|LIFE AND MINISTRY OF AUGUSTINE
When one hears the name Augustine what is the first thought that dives into their mind? In today’s society, in the secular world, this name probably means very little, but in the Christian world this name echoes throughout the history of the church. This man would become a strong pillar in the church of his day and be a strong foundation to the church teachings that are present in this very day. He was an early church father whose studies and writings have influenced all corners of Christianity. Augustine was a polemicist and a preacher. Also, he was an administrator of the early church and an amazing theologian. One author states very clearly that, “Both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism pay tribute to the contribution of Augustine to the cause of Christianity.” F. F. Bruce stated that Augustine was, “The greatest Christian since New Testament times.” Another author would go even further and claim; “The greatest of all church fathers was Augustine” Who was this man in which books, written hundreds of years later, would refer to him as the greatest of the church fathers?
This paper seeks to do two things. The first is to give a brief summary of the life of this great man. Under this first section of Augustine’s life this paper will discuss three aspects of his life. The first aspect will be the events of his youth. The second aspect will be a brief discussion of the two philosophies in which he gained partial yet incomplete truth. The last will focus on his conversion which is the focal transitional point in his life which would be the action that boosted him into the spotlight of the early church history. The second is to give an overview of his ministry. During this second section this paper will discuss how Augustine became the Bishop of Hippo and give a list of his works. Also, some of his more important works specifically Confessions and The City of God will be given a brief summary.
This paper will not to go into depth on any of the teachings that Augustine believed before he was converted such as, Manichaeism and Neoplatonism. Also, this paper will not try to argue of any specific view of Augustine’s religious practices whether they were pro Catholicism or pro Protestantism for example, infant baptism. Another thing this paper will not do is give a summary of every work that Augustine produced.
Augustine was born in the year 354 in Thagaste which is a North African town in the province of Numida. This area is now known as modern Souk Ahras and is located in Algeria. It is this place that Augustine would spend his childhood 200 miles from the sea surrounded by forest and high valleys. A place of farmers isolated from the business of the surrounding world. Peter Brown, a history professor at Princeton, states, “It was one of the many nuclei of egregious self-respect, which with the Romans had scattered all over North Africa: It called itself ‘the most resplendent’ council of Thagaste.”
Augustine’s father was Patricius who was a pagan, in contrast with his mother, and was a town councilor. He, therefore, was not somebody of rich descent. It is interesting to see many misconceptions of Augustine, for example, coming from a rich family when his father was considered a man of weak means. His father would take a major rule in helping Augustine to receive an education which was seemingly out of their family’s means. Peter Brown states, “His early life will be overshadowed by the sacrifices his father made to give him this vital education: Patricius and his family had to go poorly-dressed; he had to scrape; for one disastrous year Augustine found himself condemned to give up his studies at a pleasant ‘university-town; at Madaura (or Madauros: Modern Mdaourouch) to run wild in primitive Thagaste.” Even though his father would be the one who would spend so much time and effort sacrificing for his son it would be Augustine’s mother that would forever touch the heart of this early church father and generations of Christians to come. Her name was Monica. She was a Christian who prayed for her son on many occasions to become a believer, and on many occasions would weep for the immoral deeds of her son. Also, Augustine had siblings but not much is known about them except that one of them was probably a brother and the other a sister.
Augustine was sent to school in Madaruos to learn rhetoric and grammar. When he turns sixteen he, due to financial struggles that his father had, was unable to return for a year’s time. During this time he would sink into a pathetic level of immorality. Robert Markus, author of Life of Augustine section in Augustine through the ages, states: “At the age of sixteen he was recalled home, where he spent a year, on which he later looked back as depraved.” After this year of depravity in his life he would again find the means to return to school. He would return to his studies in Carthage late in the fall of 370 A.D. and at this time in his life does something that might seem foreign to the students of history today and to the modern Christian. He would take a mistress. Not much is known about this lady that Augustine would take to be his mistress. All that is really known is that he remained faithful to this mistress for thirteen years until his mother had arrange for him a Christian bride. Also, it was with this woman that he would bare and raise a son named Adeodatus. This woman would disappear in the live of Augustine when he finally married. She would go home to Africa while her son stayed with Augustine. Father Hugh Pope states, “A son, Adeodatus, was born to him when he was about eighteen, and it was not till years after, when he was at Milan, that he broke off his irregular life; the mother of Adeodatus returning to Africa and there vowing herself to a life of chastity.” Soon after Adeodatus was born his father would pass.
In the year 373 Augustine on a journey for truth accepted and adopted the strange teachings of the Manicheans. Manichaeism is a philosophical system similar to Gnosticism. It is a dualistic philosophy that mixed Christians ideas with that of eastern mysticism.
Earle E. Carnes, author of Christianity through the Centuries, states: “Mani worked a curious combination of Christians thought, Zoroastrianism, and other oriental religious ideas into a thoroughgoing dualistic philosophy.” His hunger for truth would not be quenched with this system of thought and so he would turn from it to something far worse which was Neoplatonism. Manichaeism sought to fuse Christian teaching into teachings of the world, but Neoplatonism did not seek to combine Christian teaching with anything in fact it had nothing remotely in common with the Christian teachings of the day. This philosophy was based on the earlier teachings of Plato and was a form of mysticism. Cairns states, “Neoplatonism is a good illustration of the ontological type of mystical philosophy.” Augustine had, like many do, fallen for false views while trying to fulfill that deep inner desire for truth.
In 384 Augustine took a position as a professor of rhetoric at Milan. A position that would open the door for future events that would supernaturally changed Augustine’s life forever. In Milan he would come under the influence of a man in which he would see truth that he had been blinded to his whole entire life. A truth that his Godly mother had known since her youth and that truth was the revealed word of God. The man that would so influence him was Ambrose who was also an early church father and the bishop of Milan. One author shows why Ambrose would be an influence to Augustine, “Augustine was very fond of oratory, and he would often go to hear Ambrose preach.” It is apparent that Holy Spirit was slowly working in the life of Augustine to be ready to accept the Lord on a personal basis. It would be in the year 386 that he would experience conversion. He was in a garden contemplating spiritual issues when he heard a child’s voice crying out for him to take and read. He would then read from the book of Romans and he was converted from deadened thinking to light. Cairns states, “Augustine opened his Bible to Romans 13:13-14, and the reading brought the light to his soul which he had been unable to find either in Manichaeism or Neoplatonism.” Dr. Philip Schaff states,
“This yearning, and his reverence for the sweet and holy name of Jesus, though crowded into the background, attended him in his studies at the schools of Maduar and Carthage, on his journeys to Rome and Milan, and on his tedious wanderings though the labyrinth of canal pleasures, Manichaean mock-wisdom, Academic skepticism, and Platonic idealism; till at last the prayers of his mother, the sermons of Ambrose, the biography of St. Anthony, and, above all, the Epistles of Paul, as so many instruments in the had of the Holy Spirit, wrought in the man of three and thirty years that wonderful changed which made him an incalculable blessing to the whole Christian world, and brought even the sins and errors of his youth into the service of truth.”
Now he had finally understood his mother unlike he ever had before and immediately his life changed especially in the area of morals. B.K. Kuiper states, “Until his death in 430, he devoted himself heart and soul to the service of the church.” Cairns also states, “From that time until his death in 430 he gave his life to Episcopal administration, studying, and writing.” After his conversion Ambrose would baptize him and he would be faced with an extreme tragedy which would be the loss of his mother who had been such a testimony to his life. Monica would die on a trip back to Africa. Dr. Schaff states:
“For Monnica died on a homeward journey, in Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber, in her fifty-sixth year, in the arms of her son, after enjoying with him a glorious conversation that soared above the confines of space and time, and was a foretaste of the eternal Sabbath-rest of the saints.”
BISHOP OF HIPPO
Hippo is located in eastern Algeria and was a Numidian costal city. The city depended on sea trade due to a large natural sea port. It would be at this very city that Augustine would give up his dreams of old and start down a path that would culminate with the teachings and writings that Christians can rely on today. After being ordained as a priest in 391 he was pressured into being the assistant to the bishop at that time whose name was Valerius. It seemed that it was a common thing at that time for the church to see local talent and snatch the person up for religious office. Dr. Schaff states, “Then, in 391, he was chosen presbyter against his will, by the voice of the people, which, as in the similar cases of Cyprian and Ambrose, proved to be the voice of God, in the Numidian maritime city of Hippo Regius; and in 395 he was elected bishop in the same city.” Today some churches still seemingly practice this type of philosophy of ministry. They see somebody that seemingly has talent in ministry and want them to take a pastoral role without really considering God’s will for that church and or that person. After he accepted the position of Bishop he would stay there for the extent of his life which was thirty-eight years. While there at Hippo he would live a simple and ascetic life. Seemingly he was opposed to the comfortable lifestyle that some of his fellow bishops might have been enjoying. Pope states, “But his rapidly growing fame alarmed him. His humility took fright.”
Some of his duties at Hippo, which he saw as a burden, included: Chief minister in the regular celebration of the Eucharist; administration of baptism; preaching; pastoral care of members; leadership of clergy; leadership of property; financial leadership; business administration of the church; alms distribution; the care of orphans, widows, and the downtrodden; oversight of monks and nuns; and all other power given to him through the church. Dr. Schaff states, “He was especially devoted to the poor, and, like Ambrose, upon exigency, caused the church vessels to be melted down to redeem prisoners.” Besides all of these things he would accomplish so much more, for instance, preaching for up to five days in a row all around Africa. His labors went far beyond the coast of Africa because he became the intellectual head of the entire Western church of his time. F. F. Bruce, author of The Spreading Flame, states: “The spiritual and intellectual stature of Augustine may be gauged from the fact that all the main stream of western Christianity draw upon him – Roman, Lutheran, Genevan and Anglican.” He would go on from this position to write one hundred books, five hundred sermons, and two hundred letters. Also, from this position he would defend the orthodox position against Manichaean, Donatist, and Pelagian doctrine. It was Augustine that took the church through a time of heresy and schism. This is a picture of true conversion from a man who was immoral to a man who would stand against the wiles of the Devil and the harsh waves of trials.
CONFESSIONS/CITY OF GOD/OTHER WORKS
Some of the most important of Augustine’s writings are Confessions and City of God. This first book, Confessions was written in about 397 which would be about ten years after his conversion experience and it contains within it an autobiographical sketch of his life. B.K. Kuiper states, “In his Confessions Augustine lays bare the secrets of his early life and the innermost depths of his mind and heart.” It is an amazing look into the life and times of the century in which Augustine lived. One author states, “It is a literary, theological, and philosophical masterpiece.” Dr. Schaff states, “A more sincere more earnest book was never written.” The first nine books contain: prayers; confessions; a general picture of his life including his conversion and return to Africa. The last three books are devoted to philosophy. Many men and women have received spiritual blessings by reading this work. It helps Christians to see how God transforms people into his image. Cairns states, “Christians throughout the ages have found spiritual blessing in the reading of this work that Augustine wrote to God to praise him for the grace that He had extended to such a sinner as he.”
In his book The City of God Augustine give his position on history. Martin E. Marty states:
“Written after the fall of Rome under Alaric in 410 (writing seems to have occupied Augustine from 413 to 426) as a rebuttal to those who blamed the fall on Christian abolition of pagan worship, it discussed contrast between church and world. While it turned out to be a cosmic and universal philosophy of history, the work was put to more parochial use in succeeding centuries.”
This book was written between 413 and 427. It is the longest work of Augustine and probably has the most depth out of all of his other works. Dr. Schaff states, “They form the deepest and richest apologetic work of antiquity; begun in 413, after the occupation of Rome by the Gothic king Alaric, finish in 426, and often separately published.” It contains twenty-two books the first ten refute incorrect teaching. The rest of the books defend the Christian faith. F.F. Bruce states, “It reveals, as no doubt it helped to sustain, the spirit which enable the church to survive the Empire and to maintain faith and hope in a dark ending age.”
This part of the paper is going to give a list of some of the other works which Augustine completed during his ministry. The first work is Contra Academicos or Against the Skeptics which discusses how man can come to truth through philosophy but only if he has first received divine revelation from the Bible. The next work is De doctrina Christiana or On Christian Teaching, a great exegetical work, is a small manuscript discussing hermeneutics. Enchiridion ad Laurentium de fide spe et caritate or A Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love this work contains many of Augustine’s theological views. De haeresibus or translated On Heresies this work was a history of the various heresies that were around during the time in which he held office as bishop of Hippo. Cairns states, “He also wrote many polemical works to defend the faith from the false teachings of the Manicheans, the Donatists, and particularly the Pelagians.” The next work was Retractationes or Reconsiderations in which Augustine would go through the different stages of philosophical mindset how they changed over the years. The last work that is going to be described is De Trinitate or The Trinity which is his view on the Trinity. Cairns states, “Augustine also wrote theological treatises of which his De Trinitate, concerning the Trinity, is the most significant. The first seven books of the work are devoted to a scriptural exposition of that doctrine.” Augustine had many other works which are too numerous to be listed in this paper but these were some of the more important works of which the church would receive blessings.
After thirty-eight years of ministry Augustine would finally get to meet his creator when he passed away in 430. Brown states, “In August 430, Augustine fell ill with a fever. He knew he would die.” He would remain in Episcopal office in Hippo up until his death. He would pass at a time that was seemingly horrible for Hippo as it was being attack by Vandal invaders and it is said that he would die not reading the philosophies of the day but reading he Psalms. Dr. Schaff states, “In the last ten days of his life he spend in close retirement, in prayers and tears and repeated reading of the penitential Psalms, which he had caused to be written on the wall over his bed, that he might have them always before his eyes.” G.L. Keyes states, “When St. Augustine died in A.D. 430, Gaiseric was besieging his Episcopal city of Hippo.” Dr. Schaff states:
“The evening of his life was trouble by increasing infirmities of the body and by the unspeakable wretchedness which the barbarian Vandals spread over his county in their victorious invasion, destroying cities, villages, and churches, without mercy, and even besieging the fortified city of Hippo.”
Augustine would be looked upon for generations to come as a man who did amazing works not just for Catholicism but for many different branches of religion. Protestants would claim him as the forerunner of reformational ideas and the Roman church would consider him to be the father of ecclesiasticism. Cairns states, “Augustine is looked upon by Protestants as one who was a forerunner of Reformation ideas in his emphasis on salvation from original and actual sin as a result of the grace of a sovereign God who irresistible save those whom he has elected.” B.K. Kuiper states, “The teachings of Augustine largely dominated the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages; and from this greatest of all church rulers, Luther and the other Reformers also receive their inspiration.” All types of faith would take comfort and marvel in his works that discuss his personal life as a sinner who came to the beautiful place of salvation. A man who at one time lived only to fulfill his own sensual desire having a miraculous conversion experience that would save him from the slavery of his flesh and open to him the wonderful door of ministry for Jesus Christ.
This paper sought to give a brief outline of Augustine’s youth including such things as: facts about the territory in which Augustine would spend the majority of his life, Africa; facts about his parents including his father’s sacrificial attitude towards his son’s education and the witness of Augustine’s Christian mother; facts about his early education which would lead to many of his misguided searches for truth; facts about his mistress and son. Under this section of the paper Augustine’s different systems of philosophical beliefs were discussed which were Manichaeism and Neoplatonism. To conclude this section of the paper a brief discussion of Augustine’s conversion was given to help the reader see a dramatic change of both lifestyle and direction of this great church father. The next thing this paper sought to do was to discuss Augustine’s ministries at Hippo and his various important works. This paper showed how Augustine was basically forced into a church office and would spend the rest of his life serving God in this position. Also, it showed that during this time he would be in control of certain ministries and even though he was so bogged down by administrational duties he would go on to produce hundreds of works that would go on throughout history to serve as tools to the modern day Christian. Some of these works include Confessions and City of God which were some of the most important and popular works of Augustine. Confessions, as discussed, was about his own personal life and City of God, as, discussed, gave a picture of his personal view of history. Hopefully, this paper will help paint a picture for Christians today of the early church father Augustine and all that he did to help defend the Bible for centuries to come. It is best quoted, “Augustine, the man with upturned eye, with pen in the left hand, and a burning heart in the right (as he is usually represented), is a philosophical an theological genius of the first order towering like a pyramid about his ages, and looking down commandingly upon succeeding centuries.”
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