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Short description: Philosophical and theological system

Augustinianism is the philosophical and theological system of Augustine of Hippo and its subsequent development by other thinkers, notably Boethius, Anselm of Canterbury and Bonaventure.[1][2][3] Among Augustine's most important works are The City of God, De doctrina Christiana, and Confessions.

Originally, Augustinianism developed in opposition to Pelagianism;[4] it was widespread in medieval western philosophy until the arrival of Thomism and Aristotelianism.[5]

Plato and Plotinus influenced Augustine in many ways, and he is considered a Neoplatonic philosopher.[6][7][8] The Augustinian theodicy and other Augustinian doctrines such as the divine illumination and the invisible church show a strong Platonic influence.[9][10][11]

Pope Benedict XVI cautioned that all of the Western Church teaching leads to him:

St Augustine. This man of passion and faith, of the highest intelligence and tireless in his pastoral care, a great Saint and Doctor of the Church is often known, at least by hearsay, even by those who ignore Christianity or who are not familiar with it, because he left a very deep mark on the cultural life of the West and on the whole world. Because of his special importance St Augustine's influence was widespread. It could be said on the one hand that all the roads of Latin Christian literature led to Hippo (today Annaba, on the coast of Algeria), the place where he was Bishop from 395 to his death in 430, and, on the other, that from this city of Roman Africa, many other roads of later Christianity and of Western culture itself branched out.[12]

View of humanity

"Augustine considered the human race as a compact mass, a collective body, responsible in its unity and solidarity. Carrying out his system in all its logical consequences, he laid down the following rigid proposition as his doctrine: 'As all men have sinned in Adam; they are subject to the condemnation of God on account of this hereditary sin and the guilt thereof'"[13][14]

According to Augustine, even the world and corporeal entities, being fruits of divine love, have their value and meaning, while the some Platonists tended instead to devalue them.[15] This attempt to place history and earthly existence within a heavenly perspective, where even evil finds explanation in some way, always remained at the center of its philosophical concerns.


These are the most important values for an Augustinian. [16]

  1. Love
  2. Interiority
  3. Humility
  4. Devotion to Study and the pursuit of Wisdom
  5. Freedom
  6. Community
  7. Common good
  8. Humble and generous service
  9. Friendship
  10. Prayer


Main page: Philosophy:Divine command theory

Augustine offered the Divine command theory, a theory which proposes that an action's status as morally good is equivalent to whether it is commanded by God.[17][18] Augustine's theory began by casting ethics as the pursuit of the supreme good, which delivers human happiness, Augustine argued that to achieve this happiness, humans must love objects that are worthy of human love in the correct manner; this requires humans to love God, which then allows them to correctly love that which is worthy of being loved. Augustine's ethics proposed that the act of loving God enables humans to properly orient their loves, leading to human happiness and fulfilment.[19]

Just war

The Just war theory is a doctrine that ensure war is morally justifiable through a series of criteria, all of which must be met for a war to be considered just. based upon Romans 13:4 Augustine claimed that, while individuals should not resort immediately to violence, God has given the sword to government for good reason. Augustine argues that Christians, as part of a government, need not be ashamed of protecting peace and punishing wickedness when forced to do so by a government. Augustine asserted that this was a personal, philosophical stance: "What is here required is not a bodily action, but an inward disposition. The sacred seat of virtue is the heart."[20][21]


Augustine's ethics is that of ancient eudaimonism,[22] but he defers happiness to the afterlife and blames the ancient ethicists saying that their arrogant conviction resulting from their ignorance of the fallen condition of humanity that they could reach happiness in this life by philosophical endeavor,[23][24] Augustine takes it as axiomatic that happiness is the ultimate goal pursued by all human beings.[25][26][27] For Augustine Happiness or the good life is brought about by the possession of the greatest good in nature that humans can attain and that one cannot lose against one's will.[7]


Main page: Philosophy:Divine illumination

Augustine emphasised the role of divine illumination in our thought, saying that "The mind needs to be enlightened by light from outside itself, so that it can participate in truth, because it is not itself the nature of truth. You will light my lamp, Lord,"[28]

For Augustine, God does not give us certain information, but rather gives us insight into the truth of the information we received for ourselves.

If we both see that what you say is true, and we both see that what I say is true, then where do we see that? Not I in you, nor you in me, but both of us in that unalterable truth that is above our minds.[29]

Thomas Aquinas criticizes the divine illumination, denying that in this life we have divine ideas as an object of thought, and that divine illumination is sufficient on its own, without the senses. Aquinas also denied that there is a special continuing divine influence on human thought. People have sufficient capacity for thought on their own, without needing "new illumination added onto their natural illumination".[30]



Saint Augustine was one of the first Christian ancient Latin authors with very clear anthropological vision. Augustine saw the human being as a perfect unity of two substances: soul and body.[31] He was much closer in this anthropological view to Aristotle than to Plato.[32][33] In his late treatise On Care to Be Had for the Dead sec. 5 (420 AD) he insisted that the body pertains to the essence of the human person:

In no wise are the bodies themselves to be spurned. (...) For these pertain not to ornament or aid which is applied from without, but to the very nature of man.[34]

Augustine's favourite figure to describe body-soul unity is marriage: caro tua, coniunx tua – your body is your wife.[35][36][37] According to N. Blasquez, Saint Augustine's dualism of substances of the body and soul doesn't stop him from seeing the unity of body and soul as a substance itself.[33][38] Following ancient philosophers he defined man as a rational mortal animalanimal rationale mortale.[39][40]

Original sin

Main page: Religion:Original sin
Michelangelo's painting of the sin of Adam and Eve from the Sistine Chapel ceiling

Augustine wrote that original sin is transmitted by concupiscence and enfeebles freedom of the will without destroying it.Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag They refused to agree that original sin wounded human will and mind, insisting that human nature was given the power to act, to speak, and to think when God created it. Human nature cannot lose its moral capacity for doing good, but a person is free to act or not to act in a righteous way. Pelagius gave an example of eyes: they have capacity for seeing, but a person can make either good or bad use of it.[41]

The Catholic Church accepts the doctrine of original sin as Augustine taught.[42]


For Augustine God orders all things while preserving human freedom.[43] Prior to 396, Augustine believed that predestination was based on God's foreknowledge of whether individuals would believe, that God's grace was "a reward for human assent".[43] Later, in response to Pelagius, Augustine said that the sin of pride consists in assuming that "we are the ones who choose God or that God chooses us (in his foreknowledge) because of something worthy in us", and argued that it is God's grace that causes the individual act of faith.[43]

Some Catholics dispute that Augustine believed predestination in the latter way, and claim that Augustine affirmed free will in the choice of being saved or not.[44]

Theodicy and Free will

Main page: Philosophy:Augustinian theodicy

The problem of evil is the question of how to reconcile the existence of evil with an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient God.[45][46]

Augustine develops key ideas regarding his response to suffering. In Confessions, Augustine wrote that his previous work was dominated by materialism and that reading the works of Plato enabled him to consider the existence of a non-physical substance. This helped him develop a response to the problem of evil from a theological (and non-Manichean) perspective,[11]

Augustine proposed that evil could not exist within God, nor be created by God, and is instead a by-product of God's creativity.[47] He rejected the notion that evil exists in itself, proposing instead that it is a privation of (or falling away from) good, and a corruption of nature.[48] He wrote that "evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name 'evil.'"[49] Both moral and natural evil occurs, Augustine argued, owing to an evil use of free will,[50] which could be traced back to the original sin of Adam and Eve.[51] He believed that this evil will, present in the human soul, was a corruption of the will given to humans by God, making suffering a just punishment for the sin of humans.[52] Because Augustine believed that all of humanity was "seminally present in the loins of Adam", he argued that all of humanity inherited Adam's sin and his just punishment.[53] However, in spite of his belief that free will can be turned to evil, Augustine maintained that it is vital for humans to have free will, because they could not live well without it. He argued that evil could come from humans because, although humans contained no evil, they were also not perfectly good and hence could be corrupted.[54]


Notable Augustinian philosophers

See also



  1. Rogers, Katherine. The Neoplatonic Metaphysics and Epistemology of Anselm of Canterbury (Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press. 1997).
  2. Saint Bonaventure
  3. Prayer after Augustine: A study in the development of the Latin tradition
  4. Augustinism in McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia]
  5. Augustinianism
  6. The Significance of Neoplatonism
  7. 7.0 7.1 Saint Augustine
  9. Wallace M. Alston, The Church of the Living God: A Reformed Perspective (Westminster John Knox Press, 2002 ISBN:978-0-664-22553-7), p. 53
  10. De deo Socratis, XVII–XIX)
  11. 11.0 11.1 Mendelson, Michael (12 November 2010). "Saint Augustine". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 9 October 2011. 
  12. BENEDICT XVI GENERAL AUDIENCE Paul VI Audience Hall Wednesday, 9 January 2008
  13. Smith's Hagenbach, History of Doctrines, 1, 299
  14. Wiggers Augustinisnm and Pelagianism, p. 268
  15. Tina Manferdini, Comunicazione ed estetica in Sant'Agostino, p. 249, Bologna, ESD, 1995
  16. Fr. Alberto Esmeralda, OSA. "Augustinian Values". 
  17. Helm, Paul (1981). Divine Commands and Morality. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-875049-8. 
  18. Chandler, Hugh (2007). Platonistic And Disenchanting Theories of Ethics. Peter Lang. ISBN 978-0-8204-8858-5. 
  19. Austin, Michael W. (21 August 2006). "Divine Command Theory". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 
  20. Robert L. Holmes. "A Time For War?". 
  21. Contra Faustum Manichaeum book 22 sections 69–76
  22. Holte 1962
  23. De civitate dei 19.4
  24. Wolterstorff 2012
  25. De beata vita 10
  26. De civitate dei 10.1
  27. De trinitate 13.7
  28. Confessions IV.xv.25
  29. Confessions XII.xxv.35
  30. Summa theologiae 1a2ae 109.1c
  31. Cf. A. Gianni, pp.148–149
  32. Hendrics, E., p. 291.
  33. 33.0 33.1 Massuti, E., p.98.
  34. De cura pro mortuis gerenda CSEL 41, 627[13–22]; PL 40, 595: Nullo modo ipsa spernenda sunt corpora. (...)Haec enim non ad ornamentum vel adiutorium, quod adhibetur extrinsecus, sed ad ipsam naturam hominis pertinent; Contra Faustum, 22.27; PL 44,418.
  35. Augustine of Hippo, Enarrationes in psalmos, 143, 6.
  36. CCL 40, 2077 [46] – 2078 [74]; 46, 234–35.
  37. Augustine of Hippo, De utilitate ieiunii, 4, 4–5.
  38. El concepto del substantia segun san Agustin, pp. 305–350.
  39. De ordine, II, 11.31; CCL 29, 124 [18]; PL 32,1009; De quantitate animae, 25,47–49; CSEL 89, 190–194; PL 32, 1062–1063
  40. Cf. Ch. Couturier SJ, p. 543
  41. Augustine of Hippo, De gratia Christi et de peccato originali, I, 15.16; CSEL 42, 138 [v. 24–29]; Ibid., I,4.5; CSEL 42, 128 [v.15–23].
  42. Original sin
  43. 43.0 43.1 43.2 Levering, Matthew (2011). Predestination: Biblical and Theological Paths. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-960452-4. 
  44. Augustine Had It Right; Calvin Did Not
  45. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "The Problem of Evil", Michael Tooley
  46. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "The Evidential Problem of Evil", Nick Trakakis
  47. Menn 2002, p. 168
  48. Menn 2002, p. 170
  49. The City of God, Augustine of Hippo, Book XI, Chapter 9
  50. Bennett, Peters, Hewlett & Russell 2008, p. 126
  51. Svendsen & Pierce 2010, p. 49
  52. Menn 2002, p. 174
  53. Bennett, Peters, Hewlett & Russell 2008, p. 127
  54. Menn 2002, p. 176
  55. John Henry Newman: Reason, Rhetoric, and Romanticism pg. 167
  56. Benedict XVI, The Great Augustinian
  57. Gutting, Gary (13 February 1999). Pragmatic Liberalism and the Critique of Modernity. Cambridge University Press. p. 116. ISBN 9780521649735. "Modernity begins with Descartes' mutation of Augustinianism. Taylor emphasizes that "Descartes is in many ways profoundly Augustinian"."