Augustine's Exposition of the Psalms and Manichean Philosophy

Lisa C. Bunge

University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Augustine of Hippo has been revered as a father of the early and modern Catholic Church. He has penned volumes of influential works and scriptural analyses. However, throughout his life, his religious affiliations were irresolute.

The concept of evil beleaguered Augustine incessantly. No one religion, cult or philosophy had been able to provide a satisfactory explanation for its existence. He abandoned the intentions of his benefactor, deviated from his intended career in the law courts and pursued his own intellectual endeavors.  He let his obsessions direct his destiny.

It was this fixation that led Augustine to the Manicheans, a religious sect outlawed in Africa in 296 CE by Diocletian, and to which he dedicated over nine years of his life. This Gnostic religion provided Augustine with answers he had desperately sought. As a man of reason, Augustine wanted definite answers. Christianity relied too much on abstract 'faith,' and lacked eloquence. Manichaeism was rational, articulate, and lucid.  

Ten years later Augustine met Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. Ambrose could argue Christian philosophy as an intellectual. All the rationality that before seemed to be lacking was suddenly present. Eventually, Augustine came to accept the dogma of the orthodox Christian church. But to what extent?

It is my intent to prove that he did not altogether reject the principles of his heretical Manichean past. By examining his exposition of the psalms, one can see how his past associations continued to influence his words and scriptural interpretation. Allusions to reincarnation, predestination, and the dichotomy between light and dark, good and evil, all clearly Manichean tenets, pepper his expositions.  This paper will show that below the surface Manichean philosophy shines forth.

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