Augustine of Hippo

Aurelius Augustinus (354 - 430) is often simply referred to as St. Augustine or Augustine Bishop of Hippo (the ancient name of the modern city of Annaba in Algeria). He is the pre-eminent "Doctor of the Church" according to Roman Catholicism, and is considered by Evangelical Protestants to be in the tradition of the Apostle Paul as the theological fountainhead of the Reformation teaching on salvation and grace.


David Calhoun (Lecture MP3s)


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 Christian and his father Patricius a pagan. His father converted to Christianity on his death bed, which came from the persuasion of his wife. As a youth Augustine followed the unpopular Manichaean religion, much to the horror of his mother. In Carthage, he developed a relationship with a young woman who would be his concubine for over a decade and produce 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 soon aspired to compete with the best, in Rome. However, Augustine grew disappointed with the Roman schools, which he found apathetic. Manichaean 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.

Although Monica pressed the claims of Christianity, it is 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 by Ambrose's sermons, Augustine moved away from Manichaeism, but instead of becoming Catholic like Ambrose, he converted to pagan Neoplatonism. Augustine's mother 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 fiance came of age; he promptly took up in the meantime with another woman).

In the summer of 386, in a garden, 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 full time to religion, celibacy and the priesthood. 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 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.

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.

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 Arianism, which had been condemned as heretical.

Influence as a theologian and thinker

Augustine remains a central figure, both within Christianity and in the history of Western thought. As he himself was much influenced by Platonism and Neoplatonism, particularly by Plotinus, Augustine was important to the "baptism" of Greek thought and its entrance into the Christian, and subsequently the European intellectual tradition. Also important was his early and influential writing on the human will, a central topic in ethics, and one which became 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. Augustine also contended that God exists outside of time in the "eternal present" -- time existing only within the created universe.

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)

Thomas Aquinas took much from Augustine's theology while creating his own unique synthesis of Greek and Christian thought. Two later theologians who claimed special influence from Augustine were John Calvin and Cornelius Jansen. Calvinism developed as a part of Reformation theology, while Jansenism was a movement inside the Roman Catholic Church; some Jansenists went into schism and formed their own church.

John Calvin was an ardent student of Augustine's writings which is abundantly evident in his Institutes and the basic tenets of Calvinism. Augustine taught that man has nothing to do with his own salvation. Man has inherited the totally depraved nature of Adam and Eve after the Fall -- to the point they are spiritually incapable of availing themselves of God's grace. As a result of the depraved Adamic nature being inherited, infants are born in sin and with a sinful nature. Augustine argued that the only way any are saved is by God intervening and choosing some whom he calls his elect to be saved. This choosing is totally independent of those chosen. Those thus chosen cannot ever be lost or fall from grace. Conversely, those not sovereignly chosen before the foundation of the world to everlasting life are irrevocably doomed to hell.

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. Roman Catholics consider him the patron saint of brewers, printers, theologians, sore eyes, and a number of cities and dioceses.

"De Doctrina Christiana (On Christian Teaching) is the book Augustine wrote to train preachers. He composed three chapters on how to understand the Bible, then after thirty years of regular preaching, added a final chapter on how to communicate what has been understood." Themelios 33.1 (2008): 39. See also On Christian Doctrine at CCEL.

Augustine on the problem of evil

Scholars have carefully investigated Augustine's life due to his contributions to theodicy, the problem of evil. Throughout Augustine's youth, he had been involved in a belief called Manicheanism. This was an ancient religion from Persia that accounted for the world's entire disharmony in terms of an eternal struggle between physical light and darkness or good and evil. After several years as an adherent of the Manichaean religion, Augustine read the writings of Neoplatonists such as Plotinus, which in turn helped him move beyond the materialism of Manichaeism. Then, at the age of 32, Augustine became a Christian.

Augustine now an adamant follower of Christ sought to deal with the problem of evil. The Scriptures taught that his monotheistic God was all good and all-powerful therefore he desired to understand how and why sin and evil existed. Augustine discovered experientially and biblically that his sin problem was more than one of knowledge or wrong thinking. His affections and will also reacted against what God knew, loved, and willed. He realized that he could not, by his own thinking transform the depravity of his own nature, overcome his separation from God, or remove his verdict of guilt before God's justice. The prodigal son realized his total depravity and the need for God's grace for any hope.

Augustine consequently proposed a solution to the problem of evil in the world attributing it to the Fall of humanity after the disobedience in the Garden of Eden. From this view, Man is responsible for evil by being led astray by Satan. Accordingly, this not only absolves God of creating evil but also allows Him to show the world His love by bringing Christ into the world. (Cf. Confessions, 4:24, 5:20, 7:4)

Early Christian writings

The historical and biographical significance of Augustine's early writings are greatly debated. Were these his only writings, he would have remained a respected but minor figure.^[1]^

  • _Against the Academics_. 386 A.D. (Contra academicos)
  • On Providence. 386 A.D. (De ordine)
  • On the Blessed Life. 386 A.D. (De beata vita)
  • Soliloquies. 386/387 A.D. (Soliloquia)


  • "Laziness pretends to yearn for rest, but what sure rest is there except in the Lord? Luxury would gladly be called plenty and abundance, but You are the fullness and unfailing abundance of unfading joy. Promiscuity presents a show of liberality, but You are the most lavish giver of all things good. Covetousness desires to possess much, but You are already the possessor of all things. Envy contends that its aim is for excellence, but what is as excellent as You? Anger seeks revenge, but who avenges more justly than You? Fear shrinks back as sudden change threatens the way things are and fear is wary of its own security, but what can happen that is unfamiliar or sudden to You, O God? Or who can deprive You of what You love? Where is there unshaken security except with You? Grief longs for those delightful things we've lost because it wills to have nothing taken from it, just as nothing can be taken from You." -Confessions, Book 2
  • "As we must often swallow wholesome bitters, so we must always avoid unwholesome sweets. But what is better than wholesome sweetness or sweet wholesomeness? For the sweeter we try to make such things, the easier it is to make their wholesomeness serviceable. And so there are writers of the Church who have expounded the Holy Scriptures, not only with wisdom, but with eloquence as well; and there is not more time for the reading of these than is sufficient for those who are studious and at leisure to exhaust them."
  • "During all those years [of rebellion], where was my free will? What was the hidden, secret place from which it was summoned in a moment, so that I might bend my neck to your easy yoke . . .? How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose . . ! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure, who outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, you who surpass all honor, though not in the eyes of men who see all honor in themselves. . . . O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation." -Confessions, Chapter 9




  • Allan D. Fitzgerald, ed. Augustine Through The Ages: An Encyclopedia. Eerdmans, 1999. ISBN 080283843X
  • Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Augustine. Cambridge, 2001. ISBN 052165985X
  • Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography. ISBN 0520001869
  • James J. O'Donnell, Augustine: A New Biography. ISBN 0060535377
  • Mark Ellingsen, The Richness of Augustine: His Contextual and Pastoral Theology. ISBN 0664226183 ( Review)

See also


  1. ? Other works » Early writings (Britannica online), accessdate 09-04-16