Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Thoughts on Augustine
I cannot say that I am a huge fan of Augustine, but I appreciate many of his writings. Although Bertram Russel claims that Augustine didn’t help prevent the succeeding Dark Ages, which “surpassed almost all other fully historical periods in cruelty and superstition,” I do see a lot of good that he did. Through history, including the present day (Pakistan, Libya http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13760895 and other countries), the woman is considered guilty for the rape, and is cruelly punished. Augustine crushes this idea before it could become part of Christian culture: “Tush, another’s lust cannot pollute thee.” Although astrology and the idea of Fate stay with culture today (in newspapers and a lot of fiction), he wrote against them. The age succeeding his held on to those ideals, but only outside the teachings of the Church. These superstitions continued on the strength of pagan influence.
I appreciate that Augustine did not condemn all passions, like the stoics. I think the suppression of strong emotion leads to repression and apathy, rather than a true tranquility. I like that he also doesn’t hate human bodies, saying they aren’t a way of punishing our souls, and that they aren’t the source of human sin. His writing against judicial torture is an accomplishment for his time, and I wish it had been taken more seriously by the Catholic church (and civilization as a whole).
My biggest disagreement with Augustine is over his idea of the predestination of “elect and reprobate”. I understand the idea of sin, free will, and just punishment. I don’t understand the idea of assigned sinfulness; if God assigns roles to people, and they fulfill those roles, then haven’t they lost their free will? And he assigned them a role, and they fulfill that role, then haven’t they fulfilled the will of God? Sinners sinning would be doing what God had commanded them... and wouldn't obeying God be considered Christian?