History of Philosophy and Christian Thought - Lesson 26


Augustine wrote Confessions as an autobiographical work to record his experience as a sinful youth and his experience becoming a follower of Christ.

Ronald Nash
History of Philosophy and Christian Thought
Lesson 26
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Augustinian Philosophy

Part 2

II. The Confessions

A. Quote

B. The Woman (His Mistress)

1. Apocryphal Response

2. Probable Response

C. Monica

D. Translation

1. Influence of Plotinus and Neoplatonism

2. Changing of his views over time

E. Last Four Books

1. Two Meanings of "Confessions"

a. Admit sins

b. Glorify God

2. Anti-Manichean writing

  • Thales and Anaximander were two philosophers in the sixth century BC that lived in Miletus.

  • Heraclitus and Pythagoras lived into the 5th century BC.

  • Any worldview addresses the subjects of God, ultimate reality, human knowledge, ethics and human persons.

  • Fundamental beliefs of a naturalistic worldview is that nothing exists outside the physical universe and that all things evolved.

  • Plato was a student of Socrates and lived into the fourth century BC. He opposed hedonism, empiricism, relativism, materialism, atheism and naturalism.

  • Plato described the universe as having three levels: the world of particulars, the world of forms, and the form of the good.

  • Plato's view of the universe was dualistic.

  • One of Plato's fundamental arguments is that the human soul is immortal.

  • Evaluation of Plato's arguments and comparison of Plato's philosophy with biblical theology.

  • Empiricism teaches that all human knowledge arises from sense experience. Rationalism teaches that some human knowledge does not arise from sense. experience

  • Aristotle was a student of Plato and lived in the fourth century BC.

  • Aristotle rejected Plato's doctrine of two worlds.

  • Discussion of Aristotelian philosophy as it relates to the incarnation.

  • Aristotle's philosophy as it relates to attributes of God and fundamental assumptions about psychology.

  • Aristotle made a distinction between passive intellect and active intellect.

  • Discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the law of non-contradiction.

  • Discussion of the nature and substance of matter.

  • Hellenistic philosophy was an approach that was popular from the fourth century BC to the fifth century AD.

  • Stoics were determinists who believed in living according to nature.

  • Hedonism emphasized pleasure as the greatest good. "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we might be dead."

  • Philo's philosophy was based on a synthesis of Stoicism and Platonism.

  • Implicit "Logos" Christianity is an underlying theme in the book of Hebrews.

  • Plotinus lived in the third century AD and is considered the founder of Neoplatonism.

  • Augustine is a Latin church father, is considered by many to be one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity.

  • Augustine wrote Confessions as an autobiographical work to record his experience as a sinful youth and his experience becoming a follower of Christ.

  • Augustine wrote to refute some heresies of the day by focusing on the concepts of faith and reason.

  • Augustine writes about the problem of evil and describes evil as the absence of good.

  • Augustine writes to refute Pelagianism by focusing on the biblical teaching about sin.

  • Augustine writes to refute Donatism.

  • The fundamental idea of skepticism is that no one can know anything. Augustine this statement contradicts itself because the skeptic is claiming that you can know that you can't know anything.

  • When Augustine wrote "The City of God," he had a linear view of history.

  • In Augustine's theory of knowledge, he says that eternal reason and human reason are two different levels of reason.

  • Augustine was personally convinced of the importance of divine illumination.

  • The intellectual background of Thomas Aquinas was influenced by the discovery of ancient manuscripts, the rise of universities, the rise of religious brotherhoods and the rise of Muslim philosophy.

  • Aquinas describes faith as whatever a human can know through special revelation, and reason as whatever a human can know outside of special revelation.

  • Aquinas attempts to prove God's existence.

  • Aquinas describes four kinds of law as eternal, divine, natural and positive.

  • The rationalists and empiricists set the stage for Kant and other philosophers of the modern era.

  • Kant argued that moral requirements are based on a standard of rationality he dubbed the “Categorical Imperative."

  • Kants two worlds are the phenomenal world and the noumenal world.

  • Discussion of criticisms and questions about Kant's ideas.

  • Similarities between Kant's ideas and postmodernism.

  • The dialectic is a central idea in Hegel's philosophy.

  • Ideally, Marxism begins with class struggle, then revolution, dictatorship of the proletariat, withering away of the state, and a utopian classless society.

  • Discussion of four faces of Marxism.

  • Nietzsche proclaimed that, "God is dead." His cure was to live life knowing there is no ultimate meaning. Kierkegaard emphasized a worldview based on true faith.

In this class, you will explore the rich history of philosophy and its relationship with Christian thought. The course begins with an introduction to the definition and importance of philosophy in Christian theology. You will then delve into the evolution of philosophical thought from the Pre-Socratic era, through the Classical Greek philosophers, and into the Hellenistic period. As you progress, you will discover how early Christian thought emerged and developed during the Patristic period, with a special focus on Augustine. The class continues with an examination of medieval Christian thinkers, such as Anselm and Thomas Aquinas, and concludes with an analysis of modern philosophers like Descartes, Kant, and Kierkegaard, and their influence on contemporary Christian thought.

Dr. Ronald Nash

History of Philosophy and Christian Thought



Lesson Transcript


Thou hast made us for the self. And our hearts are restless till they rest in the. Here is a guy who looked for peace in every place but God. He saw it in sex. He saw it in pleasure. He saw it in fame. And he had it. Okay. The chief rhetorician of the whole Roman Empire. And the guy was a frustrated, neurotic, totally obsessed and consumed by sex and all of the rest, until finally he discovered that the thing that he was looking for all of these years was the God who had made him. If you don't think that's a message that our the people in our churches need, my goodness, they need that message. He's a little bit like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. She found that her heart's desire was all the time back there in Kansas. Well, in Augustine's case, it was right there. Okay. Now, the woman that's I've got several comments here. The woman I was attending a different church and there was a sermon then. The fellow who preaches at this other church is a good preacher. I mean, he keeps people's attention. But six, seven months ago, he came to the close of a sermon and he started to tell a story about Augustine. Well, I woke up. I mean, if if I'm in your congregation and I'm just I look hypnotized or something else, just say Augusta or Cleveland, either one of those words, and you'll get my attention. Okay. So he for whatever reason, he started to tell this story about Augustine and his. Mistress. And it went like this that he told a little bit about Augustine's life and how he returned to Africa and so on.


[00:02:39] And one day he was walking down a street in Carthage, and a woman called out his name. Agustin, is that you? And it was the woman, the nameless woman who with whom he had lived for all those years. And Augustine reacted with horror and said that was another man. And he turned around and he walked away. Now, that was an apocryphal story anyway, but it made me mad. All right. Now, that's another way to wake me up. Make me mad. So ever since I've heard that sermon, every time I preach this sermon on August and I tell people what this pastor said and then I correct him. Okay. And I say, I do it like this. Augustine never mentions that woman again. We don't have a shred of evidence that he and that woman ever met, although there are rumors, there are traditions that she became a Christian believer. But we don't have any bit of support for that. But I'll tell you this. If Augustine had ever run into that woman again, I know exactly what he and she would have said. She might very well have said, Augustine, is that you? But here is what I think the real Augustine would have said. He would have walked up to her and he would have taken her by the hand and he would say, Oh, you have no idea how glad I am to see you, because I've been wanting to talk to you for so long. You must understand that I'm a different person today. I finally became a Christian. God has forgiven me. And I wanted to ask your forgiveness for how I treated you. But I also have bad news because our son, Dear Dad, has died. But before he died, he became a believer.


[00:04:47] And he is with Jesus even now. That's the kind of conversation the real Augustine would have had. Or so I think not this off the cuff statement where he ran off and didn't want to talk to this woman whom he had wronged so badly there. So I've got that off my chest. Okay. Next point, can you understand what I meant? Now when I said that I've had pretty good success preaching this as a mother's Day sermon, because when I do that or when I preach to any congregation, I look at the women, I make this. This is really a story of Monica instead of a story of Augustine. And I say, I wonder how many of you ladies are are Monica's. That is like Monica, you have children who have wandered away from the faith and you prayed for them, You witness to them, and so far you've had no harvest. And I just want to encourage you to keep being faithful and remember the words of Monica's pastor. It is impossible to a son of such prayers should be lost. Now, as we know, the sons and daughters of a whole lot of godly Christian women are lost. Okay. And for reasons that vary from case to case. But what we need are more godly mothers and grandmothers. All right. Now, this translation. There are two reasons I adopt this translation. One is it's an expensive what is it, 799 still or don't you know, maybe it's a little more expensive than that. And it's a modern translation. But there are some dangers with this translation, and it has to do with the translator. Henry Chadwick, I'm sure, is a highly regarded British scholar. Does it say here where he teaches either at Oxford or Cambridge? Cambridge.


[00:07:14] Okay. But Henry Chadwick is not a reliable guide to St Augustine. And the next time you go to England, look him up and tell him I said that. All right. He has an obsession. And I can't stand scholars that have obsession. And of course, one kind of obsession always leads people to say, I can't stand. But that is a kind of obsession. But Chadwick really has a kind of chip on his shoulder. He is obsessed with the idea that just millions of ideas that show up in Augustine's confession have plotinus as their source. If if, if Plotinus used the word VOP, then any sentence in which a Augustine uses the word the must have been inspired by plotinus. Now I'm exaggerating a little bit, which may point to an obsession in my case. Let me tell you this Many of the footnotes in Chadwick are misleading. I mean, I mean, you just go down here and there. Footnote after footnote is referring you to Plotinus. And I think most of those footnotes are unnecessary and misleading. So I'm going to make a non dictatorial, non dogmatic, completely centrist statement, such as as characteristic of me all the time. It is true that before Augustine became a Christian believer, he came under the influence of Neoplatonism. That is true and it is also true that in many respects that influence was bad. Now it was good in at least a couple of cases, one of which was the problem of evil. Plotinus did help Augustine learn how you could have a world controlled by one God, not two gods, not the good and evil God of Manichean ism, but how you could have a world under the control of one God and still be able to explain the presence of evil in the world.


[00:09:35] And maybe I need to just hearken harp on that and explain a little bit more of that before I get rid of that chart. Okay. That was a good influence from Plotinus. It helped tear down one of the last barriers between Augustine and the Christian faith. And there's an important lesson to learn there. Sometimes God can use pagan literature and pagan ideas in his sovereign way of bringing a soul to himself. Okay. That's God's business. He used Ambrose's indifference. He used Ambrose's tough love to break down that that stuff. But whenever the converted, Augustine came across something in his platonism that he knew contradicted Scripture. He changed his mind. I don't find Chadwick admitting that whenever Augustine became convinced that this or that belief was platonic, but not Christian, not biblical, he abandoned it. And that's important. Augustine changed his mind on hundreds of pagan issues after his conversion. In some cases, it happened immediately. In other cases, it took years. I'll give you one more example. And I've mentioned this before, Augustine, for at least one year following his conversion, believed in reincarnation. That's Plotinus. That's Plato. That's Neoplatonism. He believed in reincarnation. You can find that in some of his early writings. He wrote a book called On the Immortality of the Soul. That's heavily neo platonic. But when he finally realized and when you've got a guy who has been away from the Christian faith for 15 years, knows nothing about the Bible, it's going to take him a little while to get straightened out. Once he recognized that reincarnation was false, he washed his hands of it and never taught it again. And so you need to know that. And I just I'm just warning you here to be careful of Chadwick.


[00:12:01] I do not think he is a good guide to the worldview of Augustine. I think he's he's bought into a bad paradigm. Okay. Now, I want to talk about the last three books of the confessions. How many of you recognized a significant difference between the first nine books, which are autobiographical and the last three books that nobody can understand? How many of you noticed that difference? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay. The rest of you, I guess, haven't written read quite that far yet. All right. We're talking about books. Ten, 11, 12 and 13. The last four books. I'm going to give you what I think is the best explanation of that. This is very puzzling. I mean, the first nine books, I think, are exciting. Or do you notice how much Augustine loves the Bible? Have you ever seen a writer who quotes the Bible so often as Augustine? Look at this every verse. There are dozen or more quotations from Scripture. Do you think Augustine stopped while he was writing and said, Let me look up Psalm 24. He knew this was he had memorized all of these verses. Now, here's what goes on in the last four books of the confessions, according to my interpretation. I could be wrong. My handling of the last four books of the confessions is a function of two things. Okay. First of all, the two meanings, the two meanings of the word confessions. If you think that the reason Augustine titled this book, The Confessions, is because he had a lot of sins to confess, you're missing the point. This book is not called The Confessions, because this man has a lot of sins to admit. There's another meaning of the word confession that is behind the title and that other meaning of the word confession.


[00:14:16] I've just given you the first meaning to admit your sins. But the second meaning is to glorify God, to confess God, to glorify the God who saved you from your sins. It is in that sense that Augustine uses the word confession. Okay. That will disappoint a lot of people. To confess God is to give him the glory. And because Augustine has got a lot of things to glorify God about in books, ten, 11, 12, and 13, that's why they're still a part of the confessions. Now, the second the second thing that's going on here is that the confessions should be understood to be an anti Manichean, anti Manichean writing. I'll say more about that in a. Couple of minutes. And what I'll tell you in a couple of minutes is that most of Augustine's writings have become classified into the three major controversies that he engaged in after his conversion. And so some of his writings are anti Manichean writings, their writings against Manichean ism. Others of his writings are anti Palladian writings. And I'll explain that. And others of his writings are antidote artist writings. And I'll explain that. Now, here's the here's the purpose. Suppose you're a Christian in North Africa and you remember Augustine during his pre conversion days. And what do you remember? Number one, he was a rascal. Number two, he had lots of moral problems. Number three, he was an enemy of the Christian faith. He may have been the number one enemy of the Christian faith in North Africa. And when he finally leaves North Africa, he's a manichean and he's gone for several years. And, you know, they didn't have television sets in those days. Write that down and give me credit for that. They didn't have easy access to the news.


[00:16:29] So out of sight, out of mind. Write that down. You don't hear that very often. Out of sight. And all of a sudden, here's a Guston landing at the seaport in Carthage. And the Christians are saying, That rascal, that enemy of the faith, has come back. Only now he's professing that he's a Christian. Now, what would we all think? It's a fraud. This guy is coming back to to place himself in the church. And he's going to he's going to he's going to act like a worm within the Christian church. We got to be careful of him. So one of Augustine's reasons for writing the confessions was to tell the world that he really had become a Christian in in Italy, in Rome and in Milan, that he really had abandoned Manichean ism and that he was just a young Christian convert who needed help but who needed trust. Okay. Now, what goes on in books ten, 11, 12, and 13. Many scholars believe are subtle attacks upon important Manichean teachings that the rest of us just don't understand. For example, there are there there are passages in which he talks about early, early chapters of Genesis. That's our scholars tell us that those are references to various false Manichean twisting of the scripture. So if you understand that Augustine's whole plan in writing the confessions was not to tell his autobiography, was not to predict, you know, tell the world about all of his wicked sense, but was to tell the world that, yes, I used to be a manichean, but God delivered me from Manichean ism. God delivered me from my sins. I am a Christian brother and I am now your ally. I am not your enemy. And he is continuing to to to do that in books.


[00:18:50] Ten, 11, 12 and 13. Okay, well, that may be of some help to you. Now, I want to warn you, in case you've not read the last four chapters, they are tough going. Pay close attention to Book ten. Pay very close attention to book ten, and then just sort of skim books. 11, 12 and 13. Because you can live a rich are you're going to look at them. But you know, you can live a rich, full happy life without memorizing any texts from books. 12, 13 and 14. Okay. Now let me tell you what is in book ten. That's the book in which Augustine asks this question What was God doing before he created the world? And his answer is he was preparing hell for people who ask stupid questions like that. That's where that stuff is. And there is some other great philosophical stuff in Book ten, But then sort of things petered out a little bit.