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January 18, 2021 12:01 am
After Jesus and the Apostles, perhaps no one in the first thousand years of church history had such a formative influence on Christian thinking as Augustine. Today, R.C. Sproul introduces us to this intellectual giant.
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In the fourth century debate emerged over the very foundations of knowledge. Some said that we really can't know anything. We will learn how to combat ideas like that next on Renewing Your Mind.
Culture changes constantly witnessing a seismic shift today what was considered to be sin just a few years ago is now wanted is virtue that always seems to boil down to ideas. That's why Dr. RC Sproul taught a comprehensive series called the consequences of ideas today were going to begin our study the history of philosophy and a brief overview of Aurelius Augustine who was known to us, more commonly assign the gospel and there were some people making the name of the city in Florida: St. Augustine is been said of Augustine that he is the greatest theologian, at least of the first millennium of Christian history, if not in the entire history of the church, but he distinguished himself not only for his work in theology, but also in the realm of philosophy and certainly it would not be an overstatement to say that no one in the first thousand years of church history had such a formative influence on Christian thinking, as this man did and part of the thing that is so important an understanding Augustine is that he didn't have the advantage as Aquinas did, and later Luther and Calvin and Edwards did of having had unaccustomed to go before them. He was on his own, more or less. He was the pioneering intellectual giant of the early Christian centuries.
We also see that in Augustine. He, perhaps more than any single figure Dave definition to the so to rheology or the doctrines of salvation that define historic reformed theology in Protestantism, so the Protestants all claim Augustine as their father while at the same time. His definition of the nature and function of the church that is his development of ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church has had a tremendous impact on the development of Roman Catholic ecclesiology so that the Roman church also claims Augustine for their own much of the debate in the 16th century. During the Reformation was a debate about where Augustine fit in the whole scheme of things of that time. Now Augustine was born in the fourth century, the middle fourth century.
In the year 354 and died in the year 430 and during the course of his life he was engaged in many, many theological and philosophical controversies as a young man before he became a Christian he went through various flirtations and involvement with alternate systems of thought for a while. He joined the Manichaean movement and then became very much engaged with Neoplatonic philosophy, which he then rejected and spent much of his life offering a critique against Neoplatonism, though students of Augustine. To this day sometimes criticized Augustine for thinking that he never really completely rid himself of some of the rudimentary ideas that were found in the very system with which he was contending non-addition to the philosophical controversies he was engaged and he was engaged also in many theological controversies in the two most important of which are the so-called Donatist controversy which was a controversy regarding the legitimacy of baptism that have been performed by heretics or lapsed clergymen, and so on. But even more important was his controversy with the British monk Pelagius and so we have that historic so-called palladium controversy in which the doctrines of grace were at the center.
In fact, Augustine's emphasis on the grace of God in redemption was so strong that he is been called historically by the Roman Catholic Church. The Dr. Graziano that is the doctor of grace, but our basic concern here is not with his theological contributions, of which there are many, and they are vastly important, but where he fits in the history of philosophical investigation.
Now one of the most important things that he was concerned about was the question of epistemology and of the problem of epistemology that had been developed by Neoplatonic thinkers and Augustine was facing a revival of skepticism in his own day, and that skepticism really was two-pronged. On the one hand, there was a widespread skepticism against the reliability of the senses or the reliability of sense perception in order to gain any knowledge, and also there were those skeptics who were completely skeptical about our ability to achieve truth at all, and Augustine encountered these people by saying that even the skeptic who is completely skeptical has to admit to certain truths. If he says that no truth is possible, then he's already committed himself to the discovery that one truth is discoverable, namely the truth that there is no truth discoverable near the same kind of language in our culture today and popular armchair philosophy where people say there are no absolutes, except of course for the absolute that there are absolutely no absolutes. So Augustine did that sort of thing of turning the skeptics on their ears and pointed out that even in their skepticism.
They couldn't escape one principle of epistemology, namely the law of contradiction, because they depended upon the law of contradiction for their skepticism and if one is going to reason at all. They are dependent upon rational principles and this was one of the points that he tried to make, but his major concern was how we can avoid skepticism and rise to certainty because the whole issue of philosophical certainty has been one of the things that is preoccupied with theoretical thinkers of Western history. Can we be sure of anything and of course one of the first targets of the question of certainty is sense perception and this will be a problem that will continue and philosophical inquiry up to our present day, and the fundamental problem with sense perception is that we already are aware that our senses are not perfect, that we can have distorted perceptions of external reality. And since it's possible for us to have a distorted view of the world around us.
It makes basing truths or basing certainty in any way upon our sense perceptions. Something of a serious philosophical problem now, Augustine was not ready to put sense perception at the highest level of certitude by any means, but nor was he prepared to simply jettison sense perception as a useless enterprise. He understood something fundamental to our humanity, and that is that our only transition. Our only link to the world, apart from our own interior minds and our own thinking is our body. Our bodies are the links that we have with the external world. I have no way to get in touch with the external world except by either saying it, hearing it, facing it, touching it, smelling it and so I am dependent upon my senses to have any information coming to me from outside of the interior chambers of my own mind. Now if that vehicle of knowledge is completely untrustworthy. Then of course I have no way of knowing for sure about anything outside of my own thinking.
So Augustine took a close look at that problem of sense perception.
One of his famous illustrations was the illustration that was common to people in the ancient world, and one that I think all of us have experienced at one time or another.
If you've ever been in a rowboat and you put the order in the water and you look from the perspective of sitting there in the rowboat you look at the door and of course you can see the handle of the war until it goes into the water.
But if the sky is bright and the water is clear enough you can then see further down into the water and see the end of the war, but from your vantage point it looks like once the war hits the water it bends you recall that kind of sensation where from the vantage point of being out of the water. You put the order in the water from where you're sitting. You look and the blade of the ore is bent away from so looking at that you would say well I have a bent or in my is the or really bent or is this an illusion caused by the water in the light and all of that. Well, if it is an illusion. And if such allusions are part of our daily experience of perception. How do we know that all of our perceptions are not allusions well, Augustine made a very simple distinction here, but it's one that's very important not just to the theoretical level, but a practical level, he said well I may be wrong about what the war is actually doing, but I still can be confident that I am perceiving the or as being bent. That is the content of my perception may not be perfectly accurate but I can still know that I'm having the perception and that I'm perceiving that the or is bent again. That may seem like an insignificant thing, but so often. For example, we in the clergy have to moderate disputes between people or an argument between a husband and a wife and you get into these discussions were you here, he says, and she says, and there's a difference of opinion as to what transpired between them or what actually happened and I know when I get into those positions which are not very enviable position stability to play the moderator incest disputes to say okay we don't just have one question here. We are arguing about what happened or about what was said and maybe we don't have any record of what was said in terms of the tape of it and it's your word against his or so on but we know this, that something was said and you differ as to what was said.
So that's one problem that we have to get at what was said is part of the actual reality. But that's not the only thing you're dealing with your also dealing with the perception of the reality. I may say to you, I don't believe that's what you said.
I may be lying about that but I may actually have an error in my memory or whatever that I actually believe that you said something different from what you say that you set so that my perception of what happened differs from yours. Now some people the relativists come back and say well that's the only truth there is the truth of perception, some so something can be and not be at the same time the same relationship if you said that it didn't rain and I believe it did rain while it's true that both rained and it didn't rain at the same time in the same relation no.
It either rained or it didn't rain but what is both true here and in this case is you believed that it rained. I don't believe that it right so we both know we have different perceptions. The content of the perception is part of the reality that is let's say that the reality is reality. Acts objectively and we disagree as to what that reality is we have why and we have see through different perceptions of acts now that there are two different perceptions are part of the reality. And that's the second aspect that we have to deal with in debate and in disputes.
But then there's 1/3 element that's always important to human relationships, and that's how we feel about the perception so you dealing with two people are angry with each other. As I got three realities what happened is the first one the second was what you perceive to have happened in the third one is how you feel about what you perceived to happen so it becomes very complicated.
Now Augustine is probing this sort of thing and he says, a man who has just come out of the shower and steps into an air-conditioned room says oh it's cold in here where the other man who has stepped off an iceberg walks into the room and says it's warm in here.
Well, is it warm or is it cold we don't perceive color the same you like tomatoes I don't like tomatoes, can we agree the tomatoes taste good, although I don't suit my case, they do suit your tastes, and even though we may not be able to agree on the objectivity of the taste or of the color or of the degree of heat or coldness, we can still have awareness of our perception. So Augustine is trying to avoid full skepticism and to reconstruct we will see later in the history of philosophy.
The important assumption of the basic reliability of sense perception, without which, as I said, you have no access to the external world, but Augustine did not rest with a sense perception because he recognized that there was a difference in terms of the level of certainty that can be achieved between sensory experience and what we might call today. The formal level of knowledge, or rational troops or to make it simple mathematical truths we can be certain that three and three are six and they will always be six and they have always been six were not talking about three apples and three apples were talking about the formal concept of the relationship between the number three as it is added to another number three and to the sum of the two which is six which is simply a form of symbolic logic. When we reduce mathematics to that point.
So following Plato in his theory of forms and so on. Augustine agreed that there is a higher kind of certainty that comes from the mind or the soul from rational truths, but he was by no means a simple rationalist in the sense that he thought that the only truth that could be learned would be that truth which was deduced by naked human reason, rather the highest level of certainty. He was concerned defined not as an abstract philosophical goal. Augustine was very much concerned about human happiness but not in the level that was found among the Stoics in the Epicureans who were just looking for philosophical peace of mind, but really what Augustine was searching for was the supreme happiness of the soul that is found in the attitude of beatific happiness and I put quotes around the word happiness when I talk about Augustine because we have such a cheap use of the term happy. We thought about happiness is a warm puppy or happiness is making a birdie on the green none of her Augustine the ultimate happiness is a knowledge of God and that more than anything else was what he was searching to discover that in the process as an apologist.
He worked out certain arguments for the existence of God. But what he was basically saying was this that in the first instance if the mind recognizes that certain truths are objective necessary and eternal such as the truths of mathematics such as the truths of logic. The formal truths of which I was speaking a moment ago that there must be according to Augustine an immediate recognition that there has to be some foundation for these eternal truths, there has to be some source of it and he of course believed as a matter of faith. At this point that the ultimate source for truth and for all eternal truth is an eternal being who eternally thinks his perfect ideas. I can see the little touch of relationship peer to Plato and his theory of ideas, but he says that if any truth is eternal, such as the truth tone to her for 336 but that implies a knowledge of God. That doesn't mean that that gives you a personal relationship with God, but rather we get in touch with the content of God's own thoughts. That is for Augustine. You can deny God religiously, but you can't deny them philosophically if you allow for eternal truths because by getting in touch with eternal truth you're getting in touch with eternal mind. You may be hostile to that mind you may be unreconciled to that mind but you are dealing with that mind as long as you are dealing with formal truths again. Augustine is also important for calling. God, the great illuminator who he use the analogy is justice light of some sort, sunlight or whatever is necessary for us to be able to perceive things in the external world.
If I'm cast in the pitch darkness. I can't perceive anything with my eyes without the added extra benefit of the light. So, for Augustine, the mind can know nothing except insofar as God himself functions as the great illuminator once he gets to his concept of God, he turns his guns with a vengeance on Neoplatonist because part of the problem with the Neoplatonist and other Greek philosophers was that they saw the world as a necessary extension of the being of God denying the free voluntary work of creation by God and leaving them caught up somehow in some or other form of panties and so it was Augustine who really developed the Christian concept of creation ex knee hello creation ex knee hello but God creates the universe freely and voluntarily out of nothing. What he means by that is not to violate the cardinal scientific rule. Ask Neil O'Neill fit out of nothing, nothing comes. It doesn't mean to suggest that there was some nothing that God then shaped into something but he's talking about the unique power of God to bring something into being that previously did not exist and he alone has the power of being. To do that and the way in which he does it. According to Augustine is through what he calls the divine imperative for the divine fiat. In this case Fiat is not a little car in Italy, but it is the command that God has the power to say therapy and by virtue of the sheer creative power of this one. Who is the eternal source of all being that he can bring something into being previously was not stockers he scroll helping us appreciate the profound impact of the fourth century theologian, Augustine's RC pointed out today. Augustine didn't have the advantage of having an Augustine look back to. He was truly a giant in terms of his thinking this is a message from Dr. scroll series. The consequences of ideas in 35 messages.
RC follows the movement of Western philosophy. Throughout history, and he shows us how those ideas have shaped our culture today would like for you to have the full series. It's a nine DVD set in for your donation of any amount will be glad to send it your way. You can reach us at 800-435-4343. You can also make a request online at Renewing Your Mind.work.
If you're a Sunday school teacher or small group leader. This is an excellent resource and perhaps you are teaching your teenage children at home are offered today includes a bonus 10th disc where you'll find a digital study guide for the series a great help to you and your students. The series is our way of saying thank you, when you donate to locator ministries. Our number again is 800-435-4343 or if it's easier you can give your gift and request the series at Renewing Your Mind.word Jesus tells us in Scripture that we are to have a childlike faith.
Does that mean we shouldn't study philosophy, childlike faith has come to mean too many people today a childish faith. This I don't have to think about the content of my faith. I'm just going to keep it simple. Not that point we sin because New Testament commands us that we are to be babes and evil, but in understanding your to be adults will continue our study of philosophy tomorrow and we hope you'll join us for Renewing Your Mind