Augustine’s Philosophical Theology & Neoplatonism

 

 

Augustine Have you ever been curious as to how the great intellectual heritage of our faith came about? I often am. Studying how theology developed throughout history is a worthwhile pursuit for any and every Christian. Not to mention, it is incredibly fascinating. Upon the initial leg of a historical journey of the Christian faith, one can quickly notice that theology did not develop in a vacuum. On the contrary, throughout history theologians had to wrestle with the pressing demands of their day. In fact, one might say that theology was and is quite influenced by the powerful forces of culture, authority, war, discrimination, history, egos, and heresy. Let us cut a slice in history and investigate a case study in philosophical influences on theology.

Of the greatest philosophers and theologians of the church, Aurelius Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) is one of the most prominent. His voluminous writing is a testament to the monumental contributions to the development of Christian thought. This 4th century thinker gave all of Christendom a more systematic, articulate, and rigorous philosophical theology that could only be matched by the likes of Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin. But was his thought so orthodox that none of it is without controversy? Had Augustine developed essential Christian doctrines because of the prevailing Greek philosophical influences of the early church period or was his thought was purely based on the teaching of Scripture? Have the doctrines of Augustine left a positive impact in Christendom or should his Neoplatonistic thought be disregarded?

Upon evaluation of the life and writings of Augustine and influential thinkers of his time, we can easily see that Augustine’s philosophical theology of original sin, free will, and the nature of man was heavily influenced by Neo-Platonism. This can be shown by considering the following 3 items: his background & training in Greek philosophy & Neoplatonic thought, his interaction with and evaluation of Platonism & Neoplatonism to Christianity in his own writing, and the parallel between Neo-Platonic philosophy & his philosophical theology.

Preliminary Items

Before these considerations, it is important to understand some important preliminary items. First, at the time of Augustine’s life, the most influential Neoplatonistic thinkers had come and gone, but much of the thoughts of the Neoplatonists were still gaining traction in the intellectual Academies and broader culture. So Augustine’s interaction with their thought was very relevant to his era, but the full fledged impact of Neoplatonist upon the broader culture would not be realized until the Medieval and Reformation eras. This can be seen in the many other Christian thinkers including Boethius, John Scotus Eriugena, and Bonaventure, who could also easily be labeled Neoplatonist Christian thinkers.

Secondly, the terms “Neoplatonism” & “Neoplatonist” were not applied to the thinkers of modified Platonism till last few centuries of our modern era. Thus Augustine simply refers to them as Platonists. These philosophers are Philo of Alexandria (30 BCE – 50 CE), Ammonius Saccas of Alexandria (176-242), Plotinus (205-270), Porphyry (234–305 C.E.) disciple of Plotinus, Amelius disciple of Plotinus, Proclus, Iamblichus, and Apuleius.

Lastly, this article will not consider the thoughts of Neoplatonists that lived after Augustine as he would obviously not have been influenced by their views. Additionally, to focus this study to a reasonable volume, it is best to consider select views of only the notable Neoplatonists to which Augustine most plausibly could have been influenced by. Augustine lists these renowned Platonists[1] as “Plotinus, Iamblichus, and Porphyry, who were Greeks and the African Apuleius.”[2] But, this article considers only the possible influences of Plotinus, Porphyry, and correspondingly, Plato.

1st Consideration: Augustine’s background & training includes the reading of Greek philosophy & Neoplatonic thought.

Early in his life, prior to his conversion, Augustine became a follower of the Eastern cult known as the Manicheans. He spent almost 10 years with them learning that powerful forces of good and evil persist throughout time. In their thought one’s soul is pure light in the physical world of darkness, where the soul can be liberated to join the perfect original light.  Although not NeoPlatonic, these themes become important in Augustine’s later writings.

Although not an expert, Augustine learned Greek in school and continued to learn it to study the Scriptures.[3] He writes, “But why did I so much hate the Greek, which I studied as a boy? I do not yet fully know…Difficulty, in truth, the difficulty of a foreign tongue, dashed, as it were, with gall all the sweetness of Grecian fable. For not one word of it did I understand, and to make me understand I was urged vehemently with cruel threats and punishments.”[4] Phillip Schaff, editor of a voluminous series of the early church fathers, writes, “Though Augustine never did attain any significant facility in Greek, he did work to improve his ability somewhat after his conversion, for the purpose of biblical studies…his knowledge of Greek literature was mostly derived from Latin translations. With the Greek language, as he himself frankly and modestly confesses, he had, in comparison with Jerome, but a superficial acquaintance.”[5] So although the Greek language was not mastered by Augustine, the respect for it is apparent.

At the age of 17, he was sent to Carthage for his education where he studied philosophy and religion there. He read Cicero’s Hortensius (a work no longer extant), which set him on his quest for higher truth. This knowledge & passion would prove helpful in his future works of philosophical theology. Schaff indicates, “From the writeup at the beginning of Confessions, he had received in the schools of Madaura and Carthage the usual philosophical and rhetorical preparation for the forum, which stood him in good stead also in theology.”[6] He later studied classical law & rhetoric and eventually taught rhetoric in Rome. This alludes to possible training in the dialogue method of Socrates, Plato, or other Greeks.

In 384 in Milan, while being influenced by Ambrose, he encountered many “books of the Platonists.”[7] Michael Mendleson, professor of philosophy at Lehigh University, adds that “the books of the Platonists provided him with a metaphysical framework of extraordinary depth and subtlety, a richly textured tableau upon which the human condition can be plotted…He credits the books of the Platonists with making it possible for him to conceive of a non-physical, spiritual reality”[8] Specifically, the German theologian Johannes Brachtendorf adds, “The Neoplatonists taught Augustine in Milan the metaphysical truths about God, namely that he is immutable, immaterial, highest unity, and highest good.”[9] This is very clear in Augustine’s later books which show an extensive knowledge of philosophy, literature, and theology of Plato and the NeoPlatonists.

From this background we can easily see that from a young age till 30 years old, Augustine’s intellectual growth and development was not Christian (other than the influences of his mother) but actually saturated with variety. This highly suggests a continuous life of diligent and fruitful learning. From the various philosophical worldviews of the ancient age to even cultic religious movements of his own, Augustine eventually championed a powerful Christianity through a broad and deep framework of culturally & internally pressing systems of thought.

2nd Consideration: Augustine interacts and evaluates Platonism & Neoplatonism to Christianity in his on writing.

 

Augustine indubitably wanted to make a connection between Platonism and Christianity because he knew that besides the flesh and the internal debates within the Catholic Church the wisdom of the world was the most powerful & compelling force to fight against. He was perhaps divinely positioned through those years of rigorous intellectual preparation and internal struggles, ranging from concupiscence to intellectual doubt to cultic following, to discover that he could use their own terms & concepts against them. In his On Christian Doctrines treatise, Augustine writes, “If those who are called philosophers, and especially the Platonists, have said aught that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not only not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it.”[10] This was one of Augustine’s and other early church fathers’ best doctrines – that truth was a byproduct of God’s general revelation to all of mankind and Christians have even more of a right to use logic, meaning, and truth than any other ancient thinker.[11] He writes, “Let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his Master.”[12] This hijacking of classical thought & rhetoric, would prove the brilliance of Augustine and showed the world why Christianity was actually winning it over.

Moreover the relevance of Greek thought to Christian thought was not the only parallel connection Augustine delivered. He actually suggested that Plato could have been influenced by Old Testament Jewish tradition and religion. He went so far as to ponder that Plato could have even read the Pentateuch, as Plato’s conception of how the world began could just have been a strange take on Genesis 1:1 where “the Spirit of God moved over the waters.” Plato mentions the water, air, earth, and fire were mutually united at Creation. The air could have been the Spirit of God in Plato’s thought. Also, Plato understood God as a being who truly “is” – which directly corresponds to the name given to Moses by God in Exodus.[13]

Augustine, though seeing the connections, tried his best to distinguish and completely separate Christianity as a religion from the partial “foolishness” of Greco-Roman schools of thought, politics, and theology – which was also his own point of departure in life. He had to move onward, if nothing else, for the very fact that the Platonists and Plato himself “thought that sacred rites ought to be performed in honor of many gods.”[14] This outraged Augustine. Regarding his departure, Mendelson writes, “It is often helpful to view his thought as presenting a gradual movement away from a Greek intellectualism towards a voluntarism emphasizing the profound ignorance and difficulty of the human condition, as well as the need for divine aid to overcome the ignorance and difficulty.”[15] Additionally, Professor of Religion F.B.A. Asiedu states that “Augustine’s sympathies towards Neoplatonic thought is a fact that hardly needs comment. Against this background, his occasional departures from Neoplatonic thought is a subject that probably needs more comment than it often receives.”[16] Thus, Augustine’s efforts to show the failures of Greco-Roman thought by using Greco-Roman thought would prove to be a worthwhile task which he resolved to complete throughout the remainder of his life.

Augustine sets the stage by showing that Platonic philosophy is the best philosophy of the Greeks. When considering a worthwhile philosophy of the Greeks, he holds in low regard the philosophy of the “fabulous” theology, the civil theology, the Epicureans, and Stoics but gives high esteem to Plato.[17]All others must “give place.”[18]

Augustine shows a vast account of his breadth and depth of knowledge when he begins to teach the reader the 3 branches of Platonic philosophy, rational, moral, and natural. When comparing the philosophy of the Greeks, he says “It is evident that none come clearer to us (Christians) than the Platonists.”[19] Also, he states, “All philosophers, then, who have these thoughts concerning God, whether Platonists, or others, agree with us.”[20] Augustine understands that the Christian thinker may not have read the philosophy of the Greeks, as the Christian is warned in Scripture “beware that no one deceives you through philosophy…according to the elements of this world.”[21]Overall, for Augustine, although somewhat similar, the Christian philosophy is still higher than the Greeks.

In the following we can see how much interaction there is between Platonism and Neoplatonism with Christianity in Augustine.

The City of God – On the Soul

Most of the middle third of The City of God is an evaluation with the thought of Plato and other Neoplatonists. Regarding the soul of man, Augustine compares the platonic and Neoplatonic views and shows that Christianity has the only view offering the soul’s deliverance. He goes to great lengths to explain the philosophy of Plato and his followers even down to the last few chapters of this epic work.

Plato & other NeoPlatonists thought that the soul is an immaterial substance, part of the world of forms, separate from the body which continues to exist after physical death. Souls pre-exist the bodies that house them and exist after they die – as the Platonic soul is eternal. The soul is considered the animating part of the human. This is like an animal soul, but man also has a rational soul with rational faculties.

Augustine clarifies that “Plato said that souls could not exist eternally without bodies.”[22] For Plato, the soul is reincarnated but it may return in a beast rather than a man and a purified soul goes to the Elysian fields and the river Lethe, which is the oblivion of the past. However, it is the wise man’s soul that goes to a star of his choosing to stay till he has forgotten the miseries of life; only then will he seek to be embodied again.[23] In Meno, Plato teaches that the soul always retains the ability to recollect what it once grasped of the forms, when it was disembodied. Additionally, in Republic, Plato elaborates that the lives that we lead are to some extent a punishment or reward for choices we made in a previous existence. The body was the prison house of the soul, evil, and dragged the soul down. The goal was to be released from the body so the soul could go to be with the divine.

Plotinus felt that Plato needed to be interpreted. Expert on Plato and ancient Greek philosophy, Dr. Lloyd Gerson of the University of Toronto said that Plotinus is often called the founder of Neoplatonism and “is one of the most influential philosophers in antiquity after Plato and Aristotle.[24] Plotinus agreed with Plato for the most part but mentioned that the soul could not be spatially extended, since no spatially extended thing could account for the unity of the subject of sense perception.[25] Also, for Plotinus, the good soul returns to the Monad or the One, where “the One is the absolutely simple first principle of all. It is both ‘self-caused’ and the cause of being for everything else in the universe.”[26] In Plotinus, the cause or derivation of the many souls from the One “was understood in terms of atemporal ontological dependence.”[27]

Augustine quotes Porphyry in The City of God often and interacts with a book by Porphyry called De Regressu Animae. [28] Porphyry also thought that souls are reincarnated after death and that the purified soul returns and remains with the Father so that it is not in contact with evil any longer and “shall never return to the miseries of a corruptible body.”[29] Porphyry knew that there was a way that the soul could be delivered from the cycle but no such way has been discovered in any system of philosophy. For him, Christianity didn’t have an answer since all the Christians were being killed off for their views. Also, he denies a bodily resurrection of incorruptible bodies as the soul continues to live eternally in the Father.

Augustine compared these views and presented Christianity as the solution when he says that Christianity “is the religion which possesses the universal way for delivering the soul; for, except by this way, none can be delivered.”[30] He says also, “we (Christians) say that the separation of the soul from the body is to be held as part of man’s punishment. For they suppose that the blessedness of the soul then only is complete, when it is quite denuded of the body, and returns to God a pure and simple naked soul.”[31] Augustine challenges the view that the most blessed souls would be eternally bodiless despite their belief that gods, whose souls are most blessed, are eternally united to their immortal bodies because of the will of the Supreme. This view is illogical for Augustine, as the Greek notion that the blessedness of a human soul merging into the divine is contradictory with a blessed bodied god.

Whereas, Christianity, is similar but more reasonable when considering Adam and the Christian. If Adam didn’t sin he would have inhabited his body for eternity as a reward for his obedience, likewise, the Christians earthly body would be resurrected, changed, and inhabited for eternity.[32] Augustine also said that if Plato and Porphyry were to have collaborated their views together it would resemble the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the saints when he states, “Let Porphyry then say with Plato, they shall return to the body; let Plato say with Porphyry, they shall not return to their old misery: and they will agree that they return to bodies in which they shall suffer no more.” Augustine continues, “For this, I presume, both of them would readily concede, that if the souls of the saints are to be reunited to bodies, it shall be to their own bodies, in which they have endured the miseries of this life.”[33] To this end, Augustine says that Plato and Porphyry, “might possibly have became Christians.”[34]

Confessions – On the Logos

Moreover, in similar ways, Augustine found that the “Principle” which the Neoplatonists were looking for is the person of Jesus Christ.[35] John Rist, Author of Augustine: Ancient Thought Baptized puts it this way, “The discovery of the importance of Christ as the only way drove Augustine beyond the Platonic books…while the Neoplatonists might speak the truth about God’s nature, they lack the means of access to it. Neoplatonism is incomplete; its underlying weakness is that it is theoretical, without the power to instigate right action.”[36]

In Confessions, Book 7 Chapter 9 to the end of the book, Augustine compares the doctrine of the NeoPlatonists concerning the Logos with the “much more excellent doctrine of Christianity.” He refutes the NeoPlatonists by showing Scripture after Scripture that Jesus was in fact divine and coeternal with the Father, the same substance. Schaff writes, “Another point of difference which appears in Augustine’s review of Platonism above, is found in the Platonist’s discarding the idea of the Logos becoming man. This the very genius of their philosophy forbade them to hold, since they looked on matter as impure.”[37] Brachtendorf  adds, “For Augustine, the Neoplatonists see the homeland from a distance but do not find the way there, which is Christ.”[38]

Letter to Hermogenianus & Anti-Palagian Writings

Moreover, in Augustine’s Letter to Hermogenianus we can see that there is more interaction with the NeoPlatonists. He writes:

“Instead of confuting them (Platonists/Academicians), which is beyond my power, I have rather imitated them to the best of my ability…But whatever be the value of those treatises [the books against the Academicians], what I most rejoice in is, not that I have vanquished the Academicians, as you express it (using the language rather of friendly partiality than of truth), but that I have broken and cast away from me the odious bonds by which I was kept back from the nourishing breasts of philosophy, through despair of attaining that truth which is the food of the soul.”[39]

 

And in Augustine’s lengthy Anti-Palagian Writings:

“For it is not as certain Platonists have thought, because every such infant is thus requited in his soul for what it did of its own willfulness previous to the present life, as having possessed previous to its present life, as having possessed previous to its present bodily state a free choice of living either well or ill; since the apostle Paul says most plainly, that before they were born they did neither good nor evil.”[40]

 

So here we have seen in Augustine the interaction and evaluation of Plato and the Neoplatonists. This gives indication that Augustine understands their view so much so that he works with it, laboriously at times, using it to highlight points of Christian doctrine. Without question there is more interaction with Plato and the Neoplatonists in his Confessions and The City of God than in any of his other works and within those works he interacts with Plato and the Neoplatonists view more than with any other ancient author or view. Brachtendorf concludes,

“It is true, Augustine often reproaches the Neoplatonists, who he held to be the philosophers par excellence, for their hubris, for not acknowledging the incarnation, and therefore for not directing their will unambiguously toward God as the highest good. He does not doubt, however, their metaphysical teaching of God, but rather learns from them about the truth of God and of the world in order to be able to finally overcome Manichaeism.”[41]

It is now the parallels in Augustine’s thought with Neoplatonism that we know shall turn.

3rd Consideration: the parallel between Neo-Platonic philosophy & Augustine’s Philosophical Theology

While showing that some of the thought of Plato and the NeoPlatonists fails or is fulfilled by way of Christianity, Augustine also maintained some of the axioms of Plato and the NeoPlatonists.

Morality, Blessedness, & God

Plato thought that philosophy is directed at obtaining the blessed life. He thought that man is blessed by the enjoyment of the thing he loves – not by just loving. But not just enjoyment of anything, it has to be something worthwhile. Plato discussed the chief good – which is the highest aim to seek in order to be blessed. This highest good would leave nothing further to seek. Nothing else is required if man seeks and finds only this one thing. To seek it for its own sake and not for the sake of something else. This is also called the chief end, or final good. Plato knew that the true and highest good is God – which to him was the unchangeable, the immaterial, the creator who is uncreated, the purest being, the source of the truth, the ultimate rational, the light by which we know, the chief source of the good, and the blessed giver of blessing. For Plato, the final good is to live a life of virtue, “…to become like God, as far as this is possible; and to become like him is to become holy, just, and wise.”[42] This can only be done by knowing and imitating God which will lead to blessedness. To philosophize is to love God. The philosopher will become blessed when he enjoys the God he loves. He who loves God is blessed by the enjoyment of God.

Augustine discusses blessing with the love and want of a thing in his Confessions. But he wrestles with the desire for God as part of the soul’s devotion and design but is impossible without his irresistible grace. In a rather famous quote from the first few words of Confessions, Augustine writes, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”  It is the desires for the things of this world and the temptations of this life that destroy the glory God intended man to have and reflect back to him. He writes, “See, You were within and I was without, and I sought You out there. Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things You have made. You were with me, but I was not with You. These things kept me far from you, even though they were not at all unless they were in You.” Our total depravity keeps us from glorifying God and enjoying him. John Rist adds, “In addition to thinking of God as being itself, the Neoplatonists, following Plato, also thought of him as the Good, since they identify being as the Good…Augustine thinks that in so far as a man is called good, that is because he partakes or shares in the unqualified goodness which is God.”[43] To this end, Augustine says that “no man ought to feel secure in this life. This whole of life is called an ordeal. It’s ordered so that the man who could be made better from having been worse may not also from having been better become worse. Our sole hope, our sole confidence, only assured promise, is your mercy.”[44] So for Augustine, rather than philosophy as in Plato, it is only by God’s grace and mercy that we can consider our God to be blessed. But like Plato, Augustine understands that a creature’s being and blessedness is derived from and fulfilled in “in Thee.”

 

Original Sin

In Platonism and Neoplatonism, evil and suffering in the world are due to an “estrangement from the absolute as the absolute, that is in the sense of falling apart…this falling apart of the one to multiplicity is the relationship of form to matter…returning to the One is a turning away from matter, as it is a turning away from multiplicity.”[45] For the Platonists, sin is a turning away from the true being of reality. We can easily see this parallel in Augustine, but let us turn to examine Plotinus first.

Plotinus deliberates in the Enneads how matter, evil, and the soul are related. Because souls are originally derived from form and the Good, they were essentially good. Moreover, according to Plotinus, evil is the absence or negation of good in the human soul. He argues that matter is the substratum that has no accidental “Quality” and is deprived of Form. Gerson says that for Plotinus, “The evil in bodies is the element in them that is not dominated by form…Matter is what accounts for the diminished reality of the sensible world, for all natural things are composed of forms in matter.”[46] For Plotinus matter is not in and of itself evil and is not the source of the evil of the human soul, though the soul’s falling into evil and its vices is due to the soul’s entering into matter. The soul must have matter for human existence and that entails a weakening of the soul. He states it this way, “not all the faculties of its being retain free play, for Matter hinders their manifestation; it encroaches upon the Soul’s territory and, as it were, crushed the Soul back; and it turns to evil all that it has stolen until the Soul finds strength to advance again. Thus, the cause, at once, of the weakness of Soul and of all its evil is matter.”[47] So for Plotinus, there is even a further corruption of the soul after entering into matter where “we become evil to the extent of our participation in it, where fallen from all our resemblance to the Divine, we lie in gloom and mud.”[48]

Plotinus concludes that vice or virtue in the soul is measured by the divergence that the soul is aligned with goodness and God. If one could aspire towards God, he can have lesser evil and engage in more good. He writes, “this demands only that the Soul dwell alone enshrined within that place of its choice, never lapsing towards the lower.”[49]

This must have affected Augustine’s view on the origin of evil, as his language is so similar and even builds structure according to such a NeoPlatonic hierarchy of greater and lesser beings. While Augustine does not condemn the body or matter to a lower substratum, he does participate in the categorization of reality in terms of hierarchy. In Confessions Book 7 Chapter 3, Augustine advocates that created matter formlessly existing independent of God is actually good. In this we can see that Augustine “breaks through the essentialism of antique metaphysics, which always thought being from essential.”[50]

Mendelson further explains, “His Neo-Platonic framework commits him to the view that the physical/sensible realm is an arena of temptation and moral danger, one wherein the human soul needs to be wary about becoming too attached to lower goods.”[51] This is seen in Augustine’s Confessions: “And I inquired what iniquity was, and ascertained it not to be a substance, but a perversion of the will, bent aside from Thee, O God, the Supreme Substance, towards these lower things, and casting out its bowels, and swelling outwardly.”[52] In Augustine, the concept of sin represents an estrangement and bending of the derived being, man, from the source being, God. Rist writes that “although Augustine follows the Stoics and Neoplatonists in distinguishing moral evils from others, he insists that the others are really evils…that the fallen world had indeed become a place of suffering.”[53] Due to the Adam’s sin, real suffering entered the world. This was a departure from the divine will for Creation in Augustine.

Augustine’s doctrine of sin begins with the fall of man. Augustine thought that if Adam did not sin, he would not have had to suffer any punishment of sin including death.[54] Thus, a sinless Adam, for Augustine, would have been immortal. Also, because God created Adam upright and uncorrupt, Adam and his offspring could have remained sinless. But because sin entered the world, through Adam, body and soul both die, where the death of the soul is the eternal 2nd death when God forsakes the soul as the body forsakes the soul in the 1st death. Since our souls were alive in Adam, we could not be born sinless but in sin and we also then deserve both deaths.

Overall, a complete balanced analysis of Augustine’s theology of sin would include his use of Pauline theology and the Old Testament – especially the Creation and the Fall. Sin is most assuredly thought in Augustine as a transgression of the Law. However the point here is that the notion of sin consists of a misalignment or disinclination of the will in Augustine. From Adam’s state of free perfection to a state of necessary imperfection, Augustine expresses Plotinus’ entering of evil of the soul. So as we have seen, he encompasses the Pauline doctrine, the Old Testament transgression and especially Neoplatonism. Mendelson adds, “The problem of evil received a rather different treatment in the non-Hellenic religious and scriptural traditions than in the Greek tradition, a contrast that was not completely lost on Augustine as he increased his familiarity with the former.”[55]

Free Will & The Nature of Man

Plato wrote that “all men are by nature equal, made all of the same earth by one Workman.”[56] Man’s being, for Plato, is derived from God, the source of being, but man is a “being in search of meaning.”[57] Men ought to choose the good to be blessed and participate in the Good. This would inevitably bring meaning. A being acts, behaves, or becomes in accordance with its true nature.

Much could be written on Augustine’s view of free will as he wrote extensively on this topic in the Anti-Palagian Writings. However, the purpose here is to understand the parallel in Augustinian thought to NeoPlatonic thought. Freedom of the will, for Augustine is radically free because it has nothing prior to it. The will is not coerced. When people sin, they exercise their will freely, that is, independent & autonomous from outside coercion. Augustine teaches the absence of completely “free” choice. That is, we do have free choice but it is governed by and limited to what we are by nature. God changes the free will of man by way of renewal of the nature. So that of his own free choice he chooses good and virtue. It is God’s irresistible grace that establishes such a freedom of the will toward the good. The more grace, the more the sanctification.[58]

This could be considered a type of NeoPlatonic ethics where man’s habits form character and he acts in accordance with his character. He only wants what his renewed will seeks habitually – that is his volition directs him towards the good because he is in a habit of doing that. Thus his nature freely chooses that which is good because he has become by nature a good man. Here again we see the parallel between Augustinian thought and Neoplatonic thought.

 

 

Conclusion

Thus, by examining Augustine’s background & training in Greek philosophy & Neoplatonic thought, his interaction with and evaluation of Platonism & Neoplatonism to Christianity in his own writing, and the parallel between Neo-Platonic philosophy & his philosophical theology, it is easy to conclude that his philosophical theology of original sin, free will, and the nature of man was influenced by Neoplatonism.

Augustine’s Neoplatonic influenced thoughts must not be disregarded as tainted or secular as most of his thought still aligns with Paul. In fact, in Paul was perhaps the greatest influence on Augustine to the point where Paul is the ultimate guide in comparison to anecdotal Neoplatonists. This can be easily seen in all of his writings and he himself would have thrown out a Neoplatonistic view if he thought it was detrimental to orthodox theology.

Overall, history has shown that the philosophical principles of Neoplatonism were not detrimental to Augustine positive impact upon the church. Augustine’s views on time, God’s relationship to time, God’s foreknowledge, God’s providence, predestination, and election (although not discussed here, these were influenced by the Neoplatonic themes and the doctrine of God’s immutability) greatly affected the thought of middle age thinkers such as John Dun Scotus, Boethius, William of Ockham and Molina.[59] Without Augustine paving the way and introducing his theology to history, these thinkers may not have produced the scholarly works they did.

Additionally, Augustine’s thought led to the development of the theology of the Reformed thinkers including John Calvin, who was heavily influenced by Augustine’s theology of total depravity and irresistible grace. Other reformers held high Augustine’s soteriological position on God’s direct revelation to mankind and the powerful psychological notion of the individual self. These themes would later captivate Protestantism and evangelical Christianity.

Thus, the implications of the doctrines of Augustine have left an overwhelmingly positive impact on the church – this cannot be understated. As seen in Confessions, the utterly desperate and devoted heart of Augustine after God’s truth and grace would set the tone of Western Christian worship and piety. This favorite quote from Confessions expresses his grateful and changed heart. I hope it encourages you to have a soft heart towards God’s gracious touch on your life.

“Belatedly I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new. See, You were within and I was without, and I sought You out there. Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things You have made. You were with me, but I was not with You. These things kept me far from you, even though they were not at all unless they were in You. You called and cried aloud, and forced open my deafness. You gleamed and shone, and chased away my blindness. You breathed fragrant odors and I drew in my breath, and now I pant for You. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.”

 


 

 


 

[1] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Book 8, Chapter 13; Platonists preferred this name over the Academics because of their love for their master teacher Plato.

[2] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God

[3] Phillip Schaff, Nicene & Port Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Edited by Phillip Schaff. Vol. 1. New York, New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886, see page 336.

[4] Aurelius Augustine, Confessions

[5] Phillip Schaff, Nicene & Port Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Edited by Phillip Schaff. Vol. 1. New York, New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886, see page 336.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Aurelius Augustine, Confessions, Book 7, Chapter 9, or Book 8, Chapter 2.

[8] Michael Mendelson, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2000. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/augustine/#2 (accessed November 12, 2009). – Confessions, Book 4, Chapter 15

[9] Johannes Brachtendorf, “Orthodoxy without Augustine,” Ars Disputandi 6 (2006).

[10] Aurelius Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Book 2, Chapter 60 & 61

[11] Paul wrote of this same general revelation in his writings, namely Romans chapter 1. Justin Martyr also wrote that “all truth is God’s.” Augustine primarily thought that the world as God made it was intellectual, thought, and desire –that God provides all knowledge to you- God is the necessary prerequisite to all knowledge- and secondarily sense driven. Augustine didn’t reject the senses, but just placed the senses secondary to that knowledge which God provides you.

[12] Aurelius Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Book 2, Chapter 28.

[13] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Book 8, Chapter 11.

[14] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Book 8, Chapter 13.

[15] Michael Mendelson, “Augustine” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2000. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/augustine/#2 (accessed November 12, 2009).

[16] F.B.A. Asiedu, “Augustine’s Christian–Platonist Account of Goodness: A Reconsideration.” Heythrop Journal 43, no. 3 (July 2002): 328-343.

[17] Fabulous was a term that referred to the theatre.

[18] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Book 8, Chapter 5.

[19] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Book 8, Chapter 5.

[20] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Book 8, Chapter 10.

[21] Paul, Colossians 2:8

[22] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Book 22, Chapter 27.

[23] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Book 13, Chapter 19.

[24] Lloyd Gerson, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. September 5, 2008. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plotinus/#1 (accessed November 23, 2009).

[25] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Book 10, Chapter 30.

[26] Lloyd Gerson, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. September 5, 2008. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plotinus/#1 (accessed November 23, 2009).

[27] Ibid.

[28] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Book 10, Chapter 30.

[29] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Book 22, Chapter 27.

[30] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Book 10, Chapter 32.

[31] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Book 13, Chapter 16.

[32] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Book 13, Chapter 17.

[33] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Book 22, Chapter 27.

[34] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Book 22, Chapter 28.

[35] Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Book 22, Chapter 27.

[36] John M. Rist, Augustine: Ancient Thought Baptized (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 3.

[37] Phillip Schaff, Nicene & Port Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Edited by Phillip Schaff. Vol. 1. New York, New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886, see page 336.

[38] Johannes Brachtendorf, “Orthodoxy without Augustine,” Ars Disputandi, No. 6 (2006).

[39] Aurelius Augustine, Letter to Hermogenianus

[40] Aurelius Augustine, Anti-Palagian Writings, Book 2, Chapter 36.

[41] Johannes Brachtendorf, “Orthodoxy without Augustine,” Ars Disputandi 6 (2006).

[42] Plato

[43] John M. Rist, Augustine: Ancient Thought Baptized (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 3.

[44] Aurelius Augustine, Confessions.

[45] Maarten Wisse, “Was Augustine a Barthian?,” Ars Disputandi, Volume 7, (2007).

[46] Lloyd Gerson, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. September 5, 2008. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plotinus/#1 (accessed November 23, 2009).

[47] Plotinus, Enneads, Treatise 1, Section 11.

[48] Plotinus, Enneads, Treatise 1, Section 10.

[49] Plotinus, Enneads,, Treatise 1, Section 12.

[50] Johannes Brachtendorf, “Orthodoxy without Augustine,” Ars Disputandi, No. 6 (2006).

[51] Michael Mendelson, “Augustine” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2000. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/augustine/#2 (accessed November 12, 2009). – Confessions Book 4, Chapter 15.

[52] Aurelius Augustine, Confessions, Book 7, Chapter 16.

[53] John M. Rist, Augustine: Ancient Thought Baptized (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 261.

[54] Iraneous first developed the doctrine in 185 AD in his book against heresies to Valentinus the Gnostic.

[55] Michael Mendelson, “Augustine” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2000. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/augustine/#2 (accessed November 12, 2009).

[56] Plato

[57] Plato

[58] Allan Gomes, “Talbot Theological Seminary, Historical Theology Class Lecture.” La Mirada, October 2004.

[59] If God cannot change and exists in a-temporal static time, than his knowledge of future contingent propositions is constant and is unaffected by the state of affairs which obtain in this world. Since God is “beyond time” he sees the entire world happening in the eternal “now.” God’s providence guides the world towards his goals which the elect contribute.

 

 

Bibliography

Asiedu, F.B.A. “Augustine’s Christian–Platonist Account of Goodness: A Reconsideration.” Heythrop Journal 43, no. 3 (July 2002): 328-343.

Augustine. A Treatise on the Grace of Christ and On Original Sin.

Augustine, Aurelius. Confessions.

—. De Libero Arbitrio.

—. Letter to Hermogenianus.

—. On Christian Doctrines.

—. The City of God.

Brachtendorf, Johannes. “Orthodoxy without Augustine.” Ars Disputandi 6 (2006).

Gerson, Lloyd. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. September 5, 2008. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plotinus/#1 (accessed November 23, 2009).

Gomes, Allan. “Talbot Theological Seminary, Historical Theology Class Lecture.” La Mirada, October 2004.

Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A History of Christianity: Volume 1. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1975.

Mendelson, Michael. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2000. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/augustine/#2 (accessed November 12, 2009).

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Rae, J.P. Moreland & Scott. Body & Soul. 2005.

Rist, John M. Augustine: Ancient Thought Baptized. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

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—. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Edited by Phillip Schaff. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1902.

Tillich, Paul. “The History of Christian Thought by Paul Tillich, Lecture 17-20.” New York City: Union Theological Seminary, 1953.

Wisse, Maarten. “Was Augustine a Barthian?” Ars Disputandi Volume 7 (2007).

 

jeremy@apologetics.com

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