Manual Augustines Intellectual Conversion: The Journey from Platonism to Christianity

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You can accept any two of these premises with no problem, but to take all three requires some strange loops of logic. The Manichaean system proposed moral dualism , the doctrine of two equally powerful, positive principles underlying all reality - one purely good and the other purely evil. Creation, then, is the cosmic battlefield between these two principles, and the destiny of individuals is determined by which of these principles they embrace. Augustine, being a philosophical materialist at this point, also appreciated that his new religion did not require any non-material beings, a concept he considered utter nonsense, such as the Christian God.

After some years of teaching Latin rhetoric in Carthage, Augustine decided to move to Rome where the students supposedly were reputed to be not so unruly and disrespectful to their teachers. What he didn't realize, though, was that getting those polite Roman students to pay fees was like pulling dentia. They had the disconcerting habit of switching to another professor just as the teaching fees were due. Upon realizing this, Augustine moved on to Milan. Augustine's move from Carthage to Milan for professional reasons paralleled his spiritual journey from Manichaeism back to Christianity.

This journey actually began before he left that famous North African city when he had the opportunity to meet with Faustus, a famous Manichaean bishop, and discovered that the logical inconsistencies of Manichaeism that had been troubling him could not be addressed satisfactorily even by one so far advanced. While working through his disillusionment, Augustine dabbled in astrology and flirted with Skepticism. This was the philosophy of the successors to Plato's Academy , beginning with Carneades , who held that certainty or truth exists, but can never be attained: the best that one can hope for is probable truth, which they then made their guide to moral action.

His exposure to these writings gave him a way of thinking about God as an immaterial being; about evil as privation, a negative principle; and about the soul as a rational rather than material substance. Upon moving to Milan, Augustine came under the preaching of Ambrose , an experience which sent him back to a study of the scriptures he had learned as a child. This completed what Copleston called his intellectual conversion. Paul described in Romans It was in such a state of mind that Augustine heard the story of Victorinus , a famous professor of rhetoric from a previous generation - and also from Africa - who converted to Christianity late in life.

This story moved Augustine to want to emulate his famous countryman, but it wasn't until he heard another story, quite by chance, that he achieved a moral breakthrough. While visiting at a friend's villa, Augustine encountered two guests who told him about Antony of Egypt , the third century Desert Father whose reputation for holiness was preserved by the monastic communities he had founded. Volume Margaret Lane. Oxford Academic.

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Philosophy and Christianity, Part 10: Augustine and the Problem of "Spirit"

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You could not be signed in. Free will has nothing to do with the reception of that gift because nobody can will to receive a divine call to faith nor to respond positively to it so as to act accordingly and perform good works out of love Ad Simplicianum 1. While gratuitous election is, apart from being consoling, comparatively easily squared with the axioms of divine benevolence, justice and omnipotence, its corollary, the equally gratuitous reprobation and damnation of Esau, is a serious philosophical problem ib.

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Romans The notion of original sin was not invented by Augustine but had a tradition in African Christianity, especially in Tertullian. The view that original sin is a personally imputable guilt that justifies eternal damnation is, however, new with Ad Simplicianum and follows with logical necessity from the exegetical and philosophical claims made there about divine grace and election Flasch ; contrast De libero arbitrio 3.

The theory of Ad Simplicianum is illustrated, with great philosophical acumen and psychological plausibility, in the Confessiones especially bk. After , pressed by his Pelagian opponents, Augustine paid increasing attention to the mechanics of the transmission of original sin. The result was a quasi-biological theory that associated original sin closely with sexual concupiscence see 9.

This knowledge is however hidden to human beings, to whom it will only be revealed at the end of times De correptione et gratia Until then, nobody, not even a baptized Christian, can be sure whether grace has given her true faith and a good will and, if so, whether she will persevere in it till the end of her life so as to be actually saved De correptione et gratia 10—25; cf. While in Hellenism this had largely been a theoretical issue, it acquired practical relevance under the circumstances of monastic life: some North African monks objected to being rebuked for their misbehavior with the argument that they were not responsible for not yet enjoying the gift of divine grace De correptione et gratia 6.

Taking up ideas from De magistro and from Ad Simplicianum , Augustine replies that rebuke may work as an external admonition, even as a divine calling, that helps people turn to God inwardly and hence must not be withheld De correptione et gratia 7—9. To the query that predestination undermines free will, Augustine gives his usual answer that our freedom of choice has been damaged by original sin and must be liberated by grace if we are to develop the good will necessary for virtue and happiness.


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Wetzel — ; some, especially later, texts do however present prevenient grace as converting the will with coercive force Contra duas epistulas Pelagianorum 1. A problem related to predestination but not equivalent to it is divine foreknowledge Matthews 96—; Wetzel ; for general discussion, Zagzebski His solution is that while external actions may be determined, inner volitions are not. These are certainly foreknown by God but exactly as what they are, i.

De libero arbitrio 3.

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This argument is independent of the doctrine of grace and original sin; it applies not just to fallen humankind but also to Adam and Eve and even to the devil, whose transgression God had, of course, foreseen De civitate dei The criterion of membership in the city of God a metaphor Augustine takes from the Psalms, cf. Psalm quoted, e. A person belongs to the city of God if and only if he directs his love towards God even at the expense of self-love, and he belongs to the earthly city or city of the devil if and only if he postpones love of God for self-love, proudly making himself his greatest good De civitate dei The main argument of the work is that true happiness, which is sought by every human being ib.

The first ten books deconstruct, in a manner reminiscent of traditional Christian apologetics, the alternative conceptions of happiness in the Roman political tradition which equates happiness with the prosperity of the Empire, thus falling prey to evil demons who posed as the defenders of Rome but in fact ruined it morally and politically and in Greek, especially Platonic, philosophy which, despite its insight into the true nature of God, failed to accept the mediation of Christ incarnate out of pride and turned to false mediators, i. The history of the two cities begins with the creation of the world and the defection of the devil and the sin of Adam and Eve bks.

Obviously, however, the heavenly and earthly cities must not be confounded with the worldly institutions of the church and the state.


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In history, each of these, and the Church in particular, is a mixed body in which members of the city of God and the earthly city coexist, their distinction being clear only to God, who will separate the two cities at the end of times ib. While the city of God is a stranger or, at best, a resident alien peregrinus: ib.

This dualistic account is however qualified when, in the part of the work that moves closest to social philosophy, Augustine analyzes the attitude a Christian ought to adopt to the earthly society she inevitably lives in during her existence in this world. There are higher and lesser degrees of both individual and collective peace, e. The lower forms of peace are relative goods and, as such, legitimately pursued as long as they are not mistaken for the absolute good.

Political peace is thus morally neutral insofar as it is a goal common to Christians and non-Christians. Augustine criticizes Cicero because he included justice in his definition of the state Cicero, De re publica 1. The early Roman Empire, which strove for glory, was more tolerable than the Oriental empires that were driven by naked lust for power; the best imaginable goal pursued by an earthly society would be perfect earthly peace ib.

But the doctrine of the two cities deliberately precludes any promotion of the emperor or the empire to a providential and quasi-sacred rank. Not even Christians in power will be able to overcome the inherent wretchedness of fallen humanity De civitate dei Like the vast majority of ancient Christian theologians, Augustine has little or no interest in social reform.

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Slavery, meaning unnatural domination of humans over humans, is a characteristic stain of postlapsarian human life and, at the same time, an evil that is put to good effects when it secures social order ib. War results from sin and is the privileged means of satisfying lust for power ib. Nevertheless, Augustine wrote a letter to refute the claim that Christianity advocated a politically impracticable pacifism Letter His Christian reinterpretation of the traditional Roman Just War Theory should be read in the framework of his general theory of virtue and peace Holmes To be truly just according to Augustinian standards, a war would have to be waged for the benefit of the adversary and without any vindictiveness, in short, out of love of neighbor, which, in a fallen world, seems utopian Letter Wars may however be relatively just if they are defensive and properly declared cf.

Cicero, De officiis 1. Outright misogyny is rare in Augustine, but he lived in a society and worked from a tradition—both Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian—that took the natural and social subordination of women to men largely for granted cf. Augustine interprets the Genesis tale of the creation of woman Genesis —22 to mean that, Eve having been created as a helper to Adam and for the sake of reproduction, she was subordinate to him already in paradise De Genesi ad litteram 6.

This situation is exacerbated by the Fall; under the conditions of fallen humankind, marriage is, for the wives, a kind of slavery that they should accept with obedience and humility as Monnica did; cf. Confessiones 9. Clark In his early anti-Manichean exegesis of Genesis, he allegorizes man as the rational and woman as the non-rational, appetitive parts of the soul De Genesi contra Manichaeos 2. De vera religione 78; De Genesi ad litteram 8.

By implication, woman is an image of God qua human being, but not qua woman. The practice enjoined by Paul is meant to signify this difference De trinitate This exegesis safeguards the godlikeness of woman against a widespread patristic consensus and, it appears, against Paul himself, but at the same time defends social inequality and even endows it with metaphysical and religious significance Stark a.

Clark : his mother, Monnica her name appears only in Confessiones 9. In the dialogues of Cassiciacum, Monnica represents a philosophical way of life based on the natural intuitions of reason and on an unshakable Christian faith together with a life according to the precepts of Christian morality De beata vita 10; De ordine 1.

Augustine represents her influence on his religious life as pervasive from his earliest years onwards and even compares her to the Mother Church Confessiones 1.

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She embodies ideal Christian love of the neighbor see 7. With this she however combines, especially in the earlier books, more mundane motives, e. Like the other human influences on Augustine reported in the Confessiones , she is used by God as an instrument of his grace in a way she neither foresees nor wills. True to the deliberately counter-intuitive and often provocative procedure of the Confessiones , he singles out an emotion that, then as now, most people would have easily understood but which he nevertheless interprets as a mark of his sinful state because it resulted from the loss of a female body he had, in a kind of mutual sexual exploitation, enjoyed for the sake of pleasure Confessiones 4.

For this disobedience they, and all humankind with them, were punished with the disobedience of their own selves, i. The inability of human beings to control their sexual desires and even their sexual organs witness the shameful experiences of involuntary male erection or of impotence: De civitate dei But he thought that Adam and Eve had been able to control their sexual organs voluntarily so as to limit their use to the natural purpose of procreation; in paradise, there had been sexuality but no concupiscence De civitate dei Original sin had destroyed this ideal state, and since then sexual concupiscence is an inevitable concomitant of procreation—an evil that may be put to good use in legitimate marriage, where the purpose of sexual intercourse is the procreation of children rather than bodily pleasure De nuptiis et concupiscentia 1.