Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

Augustine is one of the greatest theologians of the Christian Church, and his influence is felt throughout all of Christianity. He was born at Tagaste, Roman northern Africa which is now Souk Ahras, in Algeria.  His father was Patricius, a poor man who was a pagan and his mother, Monica, was a Christian.  They were very poor but Augustine's parents worked very hard and sacrificed greatly to give their gifted son an education.  "Augustine studied first at Madaura and then received training in rhetoric at Carthage (375) which prepared him to “dress his words in style.” At Carthage, Augustine abandoned the faith of his mother and followed the immoral practices of his fellow students. In 372 he took a mistress who remained with him for about thirteen years and bore him a son, Adeodatus (who died around 390)."1

Augustine was greatly influenced by Cicero's Hortensius (a document now lost), which helped him to develop a love for wisdom. He became a Manichean being attracted to it by its rationality.  The Manicheans taught a strict dualism of absolute evil and absolute good.  In Manicheanism, the God of the Old Testament was evil and hard.  The God of the New Testament was loving and Kind.

He became a teacher of rhetoric at Milan at 384(5?) and then later in Carthage.  As part of his appointment in Milan, he was to give public orations honoring the Emperor.  He continued to read and listen to various authors, including Christian ones.  He ended up sending his mistress back to Africa while he waited for his mother to arrange a wedding into a wealthy family.  Upon reading Romans 13:14 ("But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts"), he decided to give up his quest for power and sexual gratification and secluded himself at Cassiciacum in order to pursue truth.

He was baptized by Ambrose in 387 having been converted in Rome under Ambrose's preaching.  He adopted a contemplative philosophy and began to try and get the donatists to join the Church.  Donatism was the teaching that the effectiveness of the sacraments depends on the moral character of the minister.  Augustine rightly taught that the validity of the sacraments (baptism, Lord's Supper) were made valid by God, not by the one who administers them. Gradually he became a more biblically trained and became involved in pastoral ministry.

He had also turned against Manichaeanism and wrote against it defending the goodness of creation and "describing sin to abuse of free well."2 He also he worked against Pelagianism and taught that the grace of God is what enabled man to believe, that man was not sinless, and infant baptism was acceptable.  Pelagianism was condemned by the two councils at Carthage (407 and 416) and at Milevum in Numidia (416).

In August of 410, Rome was sacked by the Barbarian King Alaric.  The pagans in the Empire blamed the Christians for this because they had encouraged abandonment of the pagan gods of Rome.  He wrote "the city of God" in which he developed an apologetic against the accusation that Christians were responsible for the fall of Rome.

After his mother died he returned to Tagaste and founded a monastery in Hippo.  In the later 44 years of his life, he was a monk and a bishop of Hippo Regius in the Roman African province of Numidia.

In the last few years of his life, realizing how influential his writings had been in the Christian church, he wrote "Retractions" a work that examined all his previous writings.  He contracted a sickness and died in 430.

Some quotes from Augustine

  • "Lord, hast Thou declared that no man shall see Thy face and live?—then let me die, that I may see Thee.” 3
  • "Christ is not valued at all unless he is valued above all."4
  • "Faith is understanding’s step, and understanding is faith’s reward."5
  • “No one longs for eternal, incorruptible, and immortal life, unless he be wearied of this temporal, corruptible, and mortal life.”6
  • “To be assured of our salvation is no arrogant stoutness; it is our faith. It is no pride; it is devotion. It is no presumption; it is God’s promise.”7
  • “ Love God, and do what you please.”8

Some of Augustine's writings

  • Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John
  • Discourses on the Psalms (391)
  • On the Free Will (388–395)
  • The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount (393)
  • The City of God
  • On the Harmony of the Gospels
  • Confessions (397-401)
  • On the Trinity (399–419)
  • Retractions (426-427)
  • 1. Douglas, J. D., Comfort, P. W., & Mitchell, D. (1997, c1992). Who's who in Christian history. Illustrated lining papers. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House.
  • 2. Douglas, J.D., ed., The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI., 1978, page 87.
  • 3. Tan, Paul Lee, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations; Garland, Texas: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996.)
  • 4. Tan, Paul Lee, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations; Garland, Texas: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996.)
  • 5. Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary; Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc., 1983, 1985.
  • 6. Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, A.R.; and Brown, David, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible; Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1998.)
  • 7. Bishop Jewell: Defence of the Apology, 1570, Hodge, A. A., Holiness, (Escondido, CA: Ephesians Four Group) 1999.
  • 8. Bishop Jewell: Defense of the Apology, 1570, Hodge, A. A., Holiness, (Escondido, CA: Ephesians Four Group) 1999.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.