Augustine and sainthood

It is a commonplace of hagiography to extol the saint whom one is writing about to such an extent that the saint is turned into something almost but not quite human. There are, for example, various lives of saints which record the various miracles the saint performed while still an infant, including healings, preachings, and conversions performed while the saint before the average person would even be able to utter a meaningful sound or take a single step. There are the accounts of saints having conversations with animals, of saints transcending the laws of nature, and of saints evincing such love and courage in the face of dire circumstances that everyone for hundreds of miles around is converted to faith in Christ. And then there is St. Augustine and his Confessions.

As the most influential figure of the Western Church perhaps in all of history, Augustine would, no doubt, have been the victim of these mythologized and eulogized hagiographies to which so many other important saints have been subject. He, however, did the work himself of ensuring that we remember him as the deeply flawed and altogether normal human being that he was.

As Augustine traces his life, inner and outer, from infancy to adulthood to conversion to Christianity, the reader is allowed an insight into a man much like himself. What we see is a man driven by lust and tossed about by doubt. What we see, in short, is a man — a real, living human being like ourselves who shared in the same passions in which we share. And who, through the grace of God, conquered them all and became one of the greatest saints of the Christian Church.

If St. Augustine can be a saint, anyone can be saint. And that, in short, is what makes The Confessions one of the greatest of the Great Books.

King David (Introduction to Western Civilization 2.8)

After the death of Moses, Moses’s disciple Joshua took charge of the Hebrew people. He led them into the Promised Land and helped them to conquer it from the nations that were in control of it at that time. He established the nation of Israel. After Joshua’s death, Israel was ruled by a group of people called judges. The judges decided who was right and who was wrong in disputes between individuals and made sure the law was followed.

The people of Israel, though, wanted to be like the other nations around them. While Israel was ruled by judges, the other nations were ruled by kings. They asked God for a king. A man named Saul was selected for the job. Saul then became the first king of Israel. Saul did a terrible job as king, however. He used his power for his own good instead of the good of the people.

At that time, the Israelites were at war with another group of people called the Philistines. There was a Philistine warrior named Goliath who challenged all of the Israelites. He mocked their nation and their God. He told them to send their best warrior and he would defeat him. All of the Israelites were afraid except for one teenage boy named David.

David was angry that Goliath had insulted Israel and its God. He decided to fight Goliath. David was so little he could not even wear the armor Israelite warriors usually wore nor could he lift a sword, but he decided to fight Goliath anyway. As he stepped forward to challenge Goliath, the tall, muscular Philistine laughed. “I challenge you to send your best warrior,” he said,” and you send me a boy!” Goliath was big and strong. He was sure he was going to win in a fight against David. When the fight began, however, David took his slingshot, put a rock into it, and shot at straight at Goliath’s head. The rock hit Goliath in the forehead and killed him instantly. Goliath fell to the ground dead. All of Israel praised David as a great warrior who had saved their nation.

Saul, however, was not happy. He was very jealous of David. He knew that the people of Israel hated him and loved David. Saul tried to kill David, but David led his own army of followers who fought back against Saul. After a long fight between David and Saul, Saul was killed in battle and David became the next king of Israel.

David became king of Israel in about 1000 BC and reigned as king for 30 years. During that time, he led the Israelites to many victories over their enemies. The Israelites enjoyed a long period of prosperity with David as king.

Although David was a devout worshipper of God and a great king, he is also remembered for a horrible sin he committed while he was king. One day, while he was on the rooftop of his palace, he saw a beautiful woman named Bathsheba taking a bath on the rooftop of a house nearby. David fell in love with her when he saw her and wanted her to become his wife. After asking around, however, he found out that she was already married. There was a war going on at the time and her husband was a soldier. David ordered that her husband be placed on the front line of soldiers in an attack and that the other soldiers leave him to die. After the death of her husband, David took Bathsheba as his own wife.

One day, the prophet Nathan came to King David and told him a story. “There was a poor man,” he said, “who had only one little lamb. This lamb was his only lamb and he loved it very much. He loved this lamb so much that he took care of it in every way, feeding it at his table and allowing it to sleep in his bed. A rich man then came and took this little lamb away and murdered the poor man.” After telling this story, Nathan asked David, “What should be done to this rich man?”

David jumped up out of his seat in anger and yelled, “Bring me that rich man so that I might send him to be executed!”

Nathan the prophet looked up at the king and said, “You, King David, are that rich man.”

David knew that he had done something terrible. He cried, prayed, and fasted for days, asking God to forgive him. One prayer that he wrote during this time was Psalm 51, which many Christians and Jews still pray today as a prayer of repentance.

The first child that Bathsheba gave birth to died not long after it was born as a punishment for David’s sin. The second child that Bathsheba had, however, was a son named Solomon. Solomon became king of Israel after David’s death and is still remembered today for his great wisdom.

 

Review Questions

1. Who was the first king of Israel?

 2. Who was the second king of Israel?

3. What psalm did David write after his sin?

 

Vocabulary Words

Prophet – a person who receives messages from God

Psalm – a religious poem, often written in the form of a prayer

Slavery caused the Civil War

Though there were other, largely secondary, factors involved, the central cause of the Civil War was undoubtedly the “peculiar institution” of slavery. The issue of slavery had been a divisive factor from a very early point in American history. It was so much so that the Founding Fathers intentionally chose to put off decisively handling the issue for a subsequent generation, in spite of their insistence in the Declaration of Independence and throughout their principles that “all men are created equal.”1 In their unwillingness to resolve the issue of slavery once and for all, the founders of the United States created the situation which led to the Civil War. Slavery was identified as the central dividing issue in the Civil War by the leadership of the Confederate States of America in their justifications for secession, by others members of the Confederacy in their thoughts on the war, and by the Union leadership in their statements on the Civil War and its causes.

Confederate leadership early on stated that slavery was the central issue over which they were seceding from the Union. They saw Northern industrialists, abolitionists, and politicians as encroaching on their “peculiar institution” and saw secession as the only way to save it. Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, could not have made this point any clearer than when he said, “our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea [from abolition]; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man, that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.”2 

While their leadership recognized and clearly stated, even boasted, over their reasons for secession, the soldiers who fought under them also recognized slavery as the primary reason for their fight. While their leadership proudly proclaimed the inferiority of blacks and sought openly to keep them in subjugation, the average Southern soldier did not own any slaves and some questioned whether the reasons for the war were really worth the cost or were even ethical reasons. According to historian David J. Eicher, “a small but growing number of Confederate soldiers began to question the ruining of their society over slavery.”3 To this effect, he cites the words of one soldier, Colonel William H.A. Speer, wondering whether “there is some national sin hanging over [the Confederacy]” and stating his belief that if Southern slave owners were to agree to emancipate their slaves within 30 years the war would end almost immediately.3

Union leaders, on the other hand, early identified their primary aim in the war as “a struggle to preserve the Union.”5 However, as time went on, Union leadership very quickly realized that the only way to preserve the Union was to agree with the Confederate leadership that the war was primarily about slavery and to adopt the opposite position, seeking to “reconstruct the Union into the nation it should have been without slavery.”6 To this end, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, making it clear that the Union side was willing to match the Confederacy in its own goals.


Though there are other factors that must be taken into consideration when considering the causes of the Civil War, slavery was without a doubt the primary issue and the one around which the others revolve and from which they largely emerged. The Founding Fathers had deferred in their duties and created the situation that led almost inevitably to the Civil War. As is made clear from the stated reasons for secession on the part of Confederate leadership, the statements of soldiers who fought on the side of the Confederacy during the war, and the statements, however hesitant, of the Union leadership, the Civil War was fought over slavery.







1 Declaration of Indepence, National Archives, accessed 14 November 2012, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html.
2 Alexander Hamilton Stephens, in David J. Eicher, The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), 49.
3 Ibid., 626-7.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid., 364-5.
6 Ibid.