History of Philosophy and Christian Thought - Lesson 30


Augustine writes to refute Donatism.

Ronald Nash
History of Philosophy and Christian Thought
Lesson 30
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Augustinian Philosophy

Part 6

VI. Donatism

A. Persecution in North Africa

B. Split between Donatists and Catholics

C. Augustine Responds to the Donatists

  • 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.

Two other books that are recommended reading for this class are Confessions by Augustine and Phaedo by Plato.


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    Lesson Transcript

    [00:00:02] Now, the last controversy in Augustan is the anti-Donald Artist controversy. And I'll be frank, I almost decided today that I wouldn't even talk about Donna autism, But I can do it in 10 minutes. And for me not to say something about it would be to leave a big gap here. 50 years or so before Augusten was born, though, there was a major controversy. There was a major persecution of Christians. And right at this moment, I've lost the precise dates. I'm I'm I'm inclined to think here something like 313 A.D. and I'm trying to remember the name of the Roman emperor at the time, but maybe it was more like 310. This was this was probably the emperor before Constantine. My guess is in my chapter, chapter six on August, and I may mention it and I don't want to take the time to look it up, but the the persecution of Christians in North Africa for for some reason, took a peculiar spin, took a peculiar twist, maybe because in prior persecutions, various Christians had been threatened with death or suffering or something else, and they had professed to accept what they were supposed to say in order to avoid persecution. And as soon as the persecution ended, they just said, Well, I lied and I didn't mean it. And they went back to normal things. So in the case of this particular persecution, at least in North Africa, Christian leaders, pastors, priests, whatever they were called, were ordered to surrender as proof of their apostasy. They were ordered to surrender copies of the Holy Bible. Now, these copies were hand copied. They were very rare. You would be lucky to have one copy of the Bible in every community. Certainly no more people didn't have family Bibles then, so the Roman soldiers would march into the church.


    [00:02:22] They'd say to the pastor, Either you give us your copy of the Holy Scriptures, your Holy scriptures, or we'll kill you. All right. Now, some of those pastors said, I'm not going to betray my Lord. They stuck out their chest and they said, Do it. All right. I'm going to die for my faith right here. And I guess they did die. Others said, well, just a minute. They went into their office or whatever, and they came back with their copy of the Bible and they were accepted as apostates and they were allowed to live. But there were others who said, well, just a minute. And they went into their office and they came back with a copy of Homer. I here's the reason. Say both the Bible and Homer were written in Greek and these dumb Romans couldn't read Greek. So they walk out of the church with a copy of Homer and they say, Bless you to this priest, and he still lives. See? Now, was that an act of apostasy or not? Well, when the when the persecution ended, when the persecution ended, those Christians who had not compromised in any way, they they wanted all of these compromisers to be kicked out of their positions of Christian leadership. That would be the people who actually turned over the Bible or turned over even a copy of Homer. They mind. So what we got was were too there was a big split in the in the church, and the split occurred. Here. Again, I'm doing this from memory around 320 A.D. and this is all in North Africa. Those Christians who had made some kind of deal or compromise were called the Trotter Tories. Now, none of us I mean, I took my Latin 50 years ago.


    [00:04:25] I don't remember much. I remember Amo almos a motte. Okay. Those of you who've studied your Latin. That's the extent of my Latin these days. But what do you think? This word. Is this a complement right here to call somebody a derogatory. What do you think? It really it's their English equivalent would be traitor. Yeah. These were traitors. Okay. So what you got was you got a split within the North African church. Well, these. These guys began to follow a bishop named Dönitz. And so you began to get the Donna test branch of the North African church. And then the other guys were called the Catholics, not Roman Catholics. It was very important. You do not have a Roman Catholic Church until around 600 A.D. You have any Catholic friends? That's a good fight to start with. You don't have a Roman Catholic Church until all of the other bishops of all of the other cities submit to the supremacy of the bishop at Rome. And that doesn't happen until hundreds of years after this. All the word Catholic met and that North African controversy was the universal church. Think of the Apostles Creed. I believe in the Holy Catholic Church. That is the sense that's relevant to the Donna Test controversy. It doesn't say I believe in the Holy Roman Catholic Church. I believe in the event the Catholic Church is the universal church of all believers. Okay, Now, the thing got so bad in North Africa that Catholics and Donetsk began to fight. For one thing, there was a group of people called crazy people called a circle selling arms who rolled around on horses and and and and and waged war against Catholic villages. They would swoop in with their big scimitar, their swords, and they would kill Catholic Christians.


    [00:06:49] And then the Catholics began to do that. It was a little bit like north north Northern Ireland, you know. Now, Augustine got involved when he became Bishop of Hippo because Hippo Hippo Regius, if you can remember the map I showed you last week. Hippo Regis was a Donna Tist city. The Catholics in Hippo were a minority. And after a while, Augustine, as the Catholic bishop in Hippo, Regius decided that he wanted to see if he could resolve the controversy. And so he. He invited the Dönitz Bishop to debate him. Now, remember, Augustine was at that time the greatest rhetorician in the Roman Empire. You know, now here I am. I'm the Donetsk bishop in Hippo Regius. And Augustine challenges me to a pulpit. Do you think I'm going to be dumb enough to go up against Augustine? So finally, Augustine began to publish some writings and some letters and so on. Who were the. Who were the compromisers? The Donna artists were the people who were the purists? They were. They regarded everybody who may who even winked at the persecutors as traitors. And the Donna artists were the purists. Does that that. That tells you who. Now, I'm not going to call them the good guys and the bad guys, because this is a very complex controversy. The Catholics accepted back into the fellowship of their churches, those people who were accused of being traitors. I've sometimes wondered if I had been around back then. Well, my guess is I would have started out with the Donna tests, at least at a certain time in my life. But like many controversies within churches, as the years pass, the people who were involved at the beginning die off. And nobody can remember what the original fight was all about.


    [00:09:03] Am I right? I mean, listen, if you ever become a pastor in a church that split 100 years ago, nobody remembers what the original fight was all about. My first church that I pastored had a huge split. Which is why I suppose they they called me and I remember making calls on all of the people who had left the church. And I said, Well, now can't we maybe I said, Can't we all get along? Did I say something like that? And then Rodney King, I think, found out that I had said that, and he began to use that statement. Can't we all get along? And everybody who left, I guess, with one or two exceptions, did come back. No doubt it was great preaching that brought them back. Okay, now let's just narrow this down. Augustine gets involved because he's the pastor of a Catholic church in a Donna Tist community. He wants to try and resolve the controversy because all of the all of the original participants are dead and he wants to resolve it in a peaceful way. And the Donetsk refuse. And they're afraid of debating Augustine. So he begins to write things. And these were some of the base these these were some of the outcomes of this original debate. The Donetsk got to a position where they would no longer accept baptism in a Catholic church and the Catholics would not accept baptism. And a Donetsk church. Boy, that the denominations of today in which that in which that stuff goes on is all over the place. But eventually, you see the dons artists would not accept even any of the so-called sacraments from a Catholic church. In other words, if you were married, if you were married by a pastor who was implicated as a Trotta tary, or if you were married by a peasant.


    [00:11:05] Mr. who was a Catholic. The Donna tests rejected your your marriage vows. See? So let's say you got married around 325 A.D. by a Catholic pastor, and then you and your wife went on and had 20 children. The Donna tests would be claiming that all 20 of your children were illegitimate. That's a serious consequence. 20 illegitimate children running around the house. Of course, many wives no doubt said, You mean I don't have to divorce this turkey? Why would I put it in those words? But, you know. You mean the pastor that married us was a Toronto Tory? That means I'm not married. Really? Bad consequences. Your baptisms. Not. You know, if you believe the baptism saves, as these people did. So in the course of the controversy, Augustine wrote an expression that has been misused for centuries there. And this is the statement There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Now, what did that mean in 400 A.D. and what did that mean in 1968? All right. Well, doesn't take doesn't take much of my own imagination. What it meant in 400 A.D. was whether you done it to get to heaven or not, you're still going to get in. You're going to get to heaven by virtue of, you know, the traditions that have been kept alive in the cat. You guys were outside the circle in 1960 A.D. I was pastoring a Presbyterian church in Fall River, Massachusetts. And boy, this was tough stuff. This city, Fall River, was and probably still is, a 98% Roman Catholic heavily. You know, my my church was made up of people who were primarily of Arabic background, Lebanese background, and frankly, about £30 of what I carry around my waist is Arabic food. In fact, I'm going out to lunch at an Arabic restaurant today.


    [00:13:30] One day, six of my Sunday school children, they were probably ten or 12 years old. They were walking down the main street in the in what was the Lebanese part of Fall River. And most Lebanese people are either Muslims or they're Maronite Catholic. This was probably and still is the only Protestant Lebanese church in the whole world. So these little girls were walking down Main Street and the the Catholic, the Lebanese Catholic priest, the Maronite priest, that's a special dispensation under the pope. He began to chase these little girls down the street and waving his finger at them, saying, they're going to hell, you're going to hell. You're going to hell. And the parents were very upset at this. And they told me and I said, let me put me in a room with that guy. And he'll never say that again. Because, you see, I was twice as tall as he was, and he was twice as old as I was. And I could take that guy. I could take that sucker. I knew I could take that sucker because Maronite priests don't know any judo or any of that other stuff. And they said, No, no, the guy's an idiot. We all know he's an idiot. You know he's going to die one of these days. And in spite of the the Catholic Protestant stuff, they all went to each other's weddings and they were all there was intermarriage there. And it was a big kind of a mess. So I never did take on that guy. But I wanted to. I wanted to. But that's you can't be saved unless you're Roman Catholic. See, So the big point here, and it's the only point you need to remember, is that even though Augustine was a kind of Protestant before the Reformation, at least when you look at the doctrine of grace, he remained in his ecclesiology as a Catholic.


    [00:15:29] And thus you get the two sides of Augustine and part part one side of Augustine is World for the Reformation. Once Calvin and Luther, you know, successfully avoid this idea that the sacraments of the church really do provide salvation. But in the meantime, Augustine's ideas are also contributing to the to the to the rigid ecclesiology that becomes that makes it easier for the Catholic Church to become the great Satan. During the late Middle Ages and the great the Double Great Satan during during the Reformation. So I just mentioned that. And if you want some day you can read more. Listen, the best the best single book to read about Augustine. And certainly if if you're writing your research paper on August and you know, because I've written this title on your bibliography, it's a book called Augustine of Hippo, and the author is a man named Peter Brown. This is this is probably one of the great intellectual biographies ever written because it goes through Augustine's life year by year and then relates the events in his life to his writings and the development of his thought. And you get marvelous information about the Manichean controversy, the Donna Thomas controversy, and so on.