Monday, August 29, 2011

Saint Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine of Hippo (lat. Sanctus Augustinus, b. 354, Thagaste Numidia - d. 28 August 430, Hippo Regius, the territory of today's Algeria), known also as Aurelius Augustinus, is one of the leading Christian theologians and philosophers, whose works have changed the European mind. His theology influenced not only the theological thoughts for more that a millennium, but also the political European thought.

Life

St. Augustine was born in Tagaste, in North Africa in November 13, 354. His father, Patricius, was a pagan and his mother Saint Monica, was an exemplary practitioner of Christianity. Augustine’s elementary education, received in his hometown, was Christian, but he wasn’t baptized as young. Being 16 he continued his studies at Madaura and Carthage and here came to “the way of sin”, as he says in his Confessions, having a mistress and later a son.

Between 373-383 Augustine is Professor of Rhetoric in Tagaste and later in Carthage. Prior being Christian, he passed through several religions and philosophical orientations, particularly Manichaeism and dealt with clear division between good and evil, being concerned about the origin of evil. The Christianity appeared to Augustine as too simple, and instead of it Manichaeism was soliciting his intelligence. Though in the next 9 years he became unpleased by this faith and so went to Rome to teach rhetoric. Having not the success that he was expected, in 384 went to Milan where he became acquainted with the Neoplatonism, a modified version of Plato's philosophy, developed by Plotinus in the third century. Here he met the Christian St. bishop Ambrose and heard his preaches.

Just when he thought to marry his former mistress, in order to give legitimacy to the relationship from his youth and to his son, he is involved in a new love story. But in this crisis, he retires in Cassiacus, a garden nearby, where it takes place his famous conversion, recorded in the eighth book of the Confessions. In a moment of revelation, “after a dramatic examination of the depths of his being”, under a fig tree, Augustine hears a child from the house near, saying: “Tolle, lege tolle, lege” (“take and read”) and, taking the Bible, he read the first words which fell under the eyes: “Not banquets and drunkenness, not in fornication and in deeds of shame, not in strife and envying: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and caring The body will not do for lust” (Romans 13). After this moment of conversion, he let himself baptized by Bishop Ambrose on the night of the Easter 387.

In 389 Augustine returned to Tagaste, where he was founding a monastic community, dedicated to the study of Scripture, and started the fight with the Manichaeanism and some Christian heresies. In the meantime he became priest in 391 and auxiliary bishop in Hippo Regius (395), being 42 years old. Later became the bishop of this town and remained in Hippo until the end of life.

Augustine died at Hippo in 430 AD, in the seventy-sixth year of life. Vandals, one of barbarian tribes that invaded the Roman Empire in the process of dismantling, at that time besieged the town and several months later, they conquered it and burnt it almost completely.

Augustine’s Work

Although he was a bishop of a small town, Augustine’s brilliance seemed to all so obvious, that he has quickly become one of the most respected leaders of the Church. He is famous by his very many religious writings, completed probably being helped by many scribes. There are known today about 500 of his sermons and over 2000 of letters. Among his books, the most beautiful and influential are De Civitate Dei (“City of God”) and Confessiones (“Confessions”). The last one is maybe the most famous autobiography ever written, dating back to the days when he was less than fifty years.

The free will and the predestination theory

Many letters and sermons of Augustine are dedicated for combating Manichaeism, Donatism (a schismatic Christian sect from Northern Africa) and Pelagianism. Pelagius was an English monk who came to Rome around 400 in order to expose some interesting theological doctrines. He argued that all the human beings are untouched by original sin, so we have the freedom to choose between the good and the evil. The pious life and good deeds a person can obtain salvation. Partly because of the writings of St. Augustine, the views of Pelagius and the monk himself were declared heretical, and Pelagius had been exiled from Rome and excommunicated. As Augustine says, everyone bears the stigma of Adam’s sin. Human beings alone are unable to reach the Salvation through their own efforts and good deeds. For individual saving there is needed the Grace. In this way, Augustine maybe concentrated too much to show the human sin, and he didn’t speak about the human contribution in the work of salvation. Augustine argued that God already knows who will be saved and who not, and that therefore some of us are predestined to be saved. This idea of ​​predestination had a great influence on theologians who followed, such as Thomas Aquinas, and it was interpreted later so radically by Luther and John Calvin, that they said the human can’t do nothing for the salvation. In this way, the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is the salvation itself, without the human to accept it or not, and from here came the idea of the predestination. In this way, some people are damned from the eternity and this transforms God into an arbitrary entity, without love for his children. Of course, this doctrine is far away of Augustine’s views.

The philosophy of the history (The City of God, 413- 426)

During the life of Augustine, the Roman Empire was quickly dismantled. So, in 410, Rome itself was devastated by Alaric’s Visigoths. Naturally, the remaining pagans in Rome claimed already before this moment, that Rome had been punished for abandoning the old gods in favor of Christianity. In the most famous book of St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei, “the City of God”, the bishop of Hippo was defending the Christianity. Here he wrote his philosophy of history, which had a considerable influence on what happened later in Europe.

St. Augustine puts history in a linear time axis, which starts from the creation of the world by God and ends at the time of the Final Judgement. Because of the original sin, being ejected from the paradise, all the creation splits into two entities. So arose the two cities: in one reside the evil spirits, which is Satan’s city, and the second city is governed by the divine laws. In the City of God there is only love and devotion for each other, and the inhabitants are in a permanent and total war with the devil's servants, war which will last until the end of history. The number of the warriors of Christ must increase continuously until the final defeat of Satan.

Augustine expressed the opinion that neither the Roman Empire nor the city of Rome or another earthly city have a critical importance in the world. Essential is only the “celestial city”, in other words, the spiritual progress of mankind. The vehicle of this progress is, of course, the Church (“There is no salvation outside the Church”). In conclusion, the kings, whether pagan or Christian, have not the same importance as the Church leaders or the Church itself.

The Church is, in this way, the model of the state of God on earth, and every Christian should have the belief of being part of the Christ’s Army, and from each action depends not only his own salvation but also the fate of the City of God. In every community, town or village, the priest is organizing the world after the divine model. In this way, the other mundane differences, such as linguistic culture, the political identity etc., become less important than the quality of being faithful to the Church.

While Augustine himself did not do the final step, his argument leaded in the Middle Ages to the conclusion that the secular rulers should be subordinated to the Church and to its Roman leader, the pope. This idea was therefore behind the long conflict between the Church and the State, which has marked the history of Europe for many centuries, and the actual idea of the separation between the two entities, is an Augustinian one. In contrast, the Byzantine formula was the “synergeia”, the co-work between the church and the state, the bycephal monarchy – emperor and patriarch, which led until now to a mixing policy between the church and the state.

The Confessions (397-398)

His most important work for the researching of the human mind are, definitely, the Confessions. The book is an “exploring guide” of the thoughts, sins and mistakes, virtues, falling and returning. If the City of God is more an argumentative book, the Confessions are the leading path of a human through the life. The human himself finds in the world someway as a stranger. The quote “You made us searchers of yours, oh Lord, and our hearts shall ever restless be, until they find their rest in Thee” (Confessiones 1:1) is maybe the most common place from his work.

Augustine states that the measuring of time and space come to the human being indirectly: he only adapts to them. There is well known his theory about the time and what is its meaning for the mentality: very normal to understand, as judging actually, but if asking exactly: “what is the time?”, the question remains eternally without a satisfactory answer.

The Confessions and the later Retractationes are models of a human who recognized always his limits, the possibility of error and return, as a total humble man. The sublime of Augustine’s thoughts is not coming from his brilliant theories, from his philosophy, but from his human fineness in this extraordinary book.

Other books:

On Christian Doctrine

On the Trinity

On Faith and the Creed

Concerning Faith of Things Not Seen

On the Profit of Believing

On the Creed: A Sermon to Catechumens

On Continence

On the Good of Marriage

On Holy Virginity

On Patience

On the Morals of the Catholic Church

Acts or Disputation Against Fortunatus the Manichaean

Concerning the Nature of Good, Against the Manichaeans

On Baptism, Against the Donatists

On Nature and Grace

On Man's Perfection in Righteousness

On the Proceedings of Pelagius

On the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin

On the Soul and its Origin

On Grace and Free Will

On Rebuke and Grace

The Harmony of the Gospels

Tractates on the Gospel of John

Homilies on the First Epistle of John

Soliloquies

Expositions on the Psalms

Augustine remains a central figure, both within Christianity and in the history of Western thought. Himself much influenced by Platonism and neo-Platonism, particularly by Plotinus, Augustine was important to the “baptism” of Greek thought and its entrance into the Western Christian (and subsequently the European) intellectual tradition. Also important was his early and influential writing on the human will, a central topic in ethics, and one which became a focus for later philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, but also to the Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin.

His memory

The Roman Church and all the churches of the western traditions are celebrating St. Augustine in the day of his death, on August 28. In the Eastern communities, his image was not so strong imposed, so he is celebrated commonly with St. Jeronimus, on June 15.

The Fifth Ecumenical Council, held in Constantinople in A.D. 553, listed Augustine among the other Fathers of the Church who are normative for the entire Ecclesia “We further declare that we hold fast to the decrees of the four Councils, and in every way follow the holy Fathers, Athanasius, Hilary, Basil, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, Theophilus, John (Chrysostom) of Constantinople, Cyril, Augustine, Proclus, Leo and their writings on the true faith”. Later, in the acts of the 6th Ecumenical Council, he is called the “most excellent and blessed Augustine” and is referred to as “the most wise teacher”. In the Comnenian Council of Constantinople in 1166 he is referred to as “Ό Αγίος Αυγουστίνος” – “Saint Augustine”.

Although there are today some reserves about his celebration in the East, being called “blessed” (lat. “beatus”) and not saint, this situation came probably in the late Middle Ages, when he was accused of some “western” theories which were not accepted in the East, such as the theory of predestination, the papal primacy or the theory of Filioque. Though being so or not, the cathegory of “blessed” is not a typical eastern, which make only differences between monk-saints, hierarchs, martyrs, etc, but not between “more” or “less” saints. The actual situation is often debated and many educated voices claims to re-establish the memory of St. Augustine in its place.

His relics

The relics of St. Augustine are today in the “San Pietro” Church in Ciel d’Oro, from the Augustinian monastery in Pavia, Italy. Augustine died in Hippo, in 430 and was buried in the cathedral there. According to Bede’s True Martyrology, his body was moved to Cagliari, because of the vandal conquest of the region (they were arians). Bede tells that the remains were later redeemed out of the hands of the Saracens there, by Peter, the bishop of Pavia and deposited in the church of Saint Peter about the year 720, place where they rest until today.

1 comment:

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