Adventures in Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy and science of spirit. We are one you and I; are you curious why?..


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St Augustine

Hari OM

Story-day is for cultural exploration, puraanas and parables and finding out about leading lights in spiritual philosophy.

St Augustine of Hippo.

Image result for st augustineA Roman, born of Christian parents, who as a youth took off in a number of different philosophical directions. We can surmise that it was an intense intelligence and enquiring intellect which drove this, as well as the typical young man's need to explore life to its fullest. We know that he did so based on his own writings in 'Confessions'.  Much of what can been seen of the life of Augustine is that he was deep thinker, a true spiritual seeker and, whilst returning to  Christianity, did so with a mind honed by researches in various philosophical fields, not least of these being neoplatonism. What is interesting about the latter, which arose from the writings and leadership of Plotinus, is the concept of The One, The Intellect and The Soul. This is as close as Western thinking gets to that of Vedanta. Augustine clearly applies the understanding gained to his love and devotion to Christianity. In his many writings, it is clear that he considers "God" to be indescribable and outside of known material existence. Sitting in Christianity, though, he never quite moves away from concept of duality or that the physical body is something entirely separate from the soul.  It suffices for him to admit that they are metaphysically distinct; to be a human is to be a composite of soul and body, and that the soul is superior to the body. The latter statement is grounded in his hierarchical classification of things into those that merely exist, those that exist and live, and those that exist, live, and have intelligence or reason. Here again, we see a confluence of understanding with Vedanta, that there is inert existence (stones/plants), there is active existence (all living creatures which must work to survive), and there is the metaphysical (having the ability of self-awareness and self-questioning).

Here is a 'cut and paste' from the encyclopaedia of the masses (!) with a snapshot of the influences upon this saint and his influence on others. (A few pertinent links have been left intact for the curious.)

Augustine was a bishop, priest, and father who remains a central figure, both within Christianity and in the history of Western thought, and is considered by modern historian Thomas Cahill to be the first medieval man and the last classical man. In both his philosophical and theological reasoning, he was greatly influenced by Stoicism, Platonism and Neo-platonism, particularly by the work of Plotinus, author of the Enneads, probably through the mediation of Porphyry and Victorinus. Although he later abandoned Neoplatonism, some ideas are still visible in his early writings. His generally favourable view of Neoplatonic thought contributed to the "baptism" of Greek thought and its entrance into the Christian and subsequently the European intellectual tradition. His early and influential writing on the human will, a central topic in ethics, would become a focus for later philosophers such as Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. In addition, Augustine was influenced by the works of Virgil (known for his teaching on language), Cicero (known for his teaching on argument), and Aristotle (particularly his Rhetoric and Poetics).

Augustine's concept of original sin was expounded in his works against the Pelagians. However, St. Thomas Aquinas took much of Augustine's theology while creating his own unique synthesis of Greek and Christian thought after the widespread rediscovery of the work of Aristotle. Augustine's doctrine of efficacious grace found eloquent expression in the works of Bernard of Clairvaux; also Reformation theologians such as Martin Luther and John Calvin would look back to him as their inspiration.

Augustine was canonized by popular acclaim, and later recognized as a Doctor of the Church in 1298 by Pope Boniface VIII.  His feast day is 28 August, the day on which he died. He is considered the patron saint of brewers, printers, theologians, sore eyes, and a number of cities and dioceses.

The latter part of Augustine's Confessions consists of an extended meditation on the nature of time. Even the agnostic philosopher Bertrand Russell was impressed by this. He wrote, "a very admirable relativistic theory of time. ... It contains a better and clearer statement than Kant's of the subjective theory of time - a theory which, since Kant, has been widely accepted among philosophers." Catholic theologians generally subscribe to Augustine's belief that God exists outside of time in the "eternal present"; that time only exists within the created universe because only in space is time discernible through motion and change. His meditations on the nature of time are closely linked to his consideration of the human ability of memory.

There are many portions of Augustinian thinking in which comparisons can be drawn to Vedantic thinking. Which, in the end, really proves that at its highest, a pure mind which holds total clarity will draw similar conclusions to another which is doing equivalent thinking in a completely foreign time and/or place...and all those thoughts lead back to the concept of Singularity of Self, albeit with different terminology. That said, there are parts where Augustine differs greatly.

In particular with regard to Original Sin. In fact, he is credited with 'coming up' with the term and its definition; that all mankind is paying a debt of sin due to the errors of Adam and Eve. At a similar time in history there was a group of Christian thinkers who practiced according to the views of Pelagius, who held that all men were responsible for their own sins and omissions and therefore could also work to rid and purify themselves of such - without the necessity of Divine intervention; that the sins of the father could not be visited upon the offspring. By adhering to the concept of original sin, there set in the need for living in guilt, paying penance and so forth. Pelagius, in this instance, was closer to the Vedantic premise that every man is for himself when it comes to improving spiritually.

Another major concept which can be accredited to St Augustus is that of 'the just war'. However, it was Thomas Aquinas who rounded this theory and formed a cohesive 'code'. Actually, this whole idea is covered in Sanskritam long before Augustus, through the Mahaabharata (and from it, Bhagavad Gita), but again we find that highest thinking will reach similar ends; in this case, that no war ought to be undertaken which does not meet satisfactory ethical criteria. (Read more here.)

In many respects, Augustine could be likened to Adi Shankaarcharya in that, particularly through the writing of 'The City of God', he did much to renew and invigorate the church as it existed in Rome and at a time when it was in danger of crumbling before the resurgence of paganism.

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