Friday, August 23, 2013

"We are fallen, broken creatures..."

.... Augustine, he argues, did not turn to Christianity so much because it solved his intellectual and psychological dilemmas, although often it did; he turned to Christianity because it was the first system of thought he had ever encountered that took the puzzles seriously.

Even more than this, it was the first system that was as passionate as he was, as angry as he was, about the radically incomplete, radically broken nature of humans. The abandonment of man, his dislocation from true reality, ought to have been apparent to even the weakest of pagan religions. The spiritual glimpses of the noumenal order that even half-baked religions like Manicheism sometimes manage ought not to have made people happy, with a little brightening of the usually dark, often painful, ordinary life. They ought to have made people furious—as furious as the young Augustine—at the darkness and pain of ordinary existence.

How else are we to understand the power with which he turned, while bishop of Hippo and the leading Christian writer in the Latin West, against Pelagius and his disciples? When the Pelagians attempted to weaken the apprehension many felt toward the effects of the Fall, they were not merely getting a theological point wrong; they were undermining the very reason that Christianity was necessary, the very reason Augustine had become a Christian. And so with the Donatists, too, against whom Augustine would also turn his anger. As rigorists who insisted that the church was a congregation of saints and not sinners, the Donatists were not just making small mistakes about ecclesiology; in Augustine’s view, they were also denying the deep reality of sin in the world—sin that needed Christian redemption. Against the Pelagians, Augustine took a sterner, possibly less accommodating position; against the Donatists, he took a sweeter, obviously more accommodating position. But in both cases, the origin was a sure grasp of what he knew to be the central fact of the human condition: We are fallen, broken creatures, and the world is not a kindly place for us. .... [more]