Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Augustine's Migration from Intellectualism and Hedonism to Faith in Christ

In the introduction to a book of Latin selections of Saint Augustine’s De Civitate Dei (City of God), by Reverend William G. Most, one finds enlightening facts about Augustine’s migration to a Biblical faith in Jesus Christ:

Dr. Most writes:

“...we find Augustine in his nineteenth year, a brilliant student at Carthage. In the course of his reading he came upon Cicero’s treatise on the excellence of philosophy, the Hortensius (now lost). The reading of this work enkindled in Augustine a desire for philosophy. Since he did not find the name of Christ in Cicero’s work, Augustine was not content to seek for wisdom there, and he quite naturally turned to the Scriptures. What he thought was his fine literary sense was offended by the unpretentious language of the Scriptures, and he considered them crude, and often in flatly incorrect Latin, for St. Jerome had not yet made his new translation. Thus it was that we find Augustine looking eagerly for an intellectual system which would satisfy his love for wisdom, but which would not fetter his lax moral habits.”

In other words, Augustine wanted Christ, and Christ’s Word, but written according to Augustine’s literary preferences and presented in a way so as to meet his intellectual presuppositions, while at the same time giving him permission to live his life with no moral delineations.

So Augustine became enamored with the Manichean system, primarily because, as Dr. Most writes, it allowed Augustine to justify his “loose morality.” However, that, too, lost it's luster over time. 

“For nine years Augustine had to content himself with a gradually weakening faith in Manichaeism, bolstered by the hope of Faustus.” Faustus, however, “could not solve Augustine’s troubles.”

“Augustine was sorely disillusioned. He no longer hoped to find the wisdom he sought in Manichaeism, but did not know where else to seek it. His old intellectual well as his even more lax morals, still plagued him.”

So Augustine left his teaching post at Carthage and went to Rome, where he was attracted to the “philosophy of the New Academy” (the successor to the original Academy of Plato): 

“For the Academy professed to teach that truth was unknowable, and that the best substitute to be had was a probable opinion.”

Augustine began teaching rhetoric at Rome, as he had at Carthage, but was soon offered a professor of rhetoric position in Milan, which he took. 


“he decided to resume the rank of catechumen in the Catholic Church until he could find something better.”

The ensuing stops on Augustine’s journey include: listening to the sermon’s of Ambrose, Bishop of Milan; Neoplatonism; and finally 

“a return to the reading of Scripture, and especially St. Paul.” 

At this point,

“Augustine’s intellectual obstacles were practically gone, as he himself admitted. But his moral faults still held him back, and Neoplatonism could give him no help against that weakness...Something more was still needed.”

Augustine then came into contact with, and saw models of, lives changed by a conversion to Christ:

“Grace, operating through the good examples of which he had heard, drove Augustine into an interior struggle. Images of heroic men and women...floated before his eyes.” 

He was asked, Dr. Most writes,

“whether he could not do what they had done, trusting in God, and not in himself. And when he would wish to get up and obey, the phantasms of his immoral attachments pulled him back. Getting up and leaving his friend Alypius who had been nearby, he (Augustine) sought relief in tears, when he heard what seemed to be the voice of a child nearby singing: Tolle lege, Tolle lege. Interpreting this as a call from heaven, he picked up the copy of St. Paul, and read the first words on which his eye fell: ‘Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in couches and debauch, not in quarreling and jealousy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh and its concupiscences.’ He read no more. The darkness of doubt was gone.”

What happened next?

Augustine "resigned his position as professor of rhetoric, and retired to the country villa of his friend....After receiving baptism from the hands of St. Ambrose, he set out for Africa".

Augustine eventually became the bishop of Hippo and the writer of more than one hundred literary works, including his Confessions.

The above trajectory of Augustine’s thinking is remarkable when one consider's that Augustine was born on November 13, 354 in North Africa. It simply goes to show that the superiority complex of self pride in one’s intellectualism and humanism is nothing new. The active, living Word of God is what freed Augustine from self and hedonism and gave him truth and peace. 

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” Colossians 2:8

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

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