RAJ NANDY

****medieval Philosophy: Part-Ii: St Augustne Of Hippo

(In continuation from end of Part -I, 'Advent of Christianity'
on page 4, sl. no..68.)

* PART – II *
ST AUGUSTINE – BISHOP OF HIPPO
(354 AD – 430 AD)

HIS EARLY LIFE:
He was the last of the great classical thinkers,
And the first amongst the Medieval ones!
Was born in the town of Thagaste in 354 AD, -
Forty five miles south of Hippo, in the Roman
province of Numidia, -
In North Africa, in our present day Algeria!
His father was a pagan and mother Monica, -
a devout Christian!
She wanted her son to be baptized, and not to
remain a pagan!
At an early age after having read the writings
of Cicero,
Augustine’s initial interest in philosophy had
begun to show!
At the age of seventeen was sent to Carthage
to study rhetoric;
There he adopted a hedonistic life style and
became a Manichean freak!
He took a concubine for the next thirteen years,
And she also gave birth to his son Adeodatus;
Causing great distress to Monica, driving
her to tears!
Young Augustine taught rhetoric for nine years
in Carthage;
But his life began to change, when at thirty
years of age,
He became a professor at the imperial court
in Milan!
For there he met Bishop Ambrose, who had
influenced him the most!
His mother soon followed him to Milan, -
To arrange a society marriage for her son!
But Augustine had to wait for the would-
be-bride to come of age;
And he took a second concubine, - forcing
his mother to get into a rage!

HIS BAPTISM:
Subsequently, experiencing inner torment and after
much introspection,
He decided to lead a life of celibacy with religious
contemplation!
Breaking his engagement and giving up his second
concubine;
In 387 both he and his son, by Bishop Ambrose
got baptized, -
To serve God and in search of a life divine!
But during his return journey to Africa, -
He lost his dear mother Monica!
This was followed by the loss of his only son,
And Augustine felt lost, with nowhere to turn!
He sold his property and donated his money to
charity,
And converted his house into a lay monastery!

Ordained as a Priest and next as Bishop:
In 391 Augustine visited Hippo to hear Bishop
Valerius speak,
Who was a Greek, and Latin he could hardly
speak!
The Bishop had prayed to God for a Latin priest;
So the young Augustine for him was God sent!
He was appointed as his deputy, and as a priest
ordained!
And five years later, after the death of Valerius,
Since God’s ways are truly mysterious;
In 393AD Augustine was made a Bishop to
succeed Valerius!
Augustine continued his writings on the subject
of Christian theology;
And with excellent expositions on Medieval
Philosophy!

His Death And Sainthood:
When the fortified city of Hippo lay under a
fourteen month’s long siege;
On 28 August 430 AD, the great Augustine
breathed his last to set himself free!
Hippo was later burnt down by the Vandals,
But Augustine’s monastery and library, -
Were left untouched by those barbarians!
Initially his body in Hippo was laid to rest;
But according to historian Bede, around 720 AD,
Augustine’s body was finally rested at St Paul’s
Church in Pavia, Italy!
In 1303 he was declared Doctor of the Church by
the Roman Bishop Boniface, -
And was officially canonized as a Holy Saint!

HIS TOTAL WRITINGS:
In terms of his surviving works, he was the most
prolific of Latin writers;
Which consists of 117 books, some 500 holy
sermons, and around 200 letters!
Both his theological and philosophical works show,
Platonic and Neo-platonic influences, - inclusive
of Aristotle, Virgil and Cicero!
Whereas Plato’s and Aristotle’s total works contain, -
Half a million and a million words respectively;
Augustine uses around five million words for his
entire philosophy!
Amongst his most significant and enduring works are; -
His ‘Confessions’, ‘The City of God’, on ‘The Trinity’,
and ‘On the Christian Doctrine’!
And amongst these, the first two are considered as
literary classics,
And I will be highlighting two of these!
Augustine’s writings against the heresies of his time
are well known;
And also on educational, moral and ethical issues, -
Inclusive of his writings on the salvation of the
human soul!
By reading his writings we try to delve Augustine’s
pious mind,
Despite the yawning gap of sixteen centuries he has
left behind!

HIS “Confessions” (397 – 401 AD)
Augustine wrote his ‘Confessions’ after becoming
the Bishop of Hippo, -
Completing his twelve books in 401, spread over
a period of four year’s or so!
It is directly addressed to God in a style unique in
those days, -
Using the first nine books to admit his sins and
seek His forgiveness!
The last three books are a transition from auto-
biography to direct analysis, -
Of philosophical and theological issues relating to
the Christian faith with due emphasis!
But his 11th Book deserves a special mention,
Dealing with concept of Time and God’s creation!
Infinity and nothingness were concepts alien to the
Greek mind,
Yet God in ‘Genesis’ created the world from void -
with time!
Though God created Time along with His creation,
He Himself is timeless and remains outside His
own creation!
Time is a subjective element of the human mind;
As we measure its passing with the illusion of our
mind!
The past remains as our memory and the future as
our expectation;
Yet both past and present are contained in our
present moment as sight, -
In all our visual contemplations!
Yet this present moment too, has no permanence
or dimensions!
Bertrand Russell praised it as pure philosophy!
Since Augustine foreshadowed Descartes and Kant, –
By treating Time subjectively!

'THE CITY of GOD' (413 -429 AD) :
Perhaps the lengthiest of his single works -
and a great endeavor;
Involving thirteen years of his intellectual labor!
Remains as the finest example of Patristic literature!
It was a vindication of Christianity against the
heathen attacks, -
In view of the sacking of the city of Rome by the
barbarians!
It was the time when the Greco-Roman civilization
was witnessing its downfall,
With the new Christian civilization rising from its
ruins, -
Emerging to stand firm and tall!
Rome which had not been sacked in 700 years,
Had come to be known as the Eternal City, and
had no fears!
After it fell to Alaric in 410 AD, the Romans
blamed it on Christianity!
For Augustine the only ‘eternal city’ was the
‘City of God’, -
That spiritual kingdom in Heaven, far removed
from the earthly sort!
The kingdom of the spirit awaits a true Christian
in that Heavenly City,
Thus proceeds his progressive arguments in his
22 Books - systematically!
Augustine weaves aspects of philosophy, theology,
politics and Western history within,
Though these areas of learning never existed then -
as separate disciplines!
The classical pagan view held History to be cyclic, -
With some variations but mostly repetitive!
In keeping with the Judeo-Christian tradition, -
Augustine declared History to be linear;
It was not cyclic and was rather dissimilar!
He quoted the Bible in defense with its linear
sweep, -
From the Genesis till the Apocalypse complete!
Thus History has a positive beginning with a
positive end;
Let us prepare ourselves for the Day of Judgment!
One day man’s political ventures shall all end,
Just as the great Roman Empire before their eyes fell!
But only myopic men will blame the Christians, -
St Augustine had written and felt!
Let me quote from the hymn I had once sung,
In the morning chapel before the school begun; -
“Kingdoms will rise, kingdom will fall,
For nations refuse to hear the Lord’s call;
But the word of God endures for evermore! ”
Thus Augustine distinguishes between the
City of Men and the ‘City of God’, -
Which is not a political but as a spiritual entity, -
with the Lord!

HIS OTHER WORKS:
Augustine’s second largest work was on the
subject of ‘Trinity’,
Which was directed against the Arian controversy
of the 4th century!
Jesus was human and was made by the Father, -
the Arians said!
But the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were
of ‘one substance’ - as per Christian faith!
The Greek word for it was ‘homoousios’;
And this was adopted by the Council of Nicene
in 325 AD as unanimous!
Augustine wrote against the Manicheans, the
Donatists, the Arians and the Pelagians;
And with his writings defended the Catholic
Church from those heretics and pagans!

HIS RELEVANCE:
A person should be judged in respect to his
time and age,
To give us a proper perspective and his true
relevance!
St Augustine was a transitional figure between the
Classical and the Medieval Age;
Quoted extensively by philosophers, theologians,
and later religious sage!
The figure of St Augustine towers like a giant colossus,
Whose lengthening shadow falls beyond his Age, -
looming large!
Rather than formulating new dogmas for the Church,
or new theologies,
He valiantly defended the Faith from the repeated
onslaughts of the heretics!
Augustine unlike Aquinas, was neither a system builder,
nor an University teacher;
But an isolated pious thinker and writer of his age,
Searching for deeper allegorical meanings in the Bible, -
To interpret for us the Lord’s message!
That ‘Supreme Being’ of the Neoplatonists known as -
‘The ONE’,
Was named ‘God’ by Augustine, from Whom all
things begun!
And in doing so, St Augustine is said to have baptized -
the pagan Greek Plato!
His writings on the Theory of Knowledge, on the
problem of Evil, and Divine Grace;
Had disarmed all the vacillating skeptics of his Age!
His theory of Creation from ‘nothing’ -‘Ex Nihilo’;
Is consistent with our Big Bang theory of today, -
as we know!
In his synthesis of faith and reason, and religion with
philosophy,
He later inspired St Anselm to prove God’s existence, -
With arguments from cosmology!
Following him, Aquinas defines Sin, as “a word, deed
or desire; anything that disobeys God’s will;
As a privation of Good, and synonymous with evil! ”
In his wealth of perception and dialectic sharpness
of thoughts;
For religious fervor with which his greatness of aim
and action is wrought;
Even after sixteen long centuries St Augustine is never
forgot!
Regarded as the greatest of Apologist Fathers of the
Patristic Age,
And a leading Doctor of the Latin Church and a sage!
St Augustine shines bright in the firmament of the
nascent Church,
Shedding his illuminating light from the Heavens
above!
............................................. ...................................
(To be continued; Next is Part- III, on
'Medieval Philosophy After St Augustne ''.)
............................................. ................................................. ....
I have tried to make it simple for the convenience of my readers! Thanks for reading! - From Raj Nandy, New Delhi.

Poem Submitted: Friday, March 26, 2010
Poem Edited: Saturday, March 27, 2010

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Comments about ****medieval Philosophy: Part-Ii: St Augustne Of Hippo by RAJ NANDY

  • Sandra Fowler (3/30/2010 5:08:00 PM)

    St. Augustine came alive before
    my very eyes. Quite engrossing.
    it held my attention from beginning
    to end.

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  • Indira RenganathanIndira Renganathan (3/28/2010 10:26:00 AM)

    'That ‘Supreme Being’ of the Neoplatonists known as -
    ‘The ONE’,
    Was named ‘God’ by Augustine, from Whom all
    things begun! '.....news to me....infact the latter half is more interesting...this write of yours prove that you're a dedicated historian....well done and God bless....

    Thanks a lot again for all your special comments Raj...it was in the beginning days of my poetry writing I happened to read some of Aurobindo's sonnets...I was greatly attracted and developed a priority liking for his writing...and later once when I happened to note the Mother-devotees reading Savitri customarily I became more curious about its content...I bought it recently and tried my level best to understand it...but only in vain....now that I need more and more new themes for my poetry I thought about giving my appreciation on Savitri..very challenging to choose the lines as every line of Aurobindo's verse is admirable and graceous....without dictionary my poor english can not get on too..I'm curious, anxious to work further as I now have started to acquire though not a well grasping atleast a guess..with my so far reading I can say it definitely gives one a celestial experience...thanks a lot once again...also I'm much privileged and honoured by your introduction as a prelude to my work when I finish...hope God bless us both...regards-Indira

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  • Indira RenganathanIndira Renganathan (3/27/2010 10:58:00 AM)

    Life began to march with concubines to end in celibacy and finally a scenario of a bishop....destiny's drama but ends with a fantastic truth of a philosophy...I mean these lines....
    'Though God created Time along with His creation,
    He Himself is timeless and remains outside His
    own creation!
    Time is a subjective element of the human mind;
    As we measure its passing with the illusion of our
    mind!
    The past remains as our memory and the future as
    our expectation;
    Yet both past and present are contained in our
    present moment as sight, -
    In all our visual contemplations!
    Yet this present moment too, has no permanence
    or dimensions!
    Bertrand Russell praised it as pure philosophy! '....superb....need to read the rest...so my comment on that a little later....
    and thanks for your kind suggestion...first I need to finish the whole Savitri which I think may take another six or seven months reviewed by myself for two or three times before my final consent...I'm really very much happy that I 've got a true poet friend to guide me...thanks thousands of times from my heart dear friend

    Report Reply
    0 person liked.
    0 person did not like.



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