Friday, August 27, 2010

Saint Augustine In His Middle Years

Still left room open for the role of free will as seen in his work "On the Spirit and the Letter"(around the year 412 A.D.) I tend to agree with Saint Augustine in his middle years! I disagree with what he said about the will later in life.

The word prevent simply means "to precede". He is talking about how grace not only precedes our works, but also our faith. Eventhough we have a different understanding of what grace means (uncreated vs created) as a Pan-enthiest (Essence vs Energies distinction), I will have to agree, for we believe God's Energies to be Everywhere and permeating everything, and so it would be impossible for our will to exist somewhere where the Divine Energies are not. Where could we will where God's Energies are not already present? And so for us, it's really simultaneous. Also, to assume that we can will somewhere where God is not already Present is to plant the seeds of either Deism or Agnosticism.

I forgot when, but Augustine had a personal revelation one day while reading Saint Cyprian. Cyprian quoted 1st Corinthians 4:7 in passing while talking about something else and this caused Saint Augustine to change his mind about faith not being merit. This also caused him to miss-interpret Ephesians chapter 2 verse 8 as well, for he was the first to call the word "faith" the gift of God in that passage. In his middle years he seemed to have still believed in free will, but his later works seem to support some form of determinism. But his personal revelation....some years before he wrote this, set him on the track of eventually getting rid of free will altogether.

"On the Spirit and the Letter"(around the year 412 A.D.)
Chapter 57
Quote:"it surely follows that it is God who both works in man the willing to believe, and in all things prevents us with His mercy. To yield our consent, indeed, to God's summons, or to withhold it, is (as I have said) the function of our own will. And this not only does not invalidate what is said, "For what do you have that you did not receive?" 1 Corinthians 4:7 but it really confirms it. For the soul cannot receive and possess these gifts, which are here referred to, except by yielding its consent."

The early Augustine, back when he was a strong advocate of free will:

Of Two Souls Chapter 10 verse 14 (around the 391 A.D.)
"For every one also who does a thing unwillingly is compelled, and every one who is compelled, if he does a thing, does it only unwillingly. It follows that he that is willing is free from compulsion, even if any one thinks himself compelled. And in this manner every one who willingly does a thing is not compelled, and whoever is not compelled, either does it willingly or not at all. Since nature itself proclaims these things in all men whom we can interrogate without absurdity, from the boy even to the old man, from literary sport even to the throne of the wise, why then should I not have seen that in the definition of will should be put, "no one compelling," which now as if with greater experience most cautiously I have done. But if this is everywhere manifest, and promptly occurs to all not by instruction but by nature, what is there left that seems obscure, unless perchance it be concealed from some one, that when we wish for something, we will, and our mind is moved towards it, and we either have it or do not have it, and if we have it we will to retain it, if we have it not, to acquire it? Wherefore everyone who wills, wills either not to lose something or to obtain it. Hence if all these things are clearer than day, as they are, nor are they given to my conception alone, but by the liberality of truth itself to the whole human race, why could I not have said even at that time: Will is a movement of the mind, no one compelling, either for not losing or for obtaining something?"

The Late Augustine becoming deterministic
Enchiridion(The Handbook on Faith, Hope and Love) chapter 98 (around the year 421 A.D.)
"And, moreover, who will be so foolish and blasphemous as to say that God cannot change the evil wills of men, whichever, whenever, and wheresoever He chooses, and direct them to what is good? But when He does this He does it of mercy; when He does it not, it is of justice that He does it not for "-->He has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardens."-->13-1279--> And when the apostle said this, he was illustrating the grace of God,"

The late Augustine in talking about how he changed his mind:

(he wrote this letter because the semi-pelagians......Saint John Cassian, Saint vincent of lerins, and a group of monks at Gaul[modern day Spain and France] were all attacking him. He called the semi-pelagians of his day erroring brethren or something like that because he once believed like they did)

On the Predestination of the Saints (Book I) chapter 7 (around the year 428 A.D.)
"It was not thus that that pious and humble teacher thought—I speak of the most blessed Cyprian—when he said "-->that we must boast in nothing, since nothing is our own."-->15-3432--> And in order to show this, he appealed to the apostle as a witness, where he said, "-->For what have you that you have not received? And if you have received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?"--> 1 Corinthians 4:7 And it was chiefly by this testimony that I myself also was convinced when I was in a similar error, thinking that faith whereby we believe in God is not God's gift, but that it is in us from ourselves, and that by it we obtain the gifts of God, whereby we may live temperately and righteously and piously in this world. For I did not think that faith was preceded by God's grace, so that by its means would be given to us what we might profitably ask, except that we could not believe if the proclamation of the truth did not precede; but that we should consent when the gospel was preached to us I thought was our own doing, and came to us from ourselves. And this my error is sufficiently indicated in some small works of mine written before my episcopate. Among these is that which you have mentioned in your letters15-3434--> wherein is an exposition of certain propositions from the Epistle to the Romans."

Late Platonism, determinism and the Late Saint Augustine

Eventhough I don't really like this book because the author was too critical of christianity while somewhat sympathetic with various forms of gnosticism, I did find good nuggets here and there.
"St. Augustine(354-430) was, for the time being,
the last in this chain of development. With his Manichean past stretching over
almost ten years, he had acquired personal experience of the gnostic heresy, and
had reflected on its dangers and value*. He appropriated this heritage most
clearly in the impressive historical review of the two "realms" (civitates), the
devil's or that of the wicked (civitas diaboli or impiorum,) and God's (civitas
Dei), and thus shaped the Christian historical metaphysics of the Middle Ages.
Other aspects of his teaching, too, cannot be understood without this heritage
which is linked closely with the related late Platonic, such as the famous faith
in predestination (grace and election)
, the role of the soul as being in the image of God and thus an immortal element and, above all, the concept of original sin. This latter is the result of man's fall from the divine original state brought about by his own guilt. Its position in Augustine's teaching is an echo of the Manichean idea of the fateful "mixture" of light and darkness, spirit and matter,which necessarily determines human existence. One has attributed to St. Augustine, because of his turning away from Manichean Gnosis and because of his overcoming the problems raised by it, a decisive importance in the final acceptance of the ancient understanding of the cosmos as a good creation of God in opposition to the gnostic hostility to the world. " [1]

This is the second time I noticed someone link Saint Augustine's belief in predestination with neoplatonism. Perry was the first to tell me about Plotinus and Augustine in regards to determinism, as seen here:
"On another point, the reasoning trying to show
that moral responsibility and freedom are compatible with determinism in
Augustine mirrors exactly what the Pagan Plotinus in his Enneads wrote nearly
two centuries prior to Augustine. The soul that falls is determined to do so,
but chooses freely to fall nonetheless and is therefore responsible. This is
significant since Augustine's dying words were quotes from Plotinus'

and now Kurt Rudolph seems to be saying something similar, and so, I have to find out what late Platonic thought really taught about the issue of determinism.

What some others had to say about it in passing:

FromA critique of Plotinian Neoplatonism in quoting the Reformed scholar and presuppositionalist Cornelius Van Til in his work A Christian Theory of Knowledge (1969)
"In complete contrast to this approach of Plotinus stands that of Augustine. To be sure, as noted, Augustine makes many a concession to the apostate point of view of logic. But at bottom his commitment is to the idea that man is the creature of God rather than participant in the being of God. In spite of his many concessions to the Greek paideia his main principle, as best expressed in his latest works, is that sovereign God gives or withholds his grace to sinners according to his good pleasure. Therefore if those who operate from a Plotinian point of view charge him with determinism Augustine, following Paul, simply responds: "Who art thou O man that contendest with God." The judge of the whole earth will do right. Man, the creature, become the sinner, must admit mystery, but the mystery that he admits does not, as in the case of Plotinus, envelop God.

Still consonant with the basic contrast between Plotinus and Augustine on the question of the final point of reference and also consonant with the difference between them on the question of logic is their difference with respect to the philosophy of fact.

For Plotinus the world of space-time factuality exists by Chance. His principle of individuation is that of pure contingency and irrationality. Over against this purely contingent and and purely irrational principle of individuality is the idea of Augustine that God, having created all things, having sent Christ to redeem the world, directs all things to the end appointed for them by himself. In spite of all the concessions that he makes to the Plotinian principle, especially in his earlier works, it is none the less true of Augustine that his basic commitment, best expressed in his later writings, is that the facts of reality are what they are, ultimately, by virtue of the all-encompassing plan of God.

Christ is Risen!

[1] page 370, from the book "GNOSIS:The Nature & History of Gnosticism" by Kurt Rudolph, and translation edited by Robert McLachlan Wilson 1984/1987 HarperSanFrancisco / HarperCollins publishers

In the chapter "A Plotinian vehicle for a Manichaen notion":
The link: (pages 85 to 87 and on page 13 he mentions his use of Plotinus in writing against Manichaenism as well)
Augustine, Manichaeism and the Good by Kam-Lun E. Lee


Jnorm said...

If I'm wrong with anything I said about Saint Augustine and the semi-pelagians, please let me know!





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