Saint Augustine did build a bridge from Christian tradition to Islam!

Epigraph

“We think that since God is the author both of his Word the Bible and of this universe, there must ultimately be harmony between correct interpretation of the biblical data and correct interpretation of scientific data.”  Prof. John C Lennox, in Seven Days that divide the World.

The World Turtle carrying the elephants that carries the earth upon their backs?

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

Prologue

Saint Augustine said, “Let the bible be a book for you so that you may hear it; let the sphere of the world be also a book for you so that you may see it.”  In this saying he suggests a paradigm that word of God or scripture should be in accord with the act of God, our world or what we broadly label as nature!  So, the basic question, for any seeker of truth is to objectively answer as to which scripture is in best accord with nature or science.

Read on and in the words of Sir Francis Bacon’s advice, please, “Read not to contradict … but to weigh and consider.”

Thesis

The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History is a 1978 book by Michael H. Hart, reprinted in 1992 with revisions. It is a ranking of the 100 people who, according to Hart, most influenced human history.[1]

The first person on Hart’s list is the Prophet of Islam Muhammad.[2] Hart asserted that Muhammad was “supremely successful” in both the religious and secular realms. He also believed that Muhammad’s role in the development of Islam was far more influential than Jesus’ collaboration in the development of Christianity. He attributes the development of Christianity to St. Paul, who played a pivotal role in its dissemination.

St. Augustine also made to this list of the most influential, some where in the middle, after Asoka and before William Harvey. The Christian theology is remarkably influenced by him.  The metaphors that he used to establish Christianity in a pagan world are remarkably helpful to establish Islam in a Trinitarian Christian world, with two billion Christians in the world and the Western powers, with their Christian background enjoying tremendous political and scientific influence in our contemporary global village.

Augustine of Hippo (13 November 354 – 28 August 430), also known as St. Augustine, St. Austin,[4] or St. Augoustinos, 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 time. His writings were very influential in the development of Western Christianity and translations remain in print.

According to his contemporary Jerome, Augustine “established anew the ancient Faith.”[5] In his early years he was heavily influenced by Manichaeism and afterward by the Neo-Platonism of Plotinus.[6] 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.[7] He believed that the grace of Christ was indispensable to human freedom and he framed the concepts of original sin and just war.

Encyclopedia Britannica has the following to say about Augustine’s importance and his theology and metaphysics:

Saint Augustine was bishop of Hippo from 396 to 430, one of the Latin Fathers of the Church, one of the Doctors of the Church, and perhaps the most significant Christian thinker after St. Paul. Augustine’s adaptation of classical thought to Christian teaching created a theological system of great power and lasting influence. His numerous written works, the most important of which are Confessions and City of God, shaped the practice of biblical exegesis and helped lay the foundation for much of medieval and modern Christian thought. [1]

Saint Augustine in his book Confessions provided a bridge from Paganism to Christianity.  I believe the same bridge can help us today in moving from the Christian tradition to a more pure Monotheistic and Abrahamic tradition, namely Islam.  I will by the Grace of God demonstrate this in this article. In Confessions he provides reasons for the truth and superiority of Christianity, especially in Book VII of this classic.  I learnt about this through the lecture series by the Teaching Company, St. Augustine’s Confessions, taught by William R. Cook and Ronald B. Herzman.  They write in introduction to the Book VII of the Confessions:

Within the 13-book structure of the Confessions, Book VII is the exact center.  In some ways, this makes sense.  If we look at the Confessions in terms of Augustine’s search for truth, this book marks the time when he becomes convinced of the intellectual superiority of Christianity.  In this lecture, we will discuss how Augustine becomes convinced that Christianity is true.  He presents the climax of his search in terms of an amazing paradox: He learns of the truth of Christianity by reading pagan philosophers.  Because he makes the case for the importance, indeed, the necessity, of pagan learning in his search for truth, this book is an important chapter in the history of Christianity and in the intellectual history of the West.  Augustine offers a valuable contribution to the question: ‘What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?’ This lecture deals with what Augustine is and is not saying about the relationship between Christian revelation and classical learning and what the long-term implications of his position have been for subsequent history.[6]

Why does Augustine become convinced that Christianity is true?   What does Augustine propose that Athens have to do with Jerusalem?  What does Plato have to do with the Bible and more specifically with the Gospel of John?  How can you examine the truth of one tradition of thought and reasoning in light of another parallel tradition?  William R. Cook and Ronald B. Herzman answer these questions for us:

Augustine tells us that he read books ‘written by the Platonists’ … He parapharases these books, rather than quoting them directly.  His parapharase is also a parapharase of one of the most important texts of Christian Scripture, the beginning of the gospel according to John.  The surprising and, to some extent, shocking claim that he makes is that these Platonists teach the same thing as the Gospel of John.  Augustine’s claim is that even though these words may not have been exactly what was said in the text of these philosophers, they accurately represent the substance of what he saw in them.  Thus, in these pagan philosophical texts, he finds a way of articulating Christian beliefs.[7]

So, Augustine proposes that if Platonist tradition founded on reason and observations preceding the Christian tradition by three centuries, supports and confirms the Christian tradition then it would stand to reason that Christianity is true!

However, the situation regarding Christianity and the Bible has changed in the last sixteen centuries since the fourth century of Augustine.

The bridge built by Constantine between Greek rationality and Christian religion is no longer functional. A 2012 Pew Research Center poll showed that the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.  Those who are open minded and not powerfully indoctrinated in the Christian dogma, the Generation X and the Generation Y, can no longer accept the dogma in the disguise of faith.  As their rationality and the scientific tradition are on a collision course with the Christian faith in Trinity, vicarious atonement, Original Sin, Eucharist and inconsistencies in the Bible.

In the words of Sir Francis Bacon‘s advice, “Read not to contradict … but to weigh and consider.

Our rationality demands harmony in our science or reason on the one hand and our faith and religion on the other.  Dr. Maurice Bucaille explains this in his book, the Bible the Quran and Science:

The confrontation between the texts of the Scriptures and scientific data has always provided man with food for thought.

It was at first held that corroboration between the scriptures and science was a necessary element to the authenticity of the sacred text. Saint Augustine, in letter No. 82, which we shall quote later on, formally established this principle. As science progressed however it became clear that there were discrepancies between Biblical Scripture and science. It was therefore decided that comparison would no longer be made. Thus a situation arose which today, we are forced to admit, puts Biblical exegetes and scientists in opposition to one another. We cannot, after all, accept a divine Revelation making statements which are totally inaccurate. There was only one way of logically reconciling the two; it lay in not considering a passage containing unacceptable scientific data to be genuine. This solution was not adopted. Instead, the integrity of the text was stubbornly maintained and experts were obliged to adopt a position on the truth of the Biblical Scriptures which, for the scientist, is hardly tenable.

Like Saint Augustine for the Bible, Islam has always assumed that the data contained in the Holy Scriptures were in agreement with scientific fact. A modern examination of the Islamic Revelation has not caused a change in this position. As we shall see later on, the Qur’an deals with many subjects of interest to science, far more in fact than the Bible. There is no comparison between the limited number of Biblical statements which lead to a confrontation with science, and the profusion of subjects mentioned in the Qur’an that are of a scientific nature. None of the latter can be contested from a scientific point of view. this is the basic fact that emerges from our study.[5]

Like, Augustine examined the question “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem!” I have examined in my other articles what does Mecca, representing Islam, have to do not only with Athens and Jerusalem but also with Renaissance Europe and Washington DC, as the Deism of the Founding Fathers of USA, President Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine also serves as an apology for Islam, rather than Trinitarian Christianity.

The Muslim scholars and at least one Christian scholar Ian Mevorach, in his article, Muhammad as Spirit of Truth: A Christian Testimony Against Islamophobia, show the prophecies about the Holy Prophet Muhammad in the Bible, thus linking Jerusalem with Mecca.

The Muslim historians also demonstrate what the Arab learning did contribute to the renaissance of Europe, thus linking Baghdad and Cordoba of the 9th to 13th centuries to renaissance Europe of 15th to the 19th century.  The Muslims then go onto examine their scripture, the literal word of God, the Holy Quran, in light of science developed in the 16th to the 20th century, thus linking the Europe of today to the Mecca of the seventh century and last but not the least by examining the threads common between Islam and the writings, achievements and beliefs of President Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Payne, we provide a link between Washington DC and Mecca.[8][9]

In short the bridge that Augustine began to build for transit from Paganisms is now providing multifold routes from Christianity to the pure Monotheism of Islam!

Would you care to travel?

File:Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne.jpg

From a more broad discussion above, now, I will focus myself to a discussion of Original Sin, as proposed by Augustine, Christianity and Islam.

Augustine, a Latin church father, is one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity. He “established anew the ancient faith” (conditor antiquae rursum fidei), according to his contemporary, Jerome. In his early years he was heavily influenced by Manichaeism and afterwards by the Neo-Platonism of Plotinus, but after his conversion and baptism (387), he developed his own approach to philosophy and theology accommodating a variety of methods and different perspectives.

Augustine believed that the grace of Christ was indispensable to human freedom and framed the concepts of original sin. When the Roman Empire in the West was starting to disintegrate, Augustine developed the concept of the Church as a spiritual City of God (in a book of the same name) distinct from the material City of Man. His thought profoundly influenced the medieval worldview. Augustine’s City of God was closely identified with the church, and was the community which worshiped God.

Augustine was born in the city of Thagaste, the present day Souk Ahras, Algeria, to a pagan father named Patricius and a Catholic mother named Monica. He was educated in North Africa and resisted his mother’s pleas to become Christian. Living as a pagan intellectual, he took a concubine and became a Manichean. Later he converted to Catholicism, became a bishop, and opposed heresies, such as the belief that people can have the ability to choose to be good to such a degree as to merit salvation without divine aid (Pelagianism).

It was Augustine’s political success in the Church that changed him into a saint and Pelagius into a heretic.  The struggle between Augustine and Pelagius was the reason why the Church eventually came to inherit what is called the ‘Original sin,’ rather than free will that Pelagius preached.  To read more about Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism go to the comments of another of my articles, Evaluating Original Sin against scientific discoveries.

In the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, he is a saint and pre-eminent Doctor of the Church, and the patron of the Augustinian religious order; his memorial is celebrated 28 August. Many Protestants, especially Calvinists, consider him to be one of the theological fathers of Reformation teaching on salvation and divine grace. In the Eastern Orthodox Church he is blessed, and his feast day is celebrated on 15 June, though a minority are of the opinion that he is a heretic, primarily because of his statements concerning what became known as the filioque clause.[2]  Filioque, Latin for “and (from) the Son”, was added in Western Christianity to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, commonly referred to at the Nicene Creed. This insertion emphasizes that Jesus, the Son, is of equal divinity with God, the Father, while the absence of it in Eastern Christianity concentrates on the Father. Encyclopedia Britannica also states:

“Fifteen years after Augustine wrote the Confessions, at a time when he was bringing to a close (and invoking government power to do so) his long struggle with the Donatists but before he had worked himself up to action against the Pelagians, the Roman world was shaken by news of a military action in Italy. A ragtag army under the leadership of Alaric, a general of Germanic ancestry and thus credited with leading a “barbarian” band, had been seeking privileges from the empire for many years, making from time to time extortionate raids against populous and prosperous areas. Finally, in 410, his forces attacked and seized the city of Rome itself, holding it for several days before decamping to the south of Italy. The military significance of the event was nil—such was the disorder of Roman government that other war bands would hold provinces hostage more and more frequently, and this particular band would wander for another decade before settling mainly in Spain and the south of France. But the symbolic effect of seeing the city of Rome taken by outsiders for the first time since the Gauls had done so in 390 bc shook the secular confidence of many thoughtful people across the Mediterranean. Coming as it did less than 20 years after the decisive edict against “paganism” by the emperor Theodosius I in 391, it was followed by speculation that perhaps the Roman Empire had mistaken its way with the gods. Perhaps the new Christian god was not as powerful as he seemed. Perhaps the old gods had done a better job of protecting their followers.

It is hard to tell how seriously or widely such arguments were made; paganism by this time was in disarray, and Christianity’s hold on the reins of government was unshakable. But Augustine saw in the murmured doubts a splendid polemical occasion he had long sought, and so he leapt to the defense of God’s ways. That his readers and the doubters whose murmurs he had heard were themselves pagans is unlikely. At the very least, it is clear that his intended audience comprised many people who were at least outwardly affiliated with the Christian church. During the next 15 years, working meticulously through a lofty architecture of argument, he outlined a new way to understand human society, setting up the City of God over and against the City of Man. Rome was dethroned—and the sack of the city shown to be of no spiritual importance—in favour of the heavenly Jerusalem, the true home and source of citizenship for all Christians. The City of Man was doomed to disarray, and wise men would, as it were, keep their passports in order as citizens of the City above, living in this world as pilgrims longing to return home.”[3]

The dogma of Original sin gave rise to a doctrinal difficulty that has carried the label of Limbo.  Here is the exact quote from Wikipedia with the exclusion of the references:

The Western tradition, both Catholic and Protestant, concerning original sin is largely based on writings by Augustine of Hippo, who, in the belief that the only definitive destinations of souls are heaven and hell, concluded that unbaptized infants go to hell because of original sin. The Latin Church Fathers who followed Augustine adopted his position, and it became a point of reference for Latin theologians in the Middle Ages. In the later mediaeval period, some theologians continued to hold Augustine’s view, others held that unbaptized infants suffered no pain at all: unaware of being deprived of the beatific vision, they enjoyed a state of natural, not supernatural happiness. Starting around 1300, unbaptized infants were often said to inhabit the ‘limbo of infants.’  The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1261 declares: “As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.” But the theory of Limbo, while it ‘never entered into the dogmatic definitions of the Magisterium … remains … a possible theological hypothesis’.  Augustine’s formulation of original sin was popular among Protestant reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, and also, within Roman Catholicism, in the Jansenist movement, but this movement was declared heretical by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Islamic concept in contrast to the Original sin and Limbo is very intuitive and appealing, namely that all humans are born innocent and are free of any guilt until they corrupt themselves in their later life.

The God of Islam is Fair and Just and is equally Merciful to all the humans.  God presented by Augustine is unequal and it seems that this problem emanates from Augustine’s or Christian dogma of Original sin, which is emphatically rejected by Islam and has been equally strongly rejected by the developments in biology.  I have examined Original sin in two other articles: Evaluating Original Sin against scientific discoveries and Charles Darwin: An Epiphany for the Muslims, A Catastrophe for the Christians.  Here let me show you, in the words of Prof. Phillip Cary, the Director of Philosophy program at Eastern University, how Augustine presents an unfair God but tries to cover up the limitations, my comments are in brackets:

The ‘revealed God’ makes these wonderful promises; believe in Christ, and you’re saved. The ‘hidden God’ says: ‘This person gets saved, that person doesn’t.’ There’s the problem. The doctrine of election is about how God distributes the gifts of grace, and the problem is that it is an unequal distribution-unequal but not unjust, Augustine insists, and here’s what I mean by that. Augustine will look at one person and say ‘You’re saved,’ and then look at another person, who’s perfectly equal to that other person, and say: ‘This one’s not.’ For instance, here’s Jacob; I’m going to save him. Here’s Jacob’s twin brother, Esau; I’m not going to save him. What’s the difference between them? None at all; they’re equally undeserving­ neither of them deserve to be saved, but I’ll save Jacob, not Esau. These are biblical names that we’ll get back to.

Why does he save Jacob rather than Esau? Sheer mercy, no reason that we can give; so, it’s unequal. Jacob and Esau are not being treated equally, but Augustine argues, it is not unjust. Why? Esau is not getting anything worse than he deserves. He deserves damnation, just like everyone who’s born in original sin-so he’s not getting an unfair deal. He’s not getting treated unjustly, and Jacob gets treated better than he deserves. He gets mercy that he hasn’t earned-so no one is being treated unjustly, Augustine says, even though the two of them are being treated unequally. The issue’s not about what happens to an individual, but about the distribution-why this one and not that one. That’s the deep issue, why the choice that God makes-Jacob I’m going to save; Esau, I’m not.

You don’t really understand the structure of the problem until you put two people in the picture. Why this one, and not that one? What’s the answer to that question? Why Jacob rather than Esau? The answer is-we cannot possibly know. There is no possible reason that we can give for why God would make the choice to save this one, Jacob, rather than that one, Esau, because if there was a reason, then we could say that one of them deserved it. The best reason for choosing one person rather than another is to say that one person’s better than another, and that would be merit. That would be salvation not by grace alone, but by merit. Jacob would earn it-so Jacob would be better somehow than Esau.  (It is obsession with Grace by faith alone that has created this trap for Christian theology.)

And the whole point is he’s not better. The only difference between Jacob and Esau is the difference that God makes by choosing Jacob rather than Esau. At least that’s the Augustinian argument. That means there’s no reason we can possibly know why God chooses to save this one rather than that one. When you press Augustine on this point, and ask: ‘It’s got to make sense somehow. What reason would God have to choose one rather than the other?’ Augustine will quote Paul at the end of the letter to Romans, Romans 11, where Paul says: ‘O the depths of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God. How inscrutable are his judgments, how unsearchable his ways.’

Augustine says when Paul says these words, it’s with a shutter of horror. He’s looking into the abyss of God’s wisdom, and you cannot get to the bottom of it. Somewhere down in the bottom, the depth of God’s wisdom, there’s a reason. Augustine is convinced there is a reason, but we cannot possibly know it because if we did have a reason why God chose one rather than another, that would be merit. Someone would deserve it, and that’s not grace. (No abating of obsession with Grace by faith, but, if we ignore letters of Paul and focus on the letters of James and the Gospel by Matthews this dilemma will be solved.)

Luther picks up on this, this notion of this horrible depth, and he says the highest degree of faith is to believe that God is merciful when he saves so few people and he damns so many, because it’s evident that lots of people don’t believe in Christ. Lots of people have never even heard of Christ, and they never had a chance. It’s the highest degree of faith to believe that God is merciful when he saves so few people and damns so many by his own choice, and to believe him righteous when by his own will he makes so many people necessarily damnable, by-for instance-ordaining that Adam would sin and fall, and we would all be born in original sin. It’s God’s choice that we were born that way; God chose that we would be born in original sin and be damnable and unable to save ourselves.[4]

God is merciful, but in ultimate analysis, in his interaction and judgment of humans he is not random, there is a deep justice, if He damns someone.  The last paragraph highlights the problem or dilemma created by Christian theology by requiring faith in the dogma that Jesus died for us, it changes God into someone, who randomly damns people, for no sin of their own.

The Islamic concept is that everyone is born innocent and is judged by his or her actions and limitations and his or her faith in God and His prophets and is judged in keeping with the person’s limitations both internal and experiential.  None of us are born in original sin, for whatever Adam did, there is no biological mechanism for him to pass the sin onto the future generations, those who do not fully understand this last statement, should read some basic biology.

Epilogue

Prof. John Lennox quoted as an epigraph here is partially right, a true scripture has to be in accord with science, but, he missed a simple but a very important detail that the scripture has to be preserved over time also.  Only an adamant and ignorant person will want to make that case, for the Bible today.

A Gallup poll in 2011 showed that whereas 46% of Americans with only high school education or less believed the Bible to be the literal word of God, this proportion decreased dramatically in college graduates to 15%.  Irrational exuberance about the Bible is directly proportional to lack of education according to this poll.

It is only the privilege of the Quran that it is not only literal word of God, but, has also been preserved over the centuries.  Therefore, we will find harmony between correct interpretation of the Quranic data and correct interpretation of scientific data.

References

  1. “Saint Augustine.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 07 Feb. 2010 ca.com/EBchecked/topic/42902/Saint-Augustine>.
  2. Archimandrite [now Archbishop] Chrysostomos. “Book Review: The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church”. Orthodox Tradition II (3&4): 40–43. http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/bless_aug.aspx#rose. Retrieved 2007-06-28.
  3. “Saint Augustine.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 07 Feb. 2010 ca.com/EBchecked/topic/42902/Saint-Augustine>.
  4. Prof. Phillip Cary. Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation. Teaching Company Course Transcript, 2004. Pages 115-117.
  5. http://www.kalamullah.com/Books/BibleQuranScience.pdf
  6. William R. Cook and Ronald B. Herzman. St. Augustine’s Confessions. The Teaching Company course guidebook, 2004. Page 39.
  7. William R. Cook and Ronald B. Herzman. St. Augustine’s Confessions. The Teaching Company course guidebook, 2004. Page 40.
  8. http://knol.google.com/k/zia-shah/president-thomas-jefferson-was-he-a/1qhnnhcumbuyp/26#
  9. http://knol.google.com/k/zia-shah/age-of-reason-by-thomas-paine-in-the/1qhnnhcumbuyp/323#

Additional Readings

A British Convert to Islam: ‘I found Qur’an mother of all philosophies’

Book Review: Struggling to Surrender: Some Impressions of an American Convert to Islam

Dr. Maurice Bucaille.

The Bible, the Quran and Science.

Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth

Debate: Does the Universe have a purpose?

Darwinian Evolution: Islam or Christianity?

Categories: The Muslim Times

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