Augustine of Hippo

views updated


AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO (354430), Christian theologian and bishop. A creative genius of mystical piety and great philosophical acumen, Augustine wrought a theological-ecclesiological system in which biblical tradition and classical philosophy coalesced. Not only was his thought seminal for the development of Western Christianity, his moral values and personal piety remained norms for medieval and Reformation Europe.

Augustine's life spanned a crucial epoch in state and church. The late Roman Empire was disintegrating, and its collapse would devastate the public sense of political stability and continuity. The Christian church, having weathered persecution, moved into a period of doctrinal and ecclesiastical formation. Punic Africa had no small part in these political and religious affairs, and Augustine's self-proclaimed identity as "an African, writing for Africans. living in Africa" (Letters 17.2) must not be overlooked. Indeed, the manner in which Augustine united, in his works and in his person, the various currents of his time has definitely marked Western culture.

Early Life

Augustine, known also as Aurelius Augustinus, was born in Tagaste (present-day Souk-Ahras, Algeria) to a pagan father, Patricius, and a Christian mother, Monica. Monica's influence on Augustine was tremendous. He was convinced that her prayers, piety, and relentless pursuit of his conversion were instrumental in bringing about his life-altering encounter with God. Monica forbade Augustine's receiving infant baptism, but he was given the rite of the cross on the forehead and cleansing salt on the lips.

After early study under local schoolmasters, Augustine was sent, at fifteen, to Madaurus to continue his education. There began a period of profligacy that was to continue when he went to Carthage for advanced study. In that city, he took a concubine and fathered a son, Adeodatus, meaning "gift of God," to whom Augustine referred as "child of my sin." In Carthage, Augustine's education centered primarily on his becoming a rhetorician and lawyera field in which he became highly proficient. In later years, according to Philip Schaff, he "enriched Latin literature with a store of beautiful, original, and pregnant proverbial sayings" (History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, Grand Rapids, 1950, p. 998).

At this time, Augustine became enamored of Manichaeism, a sect that emphasized an essential dualism of good and evil. Manichaean stress on the evil nature of flesh had far reaching influence on Augustine. The impact of the Manichaean view of sex in his later formulation of the concept of the basic sinfulness of humankind and the weakness of the flesh has not been fully recognized.

In 373, Augustine came upon Cicero's now lost Hortensius. This work "inflamed" Augustine with a love of philosophy that continued for a lifetime. Induced by Monica's incessant pleading, prayers, and vivid dreams, Augustine turned to the Christian scriptures, but was gravely disappointed. In comparison to "the stately prose of Cicero," the Bible seemed unworthy. He found sections of Genesis crude; he questioned the integrity of certain Old Testament figures. It was philosophy that captured his intellectual curiosity. He proceeded with study of Aristotle's book on the categories.

Augustine returned to Tagaste, where he began teaching rhetoric. Patricius had died, having embraced the Catholic Church at Monica's insistence. Monica refused her son entrance to her home because he had espoused Manichaeism. She continued to pray and was told by a bishop, "It cannot be that the son of these tears should be lost" (Confessions 3.12).

In 380, Augustine completed his first book, De pulchro et apto (Beauty and Proportion), a work on aesthetics no longer extant. At this time, he gathered about him a group of students who became his intimate friends. Among these were Alypius and Nebridius, who, like Augustine himself, would become priests and bishops in the African church.

Bitter sorrow at the death of a childhood friend prompted Augustine's return to Carthage. There he became interested in the Skeptics (the New Academy) and less enchanted with Manichaeism. A long anticipated dialogue with the celebrated Faustus, Manichaen bishop of Milevis, proved to be utterly disappointing to Augustine. Thus began his disillusionment with and gradual separation from the sect, which he increasingly detested and later acrimoniously attacked.

Unruly students in Carthage occasioned Augustine's decision to leave for Rome, but once there illness overtook him. Upon his recovery he began teaching rhetoric. The position of public orator opened in Milanwhere the imperial court frequently resided, and with the aid of friends and associates he secured this important position.

In Milan, Augustine came to know the respected Ambrose (c. 339397), the patrician bishop of Milan. The latter's skill as rhetorician was legendary, and it was professional interest that drew Augustine to him initially. Ambrose's allegorical interpretation of the Bible gave Augustine a new understanding and appreciation of scripture. Stoic ethicsin which Ambrose was an expertlikewise had lasting effect. Augustine was also fascinated by the use of musicchanting and hymnsin Ambrose's church.

Augustine was soon joined by Monica, several cousins, his brother, students, and his mistress and son. Thus surrounded by a congenial African phalanstery, Augustine and his associates were introduced to Plato via the teachings of Plotinus (205270). Ambrose was well informed on Plotinus and quoted at length Plotinus's mystical interpretation of Platonic idealism. What clearly appealed most to Augustine was the possibility of combining Platonism with Christian cosmology. Augustine saw the Platonic conception of Godthe One as the absolute, the all perfect, from whom emanates the nous (intelligence)as a key to understanding the "God who was in Christ."

From this beginning Augustine delved deeper into Platonism, reading Plato in Latin translations. In Plato, Augustine found answers to questions on the origin and meaning of evil that had first drawn him to the sect of Mani. Later in his life, Augustine transformed Plato into a near-Christian, combining the Logos doctrine with Platonic idealism, the Gospel of John with the writings of Plotinusin short, reconciling Greek wisdom with Hebrew-Christian faith. A Platonic metaphysics was the result: the absolute Good as center of all reality, transcending thought and concrete being.

Very likely in pursuit of greater wealth and higher position in the society of Milan, it was decided that Augustine's mistress be dismissed and a marriage with a Milanese heiress arranged. This separation was painful to Augustine, but, nonetheless, unable to restrain his sexual desires while waiting for his intended bride, he took another mistress. He was deeply tormented by these conflicts between his actions and ideals. He had been reading the Bible regularly, listening to Ambrose, and discussing with friends the lives of those converted by scriptures. The number who had subsequently realized the need for celibacy particularly struck him.

Events converged during August of 386. The stern ethical demands of Ambrose's preaching joined with Monica's unending pleading that Augustine become a Christian. These, along with an increasing sense of the Platonic idea of personal integrity, were linked with the message of the apostle Paul.

A crisis was at hand. "I was frantic, overcome by violent anger with myself for not accepting your will and entering into your covenant" (Confessions 8.8). Suddenly, as he stood in the garden, he heard the voice of a child chanting "Tolle lege" ("Take it and read"). Taking up the Bible, he read the first passage to strike his eye, Romans 13:1314: "not in revelling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantoness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather, arm yourselves with the Lord, Jesus Christ; spend no more thought on nature and nature's appetites." Augustine underwent a dramatic conversion, a profound life-transforming experience wherein sexual, willful, and spiritual wrestling resulted in complete surrender to God.

Augustine the Christian

Marriage plans were dismissed, and Augustine now aimed to become a Christian philosopher. To that end he took his coterie of friends and students, together with Adeodatus and Monica, to Cassiciacum, a country estate north of Milan. Here he engaged in leisurely debate and writing. Works of this period, such as De beata vita (On the Happy Life) and De ordine (On Order), show Augustine's transition from philosophy toward theology.

In Milan at Easter of 387, along with Adeodatus and Alypius, Augustine was baptized by Ambrose. The decision was then made to go back to Africa, and the family journeyed to Ostia, planning to take a ship for Carthage. At Ostia, Augustine and Monica experienced in their discussions of eternal wisdom moments of towering mystical exaltation. Shortly thereafter, in Ostia, Monica died.

Returning to Rome, Augustine immersed himself in writing. His De immortalitate animae (On the Immortality of the Soul) and De quantitate animae (On the Greatness of the Soul) clearly reveal a philosopher who is incorporating a new biblically oriented theology into his understanding of the Christian faith.

Once more in his native Africa, Augustine established a lay retreat, a monastery, for philosophical contemplation, based at his small estate at Tagaste. He and his friends aimed to be servants of God. Here he composed De vera religione (On True Religion), which takes the Trinity as the foundation for true religion, a theme central to the majority of his works, and sees in Christianity the consummation of Plato's teaching.

At this time, Augustine had no thought of becoming a priest and carefully avoided those towns where priests were needed, but a chance visit to Hippo Regius (present-day Annaba, Algeria) in 391 resulted in his conscription. The aging bishop Valerius probably contrived the scene wherein Augustine was ordained under popular pressure. Such conscription and summary ordination were common in the African church at that time. Immediately after ordination, Augustine requested a leave of absence for intensive study of scripture. He increasingly became a man of the Bible.

Refreshed from his retreat, Augustine took up his duties as parish priest, using Paul as guide and ideal rationale for ministry. He found in Paul his theological mentor. Valerius granted permission for the establishment of a monastery, which became Augustine's seminary for the training of future priests and bishops. Valerius did morein violation of tradition, which stipulated that when present the bishop always preached: he requested Augustine to deliver the sermon regularly. This practice became a lifelong responsibility, wherein Augustine established himself as master homiletician.

By 392, Augustine was writing to Jerome (c. 347420) in Bethlehem, asking for Latin translations of Greek texts. After early difficulties with Greek, Augustine had made himself only somewhat proficient; he knew scant Hebrew. The same year he composed numerous biblical commentaries; on Psalms, on the Sermon on the Mount, and on the letters of Paul.

In an unprecedented move, Augustine convinced Valerius that the Catholic Church must bestir itself against Manichaeans, pagans, and irreligionists of all sorts. In 393, the General Council of Africa assembled in Hippo. Augustine made his address, De fide et symbolo (On Faith and the Creed), a stirring call for catholic reform and evangelism. This was the beginning of regular councils in the African church, with Augustine as perennial lecturer.

Valerius, fearing that he might lose his priest to a vacant see, requested that Augustine be made his coadjutor, and Augustine was elevated to episcopacy in 395. Valerius died the following year, leaving Augustine to rule as sole bishop of Hippo.

Two years after becoming a bishop, Augustine, now forty-three, began his Confessiones, a treatise expressing gratitude to God in which he employed intimate autobiographical recollections. He wrote with complete candor, revealing to the world his agonizing struggle with himself, his sexual nature, his self-will, and his pride. In this his aim was to give God the glory for his redemption, to create a paean of praise and thanksgiving, rejoicing in the grace of a God who had stooped so low to save so fallen a sinner.

Simultaneously, the Confessions was a theological work in which Augustine presented his positions on the Incarnation and the Trinity. In the three concluding books he proffered a study on memory, time, and Genesis, weaving the work of the Holy Spirit into the act of creation. He developed in the Confessions the theological direction in which he continued to move, emphasizing divine predestination, personal religious experience through conscious conversion, and the direct relationship of the believer to God. Augustine's opus in praise of God, drawing on his spiritual journey, stands as a masterpiece in the world's devotional literature.

Theological Controversies

Immediately after taking up his duties as priest in Hippo, Augustine lost no time in launching his attack on his mortal enemies, the Manichaeans. He denounced Manichaean cosmology, the view of humanity and humanity's sin, and especially the concept of God as having human attributes and anatomical features. The error that Augustine repudiated repeatedly was the attribution of evil to deity. The dualistic Manichaeans claimed that good and evil had their origin in two distinct deities. For Augustine, the one true God could not be blamed for the existence of evil.

In 392, Augustine engaged in public debate with the Manichaean bishop Fortunatus. Augustine, the consummate debater, so demolished Fortunatus that the Manichaean did not appear for the third day of the contest. Augustine followed up his victory with a scathing polemic, Acta contra Fortunatum Manichaeum (Against Fortunatus the Mani-chaean), which demonstrated his implacable attitude toward people and causes he thought heretical. He was soon the protagonist for the Catholic position.

Augustine's advocacy of consistent teachings in the church is exemplified by his contributions to ecclesiology. He defined the status and role of the bishop not only as administrator but as teacher, interpreter, and defender of pure doctrine. A bishop was responsible for determining orthodoxy, through use of the pronouncements of councils as well as scripture, and for eradicating heresy. At no point does this issue come into clearer focus than in Augustine's protracted and painful conflict with the Donatists.

Donatism provoked a major schism, almost exclusively affecting the African church, dividing it into warring camps. The Donatists accused the Catholics of having a blemished priesthood and thus no true sacraments. Against this view, Augustine lucidly argued that the efficacy of the sacraments does not depend upon the worthiness of the priest. "My origin is Christ, my root is Christ, my head is Christ," he claimed. "The seed of which I was born, is the word of God I believe not in the minister by whom I was baptized, but in Christ, who alone justifies the sinner and can forgive guilt" (Against Petilianus 1.1.7).

Augustine repudiated Donatist insistence that if Catholics were to join the Donatist church they must be rebaptized. It was the universal church that Augustine proclaimed, and baptism does not profit the recipient unless the sinner returns to the true fold. The esse (being) of the church is not found in the personal character of the several Christians in it but in the union of the whole church with Christ. The church is not made up of saints as the Donatists held but of a mixed body of saints and more or less repentant sinners. Augustine insisted that weak members must be patiently borne by the churchas in the parable of the wheat and tares. How can there be a full separation of saints and sinners prior to the final judgment?

After two major colloquies in which Augustine led the attack, stringent imperial laws were enacted against the Donatists, banishing their clergy from the country. In 415, they were forbidden to hold religious assemblies on pain of death. Augustine advocated and applauded the use of imperial force to bring such heretics under control.

In his early work De libero arbitrio (On Free Will), written between 388 and 396, Augustine endeavored to explain the apparent contradiction of the existence of evil in the world with the goodness of an omnipotent deity. Evil, Augustine assayed, was the result of Adam's free will. God would not permit humans to be completely free without giving them the potentiality of doing wrong or right. From Adam's sin all later humanity inherited the inclination toward evil, thus, all humans since Adam have been sinners. Only God's grace could overcome that propensity. No number of good works chosen freely by latter-day men and women could atone for so grievous a fall. God proffered salvation to those he deigns to give grace, knowing that many would refuse it. For humankind, the possibility of eternal damnation was the price of moral freedom. Divine foreknowledge does not obliterate human freedom. God simply foresees the choice that free moral agents will make.

It was the brilliant Celtic monk Pelagius (d. 418) who confronted Augustine with the fundamental issue of the nature of humankind. Shocked by the gross immorality of culture, Pelagius called for a righteous responsibility on the part of Christian believers. He soon had an enthusiastic following. The Pelagian view was later advocated by Julian, bishop of Eclanum, who became the chief theological adversary of Augustine's later years. Against this school Augustine directed his anti-Pelagian writings, a corpus of some fifteen works. The controversy with Pelagianism occasioned extended debate on questions of human freedom, responsibility, and humanity's relation to God.

Pelagius claimed that what one does, "either laudable or blameworthy," depends upon the individual. Human nature has the inherent capacity for achievement. Augustine, in De Spiritu et littera (On the Spirit and the Letter) and later in De natura et gratia (On Nature and Grace), insisted that grace alone enables fallen humanity to achieve anything worthy. Freedom is linked with God's grace, not humanity's nature.

God is not, however, in any sense responsible for sin, nor does obedience to God's will nullify human freedom. In De gratia et libero arbitrio (On Grace and Free Will) Augustine asserts, "No man when he sins, can in his heart blame God for it, but every man must impute the fault to himself. Nor does it detract from man's own freedom of will when he performs any act in accordance with the will of God" (part 4).

In De praedestinatione sanctorum (On the Predestination of the Saints) and De dono perseverantiae (On the Gift of Perseverance), Augustine presents grace as independent of human desert. It is a sacred mystery why some are chosen for eternal life and others for eternal death. The mystery of faith and righteousness is hidden in God's eternal wisdom and purpose (a position John Calvin would elaborate in the sixteenth century).

"Know," said Augustine in Contra Julianum, "that good will, that good works, without the grace of God can be granted to no one." How much of this position on grace reflects Augustine's personal experience of God's saving power? Augustine had attempted to save himself, through elevated wrestlings with philosophy, and found it could not be done. Humanity cannot save itself. Salvation is God's doing. In gratitude the believer lives. The mind as God's creation is endowed with a natural capacity for remembering, understanding, and willing. When these powers are rightly directed, the self will recognize the true order of being, its relation to God in whose image it is. In the human fallen condition, sin holds this natural capacity in abeyance but can never completely destroy it. Grace awakens the dormant power in humans to see God's image in themselves.

In his discussion of grace, Augustine frequently employed the symbol of the infanta child in constant need of a parental deity. Pelagius scoffed at such notions; for him, son, warrior, and mature adult were suitable emblems of the person in his relationship to God. Pelagius insisted, "Since perfection is possible for man, it is obligatory"; human nature was created for perfection, and humanity is competent to achieve it. Augustine repeatedly assailed this theme which, for him, struck at the heart of the Christian gospel. Augustine's numerous anti-Pelagian writings testify to the unalterable position that man cannot redeem himself; man cannot depend upon himself for goodness. Whatever virtue exists in human nature is a gift from God.

It is interesting to note that Pelagius and Augustine never met face to face. In 410 Pelagius went to Hippo, hoping to meet Augustine. Indeed, Pelagius had written in advance, but received a cautious reply. When the visit took place, Augustine was conveniently absent. Augustine finally achieved the condemnation of Pelagius and Pelagianism in 431 at the Council of Ephesus.

The sacraments

Attendant to Augustine's view of grace is his concept of the church: the earthen vessel for sacramental grace. For him, the Catholic Church represents, exclusively, the genuine infusion of love by the Holy Spirit. Sacraments are the work of God, and only in the Catholic Church do the sacraments attain their appropriate function; there alone can that attesting love be found.

Sacraments are visible signs representing invisible spiritual reality, outward symbols by which divine matters are exhibited. Communication of the invisible divine reality, of invisible divine power, takes place in the sacraments. The outward symbol, however, has no power to convey to the individual the divine reality unless that person's inner being is sensitive to communion with God. To that end God's grace will assist.

Augustine's list of sacraments holds baptism and the Lord's Supper as preeminent; others are ordination, marriage, exorcism, and the giving of salt to the catechumen. Without the sacraments there is no salvation. "The churches of Christ maintain it to be an inherent principle, that without baptism and partaking of the Supper of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and everlasting life" (De peccatorum meritis et remissione; On the Wages and Remission of Sins 1.34).

Trinity and Christology

Recognized even during his lifetime as a doctor of the Latin church, Augustine clarified numerous points of doctrine. In fact, he established doctrine, not the least of which was his interpretation of the triune deity. "I am compelled to pick my way through a hard and obscure subject," he noted as he embarked on his De Trinitate (On the Trinity), an opus written over a period of twenty years (399419). Primarily in answer to the Arians, Augustine sorted out points at issue that would later become key factors in discussion at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. While On the Trinity is unquestionably a definitive work in Christian theology, Augustine's basic suppositions are made lucid in earlier writings, including his letters and sermons. To Nebridius he wrote, "Whatever is done by the Trinity must be regarded as being done by the Father and by the Son and by the Holy Spirit together" (letter 10).

In his view of the Trinity, Augustine emphasized that there are not three Gods but one. These form a "divine unity of one and the same substance in an indivisible equality." In this Trinity "what is said of each is also said of all, on account of the indivisible working of the one and same substance" (Trinity 1.4.7, 1.12.25). He established a metaphysical ground for the Christian's threefold experience of God. In the Father, the believer knows God as source of being; in Christ, the redeemer; and in the Holy Spirit, the sanctifier.

Revelation was Augustine's starting point. The first part of On the Trinity considers the nature of faith. Citing scripture (especially passages falsely interpreted by the Ariansfor example, John 14:28, John 10:30, Mark 13:32), he proves the deity of the Son and his relation to the Father. Augustine argues at length that the Son is in no way subordinate to the Father. Previously, Tertullian and Origen had insisted on subordination of the Son and Holy Spirit to the Father. For Augustine, there "is so great an equality in that Trinity that not only the Father is not greater than the Son, as regards divinity, but neither are the Father and the Son greater than the Holy Spirit" (Trinity 8). The Holy Spirit proceeds from Father and Son and enjoys the same essential nature. Relations between the persons of the Trinity are not of degree or order but of causality. The Father is "the beginning of the whole divinity. He therefore who proceeds from the Father and the Son is referred back to Him from whom the Son was born." The Holy Spirit is the unifying principle in the godhead, "a certain unutterable communion of Father and Son." Every theophany is thus a work of the three, even though in such divine manifestations the appearance is frequently that of only one of the persons. This is because of the limitations of the "bodily creature" necessary for a theophany. One cannot repeat the words Father, Son, Holy Spirit simultaneously and without an interval. Accordingly "both each are in each, and all in each, and each in all, and all in all, and all are one."

When speaking of the Trinity, Augustine's Latin term for what the Greeks called hupostasis is persona ("person"), but he frankly admits the inadequacy of any appellation. Ultimately the key to knowing Godthe Trinityis love, for love itself implies a trinity "he that loves, and that which is loved, and love itself" (Trinity 8.10.14). In the final analysis, Augustine himself, after years of contemplation, admits that the human mind may behold the Trinity "only in an enigma." Only when liberated from the restrictions of physical being will humans be able to comprehend completely "why the Holy Spirit is not the Son, although He proceeds from the Father" (Trinity 15.24.45).

Augustine declared that the whole of doctrine might be summed up as service to God through faith, hope, and love. This principle underlies his work the Enchiridion. Taking the Lord's Prayer as starting point, he develops the theme of Christ as mediator and considers the Incarnation as manifestation of God's saving grace. He explicates the Apostles' Creed and with rare sensitivity assesses the resurrection.

Philosophy of History

On August 24, 410, Alaric invaded Rome. Son of a great Visigoth family, Alaric regarded himself a defender of the empire and a faithful Christian. His sack of Rome lasted only three days, and the city was by no means destroyed, nor was it the end of the Western Empire. The psychological effect, however, was horrendous. "If Rome can perish, what can be safe?" lamented Jerome. Decisiveness and dependability in government were in serious question. It was in response to the charge that abandonment of the ancient Roman deities and widespread acceptance of Christianity had brought about the fall that Augustine, in 413427, produced De civitate Dei (City of God). His immediate assertion was that rather than bringing down the city the Christians had saved it from total ruin. The work proceeds to render his brilliant critique of Greco-Roman culture, drawing illustrative material from the greatest historians and writers. Augustine had enormous respect for and loyalty to that culture yet he believed it to be morally rotten, and he goes to considerable lengths to point out degradation of Roman standards of conduct, life patterns, and sexual behavior. He pictures gross licentiousness and obscenities pertaining to Liber and other deities. By contrast, he depicts the health, vigor, and cleanliness of the Christian life. Thus, as the Pax Romana deteriorated, Augustine became spokesman for a new, fresh, Christian social order.

Morality and Ethics

City of God best illustrates a facet of Augustine seldom recognized: he was a moral rigorist who permitted nothing to stand in the way of either individual or group righteousness. Neither personal relationships nor individual aspirations should be permitted to thwart the doing of God's will. Sinful pleasures were intolerable. It was in part reaction to his profligate past that prompted the complete turnabout in which he became the seer of an ethical, morally upright deity.

Scrupulous observance of the ethical code was required of Augustine's people, especially his clergy. On one occasion, certain members of Augustine's monastery had not complied with the vow of poverty and at death willed large estates to their families. Augustine reacted swiftly and sternly, requiring that all draw up statements of their holdings prior to being admitted to the order. In his monastery, Augustine established a way of life that was to become the prototype for the cenobite. It is claimed that his own widowed sister, abbess of the convent he established in Hippo, was never permitted to converse with her brother save in the presence of a third party. Augustine's moralism must be seen in the context of his ideal of blessedness. It was said of him, "Everyone who lives with him, lives the life described in the Acts of the Apostles " (sermon 356).

Final Years

On September 26, 426, Augustine named his successor, Eraclius, and arranged for the latter to assume responsibility for the practical affairs of the diocese. At that time Bishop Possidius agreed to write a biography of Augustine. His biography captures the spirit of the man Augustine. He tells of daily life in the monastery, stressing the simplicity of the monks' lives, and of Augustine's concern for the poor. Augustine the eminent theologian is barely visible.

May of 429 saw the army of Genseric's Vandals cross from Spain and march through Mauritania, spreading havoc and desolation. Roman rule in Africa collapsed. Augustine spent these concluding years comforting and reassuring his people. On the Predestination of the Saints and On the Gift of Perseverance, written 428429, reflect the message that God alone would provide faith and courage for his elect. This became a doctrine of survival.

In 426 Augustine began to correct and catalog his vast literary output in his Retractiones. His wish, and that of his fellow bishops, was that whatever befell Hippo, Augustine's library was to be preserved. Fortunately for posterity, it was.

As Vandals were besieging Hippo, Augustine was dying, insistingperhaps for the first timethat he be alone; he read, in these final hours, the penitential psalms hung on the walls of his room. On August 28, 430, while prayers were being offered in the churches of Hippo, Augustine died. It was designated his day in the lexicon of Roman Catholic saints.

Augustine's place in Western history is not to be contested. He was a man of science (in spite of his deprecation of scientific knowledge) whose power to scrutinize nature was remarkable. He engaged in an unrelenting quest for knowledge that rendered him a keen observer of human nature, and he probed the deep recesses of the human soul. Augustine set the compass for much of the Western Christian culture that followed. His interpretation of Plato dominated most of Christian thought in the West until the rediscovery of Aristotle in the thirteenth century. Humanists of the Renaissance relied upon Augustine. His impress on Reformation leaders is great. Luther followed his conception of grace. A reading of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion reveals that second to the Bible, Augustine is the most frequently quoted source. In the eighteenth century, John Wesley studied Augustine diligently, even when he came to differ strongly with him. Indeed, even those who most heartily reject Augustine's anthropology have found it necessary to come to terms with him. Pietistic, sentimental studies of Augustine during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are being replaced with frank appreciation not only for his intellectual and spiritual preeminence but also for his profound human qualities.

See Also

Arianism; Autobiography; Donatism; Free Will and Predestination, article on Christian Concepts; Grace; Manichaeism; Merit, article on Christian Concepts; Neoplatonism; Pelagianism; Pelagius; Plotinus; Skeptics and Skepticism.


Listing all the worthy studies of Augustine would be difficult, if not impossible. The student of Augustine is apt to be overcome by the sheer enormity of the material available. Only a small selection follows.

Works by Augustine

For the serious student, the Latin works are indispensable. A complete collection appears in Patrologia Latina, edited by J.-P. Migne, vols. 3247 (Paris, 18411842). In spite of errors and omissions, Migne's edition remains an essential source, but it should be studied along with Palémon Glorieux's Pour revaloriser Migne: Tables rectificatives (Lille, 1952). Augustine's collected works can also be found in Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, vols. 12, 25, 28, 3334, 36, 4044, 5153, 5758, 60, 63, 74, 77, and 8485 (Vienna, 18661876), which is the product of good critical scholarship.

Splendid translations into modern English, reflecting superior contemporary scholarship, can be found in "The Library of Christian Classics," edited by John Baillie and others, vols. 68 (Philadelphia, 19531958); "The Fathers of the Church," edited by Roy Joseph Deferrari, vols. 115, 1718, and 35 (New York, 19471963); and "Ancient Christian Writers," edited by Johannes Quasten and Walter J. Burghardt, vols. 2, 9, 15, 22, and 35 (Westminster, Md., 1960). The several texts are strengthened in their overall usefulness by an impressive amount of supportive background data, copious explanatory notes, full bibliographies, and indexes.

Works about Augustine

Classic works by eminent scholars such as Prosper Alfaric, Adolf von Harnack, and Otto Scheel continue to be mandatory reading for the thoughtful student. Among the most recent publications, Karl Adam's Die geistige Entwicklung des heiligen Augustinus (Augsburg, 1931) is a superb work with bibliographical references that are especially helpful. A Companion to the Study of St. Augustine, edited by Roy W. Battenhouse (New York, 1955), presents a series of scholarly essays, especially helpful as broad, introductory works. Gerald Bonner's St. Augustine of Hippo: Life and Controversies (London, 1963) provides a survey of the enormous literary output of Augustine.

Possidius's fifth-century Sancti Augustini vita scripta a Possidio episcopo (Kiel, 1832) is the original biography by one who stood in awe of his subject. Filled with human interest stories, it nonetheless should not be missed. Peter Brown's Augustine of Hippo (London, 1967) is unquestionably the best biography available. His Religion and Society in the Age of Saint Augustine (London, 1972) is of equally fine scholarship and is indispensable for an understanding of the period. My own Augustine: His Life and Thought (Atlanta, 1980) is a lively biography, portraying Augustine against the backdrop of the tumultuous age in which he lived. Frederik van der Meer's Augustine the Bishop (London, 1961) is an interpretation of Augustine's episcopate and the cultural milieu.

Étienne Gilson's The Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine (New York, 1960) is an outstanding study of the overall thought of Augustine. A wide range of scholarly articles can be found in Augustine: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert A. Markus (Garden City, N. Y., 1972). Ragnar Holte's Béatitudes et sagesse: S. Augustin et le problème de la fin de l'homme dans la philosophie ancienne (Paris, 1962) concentrates on Augustine as philosopher. John Burnaby's Amor Dei: A Study of the Religion of St. Augustine (London, 1938) is outstanding, especially in interpreting Augustine's theological understanding of love. Pierre Courcelle's Recherches sur les Confessiones de S. Augustin (Paris, 1950) provides one of the best interpretations of the Confessions.

Henri Irénée Marrou's St. Augustine and His Influence through the Ages (New York, 1957), Karl Jaspers's Plato and Augustine (New York, 1962), and Eugene TeSelle's Augustine the Theologian (New York, 1970) are excellent studies of various aspects of Augustine's philosophy and theology. Robert Meagher's An Introduction to Augustine (New York, 1978) provides new translations of important passages that are clues to fresh interpretations of Augustine's spiritual life.

Finally, Tarsicius J. van Bavel's Répertoire bibliographique de Saint Augustin, 19501960 (Steenbrugis, Netherlands, 1963) is a useful survey of recent critical studies.

Warren Thomas Smith (1987)

About this article

Augustine of Hippo

Updated About content Print Article