Thursday, February 25, 2016

Augustine: A Little Bit About the Man Who Became a Saint

Augustine CONFESSIONS (Aurelius Augustinus) 354 to 430 A.D.

The Confessions deals with the problem of evil and the temptation of the flesh up to Book 9.
Augustine has an epiphany as a young man and realizes that he wants to live a life of the mind – an intellectual life. The Confessions is a record of Augustine's thoughts as he conducts an honest self-examination of his emotional and intellectual life. In it, he includes a detailed reflection of his education and the adventures of his youth. In this area, he is unusually frank about his experience of desire. He is not against desire but wants to examine the way it influences behavior and judgment. One key incident that he discusses is about stealing. He and his friends steal pears because of wanting a diversion, not because of hunger. In fact, they give the fruit to the pigs. He was just overcome by a desire to steal. This representative problem of wanting -- even without cause -- is what he ponders in great detail. As a young man, he was considered exceptionally intelligent and could read and write well. These skills usually lead to a career in the government service (Roman Empire), rhetoric and law. He excelled in the persuasive arts.

Three religious philosophies played a part in Augustine’s examination: Machanean, Neoplatonism and Christianity. Machanean religious philosophy accepts that the body is wicked and the soul is good; but also does not provide a way to overcome that dichotomy. It is what it is -- there is no way to overcome evil -- and there is no way to know if you will go to hell or heaven. You have to be elected. Neoplatonism philosophy is that evil is the absence of good. Nothingness is the absence of being. It all comes from an error in perception. You have the freewill to go up the moral ladder or slide down this ladder. It’s your choice. Christianity offered a solution because through it anyone could be saved through grace. He believed that through baptism forgiveness was offered and hell was averted, even babies should be baptized because it started them on the path to a Christian life. In fact, when Augustine lost a good friend he was comforted because his friend was baptized. Becoming Christian meant that Augustine had to give up his social life and opportunities for political advancement. Nevertheless, he and a group of friends decide convert with the plan to retreat from the world. However, he never leaves society and the demands of an engaged life. He becomes a teacher of rhetoric and the Bishop of the city of Hippo.

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