Confessions of St. Augustine

Augustine, Saint

Saint Augustine (ô´gəstēn, –tĬn; ôgŭs´tĬn), Lat. Aurelius Augustinus, 354–430, one of the four Latin Fathers, bishop of Hippo (near present-day Annaba, Algeria), b. Tagaste (c.40 mi/60 km S of Hippo).

Life

Augustine's mother, St. Monica, was a great influence in his life. She brought him up as a Christian, but he gave up his religion when he went to school at Carthage. There he became adept in rhetoric. In his Confessions he repents of his wild youth in Carthage, during which time he fathered an illegitimate son. At some time in his youth he became a convert to Manichaeism. After 376 he went to Rome, where he taught rhetoric with success; in 384, at the urging of the Manichaeans, he went to Milan to teach.

His years at Milan were the critical period of his life. Already distrustful of Manichaeism, he came to renounce it after a deep study of Neoplatonism and skepticism. Augustine, troubled in spirit, was greatly drawn by the eloquent fervor of St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan. After two years of great doubt and mental disquietude, Augustine suddenly decided to embrace Christianity. He was baptized on Easter in 387. Soon afterward he returned to Tagaste, where he lived a monastic life with a group of friends. In 391, while he was visiting in Hippo, he was chosen against his will to be a Christian priest there. For the rest of his life he remained in Hippo, where he became auxiliary bishop in 395 and bishop soon after. He died in the course of the siege of Hippo by the Vandals. Feast: Aug. 28.

His Works and Teachings

St. Augustine's influence on Christianity is thought by many to be second only to that of St. Paul, and theologians, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, look upon him as one of the founders of Western theology. His Confessions is considered a classic of Christian autobiography. This work (c.400), the prime source for St. Augustine's life, is a beautifully written apology for the Christian convert. Next to it his best-known work is the City of God (after 412)—a mammoth defense of Christianity against its pagan critics, and famous especially for the uniquely Christian view of history elaborated in its pages.

Augustine regarded all history as God's providential preparation of two mystical cities, one of God and one of the devil, to one or the other of which all humankind will finally belong. His greatest purely dogmatic work is On the Trinity, but much of his theological teaching comes from his polemic writings. His works against the Manichaeans, especially Against Faustus (his Manichaean teacher), are important for the light they throw on this religion. Against Donatism St. Augustine directed two works, On Baptism and On the Correction of the Donatists, in which he formulated the idea, since then become part of Roman Catholicism, that the church's authority is the guarantee of the Christian faith, its own guarantee being the apostolic succession.

The most important and vitriolic controversy in which St. Augustine was involved was his battle against Pelagianism. The Pelagians denied original sin and the fall of humanity. The implication of this aroused Augustine, who held that humanity was corrupt and helpless. From his writings the great controversies on grace proceed, and as professed followers of Augustine, John Calvin and the Jansenists developed predestinarian theologies. Though revering Augustine, many theologians have refused to accept his more extreme statements on grace. Another of St. Augustine's important treatises, On the Work of Monks, has been much used by monastics. He was also a supremely important biblical exegete. His letters are numerous and revealing. His most important works are available in translation.

Bibliography

See biographies by G. Wills (1999), P. R. L. Brown (rev. ed. 2000), and J. J. O'Donnell (2005); R. W. Battenhouse, ed., A Companion to the Study of St. Augustine (1955); R. A. Markus, Saeculum: History and Society in the Theology of St. Augustine (1970); E. Teselle, Augustine the Theologian (1970); G. Wills, Augustine's Confessions: A Biography (2011).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Augustine's Confessions: A Biography
Garry Wills.
Princeton University Press, 2011
St. Augustine's Confessions: The Odyssey of Soul
Robert J. O'Connell.
Fordham University Press, 1989 (2nd edition)
Desire and Delight: A New Reading of Augustine's Confessions
Margaret R. Miles.
Crossroad, 1992
Language and Love: Introducing Augustine's Religious Thought through the Confessions Story
William Mallard.
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994
FREE! Monasticism: Its Ideals and History, and the Confessions of St. Augustine
Adolf Harnack; E. E. Kellett; F. H. Marseille.
Williams & Norgate, 1901
Augustine: A Very Short Introduction
Henry Chadwick.
Oxford University Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Confessions"
Death and the Disinterested Spectator: An Inquiry into the Nature of Philosophy
Ann Hartle.
State University of New York, 1986
Librarian’s tip: "Confession and Apology" begin on p. 85
Soundings in St. Augustine's Imagination
Robert J. O'Connell.
Fordham University Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of St. Augustine's Confessions begins on p. 132
Paradoxes of Time in Saint Augustine
Roland J. Teske.
Marquette University Press, 1996
The Confessions of Saint Augustine: An Annotated Bibliography of Modern Criticism, 1888-1995
Richard Severson.
Greenwood Press, 1996
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