Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – “Peter Kreeft is the author of I Burned for Your Peace: Augustine’s Confessions Unpacked, on our Dude Maker Hotline. The book is available at IgnatiusPress.com if you’re looking for it. I had never considered this either, Peter, and I’d love to hear your commentary on this. Augustine upbraids himself for being a petulant, spoiled brat when he was a baby. Can you explain that?” Check out today’s transcript for the rest….
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: Mr. Kreeft is on the Dude Maker Hotline with us here on the Crusade Channel. Hey, Peter. Thanks for taking some time out with us. How are you?
Peter Kreeft: I am fine. Thanks for having me.
Mike: You’re very welcome. How long a fan of the Confessions of St. Augustine?
Kreeft: I’ve been a fan since the world was flat, I think. It’s an amazing book. My definition of a classic is one that rewards endlessly repeated re-reading. I must have read it a dozen or maybe two dozen times. I get more out of it each time I come back to it.
Mike: Here’s my confession. I’ve only read the first seven or eight chapters. I have it on audiobook and I listen to it many, many times, just while driving. I’ve never actually read the whole thing start to finish with my eyes, but I’ve heard it all the way through. One of the things that still stands out to me, and I refer to it often – I’m sure you can comment on this a little bit. Near the end, Augustine for some reason, and I never quite understood, and I think I’m starting to understand it, gets into this discussion about what time is. You read it and go: Wait, this is a book about faith. Why is he talking about days? I haven’t gotten to that point in your book yet because I haven’t finished it. Did you pick up on that part of it?
Kreeft: Nope. I just stopped at Book VIII where the narrative stops. The other chapters are profound and they’re not as difficult as they seem. They’re important. They’re not part of the story; they’re not as exciting.
Mike: Right. When I began reading, one of the things that struck me, that you pointed out and I’d never given this a moment’s thought, that Augustine is one of the fathers of the church, one of the earliest if not the earliest where he asks the question, or maybe King David asked it, too: I know why I love you, God, but why in the world – you don’t need me. Why does God love us?
Kreeft: That’s the unanswerable question. God loves us simply because God is God. That’s the way he is. He’s nuts. He’s crazy.
Mike: You begin the inside address “Dear God,” with some thoughts on this and some quotes from Augustine. The “Dear God” part is Augustine just pondering how magnificent and almost not understandable God is.
Kreeft: His word for God was Father. He’s a very good father. He has immense mercy on his severely morally retarded children.
This is one of many places where Augustine heals us because he does not merely show us the solutions, he also shows us our problems and struggles and errors. Most premodern writers do not show us the second. Most modern writers do not show us the first.
“But if You fill heaven and earth, do they contain You? Or do You fill them, and yet have much over since they cannot contain You? Is there some other place into which that overplus of You pours that heaven and earth cannot hold? Surely You have no need of any place to contain You. . . . It is true that all things cannot wholly contain You: but does this mean that they contain part of You?…But are there in You parts greater and smaller? Or are You not in every place at once in the totality of Your being, while yet nothing contains You wholly?”
Mike: That’s just – I think you could spend an entire, I don’t know, a day, a week, a month pondering that.
Kreeft: The book requires a different style of reading, a more slow and meditative reading, and one that is as fascinated with questions as is with answers. Almost every other sentence is a question. You just quoted about five sentences there and I think four were questions. We usually just run over the questions to try to get the answer. To sink into the questions, to really love the question, to treat it as a mouse is treated as a cat, that’s [unintelligible]. We have to do that, too.
Mike: Peter Kreeft is the author of I Burned for Your Peace: Augustine’s Confessions Unpacked, on our Dude Maker Hotline. The book is available at IgnatiusPress.com if you’re looking for it. I had never considered this either, Peter, and I’d love to hear your commentary on this. Augustine upbraids himself for being a petulant, spoiled brat when he was a baby. Can you explain that?
Kreeft: We all are. We’re born spoiled brats. We pop out of the womb programmed with the philosophy: I want what I want when I want it. If we don’t get morally educated and socialized, we become sociopaths and tyrants. That’s empirical proof of original sin.
Mike: This is because you’re demanding: Hey, I’m over here. Feed me!
Kreeft: I is the word we use most to begin our sentences, as if we are the center of the universe and everybody else is a walk-on in our play. That’s just the way we are. We have to unlearn that.
Mike: You put it like this:
He made for us in time, some fourteen billion years ago. But it is not immoral. The universe is only our placenta. When the galaxies are all dead, we will still be young, like God.
“And when I did not get what I wanted, either because my wishes were not clear or the things not good for me, I was in a rage—with my parents as though I had a right to their submission.”
“You made man but not the sin in him. . . for in Thy sight there is none pure from sin, not even the infant whose life is but a day upon the earth. . . .”
Mike: We often think about children like this, about how young and sweet and innocent they are, Peter. Few consider children sinful.
Kreeft: Well, they don’t commit actual sins yet until they reach the age of reason, but they behave in ways that we all tolerate. We try to educate them out of it. So that shows the result of original sin. Augustine and his age had a problem with what happens to unbaptized babies. Original sin prevents you from entering Heaven, but only actual sin puts you in hell. Unbaptized babies seem to die in innocence of actual sin but presence of original sin. What happens to them? The standard answer in his day was limbo. It was never defined by the Church. It’s kind of a kindergarten version of Heaven. We still don’t know the answer to that question. Nobody does. There’s a lot of questions we just don’t know the answer to.
Mike: So we shouldn’t take any chances with continuing the abortuariums.
Kreeft: That’s for sure.
Mike: I see that you are a professor of philosophy at Boston College. I was going to crack a very bad joke: Wait a minute, they have philosophy still at Boston College?
Kreeft: We have one of the best philosophy departments in the [unintelligible].
Mike: I assume that your philosophy that you are teaching, or at least attempting to teach and impart is scholastic, Thomistic, Aristotelian philosophy; right?
Kreeft: Common sense philosophy, yes.
Kreeft: [unintelligible]. I highly recommend it.
Mike: I study under Brother Francis Maluf of St. Augustine Institute in his philosophia perennis. That’s the reason I ask. I was wondering, because I’ve never asked this question, we know Augustine as the Bishop of Hippo, obviously. We know him as a father and a doctor of the Roman Catholic Church. We know him as one of the most prolific writers ever in prolific writers. I’ve never pondered or considered that he was, in the mold of St. Thomas Aquinas, a philosopher, though. Would you characterize him as a philosopher?
Kreeft: Absolutely. A philosopher means, literally, a lover of wisdom. He was passionately in love with wisdom. In fact, even before his religious conversion, he read a book that we don’t have anymore. It’s an introduction to philosophy by the pagan philosopher Cicero. He says: That book started my path towards God because it made me in love with eternal and immortal wisdom. He said: I didn’t know where it was at the time, with Christ, but he fell in love with God anonymously, so to speak. That’s true philosophy.
Mike: Brother Francis has pondered from time to time that because Aristotle was never professed or confessed as a Christian, but he seems in his philosophy to be very cognizant of, very aware that there’s a God. He just doesn’t write a lot about it; right?
Kreeft: Paul says clearly in Romans that God reveals himself to everybody, including pagans. John says at the beginning of his gospel that Christ is the light and the light is every man who comes into the world. We don’t know how much of the light of Christ is within pagans, but he certainly is there, enough to make them responsible.
Mike: Just browsing through the table of contents, folks, one of the chapters you’ll come across is Peter’s unpacking of the confessions when it comes to the Bible versus Manichaeism. I think it’s one of the – if we knew more about Manichaeism, we’d know more about why the modern world is so filled and fraught with error. That is, this good god / bad god, that Augustine almost – is there evidence – was he actually ever a Manichaean?
Kreeft: Yes, he formally joined the sect, even though he had questions, for ten or eleven years. What makes it so relevant is that I think the very essence of the sexual revolution, which has turned the modern world upside down, is that the body is not holy according to the sexual revolution. It’s just a thing you play with, just an instrument for pleasure. That distinction between the spirit and the body, between matter and spirit is the essence of Manichaeism: Spirit is good, matter is bad. That’s certainly not Christianity. Matter is good; God made it. The baddest thing there is [unintelligible] of your spirit.
Mike: Now, they don’t’ call themselves Manicheans. There’s no church of Manichaeism anymore. As you just described it, there really is; people just don’t know it.
Kreeft: They say: I’m not religious, I’m spiritual. God’s not spiritual. He’s very concrete.
Mike: Let’s talk about the chapter of “Wisdom from a Drunken Beggar.” What can we learn from Augustine – I think it’s widely known, if you’re a Catholic who follows the lives of the saints, that St. Monica, who incessantly prayed for her son’s conversion while he was not a Christian, had some sort of a drinking problem of sorts. If you read Butler’s Lives of the Saints, in his bio of St. Austin, as he calls him, there’s a place in there where St. Augustine would have wine with his meals but always careful not to indulge. He would never be in a room alone with a female unless there was someone there. What can you tell us about Augustine and the drunken beggar?
Kreeft: Well, first of all, Augustine knows human weaknesses. Even though he didn’t have the modern science to back it up, he knew that some chemicals were addictive, including alcohol. He was prudential and careful about that. The incident of the drunken beggar was he sees this drunken beggar in the street who’s laughing and temporarily at least happy. He says to his friends: Here we are. We’re unhappy. We’re not drunk. We’re very worldly and careful. We practice work ethic. What is our hope? Our hope is that maybe we’ll be famous someday, and rich, but not really going to be happy. This guy is happy without doing all that stuff. It’s a fake happiness, but we’re more foolish than he is.
Mike: Augustine, of course, famously – there’s another part of the story here where – I probably get some of this from the movie Restless Heart. Have you seen it?
Kreeft: Yes, I have. I like it very much.
Mike: I know this is a historical question. Augustine had a son; is that correct?
Kreeft: Yep, Adeodatus. Brilliant guy. He died as a teenager. Augustine wrote a dialogue between himself and his son, and he certifies that everything in that dialogue was actually spoken by the two of them. If you read it, you’ll realize that there were, in effect, two Augustines. If Adeodatus hadn’t died, we would have had a rival to Augustine. The kid is brilliant.
Mike: “Christianity versus Platonism” towards the end of the book, one of the knocks that I’ve heard about St. Augustine, not knocks but observations, is that he was more of a Plato follower than he was Aristotle. Is that what this – is that what you’re getting at here with “Christianity versus Platonism,” or just making the comparison?
Kreeft: No, that’s true. He knew Plato better than Aristotle. He liked him better. Plato is a better writer than Aristotle. Augustine is very clear about the different between Platonism and Christianity. Platonism gives you a lot of insight into eternal truth, but it doesn’t give you any help as to how to get there. It may give you the truth but it doesn’t give you the way, the life. Jesus alone gives you that.
Mike: Here’s a quote from Augustine:
So now I seized greedily upon the adorable writings of Your Spirit, and especially upon the Apostle Paul. . . . In that pure eloquence I saw One Face.
The writings of the Platonists contain nothing of all this. Their pages show nothing of the face of that love, the tears of confession, Your sacrifice, an afflicted spirit, a contrite and humbled heart, the salvation of Your people, the espoused city, the promise of the Holy Spirit, the chalice of our redemption. In them no one sings: Shall not my soul be submitted unto God? From Him is my salvation. . . . And we hear no voice calling: Come unto me, all you that labour. . . . For thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them to the little ones.
Mike: Just the prose, just the way he uses words is magnificent.
Kreeft: He’s a poet. He’s a poet. If you don’t like words, you won’t like Augustine.
Mike: If you don’t like staying up late at night reading long passages that can get verbose, you probably won’t like Augustine. There are some that I have trouble reading. I have no trouble reading St. Augustine at all. Peter Kreeft is the author of I Burned for Your Peace: Augustine’s Confessions Unpacked. I placed the link for the book on the Facebook Live page where we’re streaming this live today. You can get it at Ignatius Press. Professor Kreeft, here’s a Western civilization question for you. Is it intentional that Augustine is excluded in so much of our modern thought and instead the alleged wise and learned of our day tell us to read Marx, Freud, Kant, John Stuart Mill or any of these other apostates or heretics? Is that intentional, do you think?
Kreeft: Of course, of course. Do you think the cavity loves the dentist? Do you think the cancer loves the x-ray? The most insane people in our society are the most brilliant. We have a saying here in academia. That idea is so insane, you have to have a PhD to believe it.
Mike: The idea of Marxism is so insane you’d have to have a PhD to believe it, wouldn’t you?
Kreeft: Of course. Believe it or not, there was a poll taken in England some years ago asking: Who was the greatest philosopher who ever lived? Karl Marx came out as number one.
Mike: All I can do is sigh.
Kreeft: I used to love the British people until I read that.
Mike: I was just explaining to our audience that I was reading Father John Hardon’s work on Marxism. I was trying to explain that when you hear your average “conservative,” when they yell out or bellow out about a Marxist or “you’re a Marxist,” “they’re a Marxist,” they’re thinking of it in terms of political Marxism. Marxism is not – I keep trying to drive this point home. Perhaps you can help me. Marxism can be used in politics, but it’s not a political system. It is a system of highly erroneous, apostate thought and how to actually try to conduct your affairs with the denial that there is no natural order to ground us to; right?
Kreeft: Right. It’s a philosophy. It’s based on materialism. There’s nothing but matter. Economics is the key to the control of matter. All matter is competitive, therefore [unintelligible] are competitive. It’s a consistent philosophy. It’s consistently wrong.
Mike: Consistently wrong is correct. Marxism, it seems – the sexual revolution is based on Marxism; correct?
Kreeft: Well, and on Freudianism and on a lot of other things. The sources of that are diverse. That’s probably the most important revolution in our society right now. It’s turned life itself upside down because sex is the origin of life itself.
Mike: That’s right. If Augustine were around and writing today –
Kreeft: Well, he would say essentially what he said in that last eloquent long quote that you quoted. What’s missing in all the isms is the face of Christ, which if you repent and faith and hope and love. Philosophers can’t do that.
Mike: When he would say that, he would also say – I can’t remember if it’s you I read or someone else, that Augustine once upon a time said there are four virtues that I pursue: Humility, humility –
Kreeft: Somebody asked him, yeah, the four cardinal virtues. Humility, humility, humility, and humility.
Mike: It’s one of the ones that is conspicuously, I think, missing from almost all – certainly if you’re out in a football stadium chanting “USA! USA! USA!” –
Kreeft: And most intellectuals. Intellectuals are inevitably proud: Hey, we’re smarter than you are.
Mike: There may be a few intellectuals that actually are. That doesn’t stop almost all of them from thinking that. I think that’s what you’re pointing out. It’s a great book. As I said, if you have any kind of admiration for Western civilization, then you have to read Augustine. I think all roads pass, at some point in time, in all of our civilization – even in our religious affairs. I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb if I said that if you are a practicing Catholic, that giving a book of Augustine to a priest, City of God or City of Man or Confessions, if he doesn’t have one – I can’t imagine – of course, I can imagine in 2016 – would be a great Christmas gift. Would you agree?
Kreeft: Oh, yeah. Augustine is probably the most important Christian since the biblical times. Everybody living in Western civilization today would be a very different person if Augustine had never written.
Mike: That is a profound statement, my friend. How’s the book doing, professor?
Kreeft: I don’t know. I just throw the seeds down –
Mike: You just write them.
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Kreeft: – and God waters them.
Mike: I got a copy. It’s a great book. It’s called I Burned for Your Peace: Augustine’s Confessions Unpacked. Peter Kreeft of Boston University. Before you go, do you have any other affiliations?
Kreeft: I also teach at King’s College in New York City. It’s a little Protestant Evangelical college. It’s Catholic-friendly. We get along very well. Students are great there, too. I love both places.
Mike: Peter Kreeft.
Kreeft: It’s a Dutch name. It means lobster. Kreeft is the Dutch for [unintelligible].
Mike: It’s a Dutch name but you don’t practice the Dutch catechism; right?
Kreeft: No, indeed.
Mike: Peter, thank you very much for your time. I love the book. God bless you and have a safe and Merry Christmas.
Kreeft: God bless you, too.
End Mike Church Show Transcript