Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The man from Tagaste

This week, I finished my reading of Confessions, by St. Augustine, described as the world's first autobiography.

I will not attempt to write a book review. The book was published 1,600 years ago and I am sure that whole libraries could be filled with the commentaries already printed about it. Plus, the latter half of the book was incomprehensible to me, reminding me forcefully, in paragraph after paragraph, of the severe limitations of my personal I.Q. number.

The logical next step is to read City of God, by the same. Logical, that is, for someone of my ilk who is either completely insane, a sado-masochist or an incorrigible optimist.

Some thoughts came to my mind that I will share:

Tagaste, birthplace of St. Augustine, is in modern-day Algeria. Scarely four centuries after Augustine, that whole region of the world was conquered by Islam and has remained in its orbit ever since. If Augustine had been born there in the seventh century A.D., rather than the third, would his astounding intellect have made history in the service of Islam, rather than Christianity? Would Christianity have gone down a different pathway without an Augustine to guide it from the Roman Empire into the Medieval Era? How different might Islam have been with him as its champion and a shaper of doctrine?

In City of God, Augustine will attack the premise of the day that the oh-so-recent sack of Rome (410 A.D., by Alaric, an event of huge pyschological impact, even though Rome's glory days were long gone and the heart of the Empire was now far east) was the fault of the Christian faith that the Empire had adopted.

It is not so well-known that the "barbarian Germans" who trashed the Eternal City, were in fact Christians. They were Arian Christians, believing that the Son was not equal to the Father. Arian (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH ARYAN) and so-called orthodox Christianity waged war for centuries against each other for the title of true Christianity. The reach of Arianism extended all the way into China before it finally began to lose the battle.

I don't know everything about Augustine, obviously. I wonder how much time he spent in the contest between Catholicism and Arianism. I know he spilled quite a bit of ink attacking the Gnostic sect, Manicheism, that had once held his allegiance. If he had trained his cerebral guns on Arianism instead of Manicheism, would Christianity have been different?

Some historians consider Islam to be a sort of hybrid Christianity. After all, the faith accepts the New Testament and accepts Jesus as a prophet. However, anyone who has read the Quran, realizes early on that Islam fervently rejects the notion that God could ever have a son, let alone that such a son could be His equal.

Did Arianism help pave the way for Islam?

These are just a few of the questions now banging around in my mostly empty head.


Anonymous said...

All very interesting questions from an intellectual point of view but perhaps the most important questions ought to be a) whether Christ was a liar, a madman or the Son of God? and b) what does that mean for our lives.

Eastcoastdweller said...

Very true, LGS. But, playing devil's advocate, one could also ponder as to whether someone simply put statements about being the Son of God, etc., into the mouth of a lucid, non-insane, truthful, historical Jewish figure named Jesus. I.e., added them into the Gospel accounts.

But then that leads to the question: Why would anyone do that? Nobody got rich or powerful from early Christianity. Most of its adherents were killed.

Further, the difference between the pre-resurrection attitudes and behaviors of the disciples, vs. what followed, is quite striking, quite indicative of a major event, and perhaps validation for its veracity. Not something easily dreamed up by some fiction writer.

But returning to the devil's advocate element, what do we make of a certain historical figure who claimed to have been visited by the Angel Gabriel, who revealed a book in which Christ is emphatically said NOT to be the Son of God? Was he a liar, madman or the Prophet he claimed to be?