Augustinus Hipponensis is always wonderful and interesting. He became such a wonderful source of wisdom because he knew most things through experience. He was exhausted by experience. Before becoming a Christian he went through painful processes of doubt and as a Christian he performed a transvaluation of all values while writing "The City of God".His book "Confessiones" maybe was the first european biography. Or even the first biography we have knowledge of all over the world.Before all this occured he lived a life of passion and sexual debauchery. But he became bishop by acclamation!
The transvaluation of all - or nearly all - important values is the quality which distinguishes every great heretic.It is a fascinating experience to read Homer and Vergil with empathy and the desire to understand the mentality of the epoch. Even more fascinating is reading then Augustinus's detailed efforts of "scientific confutation". He systematically tries to confute the creeds, certainties, fears, awes and fulfillments represented by the descriptionts of Vergil, the whole mentality, the whole ethnographic picture. He starts with an analysis of what happens during the sack of Troy and what had recently happened during a sack in Rome. Disasters usually become the starting point of a big transition! Auschwitz has become as unforgettable as Moses and therefore will continue to stimulate thaughts and, more than this, feelings (notwithstanding the jews continuously are reminding us that one might forget Auschwitz). Per disastra ad disaspera!
One must not make the error to consider Augustinus simpleminded since he compares a work of fiction (Aeneis) with reality. Augustinus aimply used one of the best texts on reality which then was existing. I myself consider Goethe's Faust today more pointful than the latest and most brilliant psycologic insights (including the ridiculous cognizances of Deutsche Hirnforschung), allthough I know that after Auschwitz the Faust has partly lost its once "timeless" validity and a new tranvaluating chef oevre has still to arise.Augustinus new the meaning of poiesis and was a master of the word and a poet of existence: "People forget that you must first be a great man before you can be a great poet."
What is the context of this Augustinus quote? It is a rude reminder to exercise extreme caution, isn´t it? Today it seems to be different, we don´t fear heresies anymore, aren´t we longing for heretics?
The context is the awareness that great Mafia bosses exist and that people have reasons - and even good reasons - to consider them "great men". Augustinus withstands these good reasons, as Joachim Fest tried to explain why Hitler shall not be considered a great man. But paper is patient, and in Mongolia Hitler is considered a great man.Today numerous small heresies have become mainstream and all those heretics are flirting with their own image as heretic. The situation is not SO different. The sack of Rome by Visigoths in 410 was like 9/11. Augustinus lived in a time of enormous pluralistic tensions, exactly as we do. Right and wrong were very similar, as in our time. We are before an immense transition as he was.Yes, we probably are longing for a big heretic (as Augustinus's still was, allthough Κωνσταντίνος ο Μέγας - who shares two things with you, dear cs - had already anticipated what one day would have been the religion of the germanic holy roman empire), able to put order into competing value systems. It is this longing which contains the malicious ambivalence of the word "great". Great man can also make a big mess, especially with our great possibilities.