Thursday, March 31, 2016

Augustine's Contribution to Philosophy: Reason, Will and God

...[L]ater Greek philosophy, as represented by Neoplatonism, had a direct influence on the new Latin Christian culture. Up to this point, philosophy in the West had been represented mainly by the Stoic ethics embodied in the rhetorical tradition, above all in the writings of Cicero and Seneca. There had been no creative metaphysical thought and no original psychological observation. Now at the very close of the imperial epoch the Latin world produced in St. Augustine a profoundly original genius, in whose thought the new Christian culture found its highest philosophical expression. Augustine also was a rhetorician by profession, and it was from Cicero that his mind first received an impulse towards the study of philosophy. But the turning-point in his life was eleven years later, when he came under the influence of the writings of the Neoplatonists that had been translated into Latin by the converted rhetorician Marius Victorinus. By them he was first convinced of the objective existence of spiritual reality, and from them he derived the two fundamental principles which remained the poles of his philosophy--the idea of God as the source of being and intelligence, the Sun of the intelligible world; and the idea of the soul as a spiritual nature which finds its beatitude in the participation of the Uncreated Light.

But Augustine was not contented with the intellectualism of Greek philosophy. He demanded not a speculative theory of truth, but its experimental possession. "The Platonists," he says, "indeed saw the Truth fixed, stable, unfading, in which are all the forms of all created things, but they saw it from afar...and therefore they could not find the way by which they might attain to so great and ineffable and beatific a possession." (Sermo 141.)

This way he found only  in Christianity--in the supernatural wisdom which not only shows man the truth, but gives him the means of attaining to its fruition. His philosophy acquired its final character from the experience of his own conversion, the realisation of the intervention of a spiritual power which was strong enough to change his personality and to transform the notional order of intelligence into a vital order of charity. The spiritual evolution which began with the Hortensius of Cicero ends in the Confessions, and the sapientia of the Roman rhetorician finds its fulfillment in the contemplatio of the Christian mystic.

Thus the philosophy of Augustine differs from that of Origen, the greatest Christian thinker of the Greek world, in its intensely personal character. It remains Hellenic in its insistence on the existence of a rational order pervading the world, and in its sense of the goodness and beauty of all created being. (Cf. e.g., de Trintate, VIII, iii.) But it was both Western and Christian in its moral preoccupations and by reason of the central position which it accords to the will.

The philosophy of Augustine is essentially a philosophy of spiritual experience, and as such it is the source of Western mysticism and of Western ethics, as well as of the Western tradition of philosophical idealism.

The Making of Europe (from Chapter III: Classical Tradition and Christianity), Christopher Dawson, 62-63. (emphasis added by Plinthos)

Actus caritatis
Amo te, Deus meus, super omnia ex toto corde; amo te propter te et proximum meum propter te, quia in te ipso es summe bonus et ipsa bonitas infinita et ideo dignus, qui ab omnibus ameris. Ament te omnes homines! Laudent te omnes creaturae! Utinam ego, te, Deum meum, plus amem! Vere me poenitet, quod unquam te offendi; jam statuo servare omnia madata tua. Amen.

Taken from the devotional in the back of Thomae a Kempis de Imitatione Jesu Christi, Ludovici Donin (ed.), Viennae: Carolum Gorischek, 1866.

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