If you have every vaguely wondered about Augustine (for some strange reason)… I did. After I heard the Switchfoot song Something More… yes, Emily laughed at me when I said that so I decided to write my Christian History essay on him, just to find out a bit more. A decision I fractionally regret as it was painfully slow. Consequently I found out rather a lot, namely that he’s a highly complicated kind of person with wacked out ideas, some really good ones and that Cert IV (to play down and incoporate Educational standards in to this one sided conversation) students shouldn’t bother researching him as it requires far too much effort.
So instead of reading a biography three books deep you can just read my essay, but only if you are vaguely interested… (qu. should I post this kind of stuff on the web, or am I opening it for plagarism?? Very aware that although this site is not opensourced… could be found via some buried search engine link. So I guess I’ll just go through and remove various bibliographical details, that will at least make it painful (or is that plagarism on my behalf?). Dont copy work, it’s stealing). 1580words
Aurelius Augustine (354-430) known also as Augustine of Hippo has been aptly named as an ‘early church father’, his ideas and writings have had significant impact on the Christian world. Augustine has been influential both historically and theologically. His books have touched a complete range of doctrinal questions and his ability to provoke has encouraged a greater development of the collective Christian mind.
Augustine Bishop of Hippo
Born in North Africa (354) to a pagan father and a Christian mother, Augustine’s life reflected his upbringing, he had a double-sided nature and felt both a deep sense of sin and a profound sense of God’s grace. (Bull, 1967: 227) Augustine had a mistress and a child by the time he was eighteen, became proficient in rhetoric and moved into academic circles in Milan. While walking alone in a garden, Augustine had a conversion experience, where he heard a child’s voice instructing him to read. Augustine found a Bible on a nearby seat and opened it at Romans 13:13-14. From this point on in his life, Augustine has provided answers to the world. His philosophy has played a major role in the foundations of Christendom. (Shelly, 1995: 125)
A chief influence in Augustine’s life was Bishop Ambrose. From Ambrose, Augustine discovered that Christianity could be both eloquent and intelligent (Shelly, 1995: 126) After a reluctant ordination as a priest and his return to North Africa, Augustine was selected by Bishop Valerius as an assistant. Augustine became his successor as the Bishop of Hippo until his death on the 28th August 430.
As the Bishop of Hippo, Augustine had great exposure to both church and state issues. His philosophical formation of ideas about two kingdoms led him to write ‘The City of God’ which has been called a “philosophy of human history” (Bull, 1967: 232) Augustine did not despise Rome or the ‘earthly city’, and declared that both the church and state should serve God. Although never stated explicitly, Augustine implied the identification of the city of God with the church, and the city of the world with the state; this was critiqued by Reinhold Niebur for “assuming that the church as an historical institution can never become a vehicle of evil and never really stands under the judgment of God.” (Bloesch, 1978: 136)
In regards to Augustine’s significance, a theory has been put forward that the practical nature of Augustine’s writings is due to his historical era mirroring our own. Augustine supplied answers for those in his own time, an explanation for the destruction of Rome providing hope to those around him. His response to “the moral and theological concerns of a world racked by pillage and destruction, random and chaotic violence… attempts to answer the question of innocent suffering”. (McPherson, 2000) this question is just as relevant today, and authors and theologians go back to his work to gain perspective and insight.
Sin and Salvation
Just as suffering was a common theme in the lives of those in the 400’s so was sin. Augustine’s struggles with sin were mostly that of relating to sex and women. He had a profound self-awareness that this was his downfall, books such as, Confessions and The City of God carried a negative approach to both sexuality and women, this, “was passed on to generations of Christians, making them uneasy about what Augustine called their ‘lower appetites’.” (Guthridge, 1999: 51) Many copies of Augustine’s books have had their anti-feministic parts edited from them, although examples still exist such as, ““What is the difference – [Augustine] wrote to a friend – whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman” (Guthridge, 1999: 51). This legacy has tainted many of Augustine’s works although they are far outweighed by the many documented scriptually based insights.
The deep sense of sin felt by Augustine was contradicted harshly by Pelagius a British monk. Their views differed greatly in that Pelagius saw sin as a bad example set by Adam, and Augustine defined sin being an instinctive nature, human’s being powerless to their will and that “God’s grace must come first in living the good life, as well as in assisting it.” (Bull, 1967: 234) Augustine rejected the idea that, “God created evil as a full-fledged malignant principle. The human person, from free will, commits a sin and partakes of that death we name evil.” (Elshtain, 1998) Augustine’s view of human imperfections in dictating our motivations opposed the monastic structures of the time and Anti-Pelagian literature was penned to condemn the current perspective of sin and the implications for predestination. Today’s doctrine of sin has found its origin within Augustine’s principles, although many Christians have had difficulty accepting his position of complete human helplessness.
Augustine’s emphasis is on salvation through grace however he also places extreme significance on the sacraments. Baptism is a regeneration of grace (Shelly, 1995: 130) and both faith and baptism are necessary for salvation (Bloesch, 1978: 214). From this stems Augustine’s concern for unbaptised infants. This disquiet is expressed in many of today’s denominations and their conviction of infantile baptism.
Augustine believed in eternal torment for any who chose to reject Christ. Well-known Reformers with similar views have solidified his perception of Heaven and Hell. E.g. Martin Luther held a similar position on “heaven and hell as the outcome of divine foreordination.” (Bloesch, 1978: 215)
Throughout history, renowned individuals have used and recommended Augustine’s work. Names such as Alcuin from the court of Charlemagne advised the use his book, De Catechizandis Rudibus ‘On Catching the Uninstructed’ in aid of evangelism. Others such as Martin of Braga and Primin drew on Augustine’s work for insight into the Christian life. (Fletcher, 1998: 222, 235)
Augustine’s book Confessions has been described as; ‘the greatest work of spiritual autobiography ever written’ (Fletcher, 1998: 28) from this, and other works, a theology of mission can be constructed. His firm conviction that the end of the world was near drove him to formulate his ideas of citizenship in heaven, Augustine recites, ‘so long as he is in this mortal body, he is a peregrinus (stranger/exile/pilgrim) in a foreign land’ (Fletcher, 1998: 30) and led him to write eschatological books such as, De Fine Saeculi (On the End of the World).
Despite confirming the urgency of preaching the gospel to the world, Augustine misconstrue or rather did not follow through the logical nature of Romans 10:14-15. This misunderstanding can be defined by Augustine’s younger contemporary – Prosper of Aquitaine as, divine grace alone can bring about conversion and if humans set about on mission we are interfering with its workings. (Fletcher, 1998: 32) Augustine stressed that we must believe before we can understand.
Divine grace is irresistible and the issue between free will and determinism will continually in Christian circles be a point of dissent. (Bull, 1967: 235) Augustine’s emphasis upon divine grace may have clouded his view upon mission. However, this ‘clouded view’ in light of the modern church’s implications on mission across the world served a purpose in elaborating Augustine’s position as not only the Father of the church in the west, but also as a significant influence on the East. The interest of the eastern Church was the nature of God, the divinity of Jesus and the escape of the soul to God, where in the west it was the nature of man and God’s work in man through grace. (Bull, 1967: 233).
War and Peace
As a bishop in a time of many church divisions, Augustine was confronted with the Donatist controversy. His rejection of Donatist theologies of a ‘pure church’ and his support for the Catholic Church presented him with the concern of the use of force in a religious situation. (Shelly, 1995: 128) Augustine’s views on war have shaped and led to the justification of many leadership concerns in the Christian world. Augustine established that although war is neither desirable nor advised, if it is the means by which to ensure peace it is permissible, however, “War is and must remain a cautionary tale, not an incautious and reckless call to arms. For peace is a great good…nothing better can be found.” (Elshtain, 1998)
The hundreds of theories and theological ideas that Augustine has offered to the world have presented him as one of the greatest theologians of all time. His books are both doctrinal and devotional; they explore the nature of God, morals, human ethics, sin, grace and history. (McPherson, 2000) His arguments are Biblically based and formed; the volume and variety of works is enormous. Augustine has left a profound legacy to the world.
…Incase you were wondering, this research did not help me one bit in relating Augustine’s life to the Switchfoot song – I should probably go back and listen to it again, however I did get a fairly good mark. 🙂