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God in the Medieval Philosophy of Augustine
Augustine is considered one of the most popular and prominent philosophers of the Middle Ages. In order to understand his philosophy, it is essential to analyze the historical context of that period. In terms of its worldview, the Middle Ages promoted the idea of geocentrism, which placed the concept of the Supreme God in the center of the universe. Correspondingly, the philosophers of the Middle Ages paid great attention to the investigation of the problem of God, his nature, and his features.
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The Middle Ages were also marked by the overwhelming spread of Christianity, which replaced previous polytheistic traditions and religions. As a result, the philosophy of the Middle Ages was the philosophy of Christianity, based on the texts of the Holy Bible and apostles’ teaching. Augustine was one of those philosophers who considerably contributed to the comprehension of God, his role in the universe, and particularly human lives. This paper will analyze Augustine’s description of God in the work “Confessions”, discuss his view on God’s nature and features, and trace the influences of Platonism and Neoplatonism on the development of his unique philosophic ideology.
“Confessions” is one of the most remarkable and significant literary works of the Middle Ages. The book gained immediate success due to its comprehensive design and interesting plot. In fact, “Confessions” is an autobiographical novel that depicts the main life events of the author. This book presents valuable philosophic, theological, and religious doctrines, which strongly enriched medieval philosophy. “Confessions” comprises 14 books that reflect on Augustine’s worldview and philosophic concepts. To a great extent, the book preserves the ideas and beliefs of Plato and Neoplatonism, giving them a new interpretation. Overall, the book shows an evolution of religious and theological beliefs that were typical for the entire historical period.
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Augustine’s “Confessions” presents the evolution of the author’s theory of God and shows his attitude to the notion of the Supreme Being at different stages of life. Thus, in the beginning, Augustine doubts the material existence of God and states that human minds are not capable of understanding the very concept of God. In these terms, the philosopher claims God is transcendental and amorphous, meaning that he remains beyond the limits of human perception and cognition. Such a situation evokes a logical dilemma, regarding how people can find God if they cannot understand him. Augustine asks: “how shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe without a preacher?” (Augustine 11). At the same time, he provides a logical conclusion.
According to Augustine, people should believe in God without attempting to comprehend his essence. This idea has found its reflection in many texts of the Middle Ages. Particularly, it was the basis of the symphony of faith and mind according to which faith has advantages and superiority over intellect. Augustine claims that humans have to believe in transcendental God without doubting or interrogating his essence and nature. Thus, during his first period of life, Augustine referred to God as an abstract, supreme, transcendental creature, responsible for the order in the entire universe.
However, as the author grows physically and mentally, he provides a new interpretation of God. Being young, Augustine immerses into numerous sins, both erotic and criminal character. However, the author does not reject the concept of God as well as does not blame him for his sinful behavior. On the contrary, he comes up with a conclusion that such behavior is a sign of his searches for God. He explains that “to love and to be loved was sweet to me, and all the more when I gained the enjoyment of the body of the person I loved” (Augustine 31). Augustine suggests a search for love is the feature of God and, correspondingly, his involvement in sins aimed at seeking an unconscious connection with God as well.
It is important to mention that in Plato’s “Symposium”, it is possible to observe the same interpretation of love. The philosopher states that love may be manifested in numerous actions and thoughts, which are different in nature and intentions (Plato 153). Nevertheless, love itself implies the presence of God and searches for his divine guidelines and instructions. Therefore, love cannot be regarded as evil or weak as it directly points to the presence of God.
In these terms, God is not transcendental and abstract anymore. On the contrary, he comprises the very material features and characteristics, such as love, happiness, joy, and satisfaction. Augustine concludes that God is not separated from the world, but rather directly involved in it. Such an interpretation makes God more approachable to humans and easier to comprehend. The author states that every human being makes unconscious efforts to reach harmony with God, despite the nature of their activities and thoughts. Even sinful ideas and actions can be justified, as they all are signs of a search for the eternal and permanent God.
Nevertheless, Augustine soon repents of his inappropriate behavior and realizes that life without God is misery and suffering. In this light, he comes up with a concept of death and pain. The author says that “the source of our moaning when one dies-the gloom of sorrow, the steeping of the heart in tears, all sweetness turned to bitterness–and the feeling of death in the living, because of the loss of the life of the dying” (Augustine 46). Sorrow and death are closely connected with the absence of faith in God. Thus, the other conclusion is that God in Augustine’s philosophy is the source of happiness and accomplishment.
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Augustine describes God as objective, perfect, and ideal. He states that God is “just and perfect in its rule even to the last item in creation” (Augustine 54). In addition, God serves as the part of the universe responsible for its creation and maintenance of its accomplishment. A similar idea was expressed in Plato’s “Crito”, which also pointed to the interconnection between God and the order of the universe. According to Plato, God has created the world and regulates its development and growth permanently (Plato 34). Respectively, people can comprehend God by understanding the environment, analyzing themselves, and seeking justice and fairness in every detail.
At the following life stages, Augustine realizes the continuous connection between God and every living being. He claims that every part of the universe is the creation of God and his continuation and reflection as well. Similar ideas can be found in the studies of Neoplatonism, which also supports the interdependence between the universe and the Supreme Being. This idea explains the relativity of good and evil, as everything in the world is the creation of God. Therefore, even wicked and evil actions are the forms of praising God and seeking harmony with him.
This idea can be also found in Plato’s “Euthyphro”. The Greek philosopher states that the differences between evil and good do not derive from different sources. It is impossible to state that evil actions are the effects of evil gods, while good thoughts and actions are the prerogatives of favorable gods (Plato 7). On the contrary, the philosopher claims that all actions have the same source, and the difference between them consists of the intentions and morality of the doers. From this point of view, any action can be viewed as the display of God’s nature, which is universal and objective.
Moreover, Augustine dwells on the concept of similarity between God and human beings. He says that, according to the Bible, God “didst create man after thy own image and, see, he dwells in space, both head and feet” (Augustine 68). The author summarizes that God has a material form since the image of people is taken from him. Correspondingly, God does not seem an amorphous and incomprehensive creature, as the Bible gives insights into his nature and image. Augustine developed this idea and started treating God as a material and real being, whose presence can be observed everywhere.
During the following stages of his life, Augustine improves the concept of God, stating that he is “incorruptible and inviolable and unchangeable” (Augustine 80). By this, he means that God is eternal and constant as he is an essential part of the universe. Firstly, the world cannot exist without God, meaning that his existence is a vital condition of life. Secondly, God is incorruptible, which means that is he is deprived of any wicked or evil features. According to Augustine, God represents the universe, which is perfect and ideal. If God were unaccomplished, the universe would be corrupted and imperfect. Therefore, Augustine describes God as incorruptible and objective.
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A similar idea can be found in Plato’s “Apology”. This book tells its readers that “the god is wise, and that in this oracle he is saying that human wisdom is worth little or nothing” (Plato 7). As a result, it is possible to conclude that God represents the highest virtues and wisdom, which are inaccessible for human beings. Nevertheless, both philosophers state that God as the Supreme Being acquires all the knowledge and wisdom, which contributes to the accomplishment of the universe.
Moreover, God is unchangeable. If God were not constant, the universe would change as well. However, any changes would lead to destruction and imperfection. Correspondingly, God cannot change for the sake of universal stability and harmony. At the same time, God represents eternity and time. Augustine changes the conventional theory of time, stating that there is no correlation between time and movements. According to Augustine, time is the cause and effect of God’s creation and existence. Time is not isolated from the space but involved in it.
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Augustine distinguishes between time and eternity. For him, temporality is the evident material revelation of abstract eternity. In other words, temporality is the direct display of God. Later, this idea has found its reflection in the existential philosophy of M. Heidegger. Thus, in the book “Being and Time”, M. Heidegger distinguishes between eternity and time, stating that temporality is the real manifestation of the present God, detached from the abstract notion of eternity. M. Heidegger points out that “We shall point to temporality as the meaning of the Being of that entity which we call “Dasein” (Heidegger Stambaugh, and Schmidt 38). As a result, both philosophers connect the concept of time and temporality with the notion of God.
Augustine continues to interpret the concept of God and starts regarding him as both material and spiritual substance. In this light, the philosopher states that the creation of God has a spiritual nature. Particularly, he distinguishes between heaven and earth, claiming that the first one is a spiritual creation, while another has a material form. The spiritual origin of God appeals to the concepts of consciousness and intellect (Augustine 207). Correspondingly, it is possible to assume that human beings can comprehend God and reach a connection with him only with the help of their spirituality and mind.
Moreover, the spiritual nature of God and humans provides a possibility to reach eternity after the end of time. Analogically, Plato in “Phaedo” expresses the idea of the soul eternity and the spiritual nature of humans. Thus, both philosophers state that the spirituality of God and people allows reaching eternity and the highest level of being (Plato 90). This idea also concerns a qualitatively new level of existence, which differs human beings from other living creatures. The idea is of paramount importance for the Christian theology that dwells on the spiritual essence of humans. Not surprisingly, the medieval philosophy repeated this concept and related it to the questions of soul eternity.
To sum up, Augustine’s “Confessions” dwells on numerous theological and philosophic concepts. To start with, the author explains his vision of God and demonstrates the evolution of his theory during different stages of his life. Thus, in the beginning, Augustine perceives God as an amorphous, abstract, eternal, and a transcendental substance. However, as he realizes the concepts of life, he starts speaking about God as a material, spiritual, and present being, responsible for creating, regulating, and maintaining the order of the universe. The philosopher connects the essence of God with the notion of time, stating that God defines the nature of temporality. According to Augustine, God is the reflection of the ideal and perfect universe. Therefore, he is deprived of any evil characteristics and properties. The theory of Augustine combines the studies of Plato and Neoplatonism. Moreover, it gave the beginning to the other philosophic tendencies and movements. Particularly, M. Heidegger developed Augustine’s theory of time in his existential philosophy.
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