LEADERTIMES WEEKEND RELIGION COLUMN FOR
September 13, 2014 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129
Augustine of Hippo lived and worked as a servant of God and his Church in North Africa. His lifespan was 354 to 430 AD. He is most notably recognized for his “CONFESSIONS” and his “CITY OF GOD.” I have been reading the “CITY OF GOD” which is an attempt to contrast the community of the believers in Jesus with the general Roman and pagan world which still permeated the culture of the empire.
I have been fascinated with this adventure because of Augustine’s confrontation with the thinking of his time and his attempt to define the Christian faith in contrast to both paganism and the more sophisticated philosophical thinking of academia. Both Christianityand the philosophical schools were well represented in the culture ofNorth Africa which was a major center of the Roman Empire. There wasalso an attempt on the part of some of the philosophers toaccommodate Platonism with the biblical faith. This was especiallyevident in the writings of Porphyry who becomes the antagonistagainst whom Augustine aims his apologetic.
In order to understand why Platonism would not mix with biblical faith one needs to understand the premise behind Platonic thinking. Platonism is essentially a moral dualism; that is there are two main components in the existence of the universe. Popularly we see this in the assumption behind the popular “Star Wars” series. There is the “force” which is the totality of the cosmos. However,there are two competing energies within the cosmos, the dark side and the light side. For Plato the form or pattern of the universe wasgood. This might be understood as “reason” or “intelligence”or “soul.” It was the immaterial factor in existence. The negative factor of existence was its physical aspect. This could beunderstood as “body” or “matter.” Matter always resisted the form and so expressed the reality in an imperfect and, in a sense, an impure state.
Porphyrywas enamored of the first two verses of the Gospel of John. “Inthe beginning was the Word (Greek – Logos, or reason), and the Wordwas with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in thebeginning.” This had to be Plato’s “form” or “reason.” However, he was horrified by the fourteenth verse of the same chapterwhich stated, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling amongus.” This simply could not be. The perfect form could not defileitself by taking on imperfect flesh.
Of course what Porphyry did not understand, and what Augustine did, was that John did not get the first verse of his Gospel from Plato but from the Torah in the first verses of Genesis. This beginning of the written Word of God also taught that all God created was very good. Therefore, there was nothing wrong with matter, or our material nature. What was wrong was our willful rebellion against God, and that struck at the pride of the arrogant and sophisticated philosophers of the “City of Man.”
Secular culture still wants to have the benefits of biblical faith; progress,science, education, medicine, art, all that is good, true and beautiful. But it is not thrilled with the Ten Commandments and the call for faith and obedience toward the one true God and Creator of the universe. It is especially not thrilled with the fact that the God who made the world and those who inhabit it will judge the world in righteousness.
Not much has changed. Truth always needs defenders, and they are not necessarily popular in the general culture. Augustine was honored by the Church, but the City of Man probably judged him as not politically correct.
(BillScarle can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.orgEND-whs)