Augustine of Hippo, Saint or Sinner?

ChurchFathers There are two-thousand years of important Christian thinkers to skim through before I can get back to my main complaints against Mormonism. Most scholars or researchers or creative writers who mine out the many flamboyantly negative aspects of the lives and teachings of these early “Saints” do it for one of two reasons: they just want to dump all over the Roman Catholic Church, or they want to prove the whole Christian Movement is a load of rubbish. In my case I have to admit to neither motivation.

The Roman Catholic Church gets singled out at times in my observations at any rate, simply because it became the biggest and loudest and most vehement example of Christian ignorance, hate, bigotry, genocidal violence and general stupidity. The Eastern Church was populated with many of the same arrogant, evil bastards, they just never applied themselves as eagerly to the task of violently oppressing humanity and repressing enlightenment as the Roman Church did. And unlike the Protestant Movement, or Joseph Smith’s “Restoration Movement,” I’m not really out to write the whole Christian experience off simply to bolster my own claim to have reformed or restored the Church to newfound perfection. The Protestant Movement in particular has its own series of demented, homicidal bastards to justify. Even the devout Protestant Joseph Smith discovered this very quickly after shooting off his mouth about talking to angels and seeing God. His devoted Protestant friends were instantly former Protestant pals.

And the Mormons, well, they’re just getting started. I’m already into the post-Jesus Christian narrative some two centuries and more beyond where present day post-Smith Mormonism has yet to arrive. Mormons are barely leaving their “Apostolic Fathers” behind and through their Apologist era. The Latter-day Saints are into their first batch of Theologians and just getting into their “Utah Fathers” period.

Mormonism has in fact followed more than coincidentally the same sort of developmental path as the early Christian Church. And I mean this not necessarily in a faith-promoting way. I’m not interested in proving “signs of the True Church” in any conventional Mormon fashion. But I am concerned that the Mormon and Christian alike have some conception of what people are like—what typical human beings are like–even when hundreds and thousands of years later we have canonized them and kiss the ground they walked upon as holy. They’re still people. And some of them not very good people, at least in many aspects of their lives and character. When these fallible humans put together any organization it is only a matter of time before human failings corrupt the original, pure intent or at a minimum, dilute the original authority and inspiration.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That means all, brothers and sisters. All. Through the years the term “Saint” has become perverted to mean somebody who is sinless. Saints are sinners too. Saints just believe in Christ as they are sinning and falling short. Anyone with faith in Christ is a saint. Which gets me back to wondering how huge committees of the allegedly pious can study the lives of some of these overtly evil guys who developed Christian doctrine after the passing of Christ, and then make Papal announcements that the world has a new “Saint.”

cyril A case in point is “Saint” Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria in the early fifth century. (Not to be confused with “Saint” Cyril the Philosopher of the Slavs, or “Saint” Cyril of Jerusalem, both of whom by all reckonings would have been on the other side of many arguments with the Bishop of Alexandria and subject to his excommunication and damnation, yet nevertheless all are counted as “Saints.”) Many write of Cyril of Alexandria with high praise regarding his lasting contributions to the doctrines of the incarnation of the Verb (Word) and his championing of the divine maternity of Mary, and they most all credit him with almost single-handedly polishing off the final Church position on Trinitarian theology. But they also are forced to admit that as stunning as his scholarship and religious zeal were, his personal character was indefensibly low.

After an anti-Christian outbreak in his local Jewish population in 415 AD, Cyril raised an immense posse of followers and went from synagogue to synagogue, dragged the rabbis and entire Jewish population out of the city, and let in eager mobs to plunder their goods. This led to another riot and some troubles with the governor who wanted peace amongst all sectors of the population, Jew, pagan, or Christian. This second battle culminated with a mob of Cyril’s Christian friends led by a gang of his own fanatical monks, dragging a noted lady and teacher of philosophy, Hypatia, from her carriage, scraping her through the open streets and into Cyril’s cathedral. They then stripped her and ripped her to pieces before the altar of Christ, and then burnt the pieces. When confronted with this matter, Cyril pretended to have had nothing to do with it, but refused to condemn this profane, excessively vile murder executed by his own people in his own sanctuary, or even chastise any of his loyal followers who had been identified as the culprits.

On a day-to-day basis, Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, used his influence to make sweetheart political and financial deals, amassed a huge fortune, extorted tithes and offerings from all through his religious empire and spent large portions of it on his favorite nephews and in bribing judges, politicians, and civil officials to insure his immunity from the law and in general buy some popularity amongst the ruling classes.

The Church, East and West, towards the middle of the first millennium had become a world-dominating political and spiritual force. Despots like Cyril had on the one hand advanced themselves into very select and educated cadres of literate and socially elite scholars. There were monks who formed orders that did nothing but translate or copy and illustrate and hand letter (Illuminate) sacred manuscripts—that is, when they weren’t being recruited to race into the streets to strip and murder respected lady philosophers. They fretted over every word—perhaps not for all the right reasons, but they were a seriously pious bunch.  Unlike the Apostolic Fathers, who were almost entirely preservationists, or the Apologists, who began to experiment with philosophy and non-literal, symbolic meanings they thought they could find in early writings, these latter scholars, theologians, scribes, priests and popes, began to think that every word of holy writ was perfect, God-crafted and very literal.

If Jesus gave his apostles a chunk of flatbread at the last supper and said to eat it because it was his own flesh, well then that’s exactly what he meant. The question then became one of figuring out or at least rationalizing some doctrinal mechanism of how the “host” or sacramental meal “transubstantiated” from bread and wine into the actual flesh and blood of Jesus.

Many Protestants won’t even know why it is called the “Host.” It “hosts” the actual Person, the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. It morphs from a paltry meal into sacred flesh and blood—literally. That’s what the scripture said. And Jesus said it personally. It wasn’t an obscure or debatable quote. I can’t, and don’t have to speak for those generations of Church geniuses who thought this was a clear and logical doctrine, and thought so vehemently that it was true, that they would send you to hell or even kill you for not confessing your belief in it. Today of course, even in the Roman Church, the world is round and isn’t the center of the universe. And maybe Jesus didn’t actually mean we were to celebrate mass by literally eating his magically transformed meat and gore for Sunday brunch. (Too bad for all those folks we sent to hell or tortured into repentance for all those centuries. Joke’s on us…)

Again, I’m weeding out scores of important early Christian thinkers to skim through the two-thousand years of deadly debates about just how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Almost inarguably the most important of these however, is one Augustine of Hippo, who lived from November 13, 354 – August 28, 430 AD. Augustine was part of a mix of “Sainted,” Church writers, scholars, theologians, usually clergy,  in the middle of the first millennium known now as the “Latin Fathers.” Cyril of Alexandria and Augustine are both two of the Latin crowd, both led to the solidifying of now longstanding base-Christian theology as far as the West is considered, but neither of them are all that revered in the East. Their contemporaries there became known as the “Greek Fathers.” It is the Latin Fathers who really came to shine in the end, at least relative to Mormonism and the New World, or the whole Protestant, American Christian religious and social experience in general.

Saint_Augustine Augustine was a Christian Neo-Platonist who became a fairly minor North African Bishop shortly after his conversion from paganism. He spent a lot of time wondering how God could forgive him for being such a horrible sinner during his pagan youth. Since he could never satisfy himself with his own answers, the short story of his personal theology is that he joined in with early Apologist thinking and fell back on the Plato-inspired ex-nihilo creation of everything out of nothing, developed a totally incorporeal God, an inherently evil, physically polluted man, and practically coined the “mystery” defense as the official Church bandage for the big tear in the fabric of every single one of his theories. Though originally many thought of him as an upstart if not a crackpot, his theology managed to go on to dominate Western Church doctrine.

Augustine gravitated for instance, into thinking that salvation is in all cases an undeserved gift that comes by Grace alone. (At the time, nobody had coined the term “Grace” mind you.)  This led to generations after him thinking that at baptism or when otherwise touched by Grace you are physically changed into a purified form of matter and literally become a new man. This mentality led to thinking the host literally transforms into the flesh and blood of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Last Supper. This also lead to a belief that God made certain people “elect” and others doomed to hell, or that at least God chose whom He wanted to save and whom He didn’t care about and let fall to their well-deserved evil fate of infinite torment. Mankind was already rejected and doomed to hell, so it had to be up to God to change that. Man was not made literally of the right stuff to participate in any fashion in his own salvation. That actually made sense to the early Church scholars mind you. I’m not exaggerating this a bit. If you proceed from the asinine assumption that all matter is evil and God thus can’t be made of matter, it all makes sense that salvation had to come through some divine act that changes the nature of the matter you are made of. That then all has to be up to God, not you.

Augustine in his day would have called himself a Platonist—it’s only later scholars who decided that sufficient additions or deviations from purely Platonic philosophy had been made that Augustine and his period fellows should be termed “New”  or “Neo-Platonists.” They were just Platonists who jammed Plato and Aristotle into a Christian framework.

Augustine fixated on the writings of Paul, a Romanized, Hellenized (Greekified) Jew who was also fully versed in Platonic philosophy. Paul was really Saul of Tarsus, a young punk from the Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus and then began systematically killing off their own Messiah’s followers–Saul’s own tribal brothers. Not even Christ’s followers–the Jerusalem-based Church–could stomach the notion of Saul of Tarsus hanging around with them—perhaps due to lingering bitter feelings and perhaps because they just were not too sure about that whole conversion story. So Paul got sent out of town to do all his apostling.  Like Augustine, Paul spent his life feeling very bad about having been such a consummate sinner before conversion. Between Paul and Augustine’s mutations of his writings, essentially all the theology of the coming Reformation and Protestant Movement was hatched. Augustine mused principally upon his newfound mechanism of “Grace,” and the manner that Original Sin was transmitted down through humanity. He tied himself up in knots over questions of how Jesus could be God and yet be born of a woman, virgin or not, and not be infected by Original Sin. (Of course, nobody had invented the concept or term “Original Sin” at the time either.)

The other issue Augustine wrote a lot about was the “Trinity.”

saint-patrick-serpents When Saint Patrick took Greco-Romanized Christianity to Ireland in the 4th century, the Church had resolved to explain God’s nature in terms of a “Trinity,” which Saint Patrick explained through the use of a three-leaved shamrock, three-in-one, of the same substance but separate. That made sense to his converts. Or at least shut them up long enough to get baptized. If you actually look at his analogy, it doesn’t do anything to explain the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Does he mean one God with three heads? Doesn’t that sound like the universally despised “three manifestations of the same God” theory anyway? Isn’t that just the old story about three blind men who each grab a part of an elephant and describe the animal three different ways, as a snake, as a tree, as rope, because one grabs a trunk, one a leg, and one the tail? That was considered heresy in Saint Patrick’s day and still is. The shamrock just camouflages the argument.

Saint Patrick went to the shamrock comparison not because it was so brilliant and clear, but it had that ring or some sort of sense to it compared to the hopelessly convoluted third-century creeds that had emerged from hundreds of years of in-house dogma fights over the Godhead. Some fourteen or fifteen-hundred years later Thomas Jefferson and many others would still be describing the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds as silly nonsense language used to describe a totally mysterious and incomprehensible God, and accusing its authors of being worshippers of Plato, not Jesus Christ. Saint Patrick avoided most of this by pointing to a shamrock, saying, “It’s like this, you just stare at this example and figure it out from there if you need more…” It was a culturally-friendly shortcut. And of course, he chased all the snakes out of Ireland, so he had that going for him.

When Paul went to Mars Hill, a place where Greek philosophers had gathered for ages to wrangle and debate, he noted a statue dedicated to the “Unknown God.” The philosophers there had in truth erected little tributes to all known gods as something of a universal sign of peace and good will—having dedicated the site to worldwide exchanges of wisdom as they understood wisdom to be. The “Unknown God” was an acknowledgement that there was logically one they didn’t know about or didn’t know about yet. It was a bit symbolic of the quest for that unknown god, or gods, or knowledge. It was a gesture. Knowing this, like Saint Patrick, Paul took advantage of the invitation already there for him to use. He didn’t really mean to suggest that this was actually a statue to the Jesus Christ he’d come to preach about, but having found that ethnically convenient side-door open, Paul was happy to sneak Jesus into the meeting and the Greeks were stuck with yielding the floor to him till they’d heard him out. My point is that you’d have to really be one of those Greek philosophers in attendance to appreciate just how clever this ploy was. If Paul had walked into the crowd ranting about Jesus of Nazareth and requesting some time at the podium, he might have been weeks or months getting on the agenda and nobody would have been interested. Paul exploited their own culture, their own philosophy, and inserted Jesus Christ right at the heart of it in one step. Jesus Christ was instantly a part of the Greek concept of deity, or at least one of them—a type  of deity, a new type of god-concept. it was inherently intriguing to them presented in this manner.

16 ¶ Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city awholly given to bidolatry.

17 Therefore adisputed he in the bsynagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.

18 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.

19 And they took him, and brought him unto aAreopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?

20 For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.

21 (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there aspent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)

22 ¶ Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are atoo superstitious.

23 For as I passed by, and beheld your adevotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE bUNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye cignorantly worship, him ddeclare I unto you.

24 God that amade the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, bdwelleth not in temples made with hands;

25 Neither is aworshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and bbreath, and all things;

26 And hath amade of bone cblood dall enations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath fdetermined the gtimes before happointed, and the ibounds of their habitation;

27 That they should aseek the Lord, bif haply they might cfeel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:

28 For in him we alive, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his boffspring.

29 Forasmuch then as we are the aoffspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto bgold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s cdevice.

30 And the times of this aignorance God bwinked at; but now ccommandeth all men every where to drepent:

31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will ajudge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath bordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath craised him from the dead.

32 ¶ And when they heard of the aresurrection of the dead, some bmocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.

33 So Paul departed from among them.

34 Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the aAreopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

Acts 17—And now you see how annoying the LDS footnotes can be….

Clearly Paul steered clear of the whole three-in-one-one-in-three conundrum on Mars Hill because he had enough invitation for a discussion about one god and one god only. Three-in-one might have been pushing the issue beyond politeness and credulity. Paul’s arguments seem to make perfect sense even today, by almost all modern cultural, logical, and philosophical standards.

On the other hand, when Augustine converted to Christianity, the Roman variety mind you, as an accomplished scholar and philosophical debater along Greek lines already, he spent his first 15 years attempting to harmonize the Nicene Creed with logic, reason, and the newly minted scriptures.

Not even his Biblical hero Paul was of much help to him in this endeavor. His final product was De Trinitate in which he struggles awkwardly and desperately to find analogies common to human experience that would explain the still developing, three-persons-in-one-God concept. (Apparently he didn’t have any shamrocks handy.)Sandro_Botticelli_050

The key to making Trinitariansim work out in Augustine’s mind was to accept first that God is immaterial. Augustine considered Plato to be a demigod, but still had problems with making an omnipotent God immaterial. Immaterial might be a good illustration for perfect, but omnipotent was another issue. By studying the works of Plotinus, a noted Neo-Platonist Augustine had already followed deeply for years, he first reasoned out with himself how God could be incorporeal. Once he beat that into his own head against his own common sense, he then went on to reason out how God, having no substance whatsoever of any sort, could make the universe and everything in it out of nothing at all:

Because therefore God made all things which he did not beget of himself, not of those things that already existed, but of those things that did not exist at all, that is, of nothing… For there was not anything of which he could make them.

The highest good, than which there is no higher, is God, and consequently he is unchangeable good, hence truly eternal and truly immortal… And consequently, if he alone is unchangeable, all things that he has made, because he has made them out of nothing, are changeable. For he is so omnipotent, that even out of nothing, that is of what is absolutely non-existent, he is able to make good things both great and small, both celestial and terrestrial, both spiritual and corporeal.

–Augustine, Concerning the Nature of God, chapter 26

Augustine was the final expression of Western Christian thought. His thinking formed the basis of the Reformation and Protestant Movements. Remember that, because his greatest works of “reason” are sophomoric gibberish. The example above is fallacious on numerous points, both logically and physically. The assumption that God made the world out of nothing isn’t Christian, it’s Platonism. It’s a false assumption. The concept of immaterial matter is physically impossible. The definition of nothing is nothing. You can’t get around nothing by saying God is just so great and omnipotent that even though He is nothing, and has nothing to work with, He can still create good out of nothing at all. And if that’s so, why isn’t all of creation good by nature rather than evil? If there’s evil in all matter, then it’s God’s fault because He must have put it there. Anything that exists can only exist as an expression of God’s active will.

This is just dogma being painted to look pretty via the pretense of logic. If God could make everything out of nothing, why couldn’t He make everything as unchangeably good as He is Himself if He wanted to? He’s omnipotent right? In fact, being perfect and good, God would not be capable of making anything bad or imperfect.

How could this twaddle sound brilliant to all of the foremost Christian orators, writers, scholars and philosophers in the Western World for the last millenium and a half? That’s the real mystery to me as a modern, intelligent human being. Nevertheless, the key movers of the Western Church came to think that humble Augustine of Hippo had finally unlocked all the great Truths hidden for all the centuries and finally gotten to the root of Paul’s message.

Augustine had lived a fairly disorderly youth and had among other sins, an illegitimate son by a concubine. His pagan father sent him to Tagaste, then Madaura, and then to Carthage to study rhetoric, mathematics and philosophy until he was twenty. He taught those subjects in Tagaste and then Carthage from 375-383. He then went to Rome and won a chair of rhetoric in Milan. Though his Christian mother followed him there eventually and tried to marry him up and make him respectable, he maintained multiple lovers and even after conversion is quoted as having said, “Lord give me chastity, but not yet.”

When he had investigated his mother’s Christianity in his youth, he found it simple-minded. He was completely enamored with pure reason, and determined never to be indoctrinated into anything so senseless as Christianity. His initial observation of the Bible was that it was “incomprehensible and barbarous.” Augustine came along just in time so that “Bible” Augustine was reading had all the same New Testament Books we have today, and in the same order. So when he at first contemptuously rejected the “Bible,” it was essentially our Bible of today.

He became a Manichean for a good eleven years of his youth by best estimates. This is a religious and philosophical school invented by Mani, or Manes, which personified the Supreme Being as light and goodness, a force who is in constant conflict with chaos and evil. Man’s body was the work of the demon. Manichaeism considered man’s nature to be essentially bad and denied any capability of redemption. Man was what he was and God is what He is. Human will in this scheme was a delusion. All things were God’s will and nothing happened if God did not make it happen. This is an extremely Greek view in which omnipotent, often cruel or capricious gods toyed with mankind like pets or little puppets.

When Augustine did finally examine Christianity in his later years, it was under pressure from his mother, a good friend, and a local bishop he became attached to because of the sheer eloquence of his sermons. Augustine became fixated upon Romans 7 and Paul’s other writings about the antagonism between the flesh and the spirit. This is not unexpected considering Augustine and Paul were both Greco/Roman products to begin with and both sagged with guilt over previous behavior. Both of these “Saints” openly wrote of their own guilt and unworthiness. They would tell you themselves that they were the most egregious sinners in their own estimation. It is small wonder that they both made hashing and re-hashing the topics of inherent sin and undeserved redemption their lifetime gospel hobby.

Augustine invented not just the phrase, but the entire concept of “Original Sin.” His problem centered around this business of God’s creating an imperfect world and humans who could even know what sin was, much less want to do it. He concluded through his “brilliant” logic that God created a perfect world and made man good and sinless. But He also gave man free agency, and thus the possibility of sin existed in this perfect world. Using the chaos demon, Satan, the serpent example from his Manichean training, he made the Devil the active agent of introducing sin and evil to God’s perfect garden, and because our First Parents were the active agents of following this sinful example, God was off the hook for any of the blame or responsibility. This willful act was the “Original Sin.”

He had some other problems with that thesis however, and that was explaining how this guilt could be passed on to generations down the line who hadn’t been part of the Original Sinning. Augustine’s detractors reasoned that this made God arbitrary and unfair to hold the innocent newborn guilty for something they had no part in.  Soon, Augustine found a counter to this argument, which he called “Inherited Sin,” which came by way of the filthy act of human reproduction. He defended his claims using a now disputed translation of Romans 5:12:

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

This is King James version. Or at least the fragment that Augustinians like to quote. But let’s look at the whole argument being raised by Paul in this verse a little closer:

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.

–ESV Bible


12Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— 13for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

–NIV Bible

Or this little commentary from the Geneva Study Bible:

5:12 10 Wherefore, as by l one man m sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, n for that all have sinned:

(10) From Adam, in whom all have sinned, both guiltiness and death (which is the punishment of the guiltiness) came upon all.
(l) By Adam, who is compared with Christ, and similar to him in this, that both of them make those who are theirs partakers of that which they have: but they are not the same in this, that Adam derives sin into them that are his, even into their very nature, and that to death: but Christ makes them that are his partakers of his righteousness by grace, and that to life.
(m) By sin is meant that disease which is ours by inheritance, and men commonly call it original sin: for so he calls that sin in the singular number, whereas if he speaks of the fruits of it, he uses the plural number, calling them sins.
(n) That is, in Adam.

5:13 11 (For until o the law sin was in the world: but sin is not p imputed when there is no law.

(11) That this is so, that both guiltiness and death began not after the giving and transgressing of law of Moses, is evident in that men died before that law was given: for in that they died, sin, which is the cause of death, existed then: and in such a way, that it was also imputed: because of this it follows that there was then some law, the breach of which was the cause of death.
(o) Even from Adam to Moses.
(p) Where there is no law made, no man is punished as faulty and guilty.

5:14 12 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over q them that had not sinned after the r similitude of Adams transgression, 13 who is the figure of him that was to come.

(12) But that this law was not the universal law, and that death did not proceed from any actual sin of everyone particularly, it appears by this, that the very infants which neither could ever know nor transgress that natural law, are nonetheless dead as well as Adam.
(q) Our infants.
(r) Nor after the manner of sin of those who are older, following their lusts: but yet the whole posterity was corrupted in Adam when he knowingly and willingly sinned.

The passage in question is attempting (clumsily) to parallel Adam passing death on through his generations–a concept Jews at least would have been familiar with–to Jesus Christ passing on life to all mankind, something that would be weird and foreign to his Roman converts in particular. One man brought death to all mankind, one man brings life. Any other contingencies in the argument are superfluous. And the fact that Adam also brought life to all mankind before he brought death to it further muddies the analogy. Sooner or later any analogy falls apart if you start digging around its base too deeply. That’s the nature of the Greek system.

It is impossible to miss that Paul inserted into this argument what was obviously a very clear principle his audience well understood: Sin is not counted or punishable or attributable to anyone who hasn’t heard the law. If people died before Moses then, they were answering to a physical law which Paul makes very clear is only a physical characteristic passed on from Adam. His audience understood this. This physical death he is maintaining, is obviously not the result of sin in the conventional sense, and is obviously not doomed to be an un-recoverable injustice because God is fair and just. Hence, because Adam brought this physical death to his children, Jesus has been sent by our Father to save all of His children from it. This salvation is free and universal, in the same sense that not one of Adam’s children did a thing to “deserve” being physically imperfect and doomed to die. This Paul makes clear, is separate from the “sin” or willful evil committed by knowing adults. (And a Mormon at least would assume that Paul meant deliberate “sins” were accountable in full and required a conscious act of repentance for entry into a kingdom of glory and return to God’s presence, but not simply for simple physical salvation.)

The punishment for being human is death. This punishment is meted out even without us knowing or transgressing any of God’s laws. Yes, that’s Adam’s fault. It stands to reason however, that having paid the price of this “Inherited Sin” that God then owes us a release. Augustine missed that bit of reasoning. All of mankind will in fact be saved from Adam’s physical sin,  because Jesus was sent to insure it. That’s Paul’s lesson here: There will certainly be no billions of ignorant sinners in the Heathen Nations rotting in hell for never running into a preacher and a Bible. There will be no unborn babies floating around in a Lake of Fire that burns forever but does not consume because they didn’t muster the wherewithal to come on out of the womb and get baptized. That much Paul makes very clear. Remember that when I get around to pen-lashing Calvin and his Protestant chums.

Augustine’s “Original Sin” was supposed to be a quick end-run around a logical stumbling block in other arguments. He had to prove mankind was inherently and irretrievably evil to make all his other theories work—any scrap of authoritative proof would do, by way of any logic. Paul’s reasoning seemed close enough to make God look fair. It wasn’t God, it was Adam damning us all. There isn’t however, anything more corrupt and evil in a Platonic Manichean’s mind that death. It’s the most un-God-like, imperfect, corrupt and un-Divine thing there is–next to copulation, which he made the direct mechanism that passes the sin on. So Augustine never looked any deeper into what he was reading than an easy link to his already well-fixed Platonist rationale. Man is proven inherently evil by the fact that we die. That’s all he needed to see in it, even though the main verse he used never dealt with eternal damnation at all, simply mortal death, a death Paul claimed Jesus would universally save us from a few verses later and in numerous other writings.

(The notion that physical resurrection is a free gift in not Mormonism, it is called “Universalism.” It actually had a big following at one time, and from the early centuries after Christ it never did drop entirely out of the “Christian” mainstream.)

Augustine was quite the innovator, pulling entirely new concepts out of mostly Paul’s writing. Or more honestly, pulled new ideas out of his backside and “proving” them via Paul’s writings. This isn’t my complaint against him, this is in fact the universal challenged of his opposing peers in his own day. But the Bishop of Hippo had a way of wooing over the people who really counted. Augustine for instance invented a totally new concept that some of his most important fellows of status and power thought was better than sliced bread: the omnipresence of God. God was not only immaterial, but He was also everywhere in the universe and inside of everything. He reasoned that, like a man’s spirit is everywhere in his body, so God’s spirit is everywhere in all of creation.God is made of nothing, but it’s a nothing so big it fills the universe. In philosophical terms that’s sheer poetry baby. Dig it.

Omnipresence created problems explaining God’s spirit being not just around or near, or able to see everything, but actually being inside of an inherently evil mankind, inside of Satan, and the whole inherently evil structure of matter. It later became a great way for the Vatican to gracefully back away from claiming the Host actually transmutated into the flesh of Jesus at the Council of Vatican II in 1962-1965, because you could just say it was the Deified immaterial flesh of Jesus and it was inside the Host in an invisible mysterious way. But you still have God’s essence conceptually permeating Charles Manson and Adolph Hitler in this particular scheme. Augustine never bothered to address this embarrassing logical dilemma in any serious way.

Augustine also never got around the problem of God creating a world in which the possibility of sin existed, or how Satan could have invaded God’s sinless world, or how to be consistent with his other claims, God must have made Satan. He never got around the bold assertion that God made Adam good, but even so, Adam chose to sin. Agency or no agency, there would be no satisfactory reason why Adam should have any desire to sin if God had made him good. Sinning would have been totally repulsive to Adam, as would having lengthy conversations with the devil to discuss  just exactly how he might get down to doing some of it.

sta02010 Augustine never got the Trinity explanation polished to his own satisfaction either. He just gave up on it after 15 years. His detractors accused him of preaching “personal theology” and essentially claimed he was pulling this stuff out of his backside. As an obscure little bishop, rival Christian thinkers frequently pondered aloud and in print, just who did he think he was to float this sort of idiocy about the Christian world anyway?

Augustine formulated many more troubling questions than he ever came up with clear answers for. But by courting the important bishops and impressing all the most convenient emperors as they came and went to enforce his ideas by force of civil and canon law, and thus silence his critics, he came to philosophically and theologically own Western Christianity. How he managed to pull that off as a minor bishop in a backwater outskirt of barely Christian civilization is the real story here.

It’s a mystery. It’s The Mystery.


About lrwhitney

American Saint but not Utah product.
This entry was posted in 7 Augustine of Hippo: Saint or Sinner? and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Augustine of Hippo, Saint or Sinner?

  1. What sources are you using for your article? Ellen White and Walter Veith? I like people who write a lot of information and share what is on their mind, but I am unfamiliar with these people you describe who are otherwise well known to me by a different history. God bless you. Saint.

  2. ronddee says:

    Reblogged this on ronddee and commented:
    Hmmm. Very interesting ideas and questions.

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