Today marks the 500th anniversary of Luther’s pounding 95 indictments into the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. An Augustinian monk, Luther was converted to Christ on Paul’s confession in Romans “the just shall live by faith” thus renouncing Rome’s outrageous demands of works-salvation. A thousand years earlier, his theological mentor, Augustine of Hippo, found the same path, preserving Christianity through the Dark Ages.
Two historical giants wrote their memoirs using the same title: Confessions. The one, a reformed playboy; the other, a devout humanist. Though penned 1,358 years apart, both volumes are held up to history as the divergent paths men may choose in finding meaning and fulfillment.
Aurelius Augustine of Hippo (5th c. N African theologian) took the path of ‘coram deo’ – spiritual man, saved for God himself, living under his sovereign watchcare. Rousseau (18th c. Swiss philosopher) threaded his way through life guided by ‘coram natura’ – natural man being the end in himself, not God; that such a man is a “noble savage” who discovers life on his own terms.
Rousseau’s Confessions preach the humanistic ideal that man makes his own happiness, that his being happy is the end-all, be-all of human existence. His philosophy is the precursor to “if it feels good, do it” – a variation on the theme “I feel, therefore I am.”
The sad and inevitable conclusion to Rousseau’s journey of self-discovery – in his own words – is “the longing for happiness is never quenched in the heart of man.”
Augustine is famous for the words, “God, give me sexual purity….but not yet!” Both men struggled with lust and thievery (Augustine’s pears and Rousseau’s pink ribbon) but only Augustine saw the truth that he stole and lusted because of original sin in which he stood condemned. Rousseau felt it was in himself to do better – but his pseudo-awakening led to more miseries and deeper castration from God. Augustine’s conversion led to his healing and reconciliation to God.
“Two roads diverged in the woods….”
Their conversions were also disparate: Augustine, in a garden, heard a child singing the words “take it up and read” and instinctively turned to Romans 13:14 and found instant salvation.
Rousseau came across a writing that posed the question “has advancements in science made our world worse or better?” He made it his life quest in that moment to pursue science as the end rather than a means to God, and testified he became a “new man” instantly; however, he lamented such a discovery never contributed to his soul’s happiness, but rather multiplied his miseries.
Hundreds of years later, Augustine’s legacy left its mark on a disillusioned monk. This monk, Martin Luther, disgusted with Rome’s insistence on self-salvation in the guise of religion, let his protest be heard through the ringing of hammer on nail.
I find it fascinating that one of the most monumental moves of God in church history found its touchstone on October 31st. Satan has hijacked that date for his own nefarious purposes – benign as they seem to more modern sensibilities – but two thousand years ago, the castle gates of hell were forever emblazoned with the eternal indictment of Christ and his nails: Doomed, doomed is Babylon the Great, and those who are joined to it!