Paul Strathern

St Augustine: Philosophy in an Hour

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LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
During the last years of Augustine’s life the collapse of the Roman Empire continued apace. In 428 A.D. the Vandals invaded the North African provinces, and by May 430 they had reached the gates of Hippo. Four months after the beginning of the year-long siege, Augustine died, on August 28, 430. His saint’s day is now celebrated on the anniversary of this date. Augustine was widely regarded as a saint immediately after his death. (Canonisation as a formal process occurred only at the end of the first millennium.)

The Vandals soon overran the whole of North Africa, and in 497 their king, Thrasamund, expelled the Catholic bishops from Numidia. When the bishops left they took the body of Augustine with them to Sardinia. Here it remained until the Saracen invasions of the eighth century, when King Luitprand of the Lombards ransomed Augustine’s relics and had them brought by his knights to Pavia in Italy, where they remain to this day. As you walk down the Strada Nuovo, you come to the beautifully named San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro (St Peter in the Golden Heavens). Inside this twelfth-century Lombard-Romanesque church, by the high altar, you can see the ornate marble reliquary that contains the mortal remains of St Augustine of Hippo.
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
In Augustine’s view they did, since chastity was a virtue of the mind. But they did not remain virtuous if they had enjoyed the experience. Augustine adds that God may have permitted these rapes because the women concerned were too proud of their chastity. Where much of Augustine’s theology may now appear meaningless or boring, such passages remain as offensive today as they must have been to any right-thinking person then. This is not to doubt Augustine’s integrity. If he too had been raped by the Goths, this probably would not have changed his thinking on the matter.
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
This could have taken place as an act of will, without accompanying lust. As Augustine recognised, this would have left Adam’s organ unstimulated by desire, so he provides an argument demonstrating how the necessary mechanical feat could have been achieved by willpower alone. Anyone who believes that philosophy is no laughing matter should read this passage. (See the extract in the Writings section.)
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
Augustine assured his readers that the gross misdeeds of the Goths would be punished when they went to meet their maker. After all, if every sin were punished on earth, what would be the point of having a Last Judgment?
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
The City of God had a purely spiritual existence and was not to be identified with anywhere on earth, even the holy city of Rome. These ideas were to have a profound effect on the medieval church and later even played their part in the Reformation.
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
In 410 A.D. Alaric and the victorious Visigoths enthusiastically set about the Sack of Rome. These were the first foreign invaders to have penetrated the city walls for nearly eight hundred years. The fall of Rome was quickly blamed on the loss of faith in the ancient gods, whose worship had recently been banned by the Emperor Theodosius in favour of Christianity. As long as Jupiter had been worshiped, Rome had ruled, and now look what had happened. It was all the Christians’ fault.
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
Yet this was not just some individual psychological quirk; it was symptomatic of a collective mania that was to grip the church for many centuries to come. From the perspective of history we can only marvel at the perversity of Augustine and the other great European minds of the period who spent their time in similar fashion.
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
According to Augustine, even unbaptised infants were condemned to everlasting damnation
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
Morgan opposed this view with a doctrine of his own. This stated that there was no such thing as original sin, and that people were capable of earning a place in heaven without intervention from God’s grace
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
Pelagians. This heretical sect had been started by a Welsh monk named Morgan (this name comes from the Gaelic for sailor, which translated into Latin as Pelagius). When Brother Morgan arrived in Rome, his upright Welsh spirit was appalled by the moral laxity of the priesthood, which tended to take a rather more easy-going, Mediterranean view of its vows. But Morgan soon detected the cause of the trouble. One day he heard a sermon in which a bishop referred to a passage in Augustine’s Confessions (whose dwelling on unspecific salaciousness had soon stimulated sales and imaginations throughout Christendom). The passage quoted by the bishop explained Augustine’s view that goodness is not possible without the intervention of divine grace, a doctrine verging on predestination. Morgan realised that many were using this doctrine as an excuse for moral lassitude. There was no point in making an effort to be good if this depended upon the intervention of divine grace.
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
The Donatists held that the church must remain absolutely free of state interference. This would have been all very well, but a central part of their program was to bring about a revolution against the state – which would be followed by the arrival of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the end of the world. This social program was aided by peasant warriors called Circumcellions.

The Donatists welcomed hostility, as this demonstrated the evil of the world. They believed in a life of penance and persecution, which if they were lucky would end in martyrdom. This made the Donatists extremely difficult to stamp out, as every action taken against them was welcomed and only confirmed their views. By the time Augustine became Bishop of Hippo a large portion of the Christians in North Africa had gone over to this heresy, and Augustine spent much of his time writing polemics condemning them in the fiercest terms.
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
The Donatists held that the church must remain absolutely free of state interference. This would have been all very well, but a central part of their program was to bring about a revolution against the state – which would be followed by the arrival of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the end of the world.
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
In those days the bishop was not only the senior local priest but also the city’s theology professor and civil judge. Despite these onerous duties, Augustine continued to write prolifically. During the two years after his appointment as bishop he wrote innumerable pamphlets and sermons and kept up a wide correspondence. He also produced his Confessions. As well as outlining the sexual agonies of his youth, the Confessions contain one of the most profound statements of faith in all Christian writing. They also contain an outline of Augustine’s philosophy, including his original theory of time.
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
According to Augustine, God exists outside time, which started only with the creation of the world. There is thus no validity to the question, What happened before the world was created? For Augustine, time is subjective, existing in the human mind as an aspect of our way of seeing. We cannot see the world in any other way – though ultimate reality is not subject to time.
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
For the Neoplatonists the One was timeless and without purpose.
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
The fusion of these two doctrines, which were far from complementary, was to be Augustine’s major contribution to philosophy. This not only provided Christianity with a strong intellectual backing but tied it to the Greek tradition of philosophy. In this way Christianity managed to keep the flame of philosophy burning, however dimly, through the Dark Ages.
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
This had been Augustine’s experience, and he now sought to reconcile the doctrine of Plotinus with the Christianity of St Paul.
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
Augustine sailed back to Africa and returned home to Thagaste, accompanied by a number of devout friends. Here they set up a community for living a monastic life, and Augustine spent most of his time writing and studying. Despite all his protestations of passion and sin, Augustine was essentially a contemplative type. This was the kind of life he enjoyed best, and it was almost certainly during this period that he did the thinking that laid the foundations of his philosophy.
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
Augustine and his mother then decided to return to Numidia. As they were about to embark at the port of Ostia, Monica caught a fever. Augustine did his best to nurse her, but her mission was now complete, and she died
LM CZhas quoted6 months ago
Had Augustine looked into the Upanishads or the Egyptian Book of the Dead, he might have come across a very similar passage which exhorted him to become a Hindu or worship the Sun God Re.
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