This article explores how radical Islamic terrorism picks up on Augustine's own radical ideas of divine law's precedence over human law, as restated in the Qu'ran. The current-day results are comparable to those caused by Augustine's doctrine to the Holy Roman Empire. It shows that Augustine's doctrine could have influenced Mohammed in writing the Qu'Ran at least to some extent; but it does not claim either Augustine or Mohammed intended terrorism as a result!
Preface: - There is a very good explanation why you never heard this before, and it is not because the facts are unsound. Even a neutral analysis is beset not merely by criticism, but rather outright condemnation, from all sides. Immediately after sharing this on Facebook, I was banned from three groups, without even any attempt to open the link to this blog. Most others said I was wrong for reasons countermanded in the next paragraph, again without bothering to read at all. Also I am sadly obligated to state first, I am an American citizen, a Satipatṭhāna Buddhist, a retired Oxford scholar, and have no affiliations with any religious or political organization. I share this only in desiring peace and in the quest for truth, which is, as Plato wrote, the most noble of all pursuits.
Augustine's Divine Law versus Cicero's Secular Law
Saint Augustine of Hippo, one of the most revered Church fathers, started the process by denying the validity of Roman secular law in increasingly vehement terms. His premise, In "City of God" (ca. 400AD), was that the mythical 'Golden Age,' as originally described by Hesiod (ca. 700BC) was heretical, because it was contrary to Biblical Eden. The golden age was the basis of theories of rational law (such as Cicero's in 50BC). In these theories, the goal of a new golden age justifies the righteousness of punishment. Even if such a notion as a prior 'golden age' is conceptual, though, Augustine still argued that secular justice serves the purposes of Man, not God. Therefore:
- Augustine first substituted a personal divine law of salvation in place of restoring the golden age. Whatever the benefits of secular law, Augustine reasoned that no mortal, secular justice could ever be meaningful, by comparison to the far better achievement of all attaining eternal life.
- That first part much might have been OK by itself, but Augustine then went further to add a second part. He claimed that secular justice is not the virtue it appears to be, but rather results from the first deadly sin, pride, and thus is not safe, and moreover a danger to faith itself.
Augustine's discussion is extensive in a scroll entitled, "What the Christians Believe Regarding the Supreme Good and Evil, in Opposition to the Philosophers, Who Have Maintained that the Supreme Good is in Themselves." This is now Chapter 4 in City of God. With increasingly unbridled passion, Augustine concludes the main thesis in this extensive diatribe by calling secular justice a 'weakness, plague, and disease' that thwarts the only desirable goal, salvation:
"And justice, whose office it is to render to every man his due, whereby there is in man himself a certain just order of nature, so that the soul is subjected to God, and the flesh to the soul, and consequently both soul and flesh to God—does not this virtue demonstrate that it is as yet rather laboring towards its end than resting in its finished work? For the soul is so much the less subjected to God as it is less occupied with the thought of God; and the flesh is so much the less subjected to the spirit as it lusts more vehemently against the spirit. So long, therefore, as we are beset by this weakness, this plague, this disease, how shall we dare to say that we are safe?"
-City of God, Chapter 4, Augustine (Hippo, 413 AD)
The resemblance of at least the first half of Augustine's thought to Islamic doctrine might not be a coincidence. The consequences of the second half of this doctrine, in both religions, has been rather similar. If one considers the topic without bias, it is not unreasonable to postulate that Mohammed actually picked up the first part of this doctrine from Augustine's doctrine directly, and acknowledging that would go a long way to resolving problems which the second part is still causing. So before discussing the real issue, the possibility of 'direct transmission' is first explored.
Did Augustine's Position Reach Syria before Mohammed's Birth?
With all the Christians killed for public enjoyment in Roman games, many were sympathetic with Augustine's condemnation of human law. Augustine was certainly well received at the time. He was incredibly popular, and his message indisputably powerful. His ideas spread like wildfire, as new and ever larger armies of evangelists took his message to all corners of the earth, unafraid of suffering or death, due the far greater joy of bringing others to eternal life. This of course included Syria, where St. Paul famously received his conversion.
At the time of Mohammed's birth, Syria had become a prosperous province of the Byzantine empire. Mohammed was taken to Syria as a child, so he first encountered the glowing promises of eternal life there somewhere around the age of 10 (~580AD). By that time Syria had perhaps a quarter million Christians in about a hundred different ecclesiastical systems, so it's really impossible to know what he specifically encountered there, except for one meeting with a heretical Christian hermit who named him the new living God. Details have been recast by generations of both Christians and Muslims in accordance with their own beliefs, so now there are half a dozen legends that describe the specific facts in rather incompatible manners. What we do know is that Mohammed was not a scholar himself, and was never taught Latin or Greek, or even how to read and write. So he would have learned whatever he did about Christianity from derivative sources in sermons and personal accounts by the Christians of the time.
Echoes of Augustine in the Qu'Ran
When Mohammed was about 40 years old, he then wrote the 'pulpit rhetoric' equivalent of Augustine's more academically stated conclusions in "City of God," most prominently in a Surah sometimes labeled as 'the citadel,' or 'the fortress:' Most major cities were already walled by then, so there is an obvious correlation between the titles of Augustine's 'City of God' and Qu'Ran's Citadel. It is rather puzzling why no one else points it out. Here Mohammed places the law of God above the law of Man:
"Then we revealed to you this scripture, truthfully, confirming previous scriptures, and superseding them. You shall rule among them in accordance with GOD's revelations, and do not follow their wishes if they differ from the truth that came to you. For each of you, we have decreed laws and different rites. Had GOD willed, He could have made you one congregation. But He thus puts you to the test through the revelations He has given each of you. You shall compete in righteousness. To GOD is your final destiny—all of you—then He will inform you of everything you had disputed. You shall rule among them in accordance with GOD's revelations to you. Do not follow their wishes, and beware lest they divert you from some of GOD's revelations to you. If they turn away, then know that GOD wills to punish them for some of their sins. Indeed, many people are wicked. Is it the law of the days of ignorance that they seek to uphold? Whose law is better than GOD's for those who have attained certainty?"
-Qu'ran, Surah 5, 48-50. Zayd ibn Thabit (Badr, ca. 630 AD)
In the Middle East, derivative rhetoric persists to this day, and it is on these specific passages in the Qur'an about divine law of salvation superseding secular law that radical Islamic terrorism draws the most, using exactly the same Augustinian concepts which caused the Roman Empire to collapse. Whether such a notion was directly inspired by Augustinian thought or not, from the perspective of ideology, it was rather irrefutably Augustinian first. Augustine is a founding father of the Christian church, and this notion was part of his doctrine first, regardless how right or wrong it was then, or is now. It had the same consequences to Rome as it is having in Islam now. No one has ever challenged the power and influence of Augustine's "City of God" in causing the downfall of Rome.
Divine Law as Basis for Radical Islamic Terrorism
Thus, no one can challenge that Augustine's opinion of secular law is repeatedly cited in defense of radical Islamic terrorism. The only issue is whether Augustine's ideas directly influenced Mohammed. Meanwhile, for several years now, ISIS has been destroying historical sites in Syria with justifications that are exactly the same as those leading to the purge of secular Roman philosophy in early Christian history (most recently noted in "Expert says Islamic State has badly damaged major Palmyra monument," Reuters, 20 Jan 2017).
The parallel with similar actions in Christian history continues to be ignored, which could be a main reason why the West has been so ineffective in stopping it. As far as the terrorists are concerned, we are not only heretics but hypocrites, because Christians may not read the Qu'ran much, but Islamic scholars definitely read Augustine.
Surviving the Book Burning
So that is how early Christian doctrines can be seen to cause radical Islamic terrorism now. Cynics seeking something more specific either way that fits in 144 characters will be disappointed. Deeper corroboration would require extensive structural analysis of the type even academics avoid the most. This is because, after Augustinian ideas had taken total hold of the West, there was really no rational idea of justice at all, just as in most of Islam now. Divine justice had taken its place, just as Mohammed caused in the Middle East. And as the Roman Empire collapsed, in the interests of furthering even more personal salvation, early Christians destroyed most scholarly texts as useless, blasphemous, and an endangerment to eternal life--unless they either contained evidence of how right Augustine was, and how wrong the people he condemned were--or had some other bearing on the life of Christ as approved by the third Nicene council (other unapproved texts were heretical, and also destroyed).
So the actual surviving works are really a very sparse representation of the knowledge at the time, and we have to draw on very few sources. Anything showing that the hated Islamic faith was inspired by Christian doctrines would certainly have been destroyed as fast as system admins now block me from sharing this post on religious, political, and even philosophical forums.
Fortunately, the purge of secular work which started the Dark Ages was not total. For example, Cicero survived the purge because the early Christians were confident that Augustine had totally debunked his ideas of law. So his work was merrily demonized for centuries. Cicero was finally restored to heroic status again by Henry VIII, for whom Cicero's ideas of rational law were the main inspiration of the Restoration. That set the stage for the division between church and state that we now consider so obvious in the West.
If we really want to stop religious terrorism, we should start by condemning the second part of Augustine's anti-secular doctrine, as first described, rather than declaring war against a supposedly alien belief. That would at least create some shared mind on the problem
It is somewhat ironic that Henry VIII, in pulling the Western world out of the Dark Ages into the restoration, had read both Augustine and Cicero, and knew of the problems imposed by Divine Law on his country at the time; yet now, even less time has passed since Henry VIII than the Dark Ages persisted, and already, we have forgotten the reasoning which led to our current system of secular law.
This time, we didn't burn the books. We simply stopped printing them. Now they are almost lost behind pet photos, insurance ads, and other more interesting things. Thankfully, this time, they are still there.
As per Henry VIII, This page is myne. - Ernest Meyer