Saint Augustine Research Paper

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Best known for his Confessions and City of God, the theologian Augustine of Hippo wrote numerous works after his conversion to Christianity in 386. His profound and lasting influence on Western Christianity and philosophy led to his canonization by popular acclaim, rather than by papal edict.

Augustine of Hippo (354–430 CE) was the dominant Christian theologian between Christian antiquity and the high Middle Ages. A prolific writer, he authored ninety-three books, hundreds of letters, and thousands of sermons. He was born in Tagaste (today Souk-Ahras, Algeria) in the Roman province of Numidia. Patricius, his father, belonged to the middle class and was a pagan. Monica, his mother, was a devout Christian who had him enrolled as a catechumen at an early age.

Augustine received his elementary and secondary education in Latin and Greek in Tagaste and Madaura. For higher studies, he was sent to Carthago, the half-pagan metropolis of Numidia. Here he formed a liaison with a woman (name unknown) with whom he lived for fifteen years and who bore him a son, Adeodatus.

Hitherto dissolute, Augustine came to a turning point about 373, when he was inspired by a reading of Cicero’s Hortensius to seek “wisdom.” Attracted by the cosmology and moral teachings of Manichaeism, he became a convert to that dualistic Gnostic religion. Nine years later, having become convinced that it lacked rationality, he abandoned it. In 384, after about ten years of teaching rhetoric in Tagaste, Carthago, and Rome, Augustine secured an appointment as professor of rhetoric and court orator in Milan, then the capital of the Western Roman Empire. Now a widow, Monica followed him to Milan and, concerned for his spiritual and economic welfare, arranged for his engagement to a Christian heiress. Augustine dismissed his concubine but retained their son. In his Confessions Augustine was to recall that separation from his mistress caused him excruciating pain.

As an imperial representative, Augustine met Ambrose, the scholarly bishop of Milan, whose sermons persuaded him that it was possible to be both a Christian and an intellectual. However, a close friendship with Ambrose did not develop, and Christian Neoplatonists in Milan were more influential in bringing Augustine to an acceptance of Christianity. In July 386, according to the dramatic account in the Confessions, Augustine surrendered to Christ. Resigning his professorship, and terminating his engagement with the Milanese heiress, he was baptized by Ambrose on Easter Sunday in 387. A new life dawned for Augustine, and he determined to return to Africa to establish a monastery. On their way back to Africa, Monica died and was buried in Ostia, Italy. In his Confessions, Augustine paid a very loving tribute to his mother.

Although Augustine loved and respected the two principal women in his life, his mother and his concubine, his writings were to reinforce early Christian antifeminism. Augustine wrote that only men were made in the true image of God; women were in the image of God only insofar as they were wives, engaged in procreation. Women were symbols of carnality, although they too with God’s grace could attain salvation.

Augustine’s fame as a preacher and theologian developed after his return to Africa. In 391, while on a visit to the port city of Hippo (or Hippo Regius; today Annaba, Algeria), he had the priesthood virtually thrust upon him by the local congregation. In 396 he became sole bishop (he had been co-bishop with Valerius) and remained such until his death.

As custom then dictated, he was both chief ecclesiastical officer and civil magistrate. Indefatigable, he found time to lead a semimonastic life, attend religious conferences, and write numerous theological tracts. Original sin, grace, predestination, freedom of the will, Scripture, heresy, philosophy, history, and sexuality were among the diverse topics that engaged his attention.

Two works became classics: the Confessions and City of God. Written in 397, the Confessions conveyed profound psychological and spiritual insight. Though relating some details of his childhood and adulthood, Augustine’s intention was to glorify God, express repentance for his sins, and encourage others to seek God. The City of God, written between 414 and 427, was prompted by a shattering event, the sack of Rome in 410. In the first part of this work, Augustine set out to show that the disaster was not caused by desertion of pagan temples for Christian altars, as some Romans maintained, but by inner rot. In the second part, Augustine elucidated a philosophy of history that was linear, not cyclical. He argued that the result of the sin of Adam and Eve was the creation of two cities, two societies, the City of Man (the earthly city) and the City of God (the heavenly city). The two were not separate but intertwined, to be separated only at the Last Judgment.

In the early church Augustine was best known for combating heresy. His first fifteen years as bishop of Hippo were dominated by controversy with Donatism, a puritanical branch of Christianity that had a strong presence in Africa. In contrast with Donatist views, Augustine maintained that apostates who repented did not require rebaptism, and that the sacraments had a validity of their own, regardless of the state of grace of their administrators. After the issuance of an imperial edict, Augustine, who had sought a meeting ground with Donatist bishops, reluctantly acquiesced in the use of force against the Donatist churches. The concept of religious freedom was unknown at that time.

Other teachings that Augustine struggled against were Manichaeism, which he knew from personal experience, and Pelagianism. A recent arrival into Africa, Pelagianism denied that original sin had totally vitiated human nature. In opposition to this thesis, Augustine contended that the sin of Adam and Eve, passed on to all of posterity, had alienated human persons from God and therefore reconciliation could be achieved only by baptism.

Augustine died 28 August 430 during the Vandal siege of Hippo. A cult of Augustine spread quickly in Europe, and his canonization was not the result of any papal procedure (none existed at the time) but of popular acclaim. In 1295 Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed Augustine a doctor of the church.

Augustine’s influence on western Christianity was unparalleled until Thomas Aquinas appeared in the thirteenth century. Augustinianism with its Platonic overtones gave way to Scholasticism with its Aristotelian underpinnings. During the Reformation era, Luther and Calvin revived Augustinian ideas regarding predestination. In more modern times Augustine’s influence may be found in the works of Blaise Pascal, Jacques Maritain, and Joseph Ratzinger (elected as Pope Benedict XVI in 2005), among others, as well as in some of the documents of Vatican II. Though a man of his time in most matters, Augustine as a theologian and philosopher showed independence and originality.


  1. (1958). City of God (G. G. Walsh, et al., Trans.). New York: Doubleday Image.
  2. (2001). The confessions (R. Warner, Trans.). New York: Signet Classic.
  3. Brown, P. (1967). Augustine of Hippo. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  4. O’Donnell, J. J. (1985). Augustine. Boston: Twayne.
  5. Wills, G. (1999). Saint Augustine. New York: Viking Penguin.
  6. Wills, G. (2002). Saint Augustine’s memory. New York: Viking Penguin.

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