AUGUSTINE (Aurelius Augustinus)—philosopher and theologian, Father and Doctor of the Church (called doctor gratiae), bishop, leading representative of patristics, the leading authority in Christian philosophy and theology up to the thirteenth century (Augustinianism), born November 13, 354 in Tagaste in Numidia (now Souk Ahras in Algeria), died August 28, 430 in Hippo Regius (near Annaba in Algeria).
Augustine was the son of a pagan Roman citizen named Patricius, and his Christian wife Monica (later called Saint Monica). Following the custom of the time in the Church, he was not baptized as a child, although he was enrolled among the catechumens. He attended elementary school in his home town. Later he went to school in Madaura where he began higher studies. After a year’s break he completed these studies in Carthage. During his studied he formed a liaison was a woman who bore his son Adeodatus.
His reading of Cicero’s dialogue Hortensius woke in Augustine a desire to seek truth and wisdom. He had been formed on classical Latin models (he became acquainted with Greek thought through Latin translations), and he became disillusioned with the Bible (especially the Old Testament). The Bible shocked him with its form, which was imperfect according to classical criteria, and its content, which he read literally. Soon (373) he became a follower of Manicheanism, since Catholicism seemed to him to be a religion beneath the dignity of an educated man. After studies, which were cut short because he needed to earn money, he became a teacher and founded a school of rhetoric in Tagaste. Toward the end of 375 he occupied the seat of rhetoric for the city of Carthage. In 383 he went to Rome. He left Rome because of low remuneration and went to Milan (for the protection of the Manicheans) where he obtained a professorship of rhetoric. Milan was then the residence of the Caesar. Discrepancies between the teaching of the Manicheans and their actual practices, and the limited knowledge of the leaders of the sect led Augustine gradually to leave Manicheanism and move toward Skepticism. In Milan he broke away from Skepticism and turned to neo-Platonism. His reading of Plotinus and Porphyry (in Latin translation by Marius Victorinus), the influence of Bishop Ambrose, and his own thinking led to a milestone in Augustine’s life and set the direction for his intellectual and spiritual development. He separated from his illicit wife, quit the profession of rhetorician, and in the company of his mother, his son, a few students and friend (a kind of community) he settled in Cassiciacum near Milan. There for several months he devoted himself to prayer and study, and led philosophical and religious disputes concerning God, the human soul, truth, happiness, and the origin of evil. On April 25, 387, at Easter, with Adeodatus he received baptism from the hands of Ambrose. After the death of his mother (in the spring of 387) he spent some months in Rome. In 388 he returned to Tagaste and, as was his custom before his conversion, he gathered around himself a kind of community for lay people with the purpose of leading a more perfect religious life. He was chosen by the people of Hippo Regius as a priest to assist Bishop Valerius and was ordained in 391. In 396, after being so authorized by Bishop Aurelius of Carthage, he became the coadjutor bishop in Hippo Regius. Hippo Regius was the second largest city, after Carthage, in the Roman province of Africa at the time. After the death of Valerius he became his successor as Bishop of Hippo Regius. He made his episcopal residence into a monastery where together with his priests and deacons, he lived a community life that had as its ideal the apostolic life. In 426 he assigned most of the spiritual obligations to the successor he had chosen, the priest Heraclius, in order to devote more time to his literary work. The African Church, and the Church outside of Africa, enjoyed great authority due to Augustine’s personal merits and his varied work. He made many journeys (e.g., in 418 to Caesarea in Mauritania, and twice to Carthage). He gave sermons and participated in synods (in 416 and 418 in Carthage, and in 417 in Mileve). He took part in negotiations, disputations, and conferences. He had an extensive correspondence with popes, emperors, and many other eminent figures (including Jerome). His disputes with the Pelagians (Pelagianism) made him well-known in the East. He also battled against Manicheanism, Arianism, and Donatism. Emperor Valentinian III invited him to the Council of Ephesus (431), but Augustine died while Hippo Regius was under siege from the Vandals.
Augustine was one of the most original and creative Christian writers of ancient times. Among Augustine’s great number of written works (H. I. Marrou lists 113 extensive works), his philosophical writings occupy a special position.
AUGUSTINE’S PHILOSOPHICAL WRITINGS. His philosophical writings are filled with a spirit of Christian neo-Platonism. His writings follow Cicero’s model and have the mood of a serious conversation among family or friends.
In Cassiacum, where Augustine held philosophical and theological disputations in 386 and 387, he wrote four treatises. In Contra Academicos (PL 32, 905–958; Przeciw akademikom [Against academics], DF I 49–146)—he used Cicero’s Hortensius as his model and discusses the idea of truth and whether it can be known. Then he criticizes the Skeptical views of the representatives of the Platonic Academy. In De beata vita (PL 32, 959–976; O życiu szczęśliwym [On a happy life] he discusses the problem of happiness and how we may achieve it. The central question in the dialogue De Ordine (PL 32, 976–1020; O porządku [On order], DF I 146–226) is the operation of Providence, order in the universe, and the existence and origin of evil. The most personal of Augustine’s philosophical treatises are the Soliloquia (PL 32, 869–904; Soliloquia albo mowy osobne duszy do Pana Boga [Soliloquies or the soul’s personal speeches to the Lord God], Chelmo 1796; Solilokwia [Soliloquies], DF II 8–77). These were written in the form of an interior dialogue, for which there was no previous model in ancient literature. The purpose of the Soliloquia is to know the soul and God, and the path is the knowledge of truth and the immortal nature of truth. The nature of truth requires the existence of an immortal bearer of the truth, namely the soul.
Augustine continued thse meditations in De immortalitate animae (PL 32, 1021–1034; O nieŶmiertelności duszy [On the immortality of the soul], DF II 81–104), where along with Platonic arguments he introduced many new arguments for the immortality of the soul. He started this work in 387 in Milan, but never completed it (cf. Retractiones, I 5).
The work De quantitate animae (PL 32, 1035–1080; O wielkości duszy, DF II 108–192), written at the beginning of 388 in Rome, is the first apology in Christian philosophy for man’s spirituality. Augustine’s conversations with Evodius therein express Augustine’s views on the rational justification for the soul’s distinct existence. In the dialogue De magistro (PL 32, 1193–122; O nauczycielu [On the teacher], DF III 18–70, p. 389), in which Augustine recounts a conversation with his son, epistemological questions come to the fore, especially the relation of a word to the thing it designates. Augustine states that Christ alone is the proper teacher of men. In his dialogue De musica (PL 32, 1081–1194; O muzyce [On music], DF IV 207), written around 391 in Africa, he explains that music and poetry are means of raising the human mind toward God and at the same time they are the first source of all art, good, beauty and truth; we see here the influence of Plotinus’ doctrine.
In his first year’s of Christian life, Augustine was busy fighting Manicheanism; between 387 and 389 he wrote De moribus Ecclesiae catholicae et de moribus Manichaeorum (PL 32, 1309–1378; frg. O obyczajach Kościoła, Bober AP 263–264) in which he unmasks the dissolute life of the Manicheans and compares it to the sanctity of the Catholic Church. In De Genesi contra Manichaeos (PL 34, 174–220), written bewteen 388 and 390, he presented the principle of the allegorical exegesis of the Old Testament; he showed as well that between the Old Testament and the New Testament there is no contradiction and he presents here, among other things, his view on ataraxia (perfect tranquility of soul). Augustine argued for the truth of the Christian religion primarily in De vera religione (PL 3, 121–172; O religii prawdziwej [On the true religion], Kr 1843; On the true faith, DF IV 80–159), written in 389 and 390. In this work he contrasted the teachings of Christianity with the views of pagan philosophers and with the doctrines of various sects and heresies. He analyzed the criteria for true religion and showed the sources of errors. In his reply against the Manicheans he introduced the figure of Christ for the first time. This work is one of the best examples of Christian neo-Platonism.
His philosophical dialogue on freedom, De libero arbitrio (PL 32, 1221–1310; O wolnej woli, DF III 77–235), written between 388 and 394 as a polemic against the views of the Manicheans, analyzed the problem of the origin and nature of evil. In this work Augustine replaced Plotinus’ interpretation of moral evil with his own conception; he contrasted Manichean interpretations with Christian revelation and showed that free will is the source of moral evil. The dialogue contains the fundamental theses of Augustinian practical voluntarism, the result of his break from Greek intellectualism and his belief that the will is prior to the intellect.
Between 399 and 405 Augustine worked on De natura boni (PL 32, 5517ndash;572; O naturze dobra [On the nature of the good], DF IV 169–201). This work was aimed at the Manicheans and was dedicated to the problem of good, and the original, subsistent, and substantial evil of composite beings; this doctrine is part of Augustine’s spiritualistic metaphysics. The fragments it contains from the writings of Manes are a source of reconstructing the doctrine of the Manicheans. (3 manuscripts from the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth century are found in the Jagiellonian University).
Publications of his works: PL v. 32–47; CSEL (critical edition of the Vienna Academy, v. 12, 25, 28, 33, 34, 40–44, 51–53, 57, 58, 60, 63, 74, 77, 80); Bibliothèque augustinienne (Desclée de Brouwer, Bg 1936).
J. Czuj, Żywot świętego Augustyna [Life of St. Augustine], Kr 1928, Wwa 19522; E. Nabreda, Bibliographia augustiniana, R 1928; G. Pappini, Saint Augustine, Fi 1929 (Święty Augustyn [Saint Augustine], Kr 1932, Wwa 19582; J. J. O’Meara, The Young Augustine, Lo 1954; H. I. Marrou, A. M. Bonnardière, Saint Augustin et l’augustinisme, P 1962 (Augustyn, Kr 1966); T. von Bavel, Répertoire bibliographique de saint Augustin 1950–1960, Hg 1963; A. Eckmann, Dialog świętego Augustyna ze światem pogańskim w świetle jego korrespondencji [St. Augustine’s dialogue with the pagan world in the light of his correspondence], Lb 1987; Augustine Today, GrR 1993.
AUGUSTINE’S PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT. Augustine concentrated on the problem of man (the soul) and God: “I want to know God and the soul. Do I want to know anything more? Nothing, nothing at all” (Sol, 1, 2). The knowledge of man is the foundation and model for the analogical knowledge of God and all that is joined by origin with God. While Augustine did not construct a complete philosophical system, he presented a Christian vision of reality built upon Platonic and neo-Platonic foundations. His views can be reduced to three groups of questions: (1) the soul, which may be considered in itself; (2) the soul in relation to its surroundings (the body, the world); (3) the soul in relation to God as the ultimate term of reference. The relation of the soul to God is an essential and the most characteristic feature of Augustine’s doctrine.
Augustine was well acquainted with the views of the Platonic Academy, especially its Skeptical current. In keeping with this current he took the knowledge of the soul as the starting point of human thought. In the Platonic system the soul is an incarnate god and therefore everything of value in man may be reduced to the soul. The soul is, as it were, the whole man. The soul possesses divine attributes: the ability to know the truth, immateriality, and eternity. This conception of the soul as an incarnate god was in disagreement with Christian Revelation, especially the truth that man needs redemption, and so Augustine modified the Platonic views. These modifications concerned the structure of the soul and its operation and the conception of the world, especially man’s relation to God. Although Augustine expressed the religious truth drawn from the Sacred Scripture and from Tradition in the terms of Greek philosophy, he drew the facts he had to explain (man as he experiences religion, God as the object of religious and spiritual life) from Christian Tradition and in his conclusions he was guided by the truth contained in Revelation. Thus we may regard Augustine as the author of “Christian philosophy” which is primarily interested in God and man.
The soul in itself. According to Augustine, man is a unity that arises from the union of soul and body. The soul, however, possesses life by virtue of its own nature; the soul’s connection with the body is external and so when it loses the body it does not lose its life; the soul is therefore a spiritual and living substance, and as an essentially spiritual being it is immortal. The soul has self- awareness. It knows that it is non-extended, incorporeal, and immaterial. The soul’s awareness of itself is the most characteristic feature in the knowledge of man. The soul’s self-awareness concerns existence, life, and knowledge. The soul’s consciousness of itself, along with everything that happens from it and in it, is the foundation for true knowledge and for the rejection of all forms of Skepticism. If man knows that he lives and thinks, then no matter how much he doubts this, he affirms thought, even if it takes the form of doubt, for he directly knows himself as a knowing being. Therefore it is impossible to divide the subject and object of knowledge, and so the grounds for doubt are eliminated. This position is connected the the affirmation of constant self-knowledge, the life of the spirit (mens), and with the subjective starting point in the philosophy of knowledge. R. Descartes, B. Pascal, and the modern philosophy of the subject have referred to this starting point.
Man has self-knowledge and also has sensory and intellectual cognition of external objects. He discovers the unchanging and eternal truths common to all men. This cognition of man appears first in the form of sensory impressions and subsequently in the form of intellectual ideas. Sense impressions are acts of the soul. The soul strains “vital attention” to the changes the body experiences and becomes aware of them. It creates out of its own substance images called sense impressions. This explanation of sensory cognition is in agreement with the conception of man as “a spirit that uses a body” (De quant. an., 13, 22).
The soul, as it is the cause of sense impressions, is all the more the cause of intellectual cognition. Something greater than the content of things is contained in intellectual cognition—the truth. Truth is necessary (it cannot be other than it is), unchanging (that which cannot be otherwise cannot change), and eternal (that which cannot change, cannot cease to be). The human mind cannot discover these truths in things, which are contingent, nor can it be the source of these truths, since the human mind changes and is in time; thus, when the mind makes a true judgment, it must be in contact with an unchanging and eternal being—God. The existence of unchanging truths in changing human minds is a proof of the eternity of the soul, since when the soul becomes aware of eternal truths, it participates in eternity—it must be eternal; the existence of unchanging truths is also the foundation for the Augustinian proof for the existence of God.
The life of the soul is expressed not only in self-knowledge—intellectual cognition (based on sense impressions), but it is primarily expressed in action, the source of which is the will—love. In every soul, as in every body, there is a natural weight pushing it to seek its proper place: “my weight—my love” (Conf., 13, 9). It is the internal motor of the will and characterizes man. The value of love assigns the value of the human soul. Caritas, the love of a person, especially a Divine Person, is the highest manifestation of love. God as the Creator is at the same time the highest living Good and final end of human love—caritas, which also assigns the mode of human life (“love and do what you will”). Final union with God as a person satisfies the human desire for good (“Our heart is not quiet until it rests in You”—Conf., 1, 1).
Self-knowledge, cognition, and love should not be conceived, however, as separate “powers of the soul” after the model of the Aristotelian categories of quality. There are acts that are elicited from the soul and have various objects. Thus the soul is whole in self-knowledge, whole in cognition, and whole in love.
The soul in relation to its surroundings (the body, the world, the state). The body is the first and closest external substance for the soul. Because of its corporeality it cannot participate in God and his ideas. The soul, which is open to these ideas, is the link that joins matter with the divine ideas. Through the soul the body participates in the order and various forms of the unchanging truth. The soul is the intermediary between the body and God and bears responsibility for the body and for matter. This responsibility extends, as it were, to the entire created world. Although Augustine did not provide a final explanation of how the soul arises or how it is connected with the body, he took the position of complete creationism with regard tot he spiritual and material world. He understood the passage from the bible, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth” (Genesis 1, 1) as speaking of the simultaneous creation of the world of spirits and matter. He regarded the description of the six days of creation as a metaphor intended to assist our imagination. When the world was created it was pregnant with its own seminal reason (rationes seminales), which were the germs or embryos of future beings in future times. Augustine thought that one possibility was that all souls arose in their seeds or embryos. The souls that form bodies give the world of matter the ultimate meaning intended by God; material forms also give meaning, but in an imperfect degree. The forms of created beings are numerous images of the divine ideas or participations of the divine ideas. Every thing thus has a double existence: the one existence in itself, the other in its divine idea. This ensures harmony and order in the world of matter.
The world, order and proportion constitute the foundation of beauty. Beauty is based on rhythm (which corresponds to the law of action and function in today’s psychology). This rhythm passes from the soul to the whole cosmos. The rhythm is in the action of the mind (iudiciabilis), in the memory (recordabilis), in perceptions (occursor), in action (progressor), and in sound (sonans). Through the rhythm of the mind, the most important of all rhythms, the soul knows the rhythm and beauty f the world and its shortcomings. This theory shows the originality of Augustine’s aesthetics.
The soul lives in the body and animates it. Through the body and matter, the soul is joined with other people and creates societies. Societies arise primarily through the life of the soul as it is manifested in the love of the common good. Society is more a spiritual than a material community. It is more connected with moral life than with material values.
The relation of the soul to God. The soul is the image of God (Trinitarianism). All created things are realizations of divine ideas and bear a trace of similarity to God (vestigia Dei). Physical beauty is a reflection of divine beauty, and the order of the world is a reflection of the unity of the triune God. The character of the divine image (imago Dei) belongs in the proper sense only to man. Man is the image of the Holy Trinity through his soul, especially through the mens which is the highest and the closest to God. Thanks to the spirit (mens), the soul is open to God.
Augustine lists several triads of the acts of the soul: spirit (mens), knowing (notitia), love (amor), self- knowledge (memoria sui), intelligence (intelligentia), will (voluntas), memory of God (memoria Dei), love (amor). Despite the distinctness of these acts, the soul is a unity and thereby is the image of the Holy Trinity. Understanding this lets man see, at least to a certain degree, what the real consubstantiality of three persons in God is.
The analogy between the soul and God is expressed in the relation between self-knowledge, intelligence, and will. In the act in which our thought “is born” we grasp the image of the begetting of the Son by the Father. As the Father eternally conceives and begets the perfect expression it himself which is the Word, so human thought, fertilized by eternal ideas in the Word, internally begets true knowledge. This is the foundation of Augustine’s doctrine of illumination (illuminationism). The human soul is incapable of knowing the truth by virtue of its own nature (if it could, it would be a Platonic god who did not need redemption). The soul can only know the truth by divine illumination. Augustine saw in this an agreement with St. John’s Gospel (1, 9): “It was the true light that enlightens every man when he comes into the world”. Divine illumination is the basis of all knowledge, both theoretical and moral knowledge, all the more since man’s knowledge, like the life of the Trinity, is not separate from love.
When the soul turns to God who created it, it becomes aware that it is an image. Then self-knowledge, knowledge, and love become at the same time a calling to mind of God (memoria Dei) that recalls God’s trinitarian life. Thereby in man is born a wisdom that participates in the divine wisdom.
The love of God is the life of the soul. The soul actualizes its internal life and action in the perspective of created nature and God. Nature (the cosmos) is a realization of the divine ideas. Nature is the foundation of the harmony of the world and human action (the natural law of divine wisdom). Moral laws are just as unchanging, necessary, and eternal as speculative laws. Moral laws are a reflection of the law that is intellectually known and is a light for our mind. The norm of the reason and will, as norms of conduct, come from the same source. They possess the same evidence, necessity, and binding power as all other eternal laws. The soul’s knowledge and acceptance of these laws is the act of conscience.
Man’s task is to make real the order of eternal laws in his own life. Man does this by love, and especially by the fullest form of love—caritas. The love of the good is a feature shared by the love of God and man. Since Gid is the highest good and being itself, He is the ultimate object of man’s love.
Caritas is the “heart” of morality. It is the moral life itself and it implies justice and all other virtues. The soul possessed by love perfectly fulfills the divine law, for it can only do good. The most important task of the moral life is to experience the true value of all things and love them according to their value. Then the order of love is restored and man becomes virtuous, for virtue and love are ordered to the same things. The violation of the order of love is evil—sin. If man sees order in love and thereby possesses virtue, he is completely devoted to God, and by the same token he is free with respect to all other things. The true and proper fulfillment of the law is the freedom of love.
Social love is the way to God. Augustine understands the moral life, that is, the happy life, as life in community with other people. The social order is a development of the principles of the moral order, that is, the order of love: he who loves God, loves other people, even his enemies. The end purpose of every society is peace conditioned by the order of love.
With regard to the character of the end, Augustine distinguishes two basic types of society: societies whose members are guided by selfish love for earthly and temporal ends (earthly society, the society of Satan), and societies whose members are joined in love with God (divine society). These societies are not divided materially, but spiritually. The members of the divine society are united by their shared love for God and their shared desire for equal happiness. They live in the passing earthly society. In every place and time they were, are, and will be united by their shared love for the Highest Good. From the beginning of mankind these two states overlapped in society and in each man’s soul. The divine society will be ultimately victorious. History is not merely a description and ordering of the facts of the falls and victories of one or another society, but also and understanding of societies in a higher light as realizations of God’s plan. Man’s history in society is intertwined with the drama of the battle of good and evil. Evil was permitted as one of the moments of the battle and is ordered tot he highest good by the intervention of God incarnate, Christ, in the history of mankind. God permitted evil in man’s history and also guaranteed that evil can be overcome and that the good will be realized in a higher order. The ultimate and eschatological victory of the divine society is guaranteed by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
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Mieczysław A. Krąpiec, Zofia J. Zdybicka
ETHICAL THOUGHT. In the basic principles of his moral doctrine Augustine referred to man’s innate inclination to happiness. Considering the views of ancient philosophies who taught that happiness resides either in the soul alone, in the body alone, or in the soul and the body, Augustine saw happiness in the attainment of the fullness of the good, which (following the Platonists) he identified with the fullness of being (De civ. D., 8, 10, 2). Since God is the most perfect being (unchanging and limitless), God should be the only end of man’s desires (De moribus Ecclesiae, 1, 8, 13), which he expressed in these words: “you (God) have created us for Yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in You” (Conf., 1, 1).
According to Augustine, the guide and rule of moral life is the eternal law (the reason and will of God); it is unchanging, transcends individuals, and is absolute. It commands us to observe the natural order, which concerns relations among realities that are arranged in an hierarchy. Man becomes aware of this law in his conscience as the natural law. Man knows moral truths, just as he knows speculative truths, with the help of divine illumination (Augustine speaks of the so-called lights of the virtues—De lib. arb., 2, 19, 42). He accepts the ontological goodness of creatures (De civ. D., 12, 24), and thinks that the order of being is strictly connected with the moral order. God as the author of the world’s order has the right to demand that creatures respect this order. Man may use all created good, but not in the same way, because not all goods are equal; he must properly evaluate and choose these goods. He must subordinate external goods to the body, the body to the soul, and the soul, and in the soul he must subordinate the senses to the reason, and the reason to God. A violation of this order is an injustice to God, namely a sin (De duabus animabus, 11, 15); sin introduces a rebellion of the body against the soul and gives birth to lust and ignorance whereby the soul as the dwelling place of God is degraded.
Augustine ascribed a basic role to love in the realization of the moral law. Love in the soul plays a role analogous to weight in material objects, pushing the soul to its natural place of rest (“my weight, my love”, Conf., 13, 9). Augustine sees in love the source of man’s activity; acts of heroism and crimes are both the work of love; he reduces all morality to love (Enchiridion, 121). The object of love plays a basic role in love (“love, but pay attention what you should love”—De bono viduitatis, 21, 26). He identifies ordered love with virtue (ordo amoris—De civ. D., 15, 22). All the virtues, especially the cardinal virtues, which are the quintessence of love for God, are varied manifestations of this love: “temperance is love that is preserved immaculate and untouched for God; fortitude is love that bears everything easily for God; just is love that serves God himself and therefore properly subordinates everything that is subject to man; prudence is love that can distinguish well what helps it on the road to God and what hinders it” (De moribus Ecclesiae catholicae, 1, 15, 25). The degree of increasing love (through one’s whole life) for God is an indicator of the moral life: perfect love of God makes each of the acts performed under its influence infallibly good. Augustine refers to this kind of love in his saying: “love, and do what you will” (In epistolam Joannis tractatus, 7, 8). God, the highest Good, is the object of perfect love. God is Love himself (1 Jo 4, 8). Love is not only a bond uniting man with God, a road to God, but is God possessed. The full realization of the moral life thus requires the presence of God in man. Therefore love is grace, the gift of God infused in faithful hearts by the Holy Spirit; by love the Holy Trinity dwells in man. According to Augustine, the complete realization of the moral life is inconceivable without membership in the Church. The Church in union with Christ as its Head constitutes one Body vivified by the Spirit of Love. For every man, and especially from the Christian who lives in the Church, Christ as the teacher of truth and the author of grace is the first divine model and rule of morality. As Wisdom and as the Word of the Father he speaks to the conscience. He is the unchanging truth that illuminates and gives life. He is also the power of God (1 Cor 1, 24). Christ himself is the Christian’s commandment, the highest norm, the end and fullness of all law (Enarrationes in Psalmos, 26, 20). Without Christ no one can perform the duties that come from the moral law.
What man loves the world with an ordered love, then by using (uti) creatures as means instead of delighting in them (frui), the objects of love acquire the meaning that God gave them. This applies in particular to man in love of neighbor. “Love on another” is the quintessence of the law, the point of reference for every particular commandment (Enchiridion, 121). He who loves treats his neighbor, who has been created by God and can find his own happiness only in God, as himself (Conf., 4, 18). Love for one’s neighbor consists in benevolence that looks to the neighbor’s present and eternal success. The universality of love comes from the fact that for all mean the same God is the creator, redeemer, and end—their ultimate happiness. Regardless of race, birth, nation, etc., all men are brothers who should be helped in acquiring material and spiritual goods. Love can liquidate enmity between individuals and nations. It restrains selfishness. It is the foundation of peace in the family, state, and international society. Augustine teaches that the commandment of love of God and neighbor is not two commandments but one. Love of neighbor is only a particular instance of love of God (“if someone loves his neighbor in spirit, whom is he loving in his neighbor if not God”—In Joannis Evangelium tractatus, 65, 2); Christ is the source and perfect model of this love.
Among particular moral problems, Augustine devoted much attention to marriage (De bono conugali, De nuptiis et concupiscentia, De conuigiis adulterinis). He emphasized the problems are difficult and cannot always be resolved. He lists three goods of marriage: offspring, faith, and sacrament. He explains that from the point of view of the eternal law, the end of matrimony is procreation and the building of unity between the spouses. The sexual life in marriage should be subordinated to these ends (marital relations performed for the sake of the so-called weakness of the flesh is a venial sin). He also taught that perpetual abstinence from sex within marriage can only be permitted if both spouses agree.
Augustine attached a high rank to virginity by virtue of divine law. This virginity derives its value from the virgin’s consecration to God. He regarded Mary as the model of virginity in the Church. When she consecrated herself to God before the annunciation she became the model for all virgins in the Church and showed that virginity is not reserved only to the Mother of the Savior.
Augustine regarded all lies as sins. He was against homicide, even the slaying of an aggressor to defend one’s personal goods or life. He strongly condemned suicide, arguing by deciding to take his own life, a man deprives himself of the opportunity to acquire wisdom and virtue and also robs society. Under no circumstances is suicide justified, even when a woman is threatened with rape. The virgin martyrs who took their own lives to preserve their virginity had acted, Augustine thought, under the influence of divine inspiration (like Samson), but others who under similar circumstance refrained from suicide acted wisely. Virginity is virtue of the soul, not of the body.
In the Christian philosophical system Augustine showed the connection between being and obligation, between dogma and life, and between metaphysics and ethics. He drew out a profound moral meaning from many previously known evangelical truths. He connected abstract philosophical and moral ideas with these truths. He showed that the highest Truth and Good are not inanimate, but they are life itself. God as the unchanging Good is man’s most perfect model, norm, and good. Augustine’s multifaceted approach to the idea of God was particularly valuable for later ethical thought. Although Augustine recognized the goodness of physical being and the life of the senses, he was not able to explain in man the structure of the connection between the sensual elements and spiritual elements in man’s complete organic whole.
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AUGUSTIN’s SOCIAL PHILOSOPHY. Augustine’s social philosophy is found almost in its entirety in De civitate Dei. In Augustine’s other works the social problematic is found in the form of loose moral evaluations concerning work and property, and it does not form a concise system of social ethics. De civitate Dei is not a work devoted exclusively to the social problematic, although it contains a partial social doctrine with discussions of problems such as society, the state, and international life. This doctrine is not exclusively philosophical as the theological problematic also appears in it.
Augustine’s position is that individual ethics and social ethics are one. He accepts the same principles for relations between individuals, families, and nations. The individual and the nation as a whole must make a choice between the illusions of the world and happiness, which is contained in eternal truth—God. Love is the most essential feature of social being. It is the bond that united the social group. A knowledge of the common ideal that unites a nation is the best way to learn the essence of the nation. The nobility of a nation’s ideal determines the nobility of the nation. There are thus evil nations and good nations, just as there are evil and good individuals. When the moral elements are removed from the life of a state, it becomes similar to a band of robbers. Love of one’s fatherland is a consequence of love of one’s neighbor, and so it does not need to give birth to chauvinism.
In Augustine’s social philosophy the question of peace plays an important role. He understands peace as ordered harmony in the giving and performance of commands. This applies to the family and to the state. The tranquility of order is the peace of all things. Thus peace requires order, the social relations should rest upon an hierarchy of authority and upon law.
The natural desire for peace also appears in international relations. Peace is the desired conclusion of war. War is not sought by way of peace, but peace is sought through war. Relations between nations should be arranged on the same principles as relations between citizens in a society. One condition for world peace is that international life should be based on a common law and authority, and so it should be based on an international organization. This is confirmed when Augustine recognizes a war to be just when it is aimed at rendering harmless an aggressor who threatens the nation. A state is then acting in necessary defense and at the same time it becomes the executive of international law and authority. Yet Augustine is wary of imperialism, since the conquest of many nations by one state creates the danger of bloody revolutions.
Augustine’s doctrine of authority is an important element in his social philosophy. Authority comes from God, although this does not mean that every authority will necessarily be morally good. God entrusts government to good and bad rulers, but moral aims, the good of the country’s citizens who are subject to the authority and the mercy of the ruler, are the justification for authority. Man is created for social life and he sees his own personal happiness in social happiness. Thus no man should retire from performing social functions, from social and political duties, and so from exercising authority. The source of the privilege of authority is the duty to care for the subjects. The source of the duty of obedience is the privilege of being protected by the authority. The abuse of authority causes moral injuries to those who are in its possession. The duty of obedience on the part of subjects to ruler applies to good and evil rulers. Obedience is owed to the worst government, even if it is criminal. The moral law defines the boundaries of the duty of obedience. No one may carry out orders that would force him to do immoral acts. No human authority can raise itself above God. Man is forbidden to deify an idea or a state. An official is not responsible for a bad law that he is obligated to carry out. A soldier is not responsible for an unjust war. However, the official is morally responsible for the immoral enactment of a law, and the soldier for immoral tactics in war, each within the bounds of his own competence.
Thus Augustine bases social relations on the natural law and the revealed law, i.e., on the principle of justice and love.
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