The MOST Theological Collection: An Introduction to Christian Philosophy
"Chapter VI: The Patristic Origin of Christian Philosophy"
1. Pagan Attacks on Christianity: Paganism was aggressive. Vile rumors were rampant. There were chiefly three charges popularly made against Christians: atheism, sex orgies, and cannibalism.
Atheism had a different meaning then: it meant refusal to worship the gods of the state. The modern idea of separation of Church and state would have been incomprehensible to pagan Greeks and Romans. They would reason thus: 1) I as an individual need the help of the gods for myself, so I worship them. 2) The state as a state also needs the help of the gods: so the state must worship the gods. Christians are traitors, for they refuse to do what is needed for the well-being of the state. We Romans have hundreds of gods; we are broadminded. We might even worship Christ if Christians were not so narrow. The Greeks had the same notions, only still more narrow. One could not be a citizen of a Greek city state without having been born into that religion. It would not be enough to become a convert.
In passing: Vatican II really endorsed this type of thinking. If we substitute the real God for gods in the above reasoning, we would say that the state as a state needs the help of God, and so the state should worship God. And if God makes known in what way He wishes to be worshipped, we must follow it.
This would mean an established Church. It would not have to suppress other religions, but would be supported by the state, and the state as such would worship through it. Vatican II, in the Declaration on Religious Liberty, said in § 1: "It [the Council or document] leaves untouched traditional Catholic teaching about the moral obligation of people and societies towards the true religion and one Church of Christ". When that document taught religious freedom, it defined it narrowly. It did not say anyone has a right to be wrong - some at the council wanted to say that, but it was rejected. And rightly. For a right is a claim, ultimately coming from God, to have, to do, or to call for something. God gives no one a claim to be wrong. But He does give them the right not to be executed or imprisoned for being wrong. That is all Vatican II taught. It added they may do this individually or in groups, and even in public "within due limits". Headhunters think their gods command them to cut off heads. Vatican II would say that is beyond due limits. Pius IX in his Quanta cura had said the best condition of society is not "one in which there is no recognition of the duty of the state to repress those who use violence against the Catholic religion." He wanted the state to do more than just enforce public order. But Vatican II also wanted more, for in the Declaration § 4 it said that other churches must abstain from any action that would involve "improper persuasion aimed at the less intelligent or the poor." and in § 7 it said the state must exercise "due custody for public morality." So Lefebvre is very wrong in charging that Vatican II contradicted Pius IX (we chose his strongest text).
Tertullian in his Apologeticum ,written in 197 AD before he became a Montanist, wrote in 2.5 that torture was used to try to force Christians to confess terrible crimes, e.g., "how many acts of incest a person has committed in the dark? what cooks and what dogs were on hand?" He reflects the pagan charge of sex orgies: Christians, they said, would gather in a large place after dark, with light only from one torch on a lampstand. They would tie a dog to the stand by a leash, and then throw a piece of meat in front of the dog, but so far out he would have to pull the stand over to get the meat. Then the light would go out, and an orgy would follow. The obvious answer is: Why bother to go to such trouble to have sex? And why have a fire hazard?
The third charge was cannibalism - clearly coming from garbled reports about the Eucharist.
Such were the popular charges which the first apologists undertook to answer. Inasmuch as they sometimes argued by reason alone, without appeal to Scripture, they were sometimes working in philosophy. However often enough they did appeal to Scripture, especially using the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.
But learned pagans also attacked by writings. Lucian of Samosata in his De morte peregrini, about 170 AD. decried brotherly love and the Christians' contempt of death. Fronto of Cirta, a teacher of Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote an oration against the Christians. Greatest was the Platonist Celsus, who published his True Discourse, about 178 AD. We have many fragments of it, preserved in the reply to it by Origen. Celsus thought Christianity was a hodgepodge of superstition and fanaticism.
2. Quadratus: He must be mentioned because he is the very first of the apologists. We know of him only from Eusebius, Church History 4.3.1-2, where he says Quadratus wrote to Emperor Hadrian - that would have been about 123 AD - and Quadratus said that in his day there were some still alive who were healed by Christ, and raised from the dead by Him. This need not have been in 123, but it surely would cover the period 80-90 in which many think Matthew and Luke wrote. So there would have been prime eyewitnesses to Jesus still alive at that time.
3. St. Justin the Martyr: He, the greatest of the second century apologists, was born at Flavia Neapolis, formerly Sichem in Palestine, of pagan parents.
At the start of his Dialogue with Trypho, chapters 2-8 he tells us how he came to Christianity. He looked into the Stoics, Peripatetics, and the Pythagoreans. None of them satisfied him. Stoics gave no explanation of God's being. The Peripatetics (descended from Aristotle) wanted him to pay tuition in advance. The Pythagoreans wanted him to first study music, astronomy, and geometry. After this, Plato pleased him, but he met an old man on the sea shore who told him of the prophets. This led him to Christianity, though he never again saw the old man. The heroic character of Christians impressed him greatly. In Second Apology 12 he said that at one time he liked the teachings of Plato and enjoyed hearing evil spoken of Christians. But when he saw they showed no fear in the face of death and other things, he decided they could not be vicious and pleasure loving. Honest searching after truth, and humble prayer led him to accept Christianity.
He was probably converted in Ephesus. He spent the rest of his life in defending the faith. He wore the pallium, the traditional cloak of philosophers, and traveled about teaching. During the time of Emperor Antoninus Pius (138-612) he came to Rome and founded a school. He was finally beheaded, probably in 165 AD. Among his pupils was Tatian, founder of the heretical Encratites.
We have three authentic works left - though we know he wrote others too - two apologies, and the Dialogue with Trypho. He criticizes the judicial process: it is senseless to punish someone for the name of Christian without proving crimes. He shows the Christians not guilty of the calumnies. He makes much use of the prophecies of the Messiah, both in his First Apology and in the Dialogue with Trypho (supposedly a learned Jew).
He worked, then, both by reason, like a philosopher, and by Scripture, as a theologian should.
Quasten, Patrology I, 208, thinks Justin holds that the Father lives above the sky and does not appear in the world. But the passages Quasten cites do not prove that. He appeals chiefly to Dialogue 60 and 127. But in the latter, Justin says that the Father "is uncontainable by place and by the whole world." Really, Justin seems to hold a view common enough among the Fathers, that all appearances of God in the Old Testament were really those of the Son, the Divine Logos. This view is tied to the fact that Justin says the Father is so transcendent that a bridge is needed between Him and us: the Logos. Some, including Quasten I.209, think Justin tends to subordinate the Logos to the Father - a move in the direction of Arianism. But really, it seems Justin and others were trying to state two things, without knowing how to reconcile them: 1) God is transcendent, that is, above and beyond all our categories. No words can express Him. E.g., St. Augustine said in De Doctrina Christiana 12.6.6 that "we should not even call Him inexpressible, for when we say that word, we say something". (A number of the Fathers speak similarly. The truth is that when we use the same word to refer to both God and creatures, we use it in an analogous sense, i.e., the meanings in the two uses are partly the same, partly different. But the sense is mostly different.) 2) God does communicate through His Word, the Logos.
It is simply excellent theological method to hold two conclusions (after rechecking of course) which seem to clash completely, in the hope that sometime someone will find how to put them together. For it is not strange to find mysteries in divine things.
More importantly, Justin uses his teachings on the Logos to answer in advance a claim that Celsus was to make a bit later. Celsus asked: "Did God then, after so long a time, think of making just the life of men, but before He did not care?" (cited from Origen, Against Celsus 4.7). Really the question was a good one. St. Paul had asked much the same question, and answered it, in Romans 3.29: "Is He the God of the Jews alone? Is He not also the God of the gentiles?" St. Paul means that if God had made knowledge of Judaism essential for salvation, He would have acted as if He were not the God of all. But He is the God of all. So Paul says that God did make provision, in justification by faith.
St. Justin answers the problem by saying, in First Apology 46: "Christ is the Logos, of whom the whole race of men partake. Those who lived according to Logos are Christians, even if they were considered atheists, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus." To follow this we compare what Justin wrote in Second Apology 10;8: "Christ...was and is the Logos who is in everyone, and foretold through the prophets the things that were to come, and taught these things in person after becoming like to us in feeling."
J. Daniélou, in Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture (tr. J. A. Baker, Philadelphia, Westminster, 1973, pp.41-44) thinks Justin the philosopher is borrowing a notion from the Stoics, who said that in each man there is a "seed of the Logos" coming from the action of the Logos, which gives to each one the capacity to form moral and religious conceptions." So Socrates and Heraclitus really did know the Logos, even if dimly.
We would suggest sharpening the concept with the help of St. Paul, Romans 2.14-16: "When the gentiles who do not have the law [revealed religion] do by nature the things of the law, they, not having the law, are a law for themselves. They show the work of the law written on their hearts." According to whether or not they accept this law, their conscience will either defend or accuse them at the judgment.
In other words: The divine Logos writes the law on their hearts (cf. the prophecy of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31.33). That is, the Spirit makes known to them interiorly how they should live (modern anthropology, as we saw, does show that pagans do have a remarkable knowledge of the moral law, if they have not yet blinded themselves by extensive habitual sin). They do not know that it is the Spirit of the Logos telling them this, but yet it is. So if they follow it, objectively they are following the Logos, and so Justin could call them Christians. For in Romans 8.9 Paul says that if one does not have and follow the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. Then if he does have and follow that Spirit, the person does "belong to Christ" or:is a member of Christ or is a "member of the Church. Not by formal adherence, but substantially. (For much more on this including other Fathers and Magisterium texts, cfr. Wm. G. Most, Our Father's Plan ,pp.241-69). - Interestingly, Vatican II, in LG § 49 seems to reach the same conclusion: "All who belong to Christ, having His Spirit, coalesce into one Church."
We see, Justin's training in philosophy led him to use terminology and images from Plato, probably already in circulation through Middle Platonism. But the content is strictly Christian, not Platonism. In this way Justin and others tried to bridge the gap between Plato and Christianity. In Second Apology 13, Justin says that whatever all men have said correctly belongs to us Christians, for they got it by "the implanted seed of the Logos engrafted in them, through which they could see the truth darkly." Going back further, he claims in First Apology 44 that Plato borrowed thoughts from the prophet Moses, since Moses is more ancient than all Greek authors. In that day the attitude was the opposite of what is found often today. They said if a thing is ancient it must be good; we tend to say the opposite. (Cf. Daniélou, op. cit. pp. 107-27).
St. Justin is the earliest Father to teach the New Eve theme: Just as the first Eve really contributed to the damage of original sin, so Mary, the New Eve, contributed to reversing the damage: Dialogue 100. Very many of the major Fathers pick up this theme. They stress chiefly her obedience and faith at the annunciation.
Because it took time for the Church to penetrate more deeply into some doctrinal matters, Justin, and a number of other Fathers, think angels have bodies. In Dialogue 58 he thinks they have food in the heavens - thinking apparently of Psalm 78.25 which said that men ate the bread of angels. Justin and the others at this period did not know of the use of literary genres in studying Scripture.
3. Athenagoras of Athens: He certainly wrote a Plea for the Christians, probably in 177, addressed to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. In it he shows a profound knowledge of Greek philosophy and literature.
His authorship of On the Resurrection is disputed. It has a definite philosophical character. He tries to prove the resurrection by reason alone: God's wisdom, omnipotence and justice do not conflict but agree with the resurrection. It is needed for human nature, since man is created for eternity; and also, since man is made of body and soul, this unity, destroyed by death, should be restored by the resurrection; still further, the body as well as the soul should be rewarded or punished, since both are subject to the moral order.
4. Minucius Felix: One of the first, if not the first, of the Latin apologists (debated whether he or Tertullian wrote first). We know he was a lawyer at Rome, probably early in third century. We have a rather philosophical type of dialogue from him, the Octavius. It is a dialogue in which Caecelius, a pagan, passionately defends paganism and attacks Christianity. He is answered by Octavius a Christian. It is very interesting for showing the very specific intellectual arguments used against Christianity, and the replies.
Caecilius says everything is doubtful: we get only probability, not truth [New Academy]. The disorder in the physical and moral world is against a providence. Chance rules all. So it is better to accept the teachings of our elders and adore the gods. Our elders won a great empire. The world is formed by chance combinations of elements [Democritus]. The gods have often shown their power by prodigies. People will not allow an attack on the gods. The morals of Christians are bad: they come from the dregs of society, they worship the head of an ass, and do horrible sex crimes. Their faith is absurd. They think there is only one God, present everywhere - but He could not prevent the subjection of the Jews to Rome. Christians hope for an immortal reward, but their present evils foretell what awaits them in the future. We should stop investigating the secrets of heaven and earth, and say with Socrates: That which is above us, does not concern us.
Octavius replies: One should not object if poor and unlearned Christians discuss these matters. All men are able to reason. The rich are inclined to value money more than spiritual things. The order and beauty of the universe prove that God made it and governs it. There is only one God, as shown by the government of the world, His infinite perfection, and the evidence of poets and philosophers. The pagan religion is false; the elders easily believed fables. The pagan gods really were originally men, first idealized, later divinized. [COMMENT: The Sacred History of the pagan Greek Euhemerus, written c 300 B.C., said precisely that, that the gods were once just men, first idealized, then divinized. In those days one could see the tomb of Zeus in Crete]. The mystery rites are full of absurd, immoral things. Youths are corrupted by the stories of the gods. [COMMENT: Xenophanes in the 6th century B.C.s aid the same thing. So did Plato and many other ancient pagan writers]. Images, of vile material, are thought to have divine nature from dedication. Their rites are often laughable, sometimes wretched. The empire was founded and spread not by religion but by crime and violence. Any truth there may be in the auspices etc. comes from the demons. On the contrary, Christian morals and cult are praiseworthy: the pagans do the things they charge Christians with. As to the Jews, God had threatened them with disaster if they kept on sinning: they did. Christian belief in the future and the resurrection agree with the opinions of philosophers, with nature, with right reason. Christians scorn philosophers who admit they know nothing [the New Academy, which was skeptic]. Christians have real wisdom.
Oddly, Minucius does not once quote any passage of Scripture, and never uses the name of Christ, though he does use the word Christian. The reason was to convince educated pagans, by a philosophical approach.
Hence at the end, when Caecilius announces his conversion, he does not say he accepts Christ. He congratulates Octavius, says he acknowledges Providence, agrees on the concept of God, and recognizes the moral purity of the religion he is accepting.
5. Tertullian: Was born at Carthage around 155, of pagan parents. His father was a centurion in the proconsular cohort. He studied philosophy, literature, medicine, but especially law. He earned a reputation at Rome as a lawyer. Was converted in 193, and settled in Carthage. He became a Montanist, probably around 205 or 207. After some time, his extremism led him to become head of a special sect within the Montanists, the Tertullianists. That sect lasted at Carthage until the time of Augustine, and even had a basilica there.
He was a man of great will power, which turned into hard and bitter stubbornness. He was a fighter by temperament, and so most of his works are controversial - they show closely knit logic, sarcasm, and irony. At times he tries to prove too much.
The most important of his works is his Apologeticum, written in 197 before he became a Montanist. It is a masterpiece of controversial writing, but uses biting sarcasm: in the opening part he says that the reason Christians are hated is ignorance. Then, the procedure in Roman courts is wrong, it is illogical, e.g., evildoers try to hide, Christians do not. They readily confess being Christian. The procedure is illegal: Christians alone are not allowed to say something to clear their name.It is inconsistent: Trajan wrote back to Pliny that Christians should not be sought out, but punished when brought to court. Also, when ordinary criminals are brought to court, torture is used to force them to confess - Christians are tortured to force them to deny.
But he insists Christianity is not a philosophy but a noble religion. The best teachings of philosophers are just garbled versions of the truth - he thinks they probably got much of what good they had from the Old Testament. He ends with the famous line:"We become more numerous every time we are cut down by you; the blood of Christians is the seed."
In a unique work, The Testimony of the Soul,: he notices that two methods used by apologists have not been very successful. (They try to show Christianity is in agreement with many pagan philosophers and poets. Pagans do not accept the argument. Still less is it any use to use Scripture on them. [COMMENT: If they used scientific apologetics before using Scripture, a great impact could be made]. He says that people often in a very natural way exclaim: "Great God, Good God, May God grant it, etc."He thinks these things show the soul is "naturally Christian."
In The Prescription of Heretics he argues that one can use Scripture only if he can show that the doctrines he holds come down in unbroken line from the Apostles, who got it from Christ. Later, when he became Montanist, of course he could not hold this, it would destroy his heresy. So in De Pudicitia (On Modesty) he says the power of the keys belongs not to the hierarchy, but to the spiritual. He attacks a "peremptory edict" of some bishop, probably Pope Callistus, that says adultery and fornication can be forgiven. Tertullian thinks these cannot be forgiven - as also murder.
He contributed much to the development of Latin theological terminology, especially in his work Against Praxeas. This is the most important contribution to the doctrine of the Trinity before Nicea. He taught one Person in Jesus, but two natures, which remain distinct. Thus he anticipated the conclusions later reached by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Some charge him with subordinating Christ to the Father, but this is probably only the methodology of dealing with two seemingly contradictory conclusions, which we saw in connection with St. Justin.
His extremism shows in his work On the Flesh of Christ in which he tries to prove too much. To show that Christ was really born he denies Mary's virginity in giving birth, and says the body of Christ was ugly. In his On Idolatry he says a Christian may not serve in the army, be an astrologer, mathematician, schoolmaster, teacher of literature, trainer of gladiators, seller of frankincense, enchanter, magician, or hold any state office.
In his work On the Soul, he likes the Stoic notion that the soul is material, a bodily substance.
6. St. Cyprian of Carthage: He was probably born around 200 AD at Carthage, from a family of some social standing and wealth. He became a famous rhetorician and got friends who had political power. He became Christian about 245-46 under the influence of the elderly priest, Caecilian. He started a life of celibacy and gave away to the poor at least most of his wealth. Soon he became a priest, and probably within about a year, in 248 or 249 was elected Bishop of Carthage. There was some opposition to his election from the clergy, but the people prevailed.
In January of 250 soon after the edict of Decius that all must sacrifice to the gods, and have a certificate proving they did so, he went into hiding. He seems to have felt that he, as a man of distinction would have been a focus for pagan hostility to Christians. He tried to manage his church by letters. The persecution did not last long, but it seems a large number of Christians did sacrifice, or bought certificates saying they had done so.
He wanted to reconcile the lapsed only after suitable penance, but some lax priests were taking them back soon. A letter from the clergy of Rome undermined his position, charging him as a hireling for going into hiding .He seems to have modified his position on the reconciliation: those severely ill and having letters from confessors saying they would offer their sufferings for the lapsed one, led him to allow reconciliation of all who were sick. But then positions hardened and feelings ran high. He could not return to Carthage until after Easter of 251.
Cyprian supported Pope Cornelius against the schismatic Novatian, but quarreled with Pope Stephen I. The latter held, correctly, that baptism received from heretics should not be repeated. Cyprian argued that the heretics could not give the faith they did not have. They did not know that when anyone baptizes, Christ baptizes (St. Augustine, Tracts On John's Gospel 6.1.7, cited by Vatican II, On Liturgy § 7). Before the quarrel was resolved, both the Pope and Cyprian became martyrs.
His letters are of special interest for the history of the persecutions and beyond. In his De mortalitate he answered those who thought it bad to die in the plague - wanting to wait for martyrdom after it. He wrote of the need to do the will of God. He also wrote a very famous line by line commentary on the Lord's Prayer. Another major work was On the Unity of the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, he later softened the appeal for unity under Rome by revision of chapters 4 and 5. He seems to have given the Pope only a primacy of honor, not of jurisdiction.
In his Epistle 73.21 he took an extreme interpretation of the saying, "No salvation outside the Church". He said that even if a heretic died for Christ, he would go to hell. Contrast this with the true doctrine we saw in considering St. Justin the Martyr.
7. Clement of Alexandria (c 160-215) was head of a great catechetical school at Alexandria. However it was not like modern catechesis. Rather it was a school for deeper penetration into the faith. Clement hoped in this way to counter the snob appeal of the Gnostics. He attempted a great synthesis of doctrine in Protreptikos, Paidagogos, and Stromata. Unfortunately, he was not the right type of mind for a great synthesis. He used allegorical interpretation of Scripture much, and, especially in book II of the Paidagogos, tried to give detailed rules for every facet of the life of a Christian - sometimes citing wisdom books of the Old Testament without recognizing the genre.
8. Origen (c.185-c.251): He was one of the first scientific exegetes in the Church, a prolific scholar. He meant to be completely sound in his doctrine, but followed Plato excessively and as a result taught, in his Peri archon (On First Principles) that we all existed in a world of spirits before coming into this world; according to the varied merits of souls, some became angels, some devils, some stars in the sky, some human beings. Hell was very long lasting, but not permanent, for all the enemies of Christ must eventually be put under His footstool, and so hell will be emptied. Even so, this work, Peri archon is a remarkable synthesis of doctrine.
Plotinus: the Last Great Pagan Philosopher
He was born in Egypt about 203 or 204. He attended lectures of various philosophers, was finally pleased with those of Ammonius Saccas. Stayed with him until 242, when he joined the Persian expedition of Emperor Gordian - wanted to get to know Persian philosophy. But the expedition ended when Gordian was assassinated. Plotinus went to Rome, arriving at about age 40.
When he was 60 he accepted Poryphry as a pupil, who later wrote the life of Plotinus, and also arranged the writings of Plotinus in systematic form, six books of nine chapters each: Enneads,
At Rome he was a sort of spiritual director for many. H e took into his house orphaned children. Made many friends, and no enemies. His personal life was ascetic. Porphyry (Life 232,138) says Plotinus reached ecstatic union with God four times in the six years in which he studied with Plotinus. Died 269/70.
Plotinus never mentions Christianity; Porphyry attacked it.
God is The One, and is absolutely transcendent. He is beyond being - i.e., the word being as applied to others and as applied to Him is part same, but mostly different (Enneads 5.4.1). This of course resembles the words of Plato in Republic 509 b 9 where he says that the Good is beyond being - Plato probably identifies the Good with God. So Coppleston says (I.464-65 citing Enneads 3.8.8): "The One cannot be identical with the sum of individual things.... if the One were identical with each individual thing taken separately, then each thing would be identical with every other and the distinction of things, which is an obvious fact, would be illusion. 'Thus the One cannot be any existing thing, but is prior to all existents.'" So it is quite clear: Plotinus is at all a pantheist.
Sadly, Plotinus says that we cannot legitimately attribute thought or will or activity to the One, for these would imply a distinction between the One and his thought, his will, his activity: Enneads 3.8.8. We comment: Other thinkers have had trouble dealing with the knowledge of God. Aristotle said that He "thinks of thinking": Metaphysics 12.9. Some who think they are following St. Thomas Aquinas make God like a blind man: He could know only what He causes. We saw above that this is not true, for then Aquinas would not need to have recourse to eternity, which makes things present to Him, to explain God's knowledge of future free decisions. He would simply say: He knows them because He intends to cause them.
How do things come from God? We cannot attribute activity to Him, as we saw. But creation would be an activity. So they come from Him by emanation, which does not mean that He in any way becomes less through the process of emanation. Plotinus uses words like rhein and aporrein [flow, flow away] for emanation.
The first emanation form the One is Thought or Mind: nous, which is intuition, with a twofold object: the One, and itself. In the Nous exist the Ideas, not just for classes of things, but even for individuals: Enneads 5.7 1. All Ideas are in the Nous: Enneads 5.9.9. So it is in Nous that multiplicity first appears. For the One is above all multiplicity, above even the distinction of noein and noeton. Nous is eternal and beyond time. Time only mimics that eternity: Enneads 5.1.4.
From Nous proceeds Soul, which is like the World-Soul of Plato's Timaeus. The World-Soul is incorporeal and indivisible. But it is the connecting link between the world that is beyond the senses, and the sensory world. Plotinus, unlike Plato, held for a twofold World-Soul. The higher is nearer to Nous, and has no immediate contact with the material world; the lower is the real soul of the phenomenal world. The lower can be called physis.
Individual souls come form the World-Soul, and have two elements: a higher element that belongs to the sphere of Nous, and a lower element directly connected with the body. The soul existed before its union with the body, which is a fall. It survives the death of the body, but seems not to have memory of the time of its existence on earth. So there is transmigration of souls. This does not mean a denial of personal immortality.
Below the sphere of soul is the material world. Light proceeds from the center, passes outwards, getting gradually dimmer, until it shades into total darkness, which is matter. Matter is the privation of light: Enneads 2.4; 3.67; 6.3.7. But matter in a way is not complete darkness, for it is illumined by form, and enters into the composition of material objects. - Here we se a combination of Aristotelian and Platonic themes. Matter is the substrate of form.
He also took on the Orphic and Neo-Pythagorean notion of matter as the principle of evil. At the lowest grade, an unilluminated privation, it is evil itself. But this is not a dualism, for matter is a privation, and not a positive principle. He was opposed to the Gnostic contempt for the world, and instead praised the world as the work of the World-Soul.
The individual soul is rooted in the intelligible world, but it is contaminated with matter insofar as it enters into real union with the body. So there is need for an ascent whose goal is likeness to God, even as Plato had taught. The first stage of the ascent is katharsis, purification, freeing self from the dominion of the body and the senses, so as to rise to the practice of the four cardinal virtues, which Plotinus calls politikai aretai. Secondly, the soul needs to rise above sense-perception, turning towards Nous. Now the soul is occupying self with philosophy and science. In the third stage the soul rises above discursive thought. Here the soul still keeps its self-consciousness. But the final stage is mystical union with the One, in an ecstasy in which there is no such separation from the One. In this life, such an ecstatic union is brief, but it can be permanent in the future, when we are freed from the hindrance of the body, as Dodds poetically translates it, in the "flight of the alone to the Alone": Enneads 6.9.11.
It is obvious that this ascent is far above the so-called ascent in Plato's Symposium, which begins with homosexuality. This too seems higher than the contemplation St. Augustine had at Ostia - which we will discuss later. This ascent may have included infused contemplation, especially since Plotinus lived a very noble life, with much asceticism, which forms a receptivity to such a grace - which God gladly gives when a soul is prepared.
St. Augustine and Christian Philosophy
He was born at Tagaste in the Province of Numidia, in North Africa, on November 13, 354. His father was a pagan, Patricius, of slender means, but a member of the local senate. His mother, Monica, was a Christian, who later would be St. Monica. She did not at first display special sanctity, Rather she postponed baptism for him as was so commonly done then - without the Church's approval. But he was made a catechumen.
When young he became dangerously sick, and seemed likely to die. Monica arranged to have him baptized, but the danger passed, and baptism was not given.
It is interesting to trace the early influences of his life, and their development later on. From his mother he learned a belief in God, and a love of the name of Christ that was practically irrational - in view of some later things as we shall see, for he considered no book satisfactory if it did not have the name of Christ, yet for so many years he lived with a mistress. His intellectual situation was this: He could not picture to himself anything that was not corporeal, bodily, and so for him, even God and the soul were corporeal, and evil was positive - it really is a privative negative, i.e., the lack of something that should be there, considering the type of being. On the moral side, he had no satisfactory code of conduct. In his Confessions 1.11.18 he tells us that when other saw him sinning, they would say: "What difference does it make? He is not yet baptized." Even so, his mother did not arrange a marriage for him: she feared it might hinder his profession of rhetoric: Confessions 2.3.8.
He learned the essentials of Latin from a schoolmaster at Tagaste, but he preferred play to study. He hated Greek. He did learn some of it, but not enough to read the Greek Fathers easily. This had enormous consequences, for most of the Latin theologians up to that time were in contact with the thought of the Greek Fathers who were more advanced. Thus be broke the continuity, and, being a very original mind, the break was made even greater.
In about 365 he went to the town of Madaura, where he learned Latin literature and grammar. Madaura was a pagan city, and the general atmosphere there and his study of the Latin pagan classics helped detach him from the faith of his mother. this detachment was made worse by a year of idleness at Tagaste in 369-70 - while funds were gathered to send him on to further schooling. His father died in 370, after becoming Catholic. Then Augustine began the study of rhetoric at Carthage, the largest city he had yet seen, which he described as a sartago (frying pan) of vices. It was a great port and center of government. He also would see there the obscene rites of the cults imported from the East. So before long he took a mistress, and lived with her for more than ten years, and had a son, Adeodatus, in his second year at Carthage.
In spite of this, he was a very successful and brilliant student. He did not neglect his studies, though in his Confessions he often speaks with disdain of rhetoric as the wordy school.
At age 19 at Carthage he came upon Cicero's Hortensius (now lost). It contained a great exhortation to philosophy. So he developed an interest in philosophy, but yet was not satisfied with Cicero's works on philosophy, or other pagan sources, for he did not find the name of Christ there, a strange attachment for a man living with a mistress.
He thought the word philosophy meant love of wisdom. That is true. But Augustine added that Christ is the wisdom of the Father (cf.1 Cor 1.24) and so philosophy was really love of Christ. This was very unfortunate, for to say that rubs out the line between philosophy and theology. Both seek the answers to many of the basic, great questions, but they work with vary different tools: philosophy uses only human reason (so that authority is not to be employed); theology uses the sources of revelation, as interpreted by the Church (if one is Catholic - otherwise, as understood by private interpretation).
Since the books without the name of Christ did not satisfy him, he turned to Scripture. But he was offended by the poor language of the existing translations, and he considered them crude. These were older Latin versions before St. Jerome's Vulgate, not yet made at the time. They used rather slavish translation, thinking respect for the sacred text called for that. So they would use even Greek constructions in Latin, e.g., the genitive absolute instead of the ablative absolute, the genitive of comparison instead of the ablative. Further there were even a few very unfortunate things in them. In Isaiah 58.8 after Isaiah had urged the corporal works of mercy, he then promised rewards, and said: "Tunc erumpet temporaneum lumen tuum, et vestimenta tua cito orientur." It meant: "Then your light shall break forth early, and your garments shall rise up swiftly". This was nonsense - though Augustine later, in Confessions 13.8.9, would find an allegorical way to make sense of it - with allegory anything is possible.
Further, his bad spiritual state left him in poor condition to understand Scripture. He was far on the way to spiritual blindness because of his habitual grave sins.
Precisely at this point he found the Manichees, whose ideas fit him like a glove. Both he and they believed God is corporeal, and evil is positive. Also, they flattered his pride by saying that they would prove everything and not call for faith (cf. his De Utilitate credendi 1.2). They also taught we have two souls, one good, one evil. When we sin, it is to be blamed just on the bad soul. Again, this fit his bad habits.
We get a lot of information on the Manichees from his writings. Today some original Manichean works have been discovered: C.Schmidt, Manichäische Handschriften der Staatlichen Museum ,Berlin. In Kephalaia 1.16 Mani says: "... the holy church to which I was sent from the Father.... No one of the Apostles has ever done such.... [When his] disciples had heard all this from him, they were glad. Their mind was enlightened and they said in joy: 'We thank thee... we have... believed that you are the [Paraclete] who (come) from the Father, the Revealer of all mysteries." Did he mean he really was the Paraclete? The quotation seems to have the disciples saying it that way, and Mani does not correct them. Further, in Kephalaia 67.165-66 Mani says he is like the sun, and the Elect, the rays, and that he will not allow any of the Elect to go into darkness, that his wisdom is anointed upon them all. Augustine in his Acta cum Felice Manichaeo 1.9 quotes Felix as saying: "This we believe, that he is the Paraclete." Cf. also R. Cameron and A. Dewey eds. and trs. The Cologne Mani Codex: "Concerning the Origin of His Body" (Missoula, Scholars Press, 1979).
Mani was born on April 14, 216 in southern Mesopotamia. At age 12 Mani claimed revelations from his "heavenly twin". Visions led him to question the baptismal practices of the sect to which he belonged. He disputed with the elders, and at age 24, on April 19, 240 he received a heavenly call to become the "Apostle of Light."
At first he got some support form the Persian royal court, but when Bahram I came to the throne (274-77) a Zoroastrian priest got persecution started against him. He was imprisoned and died a martyr in the spring of 276,
Manichaeism responded to persecution by christianizing its structure.
The Manichees held that God is corporeal, evil is positive, and they promised to prove everything. They did speak of Christ.
Their teaching is the following: In the beginning there were two kingdoms, that of light and of darkness, each eternal, each infinite except in one direction where they border on each other. The God of Light rules the one kingdom: incorruptible, unchangeable, holy, magnificent in power. He is surrounded by a bright array of countless eons.
The ruler of the kingdom of darkness is Hyle (matter). Augustine sometimes charges they had two gods. In this kingdom there are five provinces, corresponding to the five evil elements: darkness, evil water, evil wind, evil fire, and smoke. But some inhabitants looked up and saw the kingdom of light, and decided to attack. God saw the five evil elements and their forces and was terrified. He sent out Primal Man (not the same as Adam) who was part of the divine substance, and had as armor the five good elements. God permitted Primal Man and the five good elements to be beaten, imprisoned in matter, for a greater victory later - which never came.
At the request of Primal Man, God sent out the Friend of Lights, who evoked the Great Architect, who evoked the Living Spirit. The latter rescued Primal Man, and took him back to the kingdom of light. But he had lost some of his light, and good elements were now mixed with evil elements. So, to recover the lost light, it was necessary to make a universe. The Living Spirit and his five sons formed ten heavens and eight earths out of the mixture of good and evil elements. Everything in it is arranged, higher or lower, according to the amount of light it has. The sun is of pure fire, the moon is of limpid waters. Since the sun emanated from God it is to be adored. The sun and moon are light ships, and contain holy virtues. These virtues can assume either male or female appearance to attract others. Thus concupiscence is aroused, and the light of the soul which is held captive in matter can be set free. Light ships can then carry it back to the kingdom of light. That is why the moon varies, depending on the load of light it is carrying.
Below the heavens are eight earths, four of them filled with darkness ,four with a mixture.
The large animals on earth originated thus: in the land of darkness there are five caves, containing evil elements. Within each element trees sprang up. From the trees came the bodies of the princes of the caves. The ruler of the cave of darkness is a dragon, from whom come serpents and all creeping things. The ruler of evil water resembles a fish, and from him come all swimming things. The king of evil wind resembles an eagle, and is the origin of flying things. The king of evil fire is like a lion, and is the source of all four footed animals. The cave of smoke is the source of all bipeds, including man.
Females in the dens were pregnant when the third phase of the war started. Then the Third Messenger (the Exalted One, of the Second Father) came to war, and set in motion the three wheels of Rex Gloriosus (one of the five sons of the Living Spirit). The motion caused the females to abort. Their offspring fell down onto the earth, was not killed, but propagated, and thus imprisoned more light in their flesh. The large animals have rational souls, since there is a part of the divine substance (light) in them. So it is wrong to kill them
The smaller animals are made by an evil mind in the Kingdom of Darkness, as also things that have roots in the soil. Each plant has a part of God in it (light), as indicated by color and brightness. So they can feel pain, so plants must not be harvested, or fields weeded.
Man originated in the den of smoke: when the third phase of the war started, and the Third Messenger (the Exalted One) came, Sin was captivated by the beauty of the Exalted One (Sin had sprung from the evil archons). So Sin made a tree, came forth from it as its fruit. In the fruit was the image of the Exalted One. The light of this image was given to one of the evil princes, Saclas who was the father of Adam and Eve. So Adam was made in the image of the Exalted One. Adam and Eve had more light in them than people today, and so lived longer. Man has a body of matter, which is evil. He also has two souls, one from God, which is good, the other from the Kingdom of Darkness. All sins are due to the evil soul.
There is a twofold Jesus: 1) The Jesus of the Gospels. He had no real flesh, was not really born ,only appeared to be crucified. So the genealogies in Matthew and Luke are false. So the Manichees made little of Easter, but they did exalt the feast of the Bema,the day on which Manes was killed. For he really was killed, though Jesus was not. On a platform was put the chair of Manes, representing his teaching. 2) The suffering Jesus. This is that part of God which is held bound and defiled in demons, animals, vegetables, and is cleansed in the meals of the Elect. The earth conceives and brings forth this suffering Jesus, the salvation and life of men, hanging from every tree.
At the end of the world there will be a final conflagration: all evil will be bound up in a globe of fire. The outer part of the globe will be whatever parts of God have not been liberated by then. So the greater victory will never come.
The Manichees attacked the Old Testament. Faustus, a Manichee Bishop, called its God "a demon of the Jews and no God." Faustus said if you consider the Old Testament sacred, you must accept Jewish ceremonial law. He said the misdeeds of some of the great men of the Old Testament proved the book could not be of God.
There is a Manichean hierarchy. There were two general classes of Manichees, the Hearers and the Elect. Among the Elect there were twelve called Masters, and a thirteenth, their Chief. Next were 72 Bishops ordained by the Masters, plus Priests, ordained by the Bishops, and also Deacons. But they did not think it any good to baptize anyone. The Elect were expected to be perfect, to live out all moral laws, including no marriage, no planting or harvesting of crops. They would starve, but the Hearers were not expected to be perfect. They could even eat meat and have wives. They furnished vegetable food for the Elect. Then the Elect, in eating these things, set free gods, light particles. Augustine said in Confessions 3.10: "Gradually and little by little I was led to such nonsense as to believe that a fig weeps when it is picked, and that its mother tree sheds milky tears. But if some (Manichaean) Saint would eat that fig - plucked not by his fault, but by another's - he would mix it with his entrails, and breathe forth from it angels, or rather, particles of God as he groaned and burped in prayer. These particles of the supreme and true God would have remained bound in that fruit, unless set free by the tooth and stomach of a Holy Elect one.... But if someone who was not a Manichee in hunger would ask for the fruit, it was like condemning it to capital punishment to give it to him."
Augustine returned to Tagaste in 374 both morally and intellectually not accepting Christianity. He taught grammar and literature for a year, then opened a school of rhetoric at Carthage. He lived with his mistress and child there. During this time he won a prize for poetry and published his first prose work, De pulchro et apto. He stayed at Carthage until 383.
But Augustine began to read books on astronomy and saw they did not fit with the Manichean tale of the phases of the moon. So he consulted the local officials. They could not solve the problem, but told Him Bishop Faustus would come. For nine years he waited. Then he found Faustus had read some classics, less than Augustine himself, but Faustus admitted he could not solve the problem.
So Augustine decided to go to Rome. The students at Carthage were ill-mannered, and he heard things were better in Rome. In Rome he stayed with some Manichees, and he opened a school of rhetoric, but although the students behaved well, they would desert him just before the fees were due.
During this period he came into contact with the New Academy, who professed Skepticism. Augustine thought that was only a false front. If one would join, they would reveal their true ideas. But providentially - for he did not know what to believe then - he did not join them.
At Rome he became dangerously ill - he later said his recovery was due to the prayers of his mother.
Symmachus, the pagan Prefect of Rome, received an application to furnish a professor of rhetoric for Milan, with a public salary. Augustine applied, and with the help of Manichee friends, got it.
At Milan he went to listen to St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, for professional reasons, for he heard Ambrose was a fine speaker. He found Ambrose was, though less so than Faustus. But in hearing Ambrose, gradually he began to see that the Manichean objections to the Old Testament could be answered. We read in Confessions 6.4.6: "Joyfully I used to hear Ambrose saying in his sermons to the people, as though he were most diligently teaching a rule: 'The letter kills, but the spirit gives life' (2 Cor 3.6) - when he opened up in a spiritual [allegorical] sense ...those things which, taken literally seemed to teach perversity." St. Paul really was not urging allegory. He meant the old regime of the Law brings only death, while the new brings life. So the reasoning of Ambrose on these things was invalid, but yet served the purpose of getting Augustine out of the Manichean objections to the Old Testament. However, he still held his early errors: God, the soul, and evil are bodily. (Later on, in his De mendacio 10.24 he would say: "What Jacob did at the urging of his mother, so as to seem to deceive his father, if we consider it diligently and faithfully, is not a lie, but a mystery." He meant: Jacob putting on goat skins stood for Christ taking on our sins. (More examples in his Contra Faustum 22.1-98).
Augustine wanted a long talk with Ambrose, but found it hard to see him.
But it was at Milan that he came onto certain "Platonic works" translated into Latin by the famous rhetorician Victorinus. Most probably it was the Enneads of Plotinus. Reading this solved his remaining intellectual difficulties: he gained the concept of a spiritual substance. God is spiritual, so is the soul, and evil is a privation. He admits in Confessions 8.5 that all his intellectual difficulties were gone. But his bad habits of sex held him back.
No intellectual arguments could bring him across that line: grace, working through good example did it. He heard first from an old Priest, Simplicianus, of the conversion of the famed rhetorician Victorinus, who lost his position as rhetor when Julian the Apostate Emperor ordered Christians to give up teaching rhetoric. Augustine began to read St. Paul. One day a friend, Ponticianus, came to see him, and noticed the copy of St. Paul. That led Ponticianus to speak openly. He told Augustine of St. Anthony and the monks of Egypt, and of a monastery near Milan, and how he and three other imperial agents had been walking two by two near Trier. Two of them came upon hermits cells. They gave up their position at court at once, to follow the life of hermits.
Hearing this raised an immense emotional storm in the soul of Augustine. Alternating sets of images began to float before him. On the one hand, these heroic men and women: they, uneducated people, took heaven by storm: he with all his learning, could he not do what they did? The other images were those of his old girl friends: could he do without them forever?
He got up from where he was, leaving his dear friend Alypius, and began to weep. Then he heard a child singing, "Pick it up and read, pick it up and read." He recalled there was no child's game in which they would sing that. So he took it as a sign from heaven. He went back to the copy of St. Paul, opened it at random, saw the verse: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambers and debauchery, not in quarrels and jealousy, but put on the Lord Jesus, and make no provision for the flesh and its desires." He read no more. The darkness of doubt was gone. He went in and told his mother: her tears were changed to joy.
It was really her prayers and penances that had gained this grace for him, which came by way of the heroic examples. For he was spiritually hardened. Only an extraordinary grace, one comparable to a miracle, could rescue him. But his mother's heroic, extraordinary work gained that for him. Otherwise he would be in hell today.
He resigned his position as professor of rhetoric - it was not needed, but Augustine was an extremist, and always seemed to have had misgivings about the permissibility of teaching rhetoric, which included teaching how to argue dishonestly - which could be used to unmask errors.
With his mother, his brother Navigius, his son Adeodatus, his good friend Alypius and a few others, he retired to a country villa owned by a friend Verecundus at Cassiciacum. It was the end of the summer of 386. On the next Holy Saturday he was baptized by St. Ambrose.
During this sort of retreat he wrote On the happy life, Against the Academics, On Order. About the same time he wrote his Soliloquies. In his Confessions 9.4 he said these works were "still panting from the school of pride."
After Baptism he started to return to Africa. While waiting at Ostia to sail, he and his mother one day had a special experience of contemplation. As he describes it it could not have been infused contemplation. Still less did it resemble at all Plato's ascent as in the Symposium. It resembled more some things in Plotinus.
His mother died at Ostia. He felt guilty about weeping a bit for her - influence of Stoicism.
Then in the fall of 388 he went back to Africa. His illegitimate son Adeodatus soon died. He set up a monastic community of laymen, in which he lived for three years. But his fame was spreading. One day on a visit to Hippo, the people seized him and insisted he be ordained, in 391. For 5 years he was a helper to Bishop Valerius, preaching in his place, working in controversies with heretics, especially the Donatists. (In the persecution of Diocletian, some clergy had handed over sacred books to the persecutors. Donatus said they were traitors, and claimed sacraments were invalid if given by an unworthy minister. Also said only holy persons are members of the Church). Augustine's struggle with the Donatists took up much of his time until the Conference of 411. Soon after, Donatism died out. Through all this he continued his monastic life so far as possible.
In 395 he was consecrated Auxiliary Bishop to Valerius. Valerius died the next year, and Augustine became Bishop of Hippo. He still continued a monastic life.
Detractors who remembered his wicked youth tried to smear him. To answer them, and to correct the exaggerations of his admirers, and to praise God, he wrote his Confessions ,which was published by about 400 AD. In them he stresses seeing the hand of Divine Providence in his own life, and the need of humility.
In 410 Alaric and the Goths took Rome. The cry went up that the lack of pagan worship caused it. Augustine decided to answer it, wrote his City of God, between 413 and 426. In it he pictured two cities, that of God, and that of the world, each including both angels and people. He was not just following Plato's Republic ,for in it there was only an earthly, ideal, imagined, city. Nor did he follow the two kingdoms of the Manichees, of which one is evil by nature.
About the same time the British monk Pelagius sought the help of Augustine. Pelagius greatly exaggerated the role of the human will in salvation, and minimized that of grace. He denied original sin. At first, Augustine was occupied with the Donatists. But after that he turned attention to Pelagius, and wrote many works against him. These were the chief source of his theological fame, and his title of Doctor of Grace. We will examine his theology of grace presently.
Another work of major importance was his fifteen books On the Trinity, begun in 400, completed in 417.
In 426, sensing that he had not much time left to live, Augustine recalled that the Gospel says we must give an account of every idle word. He had written so many, so he made a great critical review of them, in his Retractations, in which only small part consisted of retracting ideas. Basically it was a review of all his works except his letters and sermons.
In 429 Genseric led the Vandals from Spain into Africa. In late spring or early summer of 430 the Vandals laid siege to Hippo. Augustine died during that siege, on August 28, 430.
His literary output was immense. Against the Manichees he wrote: On the Morals of the Catholic Church and the Morals of the Manicheans; Disputation against Fortunatus the Manichean; Acts (of public debate) with Felix the Manichaean; Against Faustus the Manichean,33 books; On Free Will; On Two Souls; On the Nature of Good (This latter is the best summary of his writing against the Manichees).
Against the Donatists he wrote: Psalm against the Party of Donatus; Against the Epistle of Parmenianus; On Baptism.
Against the Pelagians he wrote, in t e first phase:411-418: On the Merits and Remission of Sins; On the Spirit and Letter; On Nature and Grace.
Then against the Pelagian Bishop Julian of Eclanum he wrote:419-30: On Marriage and Concupiscence; Against Julian; Uncompleted Work against Julian.
Against the Semipelagians he wrote: On Grace and Free Will; On Correction and Grace; Letter to Vitalis; On the Predestination of the Saints; On the Gift of Perseverance
He also wrote many works outside these groups. We have already mentioned Confessions and City of God ,and On the Trinity. Besides that, of special importance is his work On Christian Doctrine, and On Catechizing the Ignorant. There were also many commentaries on Scripture.
St. Augustine's Theory of Knowledge
We noticed earlier that Augustine telescoped theology and philosophy in saying that philosophy really is love of Christ. In this broad trend he has much company in the writers of this period. They tend to look at man as a whole, and to say that both reason and faith have a role to play. Reason has a role to play in bringing one to faith, i.e., in apologetics, in showing that it is reasonable to have faith. Then reason has a further role in helping to penetrate more deeply into the truths of revelation, as we indicated above, and saw specially in using the principles of Aristotle to understand better human interaction with grace.
There is a very special example of this sort of thing in his theory of knowledge. Augustine noted, rightly, that we manage somehow to know that some things not only happen to be true, but are necessarily and eternally true. This happens not because a man sees the divine essence. Rather, Augustine takes his start from Matthew 23.10 where Jesus said: "One is hour teacher, Christ." Hence in his Retractations 1.12 he wrote: "In this we find that there is no teacher who teaches men knowledge except God, according to that which is written in the Gospel: 'One is your teacher, Christ.'"
There have been many debates about what he means here. The chief proposals are these:: 1) The Divine Word is the giver of the forms, that is, it is the separate active intellect which supplies intelligible species to the mind on the occasion of sensation. -This view is clearly false, for Aristotle, as we did see above, did believe we each have our own active intellect. 2) All intelligible things are known in God, through an immediate vision of God Himself. - Again, very false. We do not see God in this life. 3) The illumination is just the creation of the human mind with its ability to confer intelligibility upon the contents of sensation. 4) God in some may that is not clear, enables the mind to discern the elements of necessity, immutability and eternity in the relation between concepts.- This seems more likely what he meant. Coppleston, II.67, says well: "...it does not seem possible to obtain a definitive interpretation of his thought which would adequately explain all the statements he made."
Actually, we see the necessity of necessary truths by way of abstraction.
St. Augustine's Theory of Grace and Predestination
He is rightly called the Doctor of Grace because of his great achievement in seeing our total, utter dependence upon God, far more than other writers, more than the Eastern Fathers. He arrived at this in his debates with the Pelagians. He did make a splendid advance, but at the same time, fell into a regrettable error. We shall see both facets.
There are two distinct questions: 1) human interaction with grace; 2) predestination.
First his work on predestination. Predestination means an arrangement of Divine Providence to see either that a person reaches heaven, or reaches full membership in the Church. Sadly, we must admit that Augustine and the other Fathers, and theologians for centuries later, tended to telescope the two questions. This has led, historically to a dreadful impasse.
Scripture seldom uses the word predestination. When it does it means always and only predestination to full membership in the Church. Never does it speak explicitly of predestination to heaven, or reprobation to hell. It does, however contain implications in this second sense. We mean to explore Augustine's thought on that subject.
Later theologians use terms that are helpful, even if Augustine did not employ them. They say predestination to heaven could be decided either before or after God's looking at human merits and demerits. Of course, the words before and after do not apply: there is no time in God. Yet there is a real sense: it means: Does God decide predestination or reprobation with or without looking at the merits or demerits of a person?
All theologians have taken for granted - wrongly - that if God makes the favorable decision, predestination, without looking, He must also make the unfavorable, reprobation, without looking. As we shall see, this is not true. We can separate the two. However, Augustine did not see this fact.
His basic position was that both predestination and reprobation are decided by God blindly, without looking at merits and demerits. We shall see the details presently.
Factors that predisposed Augustine to his solution:
a) Allegorical interpretation :We already saw that he was much impressed with Ambrose's use of allegory. Really, most Scripture scholars then used it. It is really arbitrary: this stands for this, and that stands for that. One can make things mean almost anything. In the matter of predestination, Augustine looked at the comparison of the potter in Romans 9, and said that the large mass of potter's clay on the table stands for the whole human race. By original sin, it became a massa damnata et damnabilis. God could throw the whole race into hell, without waiting for anyone to sin personally. This is, of course, horribly untrue.
b) Augustine wiped out the line between the ordinary and the extraordinary, both in the natural and in the supernatural order. In On John's Gospel 1.6.1: "Because...His miracles, by which He rules the whole world...had become commonplace by constant experience....He reserved to Himself certain things which He would perform at opportune times, beyond the usual course and order of nature, so that they for whom the daily things had become commonplace, might be amazed in seeing not greater, but unusual things." And similarly (Sermon 142.1.1): "That so many men who were not, are born daily, is a greater miracle than that a few rose [from the dead] who had existed [before]."
In the supernatural order (Sermon 141.1.1): "...who would dare to say that God lacked a way of calling, in which even Esau would apply his mind to faith, and join his will [to that] in which Jacob was justified?" He means that from Romans 9 he sees that God hated Esau before he was born, and destined him to hell. God could have sent a grace that would have saved Esau. God did not do that, because He did not want to save Esau. We comment: The passage in Romans has a very different meaning: it deals with the question of who will or will not get the special advantage of being a full member of the people of God. And God did not hate Esau at all: it is a Hebraism really meaning: God loved one more and the other less. But even if we stay within Augustine's framework of thought, which is false, we would still say: If God gave Esau plentiful graces of the ordinary kind, which could save Esau, then God cannot be said to not want to save Esau. To not give Him an extraordinary grace, a miraculous type, does not show God did not want to save Esau. The text from Enchiridion 103, to be cited below, shows the same error coming from the erasure of the line between ordinary and extraordinary.
c) His views on God's salvific will: This refers to 1 Tim.2.4: "God wills all men to be saved." We have just seen that Augustine was driven by his lack of the right distinction to think God does NOT want all to be saved: (1) Enchiridion 103: "When we hear and read in sacred Scripture that He wills all men to be saved, we must… so understand [it]... as if it were said that: no man is saved except whom He wants [to be saved].... Or certainly, it was so said... not that there is no man whom He is unwilling to have saved, He who was unwilling to perform the wonders of miracles among those whom He says would have done penance if He had done them: but in such a way that we understand 'all men' to mean the whole human race, distributed into various categories: kings, private citizens, nobles, ordinary men, lofty, lowly, learned, unlearned...." COMMENT: Here Augustine offers two interpretations of 1 Tim 2.4, both of which reverse its meaning. The second one refers to the passage of Matthew 11.20-24 where Jesus said that if the miracles He worked in Bethsaida, Corazin, and Capernaum had been worked in Tyre and Sidon, they would have done penance in sackcloth and ashes. Here again is the fatal lack of distinction of ordinary and extraordinary. (2) De correptione et gratia 14.44: "And that which is written that 'he wills all men to be saved, and yet not all are saved, can be understood in many ways, of which we have mentioned some in other works, but I shall give one here. It is said in such a way...that all the predestined are meant; for the whole human race is in them." (3) Ibid 15.47: "That 'God wills all men to be saved' can be understood also in this way: that He causes us to wish [that all be saved]."
The massa damnata theory: The basic thought is this: By original sin, all men are a massa damnata. God could throw the whole mass into hell without waiting for anyone to sin personally. But He wills to show mercy, and so rescues a few; to show justice, He lets the rest go to hell. Now since to love is to will good to another for the other's sake, in this theory God would not love any one - He would merely use some to make a point. So, to say He does not will all to be saved is to deny God's love. In several places, such as Sermon 294.3.3 he follows his logic relentlessly, and says unbaptized infants go to hell. (We will see the true solution later on) a)Explicit texts: (1) Ad Simplicianum 1.2.16: "Therefore all men are...one condemned mass [massa damnata] of sin, that owes a debt of punishment to the divine and supreme justice. Whether it [the debt] be exacted or whether it be condoned, there is no injustice." (2) City of God 21.12: "Hence there is a condemned mass of the whole human race...so that no one would be freed form this just and due punishment except by mercy and undue grace; and so the human race is divided [into two parts] so that in some it may be shown what merciful grace can do, in others, what just vengeance can do.... In it [punishment] there are many more than in [mercy] so that in this way there may be shown what is due to all."
b) Exclusion of foreseen merits: (1) On the predestination of the saints 17.24:"Let us, then understand the call by which the elect are made [elect]: [they are] not [persons] who are chosen because they have believed, but [they are persons] who are chosen so that they may believe. For even the Lord Himself made this [call] sufficiently clear when He said: 'You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.'[John 15.16] ....This is the unshakeable truth of predestination and grace. For what else does that mean, that the Apostle says, 'As He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world. [Ephesians 1.4]. For surely if it was said [that they were chosen] because God foresaw that they would believe, [and] not because He Himself was going to make them believers - the Son speaks against that sort of foreknowledge, saying: 'You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.' [John 15.16]. So they were chosen before the foundation of the world by that predestination by which God foreknew His own future acts: they are chosen out of the world by that vocation by which God fulfilled that which He had predestined. 'For those whom He predestined, them also he called" [Romans 8.29].
COMMENTS: 1) Augustine here takes texts out of context, and thus changes their meaning. John 15.16 was said to the Apostles: They had not chosen to be His Apostles: He chose them. It has nothing to do with predestination. Ephesians 11.4 and Romans 8.29, if read in context, mean God's call or predestination to make some full members of His Church -not to predestination to heaven. We speak of full membership, since there is a lesser, but substantial membership, of which we spoke in connection with St. Justin Martyr.
2)He does well in stressing our total dependence on God. But this does not lead to massa damnata. Rather, God offers grace to all: those who do not reject it, get it, including faith.
(2) Enchiridion 99: For grace alone distinguishes the redeemed from the lost, whom a common cause from [their beginning] had joined into one mass of perdition...."
An Implicit Rejection of Massa Damnata in Augustine: Augustine never explicitly abandoned his massa damnata theory. In the last years of his life, he still referred readers to the text of Ad Simplicianum 1.2.16: cf. De dono perseverantiae 21.55.
However he did imply a contrary theory, that is one that rejects reprobation without consideration of demerits. There are six such texts. We will consider only the first here, from On 88 Different questions 68.5:" For not all who were called wanted to come to that dinner, which as the Lord says in the Gospel, was prepared, nor would they who came have been able to come if they had not been called. And so neither should they who came attribute [it] to themselves, for they came being called; nor should those who were unwilling to come attribute [it] to anyone but themselves, for in order that they might come, they were called in free will." COMMENT: We note that they must attribute their loss only to themselves: in the massa damnata the first decision that sends them to ruin is made by God, not by themselves. Other texts are to be found in: De correptione et gratia 13.42; De peccatorum meritis et remissione 2.17.26;De Actis cum Felice Manichaeo 2.8; Tractatus in Ioannis Evangelium 53,6; and De Catechizandis rudibus 52.
These texts are written at intervals over practically the entire span of his writing career: 395; 398; 399;411; 413-18; 426. So there was no change of mind. We already mentioned that late in life he referred back to one of his first works on this topic.
A Note on the Other Fathers on Predestination
The Greek Fathers before and after Augustine all disagree with him: they firmly reject reprobation without considering demerits. So also do the western Fathers before Augustine. He found little support after writing ,much opposition. St. Prosper of Aquitaine is often said to be his great backer, but even he rejected the massa damnata. For example,in his Responsiones ad capitula obiectionum Gallorum 3: "They [those reprobated] were not deserted by God so that they deserted God; but they deserted and were deserted and they were changed from good to evil by their own will, and as a result... they were not predestined... by Him who foresaw them as going to be such." For fuller details on Augustine and all the other Fathers cf.Wm.G.Most New Answers to Old Questions, London,1971, §§ 183- 213. That book drew many favorable reviews in European journals, only one unfavorable one, which used objections already answered.
St. Augustine on Human Interaction with Grace
It is here that he did great service, by showing our total dependence upon God.
1) De Gratia Christi 15,16: "For God not only has given our ability and aids it, but also, He 'works both the will and the performance' [Phil.2.13]. Not that we do not will, or that we do not act, but that without His help, we neither will nor do any good."
2)Epistle 194.5.19: "What then is the merit of a man before receiving grace, in accordance with which he receives grace, since it is only grace that makes every good merit of ours, and since when God crowns our merits, He crowns nothing other than His own gifts."
If we ask HOW grace fits with human will, Augustine has a theory of the delectatio victrix ,the victorious delight. If God gives us greater pleasure in a good thing than temptation offers, we go for the good thing. On this cf. his On John's Gospel 26.4.
The deficiency is that Augustine speaks only of the goal or final cause that attracts. But such a cause gives no internal power. That would take an efficient cause. Further, when temptation comes, the pleasure it offers is often stronger than what grace offers, yet often enough, a person resists the temptation.
New Proposals to Solve the Above Problems
In the work mentioned above, New Answers to Old Questions, in §§284-306 and §§344-357, new answers are proposed:
On predestination: There are three logical steps in God's decrees:
1) He strongly wills all to be saved
2) He looks to see who resists His grace gravely and persistently (to such an extent that he cannot be saved). These He lets go, in negative reprobation, in view of such demerits.
3) All others not reprobated in step 2 are predestined. Not because of merits, which have not yet appeared, not even because of the lack of resistance, but because that is what He wanted in step 1, and the soul is not blocking Him.
Therefore we have predestination without merits (which Augustine also held) and reprobation in view of demerits.
The Father analogy in the Gospel shows the same thing: 1) In the normal human family, the parents want all the children to turn out well; 2) The children do not say: I must help around the house, and so I will get them to give love and care. No.They get that because the parents are good, not because the children are good = Predestination without merits. 3) Yet a child could be punished for being bad, and if bad enough long enough could be disinherited: = reprobation in view of demerits.
Hence our Lord said: "Unless you become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven": Matthew 18.3.
On human interaction with grace: A grace comes to me. Without my help it causes me to see somthing as good (2 Cor 3.5) and makes me favorably disposed, but there is still no decision. At this juncture where I could reject, if I instead make no decision against grace, then it goes into phase two, and in it two things run in parallel: It works in me both the will and the doing (Phil. 2.13), and my will, with power being received at the same instant from grace, really cooperates.
We saw this in a philosophical form in the section on Beyond Aristotle in Metaphysics.