St. Augustine: Ethics, Nature, & Salvation


Doctrines & Discoveries

Notes & Quotes

(I) Two Cites: Heaven & Hell

(City of God)

·         Augustinian Dualism

o        Manichean period

o        RE: God's nature

§         personal fatherhood

§         metaphysical infinitude

o        soul & body

§         inward & spiritual realm

§         outward & physical realm

·         Two Classes of "Citizens" (1,2)

o        The chosen saints: citizens of heaven

o        The damned: citizens of hell

o        will be sorted as the last day but are all mixed up together here on earth in the meanwhile (1)

·         At the last: literal bodily resurrection (following scripture)

o        for the damned: incombustible bodies that can be perpetually burned without ever being consumed (4)

o        for the saved: "incorruptible bodies"  living in perfect harmony with themselves & each other (5,6)

·         Virtue is "the order of love" (7)

o        beatitude (heaven) is the state we achieve by the right  ordering of our love, toward God (8)

o        torment (hell) is the state we suffer by the wrong ordering of our love (9)

1.        The one [group] is predestined to reign eternally with God, and the other to suffer eternal damnation with the Devil. (103)

2.        Let each one question himself as to what he loveth [God or self]; and he shall find of which city he is a citizen.

3.        You have heard and know that there are two cities, for the present mingled together in body, but in heart separated.

4.        [The bodies of the damned] by a miracle of the most omnipotent creator can live in the fire … without being consumed.

5.        [They shall dwell in] perfect peace, each with himself and with the other saints. (103)

6.        [In heaven] marvelous discoveries …shall … kindle rational minds in praise of the great Artificer.  (103)

7.        Love and do as you will.

8.        [T]he striving after God is therefore, the striving after beatitude, the attainment of God is beatitude itself.

9.        [T]he rational creature … has been made so that it cannot itself be the good by which it is made happy.

(II) The Earthly Pilgrimage

§         The human predicament: being in the world is trying

§         external ills (1)

§         uncaring natural world full of sickness, disaster, death

§         social & political injustice, indifference, and corruption

§         internal ills (2)

§         besetting temptations

§         that our wills are too weak, by themselves, to resist

§         The predicament as paradox

§         in Augustine's own experience he was at once

§         responsible for sins

§         he was incapable of avoiding

§         the theological rub:

§          it seems unjust & sadistic for God to punish me for what I am incapable of avoiding:

§         it seems inconsistence with God's perfect goodness.

§         Augustine's Attempted Solution to the Paradox

§         moral helplessness is the result original sin inherited from Adam (6)

§         God could not have given Adam the power not to sin and still made him Adam a human

§         everything created is deficient in some respects (3)

§         due to being made out of nothingness

§         only God is complete, sinless, & perfect

§         sin is the kind of evil the results from a deficient will

§         We are redeemed by the Grace of God through Christ (4,5)

1.        Let every one, then, who thinks with pain on all these great evils, so horrible, so ruthless, acknowledge that this is misery.  And if any one either endures or thinks about them without mental pain, this is a more miserable plight still, for he thinks himself happy because he has lost human feeling. (106)

2.        Thou didst set me face to face with myself, that I might behold how foul I was, and how crooked and sordid, bespotted and ulcerous.

3.        [Evil is] that which falls away from essence and turns to non-being . . . .  It tends to make that which is cease to be.

4.        When man tries to live justly by his own strength without the help of the liberating grace of God, he is then conquered by sins; but in free will he has it in his power to believe in the Liberator and to receive grace.

5.        [T]his turning away and turning to are not forced but voluntary actions.

6.        I it was who willed, I who was unwilling. It was I, even I myself.  I neither willed entirely nor was entirely unwilling.  Therefore was I at war with myself, and destroyed by myself.  And this destruction overtook me against my will, and yet showed not the presence of another mind, but the punishment of my own . . . in that I was a son of Adam.

(III) Ethics & Politics

§         The delights of the flesh are inconsequential and so are its pains.

§         Such evils as we think we suffer are either

§         goods in disguise

§         or well-merited punishments

§         To try to alter or improve existing social-political arrangements implies discontent with God's program for us. (1)

§         Look for your rewards in the other world, rather than this one.

§         The only morally important thing is the will.  (2)

§         "The virtues which [the soul] seems to itself to possess . . . are rather vices than virtues so long as there is no reference to God in the matter." (119)

1.        We do not attribute the power of giving kingdoms to any save the true God, who . . . gives kingly power on earth both to the pious and the impious, as it may please Him, whose good pleasure is always just. (117)

2.        [T]he virtue that makes life good has its throne in the soul, . . . and . . . while the will remains firm and unshaken, nothing that another person does with the body or upon the body, is any fault of the person who suffers it, so long as he cannot escape it without sin. (118)

(IV) The Drama of Salvation

§         No one really knows if they're among the elect or not.

§         Cannot determined from the outward deeds and circumstances

§         will is all

§         external acts of piety can be spoiled & made sinful if they are done in a prideful spirit (1)

§         Cannot be determined by examining your own will

§         our true motives are often hidden from ourselves (2)

§         The mechanics of salvation through acceptance of Christ's sacrifice "a great mystery unintelligible to pride"

§         Lessons conveyed by the Incarnation

§         flesh as such is not evil (3)

§         death may be punishment for our sins but is not itself a sin

§         Jesus' acceptance of crucifixion show how we ought to live

§         God's sacrifice of his Son demonstrates God's great love for us despite our sin. 

§         Tension between the mystical and ecclesiastical elements

§         mystical: salvation involves the inward turning of the will toward God, by God's grace (4,5)

§         ecclesiastical: that salvation depends on the proper administration of the sacraments

§         threat of Donatism (6)

§         if the blessedness of the sacraments flows from the good  willing of the participants

§         it undermines the Church's claim to be the door of salvation and hence the institutional authority or the Church.

§         The Church and its members are the body of Christ

§         an organism of many parts standing in various relations of ordination and subordination

§         owing its life and allegiance to Jesus

1.        [The falsely pious please themselves] in Thy good things as though they were their own . . . or as though of their own merits. (120)

2.        My mind, making inquiry into herself concerning her own powers, ventures not readily to credit herself; because that which is already in it is for the most part concealed.  ...  And no man ought to feel secure in this life, the whole of which is called a temptation, that he, who could be made better from worse, may not also from better be made worse. (120)

3.        In its own kind and degree the flesh is good. (113)

4.        But even this trusting in God's help could not be achieved without God's help. (123)

5.        [N]o man acts rightly save by the assistance of divine aid. (123)

6.        As to the pagans, they may indeed . . . reproach us for the laws . . . enacted against idolaters.  [However, they ought to thank us, since many of them] have thereby been, and are now daily, turned from idols to the living and true God. (126)


(V) Nature and Natural Science

§          Augustine's "extremely naïve teleology" (Jones)

§         the purpose of the physical world it to be the stage on which the drama of salvation unfolds.

§         e.g., there are seven planets to remind us of the seven cardinal virtues and seven deadly sins

§         Disinterest in scientific understanding of the world

§         to pry to deeply into nature's secrets would be a sinful act of intellectual pride

§         they key to happiness & well being lies in the next world and it's at best a distraction -- at worst a kind of idolatry -- to be overly concerned with the working of this world.

§         Acceptance of -- even hunger for signs and wonders

§         oddities are not exceptions to be brought under the cover of revised rules (whence comes scientific progress)

§         oddities are wonders to be marveled at  (2)

§         The fleeting view that everything is miraculous. (3,4)

1.        [The Greeks] made efforts to discover the hidden laws of nature. ...  And some of them, by God's help, made great discoveries; but when left to themselves they were betrayed by human infirmity, and fell into mistakes. (132)

2.        God . . . does not disdain to work miracles . . . that He may thereby awaken the soul to worship ... Himself. (132)

3.        Even the very things which are most commonly known as natural would not be less wonderful nor less effectual to excite surprise in all who beheld them, if men were not accustomed to admire nothing but what is rare. (133)

4.        A portent, therefore, happens not contrary to nature, but contrary to what we know as nature. (133)

(VI) History

§         History was designed by God to instruct, punish, and test us.

§         Instruction: the history and struggles of the Jews "signify and fore-announce [the drama of Salvation].

§         Punishment: the fall of Rome due to its not turning to Christ soon enough and completely enough.

§         Nothing happens by chance, everything happens for a reason: salutary emphasis on developmental pattern

§         history has a purpose

§         a crucial turning point: the resurrection

§         and a direction: towards salvation

§         Universal vs. narrowly tribal history

1.        [D]ivine providence is wont to reform the depraved manners of men by chastisement. (134)