Augustine of Hippo

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The oldest known depiction of Augustine (Lateranbasilica, 6th  century)
Sandro Botticelli, Augustine at a writing desk, c. 1480, Florence

Augustine of Hippo, also called Augustine of Thagaste, Saint Augustine or incorrectly Aurelius Augustinus (* 13 November 354 in Thagaste, Numidia, today Souk Ahras in Algeria; † 28 August 430 in Hippo Regius in Numidia, today Annaba in Algeria) was a Christian philosopher and one of the four Latin Doctors of the Church of Late Antiquity.


Augustine's mother Monica was a Christian, his father Patricius, a small landowner, was baptised only shortly before his death in 372. Augustine was brought up as a Christian by his mother, but she did not have him baptised, as infant baptism was not yet common at that time. Augustine went to school in Thagaste until 370 and studied rhetoric in Carthage from 371. In 372, his partner, with whom he lived in celibacy, gave birth to their son Adeodatus ("the one given by God").

In 373, Augustine first turned to Manichaeism and worked as a rhetor in Thagaste from 375, later in Carthage, Rome and Milan and, as he confessed in his Confessiones, lived a dissolute lifestyle. In 380, Theodosius I proclaimed Christianity as the state religion. In 383, Augustine's encounter with the Manichean bishop Faustus of Mileve was disappointing. In 384 Augustine was called to Milan as a teacher of rhetoric. There he became acquainted with Platonic biblical interpretation through Bishop Ambrose of Milan. At the insistence of his mother, who had arranged an engagement with a Christian girl from a wealthy family, Augustine left his long-time companion in 385, who returned to Africa, while their son Adeodatus remained with Augustine. After his conversion experience under a fig tree, Augustine was baptised in 387.

„But when a deep contemplation, for a secret reason, drew forth all my misery and gathered it before the face of my heart, a mighty tempest broke loose in me, accompanied by tears in torrents. To give it free rein, I rose and went away from Alypius; for solitude seemed to me more suitable to enable me to weep; I went away, so far that his presence was no longer able to disturb me. That was how I was then, and he felt with me. I also think that I had already said something, whereby the tearful tone of my voice faltered, and so I rose. He remained behind where we had sat down, filled with amazement. But I prostrated myself on the trunk of a fig tree and gave free rein to my tears, and the fountain of the eye gushed forth, an offering which thou didst gladly receive, and I spoke many things to thee, though not in the same words, yet in thy mind: Thou, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord, wilt thou be angry? Be not mindful of our former iniquity. For I felt myself bound by it, and groaned aloud in miserable lamentation. How long? How long? Tomorrow and again tomorrow? Why not now, why does not this hour of my shame set its end?

Thus said I, and wept bitterly in the contrition of my heart. And behold, I heard a voice from a neighbouring house say in a singing tone, it was a boy or a girl: 'Take and read! Take and read! I blurred my vision and wondered if perhaps children were used to singing such words in some game, but I could not remember ever having heard them. Then I pushed back my tears, stood up and interpreted the words I had heard in no other way than that a divine command was telling me to open the Holy Scriptures and to read the first chapter on which my eye would fall. For I had heard from Antonius that when the Gospel was read in the church, to which he had happened to come, he referred to the word which was read as an exhortation: Go and sell all that thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me. By such a voice of God he was immediately converted. And so I hurriedly returned to the place where Alypius was sitting and where I had left the writings of the apostle Paul when I left. I took hold of the book, opened it and read silently to myself the passage that first caught my eye: "Not in gluttony and drunkenness, not in chambers and fornication, not in strife and envy, but draw near to the Lord Jesus Christ and wait on the body, but in such a way that it does not become lustful. I read no further, it was truly not necessary, for immediately at the end of these words the light of peace came upon my heart and the night of doubt fled away.“

Augustine: Confessiones 8:12

In 395 Augustine was appointed Bishop of Hippo Regius and held this office until his death.

Rudolf Steiner on Augustine

I praise the dance
for it frees the human being
from the heaviness of things
binds the isolated
into community.

I praise the dance
which demands and promotes everything
health and a clear mind
and a buoyant soul.

Dance is transformation
of space, of time, of the human being
who is constantly in danger
of disintegrating into brain
will or feeling

Dance, on the other hand, demands
the whole human being
who is anchored in his centre
who is not obsessed
by the covetousness
for people and things
and by the demoniac
of abandonment in one's own ego.

The dance demands the liberated,
the swinging human being
in the balance of all forces.

I praise the dance.

O man learn to dance
otherwise the angels
in heaven will not know
what to do with you.


Augustine carried in his etheric body an image of the etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth.

„In the first centuries after the Christ event, we see Christian writers still working on the basis of orally transmitted tradition of the disciples of the apostles. They attached importance to physical tradition. But later centuries could not have relied on this alone. From the 6th and 7th centuries onwards, it happened that particularly outstanding Christian preachers had an image of the etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth woven into them. One such person was Augustine. He had to go through enormous struggles in his youth. Then, however, the impulse of the etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth became effective in him in a significant way, and only then did he begin to practise Christian mysticism out of himself. We can only understand his writings in this light.“ (Lit.:GA 104a, p. 102)

„One of the first to benefit from the great blessing made possible for humanity by the fact that the etheric body of Jesus was present in many, many images in the spiritual world, was the one called Augustine. When Augustine, after his earlier embodiment, descended again to earth, not just any etheric body was woven into him, but an image of the etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth was woven into his etheric body. He had the astral body and the I for himself. In his etheric body he had an image of Jesus of Nazareth. He had to work his way through the culture of his I and astral body. When he penetrated the etheric body, the great truths that we encounter in his mysticism came to him. And many people of the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th centuries received, interwoven into their own etheric body, after-images of the etheric body of Jesus of Nazareth.“ (Lit.:GA 109, p. 87)

Augustine recognised that Christianity was already being prepared in the pre-Christian religions and mysteries.

„In order to understand what Christianity is, and what it can and must be in the soul of man today, if the soul understands itself rightly, it must be pointed out a little how deeply founded in the spiritual facts of the development of mankind are the words of such a good Christian as Augustine when he says: "What is at present called the Christian religion already existed among the ancients and was not absent in the beginnings of the human race, and when Christ appeared in the flesh, the true religion, which was already present before, received the name of the Christian."“ (Lit.:GA 131, p. 13)

„Already in Augustine, when he felt as I have characterised it yesterday and today, the feeling of the soul arose: Oh, what will it be then when that which flows into the world from ungodly intellectualism, from ungodly Romanism, takes hold of the whole world? The Civitas will become a terrible one; this Civitas of men must be opposed by the Civitas Dei, the State of God. - And so we see emerging - the signs were there before, my dear friends - we see emerging an interest which was seized with full power precisely by the following times in the religious field, and which throws light on all later religious struggles in the souls which felt these very religious struggles most deeply. The question already arises in Augustine: How do we save the moral from the outwardly legal? How do we save morality, morality imbued with God, how do we save it? In Romanism it cannot spread. - This is the striving for interiorisation that we find in the Confessions, the Confessions of Augustine, if we penetrate them properly.“ (Lit.:GA 343a, p. 280f)

According to a statement by Madlen Hauser, Friedrich Rittelmeyer had an inner experience during a lecture by Rudolf Steiner in Berlin on 3 April 1917 (Lit.:GA 175, p. 182ff), which revealed to him a karmic connection between Judas Iscariot and Augustine and Leonardo da Vinci. Rudolf Steiner had confirmed the accuracy of this experience to him.[1]

si enim fallor, sum

Augustine was already preparing the consciousness-soul age.

„Augustine lives long before the dawn of our age; but he prepares it; he is the spirit in whose writings we find, long before the sun rises, the first dawn of the age entirely tailored to the consciousness-soul. In every line of Augustine this is perceptible, and every line of Augustine differs for a finer feeling from all that was possible in ancient Greekism.“ (Lit.:GA 145, p. 130)

With his saying "si enim fallor, sum" (Latin: "For if I am mistaken, then I am", De civitate Dei, XI, 26) Augustine argues that if someone doubts, he is - thus already anticipating Descartes' famous "cogito, ergo sum".

„For if I am mistaken, then I am.[2] For he who is not, cannot of course be mistaken; and consequently I am when I am mistaken. Since, then, I am when I am mistaken, how can I be mistaken about my being, since it is certain precisely when I am mistaken? So even if I were mistaken, I would still have to be in order to be able to err, and therefore I am undoubtedly not mistaken in the consciousness that I am. Consequently, I am also not mistaken in the fact that I know about this consciousness of mine. For as well as I know that I am, I also know that I know.[3]

Augustine: Twenty-two Books on the Divine State (De civitate Dei), XI, 26

Augustine argued similarly in De Trinitate X, 10.

„Who, however, would doubt that he lives, remembers, sees, wills, thinks, knows and judges? For even when one doubts, one lives; when one doubts, one remembers what one doubts; when one doubts, one sees that one doubts; when one doubts, one wants certainty; when one doubts, one thinks; when one doubts, one knows that one does not know; when one doubts, one judges that one should not give one's consent hastily. So when one doubts everything else, he must not doubt all that. If these processes did not exist, he could not doubt about anything at all.“

Augustine: Fifteen Books on the Trinity (De Trinitate) X, 10

„In Augustine, the new is like a reminder of the Greek life of thought. He looks around him and within himself and says to himself: "Even if everything else that the world reveals is only uncertain and deceptive, there is one thing that cannot be doubted: the certainty of the experience of the soul itself. This is not granted to me by any perception that can deceive me; in this I am in it myself; it is, for I am in it, in that its being is ascribed to it.

One can see something new in these conceptions in comparison with the Greek thought-life, although at first they resemble a recollection of the same. Greek thought points to the soul; in Augustine it points to the centre of the soul's life. The Greek thinkers consider the soul in its relation to the world; in Augustine, something in the soul-life confronts it and considers this soul-life as a special, self-contained world. One can call the centre of the soul life the "I" of the human being. To the Greek thinkers, the relationship of the soul to the world became a riddle; to the more recent thinkers, the relationship of the "I" to the soul. In Augustine's work, this was only just beginning; the subsequent attempts at a world view still had too much to do to bring world view and religion into harmony for them to become clearly aware of the newness that had now entered spiritual life. And yet subsequently, more or less unconsciously to the souls, lives the endeavour to look at the world riddles in the way demanded by the new element.“ (Lit.:GA 18, p. 91)

Precisely in the fact that we exist, that we know about our being and love this being and knowledge, Augustine saw man as - though not as equal and equally eternal - the image of God in his threefold form. Accordingly, in De civitate Dei, XI, 26, it also says in the introduction:

„And in ourselves, too, we recognise an image of God, i.e. of that supreme Trinity, admittedly not an equal one, but rather one that lags far behind, not even an eternal one and - with which everything is said in brief - not an image that would be of the same essence as God, but nevertheless one of such a kind that among the things created by God, nothing is closer to him by nature, as it should then still be perfected by improvement, so that it comes very close to him in likeness. Namely, we exist, we know our being, and we love this being and knowledge. And in these three pieces no possibility of deception by the mere appearance of truth troubles us. For we do not apprehend them as we do things apart from us with any bodily sense, as we sensually perceive colours by looking, sounds by hearing, scents by smelling, objects of the sense of taste by tasting, hard and soft things by feeling, of which sense-objects we also carry about in thought images[4] quite similar to them but no longer corporeal, hold them in memory, and are stimulated by them to desire them; but without any deceptive pretence of the imagination and its constructions being able to assert itself, it is absolutely certain to me that I am, that I know it, and that I love it. In these pieces I am not at all afraid of the objections of the academics[5] who object: But how if you are mistaken? For if I am mistaken, then I am.“

Augustine: De civitate Dei, XI, 26

Divine illumination

The doctrine of Devine illumination advocated by Augustine, which was later systematically elaborated in scholasticism by Bonaventure, has its origin in Plato's theory of ideas, as he illustrated it in his Politeia in the famous allegory of the cave and, in preparation, already in the allegory of the sun. According to this, the knowledge of truth is only possible through the highest spiritual light of the good, which illuminates the soul, just as sensual things only become visible through the light of the sun. For Plotinus and the Neoplatonism that followed him, the source of this spiritual light was "The One", which Augustine equated with God in the Christian sense. God himself is the eternal truth, in whose spirit live the eternal ideas from which he created the visible and invisible world. The divine world spirit (mundus intelligibilis) radiates these ideas and thereby directly enlightens the human soul, which, unlike its material body, is created in the image of God (imago dei).

Not only the knowledge of God, but also general concepts are imparted to man by a higher authority ("intus ipsi menti praesidentem") that transcends the soul and the intellect. Christ himself, who dwells in man, is the inner teacher ("magister interior") who answers the inquiring man.

„But he who is questioned is he who teaches; of him it is said that he dwells within man: Christ, that is the unchangeable power of God and the eternal wisdom which questions every reasoning soul.“

Augustine: De Magistro 11,38

Thomas Aquinas, who followed Aristotle more closely, did not completely reject the doctrine of Devine illumination, but was very reserved about it. This type of knowledge, which was fully valid for the angelic hierarchies, was only possible to a small extent for man, since he, as the lowest of all spiritual beings, was already so far removed from the source of divine light that he could only recognise the truth in its most general features. God, however, had given man a body in order to extract the ideas from the sensually perceptible things with the help of reason and thus to recognise them in their divine origin.


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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  1. cf. Der Europäer, February 2013 (Vol. 17 / No. 4), p. 9 and Der Europäer, April 2002 (Vol. 6 / No. 6), p. 8 (Note 4).
  2. The famous passage that echoes Descartes' "Cogito, ergo sum". Cf. J. Storz, Die Philosophie des hl. Augustinus [1882], p. 34-38, where parallel passages are also given; and H. Scholz, Glaube und Unglaube in der Weltgeschichte [1911], p. 36f.
  3. Latin: „si enim fallor, sum. nam qui non est, utique nec falli potest: ac per hoc sum, si fallor. quia sum ergo, si fallor, quomodo esse me fallor, quando certum est me esse, si fallor? quia igitur essem qui fallerer, etiamsi fallerer, procul dubio in eo, quod me noui esse, non fallor. consequens est autem, ut etiam in eo, quod me noui nosse, non fallar. sicut enim noui esse me, ita noui etiam hoc ipsum, nosse me.“
  4. Impressions
  5. i.e. the followers of the so-called middle academy [3rd and 2nd century B.C.], which paid homage to scepticism, starting from the fact that there are sensory illusions; self-consciousness is not based on external perception like the knowledge conveyed by the senses, but on direct grasp of one's own being, cognition and striving.