Augustine of Hippo: Mixed Feelings

Augustine of Hippo is one of those theologians about whom I have mixed feelings. He was responsible for many of the errors of Roman Catholicism such as his teaching on justification, whereby God pours his grace into our hearts enabling us to perform good works pleasing to Him. He also argues for a state church in which, like the attendees of the feast in Jesus’ parable, guests from the highways and byways are compelled to attend. 

On the other hand, he makes some very perceptive comments about the Fall, sin, grace and election. He describes the state of humanity in the Garden of Eden as one of absolute harmony. This harmony existed between man, the creation and God. There was also harmony between man’s body, his reason and his will. His cupiditas, or self-love created no conflict with his caritas, or love for others, ie friendship for Eve. These two objects of love dovetailed neatly with Amor Dei, love for God. 

After Adam and Eve’s corruption, their friendship continued, but it was tarnished by sin, such as lust, ambition, envy. Man’s cupiditas or self-love dominated his actions. His will became weakened by desires, especially for food and sex. This concupiscence- uncontrolled desires in general, and sexual lust in particular- dominated the human spirit thereafter. The harmony within man was shattered; his reason faltered, his will was weakened and his body decayed. The harmonious love within creation was destroyed and Adam’s love for God was compromised and diluted.

His fixation with sexual sin, perhaps a reaction against his own dissolute youth, becomes obvious at this point, and accounts, in part, for Catholicism’s obsession with virginity. Both Augustine and the Church he spawned acknowledge the reproductive value of sex, but peevishly exalt celibacy as some sanctified superior state.

‘Hence from the misuse of freewill there started a chain of disasters: mankind is led from that original perversion, a kind of corruption at the root, right up to the disaster of the second death, which has no end. Only those who are set free through God’s grace escape from this calamitous sequence’ City of God Book 13, chapter 14. 

I can’t decide if early believers listened to this man too much, or not enough.