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Saint Augustine’s Confessions – Religious Studies Essay

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Introduction

Augustine of Hippo was an ancient Christian best known for his strong Christianity influence during his days. In a bid to accomplish this vision, Augustine used his writings to influence people to convert to Christianity. He was amongst the “most influential church leaders in the West during the patristic period. He was brought up in Christian faith since his mother was a Christian though his father was a pagan” (Mommsen 350). His work, The Confessions, is widely spread all over the world and it is among the bestselling books in the world, which is an indicator that his writing is still influential even to date.

The influence of both Platonism and stoicism schools of thought is evident in Augustine’s work. Augustine is among the most exceptional philosophers and theologians who were at times considered as church leaders. His theoretical and philosophical works influenced the growth of Christianity coupled with theological and idealistic thought during the early days (Taylor 218). His ideas were subject to and at times altered by other philosophical views from other scholars. The influence from other scholars is best seen in the book, The Confessions, where both stoicism and Platonism ideas feature all through (O’Daly 300).

In the book, Augustine narrates his struggle in search for the truth. At first, he comes out as materialistic, but with time, he embarks on a journey of searching the truth in order to relieve himself from the vice of materialism. This essay will analyze Augustine’s confessions by exploring the effect of both stoicism and Platonism movements on his views and ideas. The essay will eventually come up with a conclusion on whether Augustine managed to get the truth coupled with solving his problems.

Stoicism

Stoicism denotes a Greek school of thought that teaches the importance of remaining indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune, pleasure, and pain (Mommsen 350). In other words, it underscores a philosophical school that encourages endurance to challenges. Stoic philosophies were consistent with most ancient beliefs and this assertion explains why it was widely acceptable and famous.

It recognized the “existence of gods that were named after substances such as corn and wine” (Mommsen 351). However, this school of thought defines the universe as the combination of the natural forces with the living organisms on earth as evidenced by the following quote derived from the stoic philosophy, “this universal harmony must either continue to all eternity…” (Taylor 218).

Stoicism ideas are evident in Augustine’s work. In his book, he describes a scene in the garden of Milan where he is directed by a voice similar to a child’s voice to go and read a verse from the scripture (O’Daly 300). The voice, as expressed in the book, said, “Take and read, take and read” (Augustine159). According to him, the voice required him to read the first bit of the scripture that he would find once he opened the bible (O’Donovan 318).

Through the direction by the divine voice, he opened the book of Romans and read St. Paul’s teachings, which describe the impact of the word of God to believers and their resulting behaviors. He read, “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy, but put ye on the Lord Jesus and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscence” (Augustine 160). This passage was a wakeup call for Augustine to reconsider his ways.

Stoic influence on Augustine’s decision is also seen in his decision to observe chastity (Van Der Horst 290). This assertion follows a reading from the scripture about the life of biblical Paul who also observed chastity in order to serve God. In book VI, Augustine was moved into another relationship in a bid to break the traditions that required him to engage in a relationship long enough before marriage. He was thus engaged to his first concubine for over 13 years and he was to marry her officially later on (Mommsen 350).

His mother played an active role in arranging for a respectable marriage for his son, Augustine, but he finally abandoned the woman only to engage in a new relationship that did not lead to marriage. Augustine describes his decision to remain single like Paul of the bible as a way through which he could abandon his long lover and instead search a new lover.

This way, he would break the traditions, which he did not like, after being influenced by stoic philosophies. He finally settled on the belief of human imperfection and the stoic belief in the existence of some natural doctrines, which dictate human response to certain situations and which he overcame in his troubled task of searching the truth (Van Der Horst 290).

Augustine used imagery to paint a picture to the reader of the pain he went through when he lost a number of his family members and friends. The first instance is where he described the separation with his wife. He was traditionally engaged to a woman for 13 years and they had even gotten a boy with her (O’Donovan 318). He describes the separation as hurting when he says, “My heart was still attached to her, thus implying that he felt the pain in leaving his concubine” (O’Donovan 318). His account of his mother’s death in book IX is a sad one too (Taylor 218).

He paints a clearer picture of the pain he had to bear having lost his mother and his only son in just a short interval. The imagery used in this context is an indicator of stoic influence and desperation when he eventually decides to seek unity with people to relieve the overwhelming personal pain, and such unity can only be found in the unity of God.

In addition, in book IV, the author describes the death of a friend though he does not mention the name (Van Der Horst 290). His description of the loss demonstrates the significance of the loss to him. The imagery used in this description is stoic in nature implying that Augustine was highly influenced by the stoic philosophies.

Platonism

Platonism popularly known as the Plato’s philosophy refers to a philosophical theory that tends to contrast abstract objects or rather universals with their objects in the material world (O’Daly 300). The theory tries to connect symbols with the actual objects that they represent.

Transition to Platonism

Augustine came across works by a Platonist in the process of searching the truth. Arguably, Augustine sought work by the Platonist in an effort to find a solution to his materialistic nature. Initially he was materialistic and he was deeply connected with material wealth and desires. Much of the Platonist works were parallel to the ideas contained in the bible and so Augustine decided to dig deep into the work in order to find out if the ideas would offer a solution to his overwhelming materialism nature.

Augustine was inspired after reading Plato’s phrases such as “Therefore, all things that are, are good, and as to that evil, the origin of which I was seeking for, it is not a substance, since, if it were a substance, it would be good…and the confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works” (Taylor 218). These perceptions taught Augustine the importance of balancing material wealth with search for knowledge.

In his book, Augustine struggles hard in search for the truth and tries to analyze the strengths and weaknesses in his original philosophy. At first, he appears to be more influenced by Platonism ideas as compared to the stoicism ideas. Platonism refers to the idea of recognizing the existence of universals, which are not physically visible. In his book, Augustine recognizes the existence of a supernatural being, viz. God, whom he claims to be the creator of the world and the living organisms in it.

He claims, “God is more truly imagined than expressed, and He exists more truly than he is imagined” (Augustine 21), thus indicating that he strongly believed that God existed though He was not visible. His search for the truth is based on the assumption that there is some degree of universality whereby he recognizes the existence of a supernatural being, which is not physically visible, and this factor further complicates his search for the truth.

Platonism as solution to some issues

The problems that Augustine faced are twofold, viz. the search for the truth and the need to free himself from materialism (O’donovan 318). However, it is worth noting that the biggest challenge was the search for truth and certainty. He struggled a lot in the search for the truth about his faith until he came across the Platonic writings.

The second problem that Augustine faced is that he was misled and he had steeped into materialism. In his early life, he was only focused on acquiring earthly things such as a good career, money, and lusts as he confesses in his book. Work by Platonists assisted him get rid of materialism. When he was introduced to Christianity at his early age, he thought of God as a physical object that is visible.

The readings made him understand the invisibility nature of God and he started viewing God as a supernatural being, and thus he came into a conclusion that God existed. At this point, Augustine fell in love with the scripture and on reading St. Paul’s writings; he became conversant with the Platonists’ arguments about God’s glory (Van Der Horst 290). Therefore, he became ready for conversion and accepted the call to serve God and shelf the spirit of materialism that was initially in him. In conclusion, Platonist ideas made Augustine recognize the existence of God coupled with influencing him from being materialistic to serving God.

Stoicism as solution to some issues

Stoicism ideas too played a great role in solving the two problems facing Augustine. Through stoicism philosophies, Augustine was in a position to recognize the importance of establishing good relation with the people around him and not just his family members.

When he lost his mother and son, his soul was in desperation and the only way he could overcome this challenge was through establishing unity with people (Van Der Horst 290). Augustine faced numerous challenges and setbacks in his search for the truth. However, he overcame the challenges by employing stoicism ideas in thinking to come up with a conclusion about human imperfection. These conclusions helped and freed him from the struggle of searching the truth.

Conclusion

Augustine is one of the prominent ancient philosophers. He is credited for his efforts of influencing people into Christianity. His writings reveal the challenges and setbacks that he went through in his search for the truth about his faith. His ideas and philosophy change from time to time throughout the book after reading works by a Platonist and stoicisms. His decisions too are highly influenced by the Platonist and the stoicism whose writings are very helpful to Augustine in the process of searching the truth.

Augustine faced two major problems, viz. the search for the truth and the challenge of freeing himself from materialism. The two conflicting interests drove him to seeking knowledge from the Platonist and stoicisms. Augustine finally concluded that human beings are imperfect and he recognized the existence of natural forces that make things unfold the way they do.

This way, he freed himself from the problems that surrounded him and decided to convert to Christianity before establishing unity with people in the place of being materialistic. In the light of the above discussion, it is evident that the author’s confessions were greatly influenced by both Platonic and stoic ideas and he was finally able to overcome the challenges that faced him.

Works Cited

Augustine, Saint. Confessions. Trans. Frank Sheed. London: Sheed & Ward, Inc., 1942. Print.

O’Daly, Gerard. Platonism pagan and Christian: studies in Plotinus and Augustine, Surrey: Variorum, 2001. Print.

O’Donovan, Oliver. The problem of self-love in St. Augustine, Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2006. Print.

Mommsen, Theodore. “St. Augustine and the Christian idea of progress: The background of the City of God.” Journal of the History of Ideas 12.3 (1951): 346-374. Print.

Taylor, John. “The Meaning of Spiritus in St. Augustine’s De Genesi, XII.” The Modern Schoolman 26.3 (1949): 211-218. Print.

Van Der Horst, Pieter. “A pagan Platonist and a Christian Platonist on suicide.” Vigiliae Christianae 25.4 (1971): 282-288. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Saint Augustine’s Confessions - Religious Studies." April 30, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/saint-augustines-confessions-religious-studies/.

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