Friday, August 28, 2009

On the Feast of Saint Augustine


Because God foresaw all things, and was therefore not ignorant that man also would fall, we ought to consider this holy city in connection with what God foresaw and ordained, and not according to our own ideas, which do not embrace God’s ordination. For man, by his sin, could not disturb the divine counsel, nor compel God to change what He had decreed; for God’s foreknowledge had anticipated both,—that is to say, both how evil the man whom He had created good should become, and what good He Himself should even thus derive from him. For though God is said to change His determinations so that in a tropical sense the Holy Scripture says even that God repented, this is said with reference to man’s expectation, or the order of natural causes, and not with reference to that which the Almighty had foreknown that He would do. Accordingly God, as it is written, made man upright, and consequently with a good will. For if he had not had a good will, he could not have been upright. The good will, then, is the work of God; for God created him with it. But the first evil will, which preceded all man’s evil acts, was rather a kind of falling away from the work of God to its own works than any positive work. (The City of God, St Augustine of Hippo, ca 400 AD)


The theology of Augustine of Hippo would forever shape western thought after his death. Sometimes it would shape it in excellent ways, and other times not. Nevertheless, he was by all accounts a great Saint, and in the above writing we can see why. He had a sharp mind and keen logic shaped by Holy Tradition (Scripture, Councils, Creeds, Canons, Fathers, & c…). This was not always the case for his offspring; many of the seeds planted by Augustine gave birth to rotten trees. When Augustine writes, “Because God foresaw all things, and was therefore not ignorant that man also would fall,” some of his future followers would conclude that God predestined much of mankind unto damnation. For this reason and others like it, many in the east have wrongfully discounted Augustine’s contributions to theology. It must be admitted that these misinterpretations of the holy doctor are not to be equated with his own opinions. The truth of the matter is that for mostly better and a few times for worse, Augustine has shaped western Christian thought, and today we celebrate the good he has left to us in Christ.

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