(354-430) Christian theologian, considered the greatest of the Latin Fathers, and among the creating fathers of Christian theology, probably only surpassed in influence by St. Paul.
He is also called Saint Augustine of Hippo (modern Annaba, Algeria). He is patron saint of brewers, printers, theologians and sore eyes, plus several cities and dioceses.
Augustine's influence is mainly through his extensive writings, while his actual and direct contemporary influence was strong, it would be through the centuries that followed that many of his theories became the accepted theology mainly of the Roman Catholic Church, but also on Protestant churches.
He created a consistent theological system, which was strongly promoted by his unique abilities to express complex thoughts in a manner which both appealed to the learned as well as to the layman. Moreover, he expressed himself in a manner attractive and forceful; even modern readers will be surprised by his skills in these fields.
Much of his work came in the middle of the distant teachings of Christian Pelagianism and Manichaeism. His understanding of God is one who is remote, distant and mysterious, yet powerfully and unceasingly present in all times and places. "The whole of him everywhere" was a central statement in Augustine's writings.
Augustine was strongly influenced by Stoicism, Platonism and Neoplatonism.
Augustine defined the concept of just war within the confines of Christian ethics. This was employed in connection with the struggle against the Donastists, accusing the Donastists of promoting destruction.
His opinion was to read the Bible in correspondence with extra-Biblical sciences, employing symbolical understanding when the literal content contradicted science and reality.
Augustine promoted the idea that sex was a sin, linking it to the Original Sin.
Free will and Predestination
Augustine is often attributed with the concept of predestination, but his views are more complex. In Augustine's view, God had foreseen every move and choice of every individual human being, at the same time as he asserts that human beings have free choice.
Although human beings are defined as locked in by their predestined actions, Augustine states that also those foreseen to damnation has the choice to break this, and have themselves saved.
Original Sin and Infant baptism
Augustine stressed the importance of infant baptism, stating that anyone, including infants would go to Hell if they died unbaptized. This was linked to the concept of the Original Sin, that human beings are born with the taint of sin. This view was rejected by the Roman Catholic Church.
Original Sin, when acted out with Adam and Eve, is not linked to the mortality of human beings.
Augustine claimed that creation happened at one moment in time, all by the act of God. He thereby rejected the literal understanding of the world being created in 6 days, as told in the Genesis. Human mortality also came from from the beginning of.
The works of Augustine has survived through a high number of books found all around the Christian Mediterranean Sea. As much as 5 million words has survived. Augustine wrote in Latin. He had little knowledge of Greek, the other central language in the contemporary development of Christian theology.
His most famous work is Confessions (397), an autobiographical work telling about his early life and conversion. Through the story, Augustine expresses theological points of view. The story of an individual's struggle for obtaining the ultimate truth began to be very popular first from the 12th century.
Confessions tells about the Augustine's intellectual understanding of the fall and rise of the human soul of man. But for Augustine was religion more than just an intellectual journey, he also tells about its spiritual aspects.
A decisive scene is in a garden in Milan when a child's voice tells Augustine to "take up and read". Augustine then reads Paul, and finds inspiration to choose chastity; until then he had lived a life of promiscuity.
Augustine finds a very interesting insight, realizing human imperfection. He realizes that no matter what pursuit of divine wisdom he embarks upon, he will not achieve perfectio, so he makes peace with his imperfections.
The City of God
His other great work, The City of God (413-427) expresses his view of a theological philosophy of history. It became very popular in his own time and remained so for many centuries. It is less read today than Confessions. It is a work that can be hard to understand less the reader has a good knowledge of Augustine's time and its lifestyles.
Rome had been attacked and taken by invading forces in 410, causing speculation if the new religion of Rome was as powerful as the old religion.
Augustine came to defend the ways of God, really by accepting disaster, death and disappointment, and rather focus on the final rewards in the life to come, possibly not coming before a heavenly Jerusalem. Humans could not rely upon the stability of this world, the City of Man, and should instead focus on the rewards of living life after the Bible, choosing the City of God.
The City of God is a very extensive work, and not up to the same levels as Confessions It stretches over 22 books, the 10 first is polemics against other religions, the 12 last recounts what is Augustine's understanding of Biblical history until his own time. with the origins, progresses and destiny of the church.
Of less fame and influence, his Reconsiderations (around 427) is noted for being unusual in its nature. Written in his 70's he deals with all his earlier production, commenting on the circumstances and presenting corrections.
The completion of Christian Doctrine would linger some 30 years after the main body was published in 396. The work is largely a guide book in theology and methods of preaching. It understands the Bible in an allegorical way, allowing flexible interpretation. The work is noted for Augustine's theory of "signs" in the scriptures.
Augustine begin writing The Trinity in 399, which was a challenge, since most of the scriptures handling the Trinity was written in Greek, a language he had little knowledge of. He deals with the issue in a manner aiming at explaining the Trinity with reference to human life. Augustine even sees the Trinity as a basis for meditation.
Among Augustine's other works were commentaries on the Genesis; some 350 sermons written down by other writers; and scriptures challenging the views of other religious orientations.
Fighting other religious orientations
Augustine involved himself much in dealing with competitive movements of his region and time. Augustine had himself belonged to Manichaeism for 10 years, and early after his conversion to Christianity, he wrote book after book attacking the religion. He had left this group for what he saw as contradictions in its doctrines. He attacked especially the dualism of Manichaeism, the doctrines of an evil god in a cosmic battle with the good god.
Donatism was a strong force within Christianity in North Africa, and Augustine who was on the side of Rome, saw it as imperative to fight them. This he did in cooperation with Bishop Aurelius of Carthage, and in June 411, a public debate was held over the teachings of Donatism, in which Augustine's view prevailed. Augustine promoted the importance of a good relationship between the church and the state, as well as to promoted the importance of the universal church.
Another group within Christianity which Augustine fought were the Pelagians, a group denying the doctrine of Original Sin. This conflict became decisive in his own theological development, forcing him to clearly define doctrines of Original Sin and Divine Grace, Divine Sovereignty and Predestination.
He held against Pelagiansm that human nature had come to the state in which sin had become a central part of human nature, a state that man was unable to change by himself, it could only happen through the gift of divine grace.
Augustine stated that the scattering of the Jews across the Roman Empire, that is, away from Jerusalem, was a revenge for their not believing in Jesus Christ and having him executed. He saw the suffering of Jews as a warning to Christians, and emphasized Jews their right to live in safety in Christian lands.
Augustine is a saint in the Roman Catholic Church and in some of the Orthodox Churches. A few Orthodox Churches label him a heretic.
354 November 13: Born in Tagaste, Numidia (modern Souk Ahras, Algeria). His mother, Monnica, was a devout Christian, his father a believer in local religions. He was of Berber descent.
365: Sent to school in Madaurus, 30 km south of Tagaste.
371: Moves to Carthage to persue an education in rhetoric.
372: Becomes father outside marriage to a son, Adeodatus.
373: Becomes a Manichean, effectively abandoning the church which he had been member of by his mother.
382: Abandons Manichaeism.
383: Leaves Carthage and moves to Rome, aiming at continuing his education, but becomes disappointed by the quality of the teachers.
384: Becomes teacher of rhetoric in Milan, which meant that he had one of the most influential teaching positions in the Latin world. In Milan he comes under influence of Neoplatonism as well as Christianity expressed by the bishop of Milan, Ambrose.
386: Resigns from his teaching post in Milan, after having read about St. Anthony in the desert.
387 on Easter Eve: Along with his son, Augustine is baptized by Ambrose in Milan.
388: Moves back to Tagaste, his mother dies during the journey. Begins publishing his treatises On Free Will.
390: His son dies.
391: Ordained a presbyter, a position close to that of a priest, in Hippo Regius.
395: Becomes bishop of Hippo (modern Annaba, Algeria).
397: Publishes On Christian Doctrine and his autobiographical Confessions.
400: Publishes On Baptism: Against the Donatists and the first part of On the Trinity.
413: Publishes the first part of The City of God.
415: Publishes On Nature and Grace.
Around 427: Publishes Retractions or Reconsiderations, containing corrections to his previous works.
430 August 28: Dies in Hippo. His death day has become his feast day.