Augustine of Hippo (November 354 – August 28, 430), also known as Saint Augustine, was a Christian theologian and philosopher whose writings had a significant impact on the development of Western Christianity and Western philosophy. He was also one of the most prolific Latin patristic writers.
Biography: His life – Christianity – Manichaeism – Confessions – Jesus Christ – Bible (Gospels) – Theology – History of Saints – Related entries – Writings – Fish – Confessions (book).
Augustine was born in Tagaste, Numidia, Africa, in present-day Souk Ahras, Algeria, a small provincial mountain town. His mother, Monica, was a devout Christian, while his father, Patricius, was a Roman citizen who practiced the pagan religion. His father converted to Christianity shortly before his death.
Augustine received his early education in Tagaste, which was exclusively in Latin. He then went to study rhetoric in Carthage, following his father’s wishes. When his father died, he discontinued his studies and returned to his hometown. However, a fellow townsman named Romanianus wanted to support Augustine’s further education, and Augustine later dedicated his first book to him.
At a young age, Augustine followed the philosophical current of Marcus Tullius Cicero’s Hortensius. He then joined the movement of Manichaeism, which was at its height in the fourth century, and remained its follower for seven years. At the age of sixteen, he became acquainted with a Christian woman with whom he lived for fifteen years outside of marriage and had a son named Adeodatus.
Later, he would leave her in Milan, after his mother’s insistence, because she had become an obstacle to his work. At the same time, he worked as a rhetoric teacher in Tagaste and Carthage. In 383, he moved to Rome and continued his teaching career there. In Rome, after intense inner searching, he rejected Manichaeism because its teachings did not satisfy his spiritual yearnings. He was drawn to the teachings of Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, and after a fierce struggle with Plato, he converted to Christianity.
In 387, he was baptized as a Christian by Ambrose.
In 391, he was ordained as a priest, as he had returned to North Africa in 388. In 395, he was appointed as the bishop of Hippo Regius in Numidia. He became prominent there not only for his nocturnal activities but also for his vigorous anti-heretical campaigns, as Augustine was confronted with the Donatist schism as a bishop and ultimately put an end to it.
He formed many local churches and in 411, the Council of Carthage condemned the heresy of Pelagianism, and Augustine was recognized as its main defender. Finally, in 426, he resigned from his bishopric, but spent the last years of his life fighting Arianism.
Augustine’s life came to an end on August 28, 430, during the siege of Hippo by the Vandals, when he contracted a severe fever.
Augustine’s theology emphasizes the importance of both faith and reason, with faith being prior to reason and assuming the latter. The goal of faith, especially Christian faith, is to demonstrate that there are things that are invisible, just as there are things that are visible. Faith is based on the Bible, whose authenticity is grounded in the power of the Holy Spirit. What is contained in it is apprehended by faith and not merely through the intellect.
Regarding anthropology and cosmology, Augustine does not distinguish between uncreated essence and energy in God. In the mind of the immutable God, there exists a world of ideas, and based on them, in time, objects and human beings are created. According to his essentialist views, he believes that humans are created in the image of the whole Trinity and not just the Son, as this would make these three persons different in essence from one another.
Humans have free will and cannot be forced to sin. Augustine believes that humans are complex, composed of both body and soul, with the latter being distinct from the former, immaterial, simple, essential, and ineffable. He rejects the pre-existence of the soul and argues that it is created along with the body at birth. The soul is divided into two parts: the lower part, which is the seat of aesthetic beauty, and the higher part, which is the seat of the mind. Sensory knowledge, pleasure, and sorrow correspond to the lower part, while the mind is related to memory, intellect, and will.
Of these three, the most important for Augustine is the will, whose main characteristic is freedom.
In Augustine’s thought, the world is introduced in a hierarchical manner in a Platonic fashion. The best and most valuable things are found at the top, with God at the head, just as in Plato’s Good. Lower down are material objects, while human souls are intermediate, and the souls of sinners are lower than those of righteous humans.
The hierarchy of values is a hierarchy of reality. The lower something is, the closer it is to zero, without being entirely zero.
Everything exists in a state of flux and change, a concept derived from Aristotle.
Another parameter of this hierarchy is the complexity of creativity. Only God is immutable and uncompounded.
Good and evil are also related to this hierarchy of values: nothing is entirely devoid of goodness. Augustine completely disagrees with Manichaeanism’s absolute acceptance of evil. He also does not accept a mixture of good and evil, as they are, in fact, degrees of goodness.
Evil is related to Augustine’s hierarchical system in another way: higher things must rule over lower things. This order and distribution is just. If the opposite were true, i.e., if the lower were to dominate the higher, we would have evil, i.e., an inverted hierarchy. The fall of humanity: Free will presupposes the possibility of choosing between good and evil and is understood as a strong inclination that can be directed towards good or evil. Temptation and Satan’s influence were the cause of the fall, resulting in the original sin. Therefore, humans cannot abstain from sin; they are a condemned mass and, as a result, a ruined mass.
Original sin penetrates the whole human race, not through imitation but through inheritance, as we were all present in Adam as one human being. Although we have not yet been born, we are in the seed from which we have grown, and the seed has become corrupt with sin.
Augustine’s Trinity: The simple and indescribable triune God is simple because His existence is one. In contrast, the created world is malleable and complex and can lose everything it has. There is a great difference between God and the world, and humans do not truly know God. However, this gap is not necessarily unbridgeable, as there is an intermediary, the Son of God, who is the triune God in unity and distinction of persons. Unity begins with the common essence and nature of the divine and extends to the will, action, or common energy.
Augustine has so far followed the thought of other theologians, such as Hilary of Poitiers and Ambrose of Milan, who were followers of the Cappadocian Fathers, albeit indirectly, as he is not familiar with Greek. Augustine attempts to describe the intra-Trinitarian relationships through images drawn from the functions of the human spirit: as he puts it, we are an indivisible unity, but we are made up of memory, intellect, and will. The three persons of the Holy Trinity are sacred forms of this triunity. In emphasizing the unity of the triune God and not the hypostatic distinctions, Augustine distances himself from the Cappadocian theology.
Mysticism: Due to his rich descriptions of spiritual states, he has been and remains a hidden writer. He has not written a specific book on mysticism, nor is there a systematic esoteric teaching. He rarely describes the stages of spiritual purification and ascents, and he speaks little about the methods and processes of mental and physical exercise. He primarily expresses what he feels as a converted and repentant Christian, not what theologically knowledgeable mystics experience.
On the contrary, other scholars believe that the mystical personality of Augustine can be understood from his way of referring to the divine, and from his descriptions of mystical experiences in his Confessions, which are not dreams but are “comprehensible.”
The “spark of spiritual light” – Christos Nasioulas shows that Augustine refers to seven stages of spiritual ascent. This process is completed when the moral purification of the soul is achieved in the sixth stage, and after enlightenment with the divine light, the soul ascends to the seventh and final stage to attain divine wisdom. He also expresses the ascent of the soul to the entrance of the divine house in his interpretation of Psalm 41. However, as the soul is still attached to the body, it cannot fully enter the house of God. Augustine’s model of asceticism: In 391, he founded a monastery in Hippo as a presbyter, but abandoned it in 396 and established a monastic clergy in the bishopric where he resided.
Augustine’s model of asceticism was identified with the model of the first Jerusalem community with collective training. Communal life was a maturity of spiritual life, such that if someone wanted to go to the desert, they could do so with spiritual security and self-sufficiency.
Also meant filling with love, so much so that the unifiers were a unity of body and soul, ignoring the material world and goods, obeying their superiors, fasting, and praying. The Augustinian community of common interests included slaves and free peasants, workers, professionals, individuals of all ages, adults, teenagers, and even children. There was a school inside the communes to educate them.
The reasons for difficulty in understanding Augustine, according to the pathologist Stylianos Papadopoulos, are as follows:
1. The breadth and variety of his subjects.
2. Progressive knowledge, but incomplete and attracted to Church tradition.
3. His analyses are incompatible with the theological tradition.
4. Inability to follow the advanced theology of the Eastern Church and the Cappadocian Fathers.
5. Lack of a unified structure in his thinking.
6. A variety of means of expression: literary, confessional, self-indulgent, theological, and sometimes philosophical school.
Augustine does not systematically address the philosophy of “Church-State” relations. Nevertheless, his views were a fundamental element of Christian thought regarding the relationship between these two institutions. According to Augustine, humans are citizens of two cities, the city in which they are born and the City of God, due to the fact that humans are dual beings consisting of both body and soul.
These two communities differ from each other in nature, origin, and purpose. Thus, we have the heavenly kingdom of God and the earthly kingdom of Satan. The former was established by angels, and the latter by fallen angels who were punished. The earthly city and the City of God should not be equated with human institutions such as the Roman Empire and the church structures of that time. These two cities did not separate significantly during earthly life but were rather intertwined and only separated at a secondary level. According to Augustine’s temporal order, the state should be a Christian state, serving the Christian community, helping in the salvation of humanity, and preserving the purity of faith. This view is in direct contrast to the beliefs of pagan philosophers like Cicero, who argued that the goal of creating an organized common interest is the implementation of justice. Augustine argued that this is precisely what a pagan society cannot do.
Augustine’s political philosophy argues that a state is only just if it is ultimately Christian.
In his works, Augustine attempts to respond to the accusations of pagan philosophers against Christians, who believed that Christianity was the main cause of the destruction brought by the barbarians’ attacks on the Roman Empire. In particular, Porphyry, the Neoplatonist, claimed that his historical experience did not confirm the salvation message that Christians proclaimed. However, Christians also had similar questions: how does God’s wise rule of history reconcile with these calamities?
Augustine responds to these questions in his work “The City of God.” First of all, he argues that these modern calamities are not extraordinary and unusual, but rather great calamities have existed in the past. Furthermore, the measure and criterion of well-being, wealth, and material glory are not valid, so their eclipse or decline should be a reason for the decline of their era.
The key to reading and interpreting history correctly is the existence of two parallel states that differ fundamentally from each other: the heavenly kingdom of God and the earthly kingdom of Satan. Most people belong to the latter, while a minority belongs to the former. This minority is only temporarily – as a resident – on earth. The inevitable destination of the earthly kingdom is destruction and death because it is full of sin, corruption, and moral decay. The barbarian invaders are not extraordinary but are a product of its moral decay; they come as punishers. Augustine responded to Christian readers who questioned why they suffered from these calamities by saying that they did not belong to this earthly kingdom. Thus, historical time is marked by a clear duality. Augustine’s systematic theory of art and beauty is challenging to discern because his references are scattered throughout his works, and his interests are centered on expanding a theological system and defending Christian doctrine against pagan scientists. Augustine himself tells us in his memoirs that he wrote a treatise titled “On the Beautiful and the Suitable” before converting to Christianity, but it was lost.
His references to it are entirely limited, but he distinguishes between what is beautiful in itself and what is beautiful because it reflects something else. Augustine sees beauty as a quality of heterogeneous elements, and in his works (On True Religion), he speaks of the “harmony of parts.” Concepts of unity, equality, proportion, order, and number play a fundamental role in Augustine’s aesthetics. Beauty arises from unity, proportion, and order. Unity is not the same for all beings because they have different degrees of unity.
When there is no internal inequality, we have consolidation. Composite objects form a whole when they are coordinated and symmetrical, and they are coordinated and symmetrical when their parts resemble each other. Also, the inequality or equality of objects leads to proportion, size, and number. Number has fundamental importance for order, a concept taken from Plato’s Timaeus, where it is believed that objects have numerical features and participate in forms existing in the divine mind.
Since order culminates in number and harmony, it has a rational quality. Rationality is a presupposition for recognizing order, just as it is a presupposition for the pleasure that this recognition of order brings. Based on this principle of rationality, it distinguishes pleasures as superior or inferior: the former are associated with perception of order and are visual and auditory, while the latter do not recognize order but instead recognize qualities such as taste and smell. The experience of aesthetic beauty reaches its highest form in religious wisdom. Beauty is not something external, for unity as the basis of beauty is also the basis of “being,” so objects are beautiful to the extent that they truly exist.
In Augustine’s aesthetics, beauty arises from the harmonious interaction of heterogeneous elements, and this harmony reflects the unity of God’s creation. The beauty of objects is not only in their form but also in their function and purpose, which ultimately leads to the recognition of God’s wisdom and order in the world. The concept of aesthetic judgment assumes something other than the degree of participation in beauty: whether the judge-spectator possesses the ideal concept of order and unity, which is never manifested in the material world. The acquisition of this concept by the viewer is due to the “divine light.”
In relative beauty, there is no existence. However, a theory of beauty cannot avoid issues related to the nature of art: Augustine rejects theater as something that encourages moral laxity. Nevertheless, he explains a more complex concept of “artificiality.”
Art is not imitation but invention, based on the combination of many elements from sources and the addition of other elements through imagination. Therefore, the whole product is not based on sensory perception.
As a saint and teacher of the church, Augustine is considered a supporter of the church’s order and defender of the superiority of the pope and Filioque. However, according to another viewpoint, his teachings are not considered to be in harmony because based on the concept introduced by Augustine, it has not been introduced for the pre-eternal relationship but for the replacement relationship in divine economy. Similarly, during Augustine’s time, the bishop of Rome did not have such absolute authority over other bishops as exists today. Therefore, it can be considered that he agreed with the teachings of Orthodoxy, which refer to the priority of honor and not absolute authority.
He is also often known as the “Augustinian tradition.” Augustine is also recognized as a saint by Lutheran and Anglican churches.
His literary work is passionate: he wrote to apologize for his past life and to convince himself and others of his correct choice. He also wrote to combat non-Jewish and Manichean influences that initially attracted him, to overthrow Donatists and Pelagians, to educate believers with practical solutions to ethical and spiritual life problems, to analyze and support religious beliefs. He also analyzed the relationship between the church and secular government in history and interpreted the Bible.
His characteristics include creativity, impetuosity, a highly emotional personality, and a warrior spirit. His speech is personal, confessional, and prayerful. Also, he lacks a stable structure, while he is rarely verbose to cover up his verbal weaknesses.