Posted by Zia H. Shah MD - Twitter: @ZiahShah1
Augustine of Hippo ( /ɒˈɡʌstɨn/ or /ˈɔːɡəstɪn/; Latin: Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis; November 13, 354 – August 28, 430), also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, St. Augustin, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was bishop of Hippo Regius (present-day Annaba, Algeria). He was a Latin philosopher and theologian from the Africa Province of the Roman Empire and is generally considered as one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all times. His writings were very influential in the development of Western Christianity.
According to his contemporary Jerome, Augustine “established anew the ancient Faith.” In his early years he was heavily influenced by Manichaeism and afterward by the Neo-Platonism of Plotinus. After his conversion to Christianity and his baptism in 387, Augustine developed his own approach to philosophy and theology, accommodating a variety of methods and different perspectives. He believed that the grace of Christ was indispensable to human freedom, and he framed the concepts of original sin and just war.
When the Western Roman Empire was starting to disintegrate, Augustine developed the concept of the Catholic Church as a spiritual City of God (in a book of the same name), distinct from the material Earthly City. His thoughts profoundly influenced the medieval worldview. Augustine’s City of God was closely identified with the Church, the community that worshiped the Trinity.
In the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, he is a saint and pre-eminent Doctor of the Church, and the patron of the Augustinians; his memorial is celebrated 28 August, the day of his death. He is the patron saint of brewers, printers, theologians, the alleviation of sore eyes, and a number of cities and dioceses. Many Protestants, especially Calvinists, consider him to be one of the theological fathers of the Protestant Reformation due to his teaching on salvation and divine grace. In the Eastern Orthodox Church he is also considered a saint, his feast day being celebrated on 15 June. He carries the additional title of Blessed. Among the Orthodox, he is called “Blessed Augustine” or “St. Augustine the Blessed”.
If we cleanse St. Augustine of his obsession with Jesus, may peace be on him, Original Sin and Trinity, he almost sounds like a Muslim saint or mystic. To evaluate him from a Muslim perspective, we should also consider the century that he lived in. He inherited all the corruptions of Nicene creed and lived in an era, two to three centuries before the sublime teaching of Unity of God and personal responsibility, in Islam. No doubt, there were Unitarian Christians, but, Arianism had been labelled as a heresy and struggles between Unitarianism and Trinitarianism during the third and the fourth century of the common era would a separate detailed study. So, here, I am collecting a few of Augustine’s quotes, which could bracket him with Rumi or any of the Muslim mystics or poets. This should help bring the Muslim and the Christian thoughts closer. For example, he wrote:
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
All the wonderful spiritual ideas are indeed contained in the Holy Quran. Augustine’s above quote is perfectly in line with the following two verses of the Holy Quran, “‘Those who believe, and whose hearts find comfort in the remembrance of Allah. Aye! it is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts can find comfort; ‘Those who believe and do good works — happiness shall be theirs, and an excellent place of return.’” (Al Quran 13:29-30) Let us continue with our collection of Augustine’s quotes:
The good man, though a slave, is free; the wicked, though he reigns, is a slave, and not the slave of a single man, but — what is worse — the slave of as many masters as he has vices.
To wisdom belongs the intellectual apprehension of things eternal; to knowledge, the rational apprehension of things temporal.
Love the sinner and hate the sin.
Wherefore, though good and bad men suffer alike, we must not suppose that there is no difference between the men themselves, because there is no difference in what they both suffer. For even in the likeness of the sufferings, there remains an unlikeness in the sufferers; and though exposed to the same anguish, virtue and vice are not the same thing. For as the same fire causes gold to glow brightly, and chaff to smoke; and under the same flail the straw is beaten small, while the grain is cleansed; and as the lees are not mixed with the oil, though squeezed out of the vat by the same pressure, so the same violence of affliction proves, purges, clarifies the good, but damns, ruins, exterminates the wicked. And thus it is that in the same affliction the wicked detest God and blaspheme, while the good pray and praise. So material a difference does it make, not what ills are suffered, but what kind of man suffers them. For, stirred up with the same movement, mud exhales a horrible stench, and ointment emits a fragrant odor.
When I read this quote, I realized that I had read similar teaching in the Holy Quran, “And We (Allah) will try you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives, and fruits; but give glad tidings to the patient, Who, when a misfortune overtakes them, say, ‘Surely, to Allah we belong and to Him shall we return.’ It is these on whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy, and it is these who are rightly guided.” (Al Quran 2:156-158) Let us collect a few more quotes from St. Augustine, to help Muslims and Christians develop common platforms:
Beauty is indeed a good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God dispenses it even to the wicked.
The world is a great book, of which they that never stir from home read only a page.
An unjust law is no law at all.
Already I had learned from thee that because a thing is eloquently expressed it should not be taken to be as necessarily true; nor because it is uttered with stammering lips should it be supposed false. Nor, again, is it necessarily true because rudely uttered, nor untrue because the language is brilliant.
Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.
The Quranic verse that stresses the point in the last quote and much more is, “Indeed, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency, and manifest evil, and wrongful transgression. He admonished you that you may take heed.” (Al Quran 16:91) In this verse the Holy Quran has laid three different levels of doing good. For a detailed commentary of this verse read a book, Absolute Justice, Kindness and Kinship: The Three Creative Principles.
Reference for the quotes