Augustine’s Hope

Now that we have discussed the nature of the soul, let’s end with Augustine’s hope for the individual and society. In his great work, City of God, he makes the distinction between the two groups of people on the earth: the City of Man and the City of God. The City of Man is comprised of those who do not believe in the one true God. They put their hope and trust in this world. According to Augustine, the things of this world are transient. They are changing before our eyes. If they are sought over God, they become idols. Augustine states in On Free Choice of the Will, “What is evil is the turning of the will away from the unchangeable good and toward changeable goods.” Augustine identifies the “changeable goods” as part of the “temporal” law. The temporal law consists of things that God created such as “wealth, honor, pleasures, and physical beauty.” None of those things are given. One may lose their wealth or they may never attain it. One may not be honored but hated. One may not have the opportunity for pleasure but experience great suffering. And one may not be as physically beautiful as someone else. If they are beautiful, they will only lose that beauty in old age. In fact, with age, our bodies are wasting away. We get weaker, we lose our memory, we become harder at hearing and seeing, and we develop cancer. We are dying every day. So, if the City of Man can’t find their hope in themselves, perhaps they can put their hope in society. Perhaps a philosopher king or a benevolent monarch can come save us by ruling us well. Perhaps communism can give us our purpose in work.

Your idols do not love you. They cannot give you purpose. You cannot look to them as your savior because they will fail you in the end. And ultimately, the City of Man is under the wrath of God. They worship the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). They will not see eternal life but an eternal death. Those who belong to the City of Man will die like everyone else and they will experience “the second death” (Revelation 21:8). Augustine puts it like this: “The doom in store for those who are not of the City of God is an unending wretchedness that is called ‘the second death,’ because neither the soul, cut off from the life of God, nor the body, pounded by perpetual pain, can there be said to live at all. And what will make the second death so hard to bear is that there will be no death to end it.” This is a just punishment for those who have rejected the eternal, all-glorious Creator in favor of finite creation that was designed only to reflect His glory.

Yes, God is merciful. Yes, God is loving but He is also just. He will not compromise His holiness by letting sin go unpunished. There must be justice. But the City of God has a different story: they actually do have hope. They have hope beyond this life, which is in eternity worshipping God without pain or sorrow but with unending pleasure and joy (Revelation 21:4).

But how do we get there? Aren’t we slaves to sin and can’t choose God? This is where God steps in. Before the foundation of the world, God chose who He would have mercy on and save from the second death (Ephesians 1:4-6). Again, God could not compromise His holiness, so He “sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4). Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary which means He was born without the corruption of original sin. He was born under the Law of God and kept the Law perfectly. He fulfilled the Covenant of Works that Adam couldn’t. Therefore, He was able to redeem and justify those who were under the Law (Romans 5:18-19).

Christ was the perfect sacrifice for sin, as He was the sinless God-man, which was why Jesus able to make propitiation for sin on behalf of all those who would believe (Hebrews 2:17, 9:12). He took God’s holy wrath and justice against the sins of the elect on Himself. And, the sins of God’s elect were expiated, that is, they are removed from their souls account before God and were placed on Christ and Christ imputes His righteousness on the person who places their trust and faith in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21) so that when God sees the one who believes, His sees the righteousness of Christ that He fulfilled in the Covenant of Works. The believer has gone from being represented by Adam to being represented by Christ. They have passed from death to life. That is why God is both “just and the justifier” (Romans 3:26). He is “just” as rightly He punishes sin and He is the “justifier” as He is able to have mercy because of the blood of Jesus.

Now, in order for a person to be able to repent of sin and believe in the name of Jesus, God must change their enslaved heart. In On Grace and Free Will,Augustine puts it beautifully: “Almighty God is able to turn to belief wills that are perverse and opposed to faith… But if God were not able to remove from the human heart even its obstinacy and hardness, He would not say through the prophet, ‘I will take from them their heart of stone and will give them a heart of flesh.’” When the heart of stone is removed and the heart of flesh is put into place (Ezekiel 36:26), by regeneration of the Holy Spirit, the person will always believe in Jesus. His grace is not resistible. The Spirit of God has never failed in changing the will of a rebellious sinner. And, at the moment of faith, the Spirit of God dwells within a believer, keeping them in God’s hands for all eternity (Ephesians 1:13-14).

Due to the resurrection of Christ from the dead, the City of God will also resurrect from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:21). Because of this great hope, the City of God can endure suffering and the brokenness of this world. The City of God can lack wealth, honor, pleasure, physical beauty and health that the City of Man lusts after and even be persecuted and killed yet they hope for a better age to come: eternal life in the presence of God (Hebrews 10:32-26). Because the City of God’s hope is set on eternal life and not this temporal life, they are free to love their neighbors by seeking both their individual and their collective good.

Augustine states in the City of God, “Thus, the heavenly City, so long as it is wayfaring on earth, not only makes use of earthly peace but fosters and actively pursues along with other human beings a common platform in regard to all that concerns our purely human life and does not interfere with faith and worship.” So, today that might mean that genuine Christians should go into politics to improve society as a whole, joining in to advocate for social justice issues such as systemic and institutional racism against people of color and abolishing abortion; but it could simply look like helping a neighbor across the street in need. In any case, the City of God seeks to glorify God on this side of eternity with their eyes set on the world to come.

EDITORS’ NOTE: See also the rest of Austin Hobbs‘ series on Augustine: Epistemology, Nature of the Soul, and Hope.

Augustine’s View on the Nature of the Soul

Now that we have established a foundation of why Augustine believes what he believes, let’s now examine Augustine’s view of the nature of the soul through his epistemological lenses. Augustine believed that there was an order to the soul. In an ideal sense, the soul of man is ordered in accord to God and His revealed will in Scripture, the reason of man discerning God’s will, and the desires of their heart and their emotions conforming to God’s will. As I said before, God is the standard of truth and goodness and man is able to discern this through reason (Romans 1:20). Reason is the faculty of the soul that God gave to humanity to discern how He designed the world to work physically and morally. However, Scripture is the written communication of God’s standard. It presents the righteousness of God. The desires of the heart are what we want and, in an ideal world, it’s God Himself and His will revealed in Scripture. Human flourishing reaches its peak living according to God’s will because that is the way God designed us to function because we were made to reflect God’s character. Finally, we have emotions. Emotions are how we respond to certain situations. In an ideal world, we respond with joy when are friends win in life and we respond with righteous anger against murder. Having a well-ordered soul is key to human flourishing and living in accord to God’s will leads to the most joy.

However, we do not live in an ideal world. As I stated before, Pelagianism categorically denied that man was born into sin. Augustine was the leading theologian behind the charge to defeat this heresy of the early church. He argued that man does have original sin. Man has inherited Adam’s sin as he argues this view through Romans 5:12, “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” That one man through which sin came into the world was Adam. Adam is the federal head of the human race. He is our representative before God. In the Garden of Eden, God and Adam entered into a Covenant of Works, that if Adam obeyed God and did not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he would inherit eternal life. However, Adam disobeyed God by eating of the fruit of the tree. There, Adam and Eve received the consciousness of good and evil which is why they hid from God because they knew they sinned and were unrighteous and thus guilty in His sight (Genesis 3:8). God found Adam and Eve and drove them out of the Garden and away from His presence (Genesis 3:24). Adam is the federal head of the human race and he began to reproduce with Eve, therefore the curse Adam received from God was imputed to humanity.

First, we must understand sin as a state and not merely as an act. Sin is missing the mark of the holiness and righteousness of God. Since, we’re born with original sin, our whole soul misses the mark of the holiness of God therefore we are separated from Him. Original sin causes the state of the soul to become fallen. Augustine would argue that, because of original sin, all faculties of the soul are defective and are out of order. Defective emotions are able to usurp our defective reason. To illustrate this point, we can look at the biblical example of Moses viewing an Israelite being beaten by an Egyptian. He had cause to be angry as this was a gross injustice against the Israelite. However, Moses let his anger, which was distorted because of sin,  get the best of him and as a result he murdered the Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-12). Murder is not in accord to reason. Augustine states in On Free Choice of the Will that, “sin is a turning away from reason.” According to Augustine, outward acts of sin are caused by inordinate desires of the heart. The desires of the heart are marred by sin therefore, it does not desire the will of God found in Scripture. In fact, by virtue of the soul’s separation from God because of sin, man does not desire God at all.

The soul and the will is enslaved to original sin. In the words of Christ in John 8:34, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” We see here “everyone who practices sin” which are the outward acts of missing the mark of the holiness of God. And then “is a slave to sin” which is the condition our soul that is in bondage to unrighteousness. The outward acts of sin that we commit are indicative of our soul’s sinful state. Now, if we are slaves to sin and sin is the condition in which our souls are in, and sin is the antithesis of God and the opposite of faith and obedience is unbelief and rebellion, that would mean that we’re enslaved to rebellion and outright rejection of God. But this slavery is not against our wills. We don’t desire him. We don’t want him. And that is a result of original sin. Augustine would prove this point by going to Romans 3:10-12, “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Augustine categorically rejected autonomous free will. If left to ourselves, Augustine believes no one would choose to follow God or believe in the only One who reconciles man to God.

In Augustine’s situation, the depravity of man is the reason why Rome fell. The depravity of man is the reason why we’re drawn to believe false and heretical things about God. Looking at our world in recent history, the depravity of man is why the citizens of the United States enslaved Africans,  established the Jim Crow Laws and have murdered over 60 million babies since Roe v. Wade.

EDITORS’ NOTE: See also the rest of Austin Hobbs‘ series on Augustine: Epistemology, Nature of the Soul, and Hope.

Augustine’s Epistemology

First, we will examine Augustine’s epistemology. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies the limits and validity of knowledge in nature. Now, it’s very important that we look at his epistemology first because without it we will simply not understand why he thinks the way he thinks. Augustine derived his philosophy and theology from Holy Scripture. Augustine would argue that the only way we can know what is true or good is if there is an objective standard of truth and goodness. Without the standard of truth and goodness, we cannot objectively say that the Holocaust was evil or that slavery was an abomination. Augustine believed that God is the standard of truth and goodness in our universe. Without Him, we couldn’t say something is objectively good or evil.

God reveals Himself in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ is the logos which means He is the Word of God, the wisdom of God, the divine self-expression of God and the means in which the universe was created. This is the God that Augustine is talking about. Christ stated, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9) and “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Though we must make a distinction between the personhood of the Father, the personhood of the Son and the personhood of the Holy Spirit. They are distinct in personhood but one in essence and being. Without Jesus, you do not have the one true God and therefore, in our case, we do not have an objective standard of calling something true or false.

Jesus can only be known through the Christian Scriptures, that is, through special revelation. We know that there is a standard of truth and goodness through general revelation by virtue of us being created in the image of God as we view the created world around us. But the Hebrew Bible prophesied that the Messiah, which is the Hebrew equivalent for the Greek “Christ,” would come and the New Testament Gospels recorded what He did and the rest of the New Testament explains the significance of the work of Christ. Within the Bible, He communicates His holy standard of truth and goodness through prophets and apostles who were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21) to write Scripture that is theopneustos, which means that the words the authors wrote were “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 2:16). It is inspired by God the Holy Spirit (the third Person of the Trinity). These men were not writing whatever they thought or felt was right but the infallible, holy and righteous words of God. Augustine believed so strongly in using the Scriptures to convince people of his views based upon Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Augustine saw Scripture as the means in which the Spirit of God changed hearts and minds. The Holy Spirit works through the Scriptures in convicting the world of sin and righteousness (John 16:8-10) and of what man ultimately needs.

EDITORS’ NOTE: See also the rest of Austin Hobbs‘ series on Augustine: Epistemology, Nature of the Soul, and Hope.

An Introduction to Augustine: Epistemology, Nature of the Soul, and Hope

Before we dive into this series on Augustine: Epistemology, Nature of the Soul, and Hope, I would like to give some background information on who he was and the context in which he practiced philosophy and theology. He was born in 354 in present-day eastern Algeria. From a very young age, one could tell he had a gifted mind. He went on to teach literature and public speaking in Carthage, Rome and Milan. He dabbled with Manichaean theosophy, skepticism, and then Neoplatonic mysticism. Neoplatonism led him to search for the origin of evil. He realized that the material world was good but we, mankind, were the ones who corrupted the world. After a long internal struggle, He converted to Christianity in 386 and was ordained as a Christian minister in 391 and became bishop of Hippo in 396 for the last 34 years of his life.

In his ministry, Augustine faced two crises that are pertinent to our discussion today. The first crisis was Pelagianism. The heresy was formed by a British monk named Pelagius who taught that man was born without original sin. He believed that humanity did not inherit Adam’s sin which means that the human soul was born perfect. Since man is born without original sin, they could choose God and the good by their own autonomous free will.

The second crisis that he faced was the fall of Rome. In 378, Rome experienced a massive blow as the Roman emperor Valens and two thirds of his army fell in a single day to Gothic migrants. The empire began to steadily decline until the city of Rome was sacked in 410 by the Visigoths. At the time, Christianity had enjoyed a period of peace as it was the state religion of the Roman Empire. But due to the fall of Rome, things were tense. Christians worried about what would happen from there and what the world will look like for them. That prompted Augustine to write the City of God which is one of the texts we will look at today.

EDITORS’ NOTE: See also the rest of Austin Hobbs‘ series on Augustine: Epistemology, Nature of the Soul, and Hope.