Augustine: Philosopher and Saint

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

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
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 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

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Your professor

Phillip Cary

About Your Professor

Phillip Cary, Ph.D.
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...
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Reviews

Augustine: Philosopher and Saint is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 89.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not my first choice of course I have thoroughly enjoyed the majority of course I have listened to, but this was one of the very few that I have found to be poor. Lectures were drawn out and repetitive and concepts poorly explained. A commitment to a philosophy of faith is needed to appreciate this course.
Date published: 2019-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I’m so glad I got it I’ve had a heater skelter approach to great spiritual thought because I really want to have whatever it’s saying be deeply meaningful to me. I’m smart enough to understand but I need to feel there’s somebody really saying it, I need to catch the inspiration. This professor provides the bridge between Augustine’s writings and my desires.
Date published: 2019-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Meet Doctor Orthodox! Okay, Augustine (354 – 430 AD) of Hippo in Roman North Africa wasn’t literally a “doctor” in the sense of having a university degree, because there were no universities yet, but he was a “doctor” in the sense of a teacher of proper Christian doctrine for the Roman Catholic Church. His early life is an example of what happens when a brilliant child is raised by an overly domineering mother. Monica was a pious Christian, so when her son rebelled, he turned to Manicheanism and then to Neoplatonism. Only after he hit his thirties did he “come home to momma” and accept baptism as a Christian. At the same time Monica wanted her son to live a worldly life suitable for an aristocrat--to learn rhetoric, marry a rich girl and to enter a political career. He did like rhetoric and dutifully let mom worry about his marriage plans while he settled down with a concubine and fathered a son. He dumped his concubine when the marriage seemed about to happen, took another one when the marriage had to be postponed, and gave up women altogether when he converted. Desiring to spend the rest of his life studying and writing in a monastery, he became bishop of Hippo at the pleading of the African clergy. Despite his episcopal duties, Augustine became a prolific writer, and the West’s leading authority on Church authority, original sin, grace, and the place of believing Christians in a sinful world. He did not simply grow these ideas out of his own head, of course, but developed them against heretical and pagan adversaries. The Donatists in North Africa kept apart from the imperially-backed Church because the latter’s clergy stood in a chain of ordination from priests who surrendered their Bibles to the authorities during Diocletian’s persecution. Such clergy, said the Donatists, could not perform valid baptisms. Wrong, said Augustine. Clergy need not be spiritually pure to perform valid sacraments. Furthermore, the state could properly suppress such erroneous teachings, said Augustine, by imposing fines and confiscating property. In Britain the followers of Pelagius claimed that Christians could achieve salvation by living sinless lives. No, said Augustine. A sinless life is impossible because we are all born tainted by Adam’s disobedience (the original sin), so we achieve salvation only by the grace of God. Without grace, even a newborn baby deserves damnation. After Rome’s sacking by the Visigoths in 410, a few remaining pagans cried that this was punishment for the city having abandoned its old gods. Incorrect, said Augustine. An earthly city like Rome was a community formed to pursue earthly happiness through domination of others or other impure means; it was not eternal. Only the City of God, the community bound together by eternal love of God, can survive all misfortunes. Augustine was embraced by the Church during and after his death, but his predestination idea was not. In predestination all-knowing and all-powerful God has already foreseen and decided who will receive grace and who will not, who will be saved and who will be damned, even before the person in question has been born. Unfortunately, this notion implied that even the Church was helpless to bestow salvation. How was it supposed to demand tithes and offerings if it could promise nothing in return? Better to ignore that bit! Only proud John Calvin and his followers found predestination encouraging. As for the course, Professor Cary does a good job explaining Augustine’s ideas. I wish he had spent more time on the City of God, which receives only one lecture compared to three for the Confessions, a shorter book. Fortunately, each has its own course if you want more detail. The guidebook is rather threadbare, but it includes useful citations for those who want to look up Augustine’s ideas in the relevant works.
Date published: 2019-03-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good intro to Augustine This was a good course. Prof. Carey is a good speaker who obviously loves his subject and knows it extremely well. I did audio and the sound quality was good. I hadn't appreciated Augustine's centrality in the development of Christian doctrine. This definitely brought that home. You could do full courses on City of God or Confessions, but this was a nice intro. I didn't do the reading. I'm sure it would have been better if I had. At times I felt a little at sea, but never for long. And usually when I listened a second time, I got what he was driving at. Some of the concepts are quite abstract and difficult, but Prof. Carey did an excellent job of tying together the Christian and Platonist/Neoplatonist currents in Augustine's thinking.
Date published: 2018-10-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Little Disappointing I got this course as a result of Prof. Cary's superb explanation of Since Prof. Cary had written Martin Luther's theology (and his connection to Augustine) in another of the Great Courses. I thought that, as an expert on Augustine, his lectures would make Augustine's vast philosophy comprehensible. But I found it to be more an apology (modern usage) than the explanation I had hoped for.
Date published: 2018-06-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Philosophy encounters Christianity Interesting topic, great presenter. A little bit "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin". Phillip Cary is the best.
Date published: 2018-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Accessible and Excellent As a layman, I have read some of St. Augustine's works so some of the material Dr. Cary covered in his lectures was familiar. He clearly has a tremendous grasp of Augustine's voluminous works, as well as a full appreciation of Christian faith. The lectures are clear and accessible, and cover works that I am not likely to tackle.
Date published: 2018-02-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from First steps with a giant of theology & philosophy When I sit down to write a TGC review, I usually read over what others have already written, especially those who gave a course a low rating. The critics of this course seem to have a few major beefs: that the professor takes theology seriously, that the course isn’t deep enough, and that it doesn’t include enough bad things about Augustine. I don’t see those things as negatives in a course like this. First of all, Prof. Cary is a student of theology and is not going to treat Christian doctrine as he might treat Greek mythology. If that bothers you, don’t take the course. As far as the “depth” of the course goes: what do you expect from a 12-part series? Augustine wrote dozens of volumes of philosophy and theology; this course provides an introduction so you can choose which of his writings you might want to study further. And as far as not delving enough into Augustine’s less savory views: the folks who demand that kind of study are those raised on Howard Zinn and other historians who think it is their duty to throw down every historical figure from his or her pedestal. Prof. Cary focuses on some of the key events in Augustine’s life, and the major subjects he wrote about. He does mention some of the troublesome writings, but doesn’t dwell on them. I took the audio version of this course, which was fine. I took Prof. Cary’s “Luther” course a few years ago on video and found it a bit tiresome (think “talking head”). But with audio only, it was easier for me to focus on the ideas and not be distracted by the static visuals. As with other TGC philosophy offerings, I would not recommend this to the casual listener.
Date published: 2017-08-06
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