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THE BASIC PHILOSOPHICAL AND THEOLOGICAL NOTIONS OF

SAINT AUGUSTINE

"Thou hast made usfor Thyself, and our hearts are


restless <til they rest in thee. ' "

S t. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) towers over the history of Christian


thought as the last of the Church Fathers and, in many respects, as the
first of the Medieval theologians. In Augustine, son of a Christian mother
and a pagan father, born in the Roman Province of North Africa, we see a
fusion of Punic ardour, Hellenistic spirit and Roman will. He lived at a time
when the external persecutions of the Church had passed, only to be'suc-
ceeded by the even more difficult internal struggles concerning faith and
order. The Arian controversy was not yet dead; Manicheism threatened to
destroy the essence of the Church's faith, Scepticism (the New Academy)
flourished among the intellectuals; and later, Pelagianism and Donatism
arose to challenge the Catholic hegemony over the Christian world. The
events of Augustine's life are too well known to repeat here, and yet it is
important to keep in mind the basic outline of his spiritual pilgrimage, as
recorded in the Confessions by himself, and as the lines of his later develop-
ment shine through the reasoned passion of his theological and polemical
works. Indeed, a basic orientation of this study is the Thesis that we cannot
understand Augustine's most basic ideas without reference to his own esti-
mation of his experiences, the account of which forms the first nine books
of the Confessions. We shall feel free, then, to refer to this information as
we investigate Augustine's thought.
Before proceeding futher we must mark the limitations of this investi-
gation. We shall not attempt to review the whole corpus of Augustine's
works, but rather limit our attention to the followings writings: 1
1. The Immortality of the Soul (387 A.D.)
2. The Nature of the Good (405 A.D.)
3. The Spirit and the Letter (412 A.D.)
4. On Nature and Grace (415 A.D.)
5. The Grace of Christ and Original Sin (418 A.D.)
6. On Grace and Free WiI/(427 A.D.)
7. The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love (421 A.D.)
8. On the Trinity (400-416 A.D.)

J. Dates from Basic Writings ojSaint Augustine, edited by W.J. Oates, N.Y. 1948 (2 vois.)

Augustinian Studies, Volume 15,1984 93


John C. Cooper 94

It should be noted that these eight works include one that reflects
Augustine's very early Christian period (the first one) when he was still
largely Neo-Platonic in thought; one (The second) written in refutation of
the Manichean movement (to which he belonged for nine years); four
(numbers 3,4,5 and 6) works written against the Pelagian position; one
(The seventh) "systematic" work designed like a Catechism as an introduc-
tion to the faith; and one speculative-theological work (The eighth). Thus,
with the exception of his writings against the sceptical New Academy and
the Donatistic schism, these few works cover Augustine's main concerns.
Certainly they are adequate for an investigation in depth of his root ideas.
We are guaranteed an even firmer foundation in this search by our depen-
dence upon the Confessions, about the use of which a word of explanation
is needed.
Some years ago (1962) this writer wrote an article in which the results of
several years of investigation into the structure of the Confessions were
given. 2 This study was provoked by the apparent disunity of the first nine
books of the work and the last four. Max Zemf expressed the problem in
these words:
The entire work is divided into two parts which seem to have nothing whatsoever to
do with each other. The Biography of the first ten books is suddenly resolved into a
dry exposition of the first chapter of Genesis. Who has not been compelled to
shake his head and ask what purpose Augustine could have had in mind when he
thus brought together such various materials. 3
On the basis of the results of this study, the following thesis was pro-
posed:
That the concluding Books (XI-XIII) of the Confessions do form an integral part
of the whole work, in that the Confessions are more than an autobiography or
diary, but form a history of Augustine's mental and spiritual experiences in which
he discovered satisfactory answers to the philosophic questions that concern all
thinking men.
In this "spiritural history" Augustine thus naturally covers more material
than the bare record of his life. Indeed, the events of his life (Manicheism, Neo-
Platonism, conversion to Catholicism, etc.) are merely guideposts in the spiritual
journey of his intellect that is the major theme of the work. 4
After a close study of the eight works in question here, the following
thesis is now offered concerning the most basic notions of Augustine's en-
tire thought-world: That Augustine's basic philosophical-theological no-
tion is a universalization of the particular spiritual journey which he him-
selfexperienced. Stated in his own words this" elephantine" idea is: "Thou

2. See J.C. Cooper, "Why did Augustine write Books XI-XIII of the Confessions?", (Augustin-
ian Studies, Villanova, PA., Vol. 2, 1971; Also in Acts of the XIVth International Congress of Philoso-
phy. Vienna, Austria, 1968.)
3. Max Zemf, Heidelberger Abhandburgen Zur Philosophie und ihrer Geschichte, Hrsg. V.C.
Hoffmann und H. Rickert, H.Q., 1962. Quoted in The Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. XXI, No.3, p. 214.
4. J.C. Cooper, op. cit., p.2.
The Basic Philosophical and Theological Notions of St. Augustine 95

hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless 'til they rest in thee.
(Conjs. I, 1,5.)
Thus, Augustine's basic notion is the concept oj the spiritual quest, of
the finite seeking the infinite, of the lover seeking the beloved (only it is the
loved-one being sought by the Divine lover for Augustine), of the philoso-
pher seeking wisdom, the everlasting motion of the soul upward for mehr
licht.
However, Augustine's spiritual guest is quite different from that of
Socrates, as recorded in Plato's dialogues. Augustine teaches a "Christian
Socratism", and it is a Platonic type of philosophy, but it is radically
changed by the modifier, "Christian". Augustine is both like and unlike
Socrates.
It is modified because there is no way open for man to ascend by virture
of his own innate powers to the vision of God, as there is in the ascent of the
soul for Plato. (It is his firm belief that one cannot ascend to God on the
basis of natural capacity and ability. That belief chiefly forces Augustine to
reject and battle againstPelagianism.) In Plato, the soul is immortal by
definition. It participates in the divinity already, and through philosophic
discipline can ascend by stages to full participation in the vision of God.
The way to God is the way of wisdom; the possibility of the vision is always
there, if one will only prepare himself for it. Because the soul is not material
and can be considered as separated from God by sin. In the Greek view, evil
attaches to the physical side of man's nature. From this seat of evil the soul
can flee, as a prisoner from a darkened cave, or a still living person from a
gloomy tomb. This is like, but also radically unlike, Augustine.
In Augustine, man is separated from God. Man is radically separated in
his natural state (Le., before grace, outside of the Church's Baptismal re-
generation) from the Godhead in his totality, in his body, mind and spirit,
and not in his body only. For Augustine the body (and nature) are good, as
created by the good God, and the body is not the seat of evil. Man is not
immortal simply by definition but only by the action of God. When God
created man he created him with the possibility either of dying or not dying,
just as he created him with the possibility of sinning or not sinning. For
Augustine the time of decision was now past. The first man, Adam, in
terms of the Hebrew myth, had decided to follow his own inclinations (Cu-
pidi/as) rather than to obey the will of God, and hence was now cursed by
God's confirmation of his choice (which Augustine held Adam freely
made) of death and sin. No longer is it possible for Adam, or for any of his
offspring (which includes the whole human race) to do anything else, natu-
rally, (i.e. unaided by grace) but to sin and die. For this reason, Augustine
found his attempt to "seek after and find God" in other traditions (Mani-
cheism and Neo-Platonism) had failed. Other views of the human situation
(including Pelagianism) simply did not reckon with the great weight of sin.
John C. Cooper 96

Augustine found that Neo-Platonism could correctly teach man about the
object of the search (the "quest"), God, but it could not bring man to full
union with God, because the closer the way of philosophic wisdom brought
man to God, the greater man's superbia (UBPLS) or pride became. The
very attempt to ascend to God became an offense that widened the gulf
between God and man. In Manicheism there was not even the possibility of
a quest for the true God, since the pagan doctrines of that sect separated the
Creator from the Redeemer.
For Augustine, the possibility of the quest for God must ultimately fail
unless it is initiated, motivated and enabled by God Himself. This is the
reason for his emphasis on grace. "Command what thou wilt, but give what
thou commandest." Grace, for Augustine, is a free gift. It is entirely un-
merited by man, and cannot be won from God but only humbly received.
And the gift is the Holy Spirit, looked at from the angle of theology; while it
is love, looked at from the angle of ethics. This grace is chiefly seen in the
central event of all history, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. By this means,
of God becoming flesh, suffering and dying on the Cross, and triumphing
over death in the Resurrection, every man that God calls (i.e. To whom He
gives grace) can be saved, that is, can complete the quest and come to rest in
God. However, in the completion of the quest (theologically, the process of
sanctification) man does not merely "work out his own salvation" on the
basis of a God-given ability, but is moved, empowered and directed con-
stantly by the influx of the Spirit (or the in fusion of love). When at death,
the soul is taken to the secret place of God, there to await the general resur-
rection and that Judgment that will declare it part of the company of the
Blessed; the union with God so obtained will be the result only of the work
of God (of grace) and not the result either of man's natural ability or of his
works of piety or his attainment of wisdom.
We might illustrate the difference between the Socratic-Platonic' 'order
of salvation" and the Augustinian scheme in this way:

The Ascent through God (Man is attracted by


Eros, Wisdom and the good)
discipline.
"Prehistoric' , PLATO
fall of souls
from heaven.
Initiation of process by Man
Man
The Basic Philosophical and Theological Notions oj St. Augustine 97

Sin, interposed by God


man's action.

The infusion of Caritas (Love) in


man, which raises man to God.
Initiation of
Process By God
(Man Accepts or
Rejects the offered
Man "Grace" AUGUSTINE
(Created, Body and
Soul, by God)

Although God has made us for himself, man has interposed a bar-
sin-that radically separates the whole race from its Creator; a barrier
which can only be overcome by a re-creation (redemption) wrought by God
Himself. In Augustine's view God has made a "way of salvation" for man,
but for a limited number only; the great majority of men rightfully being
condemned for their sinfulness. If God were not merciful, such radical
separation from God for enternity would be the lot of all, hence we should
praise and thank Him for that company of the redeemed who are saved like
"brands plucked from the burning."
With this basic difference between the "Christian Socratism" (of
Augustine) and the Platonism (as taught by the Neo-Platonists) in mind, we
can see that the nature of God is crucially involved in Augustine's thought.
This writer is convinced of the overall Neo-Platonic cast of Augustine's
thought, but also convinced of the radical difference between the view of
God held by Greek philosophy and that of Christianity.
Augustine tells us (in the Confessions) that one of the reason why he
deserted the primitive Christianity urged on him by his mother was the
crudity of the Christian Anthropomorphism used to describe God. It
seemed to him that if God really existed, then, on the basis of Stoic doctrine
and the Old Testamental usage, God must have a body, that is, be material.
Thus he gave way before the Manichean arguments that there were two
divine principles in the world, the one Good (identified with the Father of
Jesus Christ) and the one evil, identified with the God of the Old Testment.
This simplified his quest for it held creation, including man's body, to be
the product of the evil' 'god" , and so, in a sense, excused his bodily needs
and desires which were simply fully evil in this view. However, he was never
intellectually satisfied on this point, and could not bring himself to desert
sexual indulgence on the basis of his own reason and strength. After debat-
ing with the most learned Manicheans he lost all faith in this metaphysical
John C. Cooper 98

dualism and became sceptical, tending towards the teachings of Cicero and
the New Academy. For them the soul was not necessarily immortal. Death
was simple extinction, probably. But this too rubbed Augustine's pride and
desire for life the wrong way. However, in the works of Plotinus, and other
Neo-Platonists, he found a clue to his dilemma in the spirituality of God.
On the basis of this philosophy, which he never deserted at this point, he
came to believe in the existence of the spiritual, in "things not seen" .
It was a good preparatio evangelica, for the learned Bishop Ambrose
was capable of building on this foundation and leading him back into
Christianity; howbeit, a Christianity of a more intellectual, and of a dis-
tinctly Platonic cast than his childhood religion.
As we see demonstrated in The Immortality of the Soul, Augustine now
believed that he had a soul, and that it had an eternal destiny. The basic
ingredient for a true philosophical-theological quest was now present.
Augustine was able to prove to himself that this aspect of man was immor-
tal because it was the subject of Science (knowledge) which is eternal (the
Platonic eternal Ideas). The soul (here, equals the mind) participates in it;
and thus the soul, the receptor of science, is undying. This also distin-
guishes the soul (unchanging) from the body (changing). Later, Augustine
would tidy this up by his emphasis on resurrection, a physical resurrection
brought about by the recreation of God (Enchiridion). Augustine was also
able, at this early period (387 A.D.) to connect the soul to God through the
reason's participation in the logos spermatikos, a Stoic doctrine brought
over into Christianity in the Fourth Gospel (John 1:1-3). This reason in
man was also identified as the means of relationship between God and man;
the Imago Dei of the Hebrew myth. Augustine never departed from this
view, as can be seen in On the Trinity, where he locates God's image in man
in the unity of memory, understanding and will (which equals man's rea-
son). Of course, this image is distorted and incomplete but it is the best
analogy Augustine could find out of the great number that he investigated.
This done, Augustine could clarify his views on nature, particulary in
opposition to Manicheism. He rejects the idea of two divine principles, and
holds to the unity of the Creator and Redeemer. He sees the Old Testament
and the New Testament as a unity, to be studied by the analogia fidei and
interpreted non-literally by a metaphorical (and spiritual) hermeneutic. For
the converted Augustine, God is the highest Good (as in Platonism). All
other goods, both spiritual and corporeal are from God. God is the all-
good, unchangeable ground of being itself. And yet, nature is not "of like
substance" with God. Creation is "from" God, called into existence ex
nihilo, it is not "of" God. There is to be no confusion of the creation and
the Creator, of the maker and the made. Only the Son of God is "of" God;
nature stands below God as created. Yet, nature qua nature is good. It is
from God. And this includes spirit and body, although the Neo-Platonic
The Basic Philosophical and Theological Notions oj St. Augustine 99

Augustine had to say "spirit" (in some sense) is "better than body". (The
Nature of the Good.)
This movement of thought thus "lops off' the naturally immortal soul.
There is a deep and basic difference between Creator and Creature. In this
world, all things are governed by measure, form and order. Evil was not
created by God, but is (Neo-Platonically) explained as negation, lack, defi-
ciency. Evil lies in a corruption of measure, form and order. By the same
token, being is identified with Good. There are levels of being in the world,
and those things with more being (Le., man as over an ape) are "more
good" than those with less being. This idea is guarded from a reductio ad
absurdum, by the keen insight that the more being a creature has, the
greater potentiality for evil it has also. Thus angels, with greater powers of
being, had greater opportunities for evil, as is seen in Satan's rebellion and
fall.
In this doctrine, Augustine does several things. He guards God's omin-
potence and transcendence by attributing creation to a Divine fiat "out of
nothing" , and preserves God's goodness by showing evil to be nothing. The
existential fact of evil "proves" the basic goodness of primordial nature,
since evil could not "be without good. Augustine also makes possible a
view of human sin that keeps God from authorship of evil. Because nature
(including man) is made out of nothingness (and evil has no form, is chaos,
lack), man thus entertains the possibility of "doing" evil. This "sin" how-
ever, stems not from the Creator, who made only good, but from the wills
of those who do evil. It comes about because man refuses to love God, the
Highest good (Caritas-the "upward love") and directs his love (his atten-
tion and desire) to lesser goods (Cupiditas-the "downward love").
"Good and evil are thus an exception to the rule that contrary attributes
cannot be predicated of the same subject. Evil springs up in what is good;
and cannot exist except in what is good" (Enchiridion). And yet, because
God is Creator, and God is good, "the only cause of a goodness that we
enjoy is the goodness of God; and the only cause of evil is the falling away
from the unchangeable good of a being made good but changeable (finite),
first the angels, then man." (Ibid.)
We must turn to the Enchiridion, called Augustine'S only systematic
work, to see the connection of this doctrine to the actual situation now of
man, that is, bound under sin because of the fall of the race into sin.
When God created man, as the crown of creation, he gave him free will.
In this freedom, man had the possibility of serving his own true interests by
obeying and seeking after the only Source of Good, God; or of mistakenly
seeking his own desires (i.e., lesser goods of the body, food, sex, posses-
sions, etc.) and so severing himself from the Source of Good. In Augus-
tine's famous word play, man (in the Hebrew myth, "Adam") had:
John C. Cooper 100

posse non peccare


and posse peccare
as well as posse mori
and possitnon mor;
It was possible for "the first man" not to sin (i.e., to obey God fully)
and hence to become so as not to die. However, Adam did choose" a lesser
good" (To be like God, knowing Good from evil", and "Seeing it was good
for food"-Gen. 3) and therefore God confirmed man in his free choice so
that forever after, Adam, and all his descendants find themselves non posse
non peccare, i.e., not able not to sin, and non possU non mori, not able not
to die. As Augustine says, (Enchir.) "The death of the body is man's pecu-
liar punishment." How does Adam's choice affect us? Through the com-
plex nexus of inter-relations that make up the existential situation of man-
kind. Through society (the solidarity of the race; the corporate character of
man) and inheritance, through institutions and mental traits. Through the
fact that the past, does, to a degree, predetermine the present and the future.
Once man sinned; once man chose a lesser good (in which evil, the defi-
ciency was mingled) then the direction that the whole race would take was
laid down. Moreover, the beginning of sin is superbia (UBPLS) or pride,
which is seen in Adam's desire to be like God, and the human organism is
such that even in infancy, it expresses this attitude toward the world.
Augustine, perhaps governed by his own unhappy experiences in counter-
ing his sex-drive (' 'make me continent, but not just yet" -Conjs.), more or
less connects the transmission of this Cupiditas or "downward love" (bent
toward sin) with the lust that invariably accompanies the sexual act which is
the only way of propagating the race. Thus, inherited or original sin (cupi-
ditas) is passed from generation to generation, with those additions made to
sinfulness by each man's personal actions, and the life of the world (or "the
city of man") becomes a state of misery and despair. Here on earth man
lives in the despair of one evil after another, and goes from bad to worse.
But in God's mercy a way of salvation is opened up-through the grace of
Jesus Christ-which makes the spiritual quest not only possible, but deo
volente, successful. "For God judged it better to bring good out of evil,
than not to permit any evil to exist." (Enchir. XXVII)
On this basis, Augustine's basic notion, the flight of the soul to God
(the alone to the alone; the finite to the infinite) is possible. Whereas man
could not "find God" through wisdom (as in Platonism) because of that
superbia (the result of cupiditas) that widens the gulf in the moment that
intellectually we focus more and more on the Godhead; and which pre-
cludes any self-salvation or even cooperation with God in salvation on the
basis of man's natural ability (as in Pelagianism) because of the same in-
crease of pride; now, because the Word (of God) became flesh and dwelt
among us; we, infused with God's Spirit and imitating Christ's humilitas
The Basic Philosophical and Theological Notions oj St. Augustine 101

can draw closer to God. It is "not man's willing or running but God's
showing mercy" , which means that the process of salvation is to be totally
credited to God. He "both prepares the will to receive divine aid and aids
the will which has been thus prepared" (Enchiridion, IX). This introduc-
tion of the historical element, the Incarnation, into the discussion brings up
a feature of the Augustinian basic notion that must be pointed out. It is the
union, in Augustine's thought, of the Greek concept of God as perfect,
Impassable, the Good, and the Biblical presentation of God in personalistic
terms. How can "He" who is all-good, unchanging, eternal, love? How
can "He" join in the union of the person of Jesus Christ (who is in two
natures, one human, one divine)? "How is the infinite capable of receiving
the finite?" Or "How is the finite capable of receiving the infinite?" Even
with full dependence upon God's grace, "How does the finite self find
(rather, is found by) the infinite God?" Note that the question is "How
does?" not "How can?" Augustine was convinced that God could and did
find (and save) the finite self, for God had found him in the garden, when
the disembodied voice sang toile lege ("take and read"). He knew that he
could not save himself, and that God saved him. "Give God the glory for it
all belongs to God." This experience, as well as his deep attachment to
Pauline Christianity, with its similar insistence on divine grace, explicates
the position Augustine took in regard to Pelagius' well-intentioned syn-
ergism. Augustine, on his reading of Paul, on his own spiritual experience
and on his deep insight into the constant danger of pride (superbia), had to
insist upon the majesty and sovereignty of God. But in attributing all to
God he could not avoid denying much to man. In his insistence on grace to
the point of double predestination, he inevitably threw doubt on his sincere
belief in the free will of man; but more, he made it more difficult for us to
understand how he "married" Greek philosophy and Pauline Christianity
into a Systematic Theology. This writer sees a deep ambivalence in Augus-
tine, just at this point, on the Doctrine of God and the Doctrine of man. As
W.T. Jones remarks:
There are two conflicting strains of thought in competition in Augustine's mind ..
. .On the one hand, there is a metaphysical strain derived largely from Neoplaton-
ism, which, however diluted by mysticism remained in some of its major aspects
rational and Greek. On the other hand, there is a religious strain derived from the
canonical writings and, above all, from his great experiences in the garden in Mi-
lan .. ~ Thatthese two strains are not completely antithetical is obvious .... They
touch at numerous points: at the notion of goodness ... and in the belief that
God-reality, whatever else it is, is that final end at which all things consciously or
unconsciouslyaim. 5
Therefore, when Augustine says "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and
our hearts are restless 'til they rest in Thee,' "we have a combination of the
Neoplatonic quest for the vision of God, grounded on the Platonic ac-
5. W.T. Jones, A History oj Western Philosophy, N.Y., 1952, p. 363.
John C. Cooper 102

counts of Socrates; the writings of St. Paul who saw God as preparing him
as an instrument of the divine plan in the womb before birth (Gal. 1); and
an existential philosophy of human existence based on Augustine's own
experiences in his youthful spiritual quest. This "fundamental notion" is
one, but it is a "whole" made up of parts, rather than being of an essential
(or monistic) oneness. Augustine's thought, revolving around the two foci
of God and the soul (the quest; the movement of the restless self to the Rest
of God), is not consistent throughout the body of his works (although he
never deserts this basic notion), and becomes quite unsystematic in the de-
tails. It is not a surprise that Pelagius was able to quote Augustine against
Augustine. Augustine'S thought thus shows "faults" everywhere along the
axis of this union of philosophy, Scripture and experience. Like the great
rift that runs from Palestine across the Red Sea down into Central Africa,
the great seams of Augustine's thought show a tendency to slip and quiver
under pressure. However, the parts of his fundamental philosophical no-
tion never break apart because of the underlying substructure, that deeper
level that undergirds all facets of Augustine'S thought; the ineffable plat-
form of all theological thought-God. The emphasis of" Inquietum est cor
nostrum, donee requiescat in te", is always on "in te".
But what is Agustine's idea of God? Augustine wrote in the Confes-
sions (Bk. I, Ch. 1): "Great art thou, 0 lord, and greatly to be praised;
great is thy power, and of thy wisdom there is no end ... "
Our first answer to this question comes from essential notions ex-
pressed or implied throughout Augustine's works; our second answer will
come from On the Trinity.
First, God is Immutable. He does not change in making his creation. In
fact, He "calls" it into being, out of nothing. A perfect being that would
change would not be perfect. But this leads to a second' 'characteristic" of
God, He is creative. All things were made by Him and are dependent upon
Him for their existence. That which exists, only exists because it is "from
God" and hence is good. Evil is but a deprivation of being. Thirdly, God is
the source oftruth. Being, which is perfectly found in God alone, is equated
with value. God is truth because he is perfect being. Goodness is a charac-
teristic of "isness' not of "doing". Fourhtly, God is Eternal. For God there
is no question of past, present and future, but" ... in the excellency of an
ever-present eternity, thou precedest all times past, and survivest all future
times, because they are future, and when they have come they will be past;
but 'thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end'." (Confs. XI) For
God, everything is an eternal now, for whom the whole universe in its total-
. ity is forever present.
Fifth, God is all Good. This had been discussed above, God is Perfect
Being, and goodness is a characteristic of being. It should be noted that in
stressing the goodness of God, Augustine was decisively overthrowing the
The Basic Philosophical and Theological Notions of St. Augustine 103

Persian dualism of Manicheism that denied any goodness in either the Cre-
ator or the Creation (Nature). Rather, Augustine connected (as all ortho-
dox Christianity had done and continues to do) the Creator and the
Redeemer-Sanctifier. For Augustine the world was basically good because
God is good. Indeed the world could not exist (i.e., have even a derived
"being", from creation out of nothing) unless it were good, for being and
goodness are correlative. In order to find that "rest" he longed for in the
ground of his (and of all) Being, he had to reject such dualistic thinking.
Sixth, God is Provident; that is, God not only wishes to look out for his
creatures but finds the means to do so. God is a loving Father, who exercises
constant concern for those whom He has chosen. Every event of Augus-
tine's life, even his detours into error and sin, were part of God's plan for
him. Looking back, Augustine saw that every "decision" of his own had
been but a step in the working out of God's plan for his salvation. Thus,
Augustine's idea of God's providential dealing with man led inevitably into
the doctrine of predestination, especially when he was forced into a corner
by Pelagian and semi-Pelagian attempts to make Christianity more under-
standable in terms of human ability and the common belief that our actions
are the results of our own decision. However, even in extremis Augustine
never denied man's free will. We have no time to enter the morass of the
debate over predestination here, because it forms no great part of the works
under discussion. Let it be sufficient if we recount the chief objections to
Augustine's view and his essential answers to them.
(1) If God knows everything that is going to happen, then man is not
free to choose what he does. To this Augustine replies that it is true that
God knows everything, but not before it happens. Because God is eternal,
there is no before and after quality to his knowledge. All is an eternal
present to him. And,
(2) If God does everything then man does nothing. To this, Augustine
replies that God chooses to work through human wills. Things are not
fated, God's plan unfolds in an orderly way, including human choices,
decisions and acts; which form part of the universal order of nature. 6
When we turn to On the Trinity for our second answer to Augustine's
Idea of God, we find a deeply Christian answer that attempts to overcome
the difference between the Greek concept of an Impassable God-Reality
and the Christian belief in a loving, heavenly Father that is expressed in
terms of the basic notion of the spiritual quest after God. Here Augustine
demonstrates the connection of the two foci, the soul and God:
quest
Soul God
caritas = grace
John C. Cooper 104

How? By showing that the connection between God and man lies in the
basic nature of the self. Augustine thus becomes the first "psychologist".
The soul of man is found to bear (distorted and true only by way of alle-
gory), the image of the triune God in the unity of the memory, understand-
ing and will. The image of the Trinity in the human soul is the soul's perfect-
ing in wisdom ("faith seeking understanding", which is another way of
stating the basic quest), in which God Himself is the mind's memory, un-
derstanding and will; where the mind's knowledge of itself is the knowledge
that it is God's image, thus enabling it to fix its contemplation no longer
upon itself (superbia, cupiditas) but upon God (caritas). (Trin. XIV, 15,
XII).
Thus God who is Creator, who is providential, who is judging, is also
merciful and revealing. He who redeems through Christ also is shown to
have left in man something to be redeemed from creation. There is an Im-
age of God in man-a "point of contact" -a relationship, which though
distorted, is not fully broken-a relationship along which God in his merci-
ful working "sends" the Holy Spirit-His gift-to infuse men with His
love (caritas) so stirring them up that they will turn away from devotion to
lesser things (cupiditas) and follow Him (caritas).
The Heavenly Father, who does such an undeserved kindness to the
"elect" really does not change, for He so provided (in his "Foresight")
such a means of salvation from the creation of the world. This does not
break down the distinction between the Creator and the creature, however.
For God is perfect being and a Genuine Trinity of Lover, the Loved and the
Love that connects them, or of perfect wisdom, power and love; whereas
man is (has) a derived being, having been called into "being" out of noth-
ing, and thus has only an "image" of the Divine Trinity. Indeed, due to the
folly of Adam, this "Image" is distorted and hard to recognize in present
day man!
This is not the place to describe Augustine's theological views on the
Trinity in any detail. They are important because he contributed much to
the final settlement of this question in the West, teaching both the "/i-
lioque" (double procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son) and
the truth that' 'the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God,. .
.The Father Almightly, Son Almighty, Spirit Almighty; yet there are not
three Gods or three Almighties, but one God, Almighty", which was taken
into the Quicumque Vult or "Athanasian Creed".
Rather, we will discuss how Augustine's basic notion is connected with
his deeply felt belief in the Holy Trinity.
As we mentioned above, Augustine takes the approach of psychology
to describe the mystery of the Triune God. He believes that by looking
within we can better understand God. He contrasts this inward approach to
the scanning of the external world and concludes that looking without is
The Basic Philosophical and Theological Notions oj St. Augustine 105

only a via negativa (1,3, II.) for wherever we look, "God will not be there".
He does begin by saying that God in essence is good. He is the Ground of
Being and thus of all good, for "nothing draws your love but what is
good". This is the basis of the spiritual quest, " ... to what may the soul
turn so as to become good, but to the Good, loving, pursuing, attaining
it?" (1,4) "The soul's goodness, then, comes from its conversion to that
same Source which has made it a souL" (1,5) And we know God, for we can
only love what we know. How? "By this knowledge our thought is shaped,
when we believe God was made man for us, to be an example of humility
and to prove God's love towards us. What is good for us to believe ... is
that the humility, whereby God was born of a woman and brought by mor-
tal men to that shameful way to death, is the supreme medicament for the
healing of the cancer of our pride ... " (I, 7, V) Thus, we know God
through the Incarnation. Here, one of Augustine's basic ideas comes out,
Faith must precede knowledge. The quest, looked at intellectually, is
"Faith seeking understanding." But, in order to understand the mysteries
of God, one must first believe. And one can only believe if God gives him
this faith, for faith is the gift of God (Romans 5: 15-17). After Faith, then,
one must love, then he can know that which he loves. in a real sense, the
conclusion of the quest is the unity of the object of knowledge and the
object oflove. Neo-Platonism showed Augustine (and others) the object of
knowledge (God), but could not induce one to love Him. In Christianity, by
God's grace, He gives us caritas Which is love toward Him (i.e., God), so
that we can love that which we know. As Augustine says: "For love of thy
love I do it" (Confs.) and "we love God because he first loved us". (I
John). Thus the "key" to Augustine's understanding of God's grace, as we
shall see below when we discuss Pelagianism, is "the love of God (which) is
shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us" (Romans
5:5).
In this quest of love, we must know Him we love. Augustine says it is
impossible really to love something unknown. Hence he suggests that
God's image is best found in man's reason, although there are types of
trinities in both the external and internal parts of man. Specifically, he sees
the Imago dei in:
Memory
(Father)
Understanding Will
(Son, wisdom) (Spirit, love, gift)
In Book XIV, Augustine discusses the perfection of the Image in the
contemplation of God. He states there that the Imago is actually best ex-
plained as being the mind, in virtue of its capacity for knowing God. That
is, the Image might be called "wisdom" (as well as God might be called
John C. Cooper 106

"wisdom"), but better, the relationship between God and man is the
mind's power to use reason to attain to knowledge of God. (Here is the
place of philosophy, as a discipline to aid the mind of man in attaining that
knowledge of God which man is capable of having.) The mind is moved
towards acquiring this knowledge by God's infused love.
"The mind's self-love is true, i.e., for its own good, only when
grounded on the love of God-for which, as for the knowledge of God, it
possesses a natural capacity, and which alone can satisfy its needs."7 Once
the mind is turned toward God, loving him, "the inward man is renewed. .
. is changing the direction of his love (from downward, cupiditas, to up-
wards, caritas) from the temporal to the eternal ... diligently endeavoring
to curb and abate all lust for the one, and to bind himself in charity to the
other. In this all man's success depends on the divine aid; for it is the Word
of God, that "without me you can do nothing." (XIV,23). With this aid,
however, the soul moves on: "When life's last day finds a man, in such
advancing and increasing (sanctification), firm in the faith of the mediator,
the holy angels will ... bring him home to the God whom he has served and
by whom he must be perfected; and at the world's end he will receive an
incorruptible body ... for glory."8 Thus Augustine concludes: "This
shows that the full likeness of God is realized in his image only when it has
attained the full vision of Him."9
In the final lines of this chapter, Augustine deliberately connects this
theological view of salvation with the philosophic quest for wisdom: "This
wisdom ... -a human wisdom, yet coming to man only from God; par-
taking in whom, the reasonable and intellectual mind can be made wise in
truth". Then quoting Cicero, Augustine denies Cicero's scepticism, and
the possibility of salvation apart from Christ. Here is the reason for the
quest as Augustine experienced it and describes it-faith is needed, love is
needed, divine power (enabling power, grace) is needed, or the soul cannot
find its way back to God. Any other attempted method, even the Christian
one, if watered down by overestimations of man's natural ability, (as by
Pelagius) ultimately fails because of man's inherited sin which manifests
itself in pride.
And on this note, we turn now to the dispute between Pelagius and
Augustine over the nature of grace.

7. J. Burnaby, Augustine: Later Works, PhiJa., 1955, p. 98.


8. Ibid. p. 122.
9./bid.
The Basic Philosophical and Theological Notions oj St. Augustine 107

The Pelagian Controversy:

Once we recognize the tremendous importance for Augustine of the


letters of St. Paul and of his own experiences before conversion, we are able
to see why he opposed all efforts to attribute any decisive part in the
achievement of salvation to man. Augustine stressed, and stressed again,
the (to him obvious) fact that it is God who saves and all that man can do is
accept or reject his acceptance by God. Augustine was certain (in the Con-
fessions, after the events) that he had done nothing but draw himself even
farther away from God in all his attempts to draw nearer to God (in Mani-
cheism and Neo-Platonism). Indeed, the very attempt to "find God" apart
from His Calling (and through Christ) was sinful, since it was oriented by
cupiditas and tended to deify lesser goods rather than the One true Good,
God Almighty. Augustine so stresses God's grace, the giving of His Spirit,
the infusion of His love, from God's side into man, that he seems almost to
deny man any activity at all. While he constantly reiterated that he believes
man has free will, he so interpreted it that we might be excused if we under-
stood him to mean a creative, active God over against an almost passive
creature-whereas Augustine would have denied that man is actually quite
that passive. For Augustine, man's will is not free apart from God's call but
is bound by sin (or free only to sin), so that it is directed towards (or
"loves") lesser goods. i.e., it is filled with cupiditas. Man's reason is neu-
tral, however, and he can assent to the infusion of the Spirit when God calls
him, so that God's Spirit frees his will, by making the will "good" . Augus-
tine says the will is free only when it has the ability to carry out what it
desires to do. Under sin (Le., the natural man), man does not have either the
correct volition or the ability to fulfill his decisions (i.e., to be obedient to
God), hence he is really not free. However, once God has infused grace into
man, he is free to choose the right for which he was originally created, and
hence choosing what God chooses for him, he chooses the good, and real-
izes his potentiality. Thus grace confirms free will rather than destroying it.
Man only mistakenly thinks he wants to choose those lesser goods that
attract him when he is in the natural (under sin, since the Fall) state. On the
other hand, the person under the operation of grace is also free to reject
God's Holy Spirit (Spirit and the Letter, LX).
For this reason, Pelagius' good-intentioned view of man's ability to live
a righteous life was anathema to Augustine. Whereas Augustine was quite
ready to admit that a man assisted by God's grace (which he insisted was
present grace based on Christ's work) might live a life unblemished by sin,
although no one had ever done so; he denied that it was possible to live such
a sinless life under Pelagius' interpretation of grace, as a capacity given
man at creation which exists unimpaired by Adam's fall. The major differ-
ence between Pelagius and Augustine, from the beginning of their dispute
John C. Cooper 108

to the end, was over the interpretation of "grace". For Augustine, grace is
always understood as God's present assistance of our wills, whereas for
Pelagius, "grace" always denotes the natural character of man as he came
from the Creator's hand, as well as the "grace" of God who gave man the
Law as a standard of conduct which men are perfectly capable of keeping
on the basis of natural capacity. The only further extension ofthe concept
of "grace" for Pelagius would be to the forgiveness of sins bestowed on
man by Christ.
In this discussion we should note that Augustine and Pelagius were both
very astute men but both were individuals who tended to carry sound ideas
to extremes. They also tended to talk past each other without regard to what
the other was really saying. One has the impression that both were playing
to the grandstands rather than debating in many of their utterances. Pela-
gius wanted to guard the selfhood of man, and also desired to spark a
cleansing of the life of a church that, since it was officially established, was
rapidly going to moral seed (especially in the cities like Rome). To this
worthy end Pelagius laid stress upon the innate capacity of man to decide
for right or wrong, which he ascribed to God's "creative grace". That is,
God had so created man that man was given the "ability" to do good (or
evil), and so "ability" belongs to God and is properly called "grace", but
there is also in man, "volition" (in the will) and" actuality" , in the effect of
the decision. Volition and actuality are, according to Pelagius, to be as-
cribed to man not to grace, for they flow forth from man's will. Very unpo-
litically, Pelagius said the praise of willing and doing a good work thus
belongs to man. (On the Grace oj Christ. V.) This could only raise Augus-
tine's hackles! Augustine rightly saw that such language, even when moder-
ated to "praise belongs to God and man", could certainly lead to pride.
Augustine, on his part, desired to make clear (and defend) the saving
activity of God, which was clear to him from the very fact of Christ's Incar-
nation, and which was necessitated for him by his view of man's present
state of soul since Adam's fall. For Augustine, man still retained the Imago
dei in the trinity of memory, understanding and will, but it was woefully
corrupted and distorted. Man qua man as he existed now, did not naturally
love God and do good but just the opposite. As a very astute student ob-
served, for Augustine there was only one man who possessed the volition
and actuality of doing a good work on the basis of his God-given ability,
and that was Adam before the fall. Because Augustine believed that Adam
had hung suspended in a neutral balance between the Good and the lesser
goods (Le., evil), and then freely choose the lesser goods (over God), Adam
(and with him the race) had sunk downward (cupiditas) and was forever
after drawn toward the lesser goods (or evil, the lack of good). In terms of
"the second interpretation of Augustine's view of will", every man since
Adam had inherited this downward direction (cupiditas), and so, without
The Basic Philosophical and Theological Notions oj St. Augustine 109

the present grace of God, (not Law or natural character, but God's work
done in Christ applied now through the Spirit), man's "freedom" is only a
freedom to sin. The orientation of man (in cupiditas), towards the world,
away from God) and his every decision (outside of present grace) coincide.
Man makes free decisions, for he still has free will, but it is a bad will, and
thus man always chooses evil (or a lesser good). Outside of God's present
grace man is not free to choose to do good-true good, although he may
choose to keep the Law out of fear or out of pride (legalism)-which is not
"good" but disguised evil.
Thus Augustine says: "What hast thou that thou has not received?",
and he maintains that present grace, freely given by the Spirit, is needed to
infuse us with love and humility, which then opens the way to God for us. If
we deny the necessity of this present grace (as Pelagius does) we fall into
superbia (pride) as well as rendering the Cross of Christ of no effect. For if
man could lead a sinless life on the basis of the" grace of creation" or the
"grace of reason" or the "grace of law", then Christ died in vain. So
Augustine affirms that Christ is the true healer of souls who by His Cross
shows us true humilitas and caritas. And as Christ comes from God, so all
good comes from God.
Rather than denying man's free will, Augustine said that present grace
establishes free will. Why? How? For freedom (in grace) is the ability to
possess fully that which we possess outside of grace only partially. Outside
of grace we have (in many cases) the inclination to do something but not the
ability ("strength of character") to do it. (E.G., Paul's "the good I would
do that I do not do ... " Romans 7: 15) Grace gives us ability, volition and
actuality without destroying our personal center, precisely because grace
enables us to become what we were meant to be, but what we are not (out-
side grace) because ofthe impairment of original sin. Freedom, for Augus-
tine, is correlative with love to God (caritas), i.e. correlative with orienta-
tion in the right direction we must follow if we are to fulfill our being.
Outside of grace our will is free, but bad (bent in the wrong direction,
downward towards less and less being, and "more and more" evil); with
grace our will is free and good, and thus inclines us towards greater and
greater Being, which means towards more and more love, happiness and
genuine satisfaction. Thus freedom enjoyed in love is what man is meant to
be and leads us towards our true te/os (our purpose and end), God-which
is perfect happiness, peace and Rest. Under this view, then with God's
present grace, freedom means that man's orientation has changed from
cupiditas to caritas, and yet in that moment of time when we encounter the
Holy Spirit, our wills-precisely because they are free-can accept or reject
the proffered grace of God. This is a real doctrine of either cooperative or
contrary choice, which establishes man as a centered-self, and affirms free
will, as well as making man, rather than God, responsible for his condem-
John C. Cooper 110

nation, ifhe resists and "hardens his heart". As Augustine wrote: "For the
soul cannot receive and possess these gifts, which are here referred to, ex-
cept by yielding its consent." (The Spirit And The Letter, LX).
This is more than neutrality which merely does not "put up a bar" to
God's grace, for the soul must "yield its consent." On the other hand,
salvation still belongs to God for such an occasion of choice only comes in
the moment when the Spirit encounters man (grace), and if man does
"yield", he is only accepting the salvation which was wrought out by
Christ's atoning death (Enchiridion, chs. 10, 11 and 12), which is proffered
man by the Spirit in the infusion of love that we might call the' 'transaction
of grace". A question might be raised as to whether this "moment of
grace" is ubiquitous, always and everywhere present, or only occasionally
(in kmpos situations) present. This writer believes such a moment of grace
to be "kairotic", i.e., occasional, rather than "chromatic" or ubiquitous,
in terms of historical time.
In Augustine's scheme (Ench., ch. 9ff.), God determined, before the
Fall, as He "foreknew" that Adam would sin, to bring good out of evil,
and so arranged the plan of salvation that His will would be done even
through evil. (Ench., ch. 28) No matter what man chooses, God's will is
done, either by man or concerning man. (Ibid.) Since Satan had rebelled in
a prehistorical revolt, carrying legions of fallen angels away from God,
God determined (says Augustine) to fill up their missing number with saved
men. (Elsewhere he says God might even, happily, exceed this number.)
These saved men cannot earn their salvation by their merits, for man's free
will (outside of present grace) is free only to sin (or "bound by sin"), just as
a suicide is killed by his deed and cannot restore himself to life afterwards,
but can only accept it. Faith is the gift of God. And yet, in line with the
above analysis, man is brought to faith both by the mercy of God and by the
free will of man. Augustine's favorite text on this point is "Not man's
willing or running but God's showing mercy", which is to be understood to
mean that the whole process (of salvation) is to be credited to God, who
both prepares the will to receive divine aid and aids the will which has been
thus prepared." (Enchir. ch. 9) Once the soul has been prepared and aided
so as to accept (yield to) this "faith", it then is assisted by the Spirit to
increase in faith and hope, but especially in love. For it is "the faith which
works by love" that is needed for salvation. This means that under present
grace (as distinguished from Pelagius' grace of creation or nature) we are
really enabled to keep the law, and to keep truly in love (for love is the
fulfilling of the law). This keeping of the law, in the state of present grace,
does not result from fear (in the irreligious sense of not trusting God; for
certainly we "fear God" correctly, in the sense of reverencing Him) nor is it
done out of hope for a reward (legalism) which inevitably results in super-
bia, pride. Keeping the law in love means a true growth in sanctification
The Basic Philosophical and Theological Notions oj St. Augustine III

that brings our spiritual quest ever nearer and nearer to God without the
risk of pride destroying the relationship. Thus "love is greater than faith or
hope" (Encir., ch. 31). "For when we ask whether someone is a good man,
we are not asking what he believes, or hopes, but what he loves." (Ibid.)
Thus the spiritual quest of the restless soul for the Rest in God is made
correctly only through the order of love.
It is on the basis of the primacy of love over hope and faith that Augus-
tine had to reject and try to correct the Donatistic schism. Love as the
fulfilling of the law implied a nexus of interrelations between men, and
especially of loving relations of fellowship between believers. Those who
claimed to be Christians (i.e., have faith in God) and who rejected the fel-
lowship of others who claimed the same name, on the basis of past acts (like
the suspected apostacy of some of the North African clergy under the pre-
sure of persecution) were, in effect, reading themselves outside the Church.
"Love covers a multitude of sins", and those who do not give preeminence
to love but to acts of orthodoxy are not really engaged in that quest which
ends in the completion of the law through love and finally in the blessed rest
of the saints in that God who is love.
In Augustine's doctrinal terms, "fides namque impetrat quod lex im-
perat," or "faith achieves what the law commands". or "faith achieves
what the law commands". On the other hand, without the Holy Spirit
(grace), through whom "love is shed abroad in our hearts" (Roms. 5:5), the
law may bid but it cannot aid- "jubere lex poterit, non juvare." (Enchir-
dion, ch. 31)
Augustine writes of four stages of man:
(1) Before the Law: Man lives in the deepest shadows of ignorance,
according to the flesh with no restraint of reason.
(2) Under the Law: The effect of the knowledge of the Law is that sin
works in man the whole round of concupiscence.
(3) Under (present) Grace: Man lives by faith working through love, in
good hope.
(4) In Full and Perfect Peace: After death, man's spirit is in repose in
"the secret place of God", and finally, at the general Judgment, is resur-
rected in the body, to be "rewarded" with the "free gift" of an eternal,
blessed life. (Ibid., ch. 31)
Thus, for Augustine, the end of all the law "is love, out of a pure heart,
and a good conscience and a faith unfeigned." (I Tim. 1:5; Enchir. ch. 32)
And in this state of grace, we measure imperatives by our love of God, and
our love of our neighbor in God. In this we have overcome (by grace) the
power of cupiditas to pull us downward, for "minuitur autem cupiditas
caritatecrescent"-"passion (lust) decreases as love increases". The power
of true love (caritas) restrains and overcomes passion (cupiditas).
John C. Cooper 112

In all this, man's "cured" will, now both free and good, freely chooses
the Good, and ascends upward towards the end of man's spiritual quest to
that Rest in which he finds true happiness, full self-realization and "the
peace that passes all understanding". We note that that which is restless
and longs for God is a centered-self of memory, understanding and will. It
is not a completely autonomous self, in Pelagius' sense, for such an inde-
pendent self-equipped with such pre-Fall powers is not the kind of human
being we experience ourselves to be. Rather the self (or soul) which finally
attains the "full and perfect peace" and rests in Him who is our "Sabbath
Rest" (Hebrews 3:9) is a related-self, a theonmous self. It is a soul that is
formed by and informed by the vast complex nexus of interrelations that
make up historical mankind. It is that depth and heighth of misery and
glory we know as human being through our modern sciences of psychology,
psychiatry, sociology and anthropology. It is a soul that came, through the
processes of nature, culture, morality and religion, from God, and now
goes to God-a soul that is "other" than God and yet, apart from God,
would be nothing. It is thus the image or reflection of God. As Tillich
observes in Systematic Theology III, there is a negative element in God's
blessedness, eternally necessary so that God can deal with the' 'other" , and
also so that He can eternally triumph over non-Being. (PP. 403-6) This
centered-though-related soul-self thus continues "throughout" eternity re-
flecting God's glory as His Image, though it remains "other" (and so
"creature") without confusion, mingling, or absorption in the Divine
Ground of Being.
Great is that quest: for the goal is God. And great is Augustine, for all
that was good in Socrates is here, and all that was Holy in Jesus Christ is
acknowledged and gratefully received. This is truly a "Christian Socra-
tism" in which the pure in heart at last are assured that they will see God.
Great art thou, 0 Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is thy power, and infinite is
thy wisdom. And man desires to praise thee, for he is part of thy creation; he bears
his mortality about with him and carries the evidence of his sin and the proof that
thou dost resist the proud. Still he desires to praise thee, this man who is only a
small part of thy creation. Thou has prompted him, that he should delight to praise
thee,jor thou hast made usfor thyselfand restless is our heart until it comes to rest
in thee. Confessions, Bk. I, Ch.l)
John C. Cooper
Susquehanna University
The Basic Philosophical and Theological Notions 0/ St. Augustine 113

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Burnaby, John (ed.) Augustine: Later Writings Philadelphia, 1955.
Gilson, Etienne H. The Christian Philosophy 0/ Saint Augustine N. Y., 1960.
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Cues. Zurich, 1952-54.
Jones, W.T. A History 0/ Western Philosophy, VoL I. N.Y., 1952.
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Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology, Vol. III. Chicago, 1963.

Article:
Cooper, John C. "Why Did Augustine Write Books XI-XIII of the Confessions?", Augus-
tinian Studies, Villanova, PA; Vol. 2,1971; Also in Acts o/the XIVth International Con-
gress 0/ Philosophy, Vienna, Austria, 1968.