Category: Blessed Augustine

Grudging positives in the Confessions

by Andrea Elizabeth

So’s not to be accused of being prejudicially against St. Augustine, I’ll say that when he’s praising and adoring Christ, I can let myself get in his groove.

Another thought after the section on theater, it sounds like romance stories were alive and well in his day, and didn’t take off with “Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart (French: Lancelot, le Chevalier de la Charrette) is an Old French poem by Chrétien de Troyes. It is unknown exactly when the poem was composed, only that it would have been between 1175 and 1181 (most likely 1177)” as I thought C.S. Lewis attributed the genesis in his Allegory of Love. Maybe he was referring to courtly love, which may put a different twist to it.

I agree with his criticism on being caught up in pathos, but I like St. Basil’s more surgical approach in his Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature, which Augustine probably didn’t read because of his aversion to Greek Literature.

His account of his mother’s vision when discouraged about his dissoluteness is probably my favorite part so far.

Letters over love

by Andrea Elizabeth

“Behold, O Lord God, yea, behold patiently as Thou art wont how carefully the sons of men observe the covenanted rules of letters and syllables received from those who spake before them, neglecting the eternal covenant of everlasting salvation received from Thee. Insomuch, that a teacher or learner of the hereditary laws of pronunciation will more offend men by speaking without the aspirate, of a “uman being,” in despite of the laws of grammar, than if he, a “human being,” hate a “human being” in despite of Thine. As if any enemy could be more hurtful than the hatred with which he is incensed against him; or could wound more deeply him whom he persecutes, than he wounds his own soul by his enmity. Assuredly no science of letters can be so innate as the record of conscience, “that he is doing to another what from another he would be loth to suffer.” How deep are Thy ways, O God, Thou only great, that sittest silent on high and by an unwearied law dispensing penal blindness to lawless desires. In quest of the fame of eloquence, a man standing before a human judge, surrounded by a human throng, declaiming against his enemy with fiercest hatred, will take heed most watchfully, lest, by an error of the tongue, he murder the word “human being”; but takes no heed, lest, through the fury of his spirit, he murder the real human being.”

Yes, love is better, I agree. But love with letters, Blessed Augustine!


Augustine’s aptitude in school

by Andrea Elizabeth

Seems to me St. Augustine protesteth too much about his facility with words and interpreting literature in his Confessions by downplaying how much they esteem people who are good at it. I’ll not say that he is backhandedly congratulating himself, but instead point out that he is over negativizing the literature and his own nature.

Between the lines it looks to me like Augustine is an alpha male who is very passionate and sensual. I think he over-reacted to this by becoming a Manichean dualist who vilified the objects of his affection. I wish he’d become a poet instead. He thinks the only worthy object is God alone, thank him Protestants. He should have found God’s energies in creation, which he would have learned how to do if he’d cared about the eastern Greeks, and loved it whole-heartedly too.

Augustine’s education

by Andrea Elizabeth

Could his aversion to Greek be more than just a negative reaction to being forced to learn a new language? Maybe a different worldview? Although, medieval Greeks of St. Gregory Palamas’ time had a mixed reaction to their own philosophical heritage:

The Byzantines never “rediscovered” Plato and Aristotle in the same way the West did; Meyendorff explains, “for the Byzantines, Greek antiquity was a part of their own past, expressed in their own language: they could not be converted to it. By rejecting paganism and adopting Christianity, medieval Greeks became immune to any revolutionary rebirth of antiquity.” Therefore, although Barlaam was a Greek, his formative education in the West undoubtedly impressed upon him a particularlyenthusiastic admiration for antiquity, one that was probably foreign to his Byzantine colleagues.” (from Palamas and Barlaam: The Hesychast Dispute of the Fourteenth Century, by Zachary Kostopoulos)

This does not imply an over-reactionary opposition, however, as the rest of the paper bears out.

Confessions revisited

by Andrea Elizabeth

For my daughter’s “Christian biography” assignment, we are going to listen to St. Augustine’s Confessions in the car. Chapter 1 – almost total depravity and grace alone! In babies and their mothers, no less. Babies are totally selfish, greedy, and jealous for wanting to be fed and comfortable, and mothers are driven by God through their intuition to make their infants so. What about mothers who abandon their babies, as they did on certain hills during Augustine’s day? We have a choice!

If nutrition is good, then it is not selfish to acquire it. It is bad to not want others to have it, and some babies may indeed have a problem with resentment, but not all do. Some toddlers love their infant siblings and want to help take care of them. Why did Fr. Seraphim Rose like this book so much?

Blessed Augustine appreciated

by Andrea Elizabeth

Before I can begin any of the new books I received, I felt it necessary to finish The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church by Father Seraphim Rose. I’ll wait to read the chapter of Fr. Seraphim’s underlined sections of Confessions until after I’ve read that book myself. Here’s a quote concerning it,

Among his moral writings which Archbishop Philaret [of Chernigov] regards most highly are his Soliloquies; his treatises, letters and sermons on monastic struggle and the virtues, on care for the dead, on prayer to the saints, on the veneration of relics; and of course his justly – renowned Confessions, “which without doubt can strike anyone to the depths of his soul by the sincerity of their contrition and warm one by the warmth of the piety which is so essential on the path of salvation”.

It is ironic that being known for his intellect, Blessed Augustine is recommended mostly for his piety by the Eastern Church.

A softer view of Blessed Augustine

by Andrea Elizabeth

I’m almost 3/4 through The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church, and I’m very impressed with the circumspection and depth of research that Fr. Seraphim Rose put into this study towards the end of his life on this earth. This is the first book I’ve read directly by him as my other acquaintance with his thought is from Father Seraphim Rose, His Life and Works by Hieromonk Damascene. As I recall of that work, Father Seraphim’s personal attitudes and opinions were detailed. In this book on Blessed Augustine, I am seeing Fr. Seraphim practice what he preached. Namely, a submission to the Patristic witness permeated by the savor of Orthodoxy.

Fr. Seraphim does not gloss over the Church Father’s errors, but instead gives perspective of them through what other Church Fathers said about him. It seems that despite the errors, which are the only things explained so far, he was greatly loved and respected. It is interesting to me to see how fondly and delicately St. John Cassian, St. Vincent of Lerins, St. Photius, St. Mark of Ephesus and others talked about him amidst disagreement. Blessed Augustine was not denounced as a heretic, but was instead characterized as having certain “imprecise” views of grace, free will, predestination and purgatory.

Even the greatest thinker does not exert influence in an intellectual vacuum; the reason why extreme predestinarianism broke out at different times in the West (and not in the East) was due first of all, not to Augustine’s teaching (which was only a pretext and a seeming justificaton), but rather to the overly-logical mentality which has always been present in the peoples of the West: in Augustine’s case it produced exaggerations in a basically Orthodox thinker, while in the case of Calvin (for example) it produced an abominable heresy in someone who was far indeed from Orthodoxy in thought and feeling. If Augustine had taught his doctrine in the East and in Greek, there would have been no heresy of predestinarianism there, or at least none with the widespread consequences of the Western heresies; the non-rationalistic character of the Eastern mind would not have drawn any consequences from Augustine’s exaggerations, and in general would have paid less attention to him than the West did, seeing in him what the Orthodox Church today continues to see in him: a venerable Father of the Church, not without his errors, who ranks rather behind the greatest Fathers of the East and West. (p. 50)

Father Seraphim characterizes condemnations of Blessed Augustine as a heretic by modern Orthodox as being “western” in nature.

Then St. Photius presents an objection typical of the all-too-often narrowly-logical Latin mentality: “If they taught well, then everyone who considers them as Fathers should accept their idea; but if they have not spoken piously, they should be cast out together with the heretics.” [Fr. Seraphim later brings this out as leading to the doctrine of Papal Infallability.] The answer of St. Photius to this rationalistic view is a model of the depth, sensitivity, and compassion with which true Orthodoxy looks on those who have erred in good faith: “Have there not been complicated conditions which have forced many Fathers in part to express themselves imprecisely, in part to speak with adaptation to circumstances under the attacks of enemies, and at times out of human ignorance to which they also were subject?… If some have spoken imprecisely, or for some reason not known to us, even deviated from the right path, but no question was put to them nor did anyone challenge them to learn the truth – we admit them to the list of Fathers, just as if they had not said it, because of their righteousness of life and distinguished virtue and their faith, faultless in other respects. We do not, however, follow their teaching in which they stray from the path of truth…. […] but we embrace the men. (p. 66)

The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church

by Andrea Elizabeth

I myself fear the cold hearts of the “intellectually correct” much more than any errors you might find in Augustine…. I feel in Augustine the love of Christ. – Fr. Seraphim Rose, from a letter of 1981.

O Truth Who art Eternity! and Love Who art Truth! and Eternity Who art Love! Thou art my God, to Thee do I sigh night and day. – Blessed Augustine, from the Confessions

The above quotes are opposite the title page of The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church by Father Seraphim Rose. I feel a bit distanced from my Calvinist-influenced aversion to Blessed Augustine at present, so I’m willing to take a look at this book. Defensiveness really colors how we read someone. Even in the above quote, I’m noticing abstract concepts instead of personal words about Christ, but I’ll allow that the “Who” makes up for it and that it corresponds closely enough with Christ describing Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life”.

‘”The basic question,” Father Seraphim said to me when he was studying Blessed Augustine, “is, what should be the Orthodox approach to controversies?” – for controversies do occur in Church life from time to time, allowed by God for our growth and understanding. As the reader will see for himself, Father Seraphim found the answer to this question and gave it clearly in the balanced and, above all, fair study of Blessed Augustine which follows. The Saints strengths and weaknesses are examined, the opinions of other Holy Fathers on Augustine are consulted and given, and, above all, the spirit of the man – whom Father Seraphim regarded as a true “Father of Orthodox piety… who had a single deeply Christian heart and soul” – is clearly portrayed, perhaps for the first time in the English language.

Father Seraphim titled this essay, “The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church.” He called it this because there are those today who wish to exclude Augustine altogether from the company of Church Fathers – a novel development, to say the least! Some writers boldly – and without justification (other than their own opinion) – call him a “heretic” and unfairly ascribe to him almost every subsequent error of Latin and Protestant Christendom. Father Seraphim, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to give a sense of Orthodox perspective to this issue, explaining to those who seemed not to know that Blessed Augustine does indeed have a proper “place” in the Church – not, to be sure, among the great Fathers, but none the less a position of well-deserved recognition by other Holy Fathers. (from the preface by Father Alexey Young, now Fr. Ambrose, italics not mine)