Augustine: Saint And Philosopher

Saint Augustine of Hippo, whose full name was Aurelius Augustinus, was born in 354 AD, in the city of Tagaste, in the Roman North African province of Numidia (now Algeria). He came from a moderately well to do, though religiously mixed, family. His father, Patricius was a pagan, who still adhered to the old gods of Rome, while his mother, Monica, was a devout Christian. Such families were typical of this era, when paganism was in retreat, and Christianity was ascendant.

Despite his mother’s strong influence, Augustine was not baptized a Christian until well into his early thirties. He was an intellectually gifted child and his parents carefully schooled him, so he could secure a good position for himself in the Roman civil service.

At the age of seventeen, his parents sent him to Carthage to study, where he quickly discovered the joys of sex, and he soon fell deeply in love with a woman, whose name we do not know, but who was the mother of his son, Adeodatus. Augustine never married this nameless woman, and she remained his mistress for many years. Such unions were frequent in the 4th century AD.

But his mother’s ambitions for him were not satisfied, and she persuaded Augustine to get rid of his mistress and move to Italy, where he could secure a good career for himself, which was the reason why he had been so carefully schooled.

Augustine listened to his mother, and headed for Italy, with his mother and his son. The three of them arrived in Milan, which was the administrative capital of the Roman Empire at that time, and Augustine took up teaching. His mother soon had him engaged to a girl half his age, who came from a wealthy and well-placed family. Augustine never married this girl, and instead took up with another woman.

In Milan, he fell under the influence of Bishop Ambrose, and the two became good friends. It was in 386 AD that a momentous event occurred in Augustine’s life. He tells us that he heard a voice that told him to take the Bible and read it.

When he held the Bible, it fell open to a specific passage in the New Testament (Romans 13:13), in which he read that drunkenness and sexual indulgence should be abandoned. This passage had a profound effect on him, and there and then, he decided to convert. It was Bishop Ambrose who baptized both him and his son, Adeodatus.

Not long afterwards, his mother suddenly died, and he went into deep depression, from which he emerged a changed man. He decided to give up sex, leave the woman he was living with, and move back to North Africa with his son, where he would concentrate on being spiritual and contemplative.

He settled near the town of Hippo Regius (now Annaba, Algeria). The townsfolk liked the idea of having a learned man nearby, and they suggested to Augustine that he become their bishop, since the seat was currently vacant.

Augustine refused, but then tragedy struck again. This time his son died for whom he mourned greatly. The townsfolk once again approached him. This time Augustine accepted. The rigorous demands of the position would keep him busy, so he would not think about his son. He was ordained as a priest, in 391 AD, and in 396 became the bishop of Hippo, a position he would hold until his death.

It was a responsibility that he undertook with conviction, and he ministered to his flock with great dedication, especially in the ensuing years of troubling uncertainty when the Roman Empire crumbled away, as one province after another fell to the invading Germanic tribes.

One tribe, the Vandals, who were responsible for the sacking of Rome itself in 410, sailed across the Mediterranean and landed in North Africa, which they quickly overran. And it is said that Augustine died in 430 AD, in his bed, reading the Psalms, as the Vandals began to attack Hippo.

He was buried in the city’s cathedral. In the 8th century, the Longobard king Liutprand, to save them from the Muslims who had overrun North Africa, removed his remains to Pavia, Italy. Augustine’s tomb is now in St. Peter’s Church in Pavia.

Augustine wrote all his life, books, as well as letters and homilies. He wrote in Latin, and his contributions to philosophy and theology are profound. His early works are purely philosophical, while his later writings concentrate solely on religious matters.

After his conversion in 386, he wrote Against the Academics, in which he critiqued skepticism; On Free Choice of the Will, in which he dealt with the existence and problem of evil; The Catholic and Manichean Ways of Life, in which he explored the subject of ethics; On the Teacher, in which he examined concepts of knowledge and language. These works formed the basis of his philosophy.

It was in 401, five years after he became the bishop of Hippo, that he published his Confessions, which is the first work of autobiography in Western literature. This is an account of his riotous early years when he was given to sensual living. But since this was written in his later years, there are many philosophical passages. And in the year 410, the unthinkable happened.

The Vandals, a relatively obscure Germanic tribe, captured Rome, which was known as “the Eternal City.”

This event shook the confidence of the entire Roman Empire, and on everyone’s lips was the question: Why? In answer, Augustine wrote The City of God, in which he reminds Christians that their true city was never Rome; rather their city is heaven itself, which alone is eternal. This attempt to understand a traumatic event also gave Augustine the opportunity to elaborate his political theory. It is his most influential and widely read work.

More than any other thinker, Augustine shaped the medieval mind. He was concerned not simply with philosophical inquiry, but with the construction of Christian wisdom itself. He stated that it was possible to learn about the good, or God, by way of reason. Augustine established the paradigms for a theology of history, which regarded history in its totality.

As well, he set forth a new view of human society – one that was harmonious and whole and in the image of the heavenly city, or heaven. He constructed the first description of utopia, and it would prove to be a rich vein in philosophy, influencing such thinkers as Thomas More, Leibniz, Campanella, and even Karl Marx.


The photo shows, “”Saint Augustine and His Mother, Saint Monica,” by Ary Scheffer, painted in 1855.

How Should We Think?

The enduring emphasis of skill in the educational system emphasizes two kinds of thinking, while neglecting a third kind.

Skill is closely related to know-how, or technical knowledge, and to analytical, or scientific, knowledge. The former is repetitive and performative, in that a skill is repeated in order to produce the same result.

Scientific knowledge seeks to explain or predict; it can do no more. For example, many children are prodigies with mathematics or music, in that they have acquired the skill to repeat notes or numerical patterns.

Their expertise, or skill, is marvelous to witness – but no one turns to them for guidance on issues of freedom, individuality, or responsible government. Why? Because we know that skills are not higher-level thinking.

In the same way, a physicist understands fully how to establish models that can test natural laws and predict what nature may or may not do – but we do not consult this person about matters pertaining to the good society, or love. Why? Because physics is analytical and cannot be used to understand goodness or love.

Despite these obvious handicaps in scientific and technical knowledge, we still demand that higher education worry only about training workers. While everyone is functioning smoothly in industry – who is looking after the functioning of society?

Perhaps the reason for voter apathy, for example, and low voter turn-out may directly be related to this question.

There is a third kind of knowledge, which may be labeled practical wisdom. It is not technical, explanatory, or predictive. It is concerned with ideals, with formulating judgments and making decisions, and it directly relates to the way we encounter the world around us and the way we participate in society.

In other words, there is a specific kind of thinking which directly relates to the good society. Practical wisdom is about ideals. Life is always greater than tangible, material things.

Indeed, what is more important to human beings – happiness or skill? To worry about skills is to desire to become a robot. To worry about happiness is to understand our humanity – because to be happy each of us must reflect upon what truth is and what goodness is, and each of us must create meaning in our lives.

Skills can do neither of these things. To be happy, to have meaning and value, we need to think critically, in the true sense of the term.


The photo shows, “Maud Cook,” by Thomas Eakins, painted in 1895.

The Noble Savage?

The idea of the savage as a foil for civilization is an ancient one, harking back to Enkidu in The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Biblical story of Cain and Abel.

Later, it was the Greeks who further categorized the savage as also a barbarian, someone who was not beyond the pale of city but also, and perhaps therefore, beyond the pale of comprehensible language – for the Greek term, barbaros, has as its root the idea of someone speaking gibberish.

More interestingly, Homer refers to civilized men as “bread-eaters,” opposite whom is the barbarity of the Cyclops and Laestygonians.

The savage, in effect, stands in enmity to civilization, which is mankind’s highest form of striving, in that it embodies virtue, morality, truth and beauty. Indeed, it is the entire absence of beauty which marks the savage.

It is also commonly assumed that Jean-Jacques Rousseau attributed nobility to the savage, with the term “Noble Savage.” But this is a false attribution, since Rousseau never really uses this term. Rather, this term has its root in English literary history, from Dryden to Smollett.

In our own time, there has been a strong reaction against such characterization of people, and many academic careers have been established railing against “Eurocentrism” which supposedly grades people according to race, and so forth.

This is the classic argument of those that seek to portray Europeans as arch-racists, going about the world, enslaving everybody. Suffice to say those that till this field have secured cushy jobs in academia.

In place of the savage, it is now commonplace to seek out all manner of “wisdom” among primitive societies, especially among the so-called indigenous inhabitants of various lands, who are seen as holders and preservers of some sort of arcane, hidden knowledge, passed on from one generation to the next. Of course, no one bothers to ask why all this “wisdom” always tends to pander to the “spiritual” vacuity of the West.

Thus, the indigenous “native” is touted as possessing innate expertise in all things environmental and occultish, with deep words about harmony and nature and preservation. Never mind that moist of this “wisdom” is simply a reduction of the various psychoses that occupy the West, which has chosen to jettison its own culture history, religion and morality – and having emptied itself, now falls victim to anything that looks attractive.

It’s really the “pizza effect,” where the Italians had no notion of what a pizza was, because it is an American invention. But with the popularity of the pizza, and its attribution to Italy, it wasn’t long before the people of Italy claimed the pizza as their own. The same can be said of yoga and India (but that’s another topic).

All this romanticizing of the Other, in order to destroy the Self, obscures the fact that the savage has nothing noble about him; his world is determined by animism, ritualism, and monism. All three, point to one conclusion – that the savage has no mind.

But to be clear, the state of mindlessness does not mean being brainless. The savage may well be animated by emotion, motivation, and certainly will (especially in the practice of magic). Nevertheless, the mind is a different state of being.

Briefly, the mind is not invented, but rather discovered through a gradual process of questioning. This means that the mind seeks not to harmonize individual existence with the forces of nature – for that is simply instinct – but rather it seeks to understand, explain and then create. This threefold process is not available to the savage mind, which is animated but not creative.

But what is the savage?

First and foremost, he is a shaman (this peculiar word stems from an old Turkic root, kam with cognates in Tungush and Mongol, which means “dancer,” “mover”).

The shaman seeks to manage (not control) the myriad forces of natural objects and creatures, in order to either forestall harm, or gather benefit.

In other words, the savage is someone who seeks not to understand reality, but to control it by way of ritual and magic. Thus, the savage is an animator of nature. This leads him to a monism of sorts, where all of creation is made alive by one essential, unchanging force – the one in all.

As a result, ritual and magic justify and explain all human action. Some may mistake this as a version of scientific thinking, in that it is seems to point to a cause-and-effect approach. But that would be wrong.

Ritual and magic are not about cause-and-effect at all. Rather, both are part of monistic thinking which imagines that the one spirit animating all of nature is open to manipulation through the will of someone in the know (the shaman).

It’s in this triad of will, secret knowledge, and force that the savage opens himself up to all kinds of violence and abuse – because in order to exert his will, magic and ritual are the weapons he deploys to counter and manipulate the influence of all that surrounds him.

In this contention of the shaman against supernatural influences, there is only the matter of control, whether effectual or not. And control means material benefit. There is no individuality here, only a desire to become a mindless force that does what it does, without an explanation. In other words, the savage has only one recourse in order to live – violence.

Therefore, the savage has no moral structures, because he does not need them. Force can only be met with counter-force. Hence all the blood rituals, violence and cruelty…

Such as, the kanaimà among the natives of South America; marriage of women to animals in India; child sacrifice; self-impalement; scalp dancing and cannibalism among natives of North America; endocannibalism along the Yanomamo; the prolonged torture of children before ritual murder among the Aztec, the Maya and the Toltec; female genital mutilation; the beating girls in Uaupes; placenta eating; the murder of mingi-children in Ethiopia; semen-drinking by Edolo and Sambia boys; La Esperanza rain ceremony; the Kusasa fumbi of Malawi; the Kuthiyottam ritual; tooth-chiselling of young girls.

This is all about the manipulation of flesh, the spilling of blood, and the inflicting pain in order to gain some perceived benefit, and then to animate the shaman.

And this brief litany of savagery is not only meted out to humans. Animals undergo far greater and crueler treatment, which it would be gruesome to catalogue here.

Savage societies, far from being noble to the environment have undertaken deforestation, extinction of animal and plant species and often have had radically altered the landscape. So, the entire nobility narrative rings false – thus, it’s really about the concerns of present-day society, which seeks a utopia to hold high as a example.

The “noble savage” never existed. Nobility is the result of profound moral insight and conduct. Savagery, on the other hand, is the absence of morality, the absence of civilization, and the absence of rationality. When mankind is bereft of these three structures of enabling the good like – what is left but savagery – blood, flesh, and pain?

Is it any wonder that as the West slowly loses its connection with its root, namely, Christianity, there is the sudden re-emergence of paganism, shamanism, animism, and savagery?

Once we walk away from those ideas that create civilization, there can only be chaos.



The photo shows, “Cannibal Feast on the Island of Tanna, New Hebrides,” by Charles E. Gordon Frazer, ca, 1891.

Atheism Is Dead

Modernity may be summarized by one single ideology – relativism, which aggrandizes the individual by valorizing opinions, choices, tastes, preferences and feelings over ideas, while debasing truth, morality, history and religion.

The lure of relativism has three well-honed hooks – scientism and atheism which together demonstrate and gauge the march of progress.

Progressivism claims that things change for the better over time; and therefore, we are wiser and superior than people living fifty or a hundred years ago because we are the recipients of the benefits of progress.

The modernist project therefore becomes a straightforward one – to clear the road for progress by sweeping away everything that will impede it. The supposed result will be the just society, where a harmonious plurality of individuals will enjoy fruits that are as yet unimaginable.

To achieve this, progressivism understands that the political sphere alone can ensure the achievement of this utopia by way of laws that protect group rights, so that no one is left behind. This is the legalization of identity politics.

Progressivism also readily justifies the current war on statues in the US – because the past is perceived as forever flawed, with nothing to teach and therefore useless to preserve. The past is forever benighted and thus wrong.

And old ideas, like statues, also need to be pulled down and trodden underfoot. Newer ideas are better than old ones, progressivism maintains.

All this is indeed a heady siren song.

For relativism, the worst of these useless monuments of the past is the belief in God, which refuses to let truth, morality and history be easily argued away.

However, here relativism employs another strategy – scientism, which was first elaborated by Auguste Comte.

Since modernity is progressive, science is declared the guarantor of all that is right and therefore believable – and only that which is materially provable therefore exists.

Since science cannot prove the existence of God, then God simply does not exist. This is the strength of atheism, which therefore concludes (via the Cambridge philosophers, such as, Bertrand Russell) that questions about the purpose and value of life are nothing but primitive thinking.

Life has no ultimate purpose or value. Life just is, and nothing more.

Therefore, for the materialists, atheism is the only logical position to hold. But this notion has feet of clay.

For example, at a funeral, the bereaved are not asked to contemplate, say, the Pythagorean theorem, nor given to consider the aorist middle of ancient Greek, as means of consolation and comfort for their loss.

If science has all the answers, why is it deficient in the consolation department?

Aristotle understood this perfectly, for he says, “…all law is universal but for some things it is impossible to make a universal statement which is correct.”

It is also the peculiar habit of humans to see themselves as something greater than the sum of their materiality.

But the habit of the Cambridge philosophers to relegate the non-scientific to the primitive continues, and thus atheism is vaunted as enlightenment.

In this view, science is right, and everything else is superstition, ignorance, and stupidity (the useless dross of history), because knowledge is only that which can be proved with certainty.

Thus, with some regularity, a valiant soul musters himself to finally sweep away God as an unnecessary hang-over from a benighted, barbaric past, when human beings were childish in thought and gullible in worldview.

Of course, for this brave soul, the present, which is fully illumined by the clear light of science and leads to progress contains all the answers that human beings will ever need. Such is the blind arrogance of progressivism.

There is but one slight problem here – when God is deemed non-existent, there is only nothingness which replaces it – because up to today humankind has been unable to come up with an enduring paradigm based upon nothingness that might provide both value and meaning to life.

In other words, atheism is unable to provide a moral conscience. As Rémi Brague has cogently asked, if God does not exist, then why should humanity continue to exist?

The truth that few atheists want to deal with, let alone acknowledge, is this – atheism is dead, despite its triumphal declarations. It can never give humans what they need – civilization, which is rooted in morality rather than material causes.

For example, studies show that infants perceive right and wrong, which means that humans possess natural moral law.

Belief in God is the corollary of this law. Therefore, atheism’s view of religion as superstition is false, and its dream-project of disproving God via science is meaningless, and forever bound to fail.

Science can only express quantification by a purpose-specific methodology. If this methodology and its attendant language are extended to other purposes, the result is babble, because meaning vanishes. Science becomes futile, as at a funeral, in the example above.

How can science explain metaphysics when it can only quantify physics?

Further, atheism posits man as an explanation of man. But as Sartre points out man cannot pass sentence on himself, that is, in whom shall reside the power to pronounce that humans can exist?

This means that saying there is no God, is also saying that there is no morality, because Godlessness inevitably leads to the animal-man.

And here is the crux of the problem – how does the animal-man become worthy of anything more than bio-mass?

The only option left for atheism, then, is to declare both God and morality as nonexistent, and to entirely validate man as an animal, driven by instinct to survive and by the will to power. For what is man without morality? Which is to say, what is man without God?

Here atheism can certainly learn from Nietzsche, but this requires courage – because to live beyond good and evil, to be entirely free from God, is only possible through the complete exertion of the animal-man, which can only be made through strength – not moral qualms.

In a truly Godless society, there can no judgement.

To be an animal-man, then, is not a new experiment. It has been attempted before (Hitlerism, Stalinism, Maoism, and so on).

The honest atheist must fully embrace and then extol a morality-free existence for all human animals. To say that humans are somehow something more than animals is to veer into the Godly.

This means no laws, no society, no kindness, no love – just pure instinct.

Such honesty indeed requires great courage.

Of all the atheists, only the Marquis de Sade  was most the honest because as a philosopher he clearly understood what an atheistic life must be – selfishness, even to the point of utter cruelty and depravity, because there are no divine laws that can be transgressed, no one to answer to, no one to lay down morality.

The true, honest atheist must deny moral natural law, and then fully live out its consequences. The term, “sadism” comes from the Marquis’s name.

If atheists are repulsed by this inevitability, then they are affirming that they are not really atheists, but simply rebellious or fashionable, or “cutting edge,” and that atheism for them is nothing more than a preference, a taste, a personal opinion – a matter of social convenience, or group acceptance.

Real atheists must accept what life without God entails – the full affirmation of the animal-man, obeying instincts to the fullest, because every human being is nothing more than bio-mass to manipulate or destroy by the strongest.

The Marquis de Sade, of course, predates Charles Darwin.

So, here lies the challenge for atheists. If they are true to their assertion that there is no God, they must be Sadean. They cannot deny God and then live like perfectly decent Christians, guided by moral compunction. That is simply being a phony.

This is why, historically, atheists have never gathered together and built a civilization, nor created any of the structures that enable civilization to thrive (hospitals, schools, charities).

Atheism was never an heuristic idea – it was simply an expression of dissatisfaction with the normative in society, or at best a critique – and therefore, it was always marginal to human thought.

But why is there a need for atheism in modernity? Why does modernism hate the cultural “hand” that feeds it (namely, Christianity). Why rant against God, and then demand morality (now called, “rights”)?

Since modernity has become thoroughly relativistic (where truth is simply an opinion), the need grows greater to believe (the prospect of emptiness everywhere is destructive).

And this need for belief turns inwards, to the self, which is then deified and duly worshipped (what is popular culture today, if not constant self-worship).

Thus, most modern atheism is only narcissism (it is not Sadean). Christianity negates narcissism by urging the love of the other, and therefore it is despised.

The historian Herbert Butterfield once observed (he should be read more): “…it is not always realised that belief in God gives us greater elasticity of mind, rescuing us from too great subservience to intermediate principles, whether these are related to nationality or ideology or science… Similarly, Christianity is not tied to regimes – not compelled to regard the existing order as the very end of life and the embodiment of all our values.”

Therefore, true atheism is dead because it is anti-human. And very few have the  courage to heed the call of the animal-man and live the Sadean life.


The photo shows, “The Sirens and Ulysses,” painted about 1837, by William Etty.