It is the 28th of August 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You know on this show we believe that to be a truly great theologian your last name needs to start with an A. We don’t mean to demean those fine theologians with names that start with letters like B, or C, L, or S.
Who started this trend? Well, the man who is celebrated across denominational lines, who died on this, the 28th of August in 430: St. Augustine. The adult convert to Christianity synthesized Christian theology and aspects of Greek philosophy to shape a theology that would be celebrated by Catholics and Protestants alike.
He has a parallel with C.S. Lewis in that you can get the stink eye in most rooms if you suggest that they are overrated (and I’m not claiming that!).
Let’s break down the “big A”.
He wrote some 5 million words but his most popular works are his Confessions and City of God.
The City of God is gigantic and took me forever to get through it. It is dense and sprawling in topics. But here’s the thumbnail sketch. He was watching Rome fall and hearing that Christianity was to blame. Augustine argues (among other things) that not only is that not true, but Christianity also doesn’t need Rome or any other kingdom or nation to thrive. We see echoes of this in Luther’s theology of two Kingdoms.
His Confessions are a very early form of autobiography. He has been credited with helping to create the modern “self”, but this “self” has a pretty low opinion of itself. Our friends at Mockingbird call this a “low anthropology”. Not only is Augustine troubled by his own physical desires and lusts, he tells a story about stealing pears with his friends as a younger man. What we refer to now as “Augustine’s Pears” refers to those actions we do for no other reason than we seek the thrill of doing wrong.
His main opponents during his career were the Pelagians and Donatists. The specifics of those debates had to do with the nature of the fallen person's will, and what to do with priests who fled or renounced the faith during persecution. In both of these debates, Augustine goes hard with regard to the fallenness of all people. Humanity can not save itself and needs a savior who does all the saving. Theologians often draw through lines from St. Paul, Augustine, and Luther (when Luther went looking for a religious order to join he joined the Augustinian order with its strong emphasis on fallen humanity).
The Latin Christian West owes much of its trajectory to Augustine. Even where people disagree with Augustine, it was Augustine who set in place many of the topics on which to agree or disagree.
He has been dubbed “the first Medieval man” on account of not only the time in which he lived (he died as the Vandals began to lay siege to Hippo) but also on account of his thinking about: the nature of Christendom, the roles of church and state in tension, and the economy of salvation and the role of Grace as doled out through the Church.
Oh, and he has so many quotations attributed to him that are not only not from him but sound like things knitted on pillows at your grandma's house. Consider “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Why would a guy who didn’t travel much say this? He didn’t. And he didn’t know about modern bookbinding.
The one about Hope having two daughters? Nope.
“Live, Laugh, Love”?
But that’s the thing. Like musical compositions with Josquin’s name on them, when you are the gold standard as Augustine is for so many, that’s what happens.
Old St. Gus was 76 years old when he died on this, the 28th of August in 430.
The last word for today comes from St. Paul in Romans 7- a passage especially dear to Augustine:
21 So I find that, as a rule, when I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me. 22 I gladly agree with the Law on the inside, 23 but I see a different law at work in my body. It wages a war against the law of my mind and takes me prisoner with the law of sin that is in my body. 24 I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse? 25 Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 28th of August 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite kinds of pears include: Augustine’s, Anjou, and Bartlett. He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who would eat more pears if they weren’t always so mushy. I am Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.