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Augustine's Journey to Christianity

By Aaron Schwartz

Saint Augustine, bishop of Hippo was one of the most important theologians for many times. He was born in Roman North African province of Numidia, he saw the Fall of the glorious Roman Empire and invasion of Vandals in North Africa. He could be called one of the most prolific writers of all times. His works include three spiritual classics: The Confessions, City of God and the Trinity. In his works he is everything - scholar, philosopher, historian and theologian. Augustine influenced the history of Christianity greatly, his work Confessions was considered one of Christianity’s classic texts. His main goal in this book was to show the reader what it means to be from God, to be oriented to God and then brought to God by God. The name of this work – “Confession” may be viewed from different points of view, like meaning admitting somebody’s sins, belief, praise, Augustine constantly gives praise to God, and the work in whole is one long prayer. The “Confessions” occupied central place in the Western Literature as it reveals sincere and open confessions of a human’s soul. The author comes to some conclusions as for the intellectual certainty about the truth of Christianity: “What I know longed for was not greater certainly about you? But a more steadfast abiding to you.” The obstacles were in his heart: “which needed to be cleansed of the old leaven. I was attracted to the Way, which is our Savior himself, but the narrowness of the path daunted me and I still could not walk in it”.

Augustine was influenced by both Stoicism and Platonism. Stoicism appeared in Athens, in Greece, around the 3rd century B.C.E., it was founded by Zeno of Citium. This philosophical school was worshiping the Goddess Fate, her law was ruling to combine, dissolve and re-combine the elements. According to Stoics the law of Nature was beyond the power of any god. This school opposed strictly the hypothesis of miracles, the Stoics considered everything to be natural. Augustine had his own understandings of the Trinity, creation and will. Many of his teachings were transferred to Descartes for example, but the he was actually disillusioned himself with Stoicism and his questioning the Stoics’ philosophy in the name of Christ and the Trinity. Still there are some thoughts that were considered “Augustinian” but in fact have genealogy in Stoic asceticism.

Christian Platonists considered the Platonic theory the best instrument for understanding and teaching the church traditions. But their approach seemed to be rather unhistorical and their methods – rather unscholarly. They insisted on the transcendence of God and were ready to acknowledge his intimate presence in the world. Their views on body and soul were dualistic, but they accepted bodily resurrection.

In 384 Augustine encountered the books by Platonists in Milan and it could be called a kind of a turning point for his basic themes, hi himself makes it clear that these books: “made it possible for him to view both the Church and its scriptural tradition as having intellectually satisfying and, indeed, resourceful content.” (Macdonald, Scott and Norman Kretzmann (1998). Medieval philosophy. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge, p.3) From the books of Platonists he managed to conceive the possibility of a non-physical substance. From the same books he took the dualistic division between physical and spiritual, and he focused a lot on it in his early works. But despite all this he never considered the sensible world to be an evil itself, he believed that it was a problem of perception and will.

All the Christian Platonists had their one ways of understanding Platonism. It is even hard to call Augustine’s theory a part, one of subspecies of Christian Platonism, it is more of something absolutely unique and individual. In his ideas of anthropology Augustine was absolutely Platonist, as he was insisting on the souls’ superiority to the body and it being independent from the body. The soul for him was superior in the hierarchy of reality. But still his ideas differed from those of Platonism in the sense of his crucial doctrine of man’s destiny, it was not a straight contradiction to Platonism, but a kind of very original theology of history and view upon human society. In the epistemology Augustine was Neoplatonic, especially with his doctrine of illumination, meaning that: “in spite of the fact that God is exterior to man, men’s minds are aware of him because if his direct action on them (expressed in terms of the shining of his light on the mind, or sometimes of teaching) and not as the result of reasoning from sense experience.”

Platonists believed that body can not act on the soul. In his theology Augustine was very close to the general pattern of Christian Platonism – the God could not be the only One beyond Intellect and Being. His Trinitarian theory was very close to Neoplatonism. He stated the unity of God as Greek Christian thinkers did, but he tried to make some philosophical sense of this doctrine.

Despite all the changed which occurred to Augustine after his encounter with Platonists books and before his death, he never refused from his dual theory, though even it had a portion of uncertainty and controversy for him. The question of soul’s origin and human’s will complicated and influenced the philosophy of Augustine.

Overall, the works of famous philosopher and scholar – St. Augustine were formed under the great influence of both theories: Platonism and Stoicism, but he had worked out his own understandings and doctrines regarding men, relations between body and soul and at last the conception of God existence, and thus could be hardly considered a complete advocate of either of them.

Aaron is a professional freelance writer at custom essays writing service: He is also a technical writer, advertising copywriter, & website copywriter for Custom Essay Writing Service.