Saint Augustine of Hippo

General Information

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.

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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.

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)

Advanced Information

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.

Major Writings

Augustine's works fall roughly into three periods.

First Period(386-96)

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 30).


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 I,44).


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.

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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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