Saint Augustine Western Christian World-View
By Lewis Loflin
A very influential and great philosopher and theologian of Late Antiquity, Saint Augustine of Hippo is the most important of the Latin Church Fathers. His works, especially his Confessions (a self-biography) and City of God, helped distinguish the Church in Western Europe from the Church as it developed elsewhere.
Protestant reformers Calvin and Luther, would draw their theology from this man. It would be very wise to find out what this man really taught. Augustine would also justify the "Just War" doctrine to give the church the theological grounds for murder and terror in Christ' name.
Augustine did have one opponent and his name is Pelagius, a British monk. The church went along with Augustine and declared Pelagius a heretic in the West, but he was cleared in the East.
In Confessions that I read in college we have a profile of a disturbed and unhappy man. As a child he complained of wanting to play like other children yet goes on to talk about harsh beatings for neglecting his studies and how his parents "enjoyed" his torment. He never married, but bore a son with a concubine that he fell in love with. He grieved when she was sent away and he couldn't marry her because of some social custom he never went into. His father died before he went to Italy. He would grieve later for his mother and the sacking of Rome.
He was born to Latin speaking parents of mixed religious beliefs on November 13, AD 354 at Thagaste, in the north African province of Numidia. Augustine's father, Patricius, was a pagan and his mother (Saint Monica) while a Christian still held some pagan ideas. Their mixed beliefs caused confusion for Augustine and led him to question religion in general. It made sense that Augustine searched for truth, as well as deciding at a later date to convert to Christianity. It should be noted that his religious confusion, search for truth, and deep emotional pain in his personal life twisted his vision of Christianity once he did convert.
Financed by a family friend at the age of sixteen, Augustine moved to Carthage to study rhetoric. At seventeen he read Cicero's "Hortensius" which further inspired him to know the truth. Soon Augustine joined the Manichees. The Manichees were a religious group that stressed purity of life and the need to place emphasis on the importance of Christ.
The Manichees seemed so valuable to Augustine because they promised to provide him with the "truth" he was seeking. With the Manichees, Augustine was able to write his first work which dealt with aesthetics and was entitled, "On the Beautiful and the Fitting."
One point not brought out in Confessions is, "Who are the Manichees?" When he wrote his biography the Manichees were a well known and altering type of Christianity. Drawing from Christianity, Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism/Mithraism and Greek paganism, their main theme was all creation (flesh) was evil. They believed all sex, even in marriage including the birth of children was evil and sinful.
Thus celibacy is best and in my opinion the Catholic church drew its celibacy nonsense from this introducing another pagan concept into the faith. Augustine, because of his love of sex, would be torn between sex and sin. Lastly, Manichees were dualist and apocalyptic believing in good versus evil, Satan versus God, etc. (Zoroastrianism) The Book of John and Book of Revelation are heavy on Gnostic symbolism and perhaps proto-Gnostic. The Manichees were declared heretics and wiped-out by the Church.
Even more important is the Gnostic and Manichean influence was very strong in Alexandria, Egypt and in my opinion that along with Neo-Platonism would influence the Trinity. The Christianity of the 4th century was not the Christianity of most early Christians or anything Jesus ever taught. See Gnosticism, an Overview.
By 384 Augustine was unsatisfied with the Manichees and he broke away to open the New Academy, a school of rhetoric, in which he became the official orator of Milan. Much of his time seem to be spent trying to get his students to pay him. Augustine was finally converted to Christianity in 386 and was baptized the next year. The damage was already done.
In 391 he returned to North Africa to live a somewhat monastic (celebrate) life before being ordained as a priest in order to assist the archbishop of Hippo. Four years later Augustine became the Bishop of Hippo, from which point he devoted all his work to the service of the church.
It was in 397 that Augustine began his autobiographical Confessions. His intention for this work was to give an account of his conversion to Christianity. Augustine also expressed his ultimate desire for truth and happiness therein. Just page after page of happy self-loathing. He finished his Confessions in 401. Shortly thereafter he began work on another book during that period which was titled City of God. In it, Augustine traced the story of the human race from the time of Adam and Eve in the Tigris-Euphrates river region to his own time.
Augustine remained Bishop of Hippo until his death in 430 AD.
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