finished about 420), and Retractions (composed in 426-427).

Theory of Knowledge

One of Augustine's earliest works is Contra academicos, in which he attacks skepticism and lays the groundwork for the possibility of knowledge. He does so by calling attention to propositions that even the skeptic cannot doubt. First, one can be certain of exclusive disjunctive propositions. For example, it is certain that there is one world or more than one. It is also indisputable that, with respect to the world's having a beginning and an end, both are the case, or one and not the other, or neither. Second, though the senses are sometimes deceptive concerning the facts in a situation, one is certain of what appears to be the case. Error arises in man's judgments only when appearance is taken as reality. For example, one is not deceived in judging that a stick looks bent in water; error arises, however, when one states that the stick is actually bent. Third, the truth of mathematical judgments like two and two make four is immune from doubt. Lastly, in anticipation of René Descartes, Augustine points out that the experience of doubt and error presuppose the existence of oneself. A person cannot be in doubt or error unless he exists. In order to exist one has to be alive. Since both are known to be the case, one also realizes that he understands. Thus existence, life, and understanding are indubitable even to the skeptic.

Propositions of mathematics and logic have the special features of being eternally and necessarily true. Knowledge of these tends to be grouped by Augustine with the knowledge of standards that he thinks implied in comparative judgments about sensible things (for example, a standard of perfect beauty is implied in the statement, "This is more beautiful than that"). But cognitions of eternal truths and standards are acts beyond the natural capacity of man's intellect, since this faculty is mutable and temporal. Required then, says Augustine, is an illumination from a source that is itself eternal, necessary, and unchanging— namely, God.

Augustine shares the view of many Greek philosophers that the end of man is happiness or beatitude and that such a condition is a consequence of the possession of wisdom. But, by contrast, wisdom for Augustine is Christian wisdom. Philosophical conceptions are useful to faith only as preparatory and explanatory devices.

Creation from Nothing

Augustine's Christian philosophy has as one of its cornerstones the thesis that God freely created the world from nothing. Augustine thus opposed the Neoplatonic notion of a world emanating from God through necessity. "Creation from nothing" also involves the rejection of the Greek view of world formation, which is based upon the model of an artist making a finished product from materials at hand. Such a model requires preexisting and independent material for a divine craftsman to work upon. According to Augustine, either such unformed matter must be conceived so abstractly as to be the same as nothing at all, or it is something having form and made by the Creator.

At first sight, Augustine would seem to have mitigated his uncompromising position on creation by his further theory of seminal reasons (De genesi ad litteram, VI, 6, 12). This theory, found also in Plotinus and the Stoics, claims that things may exist in a seminal or germlike condition, having a potentiality for form that is actualized only over a period of time and if circumstance permits. Augustine's acceptance of this theory was dictated largely by considerations of scriptural interpretation. It is, however, consistent with his view of creation from nothing and affords an illustration of his use of a philosophical idea to clarify a theological issue.

According to Genesis, different forms of things appeared at different times, the successive days of creation. On the other hand, Ecclesiasticus teaches that all things were made together. The appearance of inconsistency vanishes, however, if one says, as Augustine recommends, that all things were created together from nothing but that some were created from nothing in a seminal condition, to be brought to actual formation later.

Time as Extension

The dependence of creation upon God is also stressed in Augustine's treatment of time. (His most sustained and interesting treatment is in Book XI of The Confessions. ) The Manichaeans claimed that the doctrine of creation from nothing contains no sufficient explanation of why God should create at any given moment rather than any other and that it further poses the unanswerable question of what God was doing before he created the world. Augustine rebuts such objections by insisting that they rest upon a mistaken assimilation of time to an event in time. Creation from nothing entails that time too is a creature, which came into being with other things created. Thus the notion of events before the beginning of time becomes meaningless.

Augustine became genuinely perplexed about the existence of the past and the future. He saw that man's temporal notions require time to be measurable and that measurability requires time to have magnitude. Yet, the past is what was and is not, the future is what will be and is not, and the present is indivisible and extensionless. How then does time exist as a magnitude? His tentative answer is: "The present of things past is memory, the present of things present is sight and the present of things future is expectation. … It seems to me that time is nothing else than extension; but extension of what I am not sure—perhaps of the mind itself" (Confessions, XI, 20, 26).

Eternal Soul

Among the things that come to be in time is the soul of man. Augustine's view of the soul is thoroughly Platonic. For him it is a substance distinct from and superior to the body, which is joined to the body by a sort of vital attention. (In sensory experience the soul uses the body as an instrument, increasing its vital attention in one organ.) Augustine states that, though the soul is something that came to be, it cannot cease to be. To show this, he adapts arguments used in Plato's Phaedo. For example, the soul is what it is because it shares in a principle, life, which does not admit of a contrary. So, being a soul, it cannot die.

A theological problem attends the genesis of the human soul. Does God create each soul individually or did He create all souls together in making Adam's? On the former view, combined with a belief in original sin, God would create something that is evil. On the latter view, Adam would have passed on a human soul to his descendants that was made evil by his sin but was not evil when God created it. Traducianism is the name of the second position, and it was the one to which Augustine was inclined.

Philosophy of History

Augustine's interest in time also includes a view of historical time. In The City of God he makes a striking departure from Christian thinking about the historical significance of the Roman Empire. Before the 4th century Christians had naturally tended to look upon Rome as a satanic oppressor. When Christianity was officially recognized in 312, the empire seemed to may to have become the instrument for the fulfillment of the Gospels. Such people were stunned by the Ostrogoths' sacking of Rome in 410.

Three years later Augustine began The City of God. In it, Rome differs from the Church both as a reality and as an ideal. As a reality, Rome is one empire among others that have come and gone, and the fate of the Church need not be bound up with it. As an ideal, Rome is the earthly city opposed to the ideal of the heavenly city. According to Augustine, a people is a "multitude of reasonable beings united by their agreement in the things that they respect" (City of God, XIX, 24). The character of a society then is determined by the choices of the individuals who make it up. If the choice is of self-love rather than love of God, then one has the earthly city; if of God rather than self, then one has the heavenly city.

In contrast to Greek thinkers like Hesiod and Plato, Augustine does not talk about ideals as having existed in a remote past. Rather, he claims that the two ideals will only become historical realities at the end of time. Then the two cities will exist actually and separately. Members of the heavenly city will be with God, but members of the earthly city will suffer eternal punishment. Meanwhile, in the present, the two ideals are commingled in one historical reality. However qualified by Augustine, the implication is that Church and state can have at best an uneasy unity and that the true Christian will look elsewhere than to Rome, or any other state, for the fulfillment of his hopes.

Further Reading

One of the most commonly used translations of Augustine's works is Basic Writings of Saint Augustine, edited by Whitney J. Oates (2 vols., 1948). Henri I. Marrou, Saint Augustine and His Influence through the Ages (trans. 1957), is a fine introduction, which includes an account of Augustine's life and thought along with brief translations from his writings. Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (1967), is an outstanding biography covering both the theological and practical aspects of Augustine's career. Other works on Augustine's career and writings include Vernon J. Bourke, Augustine's Quest for Wisdom: Life and Philosophy of the Bishop of Hippo (1945); Jacques Chabannes, St. Augustine (trans. 1962); and Gerald Boner, St. Augustine of Hippo: Life and Controversies (1963).

Written from a Thomistic perspective, but still the most thoughtful account of Augustine's philosophy, is étienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine (trans. 1960). See also Herbert A. Deane, The Political and Social Ideas of St. Augustine (1963). For the thought of the period consult the monumental survey, A. H. Armstrong, ed., The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy (1967). □


views updated Jun 27 2018


Born 354

Died 430

North African church leader and philosopher

A side from Jesus Christ and others from the New Testament, no one had as great an influence on the shaping of the Christian faith as Saint Augustine, who helped bridge the period between ancient and medieval times. He grew up in a world heavily influenced by the Roman Empire, but during his life the power of Rome became increasingly shaky, and he promoted Christian faith as a more stable foundation than any earthly kingdom.

Augustine served as bishop or church leader over the North African city of Hippo, and he wrote literally hundreds of books discussing specific aspects of Christianity. Many of the questions addressed by Augustine have long since been decided, but two of his works, Confessions and the City of God, remain classics with an eternal appeal.

Christians and pagans

He was born Aurelius Augustinus (aw-gu-STY-nus) on November 13, 354, but it was by the name Augustine (aw-GUS-tin) that he would become famous. His hometown was Tagaste (tuh-GAS-tee), a city in what is now Algeria, which at that time was part of the Western Roman Empire.

Like many Romans, Augustine's father Patricius believed in the old Roman religion, which was pagan, meaning that its followers worshiped a variety of gods. Many other Romans, including Augustine's mother Monica, had accepted Christianity. The latter religion had developed in the three centuries following the deaths of Jesus and his followers, and had gained wide acceptance among the emperors of Rome.

As for young Augustine, he did not believe in the pagan gods, but he refused to accept Christianity either. He later recalled in the Confessions, a book detailing his experiences as a youth and his eventual acceptance of the Christian faith, that Monica prayed for him often during his wayward youth.

A reckless young man

Because Augustine's parents wanted their son to get ahead in life, they enrolled him at one of the best Roman schools, in the city of Madura. In 370, when he was sixteen years old, he completed his studies there, and hoped to go on to the equivalent of college. However, his father had to raise the money for his studies, so in the meantime, Augustine returned home. He spent a year in Tagaste, during which time he associated with other young men who encouraged him to engage in reckless living, including sexual activity, theft, and acts of destructiveness.

In 371, Augustine went away to Carthage to continue his studies. Located in what is now Tunisia, Carthage was the greatest city of Roman Africa—but it was also a place where a young person could get into a great deal of trouble. While there, Augustine became involved in a number of sexual relationships, one of which resulted in the birth of a son, Adeodatus (ay-dee-AHD-uh-tus). He also spent time with a gang of troublemakers called the "wreckers," and flirted with a faith called Manichaeism (man-uh-KEE-izm).

A religion which had originated in Persia or Iran, Manichaeism had many Christian elements. Yet it differed

sharply from Christianity in a number of other ways, most notably in Manichaeans' claim that they alone had special knowledge concerning the true nature of good and evil. Augustine would remain associated with the Manichaeans for nine years, and encouraged many of his friends to accept that faith. Despite his later rejection of Manichaeism, Augustine recognized that his interest in the religion was an early step in the quest for understanding that would lead him to Christianity.

On to Rome

Patricius, who became a Christian on his deathbed, died in 372; however, a wealthy man named Romanianus agreed to support Augustine in the completion of his education. When he finished his schooling in 374, at age twenty, Augustine returned to Tagaste, where he planned to teach. However, when Monica learned that her son was a Manichee, she refused to allow him into her home, so he returned to Carthage.

Augustine remained in Carthage for a few years, but he knew that if he really wanted to make a good career for himself, he would have to get closer to Rome itself. Therefore in the fall of 383, he moved to the northern Italian city of Milan (mi-LAHN), where he got an important job as a teacher of rhetoric, the art of speaking and writing. Though he was well on his way to great success, he found that something was lacking in his life, and he became deeply depressed. In the midst of his unhappiness, he reached out for the faith of his mother: Christianity.

From convert to bishop

In fact Monica herself had by then come to Italy, and she was a great influence on Augustine during this time of searching. So was Ambrose (339–397), the bishop of Milan, another key figure in the establishment of medieval Christianity. But perhaps the greatest influence on Augustine's conversion was his direct reading of the Bible itself, which he undertook after hearing a child at play chanting "Pick up and read, pick up and read." In July 386, Augustine converted to Christianity, and on Easter Sunday 387 was baptized, or lowered into water as a symbol of death and rebirth in Christ.

Soon after his conversion, Augustine planned to go back to Africa, but he had to go alone: just before the time they were supposed to leave, Monica became sick and died— but she died happy, knowing that her son had become a Christian. In 388, he established a monastery, a place for men who wanted to escape the outside world and spend a quiet life searching for spiritual understanding, in Tagaste. Augustine, however, was not destined to have a quiet life. In 391, while visiting the nearby town of Hippo, he became a priest, and five years later became the bishop of Hippo.

Addressing religious disputes

During the years that followed, Augustine would face a number of disputes between mainstream Christianity

Simeon Stylites the Elder

Like Augustine, Simeon Stylites the Elder (SIM-ee-un stuh-LIT-eez; c. 388–459) was later named a saint—that is, someone officially recognized by the church for their holiness. Yet whereas Augustine lived a life closely tied to the central events of his time, Simeon was an offbeat figure at the fringes of society. The name Stylites is a variation on a Greek word meaning "pillar-hermit," and in fact Simeon was the most famous of these men, who went out into the desert and lived atop tall pillars or columns.

Simeon was born in northern Syria in about 388, and he spent his childhood and teen years working as a shepherd boy. At age sixteen, he decided to become a monk—someone who leaves the outside world to search for spiritual understanding in a center called a monastery. Many monks engage in self-denial, for instance by going without food for long periods of time, but Simeon took things much further. He wrapped a rope tightly around his body and lived that way for more than a year, until his flesh rotted and no one could stand to be near him because of the smell. When the abbot, leader of the monastery, inspected Simeon's bed and found it covered with maggots, he ordered him to leave the monastery.

Simeon spent three years living in a hut, where he pushed himself to ever more difficult feats, for instance by standing for long periods. When this proved too easy, he forced himself to live atop a cliff in the desert. By then, however, word of Simeon's impressive self-denial—which many interpreted as a sign of great devotion to God—had spread throughout the area, and followers came seeking spiritual wisdom. Determined to remove himself from the world, Simeon arranged for the erection of a pillar with a small platform on top. It was there he would live for the remainder of his life.

Initially, Simeon's pillar was about nine feet high, but over time it was replaced by increasingly taller ones; by the time of his death he was living on a column fifty or sixty feet high. Followers still came to him, climbing a ladder along the side, and his many admirers included Roman emperors and bishops. After thirty years atop the pillar, Simeon died on September 2, 459.

and other versions of the faith. Among his first opponents were the Manichaeans, and in this conflict Augustine found himself pitted against old friends. Some, such as Honoratus (for whom he wrote a book called On the Virtue of Believing in order to explain Christian faith), converted to Christianity; others, including Fortunatus—subject of a book by Augustine called Against Fortunatus the Manichee—did not. After Augustine won a public debate with the Manichaean leader Felix in 404, Manichaeism ceased to be a significant force in Hippo.

Another threat came from the Donatists (DOH-nuhtistz), a North African splinter group who rejected the mainstream church leadership—that is, the bishop of Rome, who became known as the pope. Beginning in 410, Augustine also squared off with the Pelagians (puh-LAY-jee-unz). Their leader, Pelagius (c. 354–c. 418), taught that humanity was born without sin, and did not need the help of God to achieve goodness. This directly contradicted mainstream Christianity, which held that all humans were sinful in the absence of God. Augustine led the fight against Pelagianism with works such as On the Merits of Sinners and Forgiveness (411).

In his latter days, Augustine found himself in conflict not only with the Pelagians, but with groups around the Christian world who embraced the idea of predestination (pree-des-ti-NAY-shun). Predestination is the belief that a person's ultimate fate—that is, whether they will go to Heaven or Hell—is already decided before their birth. It has some basis in the Bible, but so too does the idea of free will, or the belief that humans have complete freedom to choose whether or not they will follow God. Augustine set out to demonstrate that free will and predestination were both true, and furthermore that predestination did not give people a license to sin.

City of God

In his early years as the bishop of Hippo, Augustine had written the Confessions. This work could properly be called the first real autobiography, or personal history, because it is not nearly as concerned with outside events as it is with the inner life of Augustine himself. It is one of Augustine's two greatest contributions to literature, the second being City of God, which he wrote between 413 and 425.

The event that inspired the writing of the latter book was the sacking, or destruction, of Rome by an invading tribe called the Visigoths in 410. In hindsight, historians recognize the sacking of Rome as the beginning of the end of the Western Roman Empire, which ceased to exist in 476; at the time, people viewed it as the worst disaster in the history of the world. Believers in Rome's pagan religion blamed Christians, saying that the destruction of the city was a punishment from the gods.

Augustine took exactly the opposite position: the destruction of Rome, he said, was God's punishment for the Romans' persisting belief in their old pagan religion. In City of God, he pointed out many examples in Roman history when the people had called on the gods' help, but to no avail. Perhaps drawing on his past belief in Manichaeism, which viewed the world as an eternal struggle between good and evil, Augustine now explained all of existence as a conflict between the "City of God," or the church, and the "City of Man"—that is, the belief systems that opposed Christianity.

Facing the end of the ancient world

As Augustine was writing On the Predestination of the Saints in 429, shadows were gathering over the world he knew. A tribe called the Vandals, who like the Visigoths were barbarians or uncivilized people, had conquered Spain, and in the spring of 429 the Vandals launched an attack on Africa. By the wintertime, they had begun a siege, or sustained military attack, against Hippo. On August 28, 430, while the Vandals were besieging the city, Augustine died.

The Vandals would later launch such a vicious attack on Rome itself that their name became a synonym for reckless destructiveness. Yet even they respected the name of Augustine: when they captured and destroyed the city in 431, they allowed a library containing his books to remain standing.

The fact that Christian beliefs are so clearly established today is a tribute to the work of Augustine and others who lived in a time when basic issues had not yet been decided. In his own life, he saw the rapid decline of Roman civilization and the beginnings of the barbarian triumph that would plunge Western Europe into centuries of confusion. His work helped Christians weather this painful transition.

For More Information


De Zeeuw, P. Augustine, the Farmer's Boy of Tagaste. Pella, IA: Inheritance Publications, 1998.

Farjeon, Eleanor. Ten Saints. Illustrations by Helen Sewell. New York: H. Z. Walck, 1958.

Hansel, Robert R. The Life of Saint Augustine. New York: F. Watts, 1968.

Web Sites

"St. Augustine." Island of Freedom. [Online] Available (last accessed July 26, 2000).

"St. Augustine of Hippo." [Online] Available (last accessed July 26, 2000).


views updated May 29 2018




Aurelius Augustine (354–430), bishop of Hippo Regius (now Bona) in Africa, is by common consent the greatest name in political philosophy between Cicero and Thomas Aquinas. He was the first thinker to attempt the elaboration of a systematic Christian philosophy of society; he set the stage for the great controversy over the relation between church and state that was to be the central preoccupation of political philosophers throughout the ensuing centuries; and it has been claimed for him, variously, that he is the keystone of a supposed “bridge” that leads from classical political philosophy (much of which he certainly knew at first hand) to modern political philosophy, that he is the founder of the philosophy of history, and that he is one of the remote sources of that emphasis upon “the individual” and “individuality” that some authorities deem to be characteristic of the intellectual tradition of the West. His thought is known to us primarily through two books, The Confessions, written in the years 397–401, and The City of God, which he began in the year 413 and completed in 425. Augustine was, inter alia, a teacher of rhetoric, an ecclesiastical administrator who greatly influenced the history of the Roman Catholic church in Africa, a theologian, and the founder of the “rule” observed even today by many Catholic religious orders.

There are several major doctrines commonly associated with Augustine’s name. (1) Man, in his quest for knowledge of the highest good (which he is duty-bound to achieve) and of the greatest evil (which he is duty-bound to shun), can find infallible guidance only in sacred Scriptures. (2) Man must, therefore, cultivate the “sacred science,” which bases itself upon principles revealed to man by God and treats the subject matters of the several philosophical sciences (such as ethics, politics, and history) with an eye to those principles. (3) While the ancient philosophers rightly held that the life of politics is not the best life (Plato) and that man must pursue a way of life more divine than human (Aristotle), they could not, in the absence of sacred science, define the goal of the best life or discover the path that leads to it; concretely, the higher truth toward which they were groping is the truth that man owes absolute allegiance to no earthly society. (4) Man’s proper goal and the path he must follow are laid down by the holy laws that God gave to the people of Israel, by the Old Testament prophets, and in accordance with the latter’s prophecies, by Jesus Christ and the church Jesus founded; the man who follows that path follows God. (5) Both history and politics achieve a higher unity and acquire new and valid meaning when considered in the context of the principles of sacred science.

The Confessions, an autobiography, is superficially an account of Augustine’s conversion to Christianity and of his subsequent spiritual struggles and ordeals. Many critics, indeed, have read it as merely the record of a single individual’s progress from bad to good and from unbelief to belief. More penetrating critics have seen in it a history, epic in conception and execution, of a representative man’s struggle to find a foothold that will enable him to contemplate reality from the point of view of the Divine. Confession, Augustine argued in Book x, i-iv, is less a profession of faith than a mode of discovery; and in Book x, v ff., he contended that the individual can, through the faculty of memory, become conscious of his own existence in history and thus of himself as the subject of history. Some scholars hold that Augustine’s act of self-awareness constitutes a major turning point in the intellectual and spiritual history of Western man.

Augustine’s contributions to political philosophy may be considered under two categories: “the two visible societies” and “the two invisible cities.”

The two visible societies. Although previous political philosophers had taught that the problems of politics necessarily transcend political philosophy and must be dealt with on the metaphysical or even the religious level and that political authority must therefore be confined within certain bounds, Augustine was the first political philosopher to pose the problem of the limits of political philosophy in the now familiar terms of two “spheres”: the secular, that is, the state, and the religious, or the church, each a distinct “society” and each beneficent. Augustine, echoing Aristotle, defined the state as the rule of free men over free men; it is rendered necessary by the “order of nature” and properly concerns itself with “just dealing” and “good manners.” He did not, as some interpreters suggest, attribute the existence of the state as such to “sin” and “guilt”; rather, sin and guilt, which take the form of “ambition” and “proud sovereignty,” explain only one kind of state, namely, the state whose characteristic is not rule of free men by free men through deliberation (which is the rule prescribed both by nature and by God) but rule by masters through coercive authority. Augustine thus enunciated ideas that are genuine landmarks in the development of antiauthoritarian political philosophy in the West.

The two invisible cities. History, for Augustine, is the unfolding relation between the “earthly city,” the abode of all men dominated by self-love, and the “heavenly city,” made up of men dominated by the love of God. The history of the former is “profane history,” an account of man’s actual political life; the history of the latter is “salvation history,” that is, an account of man’s relatedness to God. Armed with these two concepts—which must not be confused with those of church and state— Augustine attempted (a) a total critique of pagan political order, especially the Roman Empire, which he deemed bad in principle because wrongly related to God and divine law, and (b) the outlines of a Christian philosophy of right order and of the conditions under which man’s history becomes meaningful.

To do justice to Augustine’s theory of the state and to his indictment of the pagan empire one must understand the visible societies against the background of the invisible cities. Despite what some commentators have said, Augustine was not a detractor of the state but taught rather that the citizens of the heavenly city have a duty to work within the state on behalf of the rule of free men and so against the ambition and pride that are its typical vices; only the “blessed” can move the state toward its proper end, which is the temporal common good; any attempt, like that of the empire, to develop within the state the virtues necessary to that end without reference to God and divine law, is foredoomed to failure; the virtues it develops, because pursued not for God’s sake, but their own, are in fact vices. The state, then, far from being simply evil, is more or less good to the extent that it is penetrated—through the ministrations of the second visible society, the church—by the heavenly city. The critical problem for political philosophy thus became with Augustine (and continued to be through many centuries) that of the relation between church and state.

The meaning of history, Augustine argued, is not to be found within history itself, since historical events are, as such, empty of inner significance; it is to be found rather in the eruption into history of transhistorical purpose. The history of the earthly city is a history of sin, death, and human failure; that of the heavenly city, beginning with Adam, is a record of meaningful growth and development down through the centuries to the time of Christ, whose redemptive ministry initiates a final, nondevelopmental historical epoch, to end with the Second Coming of Christ. Augustine repudiated the hitherto regnant notions of historical inevitability and of historical development as “cyclical” and taught that while God “foreknows” some events and while there is a Divine Providence at work in history, historical events are nevertheless caused by free decisions made by man in the context of Divine Governance. If Western man typically thinks of himself as living in a historical present, between a past made by the free decisions of his forbears and a future for whose shape he and other men are responsible—that is, in historical time—Augustine has certainly been one of his great teachers.

Willmoore Kendall

[Related to Augustine’s work arePolitical theory; State; and the biographies ofAquinas; Aristotle; Plato.]


Basic Writings of Saint Augustine. 2 vols., edited with an introduction and notes by Whitney J. Oates. New York: Random House, 1948. → Volume 1: The Confessions; Twelve Treaties. Volume 2: The City of God; On the Trinity.

Introduction to St. Augustine: The City of God, Being Selections From the De civitate Dei, Including Most of the XIXth Book, With Text. Translated and with a running commentary by A. H. Barrow. London: Faber, 1950.

The Works of Aurelius Augustine. 15 vols., edited by Marcus Dods. Edinburgh: Clark, 1872–1934.


Andresen, Carl (editor) 1962 Zum Augustin-Gespräch der Gegenwart. Darmstadt (Germany): Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft. → See especially the bibliography on pages 459–583.

Burleigh, John H. S. 1949 The City of God: A Study of St. Augustine’s Philosophy. London: Nisbet.

Callahan, John F. 1948 Four Views of Time in Ancient Philosophy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Chroust, Anton-hermann 1950 St. Augustine’s Philosophical Theory of Law. Notre Dame Lawyer 25:285–315.

Deane, Herbert A. 1963 The Political and Social Ideas of St. Augustine. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Figgis, John N. 1921 The Political Aspects of St. Augustine’s City of God. London: Longmans.

Friberg, Hans D. 1944 Love and Justice in Political Theory: A Study of Augustine’s Definition of the Commonwealth. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Garrett, Thomas M. 1956 St. Augustine and the Nature of Society. New Scholasticism 30:16–36.

Gilson, ÉTienne H. (1931) 1960 The Christian Philosophy of St. Augustine. Translated by L. E. M. Lynch. New York: Random House. → First published as Introduction à l’étude de Saint Augustin.

Guardini, Romano (1935) 1960 The Conversion of Augustine. Westminster, Md.: Newman. → First published as Die Bekehrung des heiligen Aurelius Augustinus.

Hearnshaw, Fossey J. C.; and Carlyle, A. J. (1923) 1950 St. Augustine and The City of God. Pages 34–52 in Fossey J. C. Hearnshaw (editor), The Social and Political Ideas of Some Great Mediaeval Thinkers. New York: Barnes & Noble.

Ladner, Gerhart B. 1953 The History of Ideas in the Christian Middle Ages From the Fathers to Dante in American and Canadian Publications of the Years 1940–1952. Traditio 9:439–514.

Ladner, Gerhart B. 1959 The Idea of Reform: Its Impact on Christian Thought and Action in the Age of the Fathers. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. → See especially pages 153–283 on “St. Augustine and the Difference Between the Reform Ideas of the Christian East and West.”

McCoy, Charles N. R. 1963 The Structure of Political Thought: A Study in the History of Political Ideas. New York: McGraw-Hill. → See especially pages 99–131 on “Christianity and Political Philosophy: The Relation of Church and State.”

Marshall, Robert T. 1952 Studies in the Political and Socio-religious Terminology of the De civitate Dei. Washington: Catholic Univ. of America Press.

Millar, Moorhouse F. X. 1930 The Significance of St. Augustine’s Criticism of Cicero’s Definition of the State. Volume 1, pages 99–109 in Philosophia perennis: Abhandlungen zu ihrer Vergangheit und Gegenwart. Edited by Fritz-Joachim von Rintelen. Regensburg (Germany): Habbel.


views updated May 23 2018


Augustine (354430 c.e.) was born on November 13 in Thagaste in present-day Algeria. His father Patricius, a town councilor with a modest income, was a pagan who was only baptized on his deathbed. Patricius was married to a Christian woman named Monnica, with whom he had three children.

As a young man, Augustine studied grammar and rhetoric in Madaura. Owing to the limited financial means of his family, he was obliged to return home when he was sixteen. Thanks to help from friends, however, he was able to travel to Carthage, where he completed his studies. At the age of eighteen he read Cicero's Hortensius, which impressed him and awakened in him a desire for wisdom. He was disappointed with his first reading of the Scriptures, however, largely because of what he deemed to be their inferior literary quality. He turned to the Manichaeans for the next nine or ten years, attracted by their promise of knowledge without faith. Around 372 he met a woman, with whom he would live for thirteen years and with whom he would have a son, Adeodatus. To earn a living, he taught rhetoric in Carthage, but he was disappointed in his students, who apparently were far from attentive and did everything to disrupt the classes. In 383, he left Carthage and traveled to Rome but was similarly dismayed when his students there failed to pay for their lessons. He then traveled to Milan, at that time the capital of the Roman Empire in the West, where his Manichaean friends and the prefect of Milan, Symmachus, secured for him a post as a teacher of rhetoric.

While in Milan, Augustine heard sermons by Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, whose stylish appearance and impressive performance profoundly impressed Augustine. Disappointed by the Manichaeans' failure to deliver the promised insight, Augustine decided to leave the movement, and for a short time he leaned toward skepticism because he thought he would never gain the truth he desired.

In Milan he was joined by his mother, who sent away Augustine's mistress and sought a fitting wife for him. Adeodatus remained with his father. The matchmaking efforts failed, however, when Augustine came under the influence of Platonism, in part due to the strong Platonic bias of Ambrose's sermons. In Platonic thought, Augustine found an answer to the then existential question: unde malum (Where does evil come from?). His inability to renounce physical desire delayed his conversion until the autumn of 386. But after reading Romans 13:1314 he became convinced of the need to renounce "worldly depravity," and on Easter night 387 he received baptism. He thereafter decided to return to Africa but was forced to wait until 388 because of the political turmoil. A revolt of the Roman troops in Africa postponed his return.

Augustine founded a religious community in Thagaste, where he spent his time in study and writing, and soon became a respected scholar. He traveled to nearby Hippo in 391, where he was persuaded to become a priest and to assist Valerius, the bishop of Hippo. Augustine succeeded Valerius as bishop in 395 or 396, a role he fulfilled with great dedication for the rest of his life. He also served as pastor in the liturgy and as a judge, and he took great care in attending to people's material needs. Letters discovered in 1975 (first critical edition: 1981) reveal his profound concern for the condition and well-being of the poor and the slaves. Augustine also worked to refute the Manichaeans, and he was involved in discussions with the Donatists, a local Christian movement, which actively opposed Roman oppression.

Around 411, Augustine decided to address Pelagianism, a strong ascetically oriented movement, which Augustine felt put too little emphasis on God's saving grace in Jesus Christ and depended too heavily on the moral potential of human beings themselves. Augustine's dispute with the Pelagians lasted until the end of his life. Especially in his last works, which were destined to be read by monks in Hadrumetum and Marseille, Augustine emphasized predestination, creating the impression that he had given up on the capacity of the human will. Because of this, and also because of his negative opinion of concupiscentia carnis (sinful desire, mainly in its sexual manifestation), scholars assess this period of his life to have been pessimistic.


Augustine was the most productive author in Latin antiquity. His autobiographical Confessions describes his life up to his conversion. This work and Augustine's De civitate Dei (City of God ), written after the fall of Rome in 410, have become classics of world literature. Because of his intellectual prestige, he was asked to offer his views on a wide range of matters. In addition to Confessions and De civitate Dei, his most important works are Enarrationes in Psalmos (Explanations of the Psalms c. 418), De Trinitate (The Trinity c. 420), and Enchiridion (A Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love 422). His late works form part of the basis for the theological developments of the Reformation and the Jansenism movement during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Views on science and religion

The correlation between faith and reason arose during Augustine's time, and his thinking was influenced by such trends as Stoicism, neo-Platonism, and Manichaeism. He was, of course, greatly influenced by the Scriptures and the writings of his Christian predecessors. The Scriptures represented ultimate authority and the source of all truth for Augustine. His reflections on the relation between faith, knowledge, and "science" developed within his theocratic image of the world and humankind. For Augustine, the one and only ( Jewish-Christian) God is the creator of the universe and humankind (body and soul). Humans, like all parts of nature, are dependent on the creator. Such a view involves an inherent teleology, toward which the universe as process is ultimately ordered (Confessions 9, 23, 24). It also means that true knowledge is dependent on having a correct relationship with a personal and provident God, a view that deviates from the classical philosophy of, for example, the Stoa, where the cosmos as a whole represents a living and rational reality. According to Augustine, humans look for knowledge of self and God through reason because this will provide them with true happiness; religion cannot be disconnected from an active pursuit of truth. Religion and truth are closely bound, and knowledge occurs by means of an inward upward movement in the course of which truth reveals itself. For Augustine, one must search for truth in one's heart, and this inward movement must lead to a transcendent movement toward God, the truth. In this process God, who is love, plays an essential role because knowledge and love are bound together: As Augustine states in De Trinitate (9, 2, 2), "There is no knowing without loving, and no loving without knowing." For Augustine, body and soul are also closely linked, and Augustine's reflections on body and soul helped form the basis of the Western concept of "self." Furthermore, human freedom and autonomy for Augustine do not have the same importance as they enjoy in modern thought. Philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and theology are always intrinsically linked and cannot be separated. Augustine's view of human history is essentially determined by his belief in the God of Jesus Christ and in the crucial part that Christ, as sole intermediary, plays in history. Augustine was convinced that there can be no true knowledge, salvation, or welfare outside of faith in Christ. The only criterion of judgment is the Christian faith.

The soul must guide the body and serve as reference to God; it is the image and likeness of God, which is why human beings, of all creatures, are closest to God. The soul hosts the memory and makes humans rational beings. Augustine distinguishes between superior reason (also called intellectus and sapientia ), which is concerned with knowledge of unchanging principles, and inferior reason, which is focused on temporary things and is related to science. It is via superior reason that humans can see the truth "in" God.

Augustine is less univocal in his discussion of the body, which he judges in both positive and negative terms. He often spoke of love for the body and the duty to take care of it. When reacting to Manichaean dualism, he emphasized that the body is an essential part of the human person, and he strongly defended the resurrection of the body. At the same time, he regarded the body as a hindrance to the soul in the search for true happiness and as a source of sinfulness and mortality. In this connection he often spoke in a Pauline sense about life according to the flesh, in which the soul itself is always actively involved. Especially during the Pelagian controversy, Augustine emphasized that there is a sinful longing in all people (concupiscentia carnis ), which prevents them from doing the good they want to do.

Augustine's life can be described as a continuous search for the truth, although he was not a scientific theologian in the medieval or modern meaning of the word. Especially in his early period, he looked for mathematical (positive-scientific) certainty in his search for truth, which helps explain his interest in astrology. Augustine quickly discovered, however, that astrology did not lead him to the truth he sought, and his initial sympathy would, after a period of skeptical doubt, disappear. Around 400, he rejected the power of astronomy to predict people's fate on the basis of heavenly signs. He thereafter fiercely and repeatedly criticized astrology, although Bernard Bruning has suggested that Augustine may have traded his initial astrological fatalism for a divine fatalism (predestination). Nonetheless, after his conversion Augustine became convinced that true knowledge could only be gained through Christian revelation, even though this knowledge would always remain fragmentary and incomplete in this world.

See also Embodiment; Faith; Freedom; God; Imago Dei; Revelation; Soul; Teleology


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mathijs lamberigts

Augustine, St. (354–430)

views updated Jun 27 2018

AUGUSTINE, ST. (354430)

St. Augustine was bishop of Hippo, in North Africa, and his writings established the intellectual foundations of Christianity in the West. He was born in Thagaste, a town forty-five miles south of Hippo in the Roman province of Numidia, which is now Algeria. His father, Patricius, was a pagan, and his mother, Monica, a Christian. In his late teens he went to Carthage for further study, and through his reading of Cicero, he became enthused about philosophy. He became a teacher of rhetoric in Carthage and later in Rome and Milan. Augustine was a restless seeker rather than a systematic thinker, and after a brief flirtation with the dualistic philosophy of Manichaeanism, he immersed himself in the Neoplatonic philosophy of Plotinus. His whole life may be characterized as an intellectual and moral struggle with the problem of evil, a struggle that he worked out through synthesizing the ideas of the Neoplatonists with Christianity. He upheld the teachings of the Bible, but he realized that maintaining them in the intellectual and political climate of his age required a broad liberal education.

In his struggle against evil, Augustine believed in a hierarchy of being in which God was the Supreme Being on whom all other beings, that is, all other links in the great chain of being, were totally dependent. All beings were good because they tended back toward their creator who had made them from nothing. Humans, however, possess free will, and can only tend back to God by an act of the will. Man's refusal to turn to God is, in this way of thinking, nonbeing, or evil, so although the whole of creation is good, evil comes into the world through man's rejection of the good, the true, and the beautiful, that is, God. The ultimate purpose of education, then, is turning toward God, and Augustine thought the way to God was to look into oneself. It is here one finds an essential distinction Augustine makes between knowing about something (cogitare ), and understanding (scire ). One can know about oneself, but it is through understanding the mystery of oneself that one can come to understand the mystery of God. Thus the restless pursuit of God is always a pursuit of a goal that recedes from the seeker. As humans are mysteries to themselves, God is understood as wholly mysterious.

Augustine and Teaching

To be a teacher in the context of this struggle was, for Augustine, an act of love. Indeed, he advised teachers to "Imitate the good, bear with the evil, love all" (1952, p. 87). This love was required, for he knew the hardships of study, and the active resistance of the young to learning. He also considered language to be as much a hindrance as a help to learning. The mind, he said, moves faster than the words the teacher utters, and the words do not adequately express what the teacher intends. Additionally, the student hears the words in his own way, and attends not only to the words, but also to the teacher's tone of voice and other nonverbal signs, thus often misunderstanding the meaning of the teacher. The teacher, thus, must welcome students' questions even when they interrupt his speech. He must listen to his students and converse with them, and question them on their motives as well as their understanding. He saw education as a process of posing problems and seeking answers through conversation. Further, he saw teaching as mere preparation for understanding, which he considered an illumination of the "the teacher within," who is Christ.

Augustine, then, thought teachers should adapt their teaching to their students, whom he distinguished into three kinds: those well educated in the liberal arts, those who had studied with inferior teachers of rhetoric and who thought they understood things they did not actually understand, and those who were uneducated. The teacher needs to begin with all students by questioning them about what they know. When teaching well-educated students, Augustine cautioned teachers not to repeat for them what they already knew, but to move them along quickly to material they had not yet mastered. When teaching the superficially educated student, the teacher needed to insist upon the difference between having words and having understanding. These students needed to learn docility and to develop the kind of humility that was not overly critical of minor errors in the speech of others. With regard to the uneducated student, Augustine encouraged the teacher to be simple, clear, direct, and patient. This kind of teaching required much repetition, and could induce boredom in the teacher, but Augustine thought this boredom would be overcome by a sympathy with the student according to which, "they, as it were, speak in us what they hear, while we, after a fashion, learn in them what we teach" (1952, p.41). This kind of sympathy induces joy in the teacher and joy in the student.

All three of these kinds of teaching are to be done in what Augustine called the restrained style. This style requires the teacher not to overload the student with too much material, but to stay on one theme at a time, to reveal to the student what is hidden from him, to solve difficulties, and to anticipate other questions that might arise. Teachers also should be able from time to time to speak in what he called the mixed style using elaborate yet well-balanced phrases and rhythmsfor the purpose of delighting their students and attracting them to the beauty of the material. Teachers should also be able to speak in the grand style, which aims at moving students to action. What makes the grand style unique is not its verbal elaborations, but the fact that it comes from the heartfrom emotion and passionthus moving students to obey God and use his creation to arrive at full enjoyment of God. This hoped-for response is wholly consistent with what is probably the most famous quotation from Augustine's autobiography, The Confessions: "You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you" (1997b, p. 3).


Of the two great traditions in liberal education, the oratorical and the philosophical, Augustine is distinctly an orator. He believed more in imparting the truth to students than in supporting the individual student's quest for truth. He used the dialogical mode as one who knows the truth, unlike the Greek philosopher Socrates, who used dialogue as one who does not know anything. He thus established a Christian philosophy, which has influenced scholars and educators throughout the history of the West.

Augustine directly influenced the Roman statesman and writer Cassiodorus and the Spanish prelate and scholar Isidore of Seville who, in the sixth and seventh centuries, established the seven liberal arts as a way of enriching the study of the Scriptures. The Anglo-Saxon scholar and headmaster Alcuin, in the eighth century, used Augustine's works on Christian teaching as textbooks. The Italian philosopher and religious leader Thomas Aquinas's attempt in the thirteenth century at synthesizing Aristotle and Christian faith may be understood as an extension of the work of Augustine, as can the Christian humanism of the Dutch scholar Erasmus in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

In the first decade of the new millennium, Augustine's use of psychological autobiography speaks directly to those educators who view introspection and empathy as critical features in the life of a teacher. His awareness of the centrality of personal and political struggle in human existence, and of the educative and healing power of human dialogue still speaks to the condition of many teachers and educators.

See also: Philosophy of Education.


Augustine, St. 1952. The First Catechetical Instruction (400), trans. Joseph P. Christopher. Westminster, MD: Newman Press.

Augustine, St. 1968. The Teacher (389), trans. Robert P. Russell. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press.

Augustine, ST. 1997a. On Christian Teaching (426), trans. R. P. H. Green. New York: Oxford University Press.

Augustine, St. 1997b. The Confessions (400), trans. Maria Boulding. New York: Vintage Books.

Brown, Peter. 1969. Augustine of Hippo. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Chadwick, Henry. 1996. Augustine. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rist, John M. 1999. Augustine. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Stock, Brian. 1996. Augustine the Reader: Meditation, Self Knowledge, and the Ethics of Interpretation. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Timothy Leonard


views updated May 18 2018


Augustine (354–430), born in Thagaste, North Africa, November 13, synthesized Platonism with Christian theology, and is considered a doctor of the European church. He taught rhetoric in Carthage, Rome, and Milan, until his conversion (386) and entry into monastic life; he became a presbyter (391) and bishop of Hippo (396), now Annaba, Algeria. Representative of the implications of his thought for science, technology, and ethics is the fact that in his early years he took an interest in one of the sciences of his day, astrology, and may even have practiced it himself; later he argued decisively against it. Augustine died in Hippo on August 28.

For Augustine, the chief concern of human beings ought to be God and the soul. This did not imply indifference to the material world and its events. When human beings perceive order in nature, he said, it points toward the realm of true happiness, the intelligible realm of divine ideas, which not only gives the world its form but enables the mind to discover both regularities in the world and rules for ethical behavior (De ver. rel. 29,52–36,67; 39,72–45,83). His general principle was that the mind judges things that are inferior to it, according to norms that are above it (De ver. rel. 31,58; 52,101). In the world presented by modern natural science, in which the order of the physical world appears to be the result of impersonal forces if not chance, the decisive question becomes to what extent the human mind can connect with realities superior to it.

In this journey from the outward to the inward and then upward, his most impressive venture was an analysis of music. In the sixth book of De musica (389), he traces the crucial role of proportions or numbers, starting with the physical sounds and moving inward to hearing, memory, speech, the spontaneous judgments that arouse delight at these proportions, and finally to the intelligible principles by which such judgments are made. His approach foreshadows modern interests in acoustics, the psychological effects of music, and the importance of music to the human spirit (for example, Arthur Schopenhauer).

Similarly he was aware of optics. When viewing a structure or a painting, humans spontaneously make judgments of harmony, he stated (De lib. arb. 30,54; 32,59). But there are complexities. An oar in water appears bent, but the light waves are not being deceptive; they act according to their nature as they are propagated through media of different densities, and what is fallacious is the premature judgment that the oar is really bent (De ver. rel. 33,62; 36,67).

Truth, he said, is God's wherever it is found; just as the Israelites were justified in appropriating the Egyptian's gold and silver because it belonged to God (Ex. 3:22, 11:2, 12:35), so Christians can appropriate all truth. The glory of the Gentiles, he said, is their science and philosophy (Conf. VII,9,15), though it must be transformed by the insights gained from revelation, which is the tradition of Israel. This early Christian attitude is continued by many modern Christians in dealing with secular science.

One of the major scientific disputes in which Augustine took part concerned the antipodes: Are there people living on the other side of a round earth, standing upside down? He regarded it as a matter of scientific conjecture rather than direct experience, but on the basis of Scripture he decided against it; he even thought that, if there should be people there, they could not be descendants of Adam and Eve (De civ.Dei XVI, 9). The eighth-century Irish monk Fergal or Vergilius in Salzburg was notorious for taking the opposite position. Gradually the question was seen as one for scientific inquiry rather than revelation, and Augustine's position was cited by Johannes Kepler, René Descartes, and the Encyclopedists as evidence of theological obscurantism.

Augustine's contributions relevant to science, technology, and ethics may be summarized in three ways. First his last word, at the end of The City of God (413–426), is an appreciation of human culture—the liberal arts (geometry, grammar, logic, and music); the fine arts, which use material things to convey thoughts and feelings (poetry, theater, painting, and architecture); and, perhaps most basic, the practical arts (domestication of plants and animals, the crafts, architecture and civil engineering, and navigation). These are indispensable, he said, to the life of the earthly city, even though the latter is not the highest end to be sought.

Second, in dealing with the issue of natural evil, Augustine acknowledged that humans live in a dangerous world, but saw this as an invitation to scientific inquiry and technological mastery. He argued that people are like visitors to a forge, surrounded by unknown implements; they resent falling against a furnace or a sharp tool, but the smith knows how to use each of these objects to accomplish his work (De Gen. c. Man. I,16,25–26). The venom of scorpions is poisonous, but it can also be put to medicinal use (De mor. II,8,11–12). The most personal kind of intervention is medicine, in which he finds many metaphors for the healing activity of God through Christ. In the early-twenty-first century, industry and government support both scientific inquiry and technological intervention.

Third, beyond these kinds of intervention in the world, Augustine suggests that human beings should not think solely in terms of their own discomfort or inconvenience; rather they should appreciate the intricate structure of all living forms, knowing that God created them though humans may not know why (De civ. Dei XII,4; XXII,24). In this respect he encouraged the later Christian Platonism of the Chartres school and of Kepler, which sought order in nature precisely because of the conviction that God rules intelligently and intelligibly.


SEE ALSO Christian Perspectives:Historical Traditions;Just War.


Delhaye, Phillipe. (1951). "La theacytelorie des antipodes et ses incidences théologiques." In Le Microcosmus de Godefroy de St-Victor: Étude théologique, ed. Phillipe Delhaye. Lille, France: Facultés Catholiques. History of the "round earth" question.

Ferrari, Leo C. (1996). "Augustine's Cosmography." Augustinian Studies 27: 129–177. The most complete account of Augustine's picture of the world.

Fortin, Ernest. (1984). "Augustine, the Arts, and Human Progress." In Theology and Technology: Essays in Christian Analysis and Exegesis, eds. Carl Mitcham and Jim Grote. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. Reprinted in Ernest Fortin: Collected Essays, Vol. III: Human Rights, Virtue, and the Common Good: Untimely Meditations on Religion and Politics, ed. J. Brian Benestad. (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield [1996]). Survey of Augustine's appreciation of culture and technology.

Martin, Thomas F., O.S.A. (2001). "Paul the Patient: Christus Medicus and the Stimulus Carnis (2 Cor. 12:7): A Consideration of Augustine's Medicinal Christology." Augustinian Studies: 219–256. Thorough discussion of the medical metaphor.

Nowak, Adolf. (1975). "Die 'numeri judicales' des Augustinus." Archiv für Musikwissenschaft 32: 196–207. A close analysis of Augustine's view of aesthetic judgment.

O'Daly, Gerard. (1987). Augustine's Philosophy of Mind. London: Duckworth. Comprehensive survey of Augustine's theory of knowledge.

Pickstock, Catherine. (1998). "Ascending Numbers: Augustine's De Musica and the Western Tradition." In Christian Origins: Theology, Rhetoric and Community, eds. Lewis Ayres and Gareth Jones. London and New York: Routledge. Defense of Augustinian aesthetics and cosmology by comparison with Indian, modern, and postmodern approaches.

Augustine of Hippo, St

views updated May 18 2018

Augustine of Hippo, St (354–430). Christian father and doctor of the Church. He was a native of Tagaste in N. Africa. His mother Monica was a Christian, but as a young man he gradually abandoned what Christian belief he had. For nine years he was associated with the Manichaeans, but had left this religion also by the time he came to Rome as a teacher of rhetoric. Becoming a professor of rhetoric at Milan, he became a Neoplatonist and, under the influence of Ambrose, was converted to Christianity in 386, after responding to a command, ‘Tolle, lege’, and opening the New Testament at Romans 13. 13 f. He returned to N. Africa, was ordained priest in 391 and became bishop of Hippo (modern Bōne in Algeria) c.396. His own life and conversion were the subject of his deeply moving Confessions.

Augustine's influence on Christian thought and theology, especially down to the 13th cent., has been immense. His own theology was formulated in controversy with three opponents in particular. First, against Manichaeism, he defended the essential goodness of all that God, as sole creator, has created. Thus evil could only be privatio boni, the absence of the good which ought to be. Second, the Donatist controversy caused him to formulate systematic doctrines of the church and sacraments. Augustine's last battle was with the Pelagians, clarifying his teaching on the fall, original sin, and predestination. He held that man's original endowment from God was lost by the fall of Adam, so that now all suffer from an inherited defect and liability from Adam's sin; and from this the whole human race is justly massa damnata, to be saved only by the grace of God. Since God knows what he intends to do, Augustine is inevitably predestinarian to some extent, and this influenced especially Calvin and other Reformers. Apart from his polemical works, the Confessions and The City of God are most important.

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