I. S. Aurelii Augustini Hipponensis episcopi Opera … Post Lovaniensium theologorum recensionem [which appeared at Antwerp in 1577 in 11 vols.] castigatus [referring to tomus primus, etc.] denuo ad MSS. codd. Gallicanos, etc. Opera et studio monachorum ordinis S. Benedicti e congregatione S. Mauri [Fr. Delfau, Th. Blampin, P. Coustant, and Cl. Guesnié]. Paris, 1679-1700, xi tom. in 8 fol. vols. The same edition reprinted, with additions, at Antwerp, 1700-1703, 12 parts in 9 fol.; and at Venice, 1729-’34, in xi tom. in 8 fol. (this is the edition from which I have generally quoted; it is not to be confounded with another Venice edition of 1756-’69 in xviii vols. 4to, which is full of printing errors); also at Bassano, 1807, in 18 vols.; by Gaume fratres, Paris, 1836-’39, in xi tom. in 22 parts (a very elegant edition); and lastly by J. P. Migne, Petit-Montrouge, 1841-’49, in xii tom. (Patrol. Lat. tom. xxxii.-xlvii.). Migne’s edition (which I have also used occasionally) gives, in a supplementary volume (tom. xii.), the valuable Notitia literaria de vita, scriptis et editionibus Aug. from Schönemann’s Bibliotheca historico-literaria Patrum Lat. vol. ii. Lips. 1794, the Vindiciae Augustinianae of Norisius, and the writings of Augustine first published by Fontanini and Angelo Mai. But a thoroughly reliable critical edition of Augustine is still a desideratum. On the controversies relating to the merits of the Bened. edition, see the supplementary volume of Migne, xii. p. 40 sqq., and Thuillier: Histoire de la nouvelle ed. de S. Aug. par les PP. Bénédictins, Par. 1736. The first printed edition of Augustine appeared at Basle, 1489-’95; another, a. 1509, in 11 vols. (I have a copy of this edition in black letter, but without a title page); then the edition of Erasmus published by Frobenius, Bas. 1528-’29, in 10 vols. fol.: the Editio Lovaniensis, or of the divines of Louvain, Antw. 1577, in 11 vols., and often. Several works of Augustine have been often separately edited, especially the Confessions and the City of God. Compare a full list of the editions down to 1794 in Schönemann’s Bibliotheca, vol. ii. p. 73 sqq.
English translations of select works of Aug. by Dr. Pusey and others in the Oxford Library of the Fathers”: the Confessions, vol. i., 1839, 4th ed., 1853; Sermons, vol. xvi., 1844, and vol. xx., 1845; Short Treatises, vol. xxii., 1847; Expositions on the Psalms, vols. xxiv., xxv., xxx., xxxii., xxxvii., xxxix., 1847, 1849, 1850, 1853, 1854; Homilies on John, vols. xxvi. and xxix., 1848 and 1849. Another translation by Marcus Dods and others, Edinb. (T. and T. Clark), 1871-76, 15 vols., containing the City of God, the Anti-Donatist, the Anti-Pelagian, the Anti-Manichaean writings, Letters, On the Trinity, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Harmony of the Gospels, On Christian Doctrine, the Euchiridion, on Catechising, on Faith and the Creed, Lectures on John, and Confessions. The same revised with new translations and Prolegomena, edited by Philip Schaff, N. York, 1886-88, 8 vols. German translation of select writings of Aug. in the Kempten Bibliothek Der Kirchenväter, 1871-79, 8 vols.
II. Possidius (Calamensis episcopus, a pupil and friend of Aug.): Vita Augustini (brief, but authentic, written 432, two years after his death, in tom. x. Append. 257-280, ed. Bened., and in nearly all other editions). Benedictini Editores: Vita Augustini ex ejus potissimum scriptis concinnata, in 8 books (very elaborate and extensive), in tom. xi. 1-492, ed. Bened. (in Migne’s reprint, tom. i. pp. 66-578). The biographies of Tillemont (Mém. tom. xiii.); Ellies Dupin (Nouvelle bibliothèque des auteurs ecclésiastiques, tom. ii. and iii.); P. Bayle (Dictionnaire historique et critique, art. Augustin); Remi Ceillier (Histoire générale des auteurs sacrés et ecclés., vol. xi. and xii.); Cave (Lives of the Fathers, vol. ii.); Kloth (Der heil. Aug., Aachen, 1840, 2 vols.); Böhringer (Kirchengeschichte in Biographien, vol. i. P. iii. p. 99 ff.); Poujoulat (Histoire de S. Aug. Par. 1843 and 1852, 2 vols.; the same in German by Fr. Hurter, Schaffh. 1847, 2 vols.); Eisenbarth (Stuttg. 1853); Ph. Schaff (St. Augustine, Berlin, 1854; English ed. New York and London, 1854); C. Bindemann: Der heil. Augustin. Berlin, 1844-55-69. 3 vols. Braune: Monica und Augustin. Grimma, 1846. Gangauf: Des heil. Aug. Lehre von Gott dem dreieinigen. Augsburg, 1866. Reinkens: Geschichtsphilosophie des heil. Augustin. Schaffhausen, 1866. Emil Feuerlein: Ueber die Stellung Augustin’s in der Kirchen- und Kulturgeschichte. 1869. (In v. Sybel’s “Hist. Zeitschrift” for 1869, vol. xi., 270-313. Ernst: Die Werke und Tugenden der Ungläubigen nach Augustin. Freib., 1872. Böhringer: Aurelius Augustinus, revised ed. Leipz., 1877-78. 2 parts. Aug. Dorner: Augustinus, sein Theol. System und seine religionsphilosophische Auschauung. Berlin, 1873. Ebert: Gesch. der christl. lat. Lit. Leipzig, 1874 sqq., vol. i. 203-243. Edward L. Cutts: St. Augustine. London (Soc. for Prom. Christian Knowledge), 1880. H. Reuter: Augustinische Studien, in Brieger’s “Zeitschrift für Kirchengesch.” for 1880-83 (four articles on Aug.’s doctrine of the church, predestination, the kingdom of God, etc.). Ch. H. Collett: St. Aug., a Sketch o f his Life and Writings as affecting the Controversy with Rome. Lond., 1883. W. Cunningham: S. Austin and his Place in Christian Thought (Hulsean Lectures for 1885), Cambridge, 1886 (283 pp.). James F. Spalding: The Teaching and Influence of Saint Augustine. N. York, 1886 (106 pp.). H. Reuter: Augustinische Studien, Gotha, 1887 (516 pp.; able, learned, and instructive). Ad. Harnack: Augustin’s Confessionen. Giessen, 1888 (31 pp., brief, but suggestive). F. W. Farrar, in his “Lives of the Fathers,” Lond. 1889, vol. ii. 298-460. Comp. also the literature at §146, p. 783.
The Philosophy of Augustine is discussed in the larger Histories of Philosophy by Brucker, Tennemann, Rixner, H. Ritter (vol. vi. pp. 153-443), Huber (Philosophie der Kirchenväter), and in the following works: Theod. Gangauf: Metaphysische Psychologie des heil. Augustinus. 1ste Abtheilung, Augsburg, 1852. T. Théry: Le génie philosophique et littéraire de saint Augustin. Par. 1861. Abbé Flottes: Études sur saint Aug., son génie, son âme, sa philosophie. Par. 1861. Nourrisson: La philosophie de saint Augustin (ouvrage couronné par l’Institut de France), deuxième ed. Par. 1866, 2 vols.
On the Philosophy of Aug., compare besides the works quoted on same page:
Erdmann: Grundriss der Gesch. der Philos., i. 231 sqq. Ueberweg: History of Philos. Engl. transl. by Morris, vol. i. 333-346. Ferraz: De la psychologie de S. Aug. 2d ed. Paris, 1869. Schütz: Augustinum non esse ontologum. Monast., 1867. G. Lösche: De Augustino Plotinizanto in doctrina de Deo disserenda. Jenae, 1880. (68 pages.)
It is a venturesome and delicate undertaking to write one’s own life, even though that life be a masterpiece of nature or of the grace of God, and therefore most worthy to be described. Of all autobiographies none has so happily avoided the reef of vanity and self-praise, and none has won so much esteem and love through its honesty and humility as that of St. Augustine.
The “Confessions,” which he wrote in the forty-sixth year of his life, still burning in the ardor of his first love, are full of the fire and unction of the Holy Ghost. They are a sublime effusion, in which Augustine, like David in the fifty-first Psalm, confesses to God, in view of his own and of succeeding generations, without reserve the sins of his youth; and they are at the same time a hymn of praise to the grace of God, which led him out of darkness into light, and called him to service in the kingdom of Christ. Here we see the great church teacher of all times “prostrate in the dust, conversing with God, basking in his love; his readers hovering before him only as a shadow.” He puts away from himself all honor, all greatness, all beauty, and lays them gratefully at the feet of the All-merciful. The reader feels on every hand that Christianity is no dream nor illusion, but truth and life, and he is carried along in adoration of the wonderful grace of God.
Aurelius Augustinus, born on the 13th of November, 354, at Tagaste, an unimportant village of the fertile province Numidia in North Africa, not far from Hippo Regius, inherited from his heathen father, Patricius, a passionate sensibility, from his Christian mother, Monica (one of the noblest women in the history of Christianity, of a highly intellectual and spiritual cast, of fervent piety, most tender affection, and all-conquering love), the deep yearning towards God so grandly expressed in his sentence: “Thou hast made us for Thee, and our heart is restless till it rests in Thee.” This yearning, and his reverence for the sweet and holy name of Jesus, though crowded into the background, attended him in his studies at the schools of Madaura and Carthage, on his journeys to Rome and Milan, and on his tedious wanderings through the labyrinth of carnal pleasures, Manichaean mock-wisdom, Academic skepticism, and Platonic idealism; till at last the prayers of his mother, the sermons of Ambrose, the biography of St. Anthony, and, above all, the Epistles of Paul, as so many instruments in the hand of the Holy Ghost, wrought in the man of three and thirty years that wonderful change which made him an incalculable blessing to the whole Christian world, and brought even the sins and errors of his youth into the service of the truth.
A son of so many prayers and tears could not be lost, and the faithful mother who travailed with him in spirit with greater pain than her body had in bringing him into the world, was permitted, for the encouragement of future mothers, to receive shortly before her death an answer to her prayers and expectations, and was able to leave this world with joy without revisiting her earthly home. For Monica died on a homeward journey, in Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber, in her fifty-sixth year, in the arms of her son, after enjoying with him a glorious conversation that soared above the confines of space and time, and was a foretaste of the eternal Sabbath-rest of the saints. She regretted not to die in a foreign land, because she was not far from God, who would raise her up at the last day. “Bury my body anywhere,” was her last request, “and trouble not yourselves for it; only this one thing I ask, that you remember me at the altar of my God, wherever you may be.” Augustine, in his Confessions, has erected to Monica the noblest monument that can never perish.
If ever there was a thorough and fruitful conversion, next to that of Paul on the way to Damascus, it was that of Augustine, when, in a garden of the Villa Cassiciacum, not far from Milan, in September of the year 386, amidst the most violent struggles of mind and heart — the birth-throes of the new life — he heard that divine voice of a child: “Take, read!” and he “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom_13:14). It is a touching lamentation of his: “I have loved Thee late, Thou Beauty, so old and so new; I have loved Thee late! And lo! Thou wast within, but I was without, and was seeking Thee there. And into Thy fair creation I plunged myself in my ugliness; for Thou wast with me, and I was not with Thee! Those things kept me away from Thee, which had not been, except they had been in Thee! Thou didst call, and didst cry aloud, and break through my deafness. Thou didst glimmer, Thou didst shine, and didst drive away, my blindness. Thou didst breathe, and I drew breath, and breathed in Thee. I tasted Thee, and I hunger and thirst. Thou didst touch me, and I burn for Thy peace. If I, with all that is within me, may once live in Thee, then shall pain and trouble forsake me; entirely filled with Thee, all shall be life to me.”
He received baptism from Ambrose in Milan on Easter Sunday, 387, in company with his friend and fellow-convert Alypius, and his natural son Adeodatus (given by God). It impressed the divine seal upon the inward transformation. He broke radically with the world; abandoned the brilliant and lucrative vocation of a teacher of rhetoric, which he had followed in Rome and Milan; sold his goods for the benefit of the poor: and thenceforth devoted his rare gifts exclusively to the service of Christ, and to that service he continued faithful to his latest breath. After the death of his mother, whom he revered and loved with the most tender affection, he went a second time to Rome for several months, and wrote books in defence of true Christianity against false philosophy and the Manichaean heresy. Returning to Africa, he spent three years, with his friends Alypius and Evodius, on an estate in his native Tagaste, in contemplative and literary retirement.
Then, in 391, he was chosen presbyter against his will, by the voice of the people, which, as in the similar cases of Cyprian and Ambrose, proved to be the voice of God, in the Numidian maritime city of Hippo Regius (now Bona); and in 395 he was elected bishop in the same city. For eight and thirty years, until his death, he labored in this place, and made it the intellectual center of Western Christendom.
His outward mode of life was extremely simple, and mildly ascetic. He lived with his clergy in one house in an apostolic community of goods, and made this house a seminary of theology, out of which ten bishops and many lower clergy went forth. Females, even his sister, were excluded from his house, and could see him only in the presence of others. But he founded religious societies of women; and over one of these his sister, a saintly widow, presided. He once said in a sermon, that he had nowhere found better men, and he had nowhere found worse, than in monasteries. Combining, as he did, the clerical life with the monastic, he became unwittingly the founder of the Augustinian order, which gave the reformer Luther to the world. He wore the black dress of the Eastern coenobites, with a cowl and a leathern girdle. He lived almost entirely on vegetables, and seasoned the common meal with reading or free conversation, in which it was a rule that the character of an absent person should never be touched. He had this couplet engraved on the table:
“Quisquis amat dictis absentum rodere vitam,
Hanc mensam vetitam noverit esse sibi.”
He often preached five days in succession, sometimes twice a day, and set it as the object of his preaching, that all might live with him, and he with all, in Christ. Wherever he went in Africa, he was begged to preach the word of salvation. He faithfully administered the external affairs connected with his office, though he found his chief delight in contemplation. He was specially devoted to the poor, and, like Ambrose, upon exigency, caused the church vessels to be melted down to redeem prisoners. But he refused legacies by which injustice was done to natural heirs, and commended the bishop Aurelius of Carthage for giving back unasked some property which a man had bequeathed to the church, when his wife unexpectedly bore him children.
Augustine’s labors extended far beyond his little diocese. He was the intellectual head of the North African and the entire Western church of his time. He took active interest in all theological and ecclesiastical questions. He was the champion of the orthodox doctrine against Manichaean, Donatist, and Pelagian. In him was concentrated the whole polemic power of the catholicism of the time against heresy and schism; and in him it won the victory over them.
In his last years he took a critical review of his literary productions, and gave them a thorough sifting in his Retractations. His latest controversial works against the Semi-Pelagians, written in a gentle spirit, date from the same period. He bore the duties of his office alone till his seventy-second year, when his people unanimously elected his friend Heraclius to be his assistant and successor.
The evening of his life was troubled by increasing infirmities of body and by the unspeakable wretchedness which the barbarian Vandals spread over his country in their victorious invasion, destroying cities, villages, and churches, without mercy, and even besieging the fortified city of Hippo. Yet he faithfully persevered in his work. The last ten days of his life he spent in close retirement, in prayers and tears and repeated reading of the penitential Psalms, which he had caused to be written on the wall over his bed, that he might have them always before his eyes. Thus with an act of penance he closed his life. In the midst of the terrors of the siege and the despair of his people he could not suspect what abundant seed he had sown for the future.
In the third month of the siege of Hippo, on the 28th of August, 430, in the seventy-sixth year of his age, in full possession of his faculties, and in the presence of many friends and pupils, he passed gently and happily into that eternity to which he had so long aspired. “O how wonderful,” wrote he in his Meditations, “how beautiful and lovely are the dwellings of Thy house, Almighty God! I burn with longing to behold Thy beauty in Thy bridal-chamber …. O Jerusalem, holy city of God, dear bride of Christ, my heart loves thee, my soul has already long sighed for thy beauty! …. The King of kings Himself is in the midst of thee, and His children are within thy walls. There are the hymning choirs of angels, the fellowship of heavenly citizens. There is the wedding-feast of all who from this sad earthly pilgrimage have reached thy joys. There is the far-seeing choir of the prophets; there the number of the twelve apostles; there the triumphant army of innumerable martyrs and holy confessors. Full and perfect love there reigns, for God is all in all. They love and praise, they praise and love Him evermore …. Blessed, perfectly and forever blessed, shall I too be, if, when my poor body shall be dissolved, … I may stand before my King and God, and see Him in His glory, as He Himself hath deigned to promise: ‘Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory which I had with Thee before the world was.’” This aspiration after the heavenly Jerusalem found grand expression in the hymn De gloria et gaudiis Paradisi:
“Ad perennis vitae fontem mens sativit arida,”
which is incorporated in the Meditations of Augustine, and the idea of which originated in part with him, though it was not brought into poetical form till long afterwards by Peter Damiani.
He left no will, for in his voluntary poverty he had no earthly property to dispose of, except his library; this he bequeathed to the church, and it was fortunately preserved from the depredations of the Arian barbarians.
Soon after his death Hippo was taken and destroyed by the Vandals. Africa was lost to the Romans. A few decades later the whole West-Roman empire fell in ruins. The culmination of the African church was the beginning of its decline. But the work of Augustine could not perish. His ideas fell like living seed into the soil of Europe, and produced abundant fruits in nations and countries of which he had never heard.
Augustine, the man with upturned eye, with pen in the left hand, and a burning heart in the right (as he is usually represented), is a philosophical and theological genius of the first order, towering like a pyramid above his age, and looking down commandingly upon succeeding centuries. He had a mind uncommonly fertile and deep, bold and soaring; and with it, what is better, a heart full of Christian love and humility. He stands of right by the side of the greatest philosophers of antiquity and of modern times. We meet him alike on the broad highways and the narrow footpaths, on the giddy Alpine heights and in the awful depths of speculation, wherever philosophical thinkers before him or after him have trod. As a theologian he is facile princeps, at least surpassed by no church father, scholastic, or reformer. With royal munificence he scattered ideas in passing, which have set in mighty motion other lands and later times. He combined the creative power of Tertullian with the churchly spirit of Cyprian, the speculative intellect of the Greek church with the practical tact of the Latin. He was a Christian philosopher and a philosophical theologian to the full. It was his need and his delight to wrestle again and again with the hardest problems of thought, and to comprehend to the utmost the divinely revealed matter of the faith. He always asserted, indeed, the primacy of faith, according to his maxim: Fides praecedit intellectum; appealing, with theologians before him, to the well-known passage of Isa_7:9 (in the lxx.): “Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis.” But to him faith itself was an acting of reason, and from faith to knowledge, therefore, there was a necessary transition. He constantly looked below the surface to the hidden motives of actions and to the universal laws of diverse events. The metaphysician and the Christian believer coalesced in him. His meditatio passes with the utmost ease into oratio, and his oratio into meditatio. With profundity he combined an equal clearness and sharpness of thought. He was an extremely skilful and a successful dialectician, inexhaustible in arguments and in answers to the objections of his adversaries.
He has enriched Latin literature with a greater store of beautiful, original, and pregnant proverbial sayings, than any classic author, or any other teacher of the church.
He had a creative and decisive hand in almost every dogma of the church, completing some, and advancing others. The center of his system is the free redeeming grace of God in Christ, operating through the actual, historical church. He is evangelical or Pauline in his doctrine of sin and grace, but catholic (that is, old-catholic, not Roman Catholic) in his doctrine of the church. The Pauline element comes forward mainly in the Pelagian controversy, the catholic-churchly in the Donatist; but each is modified by the other.
Dr. Baur incorrectly makes freedom the fundamental idea of the Augustinian system (it much better suits the Pelagian), and founds on this view an ingenious, but only half true, comparison between Augustine and Origen. “There is no church teacher of the ancient period,” says he, “who, in intellect and in grandeur and consistency of view, can more justly be placed by the side of Origen than Augustine; none who, with all the difference in individuality and in mode of thought, so closely resembles him. How far both towered above their times, is most clearly manifest in the very fact that they alone, of all the theologians of the first six centuries, became the creators of distinct systems, each proceeding from its definite idea, and each completely carried out; and this fact proves also how much the one system has that is analogous to the other. The one system, like the other, is founded upon the idea of freedom; in both there is a specific act, by which the entire development of human life is determined; and in both this is an act which lies far outside of the temporal consciousness of the individual; with this difference alone, that in one system the act belongs to each separate individual himself, and only falls outside of his temporal life and consciousness; in the other, it lies within the sphere of the temporal history of man, but is only the act of one individual. If in the system of Origen nothing gives greater offence than the idea of the pre-existence and fall of souls, which seems to adopt heathen ideas into the Christian faith, there is in the system of Augustine the same overleaping of individual life and consciousness, in order to explain from an act in the past the present sinful condition of man; but the pagan Platonic point of view is exchanged for one taken from the Old Testament …. What therefore essentially distinguishes the system of Augustine from that of Origen, is only this: the fall of Adam is substituted for the pre-temporal fall of souls, and what in Origen still wears a heathen garb, puts on in Augustine a purely Old Testament form.”
The learning of Augustine was not equal to his genius, nor as extensive as that of Origen and Eusebius, but still considerable for his time, and superior to that of any of the Latin fathers, with the single exception of Jerome. He had received in the schools of Madaura and Carthage a good theoretical and rhetorical preparation for the forum, which stood him in good stead also in theology. He was familiar with Latin literature, and was by no means blind to the excellencies of the classics, though he placed them far below the higher beauty of the Holy Scriptures. The Hortensius of Cicero (a lost work) inspired him during his university course with enthusiasm for philosophy and for the knowledge of truth for its own sake; the study of Platonic and Neo-Platonic works (in the Latin version of the rhetorician Victorinus) kindled in him an incredible fire; though in both he missed the holy name of Jesus and the cardinal virtues of love and humility, and found in them only beautiful ideals without power to conform him to them. His City of God, his book on heresies, and other writings, show an extensive knowledge of ancient philosophy, poetry, and history, sacred and secular. He refers to the most distinguished persons of Greece and Rome; he often alludes to Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Plotin, Porphyry, Cicero, Seneca, Horace, Virgil, to the earlier Greek and Latin fathers, to Eastern and Western heretics. But his knowledge of Greek literature was mostly derived from Latin translations. With the Greek language, as he himself frankly and modestly confesses, he had, in comparison with Jerome, but a superficial acquaintance. Hebrew he did not understand at all. Hence, with all his extraordinary familiarity with the Latin Bible, he made many mistakes in exposition. He was rather a thinker than a scholar, and depended mainly on his own resources, which were always abundant.
179. The Works of Augustine
The numerous writings of Augustine, the composition of which extended through four and forty years, are a mine of Christian knowledge and experience. They abound in lofty ideas, noble sentiments, devout effusions, clear statements of truth, strong arguments against error, and passages of fervid eloquence and undying beauty, but also in innumerable repetitions, fanciful opinions, and playful conjectures of his uncommonly fertile brain. His style is full of life and vigor and ingenious plays on words, but deficient in purity and elegance, and by no means free from wearisome prolixity and from that vagabunda loquacitas, with which his adroit opponent, Julian of Eclanum, charged him. He would rather, as he said, be blamed by grammarians, than not understood by the people; and he bestowed little care upon his style, though he many a time rises in lofty poetic flight. He made no point of literary renown, but, impelled by love to God and to the church, he wrote from the fulness of his mind and heart. The writings before his conversion, a treatise on the Beautiful (De Pulchro et Apto), the orations and eulogies which he delivered as rhetorician at Carthage, Rome, and Milan, are lost. The professor of eloquence, the heathen philosopher, the Manichaean heretic, the sceptic and freethinker, are known to us only, from his regrets and recantations in the Confessions and other works. His literary career for as commences in his pious retreat at Cassiciacum where he prepared himself for a public profession of his faith. He appears first, in the works composed at Cassiciacum, Rome, and near Tagaste, as a Christian philosopher, after his consecration to the priesthood as a theologian. Yet even in his theological works he everywhere manifests the metaphysical and speculative bent of his mind. He never abandoned or depreciated reason, he only subordinated it to faith and made it subservient to the defence of revealed truth. Faith is the pioneer of reason, and discovers the territory which reason explores.
The following is a classified view of his most important works, the contents of the most of which we have already noticed in former sections.
I. Autobiographical works. To these belong the Confessions and the Retractations; the former acknowledging his sins, the latter his theoretical errors. In the one he subjects his life, in the other his writings, to close criticism; and these productions therefore furnish the best standard for judging of his entire labors.
The Confessions are the most profitable, at least the most edifying, product of his pen; indeed, we may no doubt say, the most edifying book in all the patristic literature. They were accordingly, the most read even during his lifetime, and they have been the most frequently published since. A more sincere and more earnest book was never written. The historical part, to the tenth book, is one of the devotional classics of all creeds, and second in popularity only to the “Imitation of Christ,” by Thomas a Kempis, and Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Certainly no autobiography is superior to it in true humility, spiritual depth, and universal interest. Augustine’s experience, as a heathen sensualist, a Manichaean heretic, an anxious inquirer, a sincere penitent, and a grateful convert, is reflected in every human soul that struggles through the temptations of nature and the labyrinth of error to the knowledge of truth and the beauty of holiness, and after many sighs and tears finds rest ad peace in the arms of a merciful Saviour. Rousseau’s “Confessions,” and Goethe’s “Truth and Poetry,” though written in a radically different spirit, may be compared with Augustine’s Confessions as works of rare genius and of absorbing interest, but, by attempting to exalt human nature in its unsanctified state, they tend as much to expose its vanity and weakness, as the work of the bishop of Hippo, being written with a single eye to the glory of God, raises man from the dust of repentance to a new and imperishable life of the Spirit.
Augustine composed the Confessions about the year 400. The first ten books contain, in the form of a continuous prayer and confession before God, a general sketch of his earlier life, of his conversion, and of his return to Africa in the thirty-fourth year of his age. The salient points in these books are the engaging history of his conversion in Milan, and the story of the last days of his noble mother in Ostia, spent as it were at the very gate of heaven and in full assurance of a blessed reunion at the throne of glory. The last three books (and a part of the tenth) are devoted to speculative philosophy; they treat, partly in tacit opposition to Manichaeism, of the metaphysical questions of the possibility of knowing God, and the nature of time and space; and they give an interpretation of the Mosaic cosmogony in the style of the typical allegorical exegesis usual with the fathers, but foreign to our age; they are therefore of little value to the general reader, except as showing that even abstract metaphysical subjects may be devotionally treated.
The Retractations were produced in the evening of his life (427), when, mindful of the proverb: “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin,” and remembering that we must give account for every idle word, (Mat_12:36) he judged himself, that he might not be judged. He revised in chronological order the numerous works he had written before and during his episcopate, and retracted or corrected whatever in them seemed to his riper knowledge false or obscure. In all essential points, nevertheless, his theological system remained the same from his conversion to this time. The Retractations give beautiful evidence of his love of truth, his conscientiousness, and his humility.
To this same class should be added the Letters of Augustine, of which the Benedictine editors, in their second volume, give two hundred and seventy (including letters to Augustine) in chronological order from a.d. 386 to a.d. 429. These letters treat, sometimes very minutely, of all the important questions of his time, and give us an insight of his cares, his official fidelity, his large heart, and his effort to become, like Paul, all things to all men.
When the questions of friends and pupils accumulated, he answered them in special works; and in this way he produced various collections of Quaestiones and Responsiones, dogmatical, exegetical, and miscellaneous (a.d. 390, 397, etc.).
II. Philosophical treatises, in dialogue; almost all composed in his earlier life; either during his residence on the country-seat Cassiciacum in the vicinity of Milan, where he spent half a year before his baptism in instructive and stimulating conversation in a sort of academy or Christian Platonic banquet with Monica, his son Adeodatus, his brother Navigius, his friend Alypius, and some cousins and pupils; or during his second residence in Rome; or soon after his return to Africa.
To this class belong the works: Contra Academicos libri tres (386), in which he combats the skepticism and probabilism of the New Academy, — the doctrine that man can never reach the truth, but can at best attain only probability; De vita beata (386), in which he makes true blessedness to consist in the perfect knowledge of God; De ordine, — on the relation of evil to the divine order of the world (386); Soliloquia (387), communings with his own soul concerning God, the highest good, the knowledge of truth, and immortality; De immortalitate animae (387), a continuation of the Soliloquies; De quantitate animae (387), discussing sundry questions of the size, the origin, the incorporeity of the soul; De musica libri vi (387389); De magistro (389), in which, in a dialogue with his son Adeodatus, a pious and promising, but precocious youth, who died soon after his return to Africa (389), he treats on the importance and virtue of the word of God, and on Christ as the infallible Master. To these may be added the later work, De anima et ejus origine (419). Other philosophical works on grammar, dialectics (or ars bene disputandi), rhetoric, geometry, and arithmetic, are lost.
These works exhibit as yet little that is specifically Christian and churchly; but they show a Platonism seized and consecrated by the spirit of Christianity, full of high thoughts, ideal views, and discriminating argument. They were designed to present the different stages of human thought by which he himself had reached the knowledge of the truth, and to serve others as steps to the sanctuary. They form an elementary introduction to his theology. He afterwards, in his Retractations, withdrew many things contained in them, like the Platonic view of the pre-existence of the soul, and the Platonic idea that the acquisition of knowledge is a recollection or excavation of the knowledge hidden in the mind. The philosopher in him afterwards yielded more and more to the theologian, and his views became more positive and empirical, though in some cases narrower also and more exclusive. Yet he could never cease to philosophize, and even his later works, especially De Trinitate and De Civitate Dei, are full of profound speculations. Before his conversion he, followed a particular system of philosophy, first the Manichaean, then the Platonic; after his conversion he embraced the Christian philosophy, which is based on the divine revelation of the Scriptures, and is the handmaid of theology and religion; but at the same time he prepared the way for the catholic ecclesiastical philosophy, which rests on the authority of the church, and became complete in the scholasticism of the middle age.
In the history of philosophy he deserves a place in the highest rank, and has done greater service to the science of sciences than any other father, Clement of Alexandria and Origen not excepted. He attacked and refuted the pagan philosophy as pantheistic or dualistic at heart; he shook the superstitions of astrology and magic; he expelled from philosophy the doctrine of emanation, and the idea that God is the soul of the world; he substantially advanced psychology; he solved the question of the origin and the nature of evil more nearly than any of his predecessors, and as nearly as most of his successors; he was the first to investigate thoroughly the relation of divine omnipotence and omniscience to human freedom, and to construct a theodicy; in short, he is properly the founder of a Christian philosophy, and not only divided with Aristotle the empire of the medieval scholasticism, but furnished also living germs for new systems of philosophy, and will always be consulted in the speculative establishment of Christian doctrines.
III. Apologetic works against Pagans and Jews. Among these the twenty-two books, De Civitate Dei, are still well worth reading. They form the deepest and richest apologetic work of antiquity; begun in 413, after the occupation of Rome by the Gothic king Alaric, finished in 426, and often separately published. They condense his entire theory of the world and of man, and are the first attempt at a comprehensive philosophy of universal history under the dualistic view of two antagonistic currents or organized forces, a kingdom of this world which is doomed to final destruction and a kingdom of God which will last forever.
IV. Religious-Theological works of a general nature (in part anti-Manichaean): De utilitate credendi, against the Gnostic exaltation of knowledge (392); De fide et symbolo, a discourse which, though only presbyter, he delivered on the Apostles’ Creed before the council at Hippo at the request of the bishops in 393; De doctrina Christiana iv libri (397; the fourth book added in 426), a compend of exegetical theology for instruction in the interpretation of the Scriptures according to the analogy of the faith; De catechizandis rudibus, likewise for catechetical purposes (400); Enchiridion, or De fide, spe et caritate, a brief compend of the doctrine of faith and morals, which he wrote in 421, or later, at the request of Laurentius; hence also called Manuale ad Laurentium.
V. Polemic-Theological works. These are the most copious sources of the history of doctrine. The heresies collectively are reviewed in the book De haeresibus ad Quodvultdeum, written between 428 and 430 to a friend and deacon in Carthage, and giving a survey of eighty-eight heresies, from the Simonians to the Pelagians. In the work De vera religione (390) Augustine proposed to show that the true religion is to be found not with the heretics and schismatics, but only in the catholic church of that time.
The other controversial works are directed against the particular heresies of Manichaeism, Donatism, Arianism, Pelagianism, and Semi-Pelagianism. Augustine, with all the firmness of his convictions, was free from personal antipathy, and used the pen of controversy in the genuine Christian spirit, fortiter in re, suaviter in modo. He understood Paul’s ἀληθεύειν ἐν ἀγάπῃ, and forms in this respect a pleasing contrast to Jerome, who probably had by nature no more fiery temperament than he, but was less able to control it. “Let those,” he very beautifully says to the Manichaeans, “burn with hatred against you, who do not know how much pains it costs to find the truth, how hard it is to guard against error; — but I, who after so great and long wavering came to know the truth, must bear myself towards you with the same patience which my fellow-believers showed towards me while I was wandering in blind madness in your opinions.”
1. The anti-Manichaean works date mostly from his earlier life, and in time and matter follow immediately upon his philosophical writings. In them he afterwards found most to retract, because he advocated the freedom of the will against the Manichaean fatalism. The most important are: De moribus ecclesiae catholicae, et de moribus Manichaeorum, two books (written during his second residence in Rome, 388); De vera religione (390); Unde malum, et de libero arbitrio, usually simply De libero arbitrio, in three books, against the Manichaean doctrine of evil as a substance, and as having its seat in matter instead of free will (begun in 388, finished in 395); De Genesi contra Manichaeos, a defence of the biblical doctrine of creation (389); De duabus animabus, against the psychological dualism of the Manichaeans (392); Disputatio contra Fortunatum (a triumphant refutation of this Manichaean priest in Hippo in August, 392); Contra Epistolam Manichaei quam vocant fundamenti (397); Contra Faustum Manichaeum, in thirty-three books (400-404); De natura boni (404), etc.
These works treat of the origin of evil; of free will; of the harmony of the Old and New Testaments, and of revelation and nature; of creation out of nothing, in opposition to dualism and hylozoism; of the supremacy of faith over knowledge; of the authority of the Scriptures and the church; of the true and the false asceticism, and other disputed points; and they are the chief source of our knowledge of the Manichaean Gnosticism and of the arguments against it. Having himself belonged for nine years to this sect, Augustine was the better fitted for the task of refuting it, as Paul was peculiarly prepared for the confutation of the Pharisaic Judaism. His doctrine of the nature of evil is particularly valuable, He has triumphantly demonstrated for all time, that evil is not a corporeal thing, nor in any way substantial, but a product of the free will of the creature, a perversion of substance in itself good, a corruption of the nature created by God.
2. Against the Priscillianists, a sect in Spain built on Manichaean principles, are directed the book Ad Paulum Orosium contra Priscillianistas et Origenistas (411); the book Contra mendacium, addressed to Consentius (420); and in part the 190th Epistle (alias Ep. 157), to the bishop Optatus, on the origin of the soul (418), and two other letters, in which he refutes erroneous views on the nature of the soul, the limitation of future punishments, and the lawfulness of fraud for supposed good purposes.
3. The anti-Donatistic works, composed between the years 393 and 420, argue against separatism, and contain Augustine’s doctrine of the church and church-discipline, and of the sacraments. To these belong: Psalmus contra partem Donati (a.d. 393), a polemic popular song without regular metre, intended to offset the songs of the Donatists; Contra epistolam Parmeniani, written in 400 against the Carthaginian bishop of the Donatists, the successor of Donatus; De baptismo contra Donatistas, in favor of the validity of heretical baptism (400); Contra literas Petiliani (about 400), against the view of Cyprian and the Donatists, that the efficacy of the sacraments depends on the personal worthiness and the ecclesiastical status of the officiating priest; Ad Catholicos Epistola contra Donatistas, vulgo De unitate ecclesiae (402); Contra Cresconium grammaticum Donatistam (406); Breviculus collationis cum Donatistis, a short account of the three-days’ religious conference with the Donatists (411); De correctione Donatistarum (417); Contra Gaudentium, Donat. Episcopum, the last anti-Donatistic work (420).
4. The anti-Arian works have to do with the deity of Christ and of the Holy Ghost, and with the Holy Trinity. By far the most important of these are the fifteen books De Trinitate (400-416); — the most profound and discriminating production of the ancient church on the Trinity, in no respect inferior to the kindred works of Athanasius and the two Gregories, and for centuries final to the dogma. This may also be counted among the positive didactic works, for it is not directly controversial. The Collatio cum Maximino Ariano, an obscure babbler, belongs to the year 428.
5. The numerous anti-Pelagian works of Augustine are his most influential and most valuable. They were written between the years 412 and 429. In them Augustine, in his intellectual and spiritual prime, developes his system of anthropology and soteriology, and most nearly approaches the position of evangelical Protestantism: On the Guilt and the Remission of Sins, and Infant Baptism (412); On the Spirit and the Letter (413); On Nature and Grace (415); On the Acts of Pelagius (417); On the Grace of Christ, and Original Sin (418); On Marriage and Concupiscence (419); On Grace and Free Will (426); On Discipline and Grace (427); Against Julian of Eclanum (two large works, written between 421 and 429, the Second unfinished, and hence called Opus imperfectum); On the Predestination of the Saints (428); On the Gift of Perseverance (429); etc.
VI. Exegetical works. The best of these are: De Genesi ad literam (The Genesis word for word), in twelve books, an extended exposition of the first three chapters of Genesis, particularly the history of the creation literally interpreted, though with many mystical and allegorical interpretations also (written between 401 and 415); Enarrationes in Psalmos (mostly sermons); the hundred and twenty-four Homilies on the Gospel of John (416 and 417); the ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John (417); the Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount (393); the Harmony of the Gospels (De consensu evangelistarum, 400); the Epistle to the Galatians (394); and the unfinished commentary on the Epistle to the Romans.
Augustine deals more in lively, profound, and edifying thoughts on the Scriptures than in proper grammatical and historical exposition, for which neither he nor his readers had the necessary linguistic knowledge, disposition, or taste. He grounded his theology less upon exegesis than upon his Christian and churchly mind, saturated with Scriptural truths.
VII. Ethical or Practical and Ascetic works. Among these belong three hundred and ninety-six Sermones (mostly very short) de Scripturis (on texts of Scripture), de tempore (festival sermons), de sanctis (in memory of apostles, martyrs, and saints), and de diversis (on various occasions), some of them dictated by Augustine, some taken down by hearers. Also various moral treatises: De continentia (395); De mendacio (395), against deception (not to be confounded with the similar work already mentioned Contra mendacium, against the fraud-theory of the Priscillianists, written in 420); De agone Christiano (396); De opere monachorum, against monastic idleness (400); De bono conjugali adv. Jovinianum (400); De virginitate (401); De fide et operibus (413); De adulterinis conjugiis, on 1Co_7:10 sqq. (419); De bono viduitatis (418); De patientia (418); De cura pro mortuis gerenda, to Paulinus of Nola (421); De utilitate jejunii; De diligendo Deo; Meditationes; etc.
As we survey this enormous literary labor, augmented by many other treatises and letters now lost, and as we consider his episcopal labors, his many journeys, and his adjudications of controversies among the faithful, which often robbed him of whole days, we must be really astounded at the fidelity, exuberance, energy, and perseverance of this father of the church. Surely, such a life was worth the living.
180. The Influence of Augustine upon Posterity and His Relation to Catholicism and Protestantism
Before we take leave of this imposing character, and of the period of church history in which he shines as the brightest star, we must add some observations respecting the influence of Augustine on the world since his time, and his position with reference to the great antagonism of Catholicism and Protestantism. All the church fathers are, indeed, the common inheritance of both parties; but no other of them has produced so permanent effects on both, and no other stands in so high regard with both, as Augustine. Upon the Greek church alone has he exercised little or no influence; for this church stopped with the undeveloped synergistic anthropology of the previous age.
1. Augustine, in the first place, contributed much to the development of the doctrinal basis which Catholicism and Protestantism hold in common against such radical heresies of antiquity, as Manichaeism, Arianism, and Pelagianism. In all these great intellectual conflicts he was in general the champion of the cause of Christian truth against dangerous errors. Through his influence the canon of Holy Scripture (including, indeed, the Old Testament Apocrypha) was fixed in its present form by the councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397). He conquered the Manichaean dualism, hylozoism, and fatalism, and saved the biblical idea of God and of creation and the biblical doctrine of the nature of sin and its origin in the free will of man. He developed the Nicene dogma of the Trinity, completed it by the doctrine of the double procession of the Holy Ghost, and gave it the form in which it has ever since prevailed in the West, and in which it received classical expression from his school in the Athanasian Creed. In Christology, on the contrary, he added nothing, and he died shortly before the great Christological conflicts opened, which reached their ecumenical settlement at the council of Chalcedon, twenty years after his death. Yet he anticipated Leo in giving currency in the West to the important formula: “Two natures in one person.”
2. Augustine is also the principal theological creator of the Latin-Catholic system as distinct from the Greek Catholicism on the one hand, and from evangelical Protestantism on the other. He ruled the entire theology of the middle age, and became the father of scholasticism in virtue of his dialectic mind, and the father of mysticism in virtue of his devout heart, without being responsible for the excesses of either system. For scholasticism thought to comprehend the divine with the understanding, and lost itself at last in empty dialectics; and mysticism endeavored to grasp the divine with feeling, and easily strayed into misty sentimentalism; Augustine sought to apprehend the divine with the united power of mind and heart, of bold thought and humble faith. Anselm, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventura, are his nearest of kin in this respect. Even now, since the Catholic church has become a Roman church, he enjoys greater consideration in it than Ambrose, Hilary, Jerome, or Gregory the Great. All this cannot possibly be explained without an interior affinity.
His very conversion, in which, besides the Scriptures, the personal intercourse of the hierarchical Ambrose and the life of the ascetic Anthony had great influence, was a transition not from heathenism to Christianity (for he was already a Manichaean Christian), but from heresy to the historical, episcopally organized church, as, for the time, the sole authorized vehicle of the apostolic Christianity in conflict with those sects and parties which more or less assailed the foundations of the gospel. It was, indeed, a full and unconditional surrender of his mind and heart to God, but it was at the same time a submission of his private judgment to the authority of the church which led him to the faith of the gospel. In the same spirit he embraced the ascetic life, without which, according to the Catholic principle, no high religion is possible. He did not indeed enter a cloister, like Luther, whose conversion in Erfurt was likewise essentially catholic, but he lived in his house in the simplicity of a monk, and made and kept the vow of voluntary poverty and celibacy.
He adopted Cyprian’s doctrine of the church, and completed it in the conflict with Donatism by transferring the predicates of unity, holiness, universality, exclusiveness, and maternity, directly to the actual church of the time, which, with a firm episcopal organization, an unbroken succession, and the Apostles’ Creed, triumphantly withstood the eighty or the hundred opposing sects in the heretical catalogue of the day, and had its visible center in Rome. In this church he had found rescue from the shipwreck of his life, the home of true, Christianity, firm ground for his thinking, satisfaction for his heart, and a commensurate field for the wide range of his powers. The predicate of infallibility alone he does not plainly bring forward; he assumes a progressive correction of earlier councils by later; and in the Pelagian controversy he asserts the same independence towards pope Zosimus, which Cyprian before him had shown towards pope Stephen in the controversy on heretical baptism, with the advantage of having the right on his side, so that Zosimus found himself compelled to yield to the African church.
He was the first to give a clear and fixed definition of the sacrament, as a visible sign of invisible grace, resting on divine appointment; but he knows nothing of the number seven; this was a much later enactment. In the doctrine of baptism he is entirely Catholic, though in logical contradiction with his dogma of predestination; but in the doctrine of the holy communion he stands, like his predecessors, Tertullian and Cyprian, nearer to the Calvinistic theory of a spiritual presence and fruition of Christ’s body and blood. He also contributed to promote, at least in his later writings, the Catholic faith of miracles, and the worship of Mary; though he exempts the Virgin only from actual sin, not from original, and, with all his reverence for her, never calls her mother of God.
At first an advocate of religious liberty and of purely spiritual methods of opposing error, he afterwards asserted the fatal principle of the coge intrare, and lent the great weight of his authority to the system of civil persecution, at the bloody fruits of which in the middle age he himself would have shuddered; for he was always at heart a man of love and gentleness, and personally acted on the glorious principle: “Nothing conquers but truth, and the victory of truth is love.”
Thus even truly great and good men have unintentionally, through mistaken zeal, become the authors of much mischief.
3. But, on the other hand, Augustine is, of all the fathers, nearest to evangelical Protestantism, and may be called, in respect of his doctrine of sin and grace, the first forerunner of the Reformation. The Lutheran and Reformed churches have ever conceded to him, without scruple, the cognomen of Saint, and claimed him as one of the most enlightened witnesses of the truth and most striking examples of the marvellous power of divine grace in the transformation of a sinner. It is worthy of mark, that his Pauline doctrines, which are most nearly akin to Protestantism, are the later and more mature parts of his system, and that just these found great acceptance with the laity. The Pelagian controversy, in which he developed his anthropology, marks the culmination of his theological and ecclesiastical career, and his latest writings were directed against the Pelagian Julian and the Semi-Pelagians in Gaul, who were brought to his notice by the two friendly laymen, Prosper and Hilary. These anti-Pelagian works have wrought mightily, it is most true, upon the Catholic church, and have held in check the Pelagianizing tendencies of the hierarchical and monastic system, but they have never passed into its blood and marrow. They waited for a favorable future, and nourished in silence an opposition to the prevailing system.
Even in the middle age the better sects, which attempted to simplify, purify, and spiritualize the reigning Christianity by return to the Holy Scriptures, and the reformers before the Reformation such as Wiclif, Russ, Wessel, resorted most, after the apostle Paul, to the bishop of Hippo as the representative of the doctrine of free grace.
The Reformers were led by his writings into a deeper understanding of Paul, and so prepared for their great vocation. No church teacher did so much to mould Luther and Calvin; none furnished them so powerful weapons against the dominant Pelagianism and formalism; none is so often quoted by them with esteem and love.
All the Reformers in the outset, Melancthon and Zwingle among them, adopted his denial of free will and his doctrine of predestination, and sometimes even went beyond him into the abyss of supralapsarianism, to cut out the last roots of human merit and boasting. In this point Augustine holds the same relation to the Catholic church, as Luther to the Lutheran; that is, he is a heretic of unimpeachable authority, who is more admired than censured even in his extravagances; yet his doctrine of predestination was indirectly condemned by the pope in Jansenism, as Luther’s view was rejected as Calvinism by the Form of Concord. For Jansenism was nothing but a revival of Augustinianism in the bosom of the Roman Catholic church.
The excess of Augustine and the Reformers in this direction is due to the earnestness and energy of their sense of sin and grace. The Pelagian looseness could never beget a reformer. It was only the unshaken conviction of man’s own inability, of unconditional dependence on God, and of the almighty power of his grace to give us strength for every good work, which could do this. He who would give others the conviction that he has a divine vocation for the church and for mankind, must himself be penetrated with the faith of an eternal, unalterable decree of God, and must cling to it in the darkest hours.
In great men, and only in great men, great opposites and apparently antagonistic truths live together. Small minds cannot hold them. The catholic, churchly, sacramental, and sacerdotal system stands in conflict with the evangelical Protestant Christianity of subjective, personal experience. The doctrine of universal baptismal regeneration, in particular, which presupposes a universal call (at least within the church), can on principles of logic hardly be united with the doctrine of an absolute predestination, which limits the decree of redemption to a portion of the baptized. Augustine supposes, on the one hand, that every baptized person, through the inward operation of the Holy Ghost, which accompanies the outward act of the sacrament, receives the forgiveness of sins, and is translated from the state of nature into the state of grace, and thus, qua baptizatus, is also a child of God and an heir of eternal life; and yet, on the other hand, he makes all these benefits dependent on the absolute will of God, who saves only a certain number out of the “mass of perdition,” and preserves these to the end. Regeneration and election, with him, do not, as with Calvin, coincide. The former may exist without the latter, but the latter cannot exist without the former. Augustine assumes that many are actually born into the kingdom of grace only to perish again; Calvin holds that in the case of the non-elect baptism is an unmeaning ceremony; the one putting the delusion in the inward effect, the other in the outward form. The sacramental, churchly system throws the main stress upon the baptismal regeneration to the injury of the eternal election; the Calvinistic and Puritan system sacrifices the virtue of the sacrament to the election; the Lutheran and Anglican system seeks a middle ground, without being able to give a satisfactory theological solution of the problem. The Anglican church allows the two opposite views, and sanctions the one in the baptismal service of the Book of Common Prayer, the other in her Thirty-nine Articles, which are moderately Calvinistic.
It was an evident ordering of God, that the Augustinian system, like the Latin Bible of Jerome, appeared just in that transitional period of history, in which the old civilization was passing away before the flood of barbarism, and a new order of things, under the guidance of the Christian religion, was in preparation. The church, with her strong, imposing organization and her firm system of doctrine, must save Christianity amidst the chaotic turmoil of the great migration, and must become a training-school for the barbarian nations of the middle age.
In this process of training, next to the Holy Scriptures, the scholarship of Jerome and the theology and fertile ideas of Augustine were the most important intellectual agent.
Augustine was held in so universal esteem that he could exert influence in all directions, and even in his excesses gave no offence. He was sufficiently catholic for the principle of church authority, and yet at the same time so free and evangelical that he modified its hierarchical and sacramental character, reacted against its tendencies to outward, mechanical ritualism, and kept alive a deep consciousness of sin and grace, and a spirit of fervent and truly Christian piety, until that spirit grew strong enough to break the shell of hierarchical tutelage, and enter a new stage of its development. No other father could have acted more beneficently on the Catholicism of the middle age, and more successfully provided for the evangelical Reformation than St. Augustine, the worthy successor of Paul, and the precursor of Luther and Calvin.
Had he lived at the time of the Reformation, he would in all probability have taken the lead of the evangelical movement against the prevailing Pelagianism of the Roman church. For we must not forget that, notwithstanding their strong affinity, there is an important difference between Catholicism and Romanism or Popery. They sustain a similar relation to each other as the Judaism of the Old Testament dispensation, which looked to, and prepared the way for, Christianity, and the Judaism after the crucifixion and after the destruction of Jerusalem, which is antagonistic to Christianity. Catholicism covers the entire ancient and medieval history of the church, and includes the Pauline, Augustinian, or evangelical tendencies which increased with the corruptions of the papacy and the growing sense of the necessity of a “reformatio in capite et membris.” Romanism proper dates from the council of Trent, which gave it symbolical expression and anathematized the doctrines of the Reformation. Catholicism is the strength of Romanism, Romanism is the weakness of Catholicism. Catholicism produced Jansenism, Popery condemned it. Popery never forgets and never learns anything, and can allow no change in doctrine (except by way of addition), without sacrificing its fundamental principle of infallibility, and thus committing suicide. But Catholicism may ultimately burst the chains of Popery which have so long kept it confined, and may assume new life and vigor.
Such a personage as Augustine, still holding a mediating place between the two great divisions of Christendom, revered alike by both, and of equal influence with both, is furthermore a welcome pledge of the elevating prospect of a future reconciliation of Catholicism and Protestantism in a higher unity, conserving all the truths, losing all the errors, forgiving all the sins, forgetting all the enmities of both. After all, the contradiction between authority and freedom, the objective and the subjective, the churchly and the personal, the organic and the individual, the sacramental and the experimental in religion, is not absolute, but relative and temporary, and arises not so much from the nature of things, as from the deficiencies of man’s knowledge and piety in this world. These elements admit of an ultimate harmony in the perfect state of the church, corresponding to the union of the divine and human natures, which transcends the limits of finite thought and logical comprehension, and is yet completely realized in the person of Christ. They are in fact united in the theological system of St. Paul, who had the highest view of the church, as the mystical “body of Christ,” and “the pillar and ground of the truth,” and who was at the same time the great champion of evangelical freedom, individual responsibility, and personal union of the believer with his Saviour. We believe in and hope for one holy catholic apostolic church, one communion of saints, one fold, and one Shepherd. The more the different churches become truly Christian, or draw nearer to Christ, and the more they give real effect to His kingdom, the nearer will they come to one another. For Christ is the common head and vital center of all believers, and the divine harmony of all discordant human sects and creeds. In Christ, says Pascal, one of the greatest and noblest disciples of Augustine, In Christ all contradictions are solved.