Conclusion on Christian Scarab Symbolism

These are my concluding comments to my previous blog Church Fathers on Christ as Scarab.

Many scholars over the last couple of centuries have been quoting various Church Fathers in reference to Christ as Scarab.  This is  a truly profound fact and it’s utterly amazing how ignorant the average Christian is of early Christianity.  Some apologists dismiss these quotes out of hand.  Going by my research, even academic scholars have seemingly ignored this topic for the past century, not even attempting to disprove anything.  Apparently, these quotes and the claims about them, correct or not, were widely known in the 19th century and then there was deafening silence.  It reminds me of what Robert M. Price has written (in his Introducing the Journal of Higher Criticism).  He points out how old scholarship has been forgotten without ever having been refuted and new scholarship has become very conservative.

Gerald Massey’s scholarship is an example of this which D.M. Murdock discusses in her book Christ In Egypt. In my research, I confirmed a point that Murdock made numerous times (also with an extensive analysis in the introduction). Throughout the book, she compares Massey’s scholarship against that of other scholars. By doing this, she verified that at least some of his sources were reliable and that he wasn’t just inventing his claims out of thin air, although there remains much question about what the Church Fathers actually said in reference to the scarab (it makes me wonder about the original sources as many people, not only Massey, were quoting various sources over several centuries).

Two of the critics of Massey’s scholarship are Stanley E. Porter and Stephen J. Bedard.  In their book Unmasking the Pagan Christ, they respond to Tom Harpur’s use of Massey.  But it seems telling that they don’t even mention Augustine’s quotes about the scarab.  It is true that Massey’s writings are a century old and so much has been discovered since then.  Also, it’s true that he had no formal education.  Still, he relied on the scholarship of the best scholars of his day including having his work proofed by some of these academic scholars.  Porter and Bedard are apologists, and so they’re criticisms aren’t fundamentally academic.  If they were to research as deeply as Murdock has, then they couldn’t as easily dismiss Massey’s work, whatever one thinks about the scarab issue.

Another critic is James Patrick Holding (AKA Robert Turkel).  His Tektonics website is seemingly the most popular apologetics site as it always comes up top in websearches.  It says a lot about our society that apologists get top page rankings.  He is your typical online Christian apologist.  He is notorious for immature behavior and a lack of intellectual honesty.  It isn’t fair to put him in the same category as Porter and Bedard.  Those latter two, even though lacking in a fundamental understanding of mythicist theories, are actual New Testament scholars.  Even so, Holding likewise criticizes Harpur and Massey.  He demands that others provide the sources of the Augustine and Ambrose quotes about the scarab, but that is just his sophistry talking.  If he actually wanted to know the sources, he could’ve done the research I’ve done just by doing websearches.  Doing research at a university library would bring up even further citations.
Anyways, I don’t know why these quotes, assuming they are true, from the Church fathers should be surprising.  Augustine and Ambrose were called Church Doctors because of their Greco-Roman educations.  The Greco-Roman tradition was grounded within Hellenism which was a mix of Greek philosophy and Egyptian religion. The scarab itself was an important symbol in Greek writings centuries before Christianity arose (for example, Aesop and Aristophanes).  Augustine grew up in North Africa which was a hotbed for hereticism, and he was a Manichaean for about a decade before becoming a Christian.  Manichaeanism arrived in Roman North Africa from Egypt (Ancient Gnosticism, by Birger A. Pearson, p. 310).  Roman religions based on and influenced by Egyptian religion were the most popular religions of the time (e.g., Serapis whose worshippers included early Christians).  Also, early Coptic Christians inscribed crosses on scarabs and invoked Jesus side by side with Horus.

Church Fathers on Christ as Scarab

I was recently looking back over my copy of Tom Harpur’s The Pagan Christ.  I came across a passage where he pointed out some Egyptian symbolism found in Christianity and in particular spoken of by the early Church Fathers.  The passage can be found in a previous blog post of mine (Egyptian Symbols within Christianity), but here is the section of it that really caught my attention:

Much more important, however, is the fact that the Egyptian texts bear witness to an “only begotten god” (meaning begotten of one parent only), whose symbol was the beetle because in ancient science this creature was thought to be “self-produced, being unconceived by a female.”  Massey says, “The only begotten god is a well-known type [symbol], then, of divinity worshipped in Egypt.  In each cult, the Messiah-son and manifestor was the only-begotten god.  This, according to the Egyptian text, is the Christ, the Word, the manifestor in John’s Gospel.”  In fact, in one early version of the Greek text of the New Testament’s Gospel of John, the phrase “the only begotten son of God” actually reads “the only begotten god”!  Its very unorthodoxy makes it likely that it is the preferred, original reading.

The truth thus came forcefully home to me that this Egyptian Christ is indeed the express image of the Christ of John’s Gospel, who begins in the first chapter without father or mother and is the Word of the beginning, the opener and the architect, the light of the world, the self-originated and only-begotten God.  I found that the very phraseology of John often echoed the Egyptian texts, which tell of he who was “the Beginning of the becoming, from the first, who made all things but was not made.”  Some of the Fathers of the Church knew that the beetle was a symbol of Christ.  Augustine, indeed, writes, “My own good beetle, not so much because he is only begotten (God), not because he, the author of himself, has taken on the form of mortals, but because he has rolled himself in our filth and chooses to be born from this filth itself” – like the dung beetle.

As Harpur is quoting Gerald Massey here, I assume he also found the quotes of Augustine within Massey’s writings.  Massey does mention the Church Father Augustine and Ambrose as well.  I looked around and found a site (linked below) where his work can be found along with helpful notes.  The person who runs the site said they had some difficulty tracking down some of the references.  Some apologists like to dismiss these quotes of Massey because he sometimes doesn’t offer citations (a problem with a lot of older scholarship).
In one rendition of John’s gospel, instead of the ‘only-begotten Son of God,’ a variant reading gives the ‘only-begotten God,’ which has been declared an impossible rendering. But the ‘only-begotten God’ was an especial type in Egyptian mythology, and the phrase re-identifies the divinity whose emblem is the beetle. Horapollo says, ‘To denote the only-begotten or a father, the Egyptians delineate a scarabaeus! [p.11]By this they symbolize an only-begotten, because the creature is self-produced, being unconceived by a female.’[38]Now the youthful manifestor of the beetle-god was this Iu-em-hept, the Egyptian Jesus. The very phraseology of John is common to the inscriptions, which tell of him who was the Beginner of Becoming from the first, and who made all things, but who himself was not made. I quote verbatim. And not only was the beetle-god continued in the ‘only-begotten God’; the beetle-type was also brought on as a symbol of the Christ. Ambrose and Augustine, amongst the Christian Fathers, identified Jesus with, and as, the ‘good Scarabaeus,’[39] which further identifies the Jesus of John’s gospel with the Jesus of Egypt, who was the Ever-Coming One, and the bringer of peace, whom I have elsewhere[40]shown to be the Jesus to whom the Book of Ecclesiasticus is inscribed, and ascribed in the Apocrypha.

In accordance with this continuation of the Kamite symbols, it was also maintained by some sectaries that Jesus was a potter, and not a carpenter; and the fact is that this only-begotten beetle-god, who is portrayed sitting at the potter’s wheel forming the egg, or shaping the vase-symbol of creation, was the potter personified, as well as the only-begotten god in Egypt.

[39] [Ambrose, Works, Paris, 1686, vol. 1, col. 1528. ‘After the Christian era the influence of the scarab was still felt. St Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, calls Jesus: “The good Scarabaeus, who rolled up before him the hitherto unshapen mud of our bodies.”‘ See Myers, Scarabs, p. 63. See also BB 1:233, BB 2:317, NG 2:408. See AE 2:732 where both this quote and the above are cited on the same page.]

Following that citation, I found some quotes of the Church Fathers in Isaac Myer‘s book Scarabs on p. 63:

After the Christian era the influence of cult of the scarab was still felt.  St. Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, calls Jesus: “The good Scarabaeus, who rolled up before him the hitherto unshapen mud of our bodies.”  St. Epiphanius has been quoted as saying of Christ: “He is the scarabaeus of God,” and indeed it appears likely that what may be called, Christian forms of scarab, yet exist.  One has been described as representing the crucifixion of Jesus; if is white and engraving is in green on the back are two palm branches; many others have been found apparently engraved with the Latin cross.

Myers gives this citation: Works, Pris, 1686, Vol. I., col.1528, No. 113.  Egyptian Mythology and Egyptian Christianity, etc., by Samuel Sharpe.  London, 1863, p. 3.  In Samuel Sharpe’s book, I could only find the quotes on p. 111 near the end of the chapter titled The Religion of Lower Egypt but there is no citation:

St. Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, calls Jesus “the good Scarabaeus, who rolled up before him the hitherto unshapen mud of our bodies,” thus giving to him one of the names and characters of the god Horus, who is pictured as a scarabaeus with a ball of mud between his feet.  The ball, which usually means the sun, would seem to have sometimes meant the sins of mankind; and the goddesses Isis and Nephthys are represented as rolling the same ball before them.  St. Augustin also during the greater part of his life was a Manichaean, and held the Gnostic opinion of a god of goodness and a god of evil; and he was so far an admirer of the Egyptians, or at least of their practice of making mummies, as to say that they were the only Christians who really and fully believed in a future resurrection from the dead.

Also referring to Myer’s book is The Evolution of the Idea of God by Grant Allen and Franklin T. Richards (page 145):

In Mr. Loftie’s collection of sacred beetles is a scarabaeus containing a representation of the crucifixion, with two palm branches: and other scarabs have Christian crosses.  If we remember how extremely sacred the scarab was held in the Egyptian religion, and also that it was regarded as the symbol of resurrection, we cannot possibly miss the importance of this implication.  Indeed, the Alexandrian Father, Epiphanius, speaks of Christ as “the scarabaeus of God,” a phrase which may be still better understood if I add that in the treatise on hieroglyphs known under the name of Horapollo a scarabaeus is said to denote “an only-begotten.”  Thus “the lamb of God” in the tongue of Israel becomes “the scarabaeus of God” in the mouth of an Egyptian speaker.

I also came across a reference in the Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th Edition (1875) and 10th Edition (1902).  In the article Alchemy (Part 2), this is written:

In Egypt the doctrine of the Palingenesis was symbolized by the Scarabeaus, which suggested to St Augustine the following strange comparison: “Jesus Christus bonus ille scarabaeus meus, non ea tantum de causa unigenitus, quod, ipsement sui auctor mortalium speciem induxerit, sed quod in fac faece nostra sese volutarit et ex ipsa nasci homo voluerit.”
 And, from pages 123-24 of History of Interpretation by Frederic William Farrar:
A favorite quotation of the Fathers was “He reigned from the wood” which they applied to Christ.  The words “from the wood” are an addition found in some Mss. of the Seventy in Ps. xcvi. 10; and from the old Latin version the reading found its way into the pages of Tertullian.
In Hab. ii. 11, the Seventy render the word “beam” . . . but probably it merely meant a knot in the wood. [1]  Some Latin versions rendered it “scarabaeus,” beetle, and this led to some singular comments.  Thus St. Ambrose (De Obitu Theodosii) speaks of “Him who, like a beetle, called to his persecutors,” and says “He was the good beetle who called from the wood.” [2]
[1] Vulg., Lignum quod inter junctivas aedificiorum est (tie-beam).
[2] On Luke xxiii.  We find elsewhere “bonus scarabaeus” applied to our Lord.
In The Expositor, this issue of the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX.)  is also described on pages 25-26:
There are allusions and quotations in the ancient Fathers which, apart from the LXX., would be wholly unintelligible.  When, for instance, St. Ambrose, in his orations De Orbita Theodosii, says of Helena, “She worshipped Him who hung on the wood; . . . .  Him who, like a beetle, called to his persecutors,” &c. ; and in his comment on Luke xxiii., “He was the good beetle who called from the wood”—how utterly should we be at a loss to explain the allusion, if the LXX. did not furnish us with the requisite clue.  In Hab. ii. 11, instead of “the beam out of the timber shall answer it,” we read in the LXX., . . . . which usually means “beetle,” is explained by St. Cyril to be a technical term for ” a cross-beam.”  Hence “bonus scarabaeus,” “the good beetle,”—astonishing as such a title may appear to us,—was not unknown to Christian antiquity as a designation of our Lord.  Again, when we find Tertullian challenging Marcion to tell him what he thought of David’s prophecy, “He reigned from the wood,” how much we should be perplexed to conjecture where any such prophecy occurred in the Old Testament, . . . .  This reading found its way into the old Latin version, the Vetus Itala, and is referred to not only by Tertullian, but also by Justin Martyr.
From 1827, Thomas Moore in his book The Epicurean on page 281 quotes Augustine:
“Bonus ille scarabaeus meus,” says St. Augustine, “non ea tantum de causa quod unigenitus, quod ipsemet sui auctor mortalium speciem induerit, sed quod in bac nostra faece sese volutaverit, et ex hae ipsa nasci voluerit.”
I noticed in the book Notes and Queries published by Oxford University Press in 1884 that someone had questioned about this (page 247):
In Moore’s Epicurean (third edition, 1827, p.313), there is a quotation from St. Augustine: “Bonus ille scarabaeus meus,” &c.  I have searched the works of Augustine in vain to find this passage.  Moore does not give any more exact reference. . . .  In Migne’s edition (vol. v. col. 2039) there is a kind of abstract of a sermon, which may or may not be by St. Augustine, in which there is this sentence: “Christus in cruce vermis et scarabaeus.”
Robert Shaw, writing around the same time as Gerald Massey, came to similar conclusions in his book Sketch of the Religions of the World on pages 232-33:
In one version of Jno. 1, 18, instead of the “only begotten son” of God, the reading is the “only begotten God;” and it has been declared impossible for the sacred writer to have employed the phrase “only begotten God.”  It is said to be contrary to the genius of the Gospel and opposed to the general teachings of the New Testament.  But these things can only be determined by the doctrines and the gnosis that were pre-extant.  Of course, the current Christology knows nothing of any such possible variant as the “only begotten God,” because of the  ignorance of the Egyptian origines.  But the “only begotten God” was an expecial type in the ancient allegory and the phrase recovers the divinity whose emblem is the beetle.  This was Kephr-Ptah, who, like Atum, was reborn as his own son, Iu-em-hept, the Egyptian Jesus.  “To denote an only begotten son or a father,” says Hor-Apollo, the Egyptians “delineate a Scarabeus.  and they symbolize by this an only-begotten, because the scarabaeus is a creature self-produced, being unconceived by a female.”  This was in a cult which tried hard to dethrone the female and exalt the male god as the only one.  The “only begotten god” is a well-known gype of divinity in Egypt, worshipped as Khepr-Ptah and Khepr-Atum, and in each cult the Messiah, son and manifestor, was the only begotten god, Iu-em-hept, and Iu, the son whether of Ptah or Atum is Iusu or Jesu.  This, according to the text, is the Christ, the Word, the Manifestor of John’s Gospel, who begins in the first chapter without father or mother, and is the Word of the beginning, the opener and architect, the light of the world, the self-originated and only begotten God.  The phraseology of John is common in the Egyptian texts, which tell of him who was the Beginner of Becoming from the first, “who made all things but was not made.”  There were Christian traditions which support this reading “only begotten God.”  Some of the Fathers, Ambrose, for one, knew that the beetle was a symbol of Christ.  Augustine also identifies the Christ with or as the good Scarabaeus, of which he speaks as follows:  “He is my own good beetle, not because he is only-begotten, not because he himself, the author of himself, has taken on the form of mortals, but because he has rolled himself in our filth and chooses to be born from this filth itself.”
I noticed some authors mentioning Athanasius Kircherius.  He apparently is the same as Athanasius Kircher who supposedly is considered the founder of Egyptology.  Robert Taylor mentions him (along with others) on pages 11-12 in his book Devil’s Pulpit:
So the learned father Athanasius Kircherius assures us, that “by the May-bug was signified the only begotten Son of God, by whom all things were made, and witout whom was not anything made that was made.”  The words of St. Augustin are: “Bonus ille scarabaeus meus, non ea tantum de causa, quod unigenitus, quod ipsemet sui auctor, mortalium speciem induerit, sed quod in hac faece nostra sese volutaverit, et ex ipsa, nasci homo voluerit.  He [that is Jesus Christ] was my good cockchafer; not merely because, like a cockchafer, he was the only begotten, because he created himself, and put on a species of mortals, but because he created himself, and put on a species of mortals, but because he rolled himself, in human excre—” Casalius de. Veter. AEgyp. Ritibus, p. 35.) . . . .  The learned Casalius, in quoting so solemn a declaration of so great a saint, that “Jesus Christ was a cockchafer, or May-bug,” proves that the saint must have been right, from those words of God himself, in the 22d Psalm, where he expressly says of himself—”as for me, I am a worm and not a man.”— . . . . where the Hebrew word, which has been translated, a worm, as the great Casalius thinks, should have been translated a cockchafer.
I couldn’t find anything about Casalius, but I found some more of Taylor’s writings in The Comet by H.D. Robinson.  In connection with Kircherius’ statement about the may-bug/scarab, Taylor makes some interesting points on page 264 that give further context:
This Zodiacal worm, like all the rest of the signs of the Zodiac, was, in its turn, worshipped as the Supreme God, and it is none other than the most intelligent fathers of the Christian church, who assure us that it was Jesus Christ himself, who, in 22d Psalm, contemplating his descent into the lower regions, spoke in this character: ‘But as for me, I am a worm: and no many, a very scorn of men, and the outcast of people.  Psalm xxii. 6.
Many of our learned translators render the word . . . . scarabaeus, or cockchafer, and one of the titles of Hercules was Scarabaeus, or Hercules, the cockchafer.  But it is Christian, and not Pagan piety, to which we owe this sublime interpretation.

Faith of the Early Apologists

Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock), The Christ Conspiracy

pp 24.25:

Indeed, the story of Jesus as presented in the gospels, mass of impossibilities and contradictions that it is, has been so difficult to believe that even the fanatic Christian “doctor” and saint, Augustine (384- 430), admitted, “I should not believe in the truth of the Gospels unless the authority of the Catholic Church forced me to do so.”  Nevertheless, the “monumentally superstitious and credulous Child of faith” Augustine must not have been too resistant, because he already accepted “as historic truth the fabulous founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus, their virgin birth by the god Mars, and their nursing by a she-wolf…”

Apparently unable to convince himself rationally of the validity of his faith, early Church Father Tertullian (c. 160-200) made the notorious statement “Credo quia incredibilis — I believe because it is unbelievable.”  An “ex-Pagan,” Tertullian vehemently and irrationally defendedhis new faith, considered fabricated by other Pagans, by acknowledging that Christianity was a “shameful thing” and “monstrously absurd”:

“…  I mean that the Son of God was born; why am I not ashamed of maintaining such a thing?  Why! but because it is itself a shameful thing.  I maintain that the Son of God died; well, that is wholly credible because it is monstrously absurd.  I maintain that after having been buried, he rose again; and that I take to be absolutely true, because it was manifestly impossible.”

Early Apologists Speaking Honestly

“The Religion proclaimed by him to All Nations was neither New nor Strange.”

 ~ Bishop Eusebius (264-c.340 AD/CE), The History of the Church (2:4)


“For what is now called the Christian religion existed of old and was never absent from the beginning of the human race until Christ came in the flesh.  Then true religion which already existed began to be called Christian.”

 ~ St. Augustine (354-430 AD/CE), Retractiones (1:13)

Tarnas on Agustine’s Anti-intellectualism

I own The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas.  I don’t normally read books about history except when they directly relate to religion, but this is a good book.  It covers a lot of territory and sometimes I wish the author would go more deeply into certain aspects.  Besides that minor complaint, the author does manage to capture some central streams of development.  He spends a decent amount of time on Christianity and the Roman Empire, and that is why I was looking at it recently.  

The following excerpt is about Augustine and the early Christian attitude toward science and rationality. 

pp 113-14: Moreover, in the new self-awareness of the late classical and early Christian era, most acutely epitomized in Augustine, the individual soul’s concern for its spiritual destiny was far more significant than the rational intellect’s concern with conceptual thnking or empirical study.  Faith alone in the miracle of Christ’s redemption was enough to bring the deepest saving truth to man.  Despite his erudition and appreciation for the intellectual and scientific achievement of the Greeks, Augustine proclaimed:

“When, then, the question is asked what we are to believe in regrd to religion, it is not necessary to probe into the nature of things, as was done by those whom the Greeks call physici; nor need we be in alarm lest the Christian shoud be ignorant of the force and thenumber of the elemetns; the motion, and order, and eclipses of the heavenly bodies; the form of the heavens; the species and natures of animals, plants, stones, fountains, rivers, mountains; about chronology and distances; the signs of coming storms; and a thousand other things which those philosophers either have found out, or think they have found out….  It is enough for the christian to believe that the only cause of all created things, whether heavenly or earthly, whether visible or invisible, is the goodness of the Creator, the one true God; and that nothing exists but Himself that does not derive its existence from him.”  (Enchiridion, in Augustine, Works, vol. 9, edited by M. Dods; Edinburgh (Edinburgh; Clark, 1871-77), 180-181.)

With the rise of Christianity, the already decadent state of science in the late Roman era received little encouragement for new developments.  Early Christians experienced no intellectual urgency to “save the phenomena” of this world, since the phenomenal world held no significance compared with the transcendent spiritual reality.  More precisely, the all-redeeming Christ had already saved the phenomena, so there was little need for mathematics or astronomy to perform the task.  The study of astornomy in particular, being tied to astrology and the cosmic religion of the Hellenistic era, was discouraged.  The monotheistic Hebrews had already had occasion to condemn foreign astrologers, and this attitude persisted in the Christian context.  with its planetary deities, annd aura of polytheistic paganism, and with its proneness to a determinism antithetical to both divine grace and human responsibility, astrology was officially condemned by Church councils (with Augustine especially seeing the need for confuting the astrological “mathematicians”), as a result of which it gradually declined despite its occasional theological defenders.  In the Christian view, the heavens were devoutly perceived as the expression of God’s glory and, more popularly, as the abode of God and his angels and saints, and the realm from which Christ would return at the Second Coming.

Even though this gives good context, I think Tarnas missed the heart of the matter.  Augustine didn’t prize human responsibility above all else, and not all ancient astrology was deterministic (and certainly no more deterministic than Augustine’s theology).  Early Christians were anti-intellectual (in particular towards astrology) because too much analysis would prove Christianity’s indebtedness to other religions and philosophies.

In seeming contradiction with what Augustine said in the above quote, he had also written that when the scriptures conflict with science that the believer should give authority to the latter.  But I imagine that he was mostly thinking of the Old Testament when he wrote this.  Augustine was fine with interpreting allegorically such scriptures as Genesis.  However, his scientific education was surely rather limited and I doubt he ever considered the possibility that science might one day develop so far as to demonstrate the impossibility (i.e., reasonable doubt) of dead people resurrecting and other miracles.

What I find intriguing here is how Augustine correlated Paganism with rationality, science and basically any interest in the world whatsoever.  He dismisses all of this as being irrelevant to Christianity.  This is extremely significant because to this day orthodox Christianity still has a troubled relationship with rationality and science.  The sad part here is that so many Christians over the centuries have perceived a non-existent conflict.  Augustine says that all a Christian needs to know is that all things were created by a good Creator.  Was he so clueless as to not realize that one could worship both the Creator and his Creation?  Was he utterly ignorant of the fact that some Pagans (and some Gnostic Christians) did worship both the Creator and his Creation?  I’m reminded of Augustine’s distinction between the sun and the Creator of the sun.  He was implying that Pagans hadn’t made this distinction when, for example, the Egyptians had made this precise distinction.

And this isn’t just a theological issue.  It was because Christians felt so little interest towards rationality and science that they didn’t realize the great intellectual tradition they were losing.  In fact, as Augustine wrote about this subject in 420, the Catholic Church was in the process of destroying all knowledge it could get its hands on.  How could a great intellectual like Augustine be so indifferent?  Was he so cynical about the world that he was contented to see the Church (and the whole Roman Empire with it) commit intellectual suicide?  Was he hoping this wholesale destruction would hasten the Second Coming or something?

Egyptian Symbols within Christianity

Besides the obvious crosses and crucifixes in many religions across the world that predated Christianity, there are also other non-Christian symbols found within Christianity.  As I’ve been focusing on Egypt lately, I’ll give two examples from that culture.  But realize there are many other such symbolic similarities that can also be shown.  I also chose the following quote because the author demonstrates that early Christians (including Augustine) were aware of these symbols and their meaning.

The Pagan Christ, Tom Harpur

pp 88-89: The Egyptian Christ, manifested in the sign of Pisces, was fore-ordained to be Ichthys (Greek word for “fish”), the fisherman and to be accompanied by fishermen followers.  Doctrinally, he was the “fisher of men”.  Horus, the best-known Egyptian Christ figure was associated  from time immemorial with the fish, and Massey’s Natural Genesis features a reproduction of an Egyptian engraving showing Horus holding a fish above his head.  Several of the early Christian Fathers refer to Christ also as Ichthys, or “that great fish,” and the mitre worn by succeeding popes “in the the shoes of the fishermen” is shaped exactly like a fish’s mouth.  It’s well known that the Greek word ichthys forms an acrostic meaning “Jesus Christ the Son of God (Our) Savior.”  Having been in Rome numerous times during my dozen years covering religion around the world for the Toronto Star, I have seen first-hand how frequently the outline of a fish occurs in catacombs as a Christian symbol.  It also doubled as a sign of the Eucharist.  Prosper Africanus, an early Christian theologian, calls Christ “that great fish who fed from himself the disciples on the shore and offered himself as a fish to the world.”  Commenting on this same passage from the end of John’s Gospel, St. Augustine says that the broiled fish in the story “is Christ.”  The art found in ancient Egyptian tombs commonly shows fish, fishermen, nets, and fishtraps of varying kinds.  All have the same spiritual meaning.

Much more important, however, is the fact that the Egyptian texts bear witness to an “only begotten god” (meaning begotten of one parent only), whose symbol was the beetle because in ancient science this creature was thought to be “self-produced, being unconceived by a female.”  Massey says, “The only begotten god is a well-known type [symbol], then, of divinity worshipped in Egypt.  In each cult, the Messiah-son and manifestor was the only-begotten god.  This, according to the Egyptian text, is the Christ, the Word, the manifestor in John’s Gospel.”  In fact, in one early version of the Greek text of the New Testament’s Gospel of John, the phrase “the only begotten son of God” actually reads “the only begotten god”!  Its very unorthodoxy makes it likely that it is the preferred, original reading.

The truth thus came forcefully home to me that this Egyptian Christ is indeed the express image of the Christ of John’s Gospel, who begins in the first chapter without father or mother and is the Word of the beginning, the opener and the architect, the light of the world, the self-originated and only-begotten God.  I found that the very phraseology of Jonh often echoed the Egyptian texts, which tell of he who was “the Beginning of the becoming, from the first, who made all things but was not made.”  Some of the Fathers of the Church knew that the beetle was a symbol of Christ.  Augustine, indeed, writes, “My own good beetle, not so much because he is only begotten (God), not because he, the author of himself, has taken on the form of mortals, but because he has rolled himself in our filth and chooses to be born from this filth itself” – like the dung beetle.

When the god Osiris came to the earth as a savior, he came as his own son, the child Horus.  He was born “like or as a Word.”  The Egyptian text says that he came to earth as a substitute.  Indeed, an ancient Egyptian festival celebrating the birth of Horus was called “The Day of the Child in His Cradle.”

When Horus comes to earth in the Egyptian story, he is supported or given bread by Seb, who is god of the earth, “the father on earth.”  He is thus the divine father on earth of the messiah-son, who manifests in time.  Just as Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, provides shelter and food for his son, so Seb (Jo-seph) cares for Horus.  The consort of Seb is the mother of heaven, named Nu; Meri (Mary) is another name for the mother of the messiah.  Massey concludes, “Thus Seb and Meri for earth and heaven would afford the two mythic originals for Joseph and Mary as parents of the divine child.”  There are seven different Marys in the four Gospels.  They correspond with uncanny fidelity to seven Marys, or Hathors in the Egyptian stories.

Jesus Christ the Sun

“Christ, Constantine, Sol Invictus: the Unconquerable Sun” by Ralph Monday:

Ironically, Constantine being a pragmatic Roman, interpreted Christ as a war god, not the “prince of peace,” and he apparently never truly understood the mysteries of Christianity, retaining his right to worship the pagan gods, especially the sun. He never took baptism until shortly before his death.

Charles Freeman questions whether or not Constantine’s famous adoption of Christianity was a spiritual conversion or simply a matter of political expediency, because the suggesting evidence is that Constantine viewed the God of Christianity as being very similar to the old pagan gods, like Apollo, and this latter god was one that Constantine paid particular homage to. Indeed, the triumphal arch of Constantine, built in 315 by the senate of Rome after his “conversion,” contains reliefs of Jupiter, Mars and Hercules, and Constantine apparently associated his victory at the Milvian Bridge with the power of the sun, but no Christian symbol can be found on the structure and there is no reference to Christ; however, there are images and homage paid to Mithras, another sun god whose birthday is December 25th (Emperor’s State of Grace).

Another example of the influence of this official sun worship on Christianity is:

Constantine’s law of…321 [C.E] uniting Christians and pagans in the observance of the “venerable day of the sun” It is to be noted that this official solar worship, the final form of paganism in the empire…, was not the traditional Roman-Greek religion of Jupiter, Apollo, Venus, and the other Olympian deities. It was a product of the mingling Hellenistic-Oriental elements, exemplified in Aurelian’sestablishment of Eastern Sun worship at Rome as the official religion of the empire, and in his new temple enshrining Syrian statutes statues of Bel and the sun…. Thus at last Bel, the god of Babylon, came into the official imperial temple of Rome, the center of the imperial religion. It was this late Roman-Oriental worship of one supreme god, symbolized by the sun and absorbing lesser divinities as subordinates or manifestations of the universal deity, that competed with young Christianity. This was the Roman religion that went down in defeat but infiltrated and colored the victorious church with its own elements, some of which can be seen to this day. (Cramer 4)

All the evidence suggests that Constantine viewed Christ as one of many gods in a crowded pantheon, a war god at that, who had provided him with his victory over Maxentius, and that this new Christian god could be used as a political tool to solidify his power and prestige in the empire, as well as bringing about a total homogeneity of culture to ancient Rome as witnessed by his calling of the council of Nicea in 325 C.E. to settle the Arian controversy, and also by the later solidification of the dates of Easter and Christmas, for he well knew that power and control in a complex organization depended upon common agreement in regard to the symbols that held it together. For example, in May 330 at the dedication of the new Roman capital Constantinople Constantine was “[d]ressedin magnificent robes and wearing a diadem encrusted with jewels (another spiritual allegiance of Constantine’s, to the sun, a symbol of Apollo, first known from 310 was expressed through rays coming from the diadem”) (Freeman). The ancient connection to the sun as a god clearly exemplifies Constantine’s adoration and admiration for such a “heavenly” deity.

The Pagan Christ, by Tom Harpur, p 83:

Few Christians today realize that in the fifth century, Pope Leo the Great had to tell Church members to stop worshipping the sun.  The first ostensibly Christian emperor, Constantine, who converted to the new faith at the beginning of the fourth century, was still worshipping the sun god Helios many years later, as coins and other evidence reveal.

Christ in Egypt, D.M. Murdock, pp 112-113:

Concerning this solar celebration and the obvious correlation to Jesus Christ, Kellner states:

…The comparison of Christ with the sun, and His work with the victory of light over darkness, frequently appears in the writings of the Fathres.  St. Cyprian spoke of Christ as the true sun(sol verus).  St. Ambrose says precisely, ” He is our new sun (Hic sol novus noster).”  Similar figures are employed by Gregory of Nazianzus, Zeon of Verona, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, etc.1

 As we have seen from Luke 1:24-27 and John 3:30, it would appear that the “holy Scriptures” in fact may have suggested this idea!

In reality, so common was the contention of Christians worshipping the sun that Church fathers such as Tertullian (c. 155-230 AD/CE) and Augustine (354-430 AD/CE) were compelled to compose refutations of the claim.  In Ad Nationes(1.13), Tertullian writes:

The Charge of Worshipping the Sun Met by a Retort.

…Others, with greater regard to good manners, it must be confessed, supposethat the sun is the god of the Christians, because it is a well-known fact that we pray towards the east, or because we make Sunday a day of festivity.  What then? Do you do less than this? Do not many among you with an affectation of sometimes worshipping the heavenly bodies likewise, move your lips in the direction of the sunrise?

Once more, in his Apology(6), Tertullian addresses what appears to be a widespread insight that he surprisingly asserts comes from those with”more information” and “greater verisimilitude,” or truth:

…Others, again, certainly with more information and greater verisimilitude, believe that the sun is our god.  We shall be counted Persians perhaps, though we do not worship the orb of day painted on a piece of linen cloth, having himself everywhere in his own disk.  The idea no doubt has originated from our being known to turn to the east in prayer.  But you, many of you, also under pretence sometimes of worshipping the heavenly bodies, move our lips in the direction of the sunrise.

In addition to turning to the east for prayer, early Christians oriented their churches to the sun, a practice tht continued into more modern times in some places…

Who Was Jesus?, D.M. Murdock, pp 244-45:

Hence, an early Christian apologist not only felt compelled to address what appears to be a frequent contention that the Christians were sun-worshippers and that Christ was the sun, but he also seems to be asserting that such a contention is more accurate than other observations about his religion!

These contentions of sun worship persisted for centuries and remained prevalent enough by the time of St. Augustine (354- 430 AD/CE) that he too was forced to protest then min his Tractates on the Gospel of John (XXXIV):

I Think that the Lord says, “I am the light of the world,” is clear to those that have eyes, by which they are made partakers of this light: but they who have not eyes except in the flesh alone wonder at what is said by the Lord Jesus Christ, “I am the light of the world.”  And perhaps there may not be wanting some one too who says with himself: Whether perhaps the Lord Christ is that sun which by its rising and setting causes the day?  For there have not been wanting heretics who thought this.  The manichaeans have supposed that the Lord Christ is that sun which is visible to carnal eyes, exposed and public to be seen, not only by men, but by the beasts.  But the right faith of the Catholic Church rejects such a fiction, and perceives it to be a devilish doctrine; not only by believing acknowledges it to be such, but in the case of who it can, proves it even by reasoning.  Let us therefore reject this kind of error, which the Holy Church has anathematized from the beginning.  Let us not suppose that the Lord Jesus Christ is this sun which we see rising from the east, setting in the west, to whose course succeeds night, whose rays are obscured by a cloud, which removes from place to place by a set motion: the Lord Christ is not such a thing as this.  The Lord Christ is not the sun that was made, but He by whom the sun was made.  For all things were made by Him, and without him was nothing made.

Thus, we have clear evidence that for centuries Christianity was perceived as sun worship and Christ as sun.  This fact represents a major clue as to who Jesus was, demonstrating the environment into which the gospel tale was introduced and the prevailing religious concepts against which his priesthood was competing.

Christ in Egypt, D.M. Murdock, p 115:

Although Augustine doth evidently protest too much in attempting to delineate Christ from the physical sun, the fact remains that this distinction is precisely the same as was said of Amen, Re, Osiris and other sun gods or epithets of the sun and/or creators of the solar disc, which was distinguished by the epithet “Aten.”


Interestingly, in the Coffin Texts (CT Sp. 196, 207) appear references to the “festival of the seventhday,”3 instantly reminding one of the Jewish sabbath and the Christian Sunday.  Not only is the Sun’s day also the Lord’s day, but from early times Christ himself was depicted with his face “shining as the sun” (Mt 17:2), as “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12) and “a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun” (Acts 26:13).  Lord Jesus was also called by a number of solar epithets, such as “Sun of Righteousness” (Mal 4:2), “the true sun,” “our sun” and the “sun of Resurrection.”4 This latter epithet, which sounds very Egyptian, especially as concerns Osiris, was given to Christ by Clement of Alexandria, for one. 5 Furthermore, in the late second century Theophilus of Antioch (“Autolychus,” 2.15) specifically stated that the sun is a “type of God,” thereby imbuing it withdivine qualities and essentially identifying it with Christ, who is likewise a “type of God.”

The World of Augustine

I was just thinking I should do a post about the context of Augustine’s life.  It was an interesting moment in history.

Constantine died less than two decades before Augustine was born.  The first Council of Nicea had profound impact, but the Empire was still largely Pagan.  Constantine himself mixed Christianity and Paganism.  Constantine probably didn’t even really distinguish between the different varieties of sun worship.  He probably understood Jesus in the terms of his own understanding of Pagan sun gods who also were saviors.  In fact, Constantine carried on the Roman tradition of Sol Invictus.  He wasn’t even baptized until on his death bed.  Certainly, he was far from being an exemplary Christian Emperor.  He was ruthless and it’s likely he chose Christianity in order to try to prop up the Empire that was already starting to show hints of weakening.  The major contribution he made was that in legalizing Christianity he encouraged a legalistic approach to defining Christianity.  Orthodoxy is rooted in this legalistic tradition.

Eusebius became the Emperors official propagandist and is now known as the first major Church historicist.  However, modern academics have shown that he was very loose with the truth.  It was a common practice amongst the Church Fathers to lie and deceive partly because people in general at the time were less idealistic about objective truth.  Also, the common style of debate was aggressively polemical.  I’ve read that the first few centuries of Christianity created more scriptural forgeries and alterations than almost any other period of Western history.  The early Christians were quite industrious in manufacturing their religion.

It should be noted that by the fourth century, Christianity had changed quite a bit.  The earliest Christian commentators were considered heretical by the end of the second century, and the Christian commentators of the third century were also starting to seem suspect by the fourth century heresiologists.  Christianity was evolving very quickly.  By the time Christianity was legalized, Christians were beginning to forget their own origins.  The sects that were based on the earliest commentaries were now heretical.  Heresiology was the foundation of orthodoxy.  As an example, Basilides wrote the earliest commentaries of any Christian.  He was alive in the first century and would’ve known the very first Christians.  Guess who destroyed his work?  Later Christians.  If there ever was a single original Christianity, the fighting between Christians very well may have entirely annihalated it by the third century.  And by the fourth and fifth centuries, the Church Fathers were creating creeds that probably had only a vague connection to the beliefs of first century Christians.

Anyways, the Nicene Creed set forth the doctrine of the Trinity… which by the way has no scriptural foundation as the Trinity was Pagan in origin.  Augustine’s understanding of the Trinity came from Neo-Platonism.  But not all Christians believed in a Trinity.  Arianism was the major opposing opinion and is named after one of the dissenting voices at the Council of Nicea.  Some of the Emperors of the fourth century were Arian Christians.  Arianism had become quite popular and was probably the single biggest issue of the fourth century and would survive for several more centuries.

 In the middle of the fourth century, Julian the Apostate temporarily revived Paganism as the official state religion when Augustine was a child.  Besides the still strong traditions of Paganism, there were many traditions of Christianity.  Possibly the largest (psuedo-) Christian tradition in the world at that time was Manichaeism.  I say ‘pseudo’ because Mani included many influences, but still it was Christian.  The Manichaean Christ was worshipped as a solar deity and this was a major component of Augustine’s early education in Christianity.

Astrology and astro-theology in general was a major force in the ancient world.  Many early Christians referred to Jesus as Sol, and it was a practice within the early Catholic church to pray towards the rising sun.  The early Christian allegorists were aware of the astrotheological symbolism within Christianity.  Augustine certainly would’ve been aware of this as well.  It was through the allegorical interpretations of Ambrose that Judeo-Christian scripture began to seem respectable to Augustine.  Ambrose had connected Jesus to the sun, but Augustine denied this connection.  So, sun worship was still a major issue within the Church even as Catholicism was coming into power.

The distinction between Christianity and Paganism wasn’t absolutely clear at that time because Christianity and the Roman Empire grew up together.  The two were inseparable.  Augustine admitted that Christianity began before Jesus in earlier religions.  This was a Neo-Platonic view of Christianity that Augustine was less accepting of later in life.  Even Eusebius the greatest Christian propagandist who ever lived admitted to the similarities between Christianity and Paganism.  These similarities were so obvious that it was pointless in trying to deny them.  Unlike modern Christians, many of the early Church Fathers had educations in Paganism.  Anyways, in the ancient world it gave a religion respectability to show that it has its roots in older traditions.  There was no more embarassment in admitting Christianity had Pagan roots than in admitting it had Jewish roots.  However, in the fourth century, it was starting to become more important to explain it  away.  Christianity needed to justify its growing dominance, and so it became necessary to increasingly distinguish itself from Paganism.  It would take until the sixth century for Catholicism to destroy all of the institutions of Classical Paganism.

Along with this, it became necessary for Catholic orthodoxy to distinguish itself from the diverse traditions of Christianity.  Catholicism was only barely becoming the dominant form of Christianity in the fourth century.   Basically, all of the heresies named in the second and third centuries were still around.  The Marcionites and the Valentinians were the most influnential sects of early Christianity and they were still living traditions.  Gnosticism was everywhere and it was rather difficult to distinguish it from orthodoxy as there was much cross-pollination.  Augustine himself was a good example of cross-polination as he first seriously studied Christianity as a Manichaean Gnostic.  That might be why he was critical of the Old Testament before meeting Ambrose.  The New Testament was originally canonized by the Gnostic Marcion in order to create a Christian canon separate from and opposed to the Jewish scripture.

Along with the early heresies, new ones were also popping up.  Two traditions that Augustine fought to make heretical were Donatism and Pelagianism.  The Donatists were a schism from Augustine’s homeland of North Africa.  The Donatists believed that once someone had denied Catholicism they shouldn’t be allowed back into the Church.  This relates to Pelagianism as well.  Pelagius was the same age as Augustine and he also preached the necessity of believers being held responsible for their actions.  Augustine opposed these two groups because he held the fatalistic belief that everyone was born a sinner.  As such, believers and clergy shouldn’t be expected to be morally better than anyone else.  Augustine’s created the Christian foundations for the theory of just war in his criticisms of the Donatists.  His oratorical and legal arguments led to the declaration of heresy against the Donatists and their harsh persecution which he only partly protested against.  These heresies, however, would continue to attract adherents for centuries to come.

In 379, Theodosius I became Roman Emperor.  He united the Eastern and Western Empire and was the last Emperor to rule both.  Also, he made the Nicene Creed the official state religion.  Augustine was still a Manichaean at this time and this must’ve influenced his later decision in 386 to convert to Catholicism.  In 381, Theodosius I began to inhibit Paganism.  In 388, he began the persecution and destruction of Paganism.  This was the Catholicism that Augustine converted to and which he helped to support.

After Theodosius reign, the beginning of the fifth century was more of the same.  The last remnants of Egyptian religion was destroyed.  Also, Hypatia (the last great Pagan teacher, philosopher, and mathematician) was killed by a Christian mob.  I don’t know what Augustine’s opinion was about this destruction of Pagan culture all around him, but he certainly took notice of the sacking of Rome.  Rome was attacked by the Visigoths who were Arian Christians.  Augustine wrote The City of God in response to the fall of Rome because Pagans were blaming Christians for this event.   At the end of his life, the Arian Vandals were ravaging Roman Africa.  Augustine was on his deathbed in Hippo when it was overrun by Vandals.

Augustine’s Guilty Conscience

I have some more thoughts about Augustine.

Cicero’s Hortensius was supposedly influential on Augustine.  I get the sense that it was one of his earliest experiences of the power of rational argument.  Like Cicero, Augustine was trained in Greek philosophy  and oratory.  I was reading that Hortensius somehow led to Augustine’s eventual dissatisfaction with Manichaeism.  Hortensius is now a lost text and so I don’t understand the impact it had, but apparently it caused Augustine to doubt the worthiness of Manichaean dualism.  Some people criticize Gnostic dualism because it presents too harsh of a view of reality.  However, for Augustine, I guess it seemed to lenient and accepting.  It didn’t make sin personal enough for his taste.  Augustine felt unable to separate his sense of identity from his sense of guilt.  The Manichaeans believed there was purely good divine spark that was the true Self.

There is one aspect of Manichaeism that I didn’t come across in my researching about Augustine.  The Manichaean religion divided believers into two categories.  There were the general adherents of the faith and there were the ascetic monastic class.  The latter was the more desirable way of life, but Manichaeanism allowed that not everyone was capable of asceticism.  The average believer lessened the sin by supporting the monks.  This sounds like the Eastern tradition of monasticism which is quite probable as Mani had included Buddhism as an aspect of his religion.  That is another element I haven’t seen mentioned by any commentaries about Augustine.  As a devout Manichaean for 9 years, Augustine would’ve become familiar with Buddhist ideas.  That is interesting to consider how Buddhism combined with Gnosticism would’ve created the framework for Augustine’s understanding of his strong mistrust of fleshly desires.

What is truly interesting is that I get a sense of an inner division within Augustine when he criticizes Manichaeism.  I suspect he is actually criticizing his younger self and attempting to distance himself from the faith of his earliest spiritual longings.  Nine years in a religion is no small potatoes, and this especially true considering that it was a religion falling out of favor.  I read that it was even somewhat dangerous to be Manichaean at that time.  It’s possible fear for his life played a part in his conversion to the much safer faith of Catholicism.  Let me get back to my point about his motivation to criticize his younger self.  Even though he  was a member for many years, he never became a monk.  This must’ve been part of what made him feel guilty.  He was a young guy with normal sexual desires and yet Manichaeism idealized abstinence.  He felt unable to control his sexual desire and ended up blaming Manichaeism.  Strangely, he criticized Manichaeism by projecting his own sense of weakness onto it.

“I still thought that it is not we who sin but some other nature within us.  It flattered my pride to think that I incurred no guilt and, when I did wrong, not to confess it… I preferred to excuse myself and blame this unknown thing which was in me but was not part of me.  The truth, of course, was that it was all my own self, and my own impiety had divided me against myself.  My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner.” – Confessions, Book V, Section 10.

I want to point out how Augustine’s criticism of Manichaeism summarizes Pelagius’ criticism of determinism.  Pelagius actually used Augustine’s writings to defend his position.  However, Augustine later came to embrace determinism and claimed that Pelagius was misinterpreting his earlier writings.  I personally suspect that this was the apologist in Augustine backtracking in order to defend orthodoxy.  As he had to earlier distance himself from Manichaeism, he now had to distance himself from his own criticisms of Manichaeism. 

He ended up creating a convoluted theology to make sense of all of this.  Basically, freewill existed prior to the fall.  And, as we all have our natures grounded in the soul of Adam, we to are guilty for Adam’s fall.  So, we are guilty the moment we’re born because we somehow mystically partook of  Adam’s sin before we were born, but magically because of this sin once we’re born we no longer have freewill.  It’s the logic of an apologist using sophistry to create a political justification for the persecution of their opponent.  You have to give Augustine credit for his ability to pull the most absurd arguments out of his ass and present it in such a way that it almost sounds like it makes sense. 

The other method that Augustine (and many heresiologists) used was to misrepresent his opponents.  Pelagianism became exaggerated as meaning a denial of God’s grace, but Pelagius never denied this.  Pelagius merely said we’re responsible for our actions which seems rather commonsense, but commonsense was an affront to orthodoxy and the latter won the battle.  In the long run, though, the Catholic church agreed that Augustine went too far in his fatalism.  It’s significant to point out that fatalism was sometimes an accusation against Gnosticism and this attitude of Augustine may be a carryover from his own Gnostic background.

Let me return to Augustine’s personal sense of guilt.  He felt lustful even though he had a 16 year monogamous heterosexual relationship.  The guilt was because it wasn’t respectable as she was his mistress, but today we’d simply call their relationship a common law marriage.  They even had a child together.  The child died and as far as I know the child was unbaptized which puts an intriguing twist on Augustine’s theology as he believed unbaptised children were damned.  I can’t find much about this child, but it very well might’ve contributed to his dissatisfaction with Manichaeism and his life with his “mistress”.  Just imagine how different Christianity could’ve been if Augustine had lived a happy life as a father and husband.

Augustine’s understanding of morality was a bit demented.  In order to become Christian, he left his 16 year long monogamous relationship.  He saw it as a sin to stay in a monogamous relationship.  This is obviously his Manichaeism sense of guilt rearing its ugly head.  Augustine apparently lived a rather tame existence and yet felt guilty.  He wasn’t a hedonist; he didn’t eat gluttonously he wasn’t a drunkard; and he wasn’t promiscuous.  I wonder if he felt that he somehow inherited the guilt of his promiscuous father.  This would also explain his two-faced relationship to the intellectual ability he also inherited from his father.  In today’s world, Augustine probably would be put on anxiety medication.  The guy had a near paranoid sense of guilty conscience.

Unfortunately, he never felt guilty about his later support of oppression and persecution.  He obviously was very talented at projecting his immense guilty conscience onto his opponents and then made sure they were punished accordingly.  It was war, and the guilty must convert, must submit… or die!

I’ll now try to explain Augustine’s theological understanding about Original Sin. 

There is the intelligible and the sensible.  The world of the senses is private and isolated.  Hence, the individual is inevitably sinful and the divine wisdom can only be attained through the institutionally-substantiated public rituals.  Our being trapped in the physical world isn’t directly inevitable as in Manichaeism, but is indirectly inevitable because of Original Sin.  Original Sin is the collective evil that can only be countered by the collective good (i.e., the Roman Catholic Church).  The individual is merely a passive battlefield. 

The practical implications ultimately don’t appear all that different than Manichaeism except in the utter denunciation of freewill (after birth that is).  Unlike Manichaeism, the individual soul is only tenuously connected to the divine and the only hope is the Church’s demand of complete submission.  In some ways, the Christian soul is even more trapped in the body than is the Manichaean soul.  A difference is that Original Sin isn’t a permanent evil.  Someday, evil will be completely annihilated as evil is fundamentally nothing more than a denial of good and thus without substantiality (but I don’t know how this fits into Augustine’s belief that only an elect will be saved).  Neither Mankind nor God is responsible for evil, and yet (in The City of God) Augustine defends against criticism that God does interfere in history in order to teach.  God has absolute freewill and is absolutely innocent.  There is an element of Neo-Platonism mixed in here that is reminiscent of some Gnostics.

Augustine’s concept of soul is neither of the substance of the body nor of God.  Manichaeism claimed the soul was a trapped divine spark, but Augustine believed the soul in some sense Neo-Platonically chooses its descent (freewill leading to Original Sin).  The human soul alone is responsible for moral evil in the world because human will can lead only to sin.  On the other hand, only God through His Grace is responsible for lifting the soul out of sin.  It’s the mutable nature of the soul that allows this transformation.  The soul is mutable because it is  a created temporal entity.

Augustine’s theology is mostly rhetorical in trying to persuade people towards orthodoxy.  He leaves many aspects unresolved and doesn’t create a coherent philosophy.  Despite his idealizing of the rational mind over the passions, he doesn’t believe that intellect can resolve theological issues.  For the most part, the individual can’t prove most things and so must trust the proper authorities.  He affirms a vague Neo-Platonic intuition, but blind faith is more primary.  God has foreknowledge and so our choices are predetermined from God’s view, but we’re still responsible for our moral choices even though our severely limited individual will inevitably leads to sin.  Essentially, everyone is guilty and if you don’t feel guilty then you’re guilty of not feeling guilty.  Humanity is collectively responsible for Adam’s Fall.  The significance of holding onto this tenuous concept of freewill is in order to keep God unsullied, but freewill as such serves no practical purpose.  Freewill is just an abstract concept that exists in the past.

Augustine became grimly pessimistic in his latter life.  He saw humanity as comprised of Massa Damnata where only a few elect were predestined to be saved.  He comes to a view that is more confusing and unappealing than the Manichaeism he turned away from.  Augustine the young Christian convert and Augustine the old bitter heresiologist quite likely wouldn’t have agreed on a whole lot.  This evolution from hope to pessimism reflected the times.  Christianity had likewise evolved in Augustine’s life from the optimism of being newly legalized to the Fall of Catholic-ruled Rome.

The bitterness of the aging Augustine would create the groundwork for Catholicism during the coming centuries of the Dark Ages.  The Grace of God is inscrutable and unmerited, and this offered a rationalization to the unquestioned authority of the Catholic Church.  The Church saw itself as a light in a dark world.  Like Augustine, the Church doesn’t passively accept its role.  In opposition to the passive relation of Mankind to God, the Church politicians take a very aggressive relation to the general population.  If most of the population is damned by God with no hope of being saved, then it doesn’t lead to an attitude of respect and compassion.

Greek tradition emphasizes the circular and universal.  Patterns repeat and patterns reflect the universal.  Aristotle thought poetry was more philosophical than history because it is concerned with universals.  Quite differently, the Judeo-Christian tradition emphasizes the linear and unique.  Jesus is unique and singular, and thus this demonstrates a more limited view of salvation.  The Jews hoped for a messiah that would save them alone, and Augustine believed only an elect would be saved.  As such, there is no universal salvation, no repeating pattern of salvation playing out throughout all of history.

Augustine’s development was largely from the Greek tradition to the Judeo-Christian.  He read widely in Pagan literature, and after his conversion it took him many years to catch up in his reading of Judeo-Christian scriptures.  The Neo-Platonic optimism faded and the only other main tradition within Christianity was Gnosticism.  In Augustine’s case, this meant he increasingly turned back to Manichaean ideas.

The not-so-saintly Augustine

Augustine was so strongly influenced by Pagan thought that he was practically incapable of writing about Christianity without referring to it.  His thinking was shaped by several Pagan traditions and he ended up fitting Christianity into the mould of these concepts.  He wasn’t unusual in this.  In the fourth century, many of the classically trained Pagans converted to Catholicism.  Essentially, the educated elite went where ever the power was.  The beginning of the fourth century saw the legalization of Christianity and the end of the fourth century saw Catholicism made the state religion.  It makes me wonder to what extent these conversions were motivated by a desire for political positioning.  In particular, I wonder this about Augustine.

Something about Augustine’s conversion feels disingenuous.  I’ve been studying his writings a bit.  There is one thing that isn’t clear.  Did his ideas develop or did he merely change his argument as the ideological debate shifted?  When you take into account the entirety of his thinking, it fundamentally isn’t really that different from his Pagan education.  He just couched it in Christian terminology.  So, what was the point of his conversion?

As Augustine used Neo-Platonism against Manichaeism, so he uses Stoicism against Academic skepticism and Epicureanism.  However, his use of pagan thought was only situational and opportunist.  He used whatever argument that was convenient to his apologetics, his heresiological polemics.  He conveniently ignored, for instance, that Neo-Platonism had been previously used against Christianity.  Once a particular Pagan argument was no longer useful for his vision of orthodoxy, he drops it claiming that Christianity doesn’t need any Pagan philosophy to justify it.  But if that was true, then he wouldn’t use Pagan philosophy at all.

He got mired in this conundrum because he was trained in Pagan philosophy first.  Paganism was the hermeneutic lense by which he came to appreciate Christianity, and it took him many years to notice the deep conflicts.  But it was too late.  His thinking had already become too enmeshed with Paganism… and, for that matter, all of Christianity had become too enmenshed in Paganism.  If you were to take the Paganism out of Christianity, there wouldn’t be much left.

The question is to what extent that Augustine even cared.  He was trained in rhetorical and legal studies.  Maybe he saw the entire situation with the eye of a politician.  Maybe Christianity was just convenient.  The writing was on the wall in that it was obvious that Paganism was in dire straits.  Augustine very conveniently converted right before Theodosius I started his persecution of the Pagans.  It was the perfect time to politcally position oneself within the new Catholic regime.  The Church was looking for classically trained philosophers to create propaganda.

He made two statements that undermine the validity of his theological claims.  He said he wouldn’t believe in the Christian theology if the Church didn’t demand it of him.  It was his understanding that faith was simply dogmat enforced with political power, and God’s grace was when the Church didn’t see you as heretic.  The other thing he said was that it was acceptable to lie and deceive for the greater purposes of the Church, and this view was actually common amongst the Church Fathers.  This fit into his own theology.  He used philosophy for apologetic ends, but he didn’t trust rationality.  He didn’t believe people were fundamentally rational as people didn’t have the freewill to make rational choices.  People needed to be brought into the fold by any means necessary.  This also included oppression and persecution which he supported.  Augustine even went over the head of a Pope to the Emperor in order to make sure one of his opponents wasn’t accepted back into the Church, and this led to that person being the first Christian officially killed by the Catholic Church.  Augustine was a shrewd politician no doubt.

Was Augustine always this cynical?  Obviously, he had a cynical streak as he was attracted to the Gnostic dualism of Manichaeism.  He turned away from N. African Catholicism to Manichaeism partly because of his desire for rational answers.  However, supposedly he turned away from Manichaeism to Neo-Platonism because of a desire for rational answers beyond scriptual limitations.  The Manichaeans used rationality to study scripture and probably for apologetics as well.  Maybe this, along with rhetoric education, was where he got his taste for apologetics.  But was there a struggle in him at this time?  Did he see rationality as potentially being used for the purpose of discovering truth?  It would seem so as Neo-Platonism satisfied his intellect, but I suspect that his mother’s simplistic faith nagged at his intellectual side (especially as it was his promiscuous Pagan father who had encouraged his intellectual studies).

Whether or not there were political ambitions, maybe his conversion was genuine.  Maybe at first he thought he could bridge these divisions within himself.  Maybe Christianity suggested a unifying answer could be attained.  He could embrace his mother’s simplistic faith; he could keep the dualism, determinism, and apologeticism of Manichaeism; and he could satisfy his intellect with Neo-Platonism.  The famous bishop Ambrose emodied much of this for him, the prototypical zealous Christian trained in Classical thought.

However, there was the added bonus of being offered political position within the growing Church.  His time as a teacher may have given him a taste of being in a role of respect where he could influence others.  More than a theologian or even an apologist, maybe he was most fit for the role of politician.  With his education, he had great command of language both written and spoken.  I get the sense that he didn’t just want something to believe in.  Moreso, he wanted something to fight for.  And, in the Christianized Empire, theological debates were fights with big risks and big rewards.  Ambrose probably fed Augustine’s political ambitions as Ambrose was in the middle of many political conflicts about orthodoxy.

It’s very interesting that Augustine felt he had so little control over his own behavior, but acted in such a forceful manner that he was able to influence the behavior of others.  It must have bolstered his self-confidence (and ego) that he had the ear of popes and emperors.  Being involved in political intrigue led to real world results of people being oppressed, persecuted, and killed.  This must’ve contributed to his grim view of human nature and of the Church’s political role.

Despite his intellectual acumen, Augustine had become somewhat of an anti-intellectual in the latter part of his life.  He was ultimately a rhetoritician rather than a philosopher per se.  Maybe it’s his rhetoric training that is the commonality between his tendencies towards rationality and apologetics.  The purpose of rhetoric is to convince.  A true philosopher such as Socrates disliked sophistry but Augustine seems to have embraced it.

Still, I wonder whether there was a time during his Neo-Platonic phase when he genuinely felt a love for truth above mere debate.  Was there a time in his life where he actually thought he could know God?  I get the sense that the Manichaeans may have believed this, and the fact that he was a Manicahean for almost a decade would suggest he at least hoped to know God in a way that his mind and heart could be unified.  But he seemed to have lost this hope somewhere along the way.  He came to believe that his mind had to be sacrificed in order to know God.

I have a theory that maybe his sacrifice of his mind was self-defense.  He found himself in a religion that didn’t truly respect the intellect, and he was trapped.  The problem was that at that point he had become fully committed to Christianity and his whole sense of identity was at stake.  In fact, to turn away from the faith would be to turn away from the fond memories of his own mother.  It was with her that he had the spiritual experience that led him to conversion in the first place.  And where else was there to turn?  Unlike when he was a Pagan before, it was now dangerous to be anything other than Catholic.  To leave the Church would’ve meant giving up his prestige and wealth, his power and influence.  Plus, on a psychological level, he had spent so many years rationalizing it to himself.  How could he give it up now?  It was easier to betray his own intellectual honesty.  Besides, this latter betrayal came slowly in small increments.  He probably hardly noticed that he had lost his love of truth.

I’m not sure whether to feel pity for him or judgment.  His use of his great mind for the purposes of oppression and persecution is utterly horrifying.  He was capable of such deep insight that it’s just sad that he wasted it on political propgandizing.  And to think how many people were tortured and killed according to the justification of his beautiful writing.