Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/117

This page needs to be proofread.




Augustine stands forth, too, as the great inspirer of religious thought in subsequent ages. A whole \olurae would not be sufficient to contain the full account of his influence on posterity; here we shall merely call attention to its principal manifestations. It is, in the first place, a fact of paramount importance that, with St. Augustine, the centre of dogmatic and theological development changed from East to West. Hence, from this view-point again, he makes an epoch in the liistorj' of dogma. The critics main- tain that up to his time the most powerful influence was exerted by the Greek Church, the East having been the classic land of theologj', the great work- shop for the elaboration of dogma. From the time of -\ugustine, the predominating influence seems to emanate from the West, and the practical, realistic spirit of the Latin race supplants the speculative and idealistic spirit of Greece and the East. Another fact, no less salient, is that it was the Doctor of Hippo who, in the bosom of the Church, inspired the two ■eemingly antagonistic movements. Scholasticism and ilysticism. From Gregory the Great to the Fathers of Trent, Augustine's theological authority, indisputably the highest, dominates all thinkers and is appealed to alike by the Scholastics Anselm, Peter Ix)mbard, and Thomas Aquinas, and by Bernard, Hugh of St. Victor, and Tauler, exponents of Mys- ticism, all of whom were nourished upon liis \\Titings and penetrated with his spirit. There is not one of even the most modern tendencies of thought but de- rives from him whatever it may have of truth or of profound religious sentiment. Learned critics, such as Harnack, have called Augustine "the first modem man", and in truth, he so moulded the Latin world that it is really he who has shaped the education of modern minds. But, without going so far, we maj' quote the German philosopher, Eucken: "It is per- haps not paradoxical to say that if our age wishes to take up and treat in an independent way the problem of religion, it is not so much to .Schleiermacher or Kant, or even Luther or St. Thomas, that it must refer, as to .\ugustine. . . . And outside of religion, there are points upon which Augustine is more modern than Hegel or Schopenhauer".

(3) The dominatinq qualities of his doctrine. — ^The better to understand St. Augustine's influence, we must point out in his doctrine certain general char- acteristics which must not be lost sight of. if, in reading his works, one would avoid troublesome misappre- hensions. First, the full development of the great Doctor's mind was progressive. It was by stages, often aided by the circumstances and necessities of controversy, that he arrived at the exact knowledge of each truth and a clean-cut perception of its place in the sjTithesis of revelation. He akso requires that his readers should know how to "advance with him". It is necessary to study St. Augustine's works in historical order and, as we shall see, this appUes particularly to the doctrine of grace.

.\ugustinian doctrine is, again, essentially theo- logical, and has God for its centre. To be sure Au- gustine is a great philosopher, and Fenelon said of him: "If an enlightened man were to gather from the books of St. Augustine the sublime truths wliich this great man has scattered at random therein, such a compendium [extrait], made with discrimination, would be far superior to Descartes' Meditations". And indeed just such a collection was made 'oy the Oratorian ontologist, .\ndr6 Martin. There is then a philosophy of .St. Augustine, but in him philosophy is so intimatelj' coupled with theologj' as to be in- separable from it. Protestant historians have re- marked this characteristic of his wTitings. "The world', says Eucken, "interests him less than the action of God in the world and especially in ourselves. God and the soul are the only subjects the knowledge of which ought to fire us with enthusiasm. All

knowledge becomes moral, religious knowledge, or rather a moral, religious con\"iction, an act of faith on the part of man, who gives liimself up unreservedly ". And with still greater energj- Bohringer has said: "The axis on which the heart, life, and theologj- of Augustine move is God". Oriental discussions on the Word had forced AthanasiiLs and the Greek Fathers to set faith in the Word and in Christ, the Sa^^our, at the verj- summit of theology; Augustine, too, in his theologj-, places the Incarnation at the centre of the Divine plan, but he looks upon it as the great historic manifestation of God to humanitj- — the idea of God dominates all: of God considered in His essence (On the Trinitv), in His government (The City of God), or as the last end of all Christian life (Enchiridion and On the Christian Combat).

Lasth-, -Augustine's doctrine bears an eminentlj- Catholic stamp and is radicallj- opposed to Protes- tantism. It is important to establish this fact, prin- cipal!}' because of the change in the attitude of Protestant critics towards St. Augustine. Indeed, nothing is more deserving of attention than this development so highlj- creditable to the impartialitj- of modern ^Titers. The thesis of the Protestants of olden times is well known. Attempts to monopo- hze Augustine and to make him an ante-Reformation reformer, were certainlj' not wanting. Of course Luther had to admit that he did not find in Augustine justification bj- faith alone, that generating principle of all Protestantism; and Schaff tells us that he consoled himself with exclaiming (op. cit., p. 100): "Augustine has often erred, he is not to be trusted. Although good and holy, he was yet lacking in true faith as well as the other Fathers." But in general, the Reformation did not so easilj- fall into line, and for a long time it was customarj- to oppose the great name of Augustine to Catholicism. Article 20 of the Confession of Augsburg dares to ascribe to him justification without works, and Melanchthon invokes his authoritj' in his "Apologia Confessionis ". In the last thirtj- or fortj- j-ears all has been changed, and the best Protestant critics now vie with one another in proclaiming the essentiallj' Catholic character of August inian doctrine. In fact thej- go to extremes when thej- claim him to be the founder of Cathol- icism. It is thus that H. Renter concludes his verj- important studies on the Doctor of Hippo: "I con- sider .\ugustine the founder of Roman Catholici.^m in the West. . . . This is no new discoverj-. as Kattenbusch seems to believe, but a truth long since recognized by Xeander, Julius Kostlin, Dorner, Schmidt, . . . etc.". Then, as to whether Evan- gelicalism is to be fomid in Augustine, he saj-s: "Formerlj' tliis point was reasoned out verj' differ- entlj' from what it is nowadays. . . . The phrases so much in use from 1S30 to 1870: Augustine is the Father of evangelical Protestantism and Pelagius is the Father of Catholicism, are now rarely met with. Thej' have since been acknowledged to be untenable, although they contain a particula reri". Philip Schaff reaches the same conclusion; and Dorner saj-s, "It is erroneous to a.scribe to Augustine the ideas that inspired the Reformation". Xo one, how- ever, lias put this idea in a stronger light than Har- nack. Quite recentl}', in his 14th lesson on "The Essence of Clu-istianitj-", he characterized the Roman Church bj' three elements, the third of which is Au- gustinism, the thought and the pietj' of St. Augustine. "In fact Augustine has exerted over the whole inner life of the Church, religious life and religious thought, an absolutelj' decisive influence." And again he says, "In the fifth centurj-, at the hour when the Chtirch inherited the Roman Empire, she had within her a man of extraordinarilj' deep and powerful genius: from him she took her ideas, and to this present hour she has been unable to break awaj' from them". In his "History of Dogma" (English tr.,