This essay examines St Augustine’s various references to Pythagoras and his teachings. The young Augustine presents Pythagoras as an ideal philosopher. Late in life, he regrets this praise he then considers exaggerated, mostly on account of Pythagoras’ polytheism. As can been seen from works written in between, Augustine’s appreciation for Pythagoras rests on more than one column: Pythagoras is the representative of contemplative philosophy, and Augustine credits him with a philosophical understanding of numbers and with key insights into philosophical theology. Pythagoras’ traditional association with divination or theurgy is played down. In Augustine’s eyes, no pagan philosopher has much authority in comparison to Christ, whose humility is the only way to God. Yet, this very argument opens the gate to the most interesting comment Augustine makes on Pythagoras: he ascribes to Pythagoras having coined the term philosopher and defined it as lover of God. Moreover, Pythagoras preferred himself to be called a philosopher, i.e. a lover and student of wisdom, rather than wise, which would be a presumptuous claim. In Augustine’s consistently respectful treatment, therefore, Pythagoras, implicitly, gives an example of humility, seems to belong to those pagans who were at least looking for a mediator, and may in fact have received a certain revelation of him – about them, therefore, “nothing rash must be said”.
Keywords Augustine  Pythagoras  Humility
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ISBN(s) 1051-3558
DOI 10.5840/acpq201531749
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