SAINT AUGUSTINE (354-430), is considered to be the greatest of the Latin Fathers and
one of the most eminent Western Doctors of the Church.
St. Augustine was born on November 13, 354, in Tagaste, Numidia
(now Souk-Ahras, Algeria). His father, Patricius (died about
371), was a pagan (later converted to Christianity), but his
mother, Monica, was a devout Christian who labored untiringly
for her son's conversion and who was canonized by the Roman
Catholic church. Augustine was educated as a rhetorician in
the former North African cities of Tagaste, Madaura, and Carthage.
Between the ages of 15 and 30, he lived with a Carthaginian
woman whose name is unknown; in 372 she bore him a son, whom
he named Adeodatus, which is Latin for the gift of God.
Inspired by the philosophical treatise Hortensius, by the
Roman orator and statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, Augustine
became an earnest seeker of truth. He considered becoming
a Christian, but experimented with several philosophical systems
before finally entering the church. For nine years, from 373
until 382, he adhered to Manichaeism, a Persian dualistic
philosophy then widely current in the Western Roman Empire.
With its fundamental principle of conflict between good and
evil, Manichaeism at first seemed to Augustine to correspond
to experience and to furnish the most plausible hypothesis
upon which to construct a philosophical and ethical system.
Moreover, its moral code was not unpleasantly strict; Augustine
later recorded in his Confessions: Give me chastity
and continence, but not just now. Disillusioned by the
impossibility of reconciling certain contradictory Manichaeist
doctrines, Augustine abandoned this philosophy and turned
About 383 Augustine left Carthage for Rome, but a year later
he went on to Milan as a teacher of rhetoric. There he came
under the influence of the philosophy of Neoplatonism and
also met the bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose, then the most distinguished
ecclesiastic in Italy. Augustine presently was attracted again
to Christianity. At last one day, according to his own account,
he seemed to hear a voice, like that of a child, repeating,
Take up and read. He interpreted this as a divine
exhortation to open the Scriptures and read the first passage
he happened to see. Accordingly, he opened to Romans 13:13-14,
where he read:
not in revelry and drunkenness,
not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and
jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision
for the flesh, to gratify its desires. He immediately
resolved to embrace Christianity. Along with his natural son,
he was baptized by Ambrose on Easter Eve in 387. His mother,
who had rejoined him in Italy, rejoiced at this answer to
her prayers and hopes. She died soon afterward in Ostia.
Bishop and Theologian
He returned to North Africa and was ordained in 391. He became
bishop of Hippo (now Annaba, Algeria) in 395, an office he
held until his death. It was a period of political and theological
unrest, for while the barbarians pressed in upon the empire,
even sacking Rome itself in 410, schism and heresy also threatened
the church. Augustine threw himself wholeheartedly into the
theological battle. Besides combating the Manichaean heresy,
Augustine engaged in two great theological conflicts. One
was with the Donatists, a sect that held the sacraments invalid
unless administered by sinless ecclesiastics. The other conflict
was with the Pelagians, followers of a contemporary British
monk who denied the doctrine of original sin. In the course
of this conflict, which was long and bitter, Augustine developed
his doctrines of original sin and divine grace, divine sovereignty,
and predestination. The Roman Catholic church has found special
satisfaction in the institutional or ecclesiastical aspects
of the doctrines of St. Augustine; Roman Catholic and Protestant
theology alike are largely based on their more purely theological
aspects. John Calvin and Martin Luther, leaders of the Reformation,
were both close students of Augustine.
Augustine's doctrine stood between the extremes of Pelagianism
and Manichaeism. Against Pelagian doctrine, he held that human
spiritual disobedience had resulted in a state of sin that
human nature was powerless to change. In his theology, men
and women are saved by the gift of divine grace; against Manichaeism
he vigorously defended the place of free will in cooperation
with grace. Augustine died at Hippo, August 28, 430. His feast
day is August 28.
The place of prominence held by Augustine among the Fathers
and Doctors of the Church is comparable to that of St. Paul
among the apostles. As a writer, Augustine was prolific, persuasive,
and a brilliant stylist. His best-known work is his autobiographical
Confessions (circa 400), exposing his early life and conversion.
In his great Christian apologia The City of God (413-26),
Augustine formulated a theological philosophy of history.
Ten of the 22 books of this work are devoted to polemic against
pantheism. The remaining 12 books trace the origin, progress,
and destiny of the church and establish it as the proper successor
to paganism. In 428 Augustine wrote the Retractions, in which
he registered his final verdict upon his earlier books, correcting
whatever his maturer judgment held to be misleading or wrong.
His other writings include the Epistles, of which 270 are
in the Benedictine edition, variously dated between 386 and
429; his treatises On Free Will (388-95), On Christian Doctrine
(397), On Baptism: Against the Donatists (400), On the Trinity
(400-16), and On Nature and Grace (415); and Homilies upon
several books of the Bible.