Christened Augustine at birth in Tagaste on November 384, St Augustine of Hippo was born to Patricius and Monica. His father, Patricius grew up as a pagan and one of the curiales of their city until his wife’s Christianity, coupled with her virtuous ways, pushed him into conversion and baptism into Christianity before he died in North Africa.
He had quite an uneventful youth marred only by an episode of stealing pears (Appleton 67). Augustine received a Christian education at the local catechumens where he reports to have learnt about the divine providence, a future with terrible sanctions, as well as the testimony of Jesus Christ, which he considers the most vital of all.
Having excelled in his classes, Patricius decided to enroll himself at Carthage where he would pursue Forensics. However, it took several months to consolidate the necessary funding for his education at Carthage, during which he seemed very idle, leading to the loss of his virtue. As a young person, he possessed an outstanding passion about carnal matters, an awareness that only heightened when he got to Carthage.
Carthage still had some evident pagan features where its ‘ungodly’ attractions, lecherous fellow students, and theatres, amongst others lured him into sin (Bright, Trump, and Fitz 65). He also lost the battle against his pride in his literary skills. In the year 372, he had a child with a mistress he had received the responsibility of seeing. Later on, Monica came to learn of it, much to her disappointment. By then, he only had nineteen years. As a result, he genuinely sought o mend his ways.
In the year 373, he studied a text by Cicero, ‘Hotensius’, which marked the genesis of his love for wisdom. His devotion shifted from rhetoric, which he had studied all along, to philosophy. Rhetoric remained relegated to his profession. During this quest for wisdom, he encountered Manichaeism.
This sect promised to help him find scientific answers to most of the mysterious phenomena that had baffled him for a while (Broadbent 89). The most mysterious aspect that he sought to understand resulted from his sinful past: he wanted to understand the source of evil. The sect also promised to introduce him to a philosophy that seemed free from the influence and restrictions of religion or faith, an idea, into which he completely bought.
He read and took up their beliefs with his usual ardor and passion, which went on for nine years. In the meantime, he went back to Carthage as a young professor of rhetoric. Monica, still upset by his desertion of the truth, even refused to invite him to her house for a while. Back in Carthage, he participated in a poetic tournament, which he won thereby receiving the corona agonistica award.
He eventually came to accept that there was no science in Manichaeism and that caused him to disown that faith. Manicheans also had an ambiguous and at times contradictory philosophy that seemed to embrace virtue while simultaneously excusing immorality. In addition to these flaws, Augustine found their counter-arguments against catholic lacking and unconvincing as they always reiterated that scriptures had some evident flaws.
After repudiating the sect, he went to Italy in 383, where he started a rhetoric school only to close it a short while later when the students sought to defraud him. He got a job as a professor, which he did for a while and that was when he encountered Bishop Ambrose (Flinders 98). This kindly bishop’s exceptionally saintly behaviors would impress Augustine into conversion four years later.
However, he yet wished to try several other ‘truths’ before he found his exact fit. He ventured into an Academic philosophy, with its ‘pessimistic skepticism’ for a while. He then tried Neo-Platonic philosophy, which genuinely impressed him based on the works of Plotinus and Plato. His only desired to find the truth, and learn how to live a perfect life, one that did not seek either honor or wealth built on a foundation of celibacy.
With this goal in mind, he took his child Adeodatus, his mother Monica, and his friends, and together they resorted to Cassisiacum, where he would hold monumental discussions on various topics including truth, God, the soul, true happiness in philosophy, evil, and the providential order of the world, among others (Frost 108). People came to know these as ‘Dialogues’. Augustine received his baptism into Christianity in 387, the year his mother died, forcing him to spend some time in Carthage refuting the beliefs of Manicheans.
He then went back to Africa in 388, whereupon reaching Tagaste; he sold all his wealth and gave the proceeds to the poor beginning to live the perfect life he had always idealized. In 391, he received a priesthood consecration. Although he did not want the post, he proceeded to accept and fulfill the calling. As a priest, he seemed instrumental in the conversion of many souls.
Some of his great successes include the public humiliation of Fortunatus, a Manichean doctor who had come to convert the Christians of Hippo into his sect. The humiliation proved too great for the great doctor to bear thus making him leave Hippo shortly after it happened. Augustine also banned the holding of banquets in the chapels of martyrs, and delivered a discourse during the Plenary Council of Africa that would later become the treatise, De fide et Symbolo
His writings remain categorized into confessions (history of the development of his heart), retractions (growth of his mind), and letters, which define his activities in the church. His letters, currently numbered at 270, contained practical solutions to the members’ problems.
Contra Academicos, De Beata Vita, De Ordine, On the Holiness of the Catholic Church, and The City of God form part of his great works (Kent, and Brown 43). Augustine assumed the seat as the Bishop of Hippo at 42. People have defined his episcopacy as one dominated by truth, with him as the guardian of people’s souls, and that it seemed rich with sermons on charity.
Augustine led several movements, over doctrinal enemies. These included the Manichean controversy based on the concept of evil. He managed to convert a Manichaean named Felix, believed to be one of the greatest doctors (in terms of proficiency with the Manichean doctrine) of his time during one of his famous public conferences. During this conference, he gave a speech that gave clarification on the nature of evil.
He explained that not all of God’s laws and precepts qualify as evil in nature or by extension. Instead, evil comes from the liberty, or free will accorded man and other creatures, when people abuse the liberty (Portalie 78). Another controversy he helped straighten concerned Donatists and their questions on the sinners in the church, including the morality of priests and its influence over their hierarchy.
Augustine expounded on views earlier mentioned by St. Cyprian and Opatus. He stated that a sinner could remain within the realm of the church, but only with the intention of converting him/ her in the near future. Other controversies he settled include the Arian and Pelagian controversies (Portalie 99). He died in 436.
St. Augustine stood out as an impeccable man with a profound understanding on the doctrines, nature, authority, and institution of the church. He expounded on numerous confounding texts containing doctrines and helped guide most of the dogmas advanced today about the church (Yen 66).
It proves important to note that Augustine did not have any protestant views, but rather catholic, as many protestant critics seek to portray him as an anti-reformist reformer, which seems in contrast to his true nature. Nevertheless, his contribution to religion and humanity in general remains profound regardless of the lens anybody might choose to view his accomplishments.
Appleton, Maine. St. Augustine of Hippo. New York: Springler, 2001.
Bright, Cornelia, Trump, Bernado, and Fitz, Julie. A Biography on St. Augustine of Hippo. Paris: Verde Inc., 2000.
Broadbent, Stephen. Eternal and Spiritual Issues. The Trumpet 1.1 (1992): 28.
Flinders, Lyon. On Truth, Grace, and Provident Living. Herald To Nations 3.5 (2006): 50-62.
Frost, Richard. Understanding the concept of Sainthood: St. Augustine of Hippo. Roman Theology 4.2 (1994): 23-47.
Kent, Lexis, and Brown, Christopher . Saints and Cathedrals. Washington DC: Basic Books, 2004.
Portalie, Eugene. Life of St. Augustine of Hippo. The Catholic Encyclopedia 1.3 (2011): 34-89.
Yen, Kristen. Standard Works of The Catholic Church. Vatican: Oxford University Press, 1999.