Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Augustine and Isocrates

by Msgr. Eugene Kevane


This article by Msgr. Eugene Kevane, discusses Isocrates’ fundamental concept of the nature and purpose of education, which "furnished the general background for appreciating the life and work of St. Augustine." Using St. Augustine’s Confessions as reference, Msgr. Kevane tells us how this approach to education lured St. Augustine away from God, and then how he pulled himself out of his life of sin and debauchery to become one of the greatest educators and a beloved saint.

Larger Work

The American Ecclesiastical Review



Publisher & Date

The Catholic University of America Press, November 1963

"Every age," writes Cicero, "has produced its own distinctive style of oratory. As regards the Greeks, . . . quite the earliest, of whom we have any authentic remains, are Pericles and Alcibiades, with Thucydides of the same generation, all of them accurate, pointed, terse and wealthier in ideas than diction . . . Then behold! There arose Isocrates, the master of all rhetoricians, magister rhetorum omnium, from whose school, as from the horse of Troy, none but leaders emerged. . ."1

This is that Isocrates with whom we are concerned in the present study, who furnishes the general background for appreciating the life and work of St. Augustine.2 For it was Isocrates who established the pattern of the Greek paideia, of the classical educational system, which came to characterize the civilization of classical antiquity as a whole. "The ancient Mediterranean world knew only one classical education," writes Marrou, "only one coherent and clearly defined educational system. . . Its final fully-developed form . . . it reached . . . only after the decisive contributions of the two great educators, Plato and Isocrates."3

While Isocrates opposes the purely pragmatic sophists of his day, on the one hand, he likewise opposes the Socratics and the Platonists in his fundamental concept of the nature and purpose of education. Where Socrates, Plato and Aristotle conceived the traditional Paideia as culminating in philosophical study, in the science of wisdom and virtue, Isocrates has come to symbolize the rhetorical approach to higher education. He is full of scorn for the very idea of a science of wisdom and virtue; it is a waste of time, he contends, which provides nothing of practical value, nothing for use in public affairs. The true Paideia, the educational approach, which meets the needs of the times, is a cultivation of the traditional wisdom, in terms of good citizenship in relation to the panhellenistic concepts, which were developing in his day as a prelude to the Age of Alexander. Isocrates stands as the representative of the ancient Paideia, patterned in the deeds and enshrined in the writings of the national and civic heroes. His is a Paideia of the logos, an education of the well-spoken word: in Sir Richard Jebbs' phrase, "the discipline of the discourse." It would be a mistake, however, to look upon Isocrates as a crass sophist, without moral content in his teaching. "The aim of Isocrates' eloquence," writes Marrou, "was not mere success. . . He endeavored to load his art with a content of real values; his eloquence was not amoral--it had, in particular, a distinct civic and patriotic purpose."4 His distinctive characteristic is his belief that rhetorical training could sufficiently implement this civic and patriotic purpose. He rejects completely Plato's view that philosophical training is necessary to produce the calibre of citizens and leaders, which the times demand. Philosophy he relegates contemptuously, as Marrou puts it, to the level of a mere secondary subject, "for his higher education . . . meant, essentially, learning the art of oratory,"5 Thus the Paideia of the logos produces a man who is schooled in the traditional wisdom. It gives him the practical positions and polish of approach to handle daily affairs and to judge properly and accurately in practical matters: and this is all for man.

Against this concept of the Paideia, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle stand forth in fundamental opposition. For them, the cultivation of the logos is first and foremost a culture of the inner word of truth; education is a process based upon the quest and the discovery of this truth of the inner word. The cultivation of the well-spoken word, the external word of human social discourse, is secondary and tributary. The Platonists search for "regeneration and renewal" of the inner self, and for a light which will illuminate the inner eye of the intelligence with a science of wisdom and virtue resting upon principles and insights into fundamental reality and being.

In this fashion, there arose that conflict between philosophic culture and oratorical culture which continues throughout the life of classical antiquity, enriching the classical tradition, as Marrou says, without disturbing its unity.6 It is this dialectical tension within the educational institutions of classical antiquity which provides the background for the life and work of St. Augustine, and the key for understanding his own contribution to the educational heritage of mankind.

It was indeed, therefore, a mighty institution fraught with fundamental human issues which Augustine entered as a boy. His career as a student and a professor reflects its stages and wrestles with its inner qualitative tensions so truly and so fully that we could reconstruct that pedagogical system from his life and writings alone. His Confessions describe his own inner experience of this educational institution, and reflect the philosophical tension within it which goes back to the opposition between Plato and Isocrates, and which reappears in the effort made by Cicero and Quintilian to save Roman education from mere externalized verbalism with its gradual loss of inner substance and content, both in the order of truth and in that of moral training. For the truth of the matter must recognize the insufficiency of the approach of Isocrates to sustain an intellectual content and a body of moral principles in the heritage of Paideia. This was especially true in the Roman West, where practical and administrative considerations led to the complete triumph of Isocrates' approach over that of the philosophers. "The most obvious danger," writes Gwynn on the development of Isocrates' Paideia, "was that it tended to become a purely literary education, with facility in rhetorical composition as its ideal accomplishment. In Greece, where the national tradition of education was strong, this tendency was perhaps less marked though it always existed . . . (But) in Rome the tendency to subordinate the artes liberales to rhetoric was strong from the first. Cicero fought against it in his De oratore and Hortensius; but the society for which he wrote ceased to exist within a generation of his death, and rhetoric carried all before it in the early empire."7

We stand, therefore, in the presence here not of an isolated and secondary fact, but before the very life-drama of the classical civilization as a whole. St. Augustine lived and worked at the end of an educational process, which had harbored within itself since the days of Plato and Isocrates this philosophical tension, this fundamental controversy on qualitative excellence. As the centuries went on, furthermore, there is no question but that the oratorical tradition of Isocrates triumphed in practice and came to characterize the schools of antiquity.

It is here that the greatness and historical importance of Cicero, educated in Athens as he was, comes fully into view. He opposed the emptying of education of its intellectual content and moral purpose, and saw the cult of rhetoric for its own sake as a threat to the Roman society, which he loved. "It makes young men," he writes, "ignorant even in their knowledge."8 It is for this reason that Cicero insists "on the ideal of a cultured orator, doctus orator, who shall combine the excellence of both orator and philosopher."9 "Since this is the case," Cicero continues, "educators must hold in proper respect all the arts and disciplines called the liberal studies." Who can fail to recognize here the future Augustine, indeed the Bishop writing his treatise De doctrina christiana? "Later in life," as Gwynn points out, "under the stress of public calamities, Cicero tended to lay greater emphasis on philosophy as the sole moral and intellectual guide for men; and the Hortensius . . . was written to convey this lesson."10 Such then, has been the historical development of the Paideia of Isocrates. It has won a complete victory in the educational institution of antiquity, but at the same time has been unable to preserve the body of principles and moral values, which furnish the classical civilization with its foundation. It was a type of education, which progressively had lost intellectual content and moral substance, and even concern or awareness in the matter. It was this, which St. Augustine experienced so profoundly in his personal and intellectual life, an experience, which makes his Confessions a primary document in educational philosophy.

St. Augustine’s Opposition To Isocrates

Relevant here are the unforgettable passages which describe the moral emptiness and even turpitude which had fastened upon the classical Paideia.11 It had become almost completely secularized and even worse. Augustine holds the educational system partially responsible for the moral helplessness into which he fell and for his concomitant and resulting gradual alienation from God. Worst of all was the fateful fall into the common attitude of spiritual and intellectual pride with which the system was imbued. "One must concede to Augustine," writes Eggersdorfer, "that this education was not without blame for the moral condition of its young people, which it looked upon coolly, and with an indifferent eye."12

Let us hear the central core of Augustine's indictment. "What wonder was it," he cries in anguished memory, "that I was thus carried away into vain practices and went far from you, my God? For the men set up for my models were utterly dejected when caught in a barbarism or solecism while telling about some of their own acts, even though the acts themselves were not bad. But if they would describe some of their lustful deeds in detail and good order and with correct and well-placed words, did they not glory in the praise they got? . . . Regard, O Lord my God, . . . how carefully the sons of men observe the proprieties as to letters and syllables, . . . and how they neglect everlasting covenants of eternal salvation which they have received from you."13 This is the ultimate outcome of the Paideia of Isocrates: an excessively and even exclusively rhetorical education, with the solid intellectual content of the sciences and disciplines neglected and, which is still worse, with any kind of moral formation abandoned on principle. It is this fact which the young Augustine experiences so acutely, and evaluates later in the light of the philosophical and pedagogical tradition of Plato and Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian: he sees vividly the intellectual one-sightedness and the moral emptiness of the educational content which his years in the classical system had encountered.

More than that: Augustine, even though a contemporary, is able to sweep with his mind's eye that entire corrupted and secularized classical civilization which he too represents, perhaps because he is at the same time the educational pioneer of the Christian culture still to come as the dominant social fact of the Christian Era.

"Woe to you, O torrent of men's ways!" he writes, grasping the social conditions of the classical situation with the insight of a modern sociologist or philosopher of the Zeitgeist. "Who will stand against you? How long will it be until you are dried up? How long will you sweep the sons of Eve down into that mighty and hideous ocean . . .? Have I not read in you of Jove, both thunderer and adulterer? . . . The story is told so that authority would be provided to imitate the true adultery while the false thunder cloaks it over . . . so that debauchery might not be accounted debauchery . . . Oh hellish flood, the sons of men are thrown into you with fees paid, so that they may learn these fables . . . you dash against your rocks, you roar and say: 'Here is learned the use of words! Here eloquence is acquired!' "14

It is the very essence of the Confessions that Augustine embraced this educational system with his whole heart and soul, learned all its lessons, and made its pride his own. "Yet foul and vicious as I was," he recalls, "with overflowing vanity, I took pride in being refined and cultured."15 "I was already the leading student in the school of rhetoric, and in my pride I rejoiced and I was swollen with vanity."16

Augustine comes to the heart of the matter and touches the first principle of educational philosophy when he describes the sacrifices made by his father, typical Roman of the Spatantike, to advance his obviously talented son. "But meanwhile," the Bishop quietly remembers, "this same father took no pains as to how I was growing up before you, or as to how chaste I was, as long as I was cultivated in speech, even though I was left a desert, uncultivated for you, oh God, who are the one and true and good Lord of that field which is my heart."17 In this flashing play on the senses of cultivation and culture, Augustine, the contemporary witness, exposes the cause of Rome's decline and fall, a cause much discussed and controverted by historians to the present day; at the same time he lays down the point of departure for that Christian approach to education, already occupying him as he wrote, which will be designed in theory and implemented in practice to achieve for young people a Christian culture or cultivation of mind and soul. He is indeed the lofty figure who stands at the world-historical juncture, at the "axial period" of Jaspers, at Toynbee's point of affiliation between the classical civilization and our Western Christendom.

Deficient and hence to that extent evil as social systems and educational establishments may be, there remains in them also the positive factor, the element which men concerned with basic positions in the true and the good have placed there and preserved. In and through this element Providence still can work. For the same system which Augustine experienced so keenly and evaluated so critically contained also the solid stones which gave him a footing, in the human sense and aspect of the matter, for his slow and perilous climb out of the condition in which the demoralizing educational flood had deposited him. The regular curriculum in those days entailed the systematic study of Cicero who was to the rhetor as Vergil to the grammaticus. "In the ordinary course of study," St. Augustine writes, "I came upon a book by a certain Cicero. . . This work changed my affections. It turned my prayers to you, oh Lord, and caused me to have different purposes and desires. All my vain hopes forthwith became worthless to me, and with incredible ardor of heart I desired undying wisdom. I began to rise up, so that I might return to you. I did not use that book to sharpen my tongue . . . nor did it impress me by its way of speaking but rather by what it spoke. "18 How many young people had encountered that book in the curriculum of studies and passed it by without thought? But Augustine had the talent of genius and bore within himself the vestiges of a Catholic conscience. The first and most fundamental impression concerns the entire educational system, which used these books for the cultivation of verbal style and oratorical skill without concern for content or without attention to truth. Augustine, by means of Cicero's book, pierces through the prevailing empty educational philosophy, apparently without help from his rhetor: "Nor did it impress me by its way of speaking but rather by what it spoke." We have here the point of departure toward what will become ultimately a new philosophy of education which restores and renovates content, giving it its due relationship to form: a truth-centered education, the doctrina christiana proper to the City of God. "How I burned, oh my God," St. Augustine confesses, "how I burned with desire to fly away from earthly things and upward to you, and yet I did not know what you would do with me! For with you there is wisdom. Love of wisdom has the name philosophy in Greek, and that book set me on fire for it, . . . that great, and beauteous, and honest name."19

This reading of Cicero's Hortensius by the youthful Augustine was a momentous event in the history of Western thought and Christian civilization. The brilliant young student soon changed from the career in law to which his parents aspired for him to one in the field of education.20 This was a decision fraught with world-historical consequences, for civilizations live through the dynamism of their educational systems, by which they renew themselves in the minds and hearts of the oncoming young people, and falter and die when they fail to do so. Augustine's decision to enter the field of education, accordingly, might well relate to the very meaning of history, that concept which his name has come to evoke, in a manner, which merits special attention.

As a youth of nineteen, it seemed the most natural thing for him to seek wisdom in the field of education, as a disciple of Cicero.21 As a matter of fact, there was no choice for the philosophical opposition within the educational system of antiquity, but to work within the framework of the rhetorical schools: so complete had the triumph of Isocrates over Plato long since become.22 We need not imagine, therefore, that the traditional opposition between rhetoric and philosophy should have caused Augustine to avoid rather than to embrace the former, or once having adopted it as his means of livelihood, to have pursued his love of wisdom in a merely private and personal way after his return from his day of teaching.23 For it was the rhetor who taught philosophy, however badly, at that time.24 The drama of Augustine's life continues to unfold in intrinsic contact with the field of education and his zeal for wisdom, it seems likely, was the factor which actually led him to choose the profession of teaching instead of the field of law.

A better and deeper insight into the close union of philosophy and education in Augustine's thinking is revealed by another set of facts, those which concern self-study in the full content of the liberal disciplines which were customarily omitted or slighted by the rhetorical schools. There could be no better indication of the pedagogical nature of his conversion to philosophy.

Cicero's Hortensius contained two fundamental concepts: first, an exhortation to wisdom, to remain dissatisfied until a substantial content of humanizing truth and virtue has been discovered and acquired; secondly, a positive evaluation of the entire circle of the arts, sciences, and disciplines of human culture as the normal preparation for this discovery and acquisition.25 None should be omitted: the natural sciences, astronomy, music, mathematics in all branches, logic, and the teaching of philosophy as a content in its own right. Each is important; each contributes in a proper order to the philosophical crown of education. The prevailing trend toward neglect of solid content, Cicero insisted, and the drift into mere formalism with nothing but grammar and rhetoric, would undermine Roman virtues and leave the classical civilization an empty shell. The school will become purely verbal: schola loquax, Augustine will call it, when he comes later in his life to oppose to it a new concept, schola nostra.

Augustine's relationship to these two concepts in the Hortensius opens the way to a grasp of the essential nature of his career as an educator, of his philosophy of education, and of his basic position toward that tension and tendency deriving from the Paideia of Isocrates.

In response to the first Ciceronian principle, the exhortation to wisdom, Augustine turned to the Manichees. He thought indeed of the faith of his boyhood and of his mother and looked cursorily into the Scripture. "But it seemed to me unworthy of comparison with nobility of Cicero's writings," he recalls. "My swelling pride turned away from its humble style."26 Thus he came to join the Manichees, to his mother's consternation, seduced by their claim to profess all wisdom and all knowledge of natural things, whether in the heavens or on earth, and a superior insight into the corrupted and unhistorical character of the Christian Scriptures.

It was his response to the second principle laid down by Cicero, which under God finally saved his mind and his soul. Cicero demanded with Plato a thorough study of the complete circle of the arts and disciplines, especially of mathematics and the natural sciences, and not merely of grammar and rhetoric, as the necessary preparation of the intelligence and cultivation of the mind for philosophy. At one stroke the glaring deficiency of the schools of rhetoric stood revealed to Augustine. Not even the preparation was properly organized into the "circle," or, as we have begun to say for a century or so, the "curriculum" of studies. The entire educational institution of the time had become characterized by emptiness. It had become to a large extent devoid of content.

Looking within himself, typical product of the system, Augustine recognized the same deficiency. If philosophical knowledge is the worthwhile end of education, as Plato and Cicero taught, and if these slighted or even omitted disciplines are the curricular means, then he must acquire them by himself. He plunged into a program of self-study, "without help of human teaching," as he says, after finishing his formal education.27 Thus his very return to God is from within the field of education and by means of its process, and not from a pursuit of philosophy somehow in isolation from his chosen profession. For his study of the real disciplines in the full circle of the classical Paideia led to the conquest of Manicheism, when he perceived in conversation that Faustus, the touted man of wisdom and famed intellectual leader of the sect, was only a grammarian, a man with a flow of words and nothing more.28 Gradually from that point Augustine acquired intellectual humility as the concomitant of genuine knowledge. Step by step, with the help of Plato's philosophy, he went forward to a grasp of noncorporeal intelligible being, the insight into the fact that God is a spiritual reality.29 From this point his progress was rapid: he advanced to the Sacred Scriptures, to Christ, to the God of the Catholic Church and of his own mother Monica. It is all within the field of education, indeed part and parcel of his fulfillment of the profession of rhetor in the schools of Rome, but faithful to the tradition of Plato and of Cicero, in sharpest contrast to that of Isocrates.

The Augustinian Educational Program

In this fashion the essential features of St. Augustine's professional approach in the field of education become clearly visible.30 He was, as Finaert says, "a rhetor in the service of truth."31 Already the fundamental metaphysical concept and point of departure of the future Christian philosopher, the idea of truth, is becoming visible from within his experience of the shortcomings of his own profession. Augustine is a philosopher in his very work of teaching, and a genuine educator because he is a philosopher. His purpose in teaching is virtue and moral substance, truth sought and seen and declared on human fundamentals. In all of this he is a disciple of Cicero, and indirectly of Plato, as opposed to Isocrates and the current of educational theory and practice, which Isocrates has come to symbolize. Augustine enters into the deep philosophical and educational issue, which both Cicero and Quintilian sought to clarify for the Roman world.

"For the one point in which we have our very greatest advantage over the brute creation," writes Cicero, laying the foundation of his educational theory and his humanism, "is that we hold converse with one another and can reproduce our thought in words."32 Borrowing his terms from Isocrates himself, the great Roman praises the culture of the logos as the very power, which has brought humanity "out of its brutish existence in the wilderness up to our present condition as men and as citizens."33 But this culture of the word, the logos, must be first and foremost a philosophical cultivation of truth, which is the inner spiritual form of the word. This culture must not degenerate into a development of the mere powers of speech and persuasion divorced from the content and substance and truth of knowledge. This basic concept of human excellence runs through Cicero's philosophical and educational works like a golden thread, seeking to bind the Roman world with its native virtue to the best in the Greek heritage of Paideia.34 It is for this reason that the Latins translated this rich Greek word, paideia, by their own humanitas. Augustine made all these positions and insights his own. As he says himself, with "incredible ardor of heart," and "set on fire for that great, and beauteous, and honest name" of philosophy, he sought wisdom in the field of education. Such a rhetor was Augustine, a worthy disciple of Cicero in the Spatantike, indeed the Christian Plato, and the bearer of the heritage of Paideia there in those last days of Rome.

The events, which culminated the career of this renowned rhetor and led him to resign his chair at Milan, are too well known from the Confessions to need mention here. Seen from the field of education, the entire process of his conversion to the Catholic faith, all the zeal for wisdom and the awesome intellectual and moral struggle from beginning to end which he describes in the matchless self-revelation have a striking unity with his professional career in education. The internal intellectual insecurity of his mind was one piece with the state of educational philosophy in the schools of rhetoric. Thus the Confessions actually form an instructive treatise in the philosophy of education as well as the magnificent personal document, which has been admired ever since. It is not too much to say that the love of truth and the zeal for wisdom, which fired him since the reading of the Hortensius did at last become incompatible with continued professional work in the schools of imperial Rome. His resignation from the topmost imperial position in his profession is indeed, in one sense, a rupture with the pedagogy symbolized by Isocrates, but neither a departure from education, nor from the principles of Plato and Cicero. These he will preserve, in that new institution of the future, schola nostra, which already is shaping in his mind's eye. From this new educational institution, qualitatively different in his planning of it, a new civilization is in potency, for civilizations and social orders come forth from the schools in which the young generation is formed. In a true sense, one which perhaps explains the alacrity with which he arose above the shudder of horror which ran through the ancient world at Alaric's deed, his resignation from his professional chair marked one of the meanings which attached to that pregnant phrase, the decline and fall of Rome. At the same time, it is a fundamental event in that future process which we know as the formation of Western civilization.

For the conversion of St. Augustine to Christ in his Church provided him with the foundations of a new view of education, and enabled him to see the changes which were needed to make of education that safe way which youth ought to walk.35 He saw in prospect with his mind's eye, as we see in retrospect when the Christian era is evaluated and interpreted in the right way, the majestic figure of Christ the King, Lord of history and center of all the ages, moving incarnate in his body across these latter and final Christian times of universal history. 36 He saw his own conversion as one instance in that conversion of antiquity as a whole to God in the Catholic Church. Thus the entire past of human civilization is involved in this preparation for the advent of Christ incarnate, for not only the persons but also the works of man are caught up in this vast regeneration and renewal of all things which constitutes the climax of the ages of human history. Such, then, is the conversion of the whole world to Christ in His Church, which is the theme running through all the works of St. Augustine. Speaking as a Christian philosopher, he sees this basic historical event as the fulfillment of the aspiration of Plato for regeneration and renewal, made efficacious in the fullness of time by the incarnation of divine truth itself.37

St. Augustine's conversion, in other words, involves the philosophy of history, the recognition of this order or succession in the ages of mankind, embodied primarily in the succession of the two Testaments, and resulting in the powerful impact of the Church of God upon classical antiquity. It is his Providential role to analyze the institution of education itself in the light of this conversion, and to program its participation in this regeneration and renewal of all things human. It has fallen to him to plan the order of studies and the structure of the curriculum, which will permit the institution of education as such to share in this renewal of human persons and of the works of man. St. Augustine is indeed the Christian Plato and the disciple of Cicero who organizes the sound heritage of human culture into the Christian schools of the future. Seen in this fashion, there is the closest relationship between St. Augustine's educational philosophy and his insight into the meaning and direction of universal history, marching by a great advent to the fullness of time when the incarnation took place, and climaxing in the conversion of all peoples and nations to God in His Church. The experience of this meaning of the Christian era is the central and most vivid component of his intellectual life.38

It remains for us to consider whether this educational doctrine is relevant to our times and pertinent to our needs in the twentieth century, or whether it is, as the word goes, outmoded; and this is one thing with the question whether this patristic view of universal history is likewise outmoded, somehow, and no longer relevant, in any real and vital sense, to contemporary thought and social action. Due to St. Augustine's fundamental position in the elaboration of the characteristic educational institution of Western civilization, the answer to this question is of unparalleled importance. For the maintaining of Western civilization in sound health and in solid position upon its foundations depends upon the answer.

The Contemporary Relevance Of St. Augustine

The most fundamental concept of the philosophy of history, as St. Augustine teaches, is that of the largest and most significant social entities, seen in the retrospect of historical memory; and the most fundamental dynamism or process is the order or succession among these entities, together with the reason why the order exists. It was typical of the modern mind, from Petrarch through the nineteenth century to the stunning impact of World War I, that it conceived the past in three entities, "ancient," "medieval," and "modern," and perceived an order or succession among them arising from the advance of rational civilizing effort in the face of barbarism and superstition.

From this underlying construct of historical understanding, the category "modern" transfers to philosophy, producing the entity called "modern philosophy," as contrasted with and opposed to the classical philosophy.39 A philosophical pattern of thought arises in this way, extending from Petrarch, Descartes, and Bacon to Hume and Kant and thence to the contemporaries. In a similar way, there is a transfer from this category of historical understanding to religion, by the introduction of this "modern philosophy" into religious thought and into the interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures. The practical side of this process is accomplished by the introduction of modern philosophy into the intellectual training of the official leaders in the Judaeo-Christian religious tradition. It is this which Cornelio Fabro has in mind, when he defines Modernism as the introduction of modern philosophical currents into the seminaries of the Catholic Church.40

The answer to the question whether the patristic view of universal history has been outmoded depends upon this construct in the philosophy of history. It rests upon viewing and interpreting St. Augustine's pedagogical teaching and his philosophy of history through the colored glasses, the distorting lenses, and the inhibiting mental categories of this particular framework of historical understanding, these three concepts, "ancient," "medieval," and "modern," and the process of order or succession which is conceived to exist among them. When the historic life of the human family is forced upon this Procrustean bed, then indeed the patristic and biblical view of universal history can appear outmoded. Attention, therefore, must be given to this altogether artificial construct, if philosophical analysis is to come to close grips with the question of St. Augustine's contemporary relevance.

Analysis conducted in the light of the new perspectives of the twentieth century, however, reveals a wholly different pattern of historical understanding. The older views, which seemed self-evident in the so-called "modern" period from Petrarch to the outbreak of the First World War, and indeed appeared as the very embodiment of empirical science and critical scholarship, are, in the contemporary post-modern situation, becoming more and more visibly untenable. It is not too much to say that they now stand revealed, except for those who continue to live intellectually in the nineteenth century, as an awkward provincialism of the mind.

For these three categories of historical interpretation, "ancient," "medieval," and "modern," have been smashed in recent decades like so many eggs, and the contemporary mind stands liberated to breathe once more the fresh air of Catholic thought and of Christian philosophy.

The category "ancient," in the view characteristic of the modern period, which dates from Petrarch, embraced classical antiquity in a most restricted and inhibited sense. This construct of historical understanding has been broken apart by these hundred years of archaeology in the Near East and has been opened startlingly to the rear by the new perspectives of prehistory.

In the same way, scholarship in recent decades has literally demolished the older connotation of the category "medieval," understood in the modern mentality as a dark interlude of barbarism and superstition, in Gibbon's phrase, between the two periods of light. The advances of social anthropology and the data arising from the comparative study of civilizations have smashed this category "medieval" even more completely than the concept "ancient." It is seen now as the formative period of our civilization, the creative centuries, which laid the foundations of this new social entity, affiliated to that of antiquity, and the successor to it on the dynamic panorama of universal history. We shall allow one scholar to speak for the many in this regard. Describing the older view of two contrasting periods, "The Middle Ages" and "The Renaissance," marked in turn by "scholasticism" and "humanism," Professor Werner Jaeger points out the complete inadequacy of this construct in the light of recent scholarship. "This simple pattern," he writes, "is shown to be an over-simplification as soon as we realize that the rebirth of Greek philosophy in the Middle Ages was really another great epoch in the uninterrupted influence of the Greek Paideia."41

Further analysis reveals that the category called "modern" is itself a mere construct of a particular philosophy of history, and is in process of shattering into pieces as the other two have done. For it acquires meaning only in that succession of historical entities or conditions of mind, conceived in the pattern, ancient, medieval, modern, and viewed as an order or succession in human affairs.

When the succession of things in human society is seen in the older light of these three categories, Augustine's patristic and biblical view of the human family cannot but seem outmoded. When these categories are removed, however, as they are at the present time under the impact of archaeology and the newer historical scholarship, an immense and refreshing liberation takes place which restores St. Augustine's philosophy of history to full contemporary validity and relevance, and with .it his philosophy of education.

The reason for this is the fact that secularism in education is an extension into contemporary times of the underlying positions symbolized by Isocrates: sophistry at work in the formation of the oncoming generation. The same questions and qualitative issues abide, therefore, and the relevance of St. Augustine, who embodies the supernatural and natural heritage of mankind in an educational theory and practice which permits that heritage to survive intact and to grow by sound progress in the succession of human generations, comes clearly into view. The relevance of St. Augustine, it is important to point out, is not in the realm of empirical knowledge, of science, and of the accumulation of factual material. Much of the factual material in St. Augustine is subject to correction and amplification; but so is the factual material held by the intellectual life of today. This does not mean that some facts, especially the larger ones, more at the center of the stage of universal history, have not been definitely established. Above all, furthermore, it does not touch the different and higher order of insight and understanding, which Augustine designates by the term wisdom.

From the viewpoint of sound philosophical analysis of the categories of historical understanding, therefore, St. Augustine's framework of universal history must be declared fully relevant and contemporary, not outmoded in any fundamental sense, and his approach to education is seen to be equally valid in terms of contemporary problems. The travesty upon the patristic view of the human family, which terms it outmoded, must be rejected as a mere corollary of the particular mental construct in historical understanding, which we have noted. The truth of the matter is exactly to the contrary: St. Augustine is not outmoded, but relevant in a most positive sense. Christian philosophy and the true religion are still exactly as necessary for mankind in the present day as in St. Augustine's day, if the formation of the oncoming generation is to take place in terms of truth, if education is to function in terms of genuine wisdom) the regeneration and renewal, namely, which are the work of Christ and his Church in the Christian era.

The liberation of Christian philosophy from the restricting and inhibiting pressures of the older view of historical succession enables it to turn with renewed vigor to the tasks of the philosophy of history and of education, in order to illuminate the historic landscape of the human family in a new way, seeing the long morning of prehistory and the recent brief six thousand years of civilized life in a truer light. The fullness of time regains the meaning which it has for St. Paul and the Christian era becomes the unified historic life of the Church, the fulfillment of the divine plan to offer mankind an efficacious opportunity for the regeneration and renewal of civilized life as such. This is the meaning of the Christian era within these six thousand years; such is the historic glory of the Catholic Church; and such is the social significance of him who is the Lord of universal history--of all history, indeed, but in a new and immediate sense the Lord of history since the incarnation and now during the mission of his Church to the whole world.

This is nothing else than St. Augustine's philosophy of history restated in our time. It represents the most conscious and deliberate rejection of the opinion that the patristic view of mankind is outmoded. For it sees the Christian era simply as a whole, in a positive manner, as the unified process of the regeneration and renewal of human culture, as the unification of the natural peoples in the supernatural unity of faith, as the triumphal march of the King of the ages and the Lord of history.

Seen in this light, St. Augustine provides for us today the fundamental historical and educational understandings, which are prerequisite for a complete victory over the definitely dated mental categories of Modernism. His doctrine, furthermore, liberates the contemporary apostolate for effective educational and catechetical work on behalf of immortal souls. Isocrates, we may say, has lived on in "modernity" as such, from Petrarch, Descartes and Bacon, to the twin portals of Hume and Kant, and on to the schools of James and Dewey in contemporary America.42 St. Augustine, founder of Christian philosophy as such, that philosophy which was brought to its most comprehensive statement in the work of his foremost disciple, St. Thomas Aquinas, stands in historic contrast to Isocrates, as the abiding foundation for a genuine educational apostolate in our time. It is an apostolate, which continues among our young people the quest for truth and wisdom, which animated that pioneer of Catholic education who is the greatest of the Fathers of the Church.

Eugene Kevane
The Catholic University of America
Washington, D.C.


1 Cicero, De oratore, II, 22 (92-94); E. W. Sutton-H. Rackham (trans.), Cicero De oratore (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959), pp. 267-269.

2 For the works of Isocrates, cf. The Loeb Classical Library, Isocrates, Vol. I-III (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1929, 1954). On his philosophy and pedagogy, cf. Werner Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1944), Vol. III, pp. 45-155; H-I. Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1956), pp. 79-91; F. W. Blass, Die Attische Beredsarnkeit, Vol. II: Isokrates und Isaios (Leipzig: B. G, Teubner, 1892), pp. 1-331; for the factual information, Karl Munscher, "Isokrates," in Pauly-Wissowa, IX, 2, 2146-2227; for his relationship to the classical philosophers, H. Gomperz, "Isokrates und Sokratik," Wiener Studien, 27 (1905), 163-207, and 28 (1906), 1-42.

3 Marrou, op. cit., "Introduction," p. xiii.

4 Ibid., p. 85.

5 Ibid., pp. 84-85.

6 Cf. Marrou, ibid., p. 91; cf. also W. Jaeger, op. cit., p. 46: "Isocrates . . . personifies the classical opposition to Plato and his school . . . the conflict between Plato and Isocrates (is) . . . the first battle in the centuries of war between philosophy and rhetoric." Also H. von Arnim, Leben und Werke des Dio von Prusa, Mit einer Einleitung: Sophistik, Rhetorik, Philosophie in ihrem Kampf um die Jugendbildung (Berlin: Weidinannsche Buchhandlung, 1898), pp. 1-114. It would be more accurate, from the largest and most comprehensive view, to say that the conflict secularized classical culture, instead of enriching it; for it led directly to the emptiness experienced by St. Augustine, the educational cause of the decline and fall of Rome.

7 A. Gwynn, Roman Education from Cicero to Quintilian (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1926), p. 247.

8 Cicero, De oratore. III, 24 (93) (Gwynn's translation, op. cit., p. 113).

9 Gwynn, op. cit., p. 114.

10 Ibid., p. 118.

11 Cf. Confessions I, 9-20; II, 3; II, 6; II, 10; III, 1-3.

12 F. X. Eggersdorfer, Der heilige Augustinus als Padagoge und seine Bedeutung fur die Geschichte der Bildung (Freiburg: Herdersche Verlagshandlung, 1907), p. 10.

13 Confessions I, 18; translated with an introduction and notes by John K. Ryan (New York: Image Books, 1960), pp. 60-61.

14 Confessions I, 16; Ryan, op. cit., pp. 58-59.

15 Confessions III, 1; Ryan, op. cit., p. 77.

16 Confessions III, 3; Ryan, op. cit., p. 80.

17 Confessions II, 3; op. cit., p. 67; Migne, P. L. 32, 677: ". . .Dummodo essem disertus, vel desertus potius a cultura tua, Deus, qui es unus verus et bonus Dominus agri tui cordis mei."

18 Confessions III, 4; Ryan, op. cit., p. 81.

19 Ibid.; for other references of St. Augustine to the impact of Cicero's Hortensius upon him, cf„ Confessions VI, 11; VII, 7; De beata vita 4 (10); Solil. I, 17.

20 Confessions III, 3; Ryan, op. cit., p. 80: "Moreover, my studies, which were called honorable, were directed to the practice of law, . . ." Then comes the reading of the Hortensius (III, 4), followed by the association with the Manichees (III, 6-12). In Book IV law is completely forgotten; Augustine has entered the field of education and has become a professor on the level of higher studies: "In those years I taught the art of rhetoric . . ." (ibid., IV, 2; Ryan, op. cit., p. 92).

21 For this discipleship, see the comprehensive study and extensive bibliography of Maurice Testard, Saint Augustin et Ciceron, Vol. I, Ciceron dans la formation et dans l'oeuvre de Saint Augustin; Vol. II, Repertoire des textes (Paris: Etudes Augustiniennes, 1958).

22 Cf. Gwynn, op. cit., p. 112.

23 Cf. P. Courcelle, Recherches sur les Confessions de Saint Augustin (Paris: E. de Boccard, 1950), p. 60.

24 Cf. Confessions IV, 16; Ryan, op. cit., p. 110.

25 Cf. Eggersdorfer, op. cit., p. 12.

26 Confessions III, 5; Ryan, op. cit., p. 82.

27 Confessions IV, 16; Ryan, op. cit., p. 112. See Testard, op. cit., pp. 45-48, for a study of this point.

28 Cf. Confessions V, 6-7; Ryan, op. cit., pp. 119-122. "For almost nine years . . . I awaited with intense longing the coming of their Faustus . . . (p. 119), I saw at once that the man was unskilled in the liberal arts . . . (p. 120). So (he) who had been a fatal snare to so many men, now began, neither willing it nor knowing it, to loosen the snare in which I was caught" (pp. 121-122).

29 For St. Augustine's description of this philosophical breakthrough to ipsum esse subsistens, the dawn of Christian philosophy in his mind, cf. Conf. VII, 8-18; Ryan, op. cit., pp. 168-176.

30 For a comprehensive study of St. Augustine's mind as a teacher in the schools of Rome, cf. H-I. Marrou, Saint Augustin et la fin de la culture antique (Paris: E. de Boccard, 1958), esp. Ch. IV, "Un lettre de la decadence," pp. 85-104, and Ch. V, "L'Erudition: ses origines," pp. 105-124.

31 J. Finaert, Saint Augustin rheteur (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1939), p. 1; cf. Chap. I, "Un rheteur au service du vrai," pp. 1-21.

32 Cicero, De oratore I, 32; Sutton-Rackham, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 25.

33 Ibid., 33; p. 25.

34 Cf. Werner Jaeger, op. cit., for a comprehensive three-volume treatment of the ideals of Greek culture. For a short summary of the meaning of this heritage, cf. Otto Willmann, The Science of Education (Latrobe, Pa.: The Archabbey Press, 1930), Vol. I, pp. 118-162. In its educational aspect, this concept offers young people the prospect of a genuinely human mode of living: for it sees the culture of the human arts and disciplines as the preparation for that philosophical and ethical knowledge which characterizes true humanism.

35 Cf. Confessions I, 16; Ryan, op. cit., p. 58: ". . . they could have been learned from things that were not vain. This last is the safe way in which children should walk."

36 It is perhaps more difficult to grasp this true concept of the Christian era now fifteen centuries after St. Augustine, when so many alien philosophies of history have made their impact upon contemporary thought. It is still, however, the unchanged landscape of history seen by the eye of faith, whether in patristic times, or in those of Hugh of St. Victor, or in our own. Cf., for example, Antonio Piolanti, "Prolusio," in Commentarium (Romae: Apud Aedes Pont. Univ. Lateranensis, 1961), p. 355: "Se l'epoca del Nuovo Testamento e veramente, secondo la bella immagine di Ugo di S, Vittore, una grande marcia di Cristo Re, i Concili sono come . . . archi trionfali che seguono le tappe dell'avanzata del Divino Conquistatore, . . . il Re immortale del secoli." In their striking foreword to Ancient Christian Writers (Westminster: Newman, 1946), I, pp. vi-vii, the patristic scholars Johannes Quasten and J. C. Plumpe lay their finger upon this intellectual pulse of St. Augustine's time. "The Fathers of the Church," they write, ". . .remain witnesses to the faith transmitted to us from their times, . . . the glorious day of Christianity's triumph over the ancient paganism . . . Victory--of this Christianity in the flush of its youth is indubitably confident and absolutely certain; and this is the characteristic note of all the works of the Fathers. . . Consciousness of victory animated them all, the Christian slave girl and martyr Blandina no less than Tertullian or Lactantilis. Thus the entire patristic literature bears the stamp of victorious combat." These considerations bear upon the relevance of St. Augustine for the contemporary Catholic educator and catechist, whose apostolate is to teach victoriously the sound and true concept of the Christian era in the face of the recent philosophies of history.

37 Cf. De vera religione, passim; for example, III, 3: "Si enim Plato ipse viveret, . . . responderet credo ille non posse hoc ab homine fieri . . . ut genus humanum ad tam salubrem fidem summo amore atque auctoritate converteret." But this is exactly what has happened in history and what has been documented in the Sacred Scriptures. This is wie es eigentlich gewesen ist, to use Ranke's famous phrase. "Per totum orbem terrarum," continues St. Augustine (ibid., III, 4), ". . .hodie per gentes populosque praedicatur: 'In principio erat Verbum, . . .' "

38 The fact of the Church as a sudden illumination visible in the whole world, in toto orbe terrarum, is the constant intellectual background for all his writings; it recurs persistently in his sermons, particularly in the Enarrationes in psalmos; and it is the fundamental theme of his De civitate Dei. No phrase appears more frequently in his pages than "toto orbe terrarum," used with reference to the Church, which is rapidly unifying all peoples in the new supernatural unity of the Catholic faith. This is not because he is Augustine: he simply reflects in his writings the mind of the Church at prayer in the Canon of the Mass throughout the Christian era: "Inprimis, quae tibi offerimus pro Ecclesia tua sancta catholica: quam pacificare, custodire, adunare et regere digneris toto orbe terrarum. . ."

39 For a keen perception of this "modern" philosophical entity, cf. Macaulay, "Lord Bacon," in Literary Essays (London: Oxford University Press, 1937), pp. 289-410. Macaulay sees clearly that "modern" philosophy, on the whole, is slanted in favor of Isocrates. "Our great countryman," he writes, "evidently did not consider the revolution, which Socrates effected in philosophy as a happy event . . ." (p. 367). The classical philosophy is "this unfruitful wisdom," and the powers of its great teachers were "systematically misdirected. . . The ancient philosophy was a treadmill, not a path, . . . A contrivance for having much exertion and no progress" (p. 368). Seen on the scale of universal history the philosophical thought arising from the times of Petrarch and Bacon represents a resurgence of the basic positions and attitudes of Isocrates.

40 Cf. Cornelio Fabro, Breve Introduzione al Tomismo (Roma: Desclee, 1960), p. 133: "quella penetrazione della filosofia moderna nei Seminari che assumera di li a poco il nome di Modernismo."

41 Werner Jaeger, op. cit.. Vol. III, p. 301.

42 For a flat contemporary restatement of what is essentially Isocrates' position, cf. Ernest Nagel, "Philosophy in Educational Research," in First Annual Phi Delta Kappa Symposium on Educational Research (Bloomington: Phi Delta Kappa, 1960), pp. 71-72. "According to an ancient and still influential tradition, philosophy is the fundamental, because most general, science of existence. . . This philosophy has been enjoying a flourishing renaissance in recent years, a revival not without a following among students of education . . . (But) the supposition that philosophy can supply the foundational principles upon which genuine knowledge of any sector of the world must rest . . . seems to me thoroughly mistaken. . ." "For myself," says Isocrates, "I should have preferred that philosophy had as much power as these men (Socrates, Plato and their followers) claim. . . But since it has no such power, I could wish that this prating might cease." George Norlin (trans.), Isocrates (New York: Putnams', 1929), Vol. II, pp. 169-171.

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