During his first thirty-five years of life, Augustine moved from a world view centred on himself to one that was centred on God. This does not deny, however, that there were some seeds of the Christian religion always within him from his childhood.
"You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." (Confessions 1:1) His very first lines in his Confessions announce his world view and his anthropology to all who read his words. Restlessness (spiritual unease) is a motion or dynamism towards God which characterises human life.
During his adolescence and early adulthood in Carthage and then later in Rome, Augustine looked for philosophical Truth, but was uncertain about the precise presence and role of God. God was not yet a great factor in his thought. His classical education and, as a nineteen year old student in Carthage, his admiration of the Hortensius by Cicero had given him a world view that was centred on the endeavours of the human species.
By the time he was in Milan a dozen years later as a professor of rhetoric and a potential convert to the Christian Faith, however, Augustine was becoming greatly attracted to the philosophy of the classical Roman philosopher, Plotinus (205 - 270). For Plotinus and his disciples who in the time of Augustine were the Neo-Platonists, not only was God the cause of all creation, but also everything existed only to the extent to which it participated in God.
This meant that the fulfilment of the Will of God, and not the full development of human potential, became the central concern of life. The classical outlook of Augustine centred on human abilities thus gave way to a world view that was centred on God. His world view accepts the idea of creation but rejects the Greek notion that it is without purpose. Instead, he asserts that it is "the will of a good God that good things should be."
In this new world view for Augustine, the highest good a human being could attain was not of this world, but was the gaining of eternal life in the presence of God. For Augustine, therefore, the fulfilment of the Will of God was to become unquestionably the primary focus of all human effort. Here he repeated the urgent Christian message of Saint Paul, whom Augustine admired greatly and quoted very often in his writings.
In Paulian terms, the following of the Will of God was everything, and by comparison the importance of anything else was as if of no value.Augustine was never one to tackle anything by halves. He now wished to live the Christian life fully. Thus the great energy for the Christian mission that had been seen in Paul was to be seen again in Augustine. "Late have I loved you, Lord," cried Augustine at the age of forty one years when beginning to write his Confessions in the year 397. It is evident that by then he regretted having taken the first thirty two years of his life to accept the Christian Faith. He felt that subsequently there was effectively no time left for him to waste.
In his world view centred on God, the value that something offered to the plan of God for the universe was given precedence over the value that the same object might have in and of itself. For example, the sexual aspect of human beings was to be used for human reproduction as part of the grand plan of God, but not for human pleasure exclusively. Quite obviously, this world view centred on God was very hierarchical in its order of priorities.
All other good thing had a lower priority than did grand design of God. By corollary, this accorded reduced value to the works of God's creation in their own right, whether the topic was the beauty of nature, the intricacy of the human body, the sophisticated social behaviour of an animal species, etc.
The adoption of this world view that was centred on God had significant implications for the ideas of Augustine about the purpose and content of education, government, sexual relationships, the waging of war, economic activity, the rearing of children, and the Church itself. (The purpose of the Church is fundamentally not of this world.) The distinction by Augustine between this higher world of perfection and a lower world of corruption was possibly too absolute.
Even so, it remained influential throughout the Middle Ages, especially in the unsafe hands of teachers who misused it simplistically and conservatively. In contrast, the Second Vatican Council of the years 1963 - 1965 expedited a corrective liberal effort to move the church out from under some of the negative attitudes that were still lingering in the church partly through the influence of Augustine.
The Council desired that the inherent good in all aspects of the reality of the Creation by God be more positively utilised in bringing the Good News to the modern world in ways that are philosophically sympathetic with contemporary societies. Concern is always expressed that the hierarchical world view of Augustine that is centred on God has an otherworldly focus that too strongly gives priority to spiritual matters. This could hinder any movement towards significant change in the contemporary church or society.
The followers of liberation theology, feminist theology and the spiritual tradition of creation in recent decades have had reason to challenge Augustine about this. His ultimate world view was certainly Christian but, in comparison with the documents Second Vatican Council, conservatively Christian.
It is generally recognised that Augustine was the first speculative philosopher of history. He has the distinction of being the first scholar to envisage a unified interpretation of all of history. His world view characterises nations and rulers as generally aiming for justice but creating injustice. He saw them as seeking peace but failing because it was their own peace that they sought.
The peace of the earthly world, he said, was only a lull in a continuing conflict for worldly power. It is possible to assert that the world view of Augustine was too conveniently laid aside by numerous authors during the past two hundred years. They were ready to dismiss the thought of Augustine as being too pessimistic for their liking.
As realistic as any modern scholar in political and international affairs, Augustine had always insisted that an inordinate interest in self led to destruction, as seen in the examples he presented from the classical Roman and Greek history - most of all in the fall of Rome in the year 410.
For Augustine, to seek for security alone - even solely at a worldly level - would be to reduce the chances of its appearance, and hence to increase the very insecurity there is the intention of avoiding. As Pope Paul VI stated, "In order to seek peace, seek justice."
But the world view of Augustine, being centred on God, went beyond the seeking of a peace that focused solely on what is material. For him, all things point to God because all things depend on God. God is in all things as the source of their being, as the power behind and within their power, and as the order that regulates them. Augustine said: "I am, I know that I am, and I delight in my being and my knowing. I am, I know, I love."
Correspondingly, I know that my being depends on Eternal Being; that my truth is a dim reflection of the divine light that shines within, and that my loving is the love of God love present in my heart. God, therefore, is eternity, truth and love, the ground of all temporal being, its order and its goodness. As each creature is, knows and wills in dependence on God, so its good is to clasp in love to God, to know God and to be in God.
Without God, all that exists quickly becomes nothing, all order disorder, all temporal things a vanishing present, and all love conflict. In the first paragraph of his Confessions Augustine had written: "You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."
This is the truth upon which Augustine bases his world view. Human beings can only define their context and find their fulfilment and peace when in union with the Will of God. The world view of Augustine is centred on God, and the world view of many contemporary citizens of Earth is not. Yet his diagnosis of the need for God, as for the soul, seems far more credible today than much that is written today about today.
The Augustinian world view. Go to this lengthy website and scroll down to Section C. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/aug-poso