Saint Augustine

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Augustine was the son of Patricius, a Roman official, and his Christian wife, Monica. He was commonly known as Aurelius Augustinus, but there is no proof this name was given him either at birth or baptism. He had at least one brother, Navigius, and a sister, Perpetua (who became a nun). Except for the five years he taught in Italy, Augustine spent his entire life in North Africa. Following a classical education at a Tagaste grammar school, Augustine attended the Madauros academy. Fond of the Latin language and literature, he never knew or liked Greek. The patronage of a local noble, Romanianus, allowed Augustine to go to the University of Carthage. There in 371 c.e., his mistress gave birth to their son, Adeodatus.

After reading Cicero’s Hortensius (now lost), Augustine embraced the life of a philosopher. In 373-374 c.e., he taught grammar at Tagaste, and until 383 c.e., he lectured on rhetoric in Carthage. Next he went to Italy, teaching rhetoric in Rome and Milan. Successively, Augustine accepted and rejected various philosophies. For a while, he was a Manichaean, then affirmed the Skepticism of the New Academy. In a memorable work, Contra academicos (386 c.e.; Against the Academicians, 1957), Augustine repudiated Skepticism and took up Neoplatonism, which profoundly affected his character and career.

In Milan, Augustine was influenced by the preaching of Bishop Ambrose and the prayers of his mother. Following a dramatic conversion, Augustine and Adeodatus were baptized on Easter, April 25, 387 c.e. Returning to Africa, in 388 c.e., Augustine divested himself of his wealth, living a life of poverty and celibacy. He retained only his home, which became a monastery. By popular demand, against his will, he was made deacon and then priest in Hippo in 391 c.e. Five years later, Augustine became bishop of Hippo, a city of 30,000 largely non-Christian inhabitants. Until his death, Augustine expounded and extended the Catholic faith as prelate, preacher, apologist, philosopher, theologian, and author.

Augustine left behind a large body of surviving writing, including one hundred books and treatises, two hundred letters, and more than five hundred sermons. His major works include De Trinitate (399-419 c.e.; On the Trinity, 1948), an exposition of the Christian doctrine of God; Confessiones (c. 397-401 c.e.; Confessions, 1912), an adventure in autobiography that amounted to “one long extended prayer”; and De civitate...

(The entire section is 1038 words.)