Friday, February 3, 2012

St. Augustine’s faith in the Cassiciacum around 386 AD

This post is a brief post regarding the sometimes heard opinion that St. Augustine was more a convert to Neo-platonism rather than Christianity when he spent his times within the walls of the Cassiciacum (which is near Milan) in the year 386. While St. Augustine during the year 386 was heavily neo-Platonist influenced as one can see by reading his early works, it is not sensible to deny that he believed in Christianity and that he desired to be baptized. Let us examine some quotes from his earliest works here to see his professions of faith.

1:And now I have come to this land; here I have learned to know the North Star, to which to entrust myself. For I have noticed frequently in the sermons of our priest [St. Ambrose], and sometimes in yours [Theodore who he is addressing], that, when speaking of God, no one should think of Him as something corporeal; nor yet of the soul for of all things the soul is nearest to God.” (On the Happy Life, Chapter 1)
2:But what wisdom should be so called, if not the wisdom of God? We have also heard through divine authority that the Son of God is nothing but the wisdom of God, and the Son of God is truly God. Thus everyone having God is happy- a statement already acclaimed by everyone at the beginning of our symposium. But, do you believe that wisdom is different from truth? For it has also been said: “I am the Truth.” The truth, however, receives its being through a supreme measure, from which it emanates and into which it is converted when perfected. However, no other measure is imposed upon the supreme measure. For, if the supreme measure exists through the supreme measure, it is a measure of itself.” (On the Happy Life, Chapter 4)
3:Who is the Son of God? It has been said: The Truth. Who is it that has no father? Who other than the supreme measure? Whoever attains the supreme measure, through the truth is happy. This means, to have God within the soul, that is, to enjoy God. Other things do not have God, although they are possessed by God.” (On the Happy Life, Chapter 4) 
4:This, then, is the full satisfaction of souls, this is the happy life: to recognize piously and completely the One through whom you are led into the truth, the nature of the truth you enjoy, and the bond that connects you with the supreme measure.
Those three show to the intelligent man the one God, the one Substance excluding the variety of all vain and superstitious images.
Our mother, recalling here those words that still deeply adhered in her memory, awoke to her faith, as it were, and inflamed with joy, uttered this verse of our priest: ‘Help O Trinity, those that pray.’ ” (On the Happy Life, Chapter 4) 
[My edition says this is a reference to Christ as the Way, the Life, and the Truth; but I find it more probable that it is referring to the Trinity, hence why I truncated the text in the way that I did.] 
5:And, whereas the reasonings of the Academics used to deter me greatly from such an undertaking, I believe that through this disputation I am now sufficiently protected against these reasonings. Certainly no one doubts that we are impelled toward knowledge by a twofold force: the force of authority and the force of reason. And I am resolved never to deviate in the least from the authority of Christ, for I find none more powerful. But as to what is attainable by acute and accurate reasoning, such is my state of mind that I am impatient to grasp what truth is- to grasp it not only by belief, but also by comprehension. Meanwhile, I am confident that I shall find among the Platonists what is not in opposition to our Sacred Scriptures.” (Against the Academicians, Book 3, Chapter 20) 
See here the priority for St. Augustine of divine authority in the Scriptures as provided by the Catholic faith as opposed to that of philosophers of this world.
6:‘What about God Himself,’ I asked? ‘Does He not seem to you to be governed by order?’
‘Of course He does,’ he replied.‘Therefore, God is governed,’ Trygetius said.‘What of it?’ he replied. Do you not admit that Christ is God, who came to us by way of order, and says that He was sent by God the Father? If, therefore, God sent us Christ by way of order, and we admit that Christ is God, then God not only governs all things, but is Himself governed by order.’[A small controversy occurs whether when we say God here we mean Christ too, or we prefer to say Christ as Son of God and how this argumentation becomes confusing to Trygetius, to which Licentius replies ‘Shall we, therefore, deny that the Son of God is God?’]
‘Control yourself better,’ I said to him, ‘for the Son is not improperly called God.’
Now, when Trygetius, moved by reverence for God, was unwilling that his words be recorded, [there was a stenographer there recording the dialogue] then …[Licentius asks that they be placed there to make him look better]. ” (On Order, Book 1, Chapter 10)
St. Augustine’s De Ordine written in the same year as Against the Academicians and as On the Happy Life regards the question of evil and God’s Providence. The first person is St. Augustine.

Dotted throughout On Order are references to the integrity of the Divine Scriptures and quotes from the Bible as well to understand how God orders all things and whether He is to be blamed for evil. But this ought to suffice.

Though we cannot say that St. Augustine is a fully baptized Christian at this point in his life, it is fair to say that he believes in the authority of the Church and is seeking reasons for which to supplement that authority and understand the world around him. He mentions that knowledge comes by reason and authority (the authority of Faith in this case, though he considers the case of divine and human authority in On Order). St. Augustine’s argumentation and reasoning is heavily neo-Platonic in the sense that he finds this worldview and perspective of doing philosophy to be congenial and useful to upholding his Christian faith, regarding the Trinity or the order by which He rules the universe.

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