Augustine And The Scandal Of The North African Catholic Mind -- By: Paul Copan

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 41:2 (Jun 1998)
Article: Augustine And The Scandal Of The North African Catholic Mind
Author: Paul Copan


Augustine And The Scandal
Of The North African Catholic Mind

Paul Copan*

* Paul Copan is a doctoral candidate at Marquette University and lives at N. 151 Franklin Road, Oconomowoc, WI 53066.

Four years ago Mark Noll wrote a landmark book entitled The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.1 He pointed out that modern evangelicals are not known for their rigorous thinking, nor does popular evangelicalism tend to sustain the intellectual life.2 Such a situation, he noted, has practical implications. For instance, who will teach the children of evangelicals if they are not taught to love God with all their mind? All too often it is Hollywood or Madison Avenue3 —not to mention fringe religious groups preying upon unprepared young minds.

This scandal within Christendom is hardly a first, however. One was taking place during the time of Augustine (b. AD 354). In this case it was the scandal of the North African Catholic mind—a scandal that pushed him toward the Manichees, a Christian fringe group. During Augustine’s day North African Catholica were closeminded toward reason, toward a faith seeking understanding.4 And despite the simple, vibrant faith of his mother Monica, the young Augustine did not receive within Catholic Christianity the intellectual answers to his questions that he so desperately sought.

In this paper I shall briefly explore Augustine’s antiintellectual environment and its characteristics—especially with regard to the North African clergy—and then discuss the significant effect this had in driving him into the arms of the Manichees.

I. North African Catholic Christianity

The atmosphere of North African Christendom in which Augustine grew up reflected the influential thought of Tertullian (d. ca. 220), who asked, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?”5 The porch of Solomon, where Jesus would customarily teach, was sufficient for him. Tertullian then added: “I have no use for a Stoic or a Platonic or a dialectic Christianity. After Jesus we have no need of speculation, after the Gospel no need of research.”

Although Tertullian did utilize stoic philosophy, pre-Socratic philosophers, and even Aristotle (who studied at Plato’s academy in Athens, which apparently had more to do with Jerusalem than Tertullian let on), his aversion to philosophy was no secret.6 His fideistic comment, “I...

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