Religion Augustine: Divine Grace and Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

In Chapter 5, the great churchman informs us that Water is in fact an apt designation for the Divinity, better than any of the other elements.

Water possess the unique properties of being more moveable than earth (though less movable than air) while at the same time being essential to the creation and sustaining of life, as in the way water must be added to the soil in order for plants to grow.

This signification of matter first conveys its end, that is, that for the sake of which it was made; secondly, its formlessness; thirdly, its service and subjection to the Maker. Therefore, it is first called heaven and earth; for its sake matter was made. Secondly, the earth invisible and without form and darkness over the abyss, that is, the formlessness itself without the light, as a result of which the earth is said to be invisible. Thirdly, water subject to the Spirit for receiving its acquired disposition and forms.

The various descriptions of "Heaven and Earth," "water," and so on, are actually metaphors for an all-encompassing God. Heaven and Earth are not the visible, tangible Heaven and Earth we know today, but an invisible blueprint that exists only within the "mind" of God. It is a sort of emanation, but it also has real substance, and the potential to take on physical form as God so directs. As God both precedes the Creation, and is the Creation, there can be nothing in the universe that is not of God, and which does not conform to His Will. Thus, anything decreed by God is absolute. His creations cannot overturn His laws. Men and women cannot achieve salvation on their own because it is not theirs for the taking. It does not belong to them. Those who are saved only because God permits them to be saved... And for no other reason.

On a very personal level, St. Augustine attributed his own reformation to the intervention of Divine Grace - "thou hast put away from me such wicked and evil deeds. To thy grace I attribute it and to thy mercy, that thou hast melted away my sin as if it were ice."

Augustine had originally led a very dissolute life, and had been attracted to the very Manichaeism that he later condemned. His attribution to Divine Grace of his own transformation and enlightenment shows how strongly he believed that such a change would otherwise have been impossible.

Bemoaning his own sinful condition, he realized that human beings were naturally lured into sin by the pleasures of the flesh, that these same pleasures of the flesh were things of the devil, and that humankind suffered the ultimate penalty for its sinfulness in having to face death, for death was the ultimate sinner:

Thou art righteous, O Lord; but we have sinned and committed iniquities, and have done wickedly. Thy hand has grown heavy upon us, and we are justly delivered over to that ancient sinner, the lord of death. For he persuaded our wills to become like his will, by which he remained not in thy truth. What shall "wretched man" do? "Who shall deliver him from the body of this death," except thy grace through Jesus Christ our Lord; whom thou hast begotten, coeternal with thyself, and didst create in the beginning of thy ways...."

Death, that is, sin can only be avoided in the end through God's Grace. Here, St. Augustine is categorically rejecting the notion that his reformation was occasioned by any other discoveries he might have made or experiences he might have had. Though he read much of the works of the Greek philosophers and discovered their similarity to God's Word, he realized that the two were not the same.

Augustine states this in another way, in Chapter XVIII of Book VII:

Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus," "who is over all, God blessed forever," who came calling and saying, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," and mingling with our fleshly humanity the heavenly food I was unable to receive. For "the Word was made flesh" in order that thy wisdom, by which thou didst create all things, might become milk for our infancy.

Though in this passage, he is speaking of the "Word" of God, the Word is clearly associated with his other ideas about Divine Grace. The Word, the wisdom or inspiration that comes from God, can only proceed directly from Him, or come through his mediator, Jesus Christ, who is at once both human and divine. The illumination that the Word provides is but another emanation of the Godhead, another example of Divine Grace. Once more, Augustine is telling us that we would be completely lost without God's special intercession, his gift of Grace.

In emphasizing Divine Grace above all other things, St. Augustine is also calling attention to another point put forth by Pelagius - that humanity's Free Will plays an important role in its achievement of salvation. Clearly, Augustine disagrees with this proposition, holding firmly to the idea that Free Will is but an illusion. It plays no role whatsoever in the fulfillment of our ultimate destiny. The Saint discussed at length the issues surrounding Free Will in De Libero Arbitrio Voluntatis, a work the title of which commonly translated as "Of the Free Choice of the Will," but which actually means, "Of the Free Judgment of the Will."

The real meaning of the title is enormously significant in that it raises the question of,

In what sense, if any, can choices, decisions, and "practical judgments be regarded as acts (or actions) of will? To act is to "bring something about," and an act or action is the bringing about of something. That which by definition is brought about by an act or action may be called... its "result."

The point is whether or not human beings truly possess freedom of action. If salvation can only be granted by God, then it can be assumed a priori that whatever actions an individual might take that appear to lead toward that salvation are, in fact, preordained, or least somehow guided by the Hand of God. The concept would appear, as well, to bring up the idea of some sort of pre-existing Divine Plan, the fulfillment of which is represented - in terms of salvation - by the saving of some souls, and not others. Pelagius specifically countered this argument with the idea that individuals did indeed possess the Free Will to undertake right actions that would lead, or at least aid in, the achievement of their own salvation.

One especially interesting aspect of the debate concerned the commission of "evil deeds." If one were to believe Augustine, evil acts were as much pre-ordained by God as good ones. Wrote Augustine,

No one has said that man was so made that he could indeed move from justice to sin, and yet could not return from sin to justice; however, to descend into sin, that free will, through which man corrupted himself, was sufficient, whereas to return to justice he needed a physician, since he was sick, he needed a giver of life, since he was dead."

Free Will, or in other words, the free ignoring of God's laws, could cause a person to commit evil acts. One could sin through willfulness. However, much as a sick man or woman could not be cured but with the help of a physician, so too was it impossible for the sinner to find his or her way back to the true path without the aid of Divine intervention, or Grace. Once more, the Doctor of the Church is speaking of holiness as something that can be found only in God. Sin, not being holy, can be found in other places, in other beliefs and philosophies. One does not need God to find these erroneous paths. One simply makes the choice to follow them, and to reap the consequences of that decision. It is as if to say that Truth is self-immanent. One need only be aware of existence, possess the necessary Faith, and everything will follow naturally from that point. God will guide us all, if we only let Him. Yet, he appears to place before us a multitude of temptations - of these Pelagius dealt at length.

To Pelagius, the idea that a choice must exist was obvious. Though the world was filled with temptations to do evil, not every individual chose to undertake such actions. Sin was everywhere, but true sinners were not. One way of looking at these differences in opinion would be, perhaps, to consider the differences in the two men, Pelagius and St. Augustine. Central to St. Augustine's discovery of his true calling and of what he believed to be the true nature of Christianity, was his own prior life of sin. St. Augustine was the classic repentant sinner. Having led a remarkably dissolute…

Sources Used in Document:


Augustine. Augustine of Hippo, Selected Writings. Translated by Clark, Mary T. New York: Paulist Press, 1984.

Augustine. Confessions, Trans. Albert C. Outler, Ph.D, D.D. (1994, orig. pub. 1955).


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