Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

51. North Africa: Augustine of Hippo — I

Augustine was born of a Christian mother (Monnica) and a pagan father (Patricius) in 354 in Thagaste in the province of Numidia, North Africa. Pursuing a career as a rhetorician, he received appointment in 384 to teach rhetoric in Milan. Listening to Ambrose’s sermons removed the intellectual difficulties Augustine had with the Christian faith. That and other factors led to his conversion in 386 and his receiving baptism at age thirty-two from Ambrose on Easter Sunday, 387.1 Returning to Thagaste, he gathered some friends in a monastic-like community, but the life of contemplative piety was not to last long. Ordained presbyter at Hippo in 391, he did most of the preaching, became co-bishop of the city in 395 and sole bishop the following year. Augustine’s enormous literary output accompanied an active pastoral life until his death in 430.


Augustine’s Own Experience with Baptism

Augustine’s experience in the delay of baptism was not unlike many of his age in the late fourth and early fifth century.2 Shortly after his birth, his mother had him en-

1. That Ambrose administered the baptism is stated in Letter 147.52.

2. For this chapter I am much indebted to William Harmless, Augustine and the Catechumenate (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1995), and his summaries of “Baptism” and “Catechumens, Catechumenate” in Allan D. Fitzgerald, ed., Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), pp. 84–91, 145–149. Also helpful are R. De Latte, “Saint Augustin et le baptême: Étude liturgico-historique du rituel baptismal des adultes chez Saint Augustin,” Questions liturgiques 56 (1975): 177-223; Vittorino Grossi, La catechesi battesimale agli inizi del V secolo: Le fonti agostiniane (Rome: Institutum Patristicum “Augustinianum,” 1993), an expanded and updated version of his La liturgia battesimale in S. Agostino: Studio sulla catechesi del peccato originale negli anni 393-412 (Rome: Institutum Patristicum “Augustinianum,” 1970), and his summary, “Baptismus,” in E. Mayer et al., Augustinus Lexikon (Basel: Schwabe & Co., 1990), Vol. 1, cols. 583-591; and in Latin, Benedictus Busch, “De initiatione christiana secundum sanctum Augustinum,” Ephemerides liturgicae 52 (1938): 159–178, 385–483.

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