Authors: Saint Augustine

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Roman theologian

Identity: Christian

Author Works

Nonfiction:

Contra academicos, 386 (Against the Academics, 1943)

De beata vita, 386 (The Happy Life, 1937)

De ordine, 386 (On Order, 1942)

Soliloquia, 386 (Soliloquies, 1888)

De immortalitate animae, 387 (On the Immortality of the Soul, 1937)

De musica, 389 (On Music, 1947)

De magistro, 389 (On the Teacher, 1924)

De vera religione, 391 (Of True Religion, 1959)

De sermone Domini in monte, 394 (Commentary on the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, 1875)

De doctrina Christiana, books 1-3, 396-397, book 4, 426 (On Christian Doctrine, 1875)

Confessiones, 397-400 (Confessions, 1620)

Annotationes in Job, 400

De Genesi ad litteram, 401-415

De civitate Dei, 413-427 (The City of God, 1610)

De Trinitate, c. 419 (On the Trinity, 1873)

Biography

Next to Saint Paul, Saint Augustine has probably exerted the greatest influence on Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, through his books, letters, and sermons. Born at Tagaste (now Souk-Ahras, Algeria), in North Africa, in 354, Aurelius Augustinus was brought up as a Christian by his devout mother, Monica, but when he attended school in Carthage, the fascination of rhetoric transformed him into a youthful skeptic. He professed the teachings of Manichaeanism, a philosophy derived from Zoroaster and Buddha by the Persian Mani of the third century. This doctrine stressed the struggle between good and evil, light and darkness.{$I[AN]9810000677}{$I[A]Augustine, Saint}{$I[geo]ROMAN EMPIRE;Augustine, Saint}{$I[geo]CHRISTIAN;Augustine, Saint}{$I[tim]0354;Augustine, Saint}

After completing his education in about 377, Augustine migrated to Rome as a teacher of rhetoric, and in 384 he went to Milan to teach Manichaean philosophy. It was during this period that his earliest treatises resulted from the idea of recording in shorthand the conversations with his mother and his friends and circularizing them. Under the influence of Ambrose, bishop of Milan, he became interested in Platonism and, through it, in the Christian faith he had rejected.

On Easter Day, 387, following a mystical acceptance of faith, he was baptized by Ambrose. Shortly afterward he returned to Tagaste alone, Monica having died at Ostia during the homeward journey. There he lived a rather monastic life and, continuing his theological studies, became a staunch defender of the faith–not only against followers of his earlier beliefs but also against other religious sects, such as the Pelagians, who denied the doctrine of Original Sin and the Fall of Man. Saint Augustine held that humans were essentially corrupt and helpless without God’s grace.

In 391, somewhat against his will because of his preference for the retired, contemplative life, he was urged by the congregation of Hippo Regius to be ordained as a priest. Four years later, in 395, he was consecrated bishop, with the understanding that he would occupy the bishopric when the incumbent died. This event occurred in 396, and for the next thirty-four years Saint Augustine was in charge of the see of Hippo. Although he rarely ever left the small coastal city, his influence spread throughout the Christian world through the letters he dispatched to congregations in many lands. About 250 of these, written to admonish, explain, or encourage, still survive. Written in a colloquial style, they are nonetheless powerful and persuasive. In them, as in his dialogues, Saint Augustine stands as the champion of orthodoxy against the Manichaean, Pelagian, and Donatist heresies of his time. Of his formal treatises, perhaps his greatest dogmatic work was the systematic analysis of Christian doctrine he presented under the title On the Trinity. His philosophical Soliloquies were also popular; five hundred years later King Alfred translated a large part of this work for the instruction of his Saxons.

The Confessions of Saint Augustine provide most of the information about his life. In common with many men of the period, he had kept concubines. He expresses regret at his original lapse from Christianity and often bears witness to the influence of his mother on his life and thinking. The work is a classic of Christian mysticism. The most famous of Saint Augustine’s works is The City of God, in twenty-two books. It was begun in 412 in response to the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 and was completed in 427. Christianity, blamed at the time for the fall of Rome, here finds its apologist. Saint Augustine looks at society and outlines the steps by which a new social order could be created by Christianity. An inspiration to many through the centuries, Saint Augustine’s discussion of the city of this world and the city of God is one of the foundations of the Christian faith.

In the last years of his life Saint Augustine changed and reevaluated some of his earlier views. He was killed when the Vandals besieged Hippo in 430.

Further Reading:Augustine, Saint. Saint Augustine’s Childhood: Confessiones. Edited and translated by Garry Wills. New York: Viking, 2001. Wills’s commentary draws comparison between Augustine’s theory of language and that of Noam Chomsky.Bourke, Vernon J. The Essential Augustine. Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett, 1974. An excellent collection of excerpts from Augustine’s principal writings, introduced topically by this Thomist writer. Includes a bibliography.Brown, Peter. Augustine of Hippo. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. One of the best biographical accounts of Augustine, which uses the chronological approach to show Augustine’s writings as they evolved during his lifetime. Heavily annotated.Chadwick, Henry. Augustine. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. This volume in the Past Masters series provides a concise introduction to Augustine’s thought.Clark, Mary T. Augustine. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1994. A good biographical sketch of the life of Augustine, including his long search for truth that led to his conversion to Christianity. Evaluates many of Augustine’s ideas. Gives an excellent summary of the nature and impact of The City of God.Deane, Herbert A. The Political and Social Ideas of St. Augustine. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966. A treatment of the theology and psychology behind Augustine’s notion of “Fallen Man.” Focuses on morality and justice, the state and order, war and relations among states, the church, state, heresy, and Augustine’s view of history.Elshtain, Jean Bethke. Augustine and the Limits of Political Power. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995. Written to show the relevancy of Augustine’s political theories to modern politics. Author tries to adapt The City of God to twentieth century conditions.Gilson, Étienne. The Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine. Translated by L. E. M. Lynch. Rev. ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1967. Among the best and most scholarly works on Augustine’s philosophy. A translation of the 1943 version in French, more than half of which is annotations. Gilson regards Augustinianism as the discovery of humility, built on charity.Lawless, George P. Augustine of Hippo and His Monastic Rule. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. An excellent summary of the lifetime work of the late Luc Verbraken, tracing the monastic orientation of Augustine’s life and showing how his love of friends in a community setting established the monastic tradition in the Christian West.Markus, R. A., ed. Augustine: A Collection of Critical Essays. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1972. An anthology of in-depth essays by prominent interpreters of Augustine, extensive in its coverage of his various interests.Meer, F. G. L. van der. Augustine the Bishop. New York: Harper & Row, 1965. Reviews Augustine’s adult life after he became bishop of Hippo. Augmented by archaeological information from North African digs.O’Daly, Gerard. Augustine’s Philosophy of the Mind. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. The first monograph in more than a century to analyze Augustine’s arguments about the mind.O’Donnell, James. Augustine: A New Biography. New York: Ecco, 2005. An interesting biography, written by a respected Augustine scholar, that includes much interpretation of Augustine’s Confessions.Wills, Garry. Saint Augustine. New York: Lipper/Viking Press, 1999. An introduction to Augustine and a basic examination of his works.
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