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His Complex Character.

The greatest and most important of the Latin church fathers; born Nov. 13, 354, at Tagaste, a town of Numidia; died at Hippo Aug. 28, 430. After a riotous youth as a heathen, he became first a devotee of the Manichean confession, and then after nine years was converted to Christianity by Ambrosius, in 386. He became presbyter in 392 and bishop in 395, and eventually the greatest pillar of the Catholic Church. This remarkable round of religious experience indicates very well the complexity of Augustine's character; for in it were combined qualities the most opposite, such as overexuberance of fancy and sharpest critical acumen; vehement prejudice and delicate consideration; romanticism and scholasticism; glowing sentimentalism and hair-splitting casuistry. As a result, Augustine's writings are sometimes introspective in the extreme, frequently soaring into the heights of religious adoration of the Divine Being; at other times he concentrates attention upon the Christian dogma, and attacks with pitiless logic, sometimes indeed with subtle casuistry, all deviations from the strict and rigid faith of the Church. Of introspective writings are his "Confessions," a work translated into nearly all the languages of civilization; of quite another kind are his letters and sermons, his dogmatic and exegetical treatises, and his polemics. These curious psychological contrasts in Augustine—who was too sensuous for a philosopher and too precise for a poet—make it impossible to discern any definite system in his writings, his doctrines having no common foundation, being, indeed, for the greater part mutually contradictory. On the one side he may be said to have been a forerunner of Descartes and of the modern theory of perception and psychology, and yet, on the other side, he leaned toward mysticism. One might just as easily find connecting-links between Augustine and Luther as between the former and the fathers of the Inquisition. This conflict in Augustine's principles is perhaps nowhere more strikingly revealed than in his attitude toward those two constituents of Christianity, Hellenism and Judaism. His conception of the Deity reveals throughout a strongly marked trace of Hellenism, derived by way of Neoplatonism; and yet, on the other hand, one can not help noticing his stringently legalistic Jewish views, which, curiously enough, are most apparent when he is endeavoring to combat Judaism.

His Theory of Man.

The foundation of his doctrine concerning man was that he is a "massa peccati," incapable of raising himself to virtue, and can find the means of approaching God through the mediation of Jesus alone. This doctrine is so foreign to the essential spirit of Judaism that it may serve to indicate the extreme point in the divergence of Christianity from its origin in Judaism. Yet grace, according to Augustine, is the result of faith and love; and these, inconsistently enough, he interprets in true Jewish fashion—faith as involving adherence to the law and love as combined with fear. "Quæ caritas tunc perfecta, cum pœnalis timor omnis abscesserit," is his expression ("Perf. Just." x. 22), which recalls the terse saying of the Talmud. "Where joy [the feeling of communion with God] is, there also must be fear" (Ber. 30b).

Of the Church.

Another specifically Jewish conception, dominating Augustine as none other of the church-fathers, is his doctrine concerning the Church; a conception which indeed has exerted signal and decisive influence upon the whole development of Christian theology. The system of Jewish theocracy, by which the welfare of the individual was conditioned by his reception into the community through the sacrament of circumcision, was turned into a Christian form by Augustine in the conception of the holy institution of the Church, upon incorporation with which the salvation of the individual is made dependent. Connected with his doctrine of the Church is also his well-known theory of predestination. Since the Church is the only means of salvation, it results that all not belonging to it ("civitas diaboli," as Augustine calls it, in contradistinction to the "civitas dei") are excluded from salvation. The old particularism of Judaism, without which the Christian Church would never have spread among the heathen, thus survives in somewhat modified form in the teachings of the greatest Christian genius of all time. The fact that Augustine, in the presentation of his tenets, very frequently arrives at conclusions opposed to his principles, is partly owing to his very sweeping theory of inspiration.

Of Scripture.

Scripture, including the Greek translation—that legacy from the Alexandrian Jews to the Church—has, for Augustine, divine dignity as well as authority. As a consequence he considers a thing true because it is stated in the Bible, and it is stated in the Bible because it is true. In this tenet, moreover, hemakes no distinction between the Old Testament and the New Testament: "Novum testamentum in veteri latet, vetus in novo patet"; that is, the Old Testament is the concealed New, the New is the revealed Old. How little may be expected exegetically from such a standpoint can be easily understood.

His Rationalism.

Not infrequently he gives rationalistic explanations of Biblical anthropomorphisms, which approximate closely to the teachings of both older and later Jewish scholars. Thus, for instance, the statement that Creation took place all at once, and not in six days—that, in other words, "before" and "after" can not be predicated of the Creator, but only of things created ("De Genesis a Lit." iv. 56, v. 12)—is found in Jewish sources (Tan., ed. Buber, i. 2) ascribed to R. Nehemiah, a tanna of the middle of the second Christian century. He explains God's speaking, as a voice "per aliquam imperio suo subditam creaturam" (l.c. ix. 3), and the same is said by Maimonides ("Moreh," ii. 33), and similarly before him by Saadia Gaon ("Emunot we-De'ot," iii., ed. Leipsic, p. 77; compare also Schmiedl, "Studien über Religionsphilosophie," pp. 253-256), who is followed by the majority of Jewish religious philosophers. Rationalism, however, constitutes the smallest portion of his exegesis, which is superabundantly allegorical or typological. Having learned much of his allegorical conception from Ambrose, Origen, and Philo, while at the same time he is not disinclined to allegorize for himself, the curious result is that he interprets the same image differently, even contradictorily, in divers passages. Thus the moon is indifferently explained as representing either carnal man, the Church, or mortality; the clouds are prophets and teachers, but also dark superstitions.

His Typology.

He gives much room to the typological interpretation of the Old Testament, which, as mentioned, contains and conceals the New Testament. Biblical history, as well as the laws contained in it, is transformed by Augustine into a history of Christianity and its tenets. Thus, Abel, Seth, and Joseph represent different aspects of Jesus: as crucified, as risen from the dead, and as translated to heaven. Noah's Ark is the Church; in the two lower stories are Jews and heathens; in the third, faith, hope, and love.

Augustine Opposes Jerome.

Augustine's lack of critical conception of the Old Testament is shown by his opposition to Jerome's undertaking to make a Latin translation of the Scriptures from the Hebrew. To portray as vividly as possible the dangers of such an innovation, he informed Jerome in a letter of the fierce tumult which had arisen in an African congregation, when the bishop adopted the Vulgate, rendering "ivy" instead of the Septuagint "gourd" (in Jonah iv. 6); and what was even of deeper importance, as he narrates, the bishop bad had to declare Jerome's translation faulty upon appealing to the authority of a certain Jewish scholar ("Epist. Aug." 171). When, on the other hand, in another letter (82) to Jerome, Augustine suddenly declares himself convinced of the necessity for his undertaking, this must not be considered as a change of conviction on his part, for in the same epistle he declares that the ruling Church translation, "gourd," must be maintained in spite of its erroneousness. He foresaw that he would have to yield sooner or later in a struggle against a man of such upright character and learning as Jerome was acknowledged to be.

Information from Jews.

On the other hand, Augustine did not despise assistance from African Jews—who however, were not among the most learned of the race—upon obscure passages in the Old Testament. Although the passages in which he quotes directly from such Jewish sources are few, much that is of haggadic and even halakic origin points to at least oral communication with Jews. His remarks about the material of Jewish tradition are important, "quas non scriptas habent, sed memoriter tenent, et alter in alterum loquendo transfundit, quas Deuteroses vocant" (c. Advers. leg. ii. ?). This would indicate that the Jews of Africa in the beginning of the fifth century possessed only an unwritten Mishnah (Deuterosis), and Rabbi's Mishnah could not therefore have been written down. The only two Haggadot mentioned by Augustine as definitely of Jewish origin are a legend concerning Adam's second wife (see Ginzberg, "Die Haggada bei den Kirchenvätern," p. 61) and the story of Abraham in the fiery furnace. The latter, however, he may possibly have drawn from Jerome ("Quæstio" in Gen. ix.). Of the many rabbinical traditions that he does not describe as Jewish, the following examples may serve: Light created by God on the first day of Creation is not the earthly light (De Gen. v.); the same view is given by the Baraita in Ḥag. 12 and Gen. R. iii. 6. The moon was created when full, because God created nothing imperfect (Gen. ii. 31); wherefore also Adam was created as a perfectly developed man (l.c. vi. 23), which is identical with an old Haggadah ascribed in the Talmud (Ḥul. 30a) to R. Joshua b. Levi, who flourished about 230. Augustine's teaching that Adam was created by God Himself directly, and not by God's word as everything else was, is also of Jewish origin (see Ginzberg, ib. p. 21).

His remarks on the Heptateuch contained much that is rabbinical, but he may have received it from the Roman deacon, Hilarius. His rationalistic explanation of the "sons of God" (Gen. vi. 2) by viri justi is that of R. Simeon b. Yoḥai (flourished 150; see Gen. R. xxvi. 5). (For the rabbinical sources of his statements that Noah was a hundred years in building the Ark; that he, Noah, possessed such control over the animals therein that even the lions lived on hay; that Rebecca before the birth of her sons inquired of Melchizedek concerning herself, see Ginzberg, ib. pp. 75, 77, 118.) Rabbinical influence is also recognizable in the statement that Rebecca, by means of her prophetic powers, discovered Esau's plans of vengeance against Jacob (compare "Quæst." 81 with Gen. R. lxvii. 9); and also in the interpretation in Gen. xxxvi. 31, of the word "king," as meaning Moses (l.c. cxxi.), which coincides with the rabbinical interpretation of Deut. xxxiii. 5, where also the word "king" is applied to Moses. Augustine gives interpretations that can be described as halakic (l.c. Ex. 162); in agreement with the Rabbis (Bab. Pes. 5b), he interpretsEx. xxiii. 18 as a prohibition against having leavened bread in one's possession when bringing the paschal lamb into the house. The offense committed by the sons of Aaron (Lev. x. 1) is understood by Augustine (Lev. x. 31) as being their use, in their sacrifices, of fire from some outside source and not from the altar; following in this interpretation Aḳiba's teaching (Sifra, ad loc.), which is the accepted one among the Jews. In this same passage Augustine has a rabbinical interpretation received from his Jewish teachers, which, as now evident, is obviously the result of a mistake either in writing or in comprehension. The Rabbis very ingeniously connect the passage Leviticus x. 3 with Ex. xxix. 43; but Augustine's Jewish teacher confused the word ("and I will meet"), with which this verse begins, with the word ("Thou hast let me know"), occurring in Ex. xxxiii. 12; and thus gave foundation for Augustine's polemic.

Polemic Against Jews.

His dependence upon Jewish tradition did not, however, prevent him from reproaching the Jews for not understanding, or not wishing to understand, the O. T. In his "Tractatus Adversus Judæos" he endeavors, as his main object, to prove from Scripture that the Law is fulfilled in Jesus, and that therefore Christians may rightfully have recourse to the O. T. even if they do not observe the Law. His endeavor to prove the Messianic character of Jesus from Psalms xliv., xlviii., and lxx. is very far-fetched; as well as his plea for the rejection of the Jews, based on Isaiah ii. and Mal. i. 10, 11. He says on this point, "If the Jews in the Isaiah passage [verse 5] understand 'the house of Jacob' to be equivalent to 'Israel,' because both names were borne by the patriarch, they only show how incapable they are of comprehending the true contents of the O. T." "The house of Jacob" means the rejected Jews, while "Israel" designates the Christians. The results of such polemics—which, however, belong to the weakest and least important productions of his pen—were, of course, quite inconsiderable. Jewish natural intelligence sufficed to warn them against such conceptions of Scripture.

Jewish References to Augustine.

In view of the almost exclusively Aristotelian character of the Jewish philosophy of the Middle Ages, Augustine's Neoplatonism remained entirely unknown to them. As Kaufmann ("Attributenlehre," p. 41) observes, it is highly improbable that Saadia's polemic against the Christians, who desired to prove the Trinity from the personification of the divine attributes (Being, Living, Knowing), was directed against the Augustinian doctrine of the Trinity, the memoria, intelligentia, and voluntas of God. The agreement of Saadia and Augustine concerning the creation of time (Kaufmann, l.c. 307) is based upon the fact that both depend upon the Platonic sentence, "Time came into being with the heavens" ("Timæus"). Judah Romano (born 1292) and Isaac Abravanel (died 1508) cite Augustine by name, as do likewise a number of anonymous writers about the same period. For the relation of the Keneset Yisrael (Jewish Church of the Cabalists) to Augustine's doctrine of the Church, see the articles Cabala, Zohar.

  • In addition to Chevalier, Répertoire des Sources Historiques du Moyen-Age, pp. 191-194 and 2432-2434, Paris, 1877, the following may be of use: Editions—The best critical edition is the Benedictine, Paris, 1679-1700. The critical edition in the Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiastiorum Latinorum by the Vienna Academy is not yet complete. Translations—In German, selected writings in the Bibliothek der Kirchenväter, Kempten, 1869 (contains translations of the more important works, upon which see RealEncycl. für Protestantische Theologie, 3d ed., ii. 258). In English, Works of Augustine, by Marcus Dods, Edinburgh, 1871-76, in 15 vols. (almost complete; omits only exegetical writings);
  • P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Buffalo, 1886 (contains some of the exegetical writings). Biographies and Monographs—Poujoulat, Histoire de St. Augustin, 3d ed., 2 vols., Paris, 1852;
  • Bindemann, Der Heilige Augustinus, 3 vols., 1844-1855-1869;
  • Friedrich and Paul Böhringer, Aurelius Augustinus, 2d ed., Leipsic, 1877-1878;
  • Nourrison, La Philosophie de St. Augustin, 2d ed., 1866, 2 vols.;
  • A. Dorner, Augustinus, Sein Theologisches System und Seine Religionsphilosophische Anschauung, 1873;
  • O. Rothmanner, Der Augustinismus, 1892.
G. L. G.
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