The soul of St Augustine
St Augustine was the founder of the Augustinian order and is known as the last ancient man and the first modern man. As intellectual executive of the North African Church, as well as the entire Western Church of his time, he made an applicable ellipsis on Christian dogma in general. As activist in all theological and ecclesiastical matters, he naturally became the appropriate commander of the orthodox doctrine against Manichaean, Donatist and Pelagian.
He was born in the year 354 on the 13th of November at Tagaste, a village in the North African province of Numidia. Always portrayed as the man with an upturned eye, a pen in the left hand and a burning heart in the right, he was a theological genius with an appallingly deep and opulent mind and a heart full of love.
He inherited his deep yearning for God from his father, and expresses this yearning when he says “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it rests in Thee”. His lifelong passion, which also expresses the crux of his philosophy, is found in a statement from his “Soliloquies – Deum et animam scire cupio” – I desire to know God and the soul. God and the soul became the only two themes in his entire philosophy.
The abiding importance of St Augustine's doctrine rests mainly on his profound understanding of Christian truth. He rearranged the whole of the theology of the Middle Ages and his influence on the evolution of theology is immense. His use of the proposition “Si fallor, sum” – if I err, I exist – made him an anticipator of Descartes with his “cogito, ergo sum” – I think, therefore I am. But his motivation was quite different from what was born in the doubtful mind of Rene Descartes who said I think, therefore I am. Prof. DW Hamlyn, in his book “The history of Western Philosophy” says: “It is indeed true that the proposition constitutes a vital step in the rejection of skepticism…………. Augustine is saying that we cannot doubt things in general or suppose them false without accepting our own existence. That is not meant to lead us, as with Descartes…………to a vindication of the scope of knowledge and a claim for the existence of a world apart from ourselves.” Augustine says: “The soul forms its own impressions in response to what happens in the body and the things that affect it, and makes its own judgments on that basis.” He was interested above all, in the thought activities of the soul. Thoughts involving necessary truths, such as logic and mathematics, for these eternal truths, he believed to be indications of illumination by God.”
Augustinian thought is based on the soul as the innermost reality, which he calls the ‘inner man’. “Therefore, St Augustine’s dialectic in his search for God is confession. St Augustine relates his own life. The soul is raised from the body to the contemplation of itself, then to reason, and finally to the light which illuminates it - God Himself. To arrive at God, one begins with the reality of God’s creation, and especially with the inner nature of man.” He refers to the soul as the ‘interior of man’. The main theme of his “Confessions” is the intimate analysis of his own soul, which is of immense value in the knowledge about the inner man. He says: “The character of the spiritual is not merely negative, that is, not mere immateriality, but something positive………..the faculty of entering within oneself. The spirit has a ‘within’, a chez zoi, in which it can seclude itself – a privilege which it shares with no other reality………… Noli foras ire, in teredi, in interiore homine habitat veritas – do not go outside, return within yourself; truth dwells in the interior of man”
“Man is above all the image of God, imago Dei, because he is a mind, a spirit. He is at the same time rational like an angel, and mortal like an animal, with an intermediate position.” - Marias. In the triple division of the faculties of the soul – memory, intelligence and will (or love), St Augustine discovers a trace of the Trinity. “The unifying factor in the person – who possesses these three intimately interconnected faculties, but who is not any of them – is the single ‘ego’, which remembers, understands and loves, making a perfect distinction among these faculties, and yet preserving the oneness of life, mind and essence.” - Marias.
During this period, a perplexed St Augustine, along with other Church fathers and philosophers, found himself torn between Traducianism and Creationism . He realizes the weakness of Tradusianism and become more attracted to Creationism.
His contribution to Philosophy – “intra incubiculum mentis tuae”-“enter into the chamber of your mind” – serves to a great extend as the root of modern meditation, not only based on Philosophy, but also on Theology as we find in Ps 4:4 “……….commune with your own heart upon your bed and be still”; Ps 5:1: “Give ear to my words o Lord, consider my meditation”; Ps 63:6 “When I remember Thee upon my bed, and meditate on Thee in the night watches”; Ps 104:34 “My meditation of Him shall be sweet; I will be glad in the Lord”. His ultimate passion was contemplation.
For St Augustine, man has a natural light which makes it possible for him to know, to be aware, and in this same way, he has a moral conscience. “The divine eternal law to which everything answers, illumines our intelligence, and it’s imperatives constitute natural law………..it is not enough for man to know the law, he must also love it.” In St Augustine we find the impetus for both Christianity and the modern epoch, the inner man. He asks man to enter into the chamber of his mind, his own interior, to discover himself and to discover God. This is the abysmal root of Augustinian thought which was adopted by St Anslem and via him, adopted by all of Western mysticism.
This great thinker died on the 28th of August 430, at the age of seventy-six. Many of his friends and pupils were present at his peaceful passing.
This article was posted on April 20, 2006
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