“A doctrine for fighting men” – Augustine’s doctrine of Predestination
Understandably, I wanted to share some of that with you, gentle readers. So, here is a bit on Augustine’s doctrine of predestination. Brown situations Augustine’s work on that doctrine in his biography, and in current events. Put briefly, North Africa was in serious trouble. A barbarian host was sweeping down the cost in late 429 and 430 CE, raping and pillaging all that stood in its path. One city that stood in its path was Hippo, and Augustine had the misfortune to watch the enemy host slowly progress through his diocese destroying all he had worked for and even besieging his city. He died (mercifully) of a fever before Hippo was overrun. What does this have to do with his doctrine of predestination?
Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, 406. Emphasis added.
What [folks who followed Augustine’s doctrine] gained was a belief that the world around them was intelligible, even if on a plane that surpassed human reason and strained human feeling; and the certainty that they would remain active and creative. Even if they were merely agents, they were at least the agents of forces which guaranteed achievements greater than their own frail efforts could ever have brought about.Skipping ahead to pp. 409-10.
For Augustine’s doctrine of predestination, as he elaborated it, was a doctrine for fighting men. A monk might waste his leisure worrying about his ultimate identity: to Augustine, such an anxiety was misplaced. A doctrine of predestination divorced from action was inconceivable to him. He had never written to deny freedom, merely to make it more effective in the harsh environment of the fallen world. This world demanded, among other things, unremitting intellectual labour to gain truth, stern rebuke to move men. Augustine, as a bishop, had thrown himself into both activities.
In the early months of 430, Augustine will appear in church to tell panic-stricken crowds what he had already written…: that they would have to ‘persevere’ although love of life was still strong in them. For Augustine had lost none of his capacity to feel. In these few last sermons we realize that the old man’s horror at the evils of existence…was the obverse of his deep-rooted loves: he still knew what it was to love life wholeheartedly, and thus he could convey how much it had cost the martyrs to overcome this love. Like the martyrs, Augustine’s hearers, also, might have to follow in the footsteps of Christ’s Passion. Predestination, an abstract stumbling-block to the sheltered communities of Hadrumetum and Marseilles, as it would be to so many future Christians, had only one meaning for Augustine: it was a doctrine of survival, a fierce insistence that God alone could provide men with an irreducible inner core.