This is the essay for the 16th week of the 9th Grade Tom Woods Homeschool. In this blog post, I will be answering two questions. The first one is, what was the significance of Rome in the history of Western civilization and what was the significance of St. Augustine in Christian history?
The significance of Rome in the history of Western civilization
Roman civilization was extremely significant in western civilization. It shaped the law, architecture, language and many smaller things. If Roman civilization didn’t exist then western civilization would be very different.
The architecture in Roman civilization wasn’t Roman at all. They copied it from the Greeks because they recognized it was better than their own. What the Romans did contribute to western civilization regarding the Greeks is that they preserved Greek art. They mostly preserved Greek literature, which without them much of it would’ve been lost. A lot of the Mediterranean languages come from Latin, which originates from Rome. They call these languages, the romance languages. After the fall of the Roman empire, Latin was still used in countries and Roman Catholic churches. Slowly over time, these Latin dialects morphed so much that they were very different from the Latin that was used during the fall of the Roman empire. This shift happened after 1000 AD. The only place that uses Latin similar to what it was back then, are Roman Catholic churches.
Roman law is also very significant to the development of western civilization. While Roman law made many improvements to the justice system, the most important part of Roman law is natural law. The natural law was made by the Greeks but it was popularized by the Romans and used to its fullest extent by them. The purpose of natural law is to limit the power of people in power. The laws made so that any law made by anybody in power, would be evaluated if it complied with the principles of natural law. The natural law is a higher form of law which couldn’t be changed and was permanent. The natural law applied to everybody equally.
The significance of St. Augustine in Christian history
St. Augustine made many improvements and changes to Christian history. Some of Augustine’s teachings are based on ideas from Greek philosophers. Plato’s ideas on eternal and unchanging forms were adapted and tied into Christianity by Augustine. Plato’s idea of forms is that there are that we recognize even though we’ve never seen them. For example beauty. There is a concept of what is beautiful that we recognize, even though we’ve never seen something that is perfectly beautiful. Something that is perfectly beautiful, would be the most beautiful thing ever and nothing can be more beautiful than it. Where Augustine comes into play is the question that Plato found difficult to answer, was “where the forms came from”. Augustine answered this question by saying that these forms came from the mind of God. He believes this is because forms are eternal and unchanging, while the human mind is changeable and mortal. Human minds can’t comprehend these forms on their own, but they are helped to understand these forms by something. This something is God, which is also eternal and unchanging and as such is able to understand these eternal and unchanging things. Augustine calls the ability of humans to see and understand these concepts that are given by God, divine illumination.
Augustine’s moral theory is also somewhat based on Greek ideas. Augustine thought, like the Greeks, that the end goal of humans was happiness. That the end goal of a person’s life is happiness. What differs Augustine’s moral theory from those of the Greeks is how happiness is obtained. Augustine believes that happiness can only be obtained from God. He says that without God the human’s heart will be restless and unhappy. This is because God’s eternal laws are written in the human heart. The reason that people don’t automatically follow these eternal laws is that humans are corrupt and they need divine grace to help them follow these eternal laws. Augustine believes that a person achieves moral perfection when they love God. Humans love God by following God’s eternal laws, which also grant them happiness in return. Evil is the opposite of this, which is falling away from God refusing to follow these eternal rules.