His childhood and youth
Aurelius Augustinus was born on November 13, 354 in Thagaste in Numidia (today’s Souk Arhas in northwestern Algeria). Although his mother, St. Monica, was a devout Christian, his father Patricius, a civil servant with the city, was not baptized until he was on his deathbed. Despite the fact that Augustine, according to early Christian practice, was not baptized as a child, Monica brought him up in the Catholic faith. The extremely bright boy went to the primary school in his hometown and to grammar school in the provincial capital of Madaura. At the age of sixteen, he moved to Carthage to study rhetoric. There, however, he turned to Manichaeism. At that time, he thought the bible was barbaric and incomprehensible. In Carthage, Augustine led a life of debauchery, entered into a relationship with a woman whose name is unknown which lasted until about 384, and brought forth a son in 372 (Adeodatus).
After completing his studies, Augustine first taught in Thagaste and in Carthage. In 383, he moved his school to Rome. During this period, he also abandoned Manichaeism and became a philosophical skeptic. When he received the position of a professor of rhetoric in Milan in 384, the preachings of St. Ambrosius, who was the bishop of the Emperor’s capital, initiated a conversion process in Augustine. He experienced the moment of his conversion, in which all doubt regarding his faith disappeared, in the garden of his house in Milan on August 1, 386. He kept hearing a child’s voice calling, as if in play, “Tolle lege” (take it and read). He considered this an act of divine providence, opened the book with the letters of Paul he happened to have with him, and started reading, “13Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Romans 13:13-14). After this event, Augustine resigned from his position in the Emperor’s service and withdrew with a few friends to a country estate near Cassiciacum. On Easter night of 387, he received the sacrament of baptism from the hands of St. Ambrosius.
The role model for the “vita communis”
Back in his hometown of Thagaste, Augustine lived communally with a few likeminded people (vita communis) in the family’s house from 388 onward. During a visit to the Numidian port city of Hippo Regius (today’s Annaba, formerly Bône, in Algeria), he was ordained as a priest in 390/391 in order to support the city’s bishop Valerius there. In Hippo, he also continued his monastic life in the so-called garden monastery. After he had succeeded Valerius as a bishop in 395/396, and he founded an abbey in his bishop’s house, where he lived communally with the city’s clerics. Augustine died during the Vandals’ siege of the city of Hippo on August 28, 430. His relics are worshipped today in the church of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro in Pavia near Milan.
Without a doubt, Augustine is the greatest philosopher among the Church Fathers, and one of the church’s greatest theologians overall. His very numerous writings and sermons exerted a major influence on all of occidental theology, philosophy, mysticism, constitutional law, and church policy. His works are distinguished by perfection in language and style. But in his sermons for the people, he intentionally refrained from any rhetorical flourishes. Mighty with the word and pen, he successfully fought the false teachings of the Donatists, Manicheans, and above all, the Pelagians. His superiority came to the fore in particular due to the fact that he wanted his teachings to be openly criticized so that he would be able to respond. He was also willing to change his opinion if the correctness of an argument convinced him. From among his great works, only three shall be highlighted here:
Famous above all others, the thirteen volumes of his autobiographical Confessiones include religious contemplations about his own inner development up to when he was baptized and beyond. It is the story of a soul in crisis, and its ascent to a new life.
De civitate Dei
His great apologetic work “The City of God” (De civitate Dei) was Augustine’s response to the fact that the belief in pagan gods had been relinquished. In this draft of a theology of history, he sees history as a fight between the “city of God” (faith) and the secular state (lack of faith). These two realms cannot be separated in the earth’s history. Their separation will not be performed until the Last Judgment takes place.
In his dogmatic main work “On the Trinity” (De Trinitate), Augustine discusses the enigma of the trinity of God. From this collection of references from the Holy Scriptures, he issues dogmatic statements. He assumes the unity of God, and then arrives at the distinction between three godly persons, as well as the relationships among them.