Augustine of Hippo Hump Day


What does it say about my mind that the name “Augustine of Hippo” immediately conjures up the image of a hippopotamus dressed as a bishop? Of course, “hippo” actually means “horse, ” with a hippopotamus being a “river horse,” but I don’t know of any particular connection between horses and the city of Hippo Regius (now Annaba, Algeria) either. Anyway, you know how preachers are always going on about what promiscuous party animals they were before finding Jesus, and you get the impression they’re wildly exaggerating (well, at least I do)? Augustine seems to have been a trendsetter in that respect, since he’s said to have been a hedonist before his conversion to Christianity. Nobody seems to be all that clear in exactly what his hedonistic behavior entailed, however, aside from having several affairs and following the Gnostic religion of Manichaeism. His mother Monica was a Christian, but he didn’t enter into the faith until Easter of 387, when he was thirty-one years old. He then gave up his position teaching philosophy, gave away his worldly possessions, and became celibate. He also came up with the idea of original sin, which seems awfully convenient to me. I mean, he was able to use this concept to excuse what he saw as bad behavior in the past, while also saying that none of it really counted because Jesus forgave him. I’m all for self-improvement, but isn’t it more effective to search for the roots of your negative traits instead of just deciding that it was Adam and Eve’s fault? I can’t help but feel that some of these people who turn from a life of sex or drug addiction to hardcore religion are just trading one addiction for another. Augustine was also known for addressing the concept of the just war, feeling that sometimes war was necessary to preserve peace. So turning the other cheek didn’t apply then, or what? I’m not saying there isn’t merit to this idea, just that I’m not sure it squares too well with the actual teachings of Jesus. But then, Augustine’s background was in Greek philosophy, and I often get the impression that this was just as important to the development of Christianity as anything Jesus said or did.

By the way, I don’t usually bother explaining my titles, but the reference here is particularly obscure. It refers to Hippo Hump Day at Scarlet Clarity, which has since been updated to the more general Pachyderm Wednesday. So now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

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7 Responses to Augustine of Hippo Hump Day

  1. I read Augustine’s City of God in college, and was struck by his division of divine beings into angels and demons. It carried over from his Manichaean period that there was an absolute division between what he called good and what he branded as evil. If only the work of Varro, whom he critiques, would have survived! Western spirituality would have a more balanced outlook. And, I must mention Augustine’s concubine and his son, Adeodatus. If I remember correctly, he abandoned them upon his conversion. City of God led me to leave the church, so at least I will thank Augustine for that.

    • Nathan says:

      Yes, I’m pretty sure he considered abandoning his concubine and son to be the moral, Christian choice.

      • Well, he didn’t entirely abandon Adeodatus but let me tell you, the story gets more hilarious. When he finally turned thirty-two and had agreed to settle down with the Christian intellectuals, his mother, Monica, sent Adeodatus’ mother (the woman with whom he’d had 15 years of nonmarried fornicating and traveling with) back to North Africa and arranged for Augustine to marry a proper bride. This bride was not yet the marriageable age of twelve, so he was supposed to wait for her. Ironically with Adeodatus’ mother out of the picture and this limbo he picked up yet another lover until 386 CE when he had his Jesus epiphany. Abandoned that woman, but taking Adeodatus with him, Augustine took a vow of poverty, celibacy, study, and prayer, founding the Augustinian order of monks in Thagaste. That worked until the whole Hippo making him a bishop thing and he worked on Confessions, City of God, etc.

  2. vilajunkie says:

    I immediately thought that Augustine would fit very well as a less recent Patrician of Ankh-Morpork or even more ancient, a King of the Ankh.

  3. How sweet of you to reference me and my love for the Pachydermata and Hippopotamus amphibius! *^__^*
    As for Mister Aurelius Augustinus, I think in thinking about the hellish concept of original sin nowadays, it is easy to overlook the only available philosophies he danced with. Manichaeism ran with the concept that sin is justifiable because the body is evil because it traps the spiritual self; which made it more excusable than what Augustine felt permissible for his deeds. He also was heavily influenced by Neoplatonism as well, which viewed evil as merely an absence of good rather than having its own objective reality. I think in looking at these two influential justifications for sin, Augustine was taking about as far of a leap towards personal responsible that maybe a man in 350 AD could muster? That’s my take at any rate. Besides, the medieval Christian theologians are the ones that really took it to hellish degrees of absurdity.
    “No one but us monks can read. Let’s make shit up to shut up those bloody peasants!”

  4. Pingback: Mice, Ducks, and Aliens | VoVatia

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