JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl


Life and Writings of Saint Augustine.

§ 74.

1. We have now reached the remarkable man in whom the philosophy of the Patristic period attained its highest development. We refer to St. Augustine. He is the great luminary of the period to which he belongs. His great mind gathered together all the elements of Christian philosophy hitherto called into existence, reduced them to systematic unity, and left them to succeeding ages as a systematic whole, for further study and investigation. The world does not often bring forth a genius like that of Augustine. Such depth of thought such delicacy of discrimination, a spirit of inquiry so fruitful in results, such a genuine appreciation of the ideal, such conclusive reasoning, are not often found in one man to the same degree. God and the soul -- these were the objects to which his investigations were mainly directed; the whole effort of his mind found expression in the pregnant words: Noverim Te (Deus), noverim me!

2. Aurelius Augustinus was born at Tagaste in Numidia, A.D. 353. His father Patricius was a pagan, his mother Monica a Christian of exemplary piety. The extraordinary intellectual gifts of the boy manifested themselves at an early age, but passion awoke in him at the same time in all its energy, a circumstance which caused much sorrow to his mother. He received his education successively at Tagaste, Madaura, and Carthage. The vice and the excesses with which he was brought in contact in Madaura and Carthage affected his moral character most perniciously. All the while his great mind was not idle, it was restlessly seeking a solution for the great problems of life. He believed such a solution was offered by the Manicheans, and he accordingly joined their sect. When his education was finished, he adopted the profession of teacher of rhetoric, and in this capacity taught at Carthage. at Rome, and at Milan. During his stay at Milan the turning point of his life was reached.

3. The contradictions involved in the Manichean doctrines had bewildered him, and be had in consequence adopted the scepticism of the Academy, when his study of the writings of Plato at last roused him from his sensual degradation and awoke in him the love of the ideal. The preaching of St. Ambrose exercised a still more powerful influence on the mind of the young man. Augustine had gone to hear the discourses of the bishop for the sake of the graces of his oratory, but he soon went for the sake of the exalted teaching which was clothed in these charms of eloquence. A further influence was that of his mother, who had followed him from Rome, and whose prayers and counsels were added to the other gracious impulses brought to bear on him. The decisive moment came, and after struggle the grace of God triumphed.

4. After his conversion, Augustine, with several of his friends, retired to the country seat of Cassiciacum, near Milan, and in the year 337 he received Baptism. At this date began his great literary activity in the service of the Church. In the year 391 circumstances arose which obliged him to make a journey to Hippo. There he was forced by the people to receive priest's orders, and to act as assistant to the aged bishop of that See. On the death of the bishop, Augustine was unanimously elected to succeed him (395). In his new office he laboured indefatigably for the establishment of the Catholic Faith and Christian morality, and defended the doctrines of the Church with sigual energy against the Manicheans, Donatists and Pelagians. He died A.D. 430.

5. Of the writings of St. Augustine, those are of special interest for the history of philosophy which were written in the first years after his conversion. In the later years of his life he was occupied mainly with questions affecting religious dogmas, as during tbat period he was engrossed by his struggle with the Donatists, Manicheans, and Pelagians. To the earlier writings belong: -- (a) The treatise Contra Academicos; (b), De Vita Beata; (c), De Ordine; and (d), the Soliloquia. These works were composed previous to his baptism at Cassiciacum. Before his baptism also, but after his return to Milan, were composed (e), the treatise De Immortalitate Animae; (f), the work, De Grammatica; (g), the treatises De Magistro; and (h), the Principia Dialectices. During his journey from Milan to Africa, he composed at Rome, (i), the treatise De Quantitate Animae; (k), the three books De Libero Arbitrio; (l), the books De Moribus Ecclesiae; and (m), De Moribus Manichaeorum. At Tagaste he composed the treatises (n), De Musica; (o), De Genesi contra Manichaeos; and (p), De Vera Religione.

6. The works which he wrote as a priest and a bishop, and which are of chief interest to the philosopher are: -- (a), De Doctrina Christiana, Libri iv.; (b), De Fide et Symbolo; (c), Enchiridion de Fide, Spe et Caritate; (d), De Utilitate Credendi; (e), De Agone Christiano; (f), De Genesi ad Litteram, Libri xii.; (g) De Fide contra Manichaeos; (h), De Duabus Animis contra Manichaeos; (i), Contra Fortunatum Manich.; (k) Contra Adimantum Manichaei Discipulum; (l), Contra Faustum Manichaeum; (m) De Spiritu et Littera; (n) De Anima et ejus Origine; (o), De Actis cum Felice Manichaeo; (p), De Natura Boni contra Manichaeos; (q,) Contra Epistolam Manichaei quam vocant Fundamenti; (r), Contra Secundinum Manichaeum; (s), Contra Adversarium Legis et Prophetarum, etc.

7. But the works of St. Augustine which are the most important of all, both to the theologian and to the philosopher, are his great works De Civitate Dei in 22 books, and his work De Trinitate in 15 books. The latter of these was composed between A.D. 400 and 410; the former was begun A.D. 413 and completed A.D. 426. Of importance also to the philosopher are his Confessions which he wrote about A.D. 400. His letters, sermons, and commentaries on the Scripture also contain much that throws light upon his philosophical opinions. Of his writings against the Pelagians we may mention: -- (a), Contra Julianum Pelagianum; (b), De Nuptiis et Concupiscentia; (c), De Peccatorum Meritis et Remissione; (d) Opus imperfectum contra Julianum Pelag.; (e) Contra duas Epistolas Pelagianorum; (f) De Correptione et Gratia; (g), De Natura et Gratia; (h), De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio; (i), De Praedestinatione Sanctorum; (k), De Dono Perseverantiae; (l), De Peccato Originali; etc. The Retractationes were composed by Augustine a few years before his death; in this work he reviews his entire system and corrects many points of his earlier teaching.

8. We have mentioned that Augustine, after his conversion, devoted his scientific inquiries chiefly to two subjects -- God and the soul. For the conduct of his inquiries it was necessary that he should lay down a definite theory of knowledge which should serve as a basis on which to establish his system of investigation. In order to set forth clearly the philosophy of St. Augustine, it will be necessary to explain first the principles of his theory of knowledge; we shall then proceed to his teaching regarding God and the creation of the world; and lastly we shall deal with his doctrine regarding man, and the ethical theories which are connected with this portion of his system.

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