The largest Christian thinker of the patristic period and the most prominent of the “fathers of the church” was Aurelius Augustine (354-430). “You created us for yourself, and our heart will be restless until it rests in you.” This sentence begins “Confessions”, in thirty books of which he, in the form of a prayer, talks about his life, distinguished by anxiety, constant search and many mistakes, until he found inner peace – peace of the soul – in Christianity.
He was born in the town of Tagaste in Numidia (North Africa), was the son of a pagan father and a Christian mother. In Carthage, Rome and Milan, he studied rhetoric. Reading Cicero’s treatises aroused his interest in philosophy, he wanted to find the truth. At first he believed that he would find it among the Manicheans, in the doctrine of the dualism of good and evil. Later academic skepticism emerges in his thoughts, from which he is freed by studying Neo-Platonists, in particular Plotinus. Platonic philosophy comes closest to religious faith.
In the end, Augustine finds truth in Christianity, to which he proceeds in 387, primarily under the influence of the Christian preacher, the Bishop of Milan Ambrose. Later, he was appointed presbyter and elevated to the rank of bishop of the North African city of Hippo. Here in 430 he died.
In his works, he imparted erroneous teachings to passionate judgment, which he himself followed for a long time. In a treatise directed against academics, he condemns skepticism, opposes Manichaeism and other heretical teachings. In addition to the “Confessions”, his main treatises include: “On the Trinity” (“De trinitate”, 400-410), where theological views are systematized, and “On the city of God” (“De civitate Dei”, 412- 426).
The last treatise is considered the main work of Augustine, because it contains his historical and philosophical views. In the first five books of this voluminous work, Augustine indicates that Rome fell through the fault of its own egoism and immorality, but not through the fault of Christianity, as they say. The next five books talk about the despicable paganism and the fallacies of the old philosophy. In the remaining twenty books he writes about the opposition between the secular (devilish) state and the kingdom of God, the incarnation of which is the church; the struggle between them is represented as the struggle of good and evil.
The way of presenting the material in the writings of Augustine corresponds to his turbulent, restless nature; he wrote passionately and indomitably, abruptly moved from one position to another. It was said about him that none of the great thinkers had such differences between the highest and the lowest, that among the church saints he was the least holy and most human. His work does not have a monolithic nature, it does not form a single system, but is the source from which Christian philosophy has long scooped.
Augustine’s philosophy emerges as a symbiosis of Christian and ancient doctrines. Of the ancient ancient philosophical doctrines, the main source for him was Platonism, which he knew primarily in the presentation of the Neo-Platonists. Plato’s idealism in metaphysics, absolutism in the theory of knowledge, recognition of the difference of spiritual principles in the structure of the world (good and bad soul, the existence of individual souls), emphasis on the irrational factors of spiritual life – all this influenced the formation of his own views.
The teachings of Augustine became the determining spiritual factor of medieval thinking, influenced the whole of Christian Western Europe. None of the authors of the patristic period has reached the depth of thought that characterized Augustine. He and his followers in religious philosophy considered the knowledge of God and divine love to be the only goal, the only complete meaning, the value of the human spirit. He devoted very little space to art, culture, and the natural sciences.
Christian basis of his philosophy Augustine attached great importance. He realized what was only indicated by his predecessors: he made God the center of philosophical thinking, his outlook was theocentric. From the principle that God is primary, it follows his position on the superiority of the soul over the body, will and feelings over the mind. This primacy has both metaphysical, and epistemological and ethical character.
God is the highest being, only his existence flows from his own nature, everything else does not necessarily exist. He is the only one whose existence is independent; everything else exists only by divine will. God is the cause of the existence of all things, of all his changes; He not only created the world, but also constantly preserves it, continues to create it. Augustine rejects the notion that the world, once created, develops further on itself.
God is also the most important subject of knowledge, the knowledge of transient, relative things is meaningless for absolute knowledge. God acts at the same time as the cause of knowledge, he brings light into the human spirit, into human thought, helps to find people the truth. God is the highest good and the cause of all good. Since everything exists thanks to God, so every good comes from God.
The orientation towards God is natural for man, and only through uniting with him can a person achieve happiness. The philosophy of Augustine thus opens the door to theology.
Soul Augustine understands purely spiritualistic, arguing in the spirit of the ideas of Plato. The soul as an original substance can be neither a bodily property, nor a kind of body. It does not contain anything material, has only the function of thinking, will, memory, but has nothing to do with biological functions. From the body of the soul differ perfection. Such an understanding existed in Greek philosophy, but for Augustine it was first said that this perfection comes from God, that the soul is close to God and is immortal.
We know the soul better than the body, the knowledge of the soul is definite, and the body is the opposite. Moreover, the soul, not the body, knows God, the body interferes with knowledge. The superiority of the soul over the body requires that a person take care of the soul, suppress sensual pleasures.
The basis of the spiritual life is the will, but not the mind. This statement is based on the fact that the essence of each thing is manifested in its activity, but not in passivity. Hence the conclusion that the human nature is characterized not by the mind, which has a passive character, but actions, an active will. The teachings of Augustine about the primacy of the will differs from the ancient Greek rationalism. The irrationalistic understanding of the human spirit comes to the fact that the essence of the spirit is free will. This position of Augustine embodied not only in psychology, but also in theology: the primacy of the will applies to the divine essence. His philosophy thus moves from intellectualism and rationalism to voluntarism.
The whole philosophy of Augustine focused on God as a single, perfect, absolute being, while the world matters as God’s creation and reflection. Without God, nothing can be done or known. In all of nature nothing can happen without the participation of supernatural forces. Augustine’s worldview was very clearly opposed to naturalism. God as one being and truth is the content of metaphysics, God as the source of knowledge is the subject of the theory of knowledge; God as the only good and beautiful is the subject of ethics, God as an individual, omnipotent and full of mercy is the main issue of religion.
God is not only infinite being, but also a person full of love. Neoplatonists theorized in the same direction, but God was not understood by them as a person. In Neo-Platonism, the world is an emanation of the divine one, a necessary product of the natural process, in Augustine the world is an act of divine will. Augustine has a tendency towards dualism, in contrast to neoplatonic monism, based on the idea that God and the world have the same character.
According to Augustine, the world as a free act of God is a rational creation, God created it on the basis of its own idea. Christian Platonism was an Augustinian variant of Plato’s doctrine of ideas, which was understood in theological and personalistic spirit. God hides a perfect example of the real world. Both Plato and Augustine have two worlds: the ideal – in God and the real in world and space, which has arisen due to the embodiment of the idea into matter.
Augustine, in accordance with Hellenistic philosophy, believed that the purpose and meaning of human life is happiness, which philosophy must define. Happiness can be achieved in one – in God. Achieving human happiness involves first of all the knowledge of God and the test of the soul.
Unlike skeptics, Augustine shared the idea that knowledge is possible. He was looking for such a method of knowledge, which is not subject to delusions, trying to establish a certain reliable point as the initial path of knowledge. The only way to overcome skepticism, in his opinion, is to discard the premise that sensory knowledge can lead us to truth. To stand in the positions of sensory knowledge is to strengthen skepticism.
Augustine finds another point confirming the possibility of knowledge. In the skeptics approach to the world, in the very doubt, he sees the certainty, the reliability of consciousness, for one can doubt everything, but not that we doubt. This consciousness of doubt in knowing is unshakable truth.
Consciousness of a person, his soul is a stable item in a constantly changing, troubled world. When a person plunges into the knowledge of his soul, he will find there content that does not depend on the surrounding world. This is only the appearance that people draw their knowledge from the outside world, in fact, they find it in the depths of their own spirit. The essence of Augustine’s theory of knowledge is a priori; the creator of all ideas and concepts is god. The human knowledge of eternal and unchanging ideas convinces man that their source can only be an absolute, eternal and supra-temporal, disembodied god. Man cannot be a creator, he only perceives divine ideas.
The truth of God cannot be known by reason, but by faith. Faith is more about will than reason. Emphasizing the role of feelings or the heart, Augustine argued the unity of faith and knowledge. At the same time, he tried not to raise the mind, but only to complement it. Faith and reason complement each other: “Mind that you may believe, believe, that you understand.” Augustine’s philosophy rejects the concept of the autonomous position of science, where reason is the only means and measure of truth. This understanding corresponds to the spirit of Christianity, and on this basis a subsequent phase could be built – scholasticism.
A characteristic feature of Augustine’s understanding of the process of knowledge is Christian mysticism. The main subject of philosophical research was God and the human soul.
The predominance in the sphere of knowledge of the irrational volitional factors over the rational-logical factors simultaneously expresses the Augustinian primacy of faith over reason. Not the independence of the human mind, but the revelations of religious tenets are authority. Belief in God – the source of human knowledge.
The thesis of the primacy of faith over reason was not new in Christian philosophy. Unlike the previous “fathers of the church”, who saw the source of faith only in the Bible, Augustine proclaimed the church as the only infallible last instance of all truth to be the highest authoritative source of faith. This view corresponded to the situation at that time. The church in the western part of the Roman Empire became an ideologically and organizationally strong centralized institution.
The contribution of Augustine was also that he tried to justify the primacy of faith over reason. All human knowledge has two sources, he argued. The first is experience, sensual contact with the things of the world. Its border is the scope of the phenomenon, which is impossible to transgress. Another source, richer and more significant, is to acquire knowledge from other people. This mediated cognition is faith.
Augustine mixes faith in general and religious faith, sanctified by the authority of the church. However, faith, which relies on experience, is altogether completely different; it has a different essence and character than religious faith, which proceeds from the “truths” of Scripture.
Evaluation of good and evil in the world, their distinction was most problematic in the philosophy of Augustine. On the one hand, the world as a creation of God cannot be unkind. On the other hand, the existence of evil is certain. In defining the concept of theodicy, or protecting the perfection of creation. Augustine proceeded from the fact that evil does not belong to nature, but is a product of free creativity. God created good nature, but evil will poison her. Another thesis is connected with this: evil is not something that is absolutely opposite to good, it is only a lack of good, its relative level. There is no absolute evil, only good absolutely. Evil arises where nothing is done well, evil is aversion from higher goals, it is either pride or lust. Pride stems from the desire to do without God, lust – from passions aimed at transient things. The next argument of Augustine’s theodicy is that evil does not disturb the harmony of the world, but is necessary for it. The punishment of sinners does not contradict this harmony as much as the reward of saints. Augustine, therefore, does not deny the presence of evil in the world, but understands it purely negatively, as the absence of good.
Augustine’s ethics is inherent in the fact that he attributed to evil a different origin than good. Evil comes from man, has an earthly character, but good comes from God, a product of God’s mercy. Man is responsible for evil, but not for good.
Regarding the concept of love, Augustine was in sharp controversy with the British monk Pelagius. This was a dispute between representatives of the irrationalist and rationalistic points of view in matters of Christian ethics. Pelagius proceeded from ancient rationalism and taught that original sin does not exist. A man is born free from sins, he himself, without the help of the church, must take care of his bliss. Pelagiev’s refusal to understand man as the blind instrument of God represented a direct attack on the ideological principles of the Christian church.
Augustine, speaking against the concept of Pelagius about the unencumbered man’s original sin, develops the doctrine of predestination. According to this teaching, Adam, as the first man, was born free and sinless. He had the opportunity to follow God’s will and attain immortality. However, people in the face of Adam, tempted by the devil, committed a sin. Therefore, all generations of people are not free, burdened with sin and death, which, according to the apostle Paul, is a punishment for sins.
The dualistic understanding of God and the world appears primarily as the antithesis between the eternal and unchanging spiritual being of God and the constant variability and destruction of individual things and phenomena. The study of this contrast led Avustin to the problems of time. Within the framework of a general theological solution of this question, individual answers are also interesting from a philosophical point of view.
Augustine rejects the views of those ancient philosophers who time depended on the movement of celestial bodies: after all, they were created by God. According to his understanding, time is a measure of movement and changes inherent in all “created” specific things. Before the creation of the world, time did not exist, but it manifests itself as a consequence of the divine creation and at the same time with the latter. The measure of change was given by God.
Augustine tried to explain such basic categories of time as the present, past, and future. Neither the past nor the future has a real orientation, it is inherent only in the present, through which something can be thought of as the past or the future. The past is connected with human memory, the future is in hope.
Bringing both the future and the past to the present proves divine, perfect absoluteness. In God, the present and past are connected once and for all. The Augustinian understanding of the opposite of the absolute eternity of God and the real variability of the material and human world became one of the foundations of the Christian worldview.
The social and political doctrine of Augustine is based on the idea of inequality, which he defends as the eternal and unchanging principle of social life. Inequality is a side of the hierarchical structure of a social organism created by God. The earthly hierarchy is a reflection of the heavenly hierarchy, of which “god” is the “monarch”. Trying to prevent the popular masses from turning to heretical teachings, Augustine also refers to the Christian idea of the equality of all people before God – all people come from one forefather.
Augustine refers to the socio-historical process. Some historians even spoke of him as one of the first “philosophers of history.” The incentive for his interest in this issue was the plundering of the “eternal city” in 410 by Gothic troops led by King Alaric. This event was interpreted by many contemporaries in different ways. Some explained it as the revenge of the old Roman gods to the Romans for converting to Christianity. Others argued that the fall of Rome proclaims the end of human history, which comes as a result of the sinful transition from the original democratic to the state Christianity. Augustine refutes both of these interpretations.
In the philosophy of history, he opposes both pagan religious ideas and non-religious ethical and philosophical concepts. He rejects the pagan gods as impotent demons generated by poetic fantasy. He opposes to them the one and all-powerful god.
On the philosophy of history in Augustine can only speak conditionally. He deals with the “fate of all” of mankind, guided, however, by Christian mythological concepts based on biblical materials. Humanity comes from one pair of grandparents and is led by a god. The concept of history in Augustine is providential (providence – – providence).
Augustine puts forward the idea of the unity of the human divine history, which flow in opposite, but mutually inseparable spheres, the content of which is the battle between two kingdoms (cities) – God’s and earthly. The dualism of God and nature is transferred, therefore, to social development. The city of God represents a smaller part of humanity — those who, with their moral and religious behavior, deserve God’s salvation and mercy; in the world, on the contrary, people remain proud, greedy, selfish, who forget about God. The city of God gradually increases in the socio-historical development, in particular after the arrival of Jesus. The main prerequisite for belonging to the God of God is humility and submission, both before God and before the church.
In his presentation of the plan of God’s predestination, Augustine gives a periodization of the history of earthly city-societies. It is based on an analogy with the six days of creation, the six evolving spheres of human life, and the six epochs that are given in the Old Testament. This is essentially an eschatological concept; the idea of progress which it contains is religious-theological.
The Church occupies a special position in history: it is the company of Christ, it unites, according to the will of God, the elect, and outside it cannot be found salvation. The church is the visible representative of the kingdom of God on earth. Secular hail and its state are also established by God, but they do not have a privileged position, like a church that holds the highest position, and the state should serve it. Only under such conditions the harmonious social organism can occur. Augustine’s understanding of society is theocratic.
Augustine laid the foundations of a new Christian philosophy. He rejected the classical approach of the Greeks, based on objectivism and intellectualism, his approach was introspective, to the will, he attributed primacy over reason. The Greeks tended toward finalism and naturalism, Augustine presented God as infinity, and the world as a product of supernatural power and the creation of mercy. Introspective position turns into personalism, God is first of all a person, the essence of which is will; by this very philosophy of Augustine turns away from the universalism of the ancients. It is based on confidence in the forces of will, faith, love and mercy, but in no case to the forces of reason and evidence.
In the work of Augustine, many contradictions and exaggeration. So, on the one hand, he believed that truth was available only to individuals, and on the other, he considered it a privilege of the church. On the one hand, truth is immediate, and on the other, it is a supernatural gift. Nor did Augustine care about rationalism, but nevertheless, his ultimate goal, aspiration, was understood as divine contemplation associated with reason. He argued that the body is not evil, for it comes from God, but in bodily desires he saw the source of evil. Augustine rejected the Manichaean dualism of good and evil, and it was dualism that was the last word of his historiosophy. Various aspirations of hierarchical Christianity, biblical and ecclesiastical thoughts, religious and ecclesiastical spirit, rationalism and mysticism, loyalty to order and love were all intertwined in his work. Augustine had many followers.