|Saint Augustine |
|Bishop and Doctor of the Church |
|Born ||November 13, 354, Souk-Ahras, Algeria |
|Died ||August 28, 430, Hippo |
|Feast ||August 28 |
|Attributes ||child; dove; pen; shell, pierced heart |
|Patronage ||brewers; printers; sore eyes; theologians |
|Patron saint of these places: ||Bridgeport, Connecticut; Cagayan de Oro, Philippines; Ida, Philippines; Kalamazoo Michigan; Saint Augustine, Florida; Superior, Wisconsin; Tucson, Arizona |
For the first Archbishop of Canterbury, see Saint Augustine of Canterbury.
Aurelius Augustinus, Augustine of Hippo, or Saint Augustine (November 13, 354 – August 28, 430) was one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity. In Roman Catholicism, he is a saint and pre-eminent Doctor of the Church, and the patron of the Augustinian religious order. Many Protestants, especially Calvinists, consider him to be one of the theological fountainheads of Reformation teaching on salvation and grace. Born in Africa as the eldest son of Saint Monica, he was educated and baptized in Italy. His works—including The Confessions, which is often called the first Western autobiography—are still read around the world.
Saint Augustine was born in 354 in Tagaste (present-day Souk Ahras, Algeria), a provincial Roman city in North Africa. He was raised and went to primary school in Thagaste. At age seventeen he went to Carthage to continue his education in rhetoric. His mother Monica was a devout catholic and his father Patricius a pagan, but Augustine followed the controversial Manichaean religion, much to the despair of his mother. As a youth Augustine lived a hedonistic lifestyle for a time, and in Carthage, he developed a relationship with a young woman who would be his concubine for over fifteen years. During this period he had a son, Adeodatus, with the young woman. His education and early career was in philosophy and rhetoric, the art of persuasion and public speaking. He taught in Thagaste and Carthage, but desired to travel to Rome where he believed the best and brightest rhetoricians practiced. However, Augustine grew disappointed with the Roman schools, which he found apathetic. Once the time came for his students to pay their fees they simply fled. 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.
"St Augustine and Monica" (1846), by Ary Scheffer.
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.
His mother Monica pressured him to become a Catholic, but it was 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 in part by Ambrose's sermons, and other studies, including a disappointing meeting with a key exponent of Manichaean theology, Augustine moved away from Manichaeism; but instead of becoming Catholic like Ambrose and Monica, he converted to a pagan Neoplatonic approach to truth, saying that for a time he had a sense of making real progress in his quest, although he eventually lapsed into skepticism.
Augustine's mother had 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 fiancée came of age; he promptly took up in the meantime with another woman). It was during this period Augustine of Hippo uttered his famous prayer, "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet" [da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo] (Conf., VIII. vii (17)).
In the summer of 386, after having read an account of the life of Saint Anthony of the Desert which greatly inspired him, 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, and devote himself entirely to serving God and the practices of priesthood, which included celibacy. Key to this conversion was the voice of an unseen child he heard at one point telling him in a sing-song voice to "tolle lege" ("take up and read") the Bible, at which point he opened the Bible at random and fell upon the Epistle to the Romans 13:13, which reads: "Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying" (KJV). He would detail his spiritual journey in his famous Confessions, which went on to become a classic of both Christian theology and world literature. Ambrose baptized Augustine, along with his son, Adeodatus, 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 the world without family.
Upon his return to north Africa he created a monastic foundation at Thagaste for himself and a group of friends. 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, to which he had formerly adhered.
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. He left a Rule (Latin, Regula) for his monastery that has led him to be designated the "patron saint of Regular Clergy", that is, Clergy who live by a monastic rule.
Augustine died on August 28, 430, during the siege of Hippo by the Vandals. It is said that he died just as the Vandals were tearing down the city walls of Hippo. He is said to have encouraged its citizens to resist the attacks, primarily on the grounds that the Vandals adhered to the Arian heresy.
Of all the teachers and thinkers of the early middle era, Augustine's personality is perhaps the best known because of the enormous volume of his surviving writings. He was conflicted personally; an individual of strong and driving passions. His early sexual dalliances, his mistress and his illegitimate son whom he loved give an important context to the struggle he underwent to establish principles of consistency, justice and goodness. Augustine could not be considered a "moderate" in the modern sense of the word. His drive was for clarity and directness in teaching. Evaluated by modern methods, his views are not necessarily consistent nor integrated; yet his writing reveals an individual of his times who considered the important questions of meaning in life passionately and with intelligence.
Influence as a theologian and thinker
Detail of St. Augustine in a stained glass window by Louis Comfort Tiffany in the Lightner Museum, St. Augustine, Florida.
Augustine remains a central figure, both within Christianity and in the history of Western thought, and is considered by modern historian Thomas Cahill to be the first medieval man and the last classical man. In both his philosophical and theological reasoning, he was greatly influenced by Stoicism, Platonism and Neoplatonism, particularly by the work of Plotinus, author of the Enneads, probably through the mediation of Porphyry and Victorinus (as Pierre Hadot has argued). His generally favorable outlook upon Neoplatonic thought contributed to the "baptism" of Greek thought and its entrance into the Christian and subsequently the European intellectual tradition. His early and influential writing on the human will, a central topic in ethics, would become a focus for later philosophers such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. In addition, Augustine was influenced by the work of both Virgil (known for his teaching on language) and Cicero (known for his teaching on argument).
Augustine's concept of original sin was expounded in his works against the Pelagians. However, Eastern Orthodox theologians, while they believe all humans were damaged by the original sin of Adam and Eve, have key disputes with Augustine about this doctrine, and as such this is viewed as a key source of division between East and West.
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)
St. Thomas Aquinas took much from Augustine's theology while creating his own unique synthesis of Greek and Christian thought after the widespread rediscovery of the work of Aristotle.
While Augustine's doctrine of divine predestination would never be wholly forgotten within the Catholic Church, finding eloquent expression in the works of Bernard of Clairvaux, Reformation theologians such as Martin Luther and John Calvin would look back to him as the inspiration for their avowed capturing of the Biblical Gospel. Bishop John Fisher of Rochester, a chief opponent of Luther, articulated an Augustinian view of grace and salvation consistent with Church doctrine, thus encompassing both Augustine’s soteriology and his teaching on the authority of and obedience to the Catholic Church. Later, within the Catholic Church, the writings of Cornelius Jansen, who claimed heavy influence from Augustine, would form the basis of the movement known as Jansenism; some Jansenists went into schism and formed their own church.
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. He is considered the patron saint of brewers, printers, theologians, sore eyes, and a number of cities and dioceses.
The latter part of Augustine's Confessions consists of an extended meditation on the nature of time. Catholic theologians generally subscribe to Augustine's belief that God exists outside of time in the "eternal present"; that time only exists within the created universe because only in space is time discernible through motion and change.
Augustine's meditations on the nature of time are closely linked to his consideration of the human ability of memory. Frances Yates in her 1966 study, The Art of Memory argues that a brief passage of the Confessions, X.8.12, in which Augustine writes of walking up a flight of stairs and entering the vast fields of memory 
According to Leo Ruickbie, Augustine's arguments against magic, differentiating it from miracle, were crucial in the early Church's fight against paganism and became a central thesis in the later denunciation of witches and witchcraft.
According to Professor Deepak Lal, Augustine's vision of the heavenly city has influenced the secular faiths of the Enlightenment, Marxism, Freudianism and Eco-fundamentalism.
Influential quotations from Augustine's writings
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- "Love the sinner and hate the sin " (Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum) (Opera Omnia, vol II. col. 962, letter 211.), literally "With love for mankind and hatred of sins " 
- "Heart Speaks to heart" (Cor ad cor loquitur) 
- "Nothing conquers except truth and the victory of truth is love" (Victoria veritatis est caritas}
- "To sing once is to pray twice" (Qui cantat, bis orat) literally "he who sings, prays twice" 
- "Lord, you have seduced me and I let myself be seduced" (quoting the prophet Jeremiah 20.7-9)
- "Love, and do what you will" (Dilige et quod vis fac)(Sermon on 1 John 7, 8)
- "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet" (da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo) (Conf., VIII. vii (17))
- "Christ is the teacher within us 
- "Hear the other side"( Audi partem alteram) De Duabus Animabus, XlV ii
- "Rome has spoken; the case is concluded" (Roma locuta est; causa finita est.) (Sermons, Book I)
- "Take it up and Read it" (Tolle, lege) Confessions, Book VIII, Chapter 12
- "There is no salvation outside the church" (Salus extra ecclesiam non est) (De Bapt. IV, cxvii.24)
- "To many, total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation." (Multi quidem facilius se abstinent ut non utantur, quam temperent ut bene utantur.) (On the Good of Marriage)
- "We make ourselves a ladder out of our vices if we trample the vices themselves underfoot. (iii. De Ascensione)
Natural knowledge and biblical interpretation
Augustine took the view that the Biblical text should not be interpreted literally if it contradicts what we know from science and our God-given reason. In an important passage on his "The Literal Interpretation of Genesis" (early 5th century, AD), St. Augustine wrote:
| ||It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation." (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20, Chapt. 19 [AD 408]) |
With the scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith. For that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters [about the physical universe] in our books, or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures. In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation." (ibid, 2:9)
A more clear distinction between "metaphorical" and "literal" in literary texts arose with the rise of the Scientific Revolution, although its source could be found in earlier writings, such as those of Herodotus (5th century BC). It was even considered heretical to interpret the Bible literally at times (cf. Origen, St. Jerome).
- See also: Allegorical interpretations of Genesis
In "The Literal Interpretation of Genesis" Augustine took the view that everything in the universe was created simultaneously by God, and not in seven calendar days like a plain account of Genesis would require. He argues that the six-day structure of creation presented in the book of Genesis represents a logical framework, rather than the passage of time in a physical way - it would bear a spiritual, rather than physical, meaning, which is no less literal. Augustine also doesn’t envisage original sin as originating structural changes in the universe, and even suggests that the bodies of Adam and Eve were already created mortal before the Fall. Apart from his specific views, Augustine recognizes that the interpretation of the creation story is difficult, and remarks that we should be willing to change our mind about it as new information comes up. 
In "The City of God", Augustine also defended what would be called today as young Earth creationism. In the specific passage, Augustine rejected both the immortality of the human race proposed by pagans, and contemporary ideas of ages (such as those of certain Greeks and Egyptians) that differed from the Church's sacred writings:
| ||Let us, then, omit the conjectures of men who know not what they say, when they speak of the nature and origin of the human race. For some hold the same opinion regarding men that they hold regarding the world itself, that they have always been... They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed." (Augustine, |
Doctrine of Original Sin
Augustine's theological views in the early middle era were revolutionary, perhaps none so much as his clear formulation of the doctrine of Original Sin that has substantially influenced Catholic theology.
His idea of predestination rest on the assertion that God has foreseen, from time immemorial, all the choices every person who would ever live on Earth would make, and whether they would cooperate with Grace or not. The number of the people God knows would be saved are the elect, the number who God knows will not be saved are the reprobate. God has chosen the elect certainly and gratuitously, without any previous merit (ante merita) on their part.
Yet Augustine also maintains firmly that it is God's will to save all men. God does not destroy human liberty and free choice, but preserves it, so that the elect would, potentially, have the full power to be damned and the non-elect full power to be saved.
| ||According to Augustine, God, in his creative decree, has expressly excluded every order of things in which grace would deprive man of his liberty, every situation in which man would not have the power to resist sin, and thus Augustine brushes aside that predestinationism which has been attributed to him. Listen to him speaking to the Manichæans: "All can be saved if they wish"; and in his "Retractations" (I, x), far from correcting this assertion, he confirms it emphatically: "It is true, entirely true, that all men can, if they wish." But he always goes back to the providential preparation. In his sermons he says to all: "It depends on you to be elect" (In Ps. cxx, n. 11, etc.); "Who are the elect? You, if you wish it" (In Ps. Lxxiii, n. 5). But, you will say, according to Augustine, the lists of the elect and reprobate are closed. Now if the non-elect can gain heaven, if all the elect can be lost, why should not some pass from one list to the other? You forget the celebrated explanation of Augustine: When God made His plan, He knew infallibly, before His choice, what would be the response of the wills of men to His graces. If, then, the lists are definitive, if no one will pass from one series to the other, it is not because anyone cannot (on the contrary, all can), it is because God knew with infallible knowledge that no one would wish to. Thus I cannot effect that God should destine me to another series of graces than that which He has fixed, but, with this grace, if I do not save myself it will not be because I am not able, but because I do not wish to. |
Augustine's theory of predestination was misunderstood by both the Semipelagianists and John Calvin as teaching double predestination, ie. that God had already explicitly decided who would be saved and who would be damned and predestined them to this fate, in a way that does not leave room for free will, personal choice and cooperation with Grace.
Against the Pelagians Augustine also strongly stressed the importance of infant baptism. He believed that no one would be saved unless they have received baptism in order to be cleansed from Original Sin. He also maintained that unbaptized children were going to Hell, but this view was rejected by the Catholic Church.
Augustine and lust
Lust to Augustine was something that plagued his life. It was a sin independent of the will handed down by the sins of Adam. "The need of lust in sexual intercourse is a punishment for Adam's sin, but for which sex might have been divorced from pleasure."  Augustine, begging for chastity in his early youth writes, "But I wretched, most wretched, in the very commencement of my early youth, had begged chastity of Thee, and said, "Give me chastity and continency, only not yet." . At sixteen Augustine moved to Carthage where again he was plagued by this "wretched sin":