St. Augustine (354-430)
Accepted by most scholars to be the
most important figure in the ancient Western church, St. Augustine was born in
Tagaste, Numidia in North Africa. His mother was a Christian, but his father
remained a pagan until late in life.After a rather unremarkable childhood,
marred only by a case of stealing pears, Augustine drifted through several
philosophical systems before converting to Christianity at the age of thirty-one.
At the age of nineteen, Augustine read Cicero's Hortensius, an experience
that led him into the fascination with philosophical questions and methods that
would remain with him throughout his life. After a few years as a Manichean, he
became attracted to the more sceptical positions of the Academic philosophers.
Although tempted in the direction of Christianity upon his arrival at Milan in
383, he turned first to neoplatonism, During this time, Augustine fathered a
child by a mistress. This period of exploration, including its youthful excesses
(perhaps somewhat exaggerated) are recorded in Augustine's most widely read
Confessions. During his youth, Augustine had studied rhetoric at
Carthage, a discipline that he used to gain employment teaching in Carthage and
then in Rome and Milan, where he met
Ambrose who is credited
with effecting Augustine's conversion and who baptised Augustine in 387.
Returning to his homeland soon after his conversion, he was ordained a presbyter
in 391, taking the position as bishop of Hippo in 396, a position which he held
until his death.
Augustine's most celebrated work is his
De Civitate Dei (On
the City of God), a study of the relationship between Christianity and
secular society, which was inspired by the fall of Rome to the Visigoths in 410.
Among his other works, many are polemical attacks on various heresies:
Against Faustus, the Manichean; On Baptism; Against the Donatists;
and many attacks on Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Other works include
treatises On the Trinity;
On Faith, Hope,
Doctrine; and some early dialogues.
St. Augustine stands as a powerful
advocate for orthodoxy and of the episcopacy as the sole means for the
dispensing of saving grace. In the light of later scholarship, Augustine can be
seen to serve as a bridge between the ancient and medieval worlds. A review of
his life and work, however, shows him as an active mind engaging the practical
concerns of the churches he served.
An article on
Augustine from the Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th edition, is available.
There are several
articles regarding St. Augustine available in the Catholic Encyclopedia.