Teaching of St. Augustine of Hippo
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) is "a philosophical and theological genius of the first order, dominating, like a pyramid, antiquity and the succeeding ages. Compared with the great philosophers of past centuries and modern times, he is the equal of them all; among theologians he is undeniably the first, and such has been his influence that none of the Fathers, Scholastics, or Reformers has surpassed it." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church ) Elsewhere, we have discussed his life and his writings ; here, we shall treat of his teaching and influence in three sections:I. His Function as a Doctor of the Church
II. His System of Grace
III. Augustinism in History
I. HIS FUNCTION AS A DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH
When the critics endeavour to determine Augustine's place in the history of the Church and of civilization, there can be no question of exterior or political influence, such as was exercised by St. Leo , St. Gregory, or St. Bernard. As Reuter justly observes, Augustine was bishop of a third-rate city and had scarcely any direct control over politics, and Harnack adds that perhaps he had not the qualifications of a statesman. If Augustine occupies a place apart in the history of humanity, it is as a thinker, his influence being felt even outside the realm of theology, and playing a most potent part in the orientation of Western thought. It is now universally conceded that, in the intellectual field, this influence is unrivalled even by that of Thomas Aquinas, and Augustine's teaching marks a distinct epoch in the history of Christian thought. The better to emphasize this important fact we shall try to determine: (1) the rank and degree of influence that must be ascribed to Augustine; (2) the nature, or the elements, of his doctrinal influence; (3) the general qualities of his doctrine ; and (4) the character of his genius.
It is first of all a remarkable fact that the great critics, Protestant as well as Catholic, are almost unanimous in placing St. Augustine in the foremost rank of Doctors and proclaiming him to be the greatest of the Fathers. Such, indeed, was also the opinion of his contemporaries, judging from their expressions of enthusiasm gathered by the Bollandists. The popes attributed such exceptional authority to the Doctor of Hippo that, even of late years, it has given rise to lively theological controversies. Peter the Venerable accurately summarized the general sentiment of the Middle Ages when he ranked Augustine immediately after the Apostles ; and in modern times Bossuet, whose genius was most like that of Augustine, assigns him the first place among the Doctors, nor does he simply call him the incomparable Augustine," but "the Eagle of Doctors," "the Doctor of Doctors." If the Jansenistic abuse of his works and perhaps the exaggerations of certain Catholics, as well as the attack of Richard Simon, seem to have alarmed some minds, the general opinion has not varied. In the nineteenth century Stöckl expressed the thought of all when he said, "Augustine has justly been called the greatest Doctor of the Catholic world."
And the admiration of Protestant critics is not less enthusiastic. More than this, it would seem as if they had in these latter days been quite specially fascinated by the great figure of Augustine, so deeply and so assiduously have they studied him (Bindemann, Schaff, Dorner, Reuter, A. Harnack, Eucken, Scheel, and so on) and all of them agree more or less with Harnack when he says: "Where, in the history of the West, is there to be found a man who, in point of influence, can be compared with him?" Luther and Calvin were content to treat Augustine with a little less irreverence than they did the other Fathers, but their descendants do him full justice, although recognizing him as the Father of Roman Catholicism. According to Bindemann, "Augustine is a star of extraordinary brilliancy in the firmament of the Church. Since the apostles he has been unsurpassed." In his "History of the Church" Dr. Kurtz calls Augustine "the greatest, the most powerful of all the Fathers, him from whom proceeds all the doctrinal and ecclesiastical development of the West, and to whom each recurring crisis, each new orientation of thought brings it back." Schaff himself (Saint Augustine, Melanchthon and Neander, p. 98) is of the same opinion: "While most of the great men in the history of the Church are claimed either by the Catholic or by the Protestant confession, and their influence is therefore confined to one or the other, he enjoys from both a respect equally profound and enduring." Rudolf Eucken is bolder still, when he says: "On the ground of Christianity proper a single philosopher has appeared and that is Augustine." The English Miter, W. Cunningham, is no less appreciative of the extent and perpetuity of this extraordinary influence: "The whole life of the medieval Church was framed on lines which he has suggested: its religious orders claimed him as their patron; its mystics found a sympathetic tone in his teaching; its polity was to some extent the actualization of his picture of the Christian Church ; it was in its various parts a carrying out of ideas which he cherished and diffused. Nor does his influence end with the decline of medievalism : we shall see presently how closely his language was akin to that of Descartes, who gave the first impulse to and defined the special character of modern philosophy." And after having established that the doctrine of St. Augustine was at the bottom of all the struggles between Jansenists and Catholics in the Church of France, between Arminians and Calvinists on the side of the Reformers, he adds: "And once more in our own land when a reaction arose against rationalism and Erastinianism it was to the African Doctor that men turned with enthusiasm: Dr. Pusey's edition of the Confessions was among the first-fruits of the Oxford Movement."
But Adolf Harnack is the one who has oftenest emphasized the unique rôle of the Doctor of Hippo. He has studied Augustine's place in the history of the world as reformer of Christian piety and his influence as Doctor of the Church. In his study of the "Confessions" he comes back to it: "No man since Paul is comparable to him" -- with the exception of Luther, he adds. -- "Even today we live by Augustine, by his thought and his spirit; it is said that we are the sons of the Renaissance and the Reformation, but both one and the other depend upon him."(2) Nature and different aspects of his doctrinal influence
This influence is so varied and so complex that it is difficult to consider under all its different aspects. First of all, in his writings the great bishop collects and condenses the intellectual treasures of the old world and transmits them to the new. Harnack goes so far as to say: "It would seem that the miserable existence of the Roman empire in the West was prolonged until then, only to permit Augustine's influence to be exercised on universal history." It was in order to fulfil this enormous task that xxyyyk.htm">Providence brought him into contact with the three worlds whose thought he was to transmit: with the Roman and Latin world in the midst of which he lived, with the Oriental world partially revealed to him through the study of Manichæism, and with the Greek world shown to him by the Platonists. In philosophy he was initiated into the whole content and all the subtilties of the various schools, without, however, giving his allegiance to any one of them. In theology it was he who acquainted the Latin Church with the great dogmatic work accomplished in the East during the fourth century and at the beginning of the fifth; he popularized the results of it by giving them the more exact and precise form of the Latin genius.
To synthesis of the past, Augustine adds the incomparable wealth of his own thought, and he may be said to have been the most powerful instrument of xxyyyk.htm">Providence in development and advance of dogma. Here the danger has been not in denying, but in exaggerating, this advance. Augustine's dogmatic mission (in a lower sphere and apart from inspiration) recalls that of Paul in the preaching of the Gospel. It has also been subject to the same attacks and occasioned the same vagaries of criticism. Just as it was sought to make of Paulinism the real source of Christianity as we know it -- a system that had smothered the primitive germ of the Gospel of Jesus -- so it was imagined that, under the name of Augustinianism, Augustine had installed in the Church some sort of syncretism of the ideas of Paul and of neo-Platonism which was a deviation from ancient Christianity, fortunate according to some, but according to others utterly deplorable. These fantasies do not survive the reading of the texts, and Harnack himself shows in Augustine the heir to the tradition that preceded him. Still, on the other hand, his share of invention and originality in the development of dogma must not be ignored, although here and there, on special questions, human weaknesses crop out. He realized, better than any of the Fathers, the progress so well expressed by Vincent of Lérins , his contemporary, in a page that some have turned against him.
In general, all Christian dogmatics are indebted to him for new theories that better justify and explain revelation, new views, and greater clearness and precision. The many struggles with which he was identified, together with the speculative turn of his mind, brought almost every question within the scope of his research. Even his way of stating problems so left his impress upon them that there Is no problem, one might almost say, in considering which the theologian does not feel the study of Augustine's thought to be an imperative obligation. Certain dogmas in particular he so amply developed, so skilfully unsheathing the fruitful germ of the truths from their envelope of tradition, that many of these dogmas (wrongly, in our opinion) have been set down as "Augustinism." Augustine was not their inventor, he was only the first to put them in a strong light. They are chiefly the dogmas of the Fall, the Atonement, Grace, and Predestination. Schaff (op. cit. 97) has very properly said: "His appearance in the history of dogma forms a distinct epoch, especially as regards anthropological and soteriological doctrines, which he advanced considerably further, and brought to a greater clearness and precision, than they had ever had before in the consciousness of the Church." But he is not only the Doctor of Grace, he is also the Doctor of the Church : his twenty years' conflict with Donatism led to a complete exposition of the dogmas of the Church, the great work and mystical Body of Christ, and true Kingdom of God , of its part in salvation and of the intimate efficacy of its sacraments. It is on this point, as the very centre of Augustinian theology, that Reuter has concentrated those "Augustinische Studien" which, according to Harnack, are the most learned of recent studies on St. Augustine. Manichæan controversies also led him to state clearly the great questions of the Divine Being and of the nature of evil, and he might also be called the Doctor of Good, or of good principles of all things. Lastly, the very idiosyncrasy of his genius and the practical, supernatural, and Divine imprint left upon all his intellectual speculations have made him the Doctor of Charity.
Another step forward due to the works of Augustine is in the language of theology, for, if he did not create it, he at least contributed towards its definite settlement. It is indebted to him for a great number of epigrammatic formulæ, as significant as they are terse, afterwards singled out and adopted by Scholasticism. Besides, as Latin was more concise and less fluid in its forms than Greek, it was wonderfully well suited to the work. Augustine made it the dogmatic language par excellence , and Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and others followed his lead. At times he has even been credited with the pseudo-Athanasian creed which is undoubtedly of later date, but those critics were not mistaken who traced its inspiration to the formulæ in "De Trinitate." Whoever its author may have been, he was certainly familiar with Augustine and drew upon his works. It is unquestionably this gift of concise expression, as well as his charity, that has so often caused the celebrated saying to be attributed to him: "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity."
Augustine stands forth, too, as the great inspirer of religious thought in subsequent ages. A whole volume would not be sufficient to contain the full account of his influence on posterity; here we shall merely call attention to its principal manifestations. It is, in the first place, a fact of paramount importance that, with St. Augustine, the centre of dogmatic and theological development changed from East to West. Hence, from this view-point again, he makes an epoch in the history of dogma. The critics maintain that up to his time the most powerful influence was exerted by the Greek Church, the East having been the classic land of theology, the great workshop for the elaboration of dogma. From the time of Augustine, the predominating influence seems to emanate from the West, and the practical, realistic spirit of the Latin race supplants the speculative and idealistic spirit of Greece and the East. Another fact, no less salient, is that it was the Doctor of Hippo who, in the bosom of the Church, inspired the two seemingly antagonistic movements, Scholasticism and Mysticism. From Gregory the Great to the Fathers of Trent, Augustine's theological authority, indisputably the highest, dominates all thinkers and is appealed to alike by the Scholastics Anselm, Peter Lombard, and Thomas Aquinas, and by Bernard, Hugh of St. Victor, and Tauler, exponents of Mysticism, all of whom were nourished upon his writings and penetrated with his spirit. There is not one of even the most modern tendencies of thought but derives from him whatever it may have of truth or of profound religious sentiment. Learned critics, such as Harnack, have called Augustine "the first modern man," and in truth, he so moulded the Latin world that it is really he who has shaped the education of modern minds. But, without going so far, we may quote the German philosopher, Eucken: "It is perhaps not paradoxical to say that if our age wishes to take up and treat in an independent way the problem of religion, it is not so much to Schleiermacher or Kant, or even Luther or St. Thomas, that it must refer, as to Augustine.... And outside of religion, there are points upon which Augustine is more modern than Hegel or Schopenhauer."(3) The dominating qualities of his doctrine
The better to understand St. Augustine's influence, we must point out in his doctrine certain general characteristics which must not be lost sight of, if, in reading his works, one would avoid troublesome misapprehensions.
First, the full development of the great Doctor's mind was progressive. It was by stages, often aided by the circumstances and necessities of controversy, that he arrived at the exact knowledge of each truth and a clean-cut perception of its place in the synthesis of revelation. He also requires that his readers should know how to "advance with him." It is necessary to study St. Augustine's works in historical order and, as we shall see, this applies particularly to the doctrine of grace.
Augustinian doctrine is, again, essentially theological, and has God for its centre. To be sure Augustine is a great philosopher, and Fénelon said of him: "If an enlightened man were to gather from the books of St. Augustine the sublime truths which this great man has scattered at random therein, such a compendium [ extrait ], made with discrimination, would be far superior to Descartes' Meditations." And indeed just such a collection was made by the Oratorian ontologist, André Martin. There is then a philosophy of St. Augustine, but in him philosophy is so Intimately coupled with theology as to be inseparable from it. Protestant historians have remarked this characteristic of his writings. "The world," says Eucken, "interests him less than" the action of God in the world and especially in ourselves. God and the soul are the only subjects the knowledge Of which ought to fire us with enthusiasm. All knowledge becomes moral, religious knowledge, or rather a moral, religious conviction, an act of faith on the part of man, who gives himself up unreservedly." And with still greater energy Böhringer has said: "The axis on which the heart, life and theology of Augustine move is God." Oriental discussions on the Word had forced Athanasius and the Greek Fathers to set faith in the Word and in Christ, the Saviour, at the very summit of theology ; Augustine, too, in his theology, places the Incarnation at the centre of the Divine plan, but he looks upon it as the great historic manifestation of God to humanity -- the idea of God dominates all: of God considered in His essence (On the Trinity), in His government (The City of God ) or as the last end of all Christian life (Enchiridion and On the Christian Combat).
Lastly, Augustine's doctrine bears an eminently Catholic stamp and is radically opposed to Protestantism. It is important to establish this fact, principally because of the change in the attitude of Protestant critics towards St. Augustine. Indeed, nothing is more deserving of attention than this development so highly creditable to the impartiality of modern writers. The thesis of the Protestants of olden times is well known. Attempts to monopolize Augustine and to make him an ante-Reformation reformer, were certainly not wanting. Of course Luther had to admit that he did not find in Augustine justification by faith alone, that generating principle of all Protestantism ; and Schaff tells us that he consoled himself with exclaiming (op. sit., p. 100): "Augustine has often erred, he is not to be trusted. Although good and holy, he was yet lacking in true faith as well as the other Fathers." But in general, the Reformation did not so easily fall into line, and for a long time it was customary to oppose the great name of Augustine to Catholicism. Article 20 of the Confession of Augsburg dares to ascribe to him justification without works, and Melanchthon invokes his authority in his "Apologia Confessionis." In the last thirty or forty years all has been changed, and the best Protestant critics now vie with one another in proclaiming the essentially Catholic character of Augustinian doctrine. In fact they go to extremes when they claim him to be the founder of Catholicism. It is thus that H. Reuter concludes his very important studies on the Doctor of Hippo: "I consider Augustine the founder of Roman Catholicism in the West....This is no new discovery, as Kattenbusch seems to believe, but a truth long since recognized by Neander, Julius Köstlin, Dorner, Schmidt,...etc.." Then, as to whether Evangelicalism is to be found in Augustine, he says: "Formerly this point was reasoned out very differently from what it is nowadays. The phrases so much in use from 1830 to 1870: Augustine is the Father of evangelical Protestantism and Pelagius is the Father of Catholicism , are now rarely met with. They have since been acknowledged to be untenable, although they contain a particula veri ." Philip Schaff reaches the same conclusion; and Dorner says, "It is erroneous to ascribe to Augustine the ideas that inspired the Reformation." No one, however, has put this idea in a stronger light than Harnack. Quite recently, in his 14th lesson on "The Essence of Christianity," he characterized the Roman Church by three elements, the third of which is Augustinism, the thought and the piety of St. Augustine. "In fact Augustine has exerted over the whole inner life of the Church, religious life and religious thought, an absolutely decisive influence." And again he says, "In the fifth century, at the hour when the Church inherited the Roman Empire, she had within her a man of extraordinarily deep and powerful genius: from him she took her ideas, and to this present hour she has been unable to break away from them." In his "History of Dogma" (English tr., V, 234, 235) the same critic dwells at length upon the features of what he calls the "popular Catholicism " to which Augustine belongs. These features are (a) the Church as a hierarchical institution with doctrinal authority; (b) eternal life by merits, and disregard of the Protestant thesis of " salvation by faith " -- that is, salvation by that firm confidence in God which the certainty of pardon produces (c) the forgiveness of sins -- in the Church and the Church ; (d) the distinction between commands and counsel -- between grievous sine and venial sins -- the scale of wicked men and good men -- the various degrees of happiness in heaven according to one's deserts ; (e) Augustine is accused of "outdoing the superstitious ideas " of this popular Catholicism -- the infinite value of Christ's satisfaction, salvation considered as enjoyment of God in heaven -- the mysterious efficacy of the sacraments ( ex opere operato ) -- Mary's virginity even in childbirth -- the idea of her purity and her conception, unique in their kind." Harnack does not assert that Augustine taught the Immaculate Conception, but Schaff (op. cit., p. 98) says unhesitatingly: "He is responsible also for many grievous errors of the Roman Church...he anticipated the dogma of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, and his ominous word, Roma locuta est, causa finite est , might almost be quoted in favour of the Vatican decree of papal infallibility."
Nevertheless, it were a mistake to suppose that modern Protestants relinquish all claim upon Augustine; they will have it that, despite his essential Catholicism, it was he who inspired Luther and Calvin. The new thesis, therefore, is that each of the two Churches may claim him in turn. Burke's expression quoted by Schaff (ibid., p. 102) is characteristic: "In Augustine ancient and modern ideas are melted and to his authority the papal Church has as much right to appeal as the Churches of the Reformation." No one notes this contradiction more clearly than Loofs. After stating that Augustine has accentuated the characteristic elements of Western (Catholic) Christianity, that in succeeding ages he became its Father, and that "the Ecclesiasticism of Roman Catholicism , Scholasticism, Mysticism, and even the claims of the papacy to temporal rule, are founded upon a tendency initiated by him," Loofs also affirms that he is the teacher of all the reformers and their bond of union, and concludes with this strange paradox: "The history of Catholicism is the history of the progressive elimination of Augustinism." The singular aptitude of these critics for supposing the existence of flagrant contradictions in a genius like Augustine is not so astonishing when we remember that, with Reuter, they justify this theory by the reflection: "In whom are to be found more frequent contradictions than in Luther ?" But their theories are based upon a false interpretation of Augustine's opinion, which is frequently misconstrued by those who are not sufficiently familiar with his language and terminology.(4) The character of his genius
We have now to ascertain what is the dominating quality which accounts for his fascinating influence upon posterity. One after another the critics have considered the various aspects of this great genius. Some have been particularly impressed by the depth and originality of his conceptions, and for these Augustine is the great sower of the ideas by which future minds are to live. Others, like Jungmann and Stöckl, have praised in him the marvellous harmony of all the mind's higher qualities, or, again, the universality and the compass of his doctrine. "In the great African Doctor," says the Rev. J. A. Zahm (Bible, Science and Faith, Fr. tr., 56), "we seem to have found united and combined the powerful and penetrating logic of Plato, the deep scientific conceptions of Aristotle, the knowledge and intellectual suppleness of Origen, the grace and eloquence of Basil and Chrysostom. Whether we consider him as philosopher, as theologian, or as exegetist...he still appears admirable the unquestioned Master of all the centuries." Philip Schaff (op. cit., p. 97) admires above all "such a rare union of the speculative talent of the Greek and of the practical spirit of the Latin Church as he alone possessed." In all these opinions there is a great measure of truth ; nevertheless we believe that the dominating characteristic of Augustine's genius and the true secret of his influence are to be found in his heart -- a heart that penetrates the most exalted speculations of a profound mind and animates them with the most ardent feeling. It is at bottom only the traditional and general estimate of the saint that we express; for he has always been represented with a heart for his emblem, just as Thomas Aquinas with a sun. Mgr. Bougaud thus interpreted this symbol: "Never did man unite in one and the same soul such stern rigour of logic with such tenderness of heart." This is also the opinion of Harnack, Böhringer, Nourisson, Storz, and others. Great intellectuality admirably fused with an enlightened mysticism is Augustine's distinguishing characteristic. Truth is not for him only an object of contemplation ; it is a good that must be possessed, that must be loved and lived by. What constitutes Augustine's genius is his marvellous gift of embracing truth with all the fibres of his soul ; not with the heart alone, for the heart does not think; not with the mind alone, for the mind grasps only the abstract or, as it were, lifeless truth. Augustine seeks the living truth, and even when he is combating certain Platonic ideas he is of the family of Plato, not of Aristotle. He belongs indisputably to all ages because he is in touch with all souls, but he is preeminently modern because his doctrine is not the cold light of the School; he is living and penetrated with personal sentiment. Religion is not a simple theory, Christianity is not a series of dogmas ; It Is also a life, as they say nowadays, or, more accurately, a source of life. However, let us not be deceived. Augustine is not a sentimentalist, a pure mystic, and heart alone does not account for his power. If in him the hard, cold intellectuality of the metaphysician gives place to an impassioned vision of truth, that truth is the basis of it all. He never knew the vaporous mysticism of our day, that allows itself to be lulled by a vague, aimless sentimentalism. His emotion is deep, true, engrossing, precisely because it is born of a strong, secure, accurate dogmatism that wishes to know what it loves and why it loves. Christianity is life, but life in the eternal, unchangeable truth. And if none of the Fathers has put so much of his heart into his writings, neither has any turned upon truth the searchlight of a stronger, clearer intellect.
Augustine's passion is characterized not by violence, but by a communicative tenderness; and his exquisite delicacy experiences first one and then another of the most intimate emotions and tests them; hence the irresistible effect of the "Confessions." Feuerlein, a Protestant thinker, has brought out in relief (exaggeratedly, to be sure, and leaving the marvellous powers of his intellect in the shade) Augustine's exquisite sensibility -- what he calls the "feminine elements" of his genius. He says: "It was not merely a chance or accidental part that his mother, Monica, played in his intellectual development, and therein lies what essentially distinguishes him from Luther, of whom it was said: "Everything about him bespeaks the man"'. And Schlösser, whom Feuerlein quotes, is not afraid to say that Augustine's works contain more genuine poetry than all the writings of the Greek Fathers. At least it cannot be denied that no thinker ever caused so many and such salutary tears to flow. This characteristic of Augustine's genius explains his doctrinal work. Christian dogmas are considered in relation to the soul and the great duties of Christian life, rather than to themselves and in a speculative fashion. This alone explains his division of theology in the "Enchiridion," which at first sight seems so strange. He assembles all Christian doctrine in the three theological virtues, considering in the mysteries the different activities of the soul that must live by them. Thus, in the Incarnation, he assigns the greatest part to the moral side, to the triumph of humility. For this reason, also, Augustine's work bears an imprint, until then unknown, of living personality peeping out everywhere. He inaugurates that literature in which the author's individuality reveals itself in the most abstract matters, the "Confessions" being an inimitable example of it. It is in this connection that Harnack admires the African Doctor's gift of psychological observation and a captivating facility for portraying his penetrating observations. This talent, he says, is the secret of Augustine's originality and greatness. Again, it is this same characteristic that distinguishes him from the other Doctors and gives him his own special temperament. The practical side of a question appealed to the Roman mind of Ambrose, too, but he never rises to the same heights, nor moves the heart as deeply as does his disciple of Milan. Jerome is a, more learned exegetist, better equipped in respect of Scriptural erudition; he is even purer in his style; but, despite his impetuous ardour, he is less animated, less striking, than his correspondent of Hippo. Athanasius, too, is subtile in the metaphysical analysis of dogma, but he does not appeal to the heart and take hold of the soul like the African Doctor. Origen played the part of initiator in the Eastern Church, just as Augustine did in the Western, but his influence, unfortunate in more ways than one, was exercised rather in the sphere of speculative intelligence, while that of Augustine, owing to the qualities of his heart, extended far beyond the realm of theology. Bossuet, who of all geniuses most closely resembles Augustine by his elevation and his universality, is his superior in the skilfulness and artistic finish of his works, but he has not the alluring tenderness of soul ; and if Augustine fulminates less, he attracts more powerfully, subjugating the mind with gentleness.
Thus may Augustine's universal influence in all succeeding ages be explained: it is due to combined gifts of heart and mind. Speculative genius alone does not sway the multitude; the Christian world, apart from professional theologians, does not read Thomas Aquinas. On the other hand, without the clear, definite idea of dogma, mysticism founders as soon as reason awakes and discovers the emptiness of metaphors: this is always the fate of vague pietism, whether it recognize Christ or not, whether It be extolled by Schleiermacher, Sabatier, or their disciples. But to Augustine's genius, at once enlightened and ardent, the whole soul is accessible, and the whole Church, both teachers and taught, is permeated by his sentiments and ideas. A. Harnack, more than any other critic, admires and describes Augustine's influence over all the life of Christian people. If Thomas Aquinas is the Doctor of the Schools, Augustine is, according to Harnack, the inspirer and restorer of Christian piety. If Thomas inspires the canons of Trent, Augustine, besides having formed Thomas himself, inspires the inner life of the Church and is the soul of all the great reforms effected within its pale. In his "Essence of Christianity" (14th lesson, 1900, p. 161) Harnack shows how Catholics and Protestants live upon the piety of Augustine. "His living has been incessantly relived in the course of the fifteen hundred years that have followed. Even to our days interior and living piety among Catholics, as well as the mode of its expression, has been essentially Augustinian: the soul is permeated by his sentiment, it feels as he felt and rethinks his thoughts. It is the same with many Protestants also, and they are by no means among the worst. And even those to whom dogma is but a relic of the past proclaim that Augustine's influence will live forever."
This genuine emotion is also the veil that hides certain faults from the reader or else makes him oblivious of them. Says Eucken: "Never could Augustine have exercised all the influence he has exercised if it had not been that, in spite of the rhetorical artifice of his utterance, absolute sincerity reigned in the inmost recesses of his soul." His frequent repetitions are excused because they are the expression of his deep feeling. Schaff says: "His books, with all the faults and repetitions of isolated parts, are a spontaneous outflow from the marvellous treasures of his highly-gifted mind and his truly pious heart." (St. Augustine, p. 96.) But we must also acknowledge that his passion is the source of exaggerations and at times of errors that are fraught with real danger for the inattentive or badly disposed reader. Out of sheer love for Augustine certain theologians have endeavoured to justify all he wrote, to admire all, and to proclaim him infallible, but nothing could be more detrimental to his glory than such excess of praise. The reaction already referred to arises partly from this. We must recognize that the passion for truth sometimes fixes its attention too much upon one side of a complex question; his too absolute formulæ, lacking qualification, false in appearance now in one sense now in another. "The oratorical temperament that was his in such a high degree," says Becker, very truly ( Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique , 15 April, 1902, p. 379), "the kind of exaltation that befitted his rich imagination and his loving soul, are not the most reliable in philosophical speculations." Such is the origin of the contradictions alleged against him and of the errors ascribed to him by the predestinarians of all ages. Here we see the rôle of the more frigid minds of Scholasticism. Thomas Aquinas was a necessary corrective to Augustine. He is less great, less original, and, above all, less animated; but the calm didactics of his intellectualism enable him to castigate Augustine's exaggerations with rigorous criticism, to impart exactitude and precision to his terms -- in one word, to prepare a dictionary with which the African Doctor may be read without danger.
II. HIS SYSTEM OF GRACE
It is unquestionably in the great Doctor's solution of the eternal problem of freedom and grace -- of the part taken by God and by man, in the affair of salvation -- that his thought stands forth as most personal, most powerful, and most disputed. Most personal , for he was the first of all to synthesize the great theories of the Fall, grace, and free will ; and moreover it is he who, to reconcile them all, has furnished us with a profound explanation which is in very truth his, and of which we can find no trace in his predecessors. Hence, the term Augustinism is often exclusively used to designate his system of grace. Most powerful , for, as all admit, it was he above all others who won the triumph of liberty against the Manichæans, and of grace against the Pelagians. His doctrine has, in the main, been solemnly accepted by the Church, and we know that the canons of the Council of Orange are borrowed from his works. Most disputed, also .—Like St. Paul, whose teachings he develops, he has often been quoted, often not understood. Friends and enemies have exploited his teaching in the most diverse senses. It has not been grasped, not only by the opponents of liberty, and hence by the Reformers of the sixteenth century, but even today, by Protestant critics the most opposed to the cruel predestinationism of Calvin and Luther who father that doctrine on St. Augustine. A technical study would be out of place here; it will be sufficient to enunciate the most salient thoughts, to enable the reader to find his bearings.
(1) It is regarded as incontestable today that the system of Augustine was complete in his mind from the year 397 -- that is, from the beginning of his episcopate, when he wrote his answers to the "quæstiones Diversæ" of Simplician. It is to this book that Augustine, in his last years, refers the Semipelagians for the explanation of his real thought. This important fact, to which for a long time no attention was paid, has been recognized by Neander and established by Gangaut, and also by recent critics, such as Loofs, Reuter, Turmel, Jules Martin (see also Cunningham, St. Austin, 1886, pp. 80 and 175). It will not, therefore, be possible to deny the authority of these texts on the pretext that Augustine in his old age adopted a system more antagonistic to liberty.
(2) The system of Pelagius can today be better understood than heretofore. Pelagius doubtless denied original sin, and the immortality and integrity of Adam; in a word, the whole supernatural order. But the parent idea of his system, which was of stoic origin, was nothing else than the complete "emancipation" of human liberty with regard to God, and its limitless power for good and for evil. It depended on man to attain by himself, without the grace of God, a stoic impeccability and even insensibility, or the absolute control of his passions. It was scarcely suspected, even up to our time, what frightful rigorism resulted from this exaggeration of the powers of liberty. Since perfection was possible, it was of obligation. There was no longer any distinction between precepts and counsels. Whatever was good was a duty. There was no longer any distinction between mortal and venial sin. Every useless word merited hell, and even excluded from the Church the children of God. All this has been established by hitherto unedited documents which Caspari has published (Briefe, Abhandlungen, und Predigten, Christiania, 1890).
(3) The system of St. Augustine in opposition to this rests on three fundamental principles:
- God is absolute Master, by His grace, of all the determinations of the will;
- man remains free, even under the action of grace;
- the reconciliation of these two truths rests on the manner of the Divine government.
This principle, in opposition to the emancipation of Pelagius, has not always been understood in its entire significance. We think that numberless texts of the holy Doctor signify that not only does every meritorious act require supernatural grace, but also that every act of virtue, even of infidels, should be ascribed to a Gift of God, not indeed to a supernatural grace (as Baius and the Jansenists pretend), but to a specially efficacious providence which has prepared this good movement of the will (Retractations, I, ix, n. 6). It is not, as theologians very wisely remark, that the will cannot accomplish that act of natural virtue, but it is a fact that without this providential benefit it would not . Many misunderstandings have arisen because this principle has not been comprehended, and in particular the great medieval theology, which adopted it and made it the basis of its system of liberty, has not been justly appreciated. But many have been afraid of these affirmations which are so sweeping, because they have not grasped the nature of God's gift , which leaves freedom intact. The fact has been too much lost sight of that Augustine distinguishes very explicitly two orders of grace: the grace of natural virtues (the simple gift of xxyyyk.htm">Providence, which prepares efficacious motives for the will); and grace for salutary and supernatural acts, given with the first preludes of faith. The latter is the grace of the sons, gratia fliorum ; the former is the grace of all men, a grace which even strangers and infidels ( filii concubinarum , as St. Augustine says) can receive (De Patientiâ, xxvii, n. 28).Man remains free, even under the action of grace
The second principle, the affirmation of liberty even under the action of efficacious grace, has always been safeguarded, and there is not one of his anti-Pelagian works even of the latest, which does not positively proclaim a complete power of choice in man ; "not but what it does not depend on the free choice of the will to embrace the faith or reject it, but in the elect this will is prepared by God " (De Prædest. SS., n. 10). The great Doctor did not reproach the Pelagians with requiring a power to choose between good and evil ; in fact he proclaims with them that without that power there is no responsibility, no merit, no demerit; but he reproaches them with exaggerating this power. Julian of Eclanum, denying the sway of concupiscence, conceives free will as a balance in perfect equilibrium. Augustine protests: this absolute equilibrium existed in Adam; it was destroyed after original sin ; the will has to struggle and react against an inclination to evil, but it remains mistress of its choice ( Opus imperfectum contra Julianum , III, cxvii). Thus, when he says that we have lost freedom in consequ
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