Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Augustine in a Nutshell

Augustine was an extremely influential thinker, writer, philosopher and theologian. He was the man that synthesized many different elements of later Roman society, like classicism, stoicism, rationalism and Christianity. He sometimes called himself a Christian classicist, and saw no problem with combining these terms. And by doing this, he appealed to a wider group of Romans, especially the intellectuals, who finally found Christianity a rational belief that was in concert with their own interests and ideas. Augustine was passionate about God and Christianity, and expressed it with completely new methods. And yet, he went back to the past to find elements that could tie in to Christianity. By doing that, he was able to make Christianity a better fit and more comfortable for the Roman scholars. He was able to remove their objections to Christian theology. The historian Albert Outler stated, “Augustine has played a major role in every intellectual renaissance in the West since the time of Charlemagne. There are Augustinian accents in modern philosophy, and, in a sense, Augustine in the most influential contemporary theologian.”

It is no coincidence that Gregor Mendel (the geneticist) was an Augustinian scholar, as was Thomas Bradwardine the physicist. The Augustinian notion that human reason is powerful, yet susceptible to making mistakes, led to the modern concept of observational science: first, the need to independently confirm observations and replicate them; second, the identification of specific sources of experimental or observational error.