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Chapter 11. Augustine: philosopher, theologian, and church father. Questions to be addressed in this chapter. Why did Augustine become a Manichee and a Skeptic? In what ways did Greek thinkers inspire Augustine’s thought about the Christian faith?

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chapter 11

Chapter 11

Augustine: philosopher, theologian, and church father

questions to be addressed in this chapter
Questions to be addressed in this chapter
  • Why did Augustine become a Manichee and a Skeptic?
  • In what ways did Greek thinkers inspire Augustine’s thought about the Christian faith?
  • How did Augustine’s reaction to the Donatist controversy affect the way Christians thought about the nature of the Church and the sacraments?
  • What was Pelagianism, and how did Augustine’s response to it influence Christian understandings of sin, grace, and predestination?
the early augustine philosopher and skeptic
The Early Augustine: philosopher and skeptic
  • Augustine was born in 354 CE and reared in Tagaste, a town in North Africa (now Souk Ahras in Algeria).
  • At the age of nineteen, Augustine joined the religious sect of Manichaeism.
  • The Manichaean sect emphasized reason, rational explanation, and a life focused on ascetic practices.
  • This solution satisfied Augustine for a time, but ultimately the Manichaean system began unraveling in his mind.
  • Augustine gave up his faith in Manichaeism, moved to Rome, and became a philosophical Skeptic.
the later augustine christian theologian and church father
The Later Augustine: Christian theologian and Church father
  • Through reading the works of the Neoplatonists, Augustine eventually abandoned Skepticism when he came to believe that human reason can attain knowledge—even certain knowledge—about some fundamental truths.
  • In working through the Neoplatonic writings, Augustine also found solutions to some of the intellectual challenges that bedeviled him as a Manichean.
  • In 384, Augustine was appointed Professor of Rhetoric in Milan. While there, he encountered the city’s bishop, Ambrose, an eloquent orator and brilliant theologian.
  • In 386, at age 32, Augustine became a convert to Christianity.
  • In 396 Augustine was made Bishop of Hippo (a post he held until his death in 430).
the church and the sacraments
The Church and the Sacraments
  • Beginning in 303 CE, the Roman emperor, Diocletian (284-313), began a series of persecutions against the Christians, perhaps as one way of unifying the Empire.
  • These persecutions were most emphatic from 303-305, but they continued on to a lesser degree until the Edict of Milan in 313.
  • After these persecutions ended, concerns arose about what to do with those bishops—referred to as traditores—who had turned over the sacred Scriptures to the authorities.
  • Donatus and his followers (referred to as the Donatists) disagreed with broad catholic teaching about the Church and the Sacraments. They maintained that a bishop who had lapsed (had turned over the Scriptures to the magistrates, for example, or who had committed some other significant malfeasance) committed apostasy and was no longer capable of administering the sacraments.
  • The catholics, on the other hand (and this would include the leaders in Rome), maintained that if a lapsed bishop repented, he would be able to continue administering the sacraments.
human nature sin grace and predestination
Human nature, sin, grace, and predestination
  • A second controversy which erupted during Augustine’s tenure as bishop, also significant in the history of Western Christian thought, was Pelagianism.
  • As Pelagius (c.354-c.420) understood Augustine, he afforded no place in his theology for human will, or effort, or participation in the acts of God.
  • Pelagius and Augustine were agreed on the importance of human free will, but while Augustine also strongly affirmed the necessity of God’s sovereignty, Pelagius believed this doctrine undermined both human will and moral responsibility.
  • For Augustine, sin had so corrupted human nature and will that our disposition, even at birth, is toward evil, and we are in need of God’s grace both to understand sin’s effects and to overcome them and turn to God.
summary of main points
Summary of main points

1. Augustine sought sophisticated, philosophical answers to fundamental questions about God and human nature, and this led him first to Manicheanism and then to academic Skepticism.

By incorporating ideas of Greek thinkers, primarily the Neoplatonists, Augustine overcame his skepticism and acquired philosophical tools which he used to understand and defend orthodox Christian faith.

3. In responding to the Donatists, Augustine developed a distinction between the visible and invisible Church and a view of the sacraments in which they are causally efficacious because of the moral purity of Christ rather than the one administering them.

Through his responses to Pelagianism—the view that the sin of Adam and Eve did not corrupt human nature and that the human will is capable of following God—Augustine developed the ideas of original sin, the unification of divine sovereignty and human free will, and the predestination of the elect.