Saint Augustine of Hippo
The first part of Augustine's life (to 391) can be seen as a series
of attempts to reconcile his Christian faith with his classical
culture. His mother, Saint Monica, had reared him as a Christian.
Although her religion did not hold an important place in his early
life, Christianity never totally lost its grip upon him. As a student
in Carthage, he encountered the classical ideal of philosophy's search
for truth and was fired with enthusiasm for the philosophic life.
Unable to give up Christianity altogether, however, he adopted
Manichaeism, a Christian heresy claiming to provide a rational
Christianity on the basis of a purified text of Scripture. Nine years
later, his association with the Manichees ended in disillusionment;
and it was in a religiously detached state that Augustine arrived
in Milan. There he discovered, through a chance reading of some
books of Neoplatonism, a form of philosophy that seemed compatible
with Christian belief. At the same time, he found that he was at
last able to give up the ambitions for public success that had
previously prevented him from embracing the philosophic life. The
result was the dramatic conversion that led Augustine to devote
his life to the pursuit of truth, which he now identified with
Christianity. With a small group of friends, he returned to
North Africa and, in Thagaste, established a religious community
dedicated to the intellectual quest for God.
Saint Augustine, b. Nov. 13, 354, d. Aug. 28, 430, was one of the
foremost philosopher-theologians of early Christianity and, while
serving (396-430) as bishop of Hippo Regius, the leading figure in
the church of North Africa. He had a profound influence on the
subsequent development of Western thought and culture and, more
than any other person, shaped the themes and defined the problems
that have characterized the Western tradition of Christian Theology.
Among his many writings considered classics, the two most celebrated
are his semiautobiographical Confessions, which contains elements
of Mysticism, and City of God, a Christian vision of history.
Early Life and Conversion
Augustine was born at Thagaste (modern Souk-Ahras, Algeria), a
small town in the Roman province of Numidia. He received a classical
education that both schooled him in Latin literature and enabled
him to escape from his provincial upbringing. Trained at Carthage
in rhetoric (public oratory), which was a requisite for a legal
or political career in the Roman empire, he became a teacher of
rhetoric in Carthage, in Rome, and finally in Milan, a seat of
imperial government at the time. At Milan, in 386, Augustine
underwent religious conversion. He retired from his public position,
received baptism from Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, and soon
returned to North Africa. In 391, he was ordained to the priesthood
in Hippo Regius (modern Bone, Algeria); five years later he became bishop.
Later Life and Influence
Augustine's ordination, unexpectedly forced upon him by popular
acclamation during a visit to Hippo in 391, brought about a
fundamental change in his life and thought. It redirected his
attention from the philosophic Christianity he had discovered in
Milan to the turbulent, popular Christianity of North Africa's
cities and towns.
His subsequent career as priest and bishop was to be dominated
by controversy and debate. Especially important were his struggles
with the Donatists and with Pelagianism. The Donatists promoted
a Christian separatist movement, maintaining that only they were
the true church and that, as a result, only their Sacraments
were valid. Augustine's counterattack emphasized unity, not division,
as the mark of true Christianity and insisted that the validity
of the sacraments depended on Christ himself, not on any human
group or institution. Pelagianism, an early 5th-century Christian
reform movement, held that no person could be excused from
meeting the full demand of God's law. In doing so, it stressed
the freedom of the human will and its ability to control motives
and regulate behavior. In contrast, Augustine argued that because
of Original Sin no one can entirely govern his own motivation
and that only the help of God's Grace makes it possible for persons
to will and to do good. In both of these controversies,
Augustine opposed forces that set some Christians apart from
others on grounds either of religious exclusivism or of moral worth.
Augustine must be reckoned as one of the architects of the unified
Christianity that survived the barbarian invasions of the 5th
century and emerged as the religion of medieval Europe. He
succeeded in bringing together the philosophic Christianity of his
youth and the popular Christianity of his congregation in Hippo.
In doing so, he created a theology that has remained basic to
Western Christianity, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, ever since.
Feast day: Aug. 28.
William S. Babcock
Battenhouse, Roy, ed., A Companion to the Study of
St. Augustine (1955); Brown, Peter, Augustine of Hippo (1967; repr.
1987); Burnaby, John, Amor Dei: A Study of the Religion of St.
Augustine (1938 repr. 1960); Chadwick, Henry, Augustine (1986);
Marrou, H. I., St. Augustine and His Influence Through the Ages,
trans. by P. Hepburne-Scott (1957); O'Daly, Gerard, Augustine's
Philosophy of the Mind (1987); O'Meara, John, An Augustine Reader
(1973); Pagels, Elaine, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent (1988); Pelikan,
Jaroslav, The Mystery of Continuity: Time and History, Memory and
Eternity in the Thought of St. Augustine (1986); Smith, Warren
Thomas, Augustine: His Life and Thought (1980).
Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
Perhaps antiquity's greatest theologian, Augustine was born
in Tagaste, North Africa (Algeria), to Patricius, a pagan, and Monica,
a Christian. He studied grammar at Madaura and rhetoric in Carthage,
and was intellectually stimulated by reading Cicero's Hortensius. After
a carnal life during his school days he joined the Manichaean religion
(373). He taught grammar and rhetoric in North Africa (373-82) and then
in Rome (383), where he abandoned the Manicheans and became a skeptic.
He moved to Milan to teach (384), where he was later influenced by the
reading of Neoplatonic philosophy and by Ambrose's sermons. He was
converted through an exhortation, overheard in a garden, from Rom.
13:13-14, was baptized by Ambrose (387), and was reunited with his
mother, who died shortly thereafter.
After years of retreat and study Augustine was ordained a priest in
Hippo, North Africa (391), where he established a monastery and where
he later became bishop (395). The rest of his life can be seen by the
controversies he engaged in and the writings he produced. Augustine
died August 28, 430, as the vandals laid siege to Rome.
Augustine's works fall roughly into three periods.
The first category in this period consists of
philosophical dialogues: Against the Academics (386), The Happy Life
(386), On Order (386), On Immortality of the Soul and On Grammar (387),
On the Magnitude of the Soul (387-88), On Music (389-91), On the
Teacher (389), and On Free Will (FW, 388-95). The second group is the
anti-Manichaean works such as On the Morals of the Catholic Church
(MCC) and On the Morals of the Manicheans (388), On Two Souls (TS,
391), and Disputation Against Fortunatus the Manichean (392). The last
category is made up of theological and exegetical works such as Against
the Epistle of Manichaeus (397), Diverse Questions (389-96), On the
Utility of Believing (391), On Faith and Symbol (393), and some Letters
(L) and Sermons.
Second Period (396-411)
This group of writings contains his later
anti-Manichaean writings such as Against the Epistle of Manichaeus
(397), Against Faustus the Manichean (AFM, 398), and On the Nature of
the Good (399). Next were some ecclesiastical writings, as On Baptism
(400), Against the Epistle of Petilian (401), and On the Unity of the
Church (405). Finally there were some theological and exegetical works
such as the famous Confessions (C,398-99), On the Trinity (T,400-416),
On Genesis According to the Literal Sense (400-415), On Christian
Doctrine I,III (CD,387). Letters, Sermons, and Discourses on Psalms
were also written during this period.
Third Period (411-30)
The works in the final period of Augustine's
writings were largely antiPelagian. First against the Pelagians he
wrote On the Merits and Remission of Sins (MRS, 411-12), On the Spirit
and the Letter (SL,412), On Nature and Grace (415), On the Correction
of the Donatists (417), On the Grace of Christ and On Original Sin
(418), On Marriage and Concupiscence (419-20), On the Soul and Its
Origin (SO,419), The Enchiridion (E,421), and Against Julian (two
books, 421 and 429-30). The second group of anti-Pelagian writings
include On Grace and Free Will (GFW,426), On Rebuke and Grace (426), On
Predestination of the Saints (428-29), and On the Gift of Perseverance
(428-29). The last writings in this period are theological and
exegetical, including perhaps his greatest work, The City of God
(CG,413-26). On Christian Doctrine (CD, Book IV, 426) and the
Retractations (426-27) fit here, as well as numerous Letters, Sermons,
and Discourses on Psalms.
Translations of Augustine's works can be found in numerous sources,
including Ancient Christian Writers; Catholic University of America
Patristic Studies; The Works of Aurelius Augustinus; The Fathers of the
Church; Library of Christian Classics; and A Select Library of Nicene
and Post-Nicene Fathers.
Augustine is the father of orthodox theology.
Augustine argued for aseity (CG XI, 5), absolute immutability (CG
XI, 10), simplicity (CG VIII, 6), and yet a triunity of persons (L 169,
2, 5) in this one essence. God is also omnipresent (CG VII, 30),
omnipotent (CG V, 10), immaterial (spiritual) (CG VIII, 6), eternal
(TXIV, 25, 21). God is not in time but is the creator of time (CXI,4).
For Augustine creation is not eternal (C XI, 13, 15). It is
ex nihilo (out of nothing) (C XII, 7, 7), and the "days" of Genesis may
be long periods of time (CG XI, 6-8). Each soul is not created at birth
but is generated through one's parents (SO 33). The Bible is divine (E
1,4), infallible (CG XI, 6), inerrant (L 28, 3), and it alone has
supreme authority (CG XI, 3) over all other writings (AFM XI, 5). There
are no contradictions in the Bible (CD VII, 6, 8). Any error can be
only in the copies, not in the original manuscripts (L 82, 3). The
eleven books of the Apocrypha are also part of the canon (CD II, 8, 12)
because they were part of the LXX, which Augustine believed to be
inspired, and because they contain many wonderful stories of martyrs
(CG XVIII, 42). Augustine recognized that the Jews did not accept these
apocryphal books (CG XIV, 14). The canon was closed with the NT
apostles (CG XXXIX, 38).
Augustine believed sin originated with free will, which is a
created good (TR XIV, 11). Free will implies the ability to do evil (CG
XII, 6). It is a voluntary (TR XIV, 27), noncompulsory (TS X, 12),
self-determined act (FW III, 17, 49). Augustine appears to have later
contradicted this view when he concluded that Donatists could be forced
to believe against their will (Correction of the Donatists III, 13).
With the fall man lost the ability to do good without God's grace (E
106), yet he retains the ability of free choice to accept God's grace
(L 215, 4; GFW 7). True freedom, however, is not the ability to sin but
the ability to do good (CG XIV, 11), which only the redeemed have (E
Augustine believed man was directly created by God without sin
(On the Nature of God, 3), which the whole race derived from Adam (CG
XII, 21). When Adam sinned, all man sinned in him seminally (MRS 14).
Man is a duality of body and soul (MCC 4, 6), and the image of God is
in the soul (CD I, 22, 20). The fall did not erase this image (SL 48),
although man's nature was corrupted by sin (Against the Epistle of
Manichaeus XXXIII, 36). Human life begins in the womb at the time of
animation (E 85). Miscarriages before this time simply "perish" (E 86).
Man's soul is higher and better than his body (CG XII, 1), which is
man's adversary (CX, 21, 43; TR 111, 103). There will be a physical
resurrection of the bodies of all men, just and unjust (E 84, 92), to
eternal bliss or agony respectively.
Augustine believed that Christ was fully human (On Faith and
the Creed [FC]IV, 8), yet without sin (E 24). Christ assumed this human
nature in the virgin's womb (FC IV, 8), yet he was also God from all
eternity, of the same essence as the Father (T I, 6, 9). Christ,
however, was only one person (E 35). Yet these two natures are so
distinct (L CXXXVII, 3, 11) that the divine nature did not become human
at the incarnation (T I, 7, 14).
The source of salvation is God's eternal decree (CG XI,
21), which is unchangeable (CG XXII, 2). Predestination is in accord
with God's foreknowledge of man's free choice (CG V, 9). Both those who
are saved and those who are lost are so predestined (SO IV, 16).
Salvation is wrought only through Christ's substitutionary death (E
33). It is received by faith (E 31). Infants, however, are regenerated
by baptism apart from their faith (On Forgiveness of Sins, and Baptism
For Augustine love is the supreme law (CG XV, 16). All the
virtues are defined in terms of love (MCC XII, 53). Lying is always
wrong, even to save a life (L 22, 23). In conflicting situations it is
for God, not us, to determine which sins are greater (E 78, 79). God
sometimes grants exceptions to a moral command so that killing is
permissible in a just war (CG XIX, 7) and even in cases such as
Samson's self-sacrificing suicide (CG I, 21).
N L Geisler
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
A. H. Armstrong, St. Augustine and Christian Platonism;
AugS; R. W. Battenhouse, ed., A Companion to the Study of Saint
Augustine; G. Bonner, ST. Augustine of Hippo; V. J. Bourke, Augustine's
Quest for Wisdom; P. Brown, Augustine of Hippo; J. Burnaby, Amor Dei: A
Study of the Religion of St. Augustine; M. P. Garvey, Saint Augustine:
Christian or Neo-Platonist; E. Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of
Saint Augustine; M.J. McKeough, The Meaning of the Rationes Seminales
in St. Augustine; H.I. Marrou, Saint Augustine and His Influence
Through the Ages; A. D. R. Polman, The Word of God According to Saint
Augustine; E.R. TeSelle, Augustine the Theologian, Augustinian
Institute, St. Augustine Lectures 1959; T. Miethe, Augustinian
Bibliography 1970-1980; T. Van Bauel, Repertoire bibliographique de
Saint Augustine 1950-1960; F. Van der Meer, Augustine the Bishop; N.L.
Geisler, What Augustine Says; E. Przywara, An Augustine Synthesis.
Also, see links to 600+ full text Augustine Manuscripts:
The individual articles presented here were generally first published
in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed
on the Internet in May 1997.
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