Augustine (Encyclopedia of Science and Religion)
Augustine (35430 C.E.) was born on November 13 in Thagaste in present-day Algeria. His father Patricius, a town councilor with a modest income, was a pagan who was only baptized on his deathbed. Patricius was married to a Christian woman named Monnica, with whom he had three children.
As a young man, Augustine studied grammar and rhetoric in Madaura. Owing to the limited financial means of his family, he was obliged to return home when he was sixteen. Thanks to help from friends, however, he was able to travel to Carthage, where he completed his studies. At the age of eighteen he read Cicero's Hortensius, which impressed him and awakened in him a desire for wisdom. He was disappointed with his first reading of the Scriptures, however, largely because of what he deemed to be their inferior literary quality. He turned to the Manichaeans for the next nine or ten years, attracted by their promise of knowledge without faith. Around 372 he met a woman, with whom he would live for thirteen years and with whom he would have a son, Adeodatus. To earn a living, he taught rhetoric in Carthage, but he was disappointed in his students, who apparently were far from attentive and did everything to disrupt the classes. In 383, he left Carthage and traveled to Rome but was similarly dismayed when his students there failed to pay for their lessons. He then traveled to Milan, at that time the capital of the Roman Empire in the West, where his Manichaean friends and the prefect of Milan, Symmachus, secured for him a post as a teacher of rhetoric.
While in Milan, Augustine heard sermons by Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, whose stylish appearance and impressive performance profoundly impressed Augustine. Disappointed by the Manichaeans' failure to deliver the promised insight, Augustine decided to leave the movement, and for a short time he leaned toward skepticism because he thought he would never gain the truth he desired.
In Milan he was joined by his mother, who sent away Augustine's mistress and sought a fitting wife for him. Adeodatus remained with his father. The matchmaking efforts failed, however, when Augustine came under the influence of Platonism, in part due to the strong Platonic bias of Ambrose's sermons. In Platonic thought, Augustine found an answer to the then existential question: unde malum (Where does evil come from?). His inability to renounce physical desire delayed his conversion until the autumn of 386. But after reading Romans 13:134 he became convinced of the need to renounce "worldly depravity," and on Easter night 387 he received baptism. He thereafter decided to return to Africa but was forced to wait until 388 because of the political turmoil. A revolt of the Roman troops in Africa postponed his return.
Augustine founded a religious community in Thagaste, where he spent his time in study and writing, and soon became a respected scholar. He traveled to nearby Hippo in 391, where he was persuaded to become a priest and to assist Valerius, the bishop of Hippo. Augustine succeeded Valerius as bishop in 395 or 396, a role he fulfilled with great dedication for the rest of his life. He also served as pastor in the liturgy and as a judge, and he took great care in attending to people's material needs. Letters discovered in 1975 (first critical edition: 1981) reveal his profound concern for the condition and well-being of the poor and the slaves. Augustine also worked to refute the Manichaeans, and he was involved in discussions with the Donatists, a local Christian movement, which actively opposed Roman oppression.
Around 411, Augustine decided to address Pelagianism, a strong ascetically oriented movement, which Augustine felt put too little emphasis on God's saving grace in Jesus Christ and depended too heavily on the moral potential of human beings themselves. Augustine's dispute with the Pelagians lasted until the end of his life. Especially in his last works, which were destined to be read by monks in Hadrumetum and Marseille, Augustine emphasized predestination, creating the impression that he had given up on the capacity of the human will. Because of this, and also because of his negative opinion of concupiscentia carnis (sinful desire, mainly in its sexual manifestation), scholars assess this period of his life to have been pessimistic.
Augustine was the most productive author in Latin antiquity. His autobiographical Confessions describes his life up to his conversion. This work and Augustine's De civitate Dei (City of God), written after the fall of Rome in 410, have become classics of world literature. Because of his intellectual prestige, he was asked to offer his views on a wide range of matters. In addition to Confessions and De civitate Dei, his most important works are Enarrationes in Psalmos (Explanations of the Psalms c. 418), De Trinitate (The Trinity c. 420), and Enchiridion (A Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love 422). His late works form part of the basis for the theological developments of the Reformation and the Jansenism movement during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Views on science and religion
The correlation between faith and reason arose during Augustine's time, and his thinking was influenced by such trends as Stoicism, neo-Platonism, and Manichaeism. He was, of course, greatly influenced by the Scriptures and the writings of his Christian predecessors. The Scriptures represented ultimate authority and the source of all truth for Augustine. His reflections on the relation between faith, knowledge, and "science" developed within his theocratic image of the world and humankind. For Augustine, the one and only ( Jewish-Christian) God is the creator of the universe and humankind (body and soul). Humans, like all parts of nature, are dependent on the creator. Such a view involves an inherent teleology, toward which the universe as process is ultimately ordered (Confessions 9, 23, 24). It also means that true knowledge is dependent on having a correct relationship with a personal and provident God, a view that deviates from the classical philosophy of, for example, the Stoa, where the cosmos as a whole represents a living and rational reality. According to Augustine, humans look for knowledge of self and God through reason because this will provide them with true happiness; religion cannot be disconnected from an active pursuit of truth. Religion and truth are closely bound, and knowledge occurs by means of an inward upward movement in the course of which truth reveals itself. For Augustine, one must search for truth in one's heart, and this inward movement must lead to a transcendent movement toward God, the truth. In this process God, who is love, plays an essential role because knowledge and love are bound together: As Augustine states in De Trinitate (9, 2, 2), "There is no knowing without loving, and no loving without knowing." For Augustine, body and soul are also closely linked, and Augustine's reflections on body and soul helped form the basis of the Western concept of "self." Furthermore, human freedom and autonomy for Augustine do not have the same importance as they enjoy in modern thought. Philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and theology are always intrinsically linked and cannot be separated. Augustine's view of human history is essentially determined by his belief in the God of Jesus Christ and in the crucial part that Christ, as sole intermediary, plays in history. Augustine was convinced that there can be no true knowledge, salvation, or welfare outside of faith in Christ. The only criterion of judgment is the Christian faith.
The soul must guide the body and serve as reference to God; it is the image and likeness of God, which is why human beings, of all creatures, are closest to God. The soul hosts the memory and makes humans rational beings. Augustine distinguishes between superior reason (also called intellectus and sapientia), which is concerned with knowledge of unchanging principles, and inferior reason, which is focused on temporary things and is related to science. It is via superior reason that humans can see the truth "in" God.
Augustine is less univocal in his discussion of the body, which he judges in both positive and negative terms. He often spoke of love for the body and the duty to take care of it. When reacting to Manichaean dualism, he emphasized that the body is an essential part of the human person, and he strongly defended the resurrection of the body. At the same time, he regarded the body as a hindrance to the soul in the search for true happiness and as a source of sinfulness and mortality. In this connection he often spoke in a Pauline sense about life according to the flesh, in which the soul itself is always actively involved. Especially during the Pelagian controversy, Augustine emphasized that there is a sinful longing in all people (concupiscentia carnis), which prevents them from doing the good they want to do.
Augustine's life can be described as a continuous search for the truth, although he was not a scientific theologian in the medieval or modern meaning of the word. Especially in his early period, he looked for mathematical (positive-scientific) certainty in his search for truth, which helps explain his interest in astrology. Augustine quickly discovered, however, that astrology did not lead him to the truth he sought, and his initial sympathy would, after a period of skeptical doubt, disappear. Around 400, he rejected the power of astronomy to predict people's fate on the basis of heavenly signs. He thereafter fiercely and repeatedly criticized astrology, although Bernard Bruning has suggested that Augustine may have traded his initial astrological fatalism for a divine fatalism (predestination). Nonetheless, after his conversion Augustine became convinced that true knowledge could only be gained through Christian revelation, even though this knowledge would always remain fragmentary and incomplete in this world.
See also EMBODIMENT; FAITH; FREEDOM; GOD; IMAGO DEI; REVELATION; SOUL; TELEOLOGY
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Duffy, Stephen J. "Anthropology." In Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, ed. Allan D. Fitzgerald. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999.
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Lamberigts, Mathijs. "Julien d'Eclane et Augustin d'Hippone: Deux conceptions d'Adam." Augustiniana 40 (1990): 37310.
Lancel, Serge. Saint Augustine, trans. Antonia Neville. London: SCM Press, 2002.
Mayer, Cornelius P., ed. Augustinus-Lexikon. Basel, Switzerland: Schwabe, 1986.
O'Daly, Gerard. Augustine's Philosophy of Mind. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.
Pacioni, Vingilie. L'unità teoretica del "De ordine" di S. Agostino. Rome: Millenium, 1996.
Rist, John M. Augustine: Ancient Thought Baptized. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
van Bavel, Tarsicius J. "No One Ever Hated His Own Flesh: Eph. 5:29." Augustiniana 45 (1995): 453.