BY JESSE CAREY GOD August 28, 2014

Even though he though died on August 28, 430, the writings of Augustine of Hippo remain as theologically relevant and spiritually insightful as they were 1,600 years ago.

The man who became a beloved-Bishop and would eventually be remembered as Saint Augustine had such a dramatic conversion to Christianity at the age of 33 that he explored the philosophy of Scripture with a passion that led him to write hundreds of sermons and some of Christianity’s most influential books.

Here’s a look at 15 Augustine quotes that have helped shape modern Christian thought.

On Reading Scripture

The Bible was composed in such a way that as beginners mature, its meaning grows with them. – Confessions

On the Self-Reflection

Men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought. – Confessions

On Prestige in Ministry
No man can be a good bishop if he loves his title but not his task. – City of God

On Serving Those in Need
What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.

On Time
For You [God] are infinite and never change. In You, ‘today’ never comes to an end: and yet our ‘today’ does come to an end in You, because time, as well as everything else, exists in You. If it did not, it would have no means of passing. And since Your years never come to an end, for You they are simply ‘today’… You yourself are eternally the same. In Your ‘today’ You will make all that is to exist tomorrow and thereafter, and in Your ‘today’ You have made all that existed yesterday and forever before. – Confessions

On Not Self-Editing the Bible
If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself. – Sermons

On Science and the Supernatural
Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature. – sourced in The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations

On Being Open to New Interpretations of Scripture
In matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different Interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture. – Genesi Ad Litteram

On Relationships with Others
Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you. – On Christian Teaching

On Justice
What are kingdoms without justice? They’re just gangs of bandits. – City of God

On Following God
To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek Him the greatest adventure; to find Him, the greatest human achievement.

On Taking a Focus Off of God
But my sin was this, that I looked for pleasure, beauty, and truth not in Him but in myself and His other creatures, and the search led me instead to pain, confusion, and error. – Confessions

On the Difference Between Knowledge and Understanding
The wisdom of what a person says is in direct proportion to his progress in learning the holy Scriptures—and I am not speaking of intensive reading or memorization, but real understanding and careful investigation of their meaning. Some people read them but neglect them; by their reading they profit in knowledge, by their neglect they forfeit understanding. – On Christian Teaching

On Suffering
What grace is meant to do is to help good people, not to escape their sufferings, but to bear them with a stout heart, with a fortitude that finds its strength in faith. – City of God

On Truth
A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who ‘though they knew God did not glorify him as God or give thanks but became enfeebled in their own thoughts and plunged their senseless minds into darkness. Claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for the image of corruptible mortals and animals and reptiles’ [Romans 1:21-3] – On Christian Teaching

JESSE CAREY

Jesse Carey is an editor at RELEVANT and a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.

One thought on “15 Augustine Quotes That Helped Shape Modern Christian Thought

  1. AUGUSTINE was tremendously full of himself. Couldn’t stop scribbling massive tomes. He joined his ego with that of the largest religious movement in the Roman Empire which expanded his ego and gave him more verbal outlets for whatever steam was building up between his ears than ever before, more people to preach to, telling them what to believe and how to act. How big a kick is that? What expands a man’s ego more than imagining one is writing for God’s sake not your own, thus giving God a voice? Such people usually are known for their voluminous output, i.e., Calvin.

    Augustine devoted his life to being a cult leader, one of the earliest, loudest and most listened to when it came to arguing that heretics must be compelled/forced/persecuted so that they re-enter the fold of the one true Catholic Church. He set forth the principle of Cognite Intrare (“Compel them to enter,” based on Luke 14:23). Cognite Intrare would be used throughout the Middle Ages to justify the Church’s suppression of dissent and oppression of difference.

    Not long after Augustine’s arguments were put forth the Roman Emperors who were at least nominally Christian began to produce laws related to the persecution of heretics. Augustine also declared that children who had not undergone the one true baptism of the Catholic Church remained in Satan’s power and were hell bound if they died prior to receiving such baptism, which I am sure added to no one’s psychological anguish at all. Even up till the 1970s Catholic seminarians had to learn how to use a syringe filled with holy water to baptize babies in the womb if the birthing process was not going well in order to ensure such babes would wind up in heaven.

    Below are quotations from Augustine himself:

    “In Luke it is written: ‘Compel people to come in!’ By threats of the wrath of God, the Father draws souls to his Son.”

    “There is no salvation outside the church.”

    “….there is a righteous persecution, which the Church of Christ inflicts upon the impious.”

    “…many have found advantage (as we have proved, and are daily proving by actual experiment), in being first compelled by fear or pain, so that they might afterwards be influenced by teaching.”

    “The king serves God in one way as a man, and in another as a king; as a man, he serves Him by living in fidelity to His law, and since he is also a king, he serves by promulgating just laws, and forbidding the opposite, and by giving them a fitting and strong sanction; just as Zecharias served by destroying the shrines and temples of the idols; just as King Josias served by himself doing like things; just as the King of the Ninevites served by compelling the whole State to appease God; just as Darius served by giving the breaking of the idols into the power of Daniel; just as Nebuchadnezer served by forbidding by a terrible law all those dwelling in his kingdom to blaspheme God.” And in the same place he adds: “Who, being in his right mind, will say to kings: ‘In your kingdom have no care as to that by which the Church of your Lord is supported or opposed,’ ‘In your kingdom it is not your affair who wishes to be devout or sacrilegious,’ to whom it cannot be said: In your kingdom it is not your affair who wishes to be virtuous or who does not?”

    Augustine also wrote about the one non-Christian Emperor who reigned after Constantine (all the rest were at least nominally Christians): “Julian, the betrayer and enemy of Christ, allowed the freedom of perdition to heretics… [also] allow[ing] sacrilegious disputes to be freely indulged in.”

    Thus Augustine complained about freedom being allowed to heretics to speak their minds or write their works.

    St. Augustine, in Epistle 62, “We warn that a heretic is to be avoided, lest he deceive those who are infirm or inexperienced, to such an extent that we have not denied that he should be corrected by any means possible and so on.”

    Augustine, in Book II of his Retractions, Chapter 5, and in Epistles 48 and 50, retracts what he had once thought, that heretics should not be forced to believe, and proves at length that it is very useful; he always rules out the punishment of death, not because he thought they did not deserve this, but both because he judged that this was unbecoming the gentleness of the Church and also because no imperial law was in existence, by which heretics were sentenced to death; for the Law, “Quicumque, C. de hereticis,” was promulgated a little after the death of Augustine.

    That, however, Augustine judged it to be just, if heretics were put to death, is beyond question; for, in Book I, in opposition to the letter of Parmenianus, in Chapter 7, he demonstrates that if the Donatists were punished by death, they would be justly so punished. And in tract 11, on John: “They kill souls, he says, and are afflicted in the body, those who bring about eternal deaths complain that they suffer temporal deaths,” by which he says they falsely complain that they are killed by Emperors; nevertheless, even if this were true, they would be complaining unjustly. Finally, in his Letter 50, to Boniface, he writes that the Church does not want any heretic to be put to death: nevertheless, as the House of David could not enjoy peace unless Absalom were done away with and David was consoled by the peace of his realm in his grief over the death of his son: so when, from the laws of Emperors against heretics, the deaths of some follow, the sorrow of the maternal heart of the Church is assuaged by the deliverance of a multitude of people.

    St. Augustine replies (in Letter 50 to Boniface, and elsewhere) that the Apostles never did that [called upon the secular arm to persecute heretics], because then there was no Christian Ruler they could call upon. For, at that time, the words of the Psalm (II, 2 & 10) were verified: “The kings of the earth, and the princes conspire together against the Lord and against His anointed.” (v. 2) And after the time of Constantine, that began to be verified which is written later in the same Psalm: “And now, O kings, give heed; take warning, you rulers of the earth: Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice before Him; with trembling pay homage to him…” (vs. 10-12) Soon the Church implored the help of the secular arm.

    AUGUSTINE ALSO TAUGHT CHRISTIANS THESE THINGS

    On the Necessity of Believing in What the Scriptures Say Without Hesitation
    “…in matters that pass beyond the scope of the physical senses, which we have not settled by our own understanding, and cannot–here we must believe, without hesitation, the witness of those men by whom the Scriptures (rightly called divine) were composed, men who were divinely aided in their senses and their minds…”

    On the Necessity of Believing that Vast Waters Lie Above the Firmament
    “Whatever the nature of the waters [above the firmament], we must believe in them, for the authority of Scripture is greater than the capacity of man’s mind.”

    On “Curiosity”
    “There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity. It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which man should not wish to learn.”
    –Augustine, Confessions

    On the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World’s Past
    Augustine devoted a whole chapter of The City of God to “the falseness of the history which allots many thousand years to the world’s past”

    On the Absurdity of Believing that Men Exist on the Other Side of the Immense Expanse of Ocean
    “Scripture, which confirms the truth of its historical statements by the accomplishment of its prophecies, teaches not falsehood; and it is too absurd to say that some men might have set sail from this side and, traversing the immense expanse of ocean, have propagated there a race of human beings descended from that one first man.”

    On The Damnation of Infants That Die Without Having Been Baptized
    “From the power of the devil… infants are delivered when they are baptized; and whosoever denies this, is convicted by the truth of the Church’s very sacraments, which no heretical novelty in the Church of Christ is permitted to destroy or change, so long as the Divine Head rules and helps the entire body which He owns–small as well as great. It is true, then, and in no way false, that the devil’s power is exorcised in infants.”

    On the Knowledge of the Saints Concerning What Is Going on in the Outer Darkness
    “They who shall enter into [the] joy [of the Lord] shall know what is going on outside in the outer darkness… The saints’… knowledge, which shall be great, shall keep them acquainted… with the eternal sufferings of the lost.”

    On How Fire Can Burn Forever Yet Not Consume a Body
    “I have already sufficiently made out that animals can live in the fire, in burning without being consumed, in pain without dying, by a miracle of the most omnipotent Creator.”

    On the Endlessness of God’s Torments
    “There are very many in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments.” [need to verify this one, the rest of the quotations can be found via a google search]

    On the Location of Hell
    “It seems to me that in the twelfth book I ought to have taught that hell is under the earth rather than to give a reason why it is under the earth, since it is believed to or said to be earth, as if it were not so.” [Augustine, Retractations, written near his life’s end https://encrypted.google.com/books?id=qXXYAAAAMAAJ&focus=searchwithinvolume&q=hell ]

    On How the Sexual Organs Functioned in Eden
    “In Eden, it would have been possible to beget offspring without foul lust. The sexual organs would have been stimulated into necessary activity by will-power alone, just as the will controls other organs.”

    On Women
    “. . . the woman together with her own husband is the image of God, so that that whole substance may be one image; but when she is referred separately to her quality of help-meet, which regards the woman herself alone, then she is not the image of God; but as regards the man alone, he is the image of God as fully and completely as when the woman too is joined with him in one.” On the Trinity Book 12 7.10

    On Abstinence Being More Important Than the Continuance of the Human Race
    “In the first times, it was the duty to use marriage… chiefly for the propagation of the human race. But now, in order to enter upon holy and pure fellowship… they who wish to contract marriage for the sake of children, are to be admonished, that they use rather the larger good of continence. But I am aware of some that murmur, “What if all men should abstain from all sexual intercourse, whence will the human race exist?” Would that all would… Much more speedily would the City of God be filled, and the end of the world hastened.”

    On the Wickedness of Giving Present to Friends
    MacMullen notes the joyous pagan festivals, including feasts, dancing, poetry orations and their long persistence despite the opposition of the bishops (Augustine tried to argue that giving friends presents was wicked).
    –See, Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

    On the Contempt Augustine and other Church Fathers had for Ancient Skeptical Thinking
    MacMullen points out the contempt prominent Christians such as Tertullian, Augustine, Lactantius, Ambrose and John Chrysostom had for ancient philosophy. They denounced Plato and Aristotle by name, and mocked the idea of skeptical study and the scientific attitude. Nor did they stop there. They told stories about apparitions over the battlefield, miraculous cures, the ever present existence of demons, people raised to life by Christians, and dragons turned to dust by the sign of the cross.
    –See, Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

    “After Constantine there existed an empire-wide instrument of education: the church. What bishops, even emperors, made plain, and what could be heard in broader terms from every pulpit, was an agreed upon teaching. Every witness, every listener should know the great danger to his soul in Plato’s books, in Aristotle’s, in any of the philosophical corpus handed down from the past. The same danger threatened anyone using his mind according to their manner, with analytical intent, ranging widely for the materials of understanding, and independent of divine imparted teachings… Another factor that arose specifically out of the ongoing conversion of the empire was the doctrine of demonic causation. The belief in the operation of maleficent forces on a large scale had to await Christianity; and it was of course Christianity that was to form the medieval and Byzantine world… Satanic agents were to be seen as the cause not only of wars and rebellions, persecution and heresy, storms at sea and earthquakes on land, but of a host of minor or major personal afflictions. So, in consequence, Christians were forever crossing themselves, whatever new action they set about, and painted crosses on their foreheads too, responding to their leaders’ urging them to do so. It would protect them against all evil.”
    –Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

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