Saint Augustine

Sunday, November 22, 2009
First Aired: 
Sunday, January 27, 2008

What Is It

The philosopher Saint Augustine of Hippo is one of the most important figures in the history of Christianity. His efforts against the Manichean, Arian and Pelagain heresies shaped the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. His Confessions tells the story of his own conversion from Manicheanism to Christianity. His philosophical ideas anticipated Saint Thomas Aquinas and Descartes. His three-volume City of God remains a classic of Christian apologetics. And many find the roots of some of the darker sides of Christian doctrine, from the emphasis on original sin to the second-rate status for women, in his works. John and Ken welcome Georgetown University Provost James O'Donnell, author of Augustine, Sinner & Saint: A New Biography.

Listening Notes

St. Augustine of Hippo is one of the fathers of modern Christian thought.  However, he started out as a rowdy kid and a sexually frustrated teenager.  He kept a mistress and was fascinated by sex.  Yet he grew up to become a celibate Christian philosopher.  He found philosophical problems everywhere he looked, and his writings address many of them.  What was sex like in the garden of Eden?  How do I know what time is?  The question for us, though, is why St. Augustine is pertinent today.  James O’Donnell, provost of Georgetown University and author of Augustine, Sinner or Saint, helps explain.

While our host John was off Marching on Washington to protest Vietnam, O’Donnell was sitting in the library reading Augustine’s City of God.  He saw its musings on war, peace, and society as a more holistic and human approach to modern problems.  O’Donnell tells John and Ken about Micro and Macro philosophies, and how Manicheanism affected his thinking.  He touches upon Platonism and why you and I are responsible for all the bad stuff that happens (after all, God isn’t capable of bad).    

After speaking more about Augustine and his beliefs, O’Donnell returns to the question of relevance.  Every time the President deploys troops, St. Augustine is appealed to as the patron saint of just war.  Is this really appropriate? O’Donnell tells John and Ken why it may not be.  Augustine’s writings inform much of contemporary Christian thought.  Though some of his views appear extreme today, Augustine was a moderate in comparison to his contemporaries.  Find out why O’Donnell and so many others find him a worthwhile read, and why John thinks that he came out ahead of his fellow saints.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (seek to 5:30): Zoe Corneli sets out to discover what Augustine of Hippo would have done were he born in the 21st century.  He was deeply conflicted, being both very interested in sex but feeling that this was evil.  Maybe a Sexologist could have helped him sort out his inner conflict.  Cornelie talks to sex columnist Isadora Almon to get her thoughts on the matter.
  • 60-Second Philosopher (seek to 49:20): Ian Shoales expounds upon the followers of Mani.  He adds insight to the debate on St. Augustine, explaining why Astronomy discredited Manicheanisn, and how Augustine could at one time explain everything.



Ken Taylor  
Coming up on Philosophy Talk: Saint Augustine of Hippo.

Bob Dylan  
I dreamed I saw Saint Augustine alive as you are me.

Ken Taylor  
To sing once is to pray twice.