Volume 89, Issue 2, Spring 2015
“Nothing Rash Must Be Said”
Augustine on Pythagoras
Augustine comments on Pythagoras in many of his works. The early dialogues can speak very positively about the ancient philosopher; later, Augustine’s remarks become more nuanced. Still, he always reserves a certain respect for Pythagoras, which is significant as Pythagoras was a symbolic figure in Neoplatonic attempts to provide a philosophical understanding of Greco-Roman religion. Despite the differences between Christian and Pythagorean theology (understood as philosophical way of speaking about God), Augustine underlines those traits in Pythagoras’s thinking that distinguish him from other philosophical and popular views on questions of religion and “natural theology.” In accordance with his own Christian concept of the need for mediation and grace, Augustine appreciates in particular Pythagoras’s humility, best expressed in not calling himself “wise” but rather a “philosopher.” Augustine’s views on Pythagoras, while evolving, always remain balanced and provide a good example of how he relates to pre-Christian philosophers in general.