Augustine continues to be a man of controversy with churches divided over the doctrine he taught. An understanding of the time though, presents an opportunity to examine his doctrine more closely (for a review of his life, you can read last week’s article here). The influence of society force Augustine to address three primary areas in his lifetime: good and evil, the church and its sacraments, and the relationship between grace and free will.
Good & Evil
As one who was greatly concerned by intellectualism and philosophy in his early years, Augustine understood how easy it was for some to be detracted from Christian faith to instead trust in the ‘logic of the world.’ As he entered into Carthage after his conversion, he saw many being drawn by Manichaeism into their movement for those same desires that he once had. Thus, Augustine wrote, Concerning the Nature of Good’ in which he lays out a view on good and evil. As a result he sought to answer the basic answer of so many about the origin of evil.
It would stand to reason that if God is good, how could anything that He created be evil. To this reply, Augustine gave two responses:
- Anything created by God was less than perfect since only God himself is perfect, and as such was open to corruption.
- The free will of men was misused leading to the evil that is prevalent today.
A view such as this indicates that sin and evil were not necessary, but simply possible and thus came into being through that possibility. In this answer Augustine was providing a logical answer to the most basic problem of evil that so many intellectuals sought (even if you do not agree with him, there is no denying his impact).
The Church & Its Sacraments
While Augustine focused on Manichaeism, Donatism also began to rear itself in opposition. Concerned about the moral purity of the church, donatists rejected the sacraments that were given by men they deemed unworthy (whether the ministers themselves or the ministers under bishops who they considered to be unworthy). This forced Augustine to engage in a long look at the church and the sacraments that were instituted by Christ. Augustine finally made the connection to Donatism that they themselves were impure because of the disunity that they were causing in the church.
Grace & Free Will
Logically, each of the debates previously flowed into the issue of God’s grace and man’s free will (as evidenced by his response to the Manichaeists. It must be appreciated that Augustine set the standard for having a high view of God and His sovereignty. This set a basis for one of the most misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misrepresented doctrines of all time. From the beginning it has been opposed, beginning with Pelagius, a condemned heretic of the day who would lead the charge against Augustine, but more about that next week.
A high view of God ultimately led to a high concern for God’s testimony. We must appreciate the fact that Augustine put forth a defense against detractors of the day. While there must be a balance with this, because ultimately this can detract from the ministry of God to God’s people, there are times when it is appropriate to respond to large movements. Augustine did just that. As a result of that commitment, God used Augustine to leave an impact for centuries to come by preserving his works for us to read today.
We must also appreciate the high view of God. Perhaps the greatest danger in the church today is not knowing so little about God, but knowing God so little. There are many who think they are Christians because they know about God . . . many of my own family fall into this category. Yet, they have no relationship with Him. If faith in God is to drive everything in our lives, from the smallest of details to the greatest of decisions, one must have a high regard for Him. Every aspect of one’s live is dependent upon his or hers exalted view of God. Perhaps today is a day to examine your view of God. Is your life lived in such a way that reflects a high regard for Him?