Augustine–The Dead Guy Most Recommended by Other Dead Guys

StAugustineAugustine was the first true theologian I read in college. I took a class on early medieval philosophy entirely focused on it, and I must say, it was a deeply formative experience for me, spiritually and theologically. For a while now, I’ve wanted to offer an encouragement  to those who have never spent any time with Augustine to do so–an endorsement of sorts, about 1500 years late. Thankfully, Herman Bavinck has already done it for me:

Thus Augustine became a theologian of the greatest importance for later dogmatics, one who dominated the following centuries. Every reformation returns to him and to Paul. For every dogma he found a formula that was taken over and repeated by everyone else. His influence extends to all churches, schools of theology, and sects. Rome appeals to him for its doctrine of the church, sacraments, and authority, with the Reformation felt kinship with him in the doctrine of predestination and grace. Scholasticism, in constructing its conceptual framework, took advantage of his sharp observation, the acuteness of his intellect, the power of his speculation–Thomas, in fact, was called the best interpreter of St. Augustine. Mysticism, in turn, found inspiration in his neoplatonism and religious enthusiasm.  Both Catholic and Protestant piety buoy themselves up on his writings; asceticism and pietism find nourishment and support in his work. Augustine, therefore, does not belong to one church but to all churches together. He is the universal doctor (Doctor universalis). Even philosophy neglects him to its own detriment. And because of his elegant and fascinating style, his refined, precise, highly individual and nevertheless universally human way of expressing himself, he, more than any other church father, can still be appreciated today. He is the most Christian as well as the most modern of all the fathers; of all of them he is closest to us. He replaced the aesthetic worldview with an ethical one, the classical with the Christian. In dogmatics we owe our best, our deepest, our richest thought to him. Augustine has been and is the dogmatician of the Christian church.

–Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1: Prolegomena, pg. 139

If that doesn’t encourage you to pick up some Augustine, I don’t know what will.

For those of you interested, I’d recommend starting with The Confessions, and digging around from there. Also, this biography by Peter Brown is supposed to be top-notch, and Justin Taylor has recommended Matthew Levering’s new book on The Theology of Augustine as an excellent introduction.

Soli Deo Gloria

10 thoughts on “Augustine–The Dead Guy Most Recommended by Other Dead Guys

  1. While Augustine had some good ideas………justification by faith, etc., his comments on and attitudes toward women are reprehensible!

    • Sure. I have not read that much on his views of women. I will say this, that is one of the reasons it’s important to read him as a man of his times, and not an unquestioned, infallible authority.

    • Could you provide the original references to his comments regarding women?

      I haven’t come across anything that can be characterized as “reprehensible”. On the contrary, in his personal letters with women and Christians from all walks of life, he showed fatherly love for the young, and warm affection for all. I think that’s one of the main reasons why so many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, when they read his Confessions, can relate to a “dead guy” who lived 1600 years ago.

    • That’s precisely THE one thing that he didn’t lack. 🙂

      It was Augustine who expounded the notion of Original Sin, and taught that Free Will is only possible by grace through faith.

      • “Free-will” is a myth, when it comes to the things of God. Our wills are BOUND.

        Free-will is the problem. In this respect, Augustine was off the mark. He believed that we could be infused with the right stuff…to make the right choices.

        We say that we are fully sinful…and yet fully justified. Sounds like a subtle difference…but it is a huge difference.

      • If I understand Augustine correctly, believers are indwelled with the Spirit, and enjoy the liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21). Our wills are no longer “bound”, but set free by the Truth.

  2. Great endorsement! The only wrinkle I would add is that Eastern Orthodox theology is not as endebted to Augustine, and this complicates the assertion that Augustine is truly a universal Christian theologian.

  3. This mp3 audio (class) highlights Augustine’s great contributions…and also the one area where he was lacking:

    [audio src="http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/the-question-that-precipitated-the-reformation.mp3" /]

    It really is a terrific listen. A good one to share with lapsed Catholics.

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