Augustine’s writings and philosophy
Augustine’s writings and philosophy matter today because they mostly criticized the views and perspectives of the Roman civilization, which has many common threads to the modern west. The two things that the Roman people particularly revered were telluric happiness and a balanced, orderly civilization.
The Roman people were by and far humanists, with an optimistic outlook on the ability of man and technology to perfect themselves along with being able to master their ability to manipulate the world around them to map to their contentment, to a degree of vanity and hubris. They saw mankind as something that could be honed and refined. In Roman society the people view monetary gain as a measure of ability to be effective and a marker of integrity. Attributes like fame and pride were praised and viewed as respectable. They believed that an individual possessing aspirations and discernment would succeed in life and accomplish what they set out to attain in life.
Roman society vs Augustine’s philosophy
These were some of the aspects of Roman society that Augustine’s philosophy greatly contrasted. In The City of God Augustine critiqued these facets of Roman society.
The concept of Original Sin was proposed by Augustine, in which he detailed that all of mankind were inherently flawed due to us being descendants of Adam. Augustine’s conclusion led him to the conclusion that our inclination to control was a result of this flaw that we are all subject to, and as such were simply incapable of truly achieving happiness and unity among our species. He believed that ego and pride would supplant the Roman people’s perspective that humanity could be perfected and that they were capable of controlling their surroundings. Augustine saw that people have failed to comprehend who they were as individuals and spent their time chasing after that which they could not attain.
As pessimistic and downtrodden as this perspective that Augustine provided is, it can help to provide succor when faced with the hardships of the world. According to Augustine due to our humanity we are destined to be crooked and incapable of producing perfect works, it’s not mankind’s fault because we are inherently flawed by our descendance from Adam. If we come to sufferance with the human condition, we shouldn’t feel cheated out of something better or that we are being subjected to some sort of cosmic retribution. It is simply part of the existence we experience as a member of the human race.
Augustine’s philosophy and the society hierarchy
A second target of criticism by Augustine’s philosophy was the society hierarchy of the Roman Empire and the pride displayed by its inhabitants. The Roman society viewed itself as a meritocracy, a philosophy which holds that certain things, such as economic goods or power, should be vested in individuals on the basis of talent, effort, and achievement, rather than factors such as sexuality, race, gender, or wealth, which can be likened in many ways to the capitalistic society displayed in modern times. The Empire occupied vast regions of the known world and saw it as their right to do so.
Augustine saw them as being supremely brash and ostentatious. God neither gave or denounced wealth and power. Augustine delineated that which he called the City of Man from what he called the City of God. He proclaimed that the City of God would be place of proper order, where society functioned by convictions and righteousness, but this could not be possessed on Earth. Despite the belief of society that it could be possessed. He diagnosed the entire social order of the Roman civilization as a cluster of both suitable and ill-suited.
Despite the defeatist aspect of his philosophy and arguably very repressed impression that his works impart onto the reader, Augustine does provide a possibly upward outlook on the world for those who have faced misfortune in their life or those who have strived for perfection in their life but are faced with myriads of roadblocks. Even if you are not of a religious persuasion the perspective on the Roman society Augustine provides can produce commiseration for those in the modern west, as they give us a glance into the bitter and grievous light that can often engulf our world.