St Augustine and classical education

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Saint Augustine and Classical Education In Saint Augustine’s deeply personal work, Confessions, he shares the story of his life up to his eventual conversion to the Christian faith. His odyssey through life is, at times, one of bitter inner conflict between his intellect and faith. Augustine’s classical education had a profound affect on the way he viewed the world, and eventually had a major affect on the way he approached Christianity. He is definitely an “intellectual” Christian, and viewed many aspects of his faith from this perspective. Augustine’s attitude towards classical literature and thought was at times slightly self-contradictory. It is clear, however, that although he was grateful for the education he was given, it was not necessary to his conversion. At many points throughout his life, his education actually seemed to hinder his flight towards Christianity. Augustine continually incorporated Bible verses and passages into his own writing, artfully blending the Scriptures in with his own views. His attitude toward intellect is best illustrated by this short passage in Corinthians: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength… but God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” -(Corinthians 25-28) Augustine believed that the pursuit of wisdom without recognizing the importance and the power of God was useless. In his view it was a sin for a man to have that much pride and arrogance about his own intellect. Augustine recalled that as a very young man he himself succumbed to excessive pride. He fervently desired the recognition and prestige that came with being an accomplished rhetorician. He “squandered the brains [God] gave [him] on foolish delusions.” (I, 37) Augustine considered his pursuit of worldly wisdom a futile effort at this point in his life because he did not fully understand the meaning behind what he was learning. “ I read and understood by myself all the books that I could find on the so-called liberal arts, for in those days I was a good-for-nothing and a slave to sordid ambitions. But what advantage did I gain from them? I read them with pleasure, but I did not kno... ... middle of paper ... ...p of faith.” He knew then that he had to leave part of his philosophical pursuits behind and commit himself fully to Christ. “For I felt that I was still the captive of my sins, and in my misery I kept crying ‘How long shall I go on saying, “tomorrow, tomorrow”? Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?’” (VIII, 177) Augustine then heard a child say “Take it and read, take it and read,” and he interpreted that as a divine command to pick up the Bible. He read the first section he opened to, Paul, and made the decision to become a celibate and devoted servant of God. Augustine was a rationalist man throughout the work, and yet his most defining moment is one of pure faith. Only after years of personal struggle did Augustine arrive at his own religious revelation. This ultimately made his conversion much more profound. To fully and eloquently express himself and his thoughts was essential to his writings. Clearly, he used his knowledge of rhetoric and the arts to express his views more effectively. His prose is both immaculate and powerful. The result was a masterpiece that greatly affected the growth of early Christianity.
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