PODCAST: Augustine of Hippo: A Tortuous Path to Faith, Part 3 (The History of Christianity #162 with Daniel Whyte III)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #162, titled, “Augustine of Hippo: A Tortuous Path to Faith (Part 3).”

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our Scripture for today is 1 John 5:19 which reads: “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from St. Ephraim Syrian. He said: “The fear of God illumines the soul, annihilates evil, weakens the passions, drives darkness from the soul and makes it pure. The fear of God is the summit of wisdom. Where it is not you will find nothing good. Whoever does not have the fear of God is open to diabolical falls.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Augustine of Hippo: A Tortuous Path to Faith (Part 3)” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Manichaeism [MAH-NEE-KEE-ISM] seemed to address Augustine’s difficulties with Christianity, which centered on two issues. The first was that, from the point of view of rhetoric, the Bible was a series of inelegant writings–some even barbaric–in which the rules of good style were seldom followed, and where one found crude episodes of violence, rape, deceit, and the like. The second was the question of the origin of evil. Monica had taught him that there was only one God. But Augustine saw evil both around and in himself, and had to ask about the source of such evil. If God was supreme and pure goodness, evil could not be a divine creation. And if, on the other hand, all things were created by the divine, God could not be as good and wise as Monica and the church claimed. Manichaeism [MAH-NEE-KEE-ISM] offered answers to these two points. The Bible–particularly the Old Testament–was not in fact the Word of the eternal principle of light. Nor was evil a creation of that principle, but of its opposite, the principle of darkness.

For these reasons, Augustine became a Manichee [MAH-NEE-KEE]. But there were always doubts, and he spent nine years as a “hearer,” without seeking to join the ranks of the “perfect.” When, at Manichaean [MAH-NEE-KEE-AHN] gatherings, he vented some of his doubts, he was told that his questions were very profound, and that there was a great Manichaean [MAH-NEE-KEE-AHN] teacher, a certain Faustus [FAUS-TUS], who could answer them. When the much-anticipated Faustus [FAUS-TUS] finally arrived, he turned out to be no better than the other Manichaean [MAH-NEE-KEE-AHN] teachers. Disappointed, Augustine decided to carry on his quest in different directions. By then, after spending some time back in Tagaste [TAH-GHAST], Augustine had returned to Carthage [KAR-THAJ] as a teacher; but his students in Carthage [KAR-THAJ] were an unruly lot, and a career in Rome seemed more promising. But that did not turn out as he had hoped, for his students in the capital city, although better behaved, were slow in paying for his services. He then moved on to Milan [MEE-LAHN], where there was a need for a teacher of rhetoric.

In Milan [MEE-LAHN], Simplicianus [SIM-PLISH-EE-AH-NUS]–the same person on whom Ambrose [AM-BROZE] had called to be his tutor in theology–introduced him to the writings of the Neoplatonists [NEE-OH-PLAY-TON-ISTS]. Apparently, he did this in the hope that Neoplatonism [NEE-OH-PLAY-TON-ISM] would open the way for Augustine to return to his mother’s faith–a hope that eventually proved to be well-founded. As a result of his readings, Augustine became a Neoplatonist [NEE-OH-PLAY-TON-IST]. Neoplatonism [NEE-OH-PLAY-TON-ISM], very popular at the time, was a philosophy with religious overtones. Through a combination of study, discipline, and mystical contemplation, it sought to reach the ineffable One, the source of all being. The goal of the Neoplatonist [NEE-OH-PLAY-TON-IST] was the ecstasy that one experienced when lost in such contemplation. Unlike Manichaean [MAH-NEE-KEE-AHN] dualism, Neoplatonism [NEE-OH-PLAY-TON-ISM] affirmed that there was only one principle, and that all reality was derived from it through a series of emanations–much like the concentric circles that appear on the surface of the water when hit by a pebble. Those realities that are closer to the One are superior, and those that are more removed from it are inferior. Evil then does not originate from a different source, but consists simply in moving away from the One. Moral evil consists in looking away from the One, and turning one’s gaze to the inferior realms of multiplicity. This seemed to answer Augustine’s vexing questions as to the origin of evil. From this perspective, one could assert that a single being, of infinite goodness, was the source of all things, and at the same time acknowledge the presence of evil in creation. Evil, though real, is not a “thing,” but rather a direction away from the goodness of the One. Also, Neoplatonism [NEE-OH-PLAY-TON-ISM] helped Augustine to view both God and the soul in incorporeal terms–which Manichaeism [MAH-NEE-KEE-ISM] had not done for him.

Next time, we will continue looking at “Augustine of Hippo.”

Let’s pray.

—PRAYER—

Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.