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Augustine: Philosopher and Saint

Meet one of the most important Christian writers in history and explore the lasting impact he had on the church and Western thought.
Augustine: Philosopher and Saint is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 94.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly researched and meticulously explained! I am absolutely elated that I bought this course a month ago, I have been slowly delighting myself by listening a lecture at a time before going to bed. What a blessing! The knowledge and the easy way to explain all the facts about Saint Augustine's life is admirable, indeed first class lessons. Thank you for putting together all these amazing courses, they are "one of a kind" among all the courses that you find on the internet nowadays.
Date published: 2022-10-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course Excellent scholarship. Perhaps the most intellectually engaging course I have taken with the Great Courses thus far. One quibble is that the course guide could have been more developed.
Date published: 2021-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Best "Great Course" on Augustine Of the three "Great Courses" lecture series on Augustine I have listened to, this is easily the best. (The other two were the courses on "The Confessions" and "The City of God.") Augustine was a prolific writer over the course of a long life. His views evolved over time and are a challenge to distill. Professor Cary rises to this challenge admirably over 12 well-focused, clearly presented lectures. He provides an excellent introduction and overview of this seminal philosopher and theologian.
Date published: 2021-02-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insight I bought and listened to this about 6 years ago. Though I have graduate degrees in theology and minored in Philosophy, I never gained more understanding and insight into one of the greatest men, greatest minds, great theologian in Western Civ. Great teacher, as usual.
Date published: 2020-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview This is an excellent introduction to the thought of St. Augustine. Dr. Cary breaks down complex philosophical and theological ideas with clarity. He is often sympathetic to Augustine while at other instances he is skeptical or resistant but he is always honest about his own reactions and he still provides a thorough exposition. Dr. Cary even manages to give a short but understandable summary of Plotinus's thought, which is no easy task!
Date published: 2020-07-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not my first choice of course I have thoroughly enjoyed the majority of course I have listened to, but this was one of the very few that I have found to be poor. Lectures were drawn out and repetitive and concepts poorly explained. A commitment to a philosophy of faith is needed to appreciate this course.
Date published: 2019-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I’m so glad I got it I’ve had a heater skelter approach to great spiritual thought because I really want to have whatever it’s saying be deeply meaningful to me. I’m smart enough to understand but I need to feel there’s somebody really saying it, I need to catch the inspiration. This professor provides the bridge between Augustine’s writings and my desires.
Date published: 2019-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Meet Doctor Orthodox! Okay, Augustine (354 – 430 AD) of Hippo in Roman North Africa wasn’t literally a “doctor” in the sense of having a university degree, because there were no universities yet, but he was a “doctor” in the sense of a teacher of proper Christian doctrine for the Roman Catholic Church. His early life is an example of what happens when a brilliant child is raised by an overly domineering mother. Monica was a pious Christian, so when her son rebelled, he turned to Manicheanism and then to Neoplatonism. Only after he hit his thirties did he “come home to momma” and accept baptism as a Christian. At the same time Monica wanted her son to live a worldly life suitable for an aristocrat--to learn rhetoric, marry a rich girl and to enter a political career. He did like rhetoric and dutifully let mom worry about his marriage plans while he settled down with a concubine and fathered a son. He dumped his concubine when the marriage seemed about to happen, took another one when the marriage had to be postponed, and gave up women altogether when he converted. Desiring to spend the rest of his life studying and writing in a monastery, he became bishop of Hippo at the pleading of the African clergy. Despite his episcopal duties, Augustine became a prolific writer, and the West’s leading authority on Church authority, original sin, grace, and the place of believing Christians in a sinful world. He did not simply grow these ideas out of his own head, of course, but developed them against heretical and pagan adversaries. The Donatists in North Africa kept apart from the imperially-backed Church because the latter’s clergy stood in a chain of ordination from priests who surrendered their Bibles to the authorities during Diocletian’s persecution. Such clergy, said the Donatists, could not perform valid baptisms. Wrong, said Augustine. Clergy need not be spiritually pure to perform valid sacraments. Furthermore, the state could properly suppress such erroneous teachings, said Augustine, by imposing fines and confiscating property. In Britain the followers of Pelagius claimed that Christians could achieve salvation by living sinless lives. No, said Augustine. A sinless life is impossible because we are all born tainted by Adam’s disobedience (the original sin), so we achieve salvation only by the grace of God. Without grace, even a newborn baby deserves damnation. After Rome’s sacking by the Visigoths in 410, a few remaining pagans cried that this was punishment for the city having abandoned its old gods. Incorrect, said Augustine. An earthly city like Rome was a community formed to pursue earthly happiness through domination of others or other impure means; it was not eternal. Only the City of God, the community bound together by eternal love of God, can survive all misfortunes. Augustine was embraced by the Church during and after his death, but his predestination idea was not. In predestination all-knowing and all-powerful God has already foreseen and decided who will receive grace and who will not, who will be saved and who will be damned, even before the person in question has been born. Unfortunately, this notion implied that even the Church was helpless to bestow salvation. How was it supposed to demand tithes and offerings if it could promise nothing in return? Better to ignore that bit! Only proud John Calvin and his followers found predestination encouraging. As for the course, Professor Cary does a good job explaining Augustine’s ideas. I wish he had spent more time on the City of God, which receives only one lecture compared to three for the Confessions, a shorter book. Fortunately, each has its own course if you want more detail. The guidebook is rather threadbare, but it includes useful citations for those who want to look up Augustine’s ideas in the relevant works.
Date published: 2019-03-04
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Augustine: Philosopher and Saint paints a rich and detailed portrait of the life, works, and ideas of this remarkable figure whose own search for God has profoundly shaped all of Western Christianity. Professor Philip Cary's organized and self-contained course explains any special religious or philosophical concepts you need to know in order to appreciate Augustine's impact, with real-life examples and analogies that make even the most subtle concepts clear and easy to understand. You'll gain a sense of what Augustine was saying, how his own experiences led him to say it, and how his thoughts fit into the theological, philosophical, and political worlds that swirled around him.


Phillip Cary

In many ways, Plato was the founding figure of Western philosophy; although there were philosophers before him, his writings were the first that founded a lasting Western philosophy.


Eastern University

Dr. Phillip Cary is Professor of Philosophy at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, where he is also Scholar-in-Residence at the Templeton Honors College. After receiving his B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis, Professor Cary earned his M.A. in Philosophy and Ph.D. in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Yale University. Professor Cary is a recent winner of the Lindback Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching at Eastern University. He has also taught at Yale University, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Hartford. As the Arthur J. Ennis Post-Doctoral Fellow at Villanova University, he taught the nationally recognized undergraduate Core Humanities seminars on ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and modern thought. As a scholar, Professor Cary's specialty is the thought of Augustine, but he has also published scholarly articles on Luther, the doctrine of the Trinity, and personal knowledge. His most recent books include two on Augustine, Inner Grace and Outward Signs, both published by Oxford University Press in 2008, as well as a commentary on the book of Jonah, also in 2008, published by Brazos Press.

By This Professor

The History of Christian Theology
Church Father

01: Church Father

This introductory lecture situates Augustine in late antiquity, the historical period between the ancient classical world and the Middle Ages. Augustine is a Church Father, one of the early Christian theologians who established orthodox Christian doctrines and interpretations of the Bible. His lifelong project is to combine key emphases of the Church Fathers about the Trinity and Christ with his philosophical interest in the inner connection between God and the soul.

33 min
Christian Platonist

02: Christian Platonist

Like other Church Fathers, Augustine combines concepts from Christianity and philosophy, especially the philosophy of Platonism. This lecture centers on an extended thought experiment designed to introduce the student to key elements of Platonist thought which were attractive to Augustine, especially the concept of a nonbodily, eternal mode of being, and how that concept applies to God.

30 min

03: "Confessions"—The Search for Wisdom

We begin now to look at Augustine's life as written in his autobiography, the "Confessions." In this lecture we examine the "Confessions" from the first of three thematic angles, the intellectual angle, where the theme is the philosophical love of wisdom. We follow his intellectual development from the point at which a book by Cicero sparked his initial interest in philosophy, through the long period in which he sought the truth in the Manichaean heresy, up to the time he encounters "the books of the Platonists," which provide him with a key to understanding God but do not give him the strength he needs to get back to the God he has lost by his sin.

31 min

04: "Confessions"—Love and Tears

This lecture examines the "Confessions" from an emotional angle, looking at its portrait of love and loss and its diagnosis of human grief as a symptom of the soul's wandering far from God. The key focal points from this angle are the character of Augustine's mother, Monica, and the death in "Confessions" of the unnamed friend.

31 min

05: "Confessions"—The Road Home

In this lecture we look at the "Confessions" from a religious angle; we focus on how the soul returns to God. We study the role of Christ incarnate (the end of Book 7), the indispensability of the Church (Book 8), the shape of the Christian life (Book 10), the meaning and interpretation of the Scriptures (Book 12), and what Christians really mean by "going to heaven" (Book 13). In particular, Augustine's famous conversion comes under consideration.

31 min
Augustine’s Career as a Christian Writer

06: Augustine’s Career as a Christian Writer

We examine Augustine's life after the period covered in the "Confessions." Focusing primarily on his career as a Christian writer, we can divide Augustine's life into three periods. In the early period, up to the writing of "Confessions," the works on philosophical issues and on refuting the Manichaeans; in the middle period he focuses on the nature of the Church and its Sacraments, refuting the Donatists; and in the last period of his life he is preoccupied with the doctrine of grace, in refutation of the Pelagians.

31 min
Faith, Love, and Grace

07: Faith, Love, and Grace

We begin to examine Augustine's doctrine of grace, his most important contribution to Western thought. In this lecture we examine the key concepts of Faith (and related concepts such as Authority and Understanding) and Love (and related concepts such as Charity, Beauty, and Will) and look at grace as the inner connection between Faith and Love.

31 min
Evil, Free Will, Original Sin, and Predestination

08: Evil, Free Will, Original Sin, and Predestination

We continue our examination of Augustine's doctrine of grace by looking at its dark side, the way it deals with evil and sin. Much of what is most troubling about Augustine is found here, close to what is most beautiful. Augustine uses the concept of free will to explain where evil comes from; he uses the concept of Original Sin to explain why we need grace; and near the end of his life he finds that his concept of grace leads him to the concept of predestination.

31 min
Signs and Sacraments

09: Signs and Sacraments

In this lecture we connect Augustine's doctrine of grace with externals such as words and Sacraments, the Bible, and the rituals of the Church. The overarching concept Augustine uses to explain the value of these external things in a Christian's religious life is the concept of signs. Hence the lecture focuses on Augustine's theory of signs (or semiotics) and its application to the Bible and the Sacraments.

31 min
The Inner Self

10: The Inner Self

In this lecture we look at what is most original in Augustine's view of human nature, his concept of the self as a private inner space. Augustine's version of the inner self must be distinguished both from its ancient predecessors and from its modern descendants. Unlike others who developed modern versions of the inner self, Augustine believes that in turning inward we can find God. But Augustine does not believe the Soul is divine; hence God is not only within but also above the soul - to find God we must not only enter within ourselves but look above ourselves at something superior to us.

30 min
The Trinity and the Soul

11: The Trinity and the Soul

Having examined Augustine's concept of human persons, we turn now to Augustine's concept of God as three persons yet one God in accordance with the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity. After summarizing Augustine's approach to the Nicene doctrine, we will look at his most distinctive contribution to trinitarian theology, the notion that there are traces "vestigia" of the Trinity that can be discerned in the triadic structure of the soul.

31 min
The City of God

12: The City of God

We look at Augustine's view of how human and divine persons interact in history. This brings us to Augustine's social and political theory, his account of the nature of fallen human society (the "Earthly City"), and the restoration of true human community by God (the "City of God"). From this standpoint we cast a glance over the whole structure of Augustine's thought, note some of its problems, and think a moment about its future.

33 min