Augustine: A Primer
Who was Saint Augustine
Saint Augustine (354–430 AD) was a philosopher and theologian who had a major influence on the development of Western Christianity and philosophy. He is considered one of the greatest Christian theologians in history.
Born to a Christian mother, Monica, and a pagan father, Patricius, Augustine was exposed to both Christian and non-Christian teachings in his youth. He studied rhetoric in Carthage before moving to Rome and then Milan in search of further education. In Milan he encountered Ambrose of Milan, who introduced Augustine to Neoplatonism.
Augustine eventually converted to Christianity at age thirty-three after hearing a child’s voice telling him to “take up and read” during his time spent in contemplation at an abandoned garden near Milan. After his conversion he devoted himself entirely to the study of scripture. His most influential works were Confessions and City of God.
Confessions consists of thirteen books written as an autobiography from his early life up until his conversion when he was thirty-three years old. It is considered one of the first examples of autobiography ever written and provides an insightful look into Augustine’s spiritual journey. City of God is a theological work that examines the fallibility of Roman gods and leads readers on an exploration into how faith can be applied practically in modern life.
After leaving Milan Augustine returned to North Africa where he established several monasteries throughout Hippo Regius that eventually evolved into full-fledged communities devoted to prayer, meditation and learning various trades while living together communally according to strict rules set by Augustine himself. It was there that he wrote some of his greatest works such as De Trinitate (On The Trinity), De Genesi ad litteram (On Genesis Literally Interpreted), De Civitate Dei (City Of God) and more than 100 other sermons or homilies on various topics related to Christian theology.
Augustine also served as bishop for Hippo Regius beginning around 395 AD until he died at age 75 due mostly likely to fever or dysentery from famine brought on by invading Vandals in 430 AD. Throughout his life Augustine continued developing ideas on morality, grace, predestination, original sin, salvation, free will and more which have influenced many generations since then and still impact Christians today who are familiar with Augustinian thought or doctrine.
Augustine’s Impact on Christian Thought
Saint Augustine had a profound impact on Christian thought that has been felt for centuries. His prolific writings and teachings have shaped the way many people think about morality, grace, predestination, original sin, salvation, free will and other topics related to Christianity.
One of the most influential works attributed to him is Confessions, a thirteen-book autobiography recounting his spiritual journey from childhood up until the point when he converted to Christianity at age thirty-three. It was one of the first examples of an autobiography ever written and provided readers with a comprehensive view of how Augustine came to his faith. In City of God, Augustine examines the shortcomings of Roman paganism and leads readers on an exploration into how faith can be applied practically in modern life.
Augustine also made important contributions to Neoplatonic philosophy which would later become an integral part of medieval Christian theology. This influence can be seen in his views on immortality which drew heavily from Plato’s conceptualization of the soul. He also used elements from Aristotle’s works such as logic in his philosophical writings.
The Augustinian Rule or Regula Monastica provided monks throughout Europe with guidelines for living communally and observing monasticism (or asceticism). The rule established regulations for prayer and meditation as well as rules governing various trades practiced by members in order to sustain themselves financially while living together in monasteries established by Saint Augustine himself.
In addition to these contributions, Augustine contributed a great deal towards developing ideas on morality and grace that still remain relevant today in Christian circles. His idea of grace as unmerited favor was revolutionary at the time and is still accepted as a cornerstone belief among many Christians today who take their cues from Augustinian thought or doctrine. His thoughts on predestination also laid much groundwork for further theological exploration into this controversial topic over centuries that followed.
It’s clear that Saint Augustine had an immense impact on theological thought throughout history which is still present today in academic circles and religious communities alike. His writings continue to provide readers with insights into spiritual matters that could be used for personal growth as well as expanding knowledge about Christian beliefs all around the world.
Common Criticisms of Augustine
Reformed theologians have long held certain criticisms of Augustine’s theological writings and teachings. Although his works were influential in the history of Christian thought, some Reformed theologians view the Augustinian doctrine as incomplete or lacking in certain respects.
One example is the concept of double predestination, which states that God has predetermined who will be saved and who will not before anyone is even born. This idea was derived from Augustine’s belief that salvation is a gift from God rather than something that can be earned through merit or good deeds. Consequently, those who are not chosen to be saved by God are thus pre-determined to suffer eternal damnation—an idea which many Reformed theologians find too harsh and unacceptable given their own beliefs on grace and free will.
Another criticism directed at Augustine pertains to his views on original sin and its effects on human nature. According to his teachings, all people are born inherently sinful due to the original sin committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; thus, it is impossible for humans to attain holiness or righteousness unless they receive God’s grace first. This viewpoint contrasts with other Reformed traditions which emphasize the presence of “prevenient grace”—the belief that individuals have enough freedom to choose between good and evil without predetermination from an external source like God.
Lastly, some Reformed theologians take issue with Augustine’s theory of baptismal regeneration which states that baptism is necessary for salvation as well as spiritual regeneration. Most Reformed theologians believe instead in justification by faith alone—the idea that humans are justified before God through a confession of faith regardless of being baptized or not—which stands in direct contrast to Augustine’s views on baptismal regeneration.
It can be seen then how various criticisms have been leveled against Saint Augustine by reformed theologians over the years due to perceived discrepancies or incompatibilities between his teachings and their own beliefs regarding grace, free will, predestination and other topics related to Christian theology. While it cannot be denied that Augustinian thought has impacted many generations since then, these disagreements provide us with an interesting perspective into how different branches of Christianity approach similar topics from different angles while still sharing common ground on the fundamentals of their faiths.