Aurelius Augustinus, Augustine of Hippo ("The knowledgeable one") (November 13, 354–August 28, 430) was one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity. In Roman Catholicism, he is a saint and pre-eminent Doctor of the Church. Many Protestants, especially Calvinists, consider him to be one of the theological fountainheads of Reformation teaching on salvation and grace. Born in Africa as the eldest son of Saint Monica, he was educated and baptized in Italy. His works—including The Confessions, which is often called the first Western autobiography—are still read by Christians around the world.
Saint Augustine was born in 354 in Tagaste, a provincial Roman city in North Africa. He was raised and educated in Carthage. His mother Monica was a devout Catholic and his father Patricius a pagan, but Augustine followed the controversial Manichaean religion, much to the horror of his mother. As a youth Augustine lived a hedonistic lifestyle for a time, and in Carthage, he developed a relationship with a young woman who would be his concubine for over a decade, with whom he had a son. His education and early career was in philosophy and rhetoric, the art of persuasion and public speaking. He taught in Tagaste and Carthage, but desired to travel to Rome where he believed the best and brightest rhetoricians practiced. However, Augustine grew disappointed with the Roman schools, which he found apathetic. Once the time came for his students to pay their fees they simply fled. Manichean friends introduced him to the prefect of the City of Rome, Symmachus, who had been asked to provide a professor of rhetoric for the imperial court at Milan.
The young provincial won the job and headed north to take up his position in late 384. At age thirty, Augustine had won the most visible academic chair in the Latin world, at a time when such posts gave ready access to political careers. However, he felt the tensions of life at an imperial court, lamenting one day as he rode in his carriage to deliver a grand speech before the emperor, that a drunken beggar he passed on the street had a less careworn existence than he.
His mother Monica pressured him to become a Catholic, but it was the bishop of Milan, Ambrose, who had most influence over Augustine. Ambrose was a master of rhetoric like Augustine himself, but older and more experienced. Prompted in part by Ambrose's sermons, and other studies, including a disappointing meeting with a key exponent of Manichaean theology, Augustine moved away from Manichaeism; but instead of becoming Catholic like Ambrose and Monica, he converted to a pagan Neoplatonic approach to truth, saying that for a time he had a sense of making real progress in his quest, although he eventually lapsed into skepticism.
Augustine's mother had followed him to Milan and he allowed her to arrange a society marriage, for which he abandoned his concubine (however he had to wait two years until his fiancée came of age; he promptly took up in the meantime with another woman). It was during this period Augustine of Hippo uttered his famous prayer, "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet" [da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo] (Conf., VIII. vii (17)).
In the summer of 386, after having read an account of the life of Saint Anthony of the Desert which greatly inspired him, Augustine underwent a profound personal crisis and decided to convert to Christianity, abandon his career in rhetoric, quit his teaching position in Milan, give up any ideas of marriage (much to the horror of his mother), and devote himself entirely to serving God and the practices of priesthood, which included celibacy. Key to this conversion was the voice of a small girl he heard at one point telling him in a sing-song voice to 'Take and read' the Bible, at which point he opened the Bible at random and fell upon a passage from St. Paul. He would detail his spiritual journey in his famous Confessions, which went on to become a classic of both Christian theology and world literature. Ambrose baptized Augustine on Easter day in 387, and soon thereafter in 388 he returned to Africa. On his way back to Africa his mother died, as did his son soon after, leaving him relatively alone in the world without family.
Upon his return to north Africa he created a monastic foundation at Tagaste for himself and a group of friends. In 391 he was ordained a priest in Hippo Regius, (now Annaba, in Algeria). He became a famous preacher (more than 350 preserved sermons are believed to be authentic), and was noted for combating the Manichaean heresy, to which he had formerly adhered.
In 396 he was made coadjutor bishop of Hippo (assistant with the right of succession on the death of the current bishop), and remained as bishop in Hippo until his death in 430. He left his monastery, but continued to lead a monastic life in the episcopal residence. He left a Rule (Latin, Regula) for his monastery that has led him to be designated the "patron saint of Regular Clergy," that is, parish clergy who live by a monastic rule.
Augustine died on August 28, 430, during the siege of Hippo by the Vandals. He is said to have encouraged its citizens to resist the attacks, primarily on the grounds that the Vandals adhered to the Arian heresy.
Influence as a theologian and thinkerEdit
Augustine remains a central figure, both within Christianity and in the history of Western thought. In both his philosophical and theological reasoning, he was greatly influenced by Stoicism, Platonism and Neoplatonism, particularly by the work of Plotinus, author of the Enneads, probably through the mediation of Porphyry and Victorinus (as Pierre Hadot has argued). His generally favorable outlook upon Neoplatonic thought contributed to the "baptism" of Greek thought and its entrance into the Christian and subsequently the European intellectual tradition. His early and influential writing on the human will, a central topic in ethics, would become a focus for later philosophers such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.
It is largely due to Augustine's arguments against the Pelagians, who did not believe in original sin, that Western Christianity has maintained the doctrine of original sin. However, Eastern Orthodox theologians, while they believe all humans were damaged by the original sin of Adam & Eve, have key disputes with Augustine about this doctrine, and as such this is viewed as a key source of division between East and West.
Augustine's writings helped formulate the theory of the just war. He also advocated the use of force against the Donatists, asking "Why ... should not the Church use force in compelling her lost sons to return, if the lost sons compelled others to their destruction?" (The Correction of the Donatists, 22–24)
While Augustine's doctrine of divine predestination would never be wholly forgotten within the Catholic Church, finding eloquent expression in the works of Bernard of Clairvaux, Reformation theologians such as Martin Luther and John Calvin would look back to him as the inspiration for their avowed capturing of the Biblical Gospel. Later, within the Catholic Church, the writings of Cornelius Jansen, who claimed heavy influence from Augustine, would form the basis of the movement known as Jansenism; some Jansenists went into schism and formed their own church.
Augustine was canonized by popular recognition and recognized as a Doctor of the Church in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII. His feast day is August 28, the day on which he is thought to have died. He is considered the patron saint of brewers, printers, theologians, sore eyes, and a number of cities and dioceses.
The latter part of Augustine's Confessions consists of an extended meditation on the nature of time. Catholic theologians generally subscribe to Augustine's belief that God exists outside of time in the "eternal present"; that time only exists within the created universe.
Augustine's meditations on the nature of time are closely linked to his consideration of the human ability of memory. Frances Yates in her 1966 study, The Art of Memory argues that a brief passage of the Confessions, X.8.12, in which Augustine writes of walking up a flight of stairs and entering the vast fields of memory (see text and commentary) clearly indicates that the ancient Romans were aware of how to use explicit spatial and architectural metaphors as a mnemonic technique for organizing large amounts of information. A few French philosophers have argued that this technique can be seen as the conceptual ancestor of the user interface paradigm of virtual reality.
According to Leo Ruickbie, Augustine's arguments against magic, differentiating it from miracle, were crucial in the early Church's fight against paganism and became a central thesis in the later denunciation of witches and witchcraft.
Natural knowledge and biblical interpretationEdit
A more clear distinction between "metaphorical" and "literal" in literary texts arose with the rise of the Scientific Revolution, although its source could be found in earlier writings, such as those of Herodotus (5th century BC). It was even considered heretical to interpret the Bible literally at times (cf. Origen, St. Jerome). Augustine took the view that the Biblical text should not be interpreted literally if it contradicts what we know from science and our God-given reason. From an important passage on his "The Literal Interpretation of Genesis" (early 5th century, AD), St. Augustine wrote:
- "It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation." (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20, Chapt. 19 [AD 408])
- "With the scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith. For that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters [about the physical universe] in our books, or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures. In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation," (ibid, 2:9)
Interpretation of the creation story in GenesisEdit
Augustine explained in "The Literal Interpretation of Genesis" that he understood the creation story contained in the book of Genesis as describing the beginning of the cosmos more in an allegorical than historical way.
In his latter book, "The City of God", Augustine also defended what would be called today as Young Earth creationism. This wasn’t in contradiction with his view about biblical interpretation (see section above), since, at Augustine’s time, there was no compelling evidence against the idea of a young Earth. In the specific passage, Augustine rejected both the immortality of the human race proposed by pagans, and contemporary ideas of ages (such as those of certain Greeks and Egyptians) that differed from the Church's sacred writings:
- "Let us, then, omit the conjectures of men who know not what they say, when they speak of the nature and origin of the human race. For some hold the same opinion regarding men that they hold regarding the world itself, that they have always been... They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed." (Augustine, Of the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World’s Past, The City of God, Book 12: Chapt. 10 [AD 419]).
In the same book, St. Augustine also comments on the word "day" in the creation week, admitting the interpretation is difficult:
- "But simultaneously with time the world was made, if in the world's creation change and motion were created, as seems evident from the order of the first six or seven days. For in these days the morning and evening are counted, until, on the sixth day, all things which God then made were finished, and on the seventh the rest of God was mysteriously and sublimely signalized. What kind of days these were it is extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible for us to conceive, and how much more to say!" (City of God, Book 11: Chapt. 6).
Augustine and the Jews Edit
Augustine wrote in Book 18, Chapter 46 of The City of God  (one of his most celebrated works along with The Confessions): "The Jews who slew Him, and would not believe in Him, because it behooved Him to die and rise again, were yet more miserably wasted by the Romans, and utterly rooted out from their kingdom, where aliens had already ruled over them, and were dispersed through the lands (so that indeed there is no place where they are not), and are thus by their own Scriptures a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ."
Augustine deemed this scattering important because he believed that it was a fulfillment of certain prophecies, thus proving that Jesus was the Messiah. This is because Augustine believed that the Jews who were dispersed were the enemies of the Christian Church. He also quotes part of the same prophecy that says "Slay them not, lest they should at last forget Thy law". Some people have used Augustine's words to attack Jews as anti-Christian, while others have used them to attack Christians as anti-Jewish. See Christianity and anti-Semitism.
- On Christian Doctrine, 397-426
- Confessions, 397-398
- The City of God, begun ca. 413, finished 426
- On the Trinity, 400-416
- Retractions: At the end of his life (ca. 426-428) Augustine revisited his previous works in chronological order and suggested what he would have said differently in a work titled the Retractions, giving the reader a rare picture of the development of a writer and his final thoughts.
- The Literal Meaning of Genesis
- On Free Choice
- On the Catechising of the Uninstructed
- On Faith and the Creed
- Concerning Faith of Things Not Seen
- On the Profit of Believing
- On the Creed: A Sermon to Catechumens
- On Continence
- On the Good of Marriage
- On Holy Virginity
- On the Good of Widowhood
- On Lying
- To Consentius: Against Lying
- On the Work of Monks
- On Patience
- On Care to be Had For the Dead
- On the Morals of the Catholic Church
- On the Morals of the Manichaeans
- On Two Souls, Against the Manichaeans
- Acts or Disputation Against Fortunatus the Manichaean
- Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental
- Reply to Faustus the Manichaean
- Concerning the Nature of Good, Against the Manichaeans
- On Baptism, Against the Donatists
- Answer to Letters of Petilian, Bishop of Cirta
- The Correction of the Donatists
- Merits and Remission of Sin, and Infant Baptism
- On the Spirit and the Letter
- On Nature and Grace
- On Man's Perfection in Righteousness
- On the Proceedings of Pelagius
- On the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin
- On Marriage and Concupiscence
- On the Soul and its Origin
- Against Two Letters of the Pelagians
- On Grace and Free Will
- On Rebuke and Grace
- The Predestination of the Saints/Gift of Perseverance
- Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount
- The Harmony of the Gospels
- Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament
- Tractates on the Gospel of John
- Homilies on the First Epistle of John
- The Enarrations, or Expositions, on the Psalms
- On the Immortality of the Soul
- Monica would have called herself a Catholic. However the word Catholic is not being used in the modern sense of Catholic versus Orthodox. Rather in the older sense of a follower of the Nicene Creed, in that she was not a Donatist or Arian, a significant distinction for the time.
- Christian rock band Petra dedicated a song to St. Augustine called "St. Augustine Pears". It's based on one of Augustine's writings in his book "Confessions" where he tells of how he stole some neighbor's pears without being hungry, and how that petty theft haunted him through his life.
- Jon Foreman, lead singer and song writer of the alternative rock band Switchfoot wrote a song called "Something More (Augustine's Confession)," based after the life and book, "Confessions", of Augustine.
- Free will
- In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas
- Constantinian shift
- Floria Aemilia
- Filioque clause
- Brown, Peter. Augustine of Hippo. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967. ISBN 0-520-00186-9
- O'Donnell, James J. Augustine: A New Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. ISBN 0-06-053537-7
- Ruickbie, Leo. Witchcraft Out of the Shadows. London: Robert Hale, 2004. ISBN 0-7090-7567-7), pp. 57-8.
- Tanquerey, Adolphe. The Spiritual Life: A Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology. Reprinted Ed. (original 1930). Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 2000. ISBN 0895556596, p. 37.
- von Heyking, John. Augustine and Politics as Longing in the World. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001. ISBN 0826213499
- At UPENN: Texts, translations, introductions, commentaries...
- EarlyChurch.org.uk Extensive bibliography and on-line articles.
- Texts by Augustine:
- In Latin, at The Latin Library: books and letters by Augustine
- At "Christian Classics Ethereal Library" Translations of several works by Augustine, incl. introductions
- At "New Advent": Several works by Augustine in English, incl. introduction
- The Enchiridion by Augustine
-  Full Latin and Italian text resource
- At "IntraText Digital Library": Works by Augustine in several languages, with concordance and frequency list
- Texts on Augustine:
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