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Augustine: Philosopher and Saint

Augustine: Philosopher and Saint

Professor Phillip Cary Ph.D.
Eastern University
Course No.  611
Course No.  611
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Course Overview

About This Course

12 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

Long before he was declared a saint by the Church, Augustine gained profound influence as both a Church Father and a Christian Platonist philosopher—defending the doctrine of the Trinity, defining the epochal idea of religious grace, delving into the inner relationship between God and soul, and much more.

Today, according to Professor Phillip Cary, Augustine is recognizable even to non-Christians as the most important Christian writer outside of the Bible.

Yet Augustine was also a man—a rhetorician trained in the Roman way whose life and discovery of his calling make for one of the most fascinating stories in the history of religious philosophy.

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Long before he was declared a saint by the Church, Augustine gained profound influence as both a Church Father and a Christian Platonist philosopher—defending the doctrine of the Trinity, defining the epochal idea of religious grace, delving into the inner relationship between God and soul, and much more.

Today, according to Professor Phillip Cary, Augustine is recognizable even to non-Christians as the most important Christian writer outside of the Bible.

Yet Augustine was also a man—a rhetorician trained in the Roman way whose life and discovery of his calling make for one of the most fascinating stories in the history of religious philosophy.

Explore Augustine's Life, Teachings, and Doctrine

This course paints a rich and detailed portrait of the life, works, and ideas of this remarkable figure, whose own search for God has profoundly shaped all of Western Christianity.

You learn what Augustine taught and why he taught it—and how those teachings and doctrines helped shape the Roman Catholic Church.

These lectures are rewarding even if you have no background at all in classical philosophy or Christian theology. This is because Professor Cary, who has taught Villanova's nationally recognized seminars on ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and modern thought, has organized an entirely self-contained course.

Professor Cary (Ph.D. in Philosophy and Religious Studies, Yale University) is a scholar-in-residence at the Templeton Honors College at Eastern University, where he is director of the Philosophy program and teaches a year-long Great Books seminar. He is author of Augustine's Invention of the Modern Self (Oxford University Press).

Professor Cary explains any special religious or philosophical concepts you need to know in order to appreciate Augustine's impact, with real-life examples and analogies that make even the most subtle concepts clear and easy to understand.

You'll gain a sense of what Augustine was saying, how his own experiences led him to say it, and how his thoughts fit into the theological, philosophical, and political worlds that swirled around him.

Who Was Augustine? A Brief Biography

Augustine was born in 354. Early in his life he was inspired by the works of Cicero to devote his life to the pursuit of truth. He started this pursuit as a Rhetorician, then he became a Manichaean, and later a Skeptic.

Ambrose, bishop of Milan, and Augustine's mother, Monica, were among those instrumental in his conversion to Catholic Christianity in 386. In North Africa he founded a small monastic community and in 391 was elected Bishop of Hippo at a time when people still had some say in who would lead their religious community.

From 395 to 430, he served as bishop. He wrote many treatises among which we find the celebrated Confessions, published in 400 as an open letter to his congregation and a prayer to God. His works also include The City of God and On the Trinity.

Many of his writings were directed against heresies, particularly Manichaeism, Donatism, and Pelagianism.

He is noted for founding the Western theological tradition and establishing doctrines of the Trinity and Christology.

The Life, Works, and Significance of Augustine

The course begins with two extremely helpful lectures that help place Augustine in context as both a Church Father (interpreter of the Bible and teacher of Christian doctrine) and philosopher (one who has given us new conceptions of the human heart and its depths).

In Lecture 1 you meet Augustine the Roman Christian, one of the Church Fathers responsible for the transition from Bible stories to actual Christian doctrine, a man writing with the end of the Roman Empire at hand.

In Lecture 2 you also meet Augustine the Christian Platonist and learn the Platonic concepts—including the idea of a non-bodily, eternal mode of being and the way that concept applies to God—which so deeply influenced him and other religious thinkers of the time.

With Augustine's role in—and debt to—these two worlds established, Professor Cary then looks at Augustine's life and legacy in three parts.

Part 1: Augustine's Life

Lectures 3 through 6 are devoted to a study of Augustine's life. You look at the Confessions, his great spiritual autobiography, written when he was a 45-year-old bishop reflecting on the spiritual path of a questing young man of whom the grown Augustine might not always approve.

You examine the Confessions from three angles:

  • The intellectual angle spotlights his passionate search for truth.
  • The emotional angle focuses on the love that drives this search, and the aching sense of loss, grief, and yearning which the Confessions evokes in order to show how love can go wrong.
  • The religious angle explores Augustine's search for truth that leads him to Christ and the Christian life, conceived as a journey toward heaven.

The section on Augustine's life ends with a focus on his career as a Christian writer following the period of his life covered by the Confessions, which culminated in his almost 15-year effort to write the 22 books of The City of God.

Part II: Augustine's Thought

The next series of three lectures explains key concepts of Augustine's thought, all related to his epochal doctrine of grace.

You examine how Augustine relates the human qualities of faith and love to the divine gift of grace (Lecture 7); how his doctrine of grace addresses troublesome issues like the origin of evil, original sin, and predestination (Lecture 8); and how he relates the inward gift of grace to the external side of human life in his teachings about signs, words, sacraments, and the Church (Lecture 9).

Part III: Augustine's Concept of Persons

The final three lectures address Augustine's concept of persons, both human and divine.

You look at Augustine's distinctive conception of the human soul as a private inner world (Lecture 10); then his distinctive way of relating his concept of the soul to the doctrine of the Trinity, which is the orthodox Christian conception of God (Lecture 11); and finally his understanding of God's relationship to specific human communities in history, specifically focusing on The City of God (Lecture 12).

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12 Lectures
  • 1
    Church Father
    This introductory lecture situates Augustine in late antiquity, the historical period between the ancient classical world and the Middle Ages. Augustine is a Church Father, one of the early Christian theologians who established orthodox Christian doctrines and interpretations of the Bible. His lifelong project is to combine key emphases of the Church Fathers about the Trinity and Christ with his philosophical interest in the inner connection between God and the soul. x
  • 2
    Christian Platonist
    Like other Church Fathers, Augustine combines concepts from Christianity and philosophy, especially the philosophy of Platonism. This lecture centers on an extended thought experiment designed to introduce the student to key elements of Platonist thought which were attractive to Augustine, especially the concept of a nonbodily, eternal mode of being, and how that concept applies to God. x
  • 3
    Confessions—The Search for Wisdom
    We begin now to look at Augustine's life as written in his autobiogra­phy, the Confessions. In this lecture we examine the Confessions from the first of three thematic angles, the intellectual angle, where the theme is the philosophical love of wisdom. We follow his intellectual develop­ment from the point at which a book by Cicero sparked his initial inter­est in philosophy, through the long period in which he sought the truth in the Manichaean heresy, up to the time he encoun­ters "the books of the Platonists," which provide him with a key to un­derstanding God but do not give him the strength he needs to get back to the God he has lost by his sin. x
  • 4
    Confessions—Love and Tears
    This lecture examines the Confessions from an emotional angle, looking at its portrait of love and loss and its diagnosis of human grief as a symptom of the soul's wandering far from God. The key focal points from this angle are the character of Augustine's mother, Monica, and the death in Confessions of the unnamed friend. x
  • 5
    Confessions—The Road Home
    In this lecture we look at the Confessions from a religious angle; we focus on how the soul returns to God. We study the role of Christ incarnate (the end of Book 7), the indispensability of the Church (Book 8), the shape of the Christian life (Book 10), the meaning and interpretation of the Scriptures (Book 12), and what Christians really mean by "going to heaven" (Book 13). In particular, Augustine's famous conversion comes under consideration. x
  • 6
    Augustine’s Career as a Christian Writer
    We examine Augustine's life after the period covered in the Confessions. Focusing primarily on his career as a Christian writer, we can divide Augustine's life into three periods. In the early period, up to the writing of Confessions, he works on philosophical issues and on refuting the Manichaeans; in the middle period he focuses on the nature of the Church and its Sacraments, refuting the Donatists; and in the last period of his life he is preoccupied with the doctrine of grace, in refutation of the Pelagians. x
  • 7
    Faith, Love, and Grace
    We begin to examine Augustine's doctrine of grace, his most important contribution to Western thought. In this lecture we examine the key concepts of Faith (and related concepts such as Authority and Understanding) and Love (and related concepts such as Charity, Beauty, and Will) and look at grace as the inner connection between Faith and Love. x
  • 8
    Evil, Free Will, Original Sin, and Predestination
    We continue our examination of Augustine's doctrine of grace by looking at its dark side, the way it deals with evil and sin. Much of what is most troubling about Augustine is found here, close to what is most beautiful. Augustine uses the concept of free will to explain where evil comes from; he uses the concept of Original Sin to explain why we need grace; and near the end of his life he finds that his concept of grace leads him to the concept of predestination. x
  • 9
    Signs and Sacraments
    In this lecture we connect Augustine's doctrine of grace with externals such as words and Sacraments, the Bible, and the rituals of the Church. The overarching concept Augustine uses to explain the value of these external things in a Christian's religious life is the concept of signs. Hence the lecture focuses on Augustine's theory of signs (or semiotics) and its application to the Bible and the Sacraments. x
  • 10
    The Inner Self
    In this lecture we look at what is most original in Augustine's view of human nature, his concept of the self as a private inner space. Augustine's version of the inner self must be distinguished both from its ancient predecessors and from its modern descendants. Unlike others who developed modern versions of the inner self, Augustine believes that in turning inward we can find God. But Augustine does not believe the Soul is divine; hence God is not only within but also above the soul—to find God we must not only enter within ourselves but look above ourselves at something superior to us. x
  • 11
    The Trinity and the Soul
    Having examined Augustine's concept of human persons, we turn now to Augustine's concept of God as three persons yet one God in accordance with the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity. After summarizing Augustine's approach to the Nicene doctrine, we will look at his most distinctive contribution to trinitarian theology, the notion that there are traces (vestigia) of the Trinity that can be discerned in the triadic structure of the soul. x
  • 12
    The City of God
    We look at Augustine's view of how human and divine persons interact in history. This brings us to Augustine's social and political theory, his account of the nature of fallen human society (the "Earthly City"), and the restoration of true human community by God (the "City of God"). From this standpoint we cast a glance over the whole structure of Augustine's thought, note some of its problems, and think a moment about its future. x

Lecture Titles

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Phillip Cary
Ph.D. Phillip Cary
Eastern University

Dr. Phillip Cary is Professor of Philosophy at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, where he is also Scholar-in-Residence at the Templeton Honors College. After receiving his B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis, Professor Cary earned his M.A. in Philosophy and Ph.D. in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Yale University. Professor Cary is a recent winner of the Lindback Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching at Eastern University. He has also taught at Yale University, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Hartford. As the Arthur J. Ennis Post-Doctoral Fellow at Villanova University, he taught the nationally recognized undergraduate Core Humanities seminars on ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and modern thought. As a scholar, Professor Cary's specialty is the thought of Augustine, but he has also published scholarly articles on Luther, the doctrine of the Trinity, and personal knowledge. His most recent books include two on Augustine, Inner Grace and Outward Signs, both published by Oxford University Press in 2008, as well as a commentary on the book of Jonah, also in 2008, published by Brazos Press.

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Reviews

Rated 4.1 out of 5 by 65 reviewers.
Rated 3 out of 5 by Good on Philosophy, Poor in Other Respects Professor Cary is a pleasant and congenial presenter who knows his Augustine. I learned a lot about Augustine’s thought and philosophy from this short course. That said, three things diminished this course for me. First, he did not adequately develop the immense impact his thinking had on the next 1000 years of doctrinal development. In other words, why should we care about what he thought about baptism, the trinity, predestination, etc. if we don’t have an appreciation of the impact these thoughts had on future generations? Second, I felt he was often talking to a Christian audience who already understood what he meant by some things he says in passing. For example, what are “blessed angels”? That is not an important point, but there were many other little things that needed explanation if he is going to mention them. (Not that it matters, but perhaps this can partially be explained by his statement in an interview online that he is a Christian.) I’ve read a lot about Christianity, but I still like a presenter to explain what they mean by the terms they use. Third, and most importantly, often it was not clear when he was talking about what Augustine wrote and thought, and when he was offering his own thoughts on Augustine’s thoughts. I frequently got the two confused. And lastly, though this did not diminish the course for me, but why does the course have the name that it does? He never talks about Augustine being a “saint” in his lectures. March 12, 2014
Rated 2 out of 5 by For Beginners Only The professor is very well-versed in the course material, but I found it to be beneath my level of growth. I've already studied St. Augustine, and was hoping this course would take me to the next level, but failed to deliver. Sometimes the theology was so elementary, I felt like I was listening to a 6th grade Sunday school teacher. If you know nothing about Augustine, this course is good, if you've already studied him, don't buy it. February 5, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by The best course. No any complains whatsoever. Will recomend to anyone to learn the basics on "the Road to God" Clear, focused, great speech. November 4, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by Masterly Introduction Several courses I have completed with TTC covering philosophy, religion and intellectual history have covered St Augustine and his thought albeit briefly- usually in a single lecture. I have been inspired enough to have since read "The Confessions" which was deeply illuminating. My aim in this course was to gain a deeper understanding of the many strands of St Augustine's philosophy who is one of the most important if not the most important intellectual figure in Western Christian thought. This couse from Professor Cary is just ideal in that it covers a lot in just 12 highly focused lectures. The life of St Augustine is explored as are some of his key works #Confessions, City of God and On Christian Doctrine# and his vital contribution to Western Christian thought including the problem of evil#theodicy# as well as original sin. The course guidebook is also excellent; it provides useful summaries of the lectures in pretty good detail and the bibliography is also helpful. This course is now more than 12 years old and if Professor Cary was to produce a revised course #ideally extended to 24 lectures given how important St Augustine is#I would buy it immediately. Highly recommended to anyone seeking an informed overview and a signpost to further avenues of enquiry about this truly great Father of the Church. September 29, 2013
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