I read through some of the discussion and posts on the forum regarding St. Augustine, my patron Saint. This Holy Father's name was given to me at my monastic tonsure, and since receiving his name I have been eager to help demonstrate that this pillar of Orthodox piety is much misunderstood in the Orthodox Church today. I would like, therefore, to consecrate a thread to his patronage, which avoids polemics and insults, but focuses upon the ways in which Augustine may credibly receive an Orthodox reading and interpretation when due care is taken while reading him. For those who recognize that this Saint is indeed an Holy Father (as proclaimed by the writings of Saints and Fathers, and confirmed beyond any shadow of doubt for the pious Orthodox believer by the 5th and 6th Ecumenical Councils - and, implicitly, by the 7th and other Pan-Orthodox synods thereafter), I ask you to keep posts here non-polemical, but reverent and positive, focusing on the actual Orthodoxy of St. Augustine. For those of you who do not hold him sacred, I hope the polite request of an unworthy monk will persuade you to show me this courtesy, even if you disagree with views expressed here. There are many other threads polemicizing against Blessed Augustine; I only ask that this one would not do so. And to those who would respond that posting on a public forum invites criticism, I would reply that this is not necessarily so, especially if there are plenty of venues for polemics at hand. Link to a post on one of the polemical threads, if you like, but please for charity's sake try not to polemicize against St. Augustine within this thread.
I attach here a short essay I once wrote, slightly modified for this forum, on how the seemingly complex attitude of St. Augustine towards man's free will and the role of grace in salvation, is exactly parallelled in St. Maximos the Confessor's teaching on the gnomic vs. the natural will... a doctrine enshrined as Dogma, at the 6th Ecumenical Council! I hope this essay shows how St. Augustine is often misunderstood. I feel that the misunderstanding of St. Augustine is the result of several factors - the fog of bad interpretation by Scholastics and Protestants, the complexities involved in Augustine's own shifting between multiple vantage points when discussing an issue that admits of many angles of attack, the lack of Latin skills amongst those who read Augustine (coupled with the Calvinistic influences in the Eerdman's translations, which are usually the only ones read by modern critics of Augustine), and a revisionist model of Orthodox theology that attempts to attack the "West," but winds up undermining common points between the East AND the West, in the process. Finally, because the Latin Fathers naturally developed a different terminology for discussing some things than the Greek Fathers, one often has to engage in a learning process, whereby different wasy of speaking about something in the West can be understood by means of the Greek counterparts. For example, many object to Augustine's terminology when he says that Original Sin leaves a "stain" on the soul, which is then washed away in the laver of regeneration. But, the East says that the Fall has, in addition to its natural effects (i.e., the natural passions), many unnatural effects and unnatural passions that cannot be explained simply by "mortality and passability," as some (like Fr. John Romanides) tried to do. They say, amongst other things, that the Fall has "darkened the nous," and that the nous is illumined in Baptism, hence the newly-baptized are also called "neophytes," or "newly illumined." When one really begins to understand what each "side" means by their terms, and when one realizes that the nous is simply the crown and summit of the soul, one can see that there is really no difference at all, between saying that the nous is darkened by the Fall and elightened in Baptism, or that the soul is stained by Original Sin, and cleansed in Baptism. When one begins to overcome the terminological (and polemical) gap, one can find how St. Augustine's teaching matches up perfectly to Greek Patristic thought. St. Augustine's teachings on Original Sin, when properly understood, are actually the EXACT same teaching that one can easily find in St. Maximos the Confessor, especially in the collected treatises and letters in the St. Vladimir Press publication, The Cosmic Mystery of Christ. Not to mention the agreement of all the other Fathers with the essential points of Augustinian teaching on Original Sin, when the theological languages are understood properly.
And, by "understood properly," I don't mean that the neo-Patristic ideas floating around in the Orthodox "diaspora" are correct and that this is what Augustine teaches; I mean, rather, that the Greek Fathers of the Church do indeed teach some of the "negative" doctrines of Augustine, which so many contemporary thinkers are eager to reject. But, often enough, these "negative" doctrines are in fact misunderstood by today's readers of Augustine (and the misunderstanding causes people, who probably mean well, to over-react and thus, causes them not only to combat their wrong interpretation of Augustine, but even parts of Augustine which are true and SHARED by the Greek Patristic Tradition). Sadly, the aggregate effect is to paint a picture of St. Augustine which is far more negative than the reality, while also distorting the integrity of the Greek Patristic Tradition, by claiming that the over-reaction can find justification therein.... in point of fact, the Greeek Patristic Tradition agrees with Augustine more often than not, but we simply don't have many faithful expositors of that Tradition, and we often don't understand the terminological gaps between East and West. Nor, often enough, do we just plain understand the Latin terms... "Peccatum Originalis" does mean "Original Sin," but most people today understand that as "the First Crime or Transgression." It doesn't mean that in Latin. It means "Fount of Dysfunction," and "Reatum Peccati Originalis" doesn't mean "Personal Guilt for Original Sin," but "The Garment of one implicated in Original Sin" - a throw-back to St. Paul's putting off the garment of the old man, and putting on the New Man, also beautifully parallelled in the Greek Tradition of speaking of being clothed in the New Man as having a "Wedding Garment," and of the unbaptized - or those who have not guarded their baptism - as "not having a wedding garment." The "Reatus" is not "guilt," but "the garment of an accused man, being arraigned on charges." Anyway, enough of that... I just hope it shows how too little sensitivity is paid to the actual meaning of Augustine's terms as they would have been understood by a Latin speaker, in favour of the intensely negative interpretations and theological shorthands adopted by Scholastic and Calvinist interepreters over a millenium after his death!
In short, what I'm saying is that St. Augustine usually is teaching the exact same thing as the Greek Fathers... but, the modern attack on Augustine has obscured the real import of Augustine's terms, and has also raised a smoke screen over the purity of Greek Patristic teaching, amongst those who read too much of the theology written in the neo-Patristic circles. Therefore, it is imperative that today's Orthodox Christians learn the difficult and long discipline of developing sensitive, perceptive and comprehensive readings of St. Augustine, together with all the other Fathers. As an initial effort towards demonstrating some similarities between Augustine and the Eastern Fathers, where often none is asumed to exist, I present here a short essay (modified somewhat for this forum), which I once wrote detailing St. Augustine's harmony with St. Maximos the Confessor (and the 6th Ecumenical Council) in his teaching on Free Will and Grace in salvation.
Holy Augustine, Lamp of the Church and Sound Teacher of the Orthodox Faith, intercede for us with Christ our God!