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Augustine: The Thinker

George W. Osmun


Copyright, 1906, by
Jennings & Graham

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No ATTEMPT is made in this volume to glorify
Augustine. The single aim is to present him as he
was — to preserve him from his adulators. To omit
the halo, is to be more just to him, and to be true to

Augustine lived in an age which, though de-
cadent, was tense with interest. Old institutions
and religions were passing away. New races and
a new religion were pressing forward for recogni-
tion and regnancy. Not least striking of the figures
that move to and fro upon this kaleidoscopic pano-
rama is that of the busy Bishop of Hippo. His
own personal struggles and his contentions in be-
half of the Faith are bound up with the great
movements of his age. In several important senses
he was a child of that age. But he nevertheless
dominates it. And it is to his genius, largely, that
Christianity owes its triumphant entry into the era
which followed.

6 Preface.

In fairness, therefore, both to Augustine and
his age, I have tried to show how he and the forces
of his time interacted upon one another.

In the performance of my task I have been un-
der obHgation to a great mass of literature bearing
upon Augustine. Of this I would acknowledge
especially Joseph McCabe's brilliant ''Saint Augus-
tine and His Age" (though I have found myself in
constant dissent from his implications), and to
Neander's discriminating and scholarly "History of
the Christian Church." For unusual privileges and
great courtesy I would also express my gratitude
to the Rev. Sanuiel Ayres, B. D., librarian of the
Drew Seminary.

Westuampton, L. L, April 17, 1906.


Chapter Pagb

I. Getting a Start, - - - - ii

II. Carthage and the Dawn of an Ideal, 21

III. Mani", 30

IV, The Imperial City, - - - 44
V. In the City of Ambrose, - - - 55

-VI. Through Plato to Christ, - - 67

VII. Cassiciacum, 81

VIII. Back to Africa, _ . - - 93

IX. Hippo Regius, 107

X. The Bishop at Work, - - - 121
XI. DoNATUs, - - - - - -140

XII. The Two Cities, - - - - 161

XIII. Labors — ^Literary and Theological, - 183

XIV. The Pelagians, - - - - 201
XV. Augustine and the Final Struggle, - 224

XVI. The Stream of Augustinianism, - 242


From November 13, 354 A. D. to Easter,
387 A. D.


Ii^ you follow the southern coast-line of the
Mediterranean east from the Pillars of Hercules,
you come at length to a great promontory jutting
into the sea toward the Island of Sicily. In the
day of our story, this promontory was dominated
by the presence of historic Carthage. But of deeper
interest to us is a very much smaller town, Tha-
gaste, that lay some twoscore miles to the south.
For here at Thagaste, exactly five hundred years
after the fall of the first Carthage, was born Aure-
lius Augustinus, familiar in history as St. Augus-
tine, Bishop of Hippo.

Thagaste stood on the first of a series of broadly-
sloping terraces, which, climbing up from the
broken neck of Carthaginian territory, and reach-
ing westward to the far-away white summits of the
Atlas, formed the provinces of Numidia and Mauri-
tania. Favored by a moderate climate, made fer-
tile by abundant streams, sheltered by the over-
towering mountain ranges, sweetened by the breath
of the sea, it is not surprising that these swelling
plateaus abounded in wealth, and were covered
with hundreds of thriving towns and villages.



Augustine: The Thinker.

By the middle of the fourth century the Roman-
ization of North Africa had been long since com-
plete. Xumidia was annexed to Rome under Julius
Cc-esar, while Claudius, about a century later, added
Mauritania. Everywhere the organization and
thrift of the empire were manifest. To lordly
Roman families had been assigned the vast estates,
whose waving fields of corn, tilled by native slaves,
constituted the granar}- of the Mistress City, and
brought an unprecedented prosperity and luxury.
So there grew up numberless colonies, joined firmly
by the world-famed imperial roads. Some of these
towns reproduced the magnificence of Rome itself
in walls and gates, mausoleums, amphitheaters,
baths, basilicas, and temples, and arches of triumph.
All this display was made possible by the iniquitous
fiscal policy of Rome. But the taxes became so ex-
cessive as to impose an intolerable burden upon the
shoulders of the middle classes, and this ''Soul of
the Empire" was gradually crushed till the day of
the invading Vandal, who laid low the Roman rule
c'lnd the Roman glory. However, until that day,
which was delayed until Augustine had finished his
labors, the mixed population of the towns gave
tlicmsclvcs up to the glittering life which Augustine
himself compared "to glass in its fragile splendor."^

The Christian Church had, indeed, followed
close in the wake of the Roman seizure of
North Africa. It was here that the first Eatin

1 Cay of God, IV, 3.

Getting a Start. 13

version of the Scriptures originated. A century and
a half before our date, the first great Latin apologist,
Tertullian, had hurled his defense of Christianity
against the pagans. From him we learn that even
so early the triumph of the Church had been far-
reaching. "We leave you your temples only. We
can count your armies. Our number in a single
province will be greater."

It must be confessed, however, that the Chris-
tian ardor of the earlier days had grown measurably
cooler in the presence of the pomp and worldliness
of the times. There had been numerous lapses un-
der the keen persecutions of Decius and Diocletian.
But it is to be feared that the presence of material
prosperity and prevailing corruption was much
more effective in reducing the number of Chris-
tians. Even among those who were numbered as
Christians, Christianity was in many cases hardly an
affair of passion. The master-passion of those days
was rather the games and public spectacles. If
these chanced on the same day with the religious
feasts or worship in the Churches, the latter gen-
erally proved the sufferers by being less popular.
So much was this so that a convention at Carthage,
in 401, appealed to the emperor to cause the trans-
fer of the public shovv^s from days distinctly Chris-
tian to other days of the week. Augustine himself
complains,^ on a certain day given to pagan festi-
vals, of the slight attendance upon his preaching, of

2 Tractate VII, 2, on the Gospel of St, John.

14 Augustine: The Thinker.

men, and especially of women, "whom, if not fear,
modesty at all events ought to deter from the pub-
lic scene."

Unfortunately the North African Church was
weighted also with a persistent schism. It will fall
to our lot later to consider the part Augustine took
in what is known as the Donatist controversy. For
now it is enough to record the fact that for many
years already Donatism had been waging a relent-
less war on the Catholic Church. The emperor,
Constantine, had found it impossible to stay the
ravages of the schism by imperial edict, and now
the entire Church of Africa was rent asunder by the
obstinate disputes of the rival parties. In most of
the towns was presented the unedifying spectacle of
basilicas and bishops opposed to one another, heated
public debates, services interrupted by fierce on-
slaughts, and even bloodshed and family strife — all
in the name of religion.

The town of Thagaste doubtless reflected most
of these ecclesiastical and political conditions at
the time of Augustine's birth, November 13, 354.
His mother was a Christian. Without attempting
to glorify Monica, as many have done, we may ac-
cept Augustine's own estimate of her "devout con-
versation toward God" and "her holy tenderness
and attentivencss" to her son.^ It can hardly be
doubted that Augustine owed a vast debt to his
godly mother for her prayers and unconquerable

* Confc&MODk, IX, 33.

Gi:tting a Start. 15

love, as he received from her also that reUgious
yearning, which did not forsake him even in his
Vv^orst years. So much can not be spoken for the
father. Patricius was an unlovely, poor freeman,
with crude tastes and of a shallow, harsh disposition.
A man requiring constant propitiation to prevent
passionate outbursts of anger, with no principles to
deter him from shameless disregard of his marriage
vows, he w^ould in our day be catalogued as a heart-
less brute. But even him Monica gained over to a
Christian confession before his death. To them, in
addition to Aurelius, were born a son, Navigius,
and a daughter, both of whom were Christians.

At his birth, Augustine tells us, he was sprinkled
with salt and signed with the cross, signifying his
admission as a candidate for baptism. As to the
various attitudes of his infancy, the presumed sins
of little indignations and pale jealousies and bitter
looks, of which we read in the Confessions, it is
hardly proper to speak, since Augustine himself
makes considerate avowal of his having received
these details from another or "guessed them from
other infants."

"After that I was put to school to get learning.
And if slow to learn I was flogged."^ The millen-
nial period for boys, of abandoning corporeal in-
flictions, had not yet arrived, and Augustine seems
to have had no exemption from a due share of
"stripes." "One and one are two" was a "hateful

4 Confessions, I, 14.

i6 Augustine: The; Thinke:r.

song" to him, ball-playing and shows offered more
attractions than obedience to his teachers, while he
chafed under the inconsistency of his elders, calling
their idleness "business" and his games "trifling."

With all his early detestation of learning, Au-
gustine soon showed himself to be a youth of rare
memory and capacity. Reading, writing, and arith-
metic gave way at length to the higher training
under the "grammarian." With the increased dig-
nity attaching to this salaried teacher, whose school-
room was separated from the vestibule by an im-
pressive curtain, and with far less prosaic studies
to awaken his imagination, Augustine became a
more devoted student. To what keen-fancied boy,
reared within a day's journey of mighty Carthage,
would not tales, in his native tongue, of the sack of
Troy and the coming of /Eneas, have abiding in-
terest? The mythologies of Rome, too, and the
wondrous deeds of the men of the empire, were
surely to Augustine the lad more than the "pleas-
ant spectacle of vanity" which they became to
Augustine the mature ecclesiastic.

Toward the study of Greek, however, Augustine
showed a positive aversion, probably because he
was "compelled to learn" it. "The difficulty of
learning a Greek language mingled with gall all the
sweetness of those fabulous Grecian stories."^ It is
for this that Augustine preferred in later years the
Latin version of Platonist writings," and felt him-

a Confessions, I, 23. 6 Confessions, VIII, 13.

Ge^tting a Start. 17

self too little acquainted with the Greek tongue to
read and understand therein discussions upon ab-
stract themes.^ But he seems, with advancing
years, to have mastered his Greek sufficiently for
appreciation of the Greek texts of Scripture.^

By the time Augustine was fourteen, he had
fitted himself for studies still more advanced. Be-
cause of his uncommon ability, his parents deter-
mined he should receive advantages superior to
those at Thagaste. Accordingly he was sent to
Madaura for training in rhetoric. Already he had
developed a fond hospitality to the follies of the
merry world about him. And though he was "soft-
ened by friendship" and "shunned sorrow, mean-
ness, and ignorance," he was not a stranger to lying,
pilfering, deceit, and pride. During a sudden ill-
ness — probably nothing more serious than always
happens to boys who are "enslaved by gluttony"
and steal from their "parents' table and cellar"^ —
he wished vigorously for Christian baptism. This
his pious mother was on the point of providing for,
when he quickly recovered. Hence the rite was
deferred, for in those days it was often customary
to put off baptism till the close of life, as in the
case of the Emperor Constantine. Thus it could
be said, in accord with a wooden notion of this
sacred sacrament: "Let him alone, let him act as
he likes, for he is not yet baptized."^^

7 On the Trinity, III, i. 8 Cf. On Christian Doctrine, II, 11-15.

9 Confessions, I, 30. 10 Confessions, i, 18.


i8 Augustine: The Thinker.

At IMadaura, twenty miles farther south in the
Province of Numidia, the prevalent Roman in-
fluences and pagan practices were not calculated to
advance Augustine in piety or to put a check upon
his restless nature. The powers at Rome were just
then more tolerant of the heathen cults, as was
partly evident from the statues of the gods, reared
everywhere in the town, and especially from the
majestic image of jMars in the Forum. But these
were only the bolder marks of the pagan atmos-
phere which pervaded the place. The majority of
the populace were not in sympathy with the re-
ligion of his mother. And though he was still a
catechumen, and perhaps quartered with Christian
relatives, the magic enchantments of heathenism
must have woven themselves about his eager mind.
By a boy, who had already found the easy path of
vice, there was little to be desired in the worship
of the crude Christian chapel, as compared with the
elaborate ritual of the temples. In later years,
Augustine addressed the ''men of Madaura" as "his
fathers," but he could never tear from his mind the
impressions made there by his witnessing the sacri-
legious Bacchanalia.

His study of rhetoric hardly contributed to any
lingering loyalty he may have had for the truth.
The pursuit of the fine art of declamation, with
minute attention to "inferences, definitions, and
divisions,"'^ was meant primarily to produce mere

11 On Christian Doctrine, II, 55. Cf. IV, 1-5.

Ge:tting a Start. 19

cleverness in oratory. Learning was becoming
more and more a thing of conventions. Depth and
philosophic outlook were sacrificed to polish and
sophistry. To be sure Augustine was intended for
the bar, and to be a successful pleader in his day
one must be ingeniously plausible. Hence the for-
mal mastery of rhetorical devices was indispensable.
Still one may be pardoned for wishing, after a pro-
longed exploration of many of Augustine's laby-
rinthine diffusions, that he had become possessed of
the art of curtailment as well as that of elabora-
tion. Certainly Augustine was not deepened by
contact with the superficial studies and pagan mas-
ters of Madaura.

At any rate, this period of unrestrained famil-
iarity with the ways of the world and of shallow
learning, fitted Augustine for a perilous suscepti-
bility to what awaited him during the year to follow
at Thagaste. The ambition of Patricius for his
son, led him to go beyond his means, in order to
send Augustine away for a further residence at
Carthage. But a year was needed for full arrange-
ments, and this time Augustine spent in frivolity
and idleness. He became involved in the wanton
comradery of reckless fellows of the town, among
v/hom he was "ashamed to be less shameless." The
admonitions of his fearful mother he regarded only
as "womanish counsels," which he would blush to

Patricius was just winning the praise of his fel-

20 Augustixk: The: Thinker.

low-townsmen for the laudable sacrifices in behalf
. )f his son, when his death seemed to bring Augus-
tine's career to a sudden stop. The ''Confessions"
make onlv a passing notice of the demise of his
father, so that there was doubtless no great friend-
ship between them. Fortunately, at this crisis, a
wealthy decurion Romanianus, whose generosity
Augustine never forgot, received the promising lad
into his house and provided funds for his advance
along the highway of knowledge. Thus was Augus-
tine's face turned towards Carthage and the long
struggle for truth.



The: situation of ancient Carthage was too
strategic for it to remain long unoccupied after its
ruthless destruction by Africanus in 146 B. C.
Many years had not passed before colonies set out
from Rome to re-people and resurrect the City of
Hannibal. These beginnings, under Gains Gracchus
and Julius Caesar, came to higher completion when
Augustus, a century after its ruin, made Carthage
the proconsular seat of Africa. With this outward
restoration of the former Punic glory, New Car-
thage became a center of Roman corruption and
reckless living. Upon the abruptly rising citadel-
hill called Byrsa, was reared in honor of the
"deified man," ^sculapius, a new temple, ap-
proached by a wide terrace of sixty stairs. On the
same summit, overlooking the two busy harbors,
stood a beautiful palace of Rome's representative,
at one time the historian Sallust. Once more the
reservoirs on the south and west, and the huge
aqueduct from the distant hills, poured their waters
into the city below; outgoing ships bore their bur-
dens of corn to Rome and the East, and returning,


Augustine: The Thinker.

stuffed Carthage with wealth and luxury; in the
broad Forum at the foot of the hill a transformed
senate-house was alive with demagogues, and the
Temple of Apollo with its worshipers; life in Car-
thago Nova became an alluring passion with the
Roman aristocracy, and their sumptuous houses re-
sounded with revelry and debauch.

It is doubtless true that Roman Carthage was
religious. But religion included the worst abom-
inations of paganism. The hideous cult of Sat-
urn had been suppressed by a severe visitation upon
its votaries. But a temple to the god had been
built with great magnificence upon the ruins of
the former temple to the same deity. For heathen-
ism persisted in Carthage longer than in Rome.
The Carthaginians still worshiped images of the
old Tyrian Hercules. Once, when a magistrate
ventured to order the head of Hercules to be gilded,
Augustine tells us the Christian part of the popu-
lace were excited with such furious zeal, that special
measures had to be taken by the bishops to pre-
vent violence. Worst of all, if there could be a
deeper depth, was the worship connected with the
gigantic temple of the goddess Coelestis,^ with its
two-mile inclosure. This temple, which, previous
to its destruction, was looked upon as one of the
architectural triumphs of the age, was restored by
Augustus, and its shameless practices continued in
Carthage long after Rome had ceased to counte-

1 Greek Aphrodite, Laiiii Venus, Syrian Astarte.

Th^ Dawn o^ an IdejaIv. 23

nance them. Through the streets of the city wan-
dered the strange creatures who passed as priests
of this Hcentious cult. Augustine himself gives a
gruesome picture of the ceremonies which were a
daily occurrence before the shrine of this vulgar
"virgin goddess." From all sides a vast crowd have
gathered and stand closely packed together as they
worship, "with prayer and with obscene rites."
There are met immodest stage girls, women of base
intent, foul-mouthed men, profligates, and harlots,
who glory in the sight, that greets their eyes, of
nameless vices, enacted by lewd prayers, with a
pretense of reverence.^

If Carthage was religious, it was even more
persistently bent on pleasure. Following the fashion
set by Rome, with her Circus Maximus, the Car-
thaginians became as intense devotees of the Cir-
censian pastimes as they were of the temples. Au-
gustine seems not to have shared in this fondness for
the circus, nor for the ruder debauch of the gladia-
torial combats. Before many years he counted it a
joy to have rescued a young friend from their fas-
cination. But he became familiar with them, and
in later days acknowledged how slight were the at-
tractions of Christian worship and preaching when
the exhibitions were in progress.

It was the theater which especially attracted
Augustine. What appealed tp him there was the
vivid representation of such human follies and

8 City of God, II, 26.


Augustine;: The: Thinker.

weaknesses as were beginning to get a firm grip
upon his own life.^ It was not surprising that the
early Church adopted such stern measures against
the stage-plays, and excluded from baptism those
who attended them. Whatever may have been the
quality of the stage in the earlier history of the em-
pire, it is certain that it had touched its lowest
depths by the time Augustine went as a student to
Carthage. Not only were actors cut off from all
civic honors, and actresses looked upon as infamous
— the drama itself had become mere dribble and
obscenity. Legerdemain, crude pantomime, and
coarse jesting supplied surfeit to the sordid appe-
tites of the populace. Mr. McCabe finds Augus-
tine's conduct in youth ''unusually regular," and
hardly takes the "Confessions" seriously. He cites
the testimony of Vincentius, a Rogatian bishop, to
the eflFcct that when they were acquaintances in
Carthage, Augustine was "a quiet and respectable
youth," — but he neglects Augustine's reply that
"not every one who is indulgent is a friend" and
"you know me now to be more desirous of rest, and
earnest in seeking it, than when you knew me in my
earlier years in Carthage." At any rate, Augustine's
patronage of these degrading "exhibitions of stupid
buffoonery" is evidence enough of a lamentable
morbidness and grossness of taste.

Any lingering indisposition to admit this ought
to be overborne by certain other considerations. In

* Confessions, III, 3.

The Dawn oi^ an Ide:ai,. 25

addition to the morally tainted atmosphere he was
breathing in the temples, the games, and the theat-
ricals, Augustine was occupying only a shallow re-
lation to the Church. Though he continued to at-
tend Christian services, he had no other than a con-
ventional motive for doing so. He was a cate-
chumen still, and Christianity was the confession
of his mother ; therefore, he went into the basilicas
with other catechumens. But his meditations there
were anything but devout — indeed, were wandering
constantly to forbidden objects of sinful desire.*
It may be he found little encouragement in the
Church. The influence of Cyprian still hung as a
kind of halo over the city. But it was not an age
remarkable for piety. Accessions in large numbers
were not wanting. But conversions which signified,
as Neander puts it, "an exchange of open, undis-
guised paganism, for a nominal Christianity cover-
ing a pagan way of thinking," far exceeded in num-
ber the conversions which reached and transformed
the inner disposition. Augustine complains that the
Church is full of the former kind, and "seldom is
Jesus sought for Jesus' sake."^ Immorality, drunk-
enness, and rioting were common among members
of the Church. And in these respects the young
student must have found slight distinction between
Christian and pagan. But it doubtless caused him
little concern.

The fact is, his studies at this time were not

4 Confessions, III, 5. 6 On the Gospel of John, Tractate, 20, 10.

26 Augustine:: Thd Thinker.

leading in the direction of lofty thought. At the
university he made rapid advance. But he admits
that craftiness was the mark of attainment. The lack
of moral earnestness apparent in the living of the
men of his day showed itself also in their culture.
Rhetorical flourish and embellished phrase were
made a deceptive garb for such scraps of Greek
philosophy as could be combined into an artificial
"system," which in reality was only a ''literary med-
ley." Grammar and rhetoric were the chief depart-
ments of study, and we must not, of course, under-
estimate the great proficiency which was attained by
such men as Augustine in dialectics and the princi-
ples of eloquent discourse, nor the vast amount of
information which they had ready at their command.
In addition to rhetoric, logic, music, arithmetic, and
geometry constituted the daily round of Augus-
tine's intellectual pursuit. Besides this, as a task
outside the regular curriculum, he mastered
Aristotle's ''ten categories." On the other hand,
any one at all acquamted with the works of Augus-
tine must have noticed the hollowness of a great deal
of his reasoning. Under conditions, in which casu-
istry and declamation were made easy substitutes
for profound thinking, one can hardly expect to find
a youth progressing fast in the art of high living.

Conditions were hardly improved for Augustine

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