Augustine's views about the spiritual condition of the human race in general would not be a pleasant topic to discuss at a surprise party or on a slowly sinking ship, but was his view realistic nevertheless? This is the Augustine who, by most accounts, judged himself severely in his Confessions, and regarded humanity as spiritually empty without the grace of a forgiving God. And his City of God showed Rome, an example of the City of Man, destroyed and crumbling through human avarice and sin, even if God permitted this as a way of advancing the eternal City of God. Augustine, consequently, was prepared to envision large numbers of people lost in hell rather than to nominate as good anything that was evil, rather than to lower his sights or his standards.
His pessimism (or was it realism?) was, rather, a practical sort of judgement that saw with a cold eye what he regarded as a human tendency towards evil. He knew of this personally through his own past behaviour, and could acknowledge the reality and power of his own will and choices. Even with the possibility of mercy from God, Augustine did not see many signs that seeking the forgiveness of God was a popular or frequent activity among people. He, however, had a streak of optimism amidst his pessimism that saw, through revelation, not only that the City of God was the ultimate destiny of the human race, but also that it offered the potential for some limited but real improvement in the world.
And so, just as his pessimism was grounded on human sin, so too his realism was based on the human will's radical freedom equally to be able choose what was good. The realism of Augustine recognises that at the root of what we see of disorder in the world is a personal will that is the good that God allows to exist even if it chooses against Him and His norms embedded in the being of man the rational being. God has no choice but to leave humanity in the radical freedom that allows each of us to choose between two things to love, i.e., (1) our self or (2) God and the good world that surrounds us.
The realism of Augustine included God's grace, and this grace meant that pessimism did not have to be terminal. As he aged, however, Augustine became more and more conscious and concerned that humans were ignoring the grace of God, and did so to their ultimate peril. On the part of Augustine, was this thought pessimistic or realistic?
Bishop Possidius, the friend who was present at the death of Augustine, wrote that actually meeting Augustine and seeing the life he lived was even more impressive than coming to know him somewhat by reading his works. In his Life of Augustine, Possidius wrote, "From his writings it is clear how this bishop beloved by God lived his life, as far as the light of truth was granted him, in the faith, hope, and charity of the catholic church, and those who read what he has written about the things of God can profit thereby… But I think that those who could hear and see him speaking before them in the church could profit more from him, especially those who knew how he lived his life."
Yet the personality of Augustine cannot be captured without according significant attention to his spiritual passions as well. The quest for God was undoubtedly the supreme and primary focus of all his thought and activity. For Augustine, unceasingly both his personal goal and mission in life was the seeking of the salvation of himself and of all people from hopeless plight by the action of the redeeming love of God. The essence of his spiritual tradition and his philosophy is encapsulated in a sentence of his Confessions: 'You have made us for Yourself, 0 Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You'.
The Encyclopedia Briticannia (9th Edition, Vol. III, 1878) characterised Augustine thus: "None can deny the enthusiasm of Augustine, or his unceasing search after truth, his affection, his zeal, and his devotion to duty. And even those who may doubt the soundness or value of some of his dogmatic conclusions cannot hesitate to acknowledge the depth of his spiritual convictions, and the strength, solidity, and penetration with which he handled the most difficult questions, and wrought all the elements of his experience and of his profound knowledge of the Bible into a great system of Christian thought… No single name has ever exercised such power over the Christian church, and no one mind ever made such an impression upon Christian thought."
Personalidad de Agustin. (A web page written in Spanish.) "Unicamente la verdad alcanza la victoria y la victoria de la verdad es el amor." (Sermón 385,1). http://www.oala.villanova.edu/agustin/personalidad2.html