Augustine

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The Views of St. Augustine on Human Nature

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Augustine’s view of human nature is deeply pessimistic Discuss.

St. Augustine’s view of human nature is primarily based on St. Paul in Romans 7, which states, ‘for I have a desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out’, suggesting that we are weak creatures that need saving by God’s forgiveness and salvation. His theodicy attempts to solve the Inconsistent Triad (originally conceived by Epicurus), and hypothesises that following the fall (Post-Lapsarian), implying that our human nature is inherently corrupt- which is a similar viewpoint to Scholars such as: Swinburne and Nuihbur, and arguably pessimistic due to the fact that they are saying that we are constantly ‘dragged down’ by sin. However, this viewpoint is in stark contrast with Dawkins and Irenaeus for example.

On the one hand, Augustine’s view of human nature is deeply pessimistic because he argued that before the Fall (Genesis 3), there was a ‘time of harmony’ where Adam and Eve were completely obedient to God, but when they displayed disobedience, the rest of humanity was ‘creation ex nihilo’- meaning they were made from nothing and can either choose whether to act morally or not, which will ultimately make up our human nature and what kind of people we are. Therefore, in this sense, his view is deeply pessimistic, because Original Sin- 2nd Death (inherited death as punishment for the rebellion of Adam and Eve), means that there is a ‘chain of disasters, when compared to other views such as that of Pelagius who argues that it would be unjust for God to condemn us for something out of control- as he is omnibenevolent. This is Augustine explicitly highlighting that there is no room for exception (except for Jesus) in regard to us being predestined to be inherently sinful; so does this mean that no matter how good our human nature is; it is ultimately unavailing if (like Plato), he says that a human is nothing more than a soul in a body; being dragged down by sin (Neoplatonism)?

Conversely, perhaps Augustine’s view of human nature is fairly optimistic due to the fact that in his ‘Enchiridion’, he states that evil does not actually exist in human nature; it is simply a privation of good (‘Privatio Boni’). Taking this idea further, this is perhaps a lot more comforting for people, knowing that they are not evil in nature, but just need to try harder to increase the amount of good in their nature. Furthermore, according to Augustine, God has already predestined us through ‘election’, and shown grace to some people on Earth, which hints at quite a lot of optimism because it suggests that the good done by many is not in vain, and they will receive salvation in spite of the original sin of which they inherited. However, in contrast to the viewpoints of Irenaeus and Biblicists for example, this is deeply pessimistic due to the fact that Genesis 1 explains that ‘we are made in the image of God’, meaning that our nature must automatically be drawn towards goodness, if it mirrors that of God, as well as ‘Imago Dei’ by Irenaeus meaning that we have a positive bond with God.

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Evaluation of St. Augustine’s Works, “Confessions” and “City of God”

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Written circa A.D. 398, this work by St. Augustine serves as a spiritual autobiography, outlining the author’s life and his eventual conversion to the Christian faith. Therefore, the Confessions are really an insight into the author’s self-consciousness, which is best expressed in the statement that opens the work: “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you”, which means humans originated from God, and human action should be ordered to God (1.1).

Therefore, in the two books detailing his early years and adolescence, Augustine is heavily critical of himself, lamenting the sins of his youth, noting that “in my misery seethed and followed the driving force of my impulses, abandoning you” (2.4). The source of his lamentation now comes from, according to Augustine, God “touching with a bitter taste all my illicit pleasures” (2.4).

After recounting the sins of passion of childhood and youth, Augustine now brings to light the sins of the intellect that manifested themselves in late adolescence and adulthood. Augustine introduces this section with a book introducing the period in which Augustine studied at Carthage, a period in which due to what philosophies the author cherished, put “[his] soul in rotten health” (3.1). There, Augustine fell into believing Manicheism, a bitheism that believes that matter was evil and spirit was good (and so a bad God created the material world and a good God created the spiritual world), and also fathered a child out of wedlock, ignoring the materiality of marriage. Augustine eventually became a professor of rhetoric at universities in Rome and Milan. Before leaving for Rome, the saint became disillusioned with Manicheism due to a visit from the Manichean bishop of Carthage. Augustine then teaches rhetoric at Rome until he is called to Milan, where St. Ambrose is the local bishop. Ambrose’s teaching moves Augustine to become a catechumen in the Catholic Church.

Augustine then encounters Neoplatonic Christianity and St. Paul’s works, further motivating the saint to convert to Christianity. After two friends talk about conversion stories of past saints, Augustine, while reflecting in a garden, hears a child chanting, “Take up and read!” (cf. 8.29) Augustine then picks up the nearest Bible, reads a passage saying that Jesus comes to redeem mankind from carnal passions, which confirms Augustine’s decision to convert to Christianity. Augustine then stops teaching rhetoric, gets baptized, and then Monica, his mother, who prayed for his conversion over many years, dies. The last four books now shift to personal introspection on the author’s new beliefs, which possibly helped Augustine minister to his congregations as a priest and bishop.

In the end, Augustine’s Confessions, especially in the last four books, which present a philosophy of the Christian religion, joins Neo-Platonism and Christianity, personalizing the ideas of St. Gregory of Nyssa in Life of Moses and Pseudo-Dionysius in The Divine Names. That means that Augustine, in Confessions, has disclosed his personal spiritual journey to God, intended to be “an ensign for the nations” as Gregory intends the example of virtue shown in Moses to be, therefore bringing other people to contemplating the mystery of God revealed in Christ as Pseudo-Dionysius marvels at, as well as the earlier Church Fathers that defended the Incarnation (Isaiah 11:10). Ultimately, Augustine’s Confessions makes the message of Christianity relevant to all people, especially during the later stages of the Roman Empire, in which Christianity was a tolerated religion, thus bearing less motivation to convert.

City of God, written between the years 412 and 426, which occur soon after the Visigoths’ sack of Rome in 410, discusses the universal application of Augustine’s conversion experience. “And now, with God’s help, [Augustine] must turn to what [he thinks] ought to be said about the origin, progress, and respective destinations of the two cities, in order to exalt the glory of the City of God, which by contrast with other cities will gleam the more brightly” (64). Therefore, Augustine is arguing that one way of life will lead to communion with God and eternal life and happiness in heaven, and that another way of life will not lead to that eternal bliss. Since he is arguing to a Roman audience once again, appealing to universality will aid Augustine’s case.

As opposed to Eusebius’s mere reporting of human history and events (which were happenings of Christianity from biblical times through the reign of the Roman Empire), Augustine supplies an interpretation of Roman history in light of Christianity, beginning the work with explaining the sack of Rome on the spiritual level.

In the first two parts, beginning with “The Pagan Gods and Earthly Happiness”, the saint seeks to defend Christianity as a whole because many Romans thought that the pagan gods were punishing Rome through the Visigoths’ sack for worshipping the false god “Yahweh”. Augustine uses historical examples to prove that Rome really suffered due to the rampant vices of its citizens. The second part, entitled “The Pagan Gods and Future Happiness”, moving these historical arguments into the abstract and philosophical, arguing that the pagan gods and therefore the “city of man” cannot provide the eternal bliss that the “city of God” does. Augustine especially critiques pagan philosophy and polytheism, soundly debunking those philosophies on the basis of the worship of pagan gods being rooted in temporal benefits, even noting the rejection of superstitious practices by even the most esteemed pagan theologians. Augustine then demonstrates that Janus, Saturn, Jupiter, and other selected gods cannot grant eternal life, and neither will Platonism, despite its strong similarities to Christianity. Augustine alsok debunks Platonism, noting its belief in witchcraft and its matter-spirit dualism that essentially denies the Incarnation.

In the next three parts of the work, Augustine presents a new vision of reality that will not lead to suffering and agony since it stems from God and his Incarnation in Christ, contrasting this new way of life with the lives and belief systems of vice that led to the fall of Rome. Therefore, Part III of City of God officially introduces the dichotomy between the “city of man” and the “city of God”. Part III describes their origin, noting distinctions of good and evil on heaven and on earth, as well as sin and its consequences (bringing the city of sinful man to clash with the virtuous city of God). Part IV describes the development of the two cities throughout biblical history, culminating in Christ, who came to fully establish the “city of God” on earth through the Church. Lastly, Part V explains the ends of both cities, exposing the pagan and Christian philosophies on man’s end and the Last Judgment, which necessarily entails the “end and punishment of the earthly city” and “the eternal bliss of the city of God” (6).

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The Logic and Metaphors in the Scriptures as Seen by St. Augustine

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

In St. Augustine’s second book, he delves into the nature of logic and symbolism in relation to the text of Scripture. Having stepped out of the relatively abstract thinking of the first book, he begins to practically break down steps to interpreting and understanding Christian teaching.

To begin his discussion, St. Augustine talks about the nature of signs, and then begins a discussion of the times when signs cause unnecessary ambiguity (Augustine 32). Augustine’s decision to open his analysis of practical Christian teaching with this topic is, in my mind, brilliant. He digs to the root of most interpretation problems, even today. We see many teachers and instructors of Scripture and Christian teaching misapply Scripture, because they are “casual readers,” rather than investing the proper time and energy (Augustine 32). St. Augustine is able to then wrestle with the intricacies of correct interpretation, and we understand exactly what he is combating.

From that opening section, St. Augustine moves on to, what I find to be the most powerful section of the book. He discusses the steps by which Solomon can claim that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Augustine 37). For much of high school and the beginning of college, the Bible genuinely scared me. I would open it up to read about the love of God, and I would instead be overwhelmed by fear of God. I would then scour the Bible, trying to find relief, and I would often give up quickly. I would keep running into fearful words of God, and I couldn’t handle it. St. Augustine, however, masterfully shows how seven steps take that fear of God and turn it into wisdom. From fear to holiness to knowledge to fortitude to compassion to purification to wisdom, the process makes sense, and it serves to explain why God allows us to experience fear of Him (Augustine 33-35). That fear genuinely leads us into wisdom and peace.

Having established the importance of studying and investing in Christian teaching, St. Augustine spends much of the rest of the book breaking down the logic and process of correct interpretation. He outlines canon, discusses the symbolism in numbers, and works through Biblical application of syllogism. In the midst of his emphasis on logic, I was surprised to find so many Platonic and Greek references in the text. He mentions “sophisms” (Augustine 58), makes use of a highly Platonic understanding of truth perceptions (Augustine 63), and uses a Greek understanding of logic (Augustine 60).

I was able to track with Augustine’s argumentation up until he went so far as to claim that Plato draws his argumentation and writing from Jewish writings and Biblical canon (Augustine 55). This theory has never appeared in any readings of mine in the past, and I find it highly unlikely. If this were the case, wouldn’t we see more emphasis on logic and truth in the works of Jeremiah? It seems to me that the idea of Plato writing out of the inspiration of Jeremiah is quite far stretched. I can imagine that influence may have occurred, but I doubt that the influence accounted for much of Plato’s writing style. Certainly, it seems the Platonic emphasis that St. Augustine uses in this book is largely unfounded in Biblical teaching. While it serves as an interesting perspective, it can hardly be claimed as a direct result of Biblical canon. On the contrary, Plato’s writings seem to move in an entirely different direction than is present in the Old Testament, or even New Testament works.

To conclude, Augustine proves that an understanding of syllogism, logic, and textual context is important for reading Biblical texts. However, he does not seem to succeed in proving that this understanding is based out of the Bible itself. Rather, it seems to be a Greek concept applied to Biblical texts. Certainly, it may be “divinely instituted,” but it did derive directly from the influence of Biblical canon (Augustine 47).

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A Comparison between the Life Goals and Missions of Saint Augustine and Socrates

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

The most interesting historical figures that have ever existed are Socrates and St. Augustine that were in the center of the spiritual life in ancient time. Their works still are the most influential all over the world. Augustine and Socrates focused on the life with God, the metaphysical analysis of time, the ethical analysis of the evil, and the examined life. Certainly, other people including Christians had expressed these things before, but Augustine and Socrates brought an intellectual account and body of reasoned arguments to ground these ideas. At that time, it was kind of a philosophical revolution. Every revolution needs heroes who are able to make sacrifices. So these heroes were Socrates and St. Augustine who continue to inspire people all around the world.

A lot of people describe the word “mission” as an important goal or purpose that is accompanied by strong conviction. On the other hand, the mission is a word often used but it is not easy to find a clear definition which describes it, even less to find one on which everyone can agree. In “The Apology” Socrates clearly describes his mission “I am that gadfly which God has attached to the state, and all day long …arousing and persuading and reproaching…You will not easily find another like me.” Socrates compares himself to a gadfly and compares society to a horse. He is a stinging insect that rouses cattle from their sleep. Socrates says that the people of Athens are asleep and neglect all the injustices going on around them. His job is to awaken the Athenians and show them what is really going on. This is the kick that people need in order to take action and bring justice to their homeland. The gadfly metaphor was true to Socrates and his role in Athenian society. Socrates states that his role as a social gadfly is not for his benefit, but for the benefit of the people of Athens. “And now, Athenians, I am not going to argue for my own sake, as you may think, but for yours, that you may not sin against the God by condemning me, who am his gift to you.” In Socrates’ opinion, part of the reason for his arrest is because the politicians in the Athenian government didn’t like Socrates going around telling the people about the corruption that is trying to be kept hidden. If the people know what is truly going on in their government, they can bring justice to Athens. This is why society needs a gadfly like Socrates. But on the other side of that, St. Augustine doesn’t mention his mission in the “Confessions” but we can read it from Enchiridion: On Faith, Hope, and Love “But we ought to know the causes of good and evil in things, at least as far as men may do so in this life, filled as it is with errors and distress, in order to avoid these errors and distresses. We must always aim at that true felicity wherein misery does not distract, no error mislead”. (p 27) Augustine made ??a long and difficult journey from childhood faith through Manichaeism, skepticism, and Platonism to mature faith with rich experience. He believes in God with all his heart and encourages us to believe in Him too. He is the source of life , the pure form , the highest beauty. God is the center of Augustine’s life. When he was young he was searching with a restless heart for meaning in life. Augustine says, “He who enters into thee enters into the joy of his Lord, and shall have no fear and shall achieve excellence in the Excellent.” He sees his mission as being a servant of God. Augustine wants to praise God by developing and using God-given talents according to God’s Will; and for God’s greater glory. He understands the human as a person who have an indivisible personality with intelligence and free will, created in the image and likeness of God. Each person is a special closed world in which there is a struggle between good and evil, spirit and flesh, mind and sensibility.

Moreover, Socrates was convinced that he was chosen by God. He says: “Be sure that this is what the god orders me to do, and I think there is no greater blessing for the city than my service to the god. For I go around doing nothing but persuading both young and old among you not to care for your body or your wealth in preference to or as strongly as for the best possible state of your soul.”. In the opinion of Socrates, people should not spend their lives thinking about their career, money and intellectual perfection. He believes that the transfer of the knowledge from one person to another is impossible and unnecessary. True knowledge is contained in a hidden form in the human soul and everyone should bring them to the light of consciousness. Likewise, the man, in Augustine’s view, created by God, who has given him body, soul, mind and free will. The main duty of human is to follow God’s commandments and to be like Christ. He says “Therefore we must return to thee in humble piety and let thee purge us from our evil ways and be merciful to those who confess their sins to thee, and hear the groanings of the prisoners and loosen us from those fetters which we have forged for ourselves.” According to Augustine, the main virtues are how to overcome selfishness and learn how to love your neighbor.

Socrates says “I thought to myself: I am wiser than this man; neither of us probably knows anything that is really good, but he thinks he has knowledge, when he has not, while I, having no knowledge, do not think I have.” On the one hand, this principle was necessary to fight against the Sophists, criticizing their teachings and statements about learning the truth. On the other hand, the adoption of this principle was to encourage people to expand their knowledge and to comprehend the truth. You can study the laws of nature, the movement of the stars, but you mustn’t go so far – find yourself and then, through the knowledge of things, you will be able to find the truth. The man for Socrates, first of all, is his soul. And the “soul” for him is the mind, the ability of critical thinking and conscience. When he opened his “narrow path” of a Christian, Augustine knew the most important thing – God is Love. Love of God is immeasurable to man. He clearly says, “But thou art the life of souls, life of lives, having life in thyself, and never changing, O Life of my soul”. Without this mutual love, the feeling of life disappears; there is only emptiness, pain, and death. The man is still free to choose to accept or to refuse the ultimate manifestation of divine love. He developed a deep spirituality in which love is central. God is also the most important object of cognition and perception. God brings the light in the human spirit and helps people to find the truth. Everything exists because of God and every good thing comes from God. This is only the appearance that people take their knowledge from the world, in fact, they are in the depths of their own spirit. A person cannot be a creator, he only sees the divine ideas. He believed that God not only created the world but also continues to work at the moment and will work in the future.

To make a conclusion, it should be mentioned that, Socrates’ and St. Augustine’s views on the life goals and missions are similar. They justify the importance of spiritual freedom by the example of their lives, using the gift and wisdom. For success in the search for the truth, we need to have a purpose, faith and desire. Furthermore, the humans are morally responsible for their actions. They wanted to say that God has infinite power and knowledge of every sort. God can cause you to act in particular ways simply by willing that you do so, and in every case God knows in advance in what way you will act, long before you even contemplate doing so. Socrates and St. Augustine wanted to tell and show us that we were sent to earth with a mission to fulfill. Mission – is our testimony to the world about God. We should share and obey Jesus Christ. These missions we have to do with the passion. If you want to be happy and fulfilled with enthusiasm, you have to discover what your mission is and organize your life and activities in function of your mission.

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A View on the Accurate and Effective Teaching of the Christian Doctrine in Book Four of St. Augustine’s On Christian Teaching

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Apart from Book One, Book Four was the most enjoyable read in St. Augustine’s On Christian Teaching. Augustine’s discussion of the qualities and nature of good rhetoric and exposition were enlightening. In a culture that frequently emphasizes the importance of just having the Holy Scriptures, St. Augustine seems to present a more well-rounded and educated view of what is necessary to accurately and effectively teach Christian doctrine. Beyond simply citing the word of God, St. Augustine emphasizes the need for instruction, eloquence, and restraint in teaching Christian doctrines.

Most notably, St. Augustine uses his fourth book of On Christian Teaching to emphasize the need for instruction, stating “…who could date to maintain that truth, which depends on us for its defence, should stand unarmed in the fight against falsehood?” (Augustine 101). Growing up, I was always told that the Holy Spirit would equip me to teach His word and no other instruction was needed. St. Augustine seems to contradict this idea, arguing that if the enemy trains to promote lies and untruths, we should be equally prepared to defend the words of God. “…let the person who wishes both to know and to teach…acquire the skill in speaking appropriate to a Christian orator” (Augustine 121). He does not simply say “listen to the Holy Spirit,” as is often purported by our feelings-driven church. Rather, Augustine emphasizes the need to wrestle with God and our own abilities to learn effective communication skills.

Beyond learning effective communication, St. Augustine also seems to emphasize a need for natural eloquence. As he notes, “…the person required for the task under consideration is someone who can argue or speak wisely, if not eloquently” (Augustine 104). However, it seems to me that the Bible does not agree with Augustine’s argument. While Augustine argues that the apostles used a “flood of eloquence” (Augustine 108), Paul argues that “The wisdom that wordly men esteem, is foolishness with God” (1 Cor 3:19). Augustine declares that eloquence serves to “make clear what was hidden…” (Augustine 117), but Paul does not seem remotely interested in becoming eloquent. He states that he “may indeed be untrained as a speaker” (1 Cor 11:6). He does not discuss learning to speak well or training in eloquence, but simply embraces his rough speaking style. I would like to believe that St. Augustine’s argument is accurate. It is appealing, and it inspires me to speak boldly, but the argument does not seem to have any foundation in Scripture.

After discussion of knowledge and eloquence, St. Augustine almost seems to backtrack and argue for a more “restrained style” of teaching and instruction (Augustine 125). This style, Augustine argues, is better suited for teaching and instruction (Augustine 125). While I see little basis in Scripture for the need for eloquence, the need for effective teaching seems more Scripturally sound. Looking at the teaching and instruction of the apostles throughout the New Testament, all seem to effectively showcase Christian doctrine to other believers. It just seems to me that this same level of eloquence is not needed when sharing the gospel to nonbelievers. Repeatedly, we see the untrained disciples of Jesus sharing the gospel with fervor and passion, and little learned knowledge or eloquence.

To conclude, it seems to me that much of Augustine’s argumentation relies on a faulty view of Scripture and over-emphasizes instruction and eloquence. I appreciate St. Augustine’s arguments for fluency of communication, and I really wish that I could find justification for Augustine’s arguments in Scripture, but the arguments seem largely unfounded.

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The Problem of Evil

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

One question preoccupied Augustine from the time he was a student in Carthage: why does evil exist in the world? He returned to this question again and again in his philosophy, a line of inquiry motivated by personal experience. Augustine lived in an era when the pillar of strength and stability, the Roman Empire, was being shattered, and his own life, too, was filled with turmoil and loss. First he lost his mistress, then his mother, and finally his son. To believe in God, he had to find an answer to why, if God is all-powerful and also purely good, he still allows suffering to exist.

Augustine’s answers to this question would forever change Western thought. First, he states that evil exists because we have free will. God enables humans to freely choose their actions and deeds, and evil inevitably results from these choices. Even natural evils, such as disease, are indirectly related to human action, since they become evil only when in contact with people. According to this theory, a disease spreads only because men and women put themselves in harm’s way. Augustine gave a more theological explanation later in his life: we cannot understand the mind of God, and what appears evil to us may not be evil at all. In other words, we cannot judge God’s judgment. The roots of both of these answers stemmed from two philosophies, Manicheanism and Neoplatonism, which shaped Augustine’s ideas.

FREE WILL AND RESPONSIBILITY

Before Augustine, Manicheanism was extremely influential among early Christians. Manicheanism was a cult that first arose in Roman North Africa, begun by a Persian named Mani, who died around A.D. 276. This cult combined elements of Christianity with elements of Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of Persia, or Iran. Mani taught that the universe was a battlefield of two conflicting forces. On one side is God, who represents light and goodness and who seeks to eliminate suffering. Opposing him is Satan, who represents darkness and evil and is the cause of misery and affliction. Human beings find themselves caught in the middle of these two great forces. According to Manicheanism, the human body, like all matter, is the product of Satan and is inherently evil, whereas the soul is made of light. The only escape from evil is to free the soul from the body through the practices of asceticism and meditation. Manicheanism taught that Satan is solely responsible for all the evil in the world, and humankind is free of all responsibility in bringing about evil and misery. Augustine became a follower of Manicheanism during his student days in Carthage, but he ultimately broke with the Manicheans over the question of responsibility for evil, since he believed that human beings are capable of free will and are among the causes of suffering in the world. This disagreement led him to Neoplatonism, a system of philosophy developed by Plato’s follower, Plotinus, that would prove to be the most influential in his life and work.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE BODY AND THE SOUL

Plato’s influence on philosophy was widespread during the later Roman Empire, the time in which Augustine lived. The philosopher Plotinus (a.d. 204–270), in particular, was responsible for redefining and reshaping Platonic philosophy into a cohesive system of thought called Neoplatonism. To explain the presence of evil, Plotinus drew on Plato’s distinction between the world of physical, tangible things and a world of intangible ideas or Forms. Plato taught that the physical world is changeable, perishable, and imperfect, in contrast with world of ideas or Forms, which is constant, perfect, and everlasting. Because the physical world is marked by change and corruption, it is impossible to fully know it. True knowledge can be achieved only by thinking about the eternal and perfect forms, of which the tangible world is only a copy, just as a painting is only an imitation of something real.

The Neoplatonists used this distinction between the physical and the ideal to explain the relationship between the body and the soul. They taught that the soul is perfect but trapped in an imperfect body. Because the body belongs in the physical realm, it is the root of evil. Thus, the soul seeks to break free of the body so it can live true to its perfection, in the realm of ideal forms. In Plotinus, Augustine found the important idea that human beings are not a neutral battleground on which either goodness or evil lays claim, as the Manicheans believed. Rather, human beings are the authors of their own suffering. Plotinus carried this line of thought further than Augustine was willing to accept, asserting that the body is unimportant in defining a human being and that true human nature involves only the soul and has nothing to do with the body. Augustine disagreed, maintaining that human beings are both body and soul together. We bring evil on ourselves because we actively choose corruptible elements of the physical world rather than the eternal, perfect forms, which are spiritual. Augustine argues that God does not allow evil to exist so much as we choose it by our actions, deeds, and words. Later, he came to the conclusion that it is impossible for us to understand the mind of God, and therefore we cannot come to a proper comprehension of why suffering exists.

THE POSSIBILITY OF CERTITUDE

A number of philosophers before Augustine had argued that certainty is impossible and that the best the human mind can hope to achieve is the conviction that its conclusions are highly probable. Augustine disagreed with this premise and sought to demonstrate philosophically that certitude is in fact possible. His first argument is that if we accept the possibility of our conclusions being probable, we’ve already implicitly assumed that certainty exists, because things can only be “probably” true if truth (in other words, certainty) does in fact exist. If there is no truth, there is no probability. Second, happiness is the result of acquired wisdom, which all human beings desire. Thus, to say wisdom cannot be attained is to say that happiness is impossible—an unacceptable conclusion. Third, Augustine takes issue with the idea that the senses cannot be trusted, and he does not agree with his opponents that the mind is entirely dependent on the senses. On the contrary, our senses do seem reliable to a certain extent, and the mind can understand things independently of the senses, so therefore it must be even more reliable than the senses. Finally, Augustine points out that our mental states are beyond doubt. Whatever we may say or not say, we cannot doubt that at this moment we are thinking. We may say that we are being deceived, but this very fact of being deceived proves that we exist. These four reasons support the thesis that certitude is possible.

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Augustine’s Dialogue With Adeodatus

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

“Augustine starts the next part of his dialogue with Adeodatus in discussing signs that “do not signify other signs but instead things” (The teacher 8.22.25). Augustine first asks Adeodatus “whether man is man” (The teacher 8.22.64). Adeodatus responds that man is in fact man. Augustine then asks if the syllable “ho-“ means anything but “ho-“ and “mo-“ means anything but “mo-“ and that those syllables conjoined are man. Adeodatus responds that each syllable means only what they mean and that they conjoined are man. Augustine then asks then, if you are a man (homo) are you then those conjoined syllables? Adeodatus then realizes where Augustine was taking his line of questioning—drawing the distinction between sign and the signifiable.

In analyzing where Adeodatus erred in reasoning he realized that he should never had granted that “ho-“ and “-mo” conjoined are man but rather that they form the sign that represents man. Augustine reinforces the point by bringing forth an example where a comic would get a person to say lion and then couldn’t deny that lion had come out of the mouth of the interlocutor to the great taunting of the comic. Adeodatus points out that it is obvious that what we say doesn’t come out of our mouth but rather we signify things through our speech unless the “signs themselves are signified, and we discussed this class [of signs] a little while ago” (8.23.109).

Augustine continues his line of reasoning in asking whether man is a name. Adeodatus begins to accept this in light of the prior established conclusion that every word is a name. Augustine points out that the language he uses isn’t precise because, in saying that man is a name he would be saying that he himself is a name. Augustine understands how Adeodatus came to accept the conditions that would lead him to a false conclusion. “The law of reason that is implanted in our minds overcame your caution” (8.24.122-123). Augustine explains that we subconsciously make a distinction between whether we are discussing the word “man” as a sign or as a signifiable. If we understand man as a part of speech (a sign) then it is correct to say that man is a name, however if man is understood to as a reference to the signifiable—then it is correct to say that man is an animal. Augustine points out that unless someone explicitly asks about man as a sign, for example “is man a name”, then the rule of language would immediately go to what is signified by the syllable ‘man’ — for example if he asks “what is man”.

The conversation then moves on to why the rule of language is as it is, for example, why is it that saying that “Hence you are not a man” is offensive when, in context of ‘man’ being a syllable, it is true. Augustine explains that by virtue of what a sign is supposed to do, the sign points away from itself and toward the signifiable by default because it “naturally has the most power—so that once the signs are heard the attention is directed to the things signified” (8.24.150-151).

Augustine then raises the point “that the things signified should be valued more than their signs. Whatever exists on account of another must be worth less than that on account of which it exists” meaning that the word man, for example, is worth less than the concept of man itself. Adeodatus points out that in some cases, the concept is held it great disdain giving ‘filth’ as an example. In itself, the word ‘filth’ is only one letter away from the word for heaven in Latin, but the concept of filth couldn’t be farther from what heaven embodies. Augustine then asks whether the knowledge of what is filth is more valuable than the word for filth. Augustine points out that while it is true that not all concepts are to be held in as high esteem as the words that represent them, the mere knowledge of what the concept is should be held in higher esteem than the word itself because if the knowledge was absent then the word would be meaningless to the person. Augustine brings forth an example about a glutton who said that he lived to eat — a temperate man chastised him saying that one should eat to live. While the concept of gluttony is not more valuable than the word gluttony, the temperate man should be praised that for his knowledge of gluttony he was able to see the error in the glutton’s ways. The line of reasoning follows in another example, those that teach in order to talk. It makes more sense to talk in order to teach, as words are a tool to be used to teach-words exist so that we may use them. It stands to reason that what we derive from the tool is worth more than the tool itself — what we learn from speech is worth more than the speech itself. Augustine then concludes from this line of reasoning that knowledge of the things signified, regardless of the value of the actual signifiable, is preferable to knowledge of their signs.

Adeodatus brings forth his continued misgivings about the relative value in comparing the sign, the signifiable, and the knowledge of each—namely, if the name has greater worth than the thing itself, shouldn’t the knowledge of the name be greater or at least equal to the knowledge of the thing itself? Augustine responds with the example of vice. The word vice is much better than the signifiable, but the knowledge of the name ‘vice’ is far inferior to the knowledge of vices. If someone knows the name ‘vice’ but doesn’t know what they are and how to avoid them, then the knowledge of the name ‘vice’ is worthless compared to the knowledge of vices. Augustine does concede that there is a conceivable scenario where the knowledge of the sign would be preferable to knowledge of the signifiable.

Adeodatus and Augustine then come to the conclusion that the knowledge of things signified is preferable to the signs themselves, though not to the knowledge of signs. Signifiables give meaning to signs and thereby signifiables are superior to signs, but it remains debatable the knowledge of which (sign or signifiable) is preferable.”

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Augustine with a Twist: the Similarities and Differences of the Political and Theological Ideas of Augustine and Luther

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Martin Luther, one of the foremost leaders of the Protestant Reformation, sought to reject much of the doctrine and authority of the Catholic Church, yet many of his theological and political ideas are extremely reflective of the Catholic luminary St. Augustine. While major differences do exist between Augustine and Luther in some areas, especially the areas of the authority of kings and nobles over peasants and slaves, most of Luther’s arguments can be linked to Augustine’s in some way or another. Some areas in which the two men greatly agree include their thoughts on the existence of false Christians (i.e. sinners who masquerade under the title of Christians), and their assertions that wars bring unnecessary misery to life. Even though each author discusses these themes in different ways and for different reasons, including different aspects and examples of the idea, the premises for each author’s arguments on these ideas are similar. Some topics written upon by Luther that are somewhat, though not entirely, similar to Augustine’s ideas include Luther’s assertions that true Christians do not necessitate temporal law yet thrive in it, and Luther’s insistence that man must abide by both temporal and heavenly authority in order to survive the human life and reach salvation in the eternal life.

One of the greatest parallels between Augustine’s beliefs and Luther’s writings is Luther’s echo of Augustine’s assertion that “there are false Christians within the Church” (I:35). Luther agrees on this point and further embellishes this theme by adding “The world and its masses will always be Un-Christian, even if they are all baptized and Christian in name. Christians are few and far between” (Hillerbrand, 48). The two author’s differ, however, in their methods of settling the problem of Christian imposters. Augustine acknowledges the incapability of man to always discriminate the true from the imposters and believes that those sinners who craftily label themselves Christian will only be separated from the true Christians on judgement day (I:35). Luther sees the difficulty in determining the true Christians as one reason for the necessity for both human and divine law. It is interesting to note that neither author quotes Scripture supporting their assertions that fake Christians exist; this suggests that both Augustine and Luther came to these conclusions through their life experiences rather than by their interpretations of Scripture.

Another topic upon which Augustine and Luther decidedly agree upon is the necessity to avoid war, however, both authors handle this subject in different ways. Augustine asserts that “Peace is the instinctive aim of all creatures, and is even the ultimate purpose of war” and that “there is no man who does not wish for peace” (XIX:12). Augustine makes the distinction, however, between seemly peace and real peace when he states “the peace of the unjust, compared with the peace of the just, is not worthy even of the name of peace”. Augustine Christianizes his statements on temporal peace when he concludes that “God created all things in supreme wisdom and ordered them in perfect justice” (XIX:13) and that man can achieve peace by following God’s orders such as “love thy neighbor” (XIX:14).

Augustine’s statements on peace are congruent with both the actions and writings of Luther, most specifically in his Friendly Admonition to Peace Concerning the Twelve Articles of the Swabian Peasants. Firstly, as stated in Mackenson’s introduction, this writing is Luther’s “appeal to peace” (Hillerbrand 67) in order that “if any misfortune or disaster come out of the matter, it may not be blamed on me because of my silence” (Hillerbrand, 68). In his plea for peace To the Princes and Lords Luther uses both the tactics of impending hell and gentle persuasion to persuade the nobles to gain peace with the peasants. He reminds the nobility of the passage from Psalms “He poureth contempt upon princes” (Hillerbrand 69) and advises them “You will lose nothing in kindness; and even though you were to lose something, it can afterwards come back to you ten times over in peace, while in conflict you may, perhaps, lose both life and goods” (Hillerbrand, 71). In To the Peasants Luther greatly narrows Augustine’s idea that peace is the natural goal of man by claiming that peace is a uniquely Christian goal. This is demonstrated by Luther’s claim that if neither the peasants nor the nobility allow themselves to be instructed and live at peace, neither side is Christian (Hillerbrand, 78).

Augustine and Luther’s interpretations on temporal law vary slightly from one another, with Augustine’s beliefs reflected by the passage from Corinthians “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law” (XIII:5) and Luther’s resonating in the passage from the first book of Timothy “The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless” (Hillerbrand, 46). Augustine argues that the law itself is a temptation, that the very restriction of a deed is a reason that some perform it. In this way, some who might not ordinarily commit sins may be swayed to commit them because of the stronger temptation, or as Augustine writes “when the love of righteousness is not strong enough to overcome the sinful desire by the delight it affords” (XIII:5). Luther bypasses the question of whether the law can be taken to bad account by the wicked in his writings; there is little need for Luther to consider whether laws enhance the temptation of the wicked to violate them, because Luther believes that laws are not made for true Christians anyway. He writes “If all the world were composed of real Christians, that is, true believers, there would be no need or benefits from prince, king, sword, or law” (Hillerbrand 46).

There is a similar contrast between Augustine and Luther’s interpretations of man’s obediency to temporal law. Augustine states plainly “when man lives ?by the standard of man’ and not “by the standard of God’, he is like the Devil” (XIV:4). Augustine clarifies that even though man comes from God, who is all good, he can live falsely, as in not living in a godlike manner, for “Falsehood consists in not living in the way for which he was created” (XIV:4). Luther however, in distinguishing the two options of lifestyles (to live by a heavenly government or by a temporal one) grants that the heavenly one is best, but he also adds that the temporal government is necessary: “Both must be permitted to remain; the one to produce righteousness, the other to bring about external peace and prevent evil deeds. Neither one is sufficient in the world without the other” (Hillerbrand, 48). In this way, Luther takes Augustine’s condemnation of temporal lifestyle to another level; while Luther admits that it would be best if the Christians of the world could live in peace without laws, like sheep, he admits that given the wolves or Non-Christians of the world would quickly devour them (Hillerbrand, 48). Augustine does not make this distinction, possibly because of his beliefs such as “When starvation killed…it snatched [the Christians] away from the evils of this life, as disease rescues men from the sufferings of the body” (I:11).

One substantial difference between the theological and political thoughts of Augustine and Luther is each author’s unique interpretation of the authority between kings and nobles and their respective peasants and slaves. Augustine takes a rather surprising turn on this subject when he uses a passage in Genesis to back his claim that “[God] did not wish the rational being, made in his own image, to have dominion over any but irrational creatures, not man over man…That is why we do not hear of a slave anywhere in the Scriptures until Noah…punished his son…that son deserved this name because of his misdeed, not because of his nature…” (XIX:15). Augustine goes on to clarify, however, that slavery can only happen “by the judgement of God”. Therefore Augustine is stating that man is not meant to be enslaved, but God is just when He gives man a life of slavery. Furthermore, Augustine states, “Everyone who commits sin is sin’s slave”, and thereby somewhat justifies slavery as a sin which will cause the master to be a slave because the master practices slavery.

Luther, on the other hand, spares no time in his tract On Governmental Authority in quoting Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authority, for there is no authority except from God; the authority which everywhere exists has been ordained by God. He then who resists the governing authority resists the ordinance of God, and he who resists God’s ordinance will incur judgment” (Hillerbrand, 44). As mentioned in Hillerbrand’s introduction to Twelve Articles “The Protestant Reformation…seemed to be tailor made for the peasants” (Hillerbrand 63). As Mackenson states in his introduction to Admonition to Peace, however, “Luther left little doubt that he disapproved of the peasant’s marshaling of scriptural arguments in support of their economic and social goals…Luther rejected the use of the gospel to sustain secular demands, and insisted that the laws of society must provide the answer for social amelioration (Hillerbrand, 67).

In conclusion, the similarities and differences in the theological and political thought of Augustine and Luther are caused by the correspondences and variances in the ways that each author interprets Scripture. Both authors never question the truth of the Scripture, yet it is obvious that the passages of the Bible can be construed to form two opposing political/theological views. The differences in these views reflect the differences of political motivation of each author. It is ironic that Luther, who was trying to sever himself from the Catholic Church should echo so many of Augustine’s teachings, yet it makes sense, for each author is defending an interpretation of Christianity from an outside existing force (the Romans for Augustine, the Catholics for Luther). Furthermore, when Augustine wrote City of God, the Catholic Church had not yet become the elaborate and corrupt political system, full of the “blind bishops and mad priests and monks whose hearts are hardened” (Hillerbrand, 68) of which Luther writes. It follows that in many cases the basic premises for Luther’s writings are the same as Augustine’s; it could be said that Luther is Augustine with a twist.

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Saint Augustine’s Reconciliation of Faith and Intellect

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

All Christians desire to be closer to God, and ultimately, to be with Him after death. But how does one grow closer to God? There are two possible answers to this question. The simplest answer is that all one needs to do is have faith in the words of the Bible. But for many, faith alone does not seem enough. They feel the need to understand God. What can their beliefs mean without understanding? So, again, the question: Should one follow God’s word with blind faith, or should one use reason and intellect to better understand one’s creator? Saint Augustine, a great Catholic saint, struggled with this very same question. On the surface, The Confessions is the story of one man whose spiritual journey leads him from the depths of sin and sexual appetite to the life of a devout Christian. However, aside from his struggle with lust, Saint Augustine wrestles with another issue, one which lies just under the surface of his narration. Like other Christians, he yearns to be close to God, but as he searches for the method to reach this goal, the conflict between his Biblical and Platonic beliefs comes to a head. Though Plato may not seem directly applicable at first, there are many parallels between Plato’s “Good” and the Christian God. However, while the Bible suggests that one can only grow closer to God through faith alone, Plato says that one can only grow closer to the Good by using philosophy, an act of the intellect. Throughout The Confessions, Saint Augustine wavers between these two, seemingly opposing ideas, but, in the end, he is able to reconcile this problem of intellect and faith.

Christian teaching offers faith as the single most important means to drawing closer to God. Early in the text, Saint Augustine says that “The Church demanded that certain things should be believed even though they could not be proved, for if they could be proved, not all men could understand the proof, and some could not be proved at all” (6, 5). To the church, proof and understanding do not have any importance whatsoever. Three main principles form the foundation of the Church. First, there is the belief in the almighty God, creator of heaven and earth. Secondly, they believe that Jesus, who was God incarnate, was born of a virgin to die on the cross in order to conquer hell and ascend into heaven, thus redeeming the souls of all men. Lastly, there is the promise that good Christians will be rewarded by eternal life in heaven with God. These beliefs cannot be supported or proved with the perceived laws of the world that we live in. Therefore, because these things are seemingly supernatural, faith has become the single most important characteristic of Christianity.

One book in the Bible is devoted almost entirely to the idea of faith. In the book of Job, Job becomes the subject of a bet between God and Satan. Satan claims that Job, one of God’s faithful servants, only lives a “blameless” life because God protects him from harm. To prove Satan wrong, God allows him to destroy Job’s children, servants, and animals, and, later, curse Job with boils. When Job’s friends come to see him, they try to explain Job’s condition. Presuming to know God’s motives, they claim that it is God’s punishment for Job. Eliphaz asks, “isn’t your wickedness great?” (Job 22:5). He tells Job, “That’s why snares are round about you” (Job 22:10). They believe that they can understand God’s ways, and that only Job’s own actions can be responsible for his misfortune. Instead of attempting to use reason, Job recognizes that he cannot understand God, and points out to Eliphaz and the others that they cannot either by saying, “Whence then comes wisdom? Where is the place of understanding? Seeing it is hidden from the eyes of all living… Destruction and Death say, ‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’ God understands its way, and He knows its place” (Job 28:20-23). By saying this, Job not only points out that God is the true keeper of wisdom and understanding, but he also suggests the consequences of attempting to gain true wisdom. Only fallacies can be found, and ultimately the seeker will be led to “Destruction and Death.”

The book of Job also gives a clear picture of God’s view in this matter. As Job and his friends debate, God comes down in a cloud and says to Eliphaz, “My wrath is kindled against you, and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me the thing that is right as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7). God is angered at Eliphaz because he has misrepresented Him. Only Job recognizes that God’s wisdom is not to be understood by men; and, as his friends are punished for presuming to understand God, Job is awarded for being faithful.

Faith is also greatly emphasized in the gospels, especially in the book of Matthew. Jesus speaks often of faith throughout this gospel, and makes it clear that it is the most important part of a good Christian life. When angry at the cities that did not repent after experiencing his miracles, Jesus says “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to infants” (Matthew 11:25). In this speech, Jesus draws a clear distinction between the innocence and simplicity of children, and the men that are thought to be “wise and understanding.” Even though they are men who seek wisdom and understanding, they miss the truth that Jesus preaches about. By praising God for giving the truth to children, Jesus suggests that the truth is either unattainable or hard to understand among those that are seeking it. The only right way to receive the truth is by accepting it as given directly by God. Jesus also illustrates how faith brings men closer to God, saying, “if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed…nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). By using the image of a mustard seed, he illustrates how even a small amount of faith brings one closer to God, such that God’s strength will be with him. This faith is the source of one’s connection to God.

Saint Augustine offers evidence of the importance of faith in one of his confessions by illustrating how, without faith, it is impossible to be close to God. When talking about his misery and pain after losing his best friend, Saint Augustine says, “I knew, Lord, that I ought to offer [my soul] up to you, for you would heal it. But this I would not do, nor could I…It was not you that I believed in, but some empty figment…and if I tried to find in it a place to rest my burden, there was nothing there to uphold it” (4, 7). God was not with him to guide him through his troubles or give him strength for his suffering because Saint Augustine did not truly have faith in him. Saint Augustine suggests that had he had faith in God, God would have taken his burden from him and given him relief.

Even though faith is very important to Saint Augustine, he is still, by nature, an inquisitive man. At times, however, his curiosity and desire to understand God seem to him like a curse. This is most evident in book 10, when Saint Augustine introduces a kind of paradox after explaining his search for an answer to the question “…what is my God?” (10, 6). He says, “The animals, both great and small, are aware of it1, but they cannot inquire into its meaning because they are not guided by reason… Man, on the other hand, can question nature. He is able to catch sight of God’s invisible nature through his creatures, but his love of these material things is too great” (10, 6). Men have the ability to reason, which sets them apart from animals. This allows them to get a glimpse of God by looking to nature and questioning it. However, animals simply know that God is the higher power, and that he is found “above us” (10, 6). They do not question this because, for them, there is no need for greater understanding. Humans, on the other hand, because of the power to reason, and their inquisitive minds, search for a better understanding of God. But, in so doing, they can become too focused on the material world which will, in the end, keep them from knowing Him.

The Bible answers the question of intellect directly. For example, from the very beginning of human existence in the Bible, it is condemned as the devil’s means of driving men away from God. In Genesis, after God has created Adam and Eve and put them in the Garden of Eden, he gives them all of his creation, save one thing – knowledge. He instructs Adam to eat from any tree “but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). God does not tell them why he has commanded them not to eat from this tree, but he expects them to do as he says even without explanation. Their role is obey him without question. However, Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent who encourages them to eat from this tree, saying, “God knows that in the day you eat it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). The snake explains to them that they will not die, but gain understanding from the tree. To be like God is too tempting for them to resist, so they eat the fruit and bring upon themselves God’s anger. It is the desire to gain knowledge and understanding that leads to man’s banishment from paradise and the introduction of pain and death in the world.

This Biblical influence is apparent in The Confessions when Saint Augustine points out the uselessness, and even the danger, of the intellect. One example of this is in Book 5, when Saint Augustine is still with the Manichees. Speaking of the scientists he says, “their thoughts could reach far enough to form a judgment about the world around them, though they found no trace of him who is Master of it” (5, 3). Here, Saint Augustine points out that even though these scientists claim to understand the world around them, they miss the most basic and important fact: that God exists and is master of it all. Their intellect brings them no closer to God than someone who does not understand science at all. Saint Augustine even suggests that understanding science has no importance at all. After all, knowing God is most important to him. As an illustration of this point, he says that “A man who knows that he owns a tree and thanks [God] for the use he has of it, even though he does not know its exact height or the width of its spread, is better than another who measures it and counts all its branches, but neither owns it nor knows and loves its Creator” (5, 4). In this passage, the tree can be interpreted as representing all things that God has given – the whole of creation as well as His word. Whether Saint Augustine is simply referring to a tree as the representation of God’s earthly creation, or whether he is referring to God’s word, the point is clear: it is not important to use science to understand what God has created. The only way to be closer to God is to faithfully accept His gift, and praise Him for it.

More than merely thinking it useless, at one point, Saint Augustine calls inquisitiveness an outright sin. He says, “in addition to our bodily appetites, which… lead to our ruin… the mind is also subject to a certain propensity to use the sense of the body… for the satisfaction of its own inquisitiveness” (10, 35). Here he likens curiosity to the sins of the body, but even states that it is “more dangerous than these” (10, 35). This thirst for knowledge and understanding, like the bodily indulgences, is a sin to be avoided. Saint Augustine explains that “curiosity… invades our religion, for we put God to the test” (10, 35), suggesting that giving in to this temptation only leads men away from God.

Though Saint Augustine appears to believe that the use of the intellect is wrong, his actions show how he continues to struggle with the issue. Being naturally inquisitive, he has a hard time simply accepting everything on faith alone. While discussing mathematics, Saint Augustine says:

I compared it all with the teaching of Manes, who had written a great deal on these subjects… But in his writings I could find no reasonable explanation of the solstices and the equinoxes or of eclipses and similar phenomena such as I had read about in the books written by secular scientists. Yet I was supposed to believe what he had written, although it was entirely at variance and out of keeping with the principles of mathematics and the evidence of my own eyes (5, 3).

This passage hints at Saint Augustine’s frustration, as what he is supposed to believe does not fit with the evidence that is clear to him. He prefers to agree with the mathematicians because they provide solid evidence, whereas the religious “scientist” is unable to persuade him because his explanations are not “reasonable” and he provides no real proof. Mathematics makes use of concrete concepts which Saint Augustine can understand by using reason, but he confesses that “I wanted to be equally sure about everything else, both material things for which I could not vouch by my own senses, and spiritual things of which I could form no idea” (6, 4). In order to truly believe in them, Saint Augustine desires spiritual concepts to be as accessible through reason as mathematics.

Saint Augustine’s attachment to mathematics is evidence of his Platonic influence. In order to better understand this influence, it is helpful to step back and take a look at the order of the universe in Plato’s mind. Plato does not personify it as Christians do, but he does believe in one thing which is the focal point of the universe. He identifies this as “the Good.” In Platonic theory, the universe is divided into two parts: the physical world, which is always changing, and the world of the forms, which are the true, unchanging models which the objects in the physical world only reflect. In this metaphysical world of the forms, it is the Good in which all other forms participate. Similar to the Christian God, to Plato, the Good is the source of all things. Humans, constrained by their physical bodies, can only perceive the things around them in the physical world through their bodily senses. However, because the soul must experience its surroundings through the body, it does not get a true picture of the universe. It can only experience the changing world, which in the end, separates it from the true forms. Mathematical thought is quite different from the sensory perceptions of the body. Plato says that mathematicians “make use of visible shapes and objects and subject them to analysis. At the same time, however, they consider them only as images of the originals…in all cases the originals are their concern and not the figures they draw” (Republic, 510d-510e). Because it focuses on the mental concepts, not on their physical representations, Plato claims that mathematics serves as a kind of steppingstone.

This link to the forms is important to Plato because, to him, understanding the forms should be the goal of all men. In Plato’s mind, some men live bad lives, and when they die, they are punished for living unjustly. On the other hand, some men live just lives, and because of their good behavior are given the chance to choose another life. Both classes of men, however, fail to put focus on the forms, concentrating instead on the physical world. A smaller and completely separate class of men live their lives only to understand the truth of the forms. These men are called philosophers. Plato says, “And of these such as have purified themselves sufficiently by philosophy live thereafter altogether without bodies, and reach habitations even more beautiful” (Phaedo, 114c). By living as a philosopher and separating one’s soul from the pollution of the body, one can achieve the ultimate reward after death. The soul is set free and exists among the forms, therefore attaining the ultimate goal of being one with the Good.

Instead of dismissing the intellect altogether, as the Bible does, Plato claims that, used properly, the intellect is the only way to become a true philosopher, and thus, understand the Good. He does, however, contest the use of intellect solely for physical investigation. To Plato, one must live to separate oneself from the material and changing world. Only then can one grasp the concepts of philosophy. The process by which one can get past the physical world to understand the forms is called the dialectic. The dialectic is a rational discourse between two or more people in response to a question or preconceived idea. Plato further explains the dialectic within the dialogues of the Republic. For example, he says, “Then dialectic remains the only intellectual process whose method is that of dissecting hypotheses and ascending to first principles in order to obtain valid knowledge” (Republic, 533c-533d). By making intelligent arguments, the participants are able to cast off the limitations of the physical world and work together toward understanding true knowledge of the forms. When discussing the importance of philosophy among the guardians, Plato says, “Even when the soul’s eye is sunk in the muddy pit of barbarism, the dialectic will gently release it and draw it upward, calling upon the studies we recently examined to support its work of conversion” (Republic, 533d). Here, he underscores the power of the dialectic. The barbarism that he refers to is the completely uncomprehending soul of one who is rooted in the material world. By using one’s intellect, however, through the dialectic, the soul can rise up from the false images of the physical world to understand the true forms, and eventually, understand the Good.

Plato’s influence on Saint Augustine begins to become even more clear as Saint Augustine looks into the Bible for deeper meanings. In Book 6, Saint Augustine describes the Bible as having “plain language and simple style [which] make it accessible to everyone, and yet it absorbs the attention of the learned. By this means it gathers all men in the wide sweep of its net, and some pass safely through the narrow mesh and come to you” (6, 5). He suggests that, while the Bible satisfies the needs of some men with its straightforward stories on the surface of its pages, for other men, like Saint Augustine, who yearn for a greater understanding of God, there are deeper meanings to be found with the intellect. Like Plato’s philosophers, Saint Augustine even suggests that those men who find the deeper meanings will ultimately be closer to God than those who do not. By questioning the Bible to search for that deeper meaning, Saint Augustine shows that, like Plato, he believes in using his intellect in a dialectic fashion to get past preconceived ideas and come to a better understanding of God and his creation.

Saint Augustine is, indeed, strongly influenced by Plato’s ideas. Plato does not, however, have all the answers that Saint Augustine needs. What is missing from Platonic thought is faith. Because Saint Augustine is a Christian, he cannot, and does not, dismiss the value of faith. Instead, where Plato emphasizes a discourse between men, Saint Augustine turns to God for guidance. Because God is omniscient, Saint Augustine believes that He is the only source of true knowledge, and therefore, one cannot find the truth while relying on other men. One must put his questions to God. He believes that one can understand the truth, but only by putting faith in God to guide him in his search.

In fact, Confessions itself is an example of this “dialectic” with God. Throughout the text, Saint Augustine refers to God in the second person, using “You”, which shows that he is, in fact, addressing God directly, and Confessions is therefore Saint Augustine’s dialogue with God. After elaborating on his past sins, Saint Augustine poses many questions to God about His creation. All throughout Book 11, he asks to better understand God’s mysteries. For example, he asks, “Let me hear and understand the meaning of the words: In the Beginning you made heaven and earth” (11, 3). Though the Church would like Christians to accept the words of Genesis as truth in the simplest form in which they are presented, Saint Augustine questions them, and wants to understand them more deeply as Moses understood them. He confesses, “My mind is burning to solve this intricate puzzle” (11, 22). His questions are followed by long discourse with himself where he suggests possible arguments in an attempt to find the truth. For example, Books 12 and 13 are dedicated entirely to possible meanings of the words in Genesis. Instead of relying solely on himself to find the answer, however, putting faith in God he asks, “Through Christ I beseech you, do not keep it hidden away but make it clear to me. Let your mercy give me light” (11, 22).

Because the teachings of the Church and those of Plato set faith and intellect as opposites, people struggle by denying one or the other in their attempts to become closer to God. Saint Augustine, however, shows that faith and intellect can work hand-in-hand to reach this end. In fact, he suggests that this is the best way. Faith and the Bible form the foundation of the search for truth, but Saint Augustine suggests that one should perform a kind of internal dialectic in order to gain knowledge by posing questions to God. Though these questions are not answered directly by Him, Saint Augustine believes that one can ultimately, through one’s own intellect and faith in God’s guidance, be led to the truth, and thus, become closer to Him.

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The Confessions, by Saint Augustine

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

In the Confessions, by Saint Augustine, Augustine addressed himself articulately and passionately to the persistent questions that stirred the minds and hearts of men since time began. The Confessions tells a story in the form of a long conversion with God. Through this conversion to Catholic Christianity, Augustine encounters many aspects of love. These forms of love help guide him towards an ultimate relationship with God. His restless heart finally finds peace and rest in God at the end of The Confessions.

Augustine finds many ways in which he can find peace in God. He is genuinely sorry for having turned away from God, the source of peace and happiness. Augustine is extremely thankful for having been given the opportunity to live with God. Augustine uses love as his gate to God’s grace. Throughout the Confessions, love and wisdom, the desire to love and be loved, and his love for his concubine, are all driving forces for Augustine’s desire to find peace in God. The death of his friend upsets him deeply, but also allows him to pursue God to become a faithful Christian.

Augustine often experiences darkness, blindness, and confusion while attempting to find rest in God, but he knows that when he eventually finds him his restless heart will be saved. Augustine started out in childhood with a restless heart because he had to live in two different worlds. These worlds consisted of that of his mother’s religious faith, and the world of everything else. These two worlds confused and disturbed Augustine as a child. In his mother’s world, talk consisted of Christ the Savior and about the mighty god who helps us specially to go.

So, as you can see, St. Augustine’s Confessions were written during a furor of activity as shepherd of the Catholics in Hippo. St. Augustine at the start of his priesthood and episcopacy seems to have focused very much on countering the Manicheans in his community or abroad in Africa, since he had belonged to the Manichean community for some ten years of his life. Much of those ten years of his life he had spent as a persecutor of Catholics, and it was a big surprise for many African Catholics to see such a person come to life by the grace of God. They would have doubted his sincerity. Another interesting thing in this period is that St.

Augustine began a number of other works devoted to both the monks that he was an abbot over (On Lying, On the work of Monks, Commentary on Galatians, among some letters as well) and the laity whom he was charged with caring for (Homilies on the Sermon on the Mount [not listed], Exposition of the Psalms, works on the Eucharistic fast, works on marriage and virginity, various sermons and letters, etc.).

Near the end of his completion of Confessions St. Augustine begins a series of larger works against the Donatists, but not to be confused or mislead here, St. Augustine had actually been writing letters to Donatist bishops since very near the beginning of his priesthood, trying to convince them to end their schism. It seems that St. Augustine’s attempt at completing his commentary on Genesis might also factor into how Confessions ends with a reflection on God’s work in Creation and on the soul.

However, we can state more reasons for why Confessions was written. Henry Chadwick, a certain scholar of ecclesiastical history, brought to attention the theory that Confessions was written as a way to convince many of the tumultuous ecclesiastic culture of Africa that his conversion was sincere. There is some merit to this theory as well, given that St.

Augustine spent 10 years as a Manichean, much in the same way that St. Paul spent quite some time as a Pharisee hunting down and killing Christians. Looking to the works of St. Augustine you can see that St. Augustine’s earlier works were almost singularly focused on upending the Manicheans, perhaps as part of his desire to separate himself from the sect or more likely as a way of devoting himself to Christ. You can also see from his letters and later works that St. Augustine was working to end the Donatist schism and there is quite some work that he has actually put into this before his completion of Confessions. I suspect that a large push for Confessions was either Catholics who needed an answer to the Donatist jeering that their bishop was a grave sinner (remember the Donatists were in some part legalistic and did not forgive sins easily) or St. Augustine who did not have much credibility from the Donatists who did not know him. I think there are some reasons however to place this reason as a secondary one. There are many, many scholars who find anti-Manichean and anti-Donatist themes and references present in Confessions and it does not surprise me at all that these are present, but one has to remember that St. Augustine was already building some renown as a faithful convert.

By the time he was writing Confessions it had been about ten years since his baptism, but perhaps only one or two years as a known bishop. The African Catholic bishops may have been suspicious but in some respect St. Augustine’s speech at a council, De Fide et Symbolo (On the Faith and the Creed), regarding the orthodoxy of the Nicene Creed, made in 393 AD. The speech was well regarded by the large council of the African bishops.

The African bishops even allowed St. Augustine as a priest to preach in Hippo in light of Valerius’ (the bishop at the time) very broken Latin. And so any pushback from Catholics to write the Confessions is I think unlikely, or indiscernible in modern times. In his On Free Choice of the Will, Augustine gives his interlocutor, Evodius, a ‘proof’ of the existence of God. I don’t think the proof works.

Nevertheless, it merits attention for various reasons. For one thing, it makes clear how Platonistic Augustine’s thinking was. More importantly, perhaps, it forces us to think about what sort of thing God is, or would be. He also proved that evil is a real thing. Whether or not it stands in our way is up to you as he states.

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