Saint Augustine was born on 354 CE in Tagaste, Africa. His given name was Aurelius Augustinus. His father was Patricius, a pagan who was baptized Christian before he died, and his mother was Monica, a baptized Christian with an influential role in the life of her son. Augustine is regarded as one of the most intelligent Christian theologians and bishops of all time. His works and actions have left a major imprint on the Church and its doctrine.
As a boy, Augustine was not baptized and grew up in the Roman Empire. He studied under the local schoolmasters in Tagaste until he turned fifteen and moved to continue his studies in Madaurus. From Madaurus, he moved to Carthage for advanced studies in rhetoric and law. It was in Carthage that he took a concubine and later had a son named Adeodatus from her. It was in this period of his life that embraced Manichaeism, which is a belief that one god is responsible for all good and another responsible for all evil. Augustine’s belief in Manichaeism prompted Monica, his mother, not to allow his entrance into the family’s house. Even with her actions, she continued praying and hoping that Augustine would find the Lord. After he ended his studies in Carthage, he became a teacher and was constantly on the move throughout Northern Africa.
Augustine stopped teaching and moved to Milan where he gained the position of Public Orator. In Milan, Augustine met Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan. Augustine grew to love Ambrose’s allegorical interpretations of the Bible and this led to his appreciation and new understanding of the Scripture. He also studied and learned to appreciate Plato’s works and started linking a lot of his works into the meaning and messages in the Bible. Augustine’s family, including his mother, joined him in Milan. Her constant prayers for his conversion to Christianity and the strict ethical demands of Ambrose made Augustine’s appreciation of Plato’s work grew deeper. It made him no choice, but to convert to Christianity. On Easter Sunday of 387 CE in Milan, Augustine along with his son and his friend, Alypius, were baptized by Ambrose.
After Augustine’s mother passed away, he traveled throughout the Roman Empire. He wrote many of his books on theology along the way. He had no aspirations of priesthood, but through a mere chance visit at Hippo in Africa; the bishop Valerius needed a parish priest. Augustine appeared to be the best candidate, and in 391 CE, he was ordained. Augustine’s model for his ministry was St. Paul and he found St. Paul as a mentor. In Hippo, he set up a monastery for the sake of training new priests. With Augustine’s many contributions to Hippo, Bishop Valerius requested Augustine to become his Co-adjutire. A year later, Valerius passed away and Augustine became the Bishop of Hippo.
While Augustine was bishop, he wrote some of his greatest works, which still survive today. The first of these is Confessions, where he thanked God for changing him, and he also revealed how he struggled with himself, his sexual nature, self-will and his pride. He presented his positions on incarnation and the Trinity. Confessions were both his biography and also his presentation of his ideas. This book was written with the hope that others will experience conversion to Christianity and how he, Augustine, felt on his way towards conversion.
City of God is another great work of Augustine which he showed that Rome fell because it was a “City of Earth” and not because of Christianity and he Christians. The City of God emerged from God’s love while Rome, the “City of Earth” emerged from the love of self. This was the dominant theme in the story. Augustine also critiqued Greco-Roman culture drawing from the greatest historians and writers of the period. He pointed out the degradation of Roman standards of conduct, life patterns or style and sexual behaviors. Contrasting the Roman side, Augustine depicted Christianity with vigor, health and cleanliness. He wrote many more books, but these two were some of his best.
Outside writing books, Augustine also involved himself in controversies in the Church. As said before, Manichaeism was the belief that one God made good and another evil. Augustine, after following this sect a while back, denounced it because of the polytheistic belief, and also giving human features to God. He resolved the controversy by debating the Manichaen Bishop Fortunatus. Augustine easily defeated him in the debate, and thus, he discredited Manichaean religion.
Another controversy, that Augustine was involved in, was Donatism. Donatastics believed that Catholics blemished priesthood and that there were no true sacraments. This divided the African church into groups of warring factions. Augustine fought the Donatists by saying that the sacraments depended on the Lord, not the giver. He showed that the Church is the union of all people into Christ. He defined free will, Christian sacraments, and original sin. His argument with the Donatists clarified Christian doctrines for further generations to come.
Pelagianism was the final controversy that Augustine handled. They believed that God’s grace is not needed for salvation, but only good works. Augustine fought this controversy by explaining that grace was necessary for salvation because without it, people would be even more sinful. The leader of Pelagianism, Pelagius, never met with Augustine, but as a result of this controversy, “God’s saving grace” was clearly understood through Augustine’s arguments.
On August 28, 430 CE in Hippo, Augustine died. He is regarded as one of the greatest and intelligent saints of the Church. He clarified Church doctrines, established monasteries for new priests, educated many into the meaning of Christianity and made Christianity humanistic which is nurtured by God’s love and grace.
Brown, Peter. Augustine of Hippo. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967. Possidius. The Life of Saint Augustine. Villanova: Augustinian Press, 1988.
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