Reading Etienne Gilson has been extremely helpful. And reading Augustine has been a blessing. My love for Augustine has increased, but also has my love for the Evangelical faith. I have simultaneously appreciated Augustine, and grown--I hope--in my appreciation for what it means to be a Protestant. The following quotation from Gilson I put here mainly just so I do not lose it. He is here writing on the nature of creation in Augustine. What is helpful, I think, is that in a Christian doctrine of creation God is not simply creating "stuff." He is doing that, but not simply that. He is creating a world which is structured, ordered, and designed a certain way, and with certain purposes. I suspect these insights are ones which Christians need desperately today. We live in a world in which there are deep and fundamental structures which we kick against at our own peril.
I was also reminded of this while listening to a Crowded House song, "Into Temptation." I really could not believe what I was hearing. Some of Crowded House's ringleader Neil Finn's insights and wording are startlingly insightful. In the melancholy song about temptation Finn sings that in giving into temptation, one does so "knowing full well the earth will rebel." He continues to describe the person walking into temptation: "safe in the wide open arms of hell." The song rings true and perhaps is a lamentation and song of regret. It can be heard and viewed here. How insightful: "the earth will rebel." We do in fact live in a world which is ordered and structured. When we rebel, we are not simply rebelling against abstract "law" which--we might think--is haphazardly given to us. We are rebelling against the very structures of a morally ordered world. Morally ordered by a good God who has created a good world.
I am not here taking sides whether Augustine's understanding of "matter" and "form" need to be affirmed. But Gilson's summary here is helpful, at least to me:
"He [God] gives being to a matter which tends to nothingness because of its formlessness alone, while in so far as He speaks (dixit Deus, fiat), i.e. in so far as He creates as the Word, God impresses, as it were a movement upon matter whereby it turns towards Him, and this movement in turn is but an imitation of the Word's eternal adherence to the Father." (Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine, 205).
So, for Gilson Augustine teaches that when God creates the world, God "impresses" upon matter in such a way that the world--as created matter--inherently, inextricably, is ordered to God. And tantalizingly, Gilson goes on to say that this aspect of the world whereby it is ordered to God is a type of reflection or echo or imitation of the Son's love for the Father. Provocative. Our world is a marked world, an ordered world. We kick against the order and truth of things to our own peril.
I just had to post this, if for no other reason than to make sure and remember it, and maybe give someone a laugh.
In Augustine's Nature and Grace, Augustine critiques Pelagius at length. Well into the book (47.55), Augustine says of something Pelagius wrote:
"Either I do not understand what he is saying, or he doesn't." Nice.
I am getting together this week to visit with a sharp young philosopher. He suggested to me the essay by Alvin Plantinga, "How To Be an Anti-Realist." Towards the end of the essay Plantinga turns toward Augustine and Thomas as providing a way to think about realism.
The quote from Thomas Aquinas is wonderful:
"Even if there were no human intellects, there could be truths because of their relation to the divine intellect. But if, per impossible, there were no intellects at all, but things continued to exist, then there would be no such reality as truth." (De Veritate !. 1, A.6 Respondeo).
Plantinga then writes: "The thesis, then, is that truth cannot be independent of noetic activity of the part of persons. The antithesis is that it must be independent of our noetic activity. And the synthesis is that truth is independent of our intellectual activity but not of God's" (p. 68 of Plantinga's essay).
A quote from Michael Hanby again (again, see my earlier post for a link to his excellent First Things 2015 essay).
I have also been reading a lot of Cornelius Van Til lately, and all of this links together.
But here is Hanby on Augustine and political order: "The fundamental question for Augustine is not whether God will be worshipped, but which god will be worshipped."
Yep. That is it. If man, created in the image of God, is fundamentally "homo adorans," worshipping man, and if all of man's endeavors--including political life--reflect and flow from one's ultimate convictions (which are ultimately religious), then Hanby is right. It is religion all the way down, including the political order of any society.
As Hanby notes: "we therefore act, individually and socially, in pursuit of what we love. This axiom makes worship the basic form of human action and rules out a purely secular politics or religiously indifferent political realm." ("Democracy and Its Demons," in Augustine and Politics, 117-18).
No, I am not using the word "empire" because it is an easy way to garner attention! Rather, in my reading for the book I am writing on Augustine, I found the following quote in an essay by Michael Hanby, "Democracy and Its Demons," in Augustine and Politics (edited by John Doody, Kevin L. Hughes, and Kim Paffenroth).
And speaking of Michael Hanby, if one has not read his essay from First Things (February 2015), it is excellent.
Anyway, Augustine writes:
"I would therefore have our adversaries consider the possibility that to rejoice in the extent of empire is not a characteristic of good men." (Augustine's City of God IV.15).
I am currently reading B.B. Warfield's essay, "Augustine and the Pelagian Controversy." It is a goldmine. At one point he is discussing how a recently-elected pope, one Zosimus, may have been a bit soft on Pelagianism. Pelagius and one of his followers, Coelestius, had been condemned, but Zosimus was letting them off the hook. A number of African bishops gathered and pronounced that Pelagius and Coelestius should continue to be considered out of bounds theologically. They were to be considered out of bounds until they could affirm the following:
"we are aided by the grace of God, through Christ, not only to know, but to do what is right, in each single act, so that without grace we are unable to have, think, speak, or do anything pertaining to piety."
B.B. Warfield, "Augustine and the Pelagian Controversy," in Studies in Tertullian and Augustine, 303.