#7 Augustine of Hippo: 50 Figures in Church History that You Need to Know
By Ricky Njoto
We’ve been exploring the early church age with 6 figures; Justin Martir, Antony of Egypt, Eusebius of Caesarea, Athanasius, Jerome, and John Chrysostom. In this article, we will end the early church age by looking at the life of Augustine of Hippo (354–430 AD.).
- Augustine was born in 354 AD. in Thagaste (present day Algeria, North Africa). His mother was a devout Christian, and his father a pagan who only converted to Christianity in his death bed.
- Augustine was sent to school at the age of 11 at a small city called Madaurus in Thagaste. During these school years, Augustine realised the nature of sin for the first time. Along with his friends, he stole fruit he did not want from a garden. Later in the book The Confessions, he recalled that he had stolen the fruit not because he was hungry or he wanted it, but because “it was not permitted.” He realised, “It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own error.”
- As a young man, Augustine played around with the pleasures of the world, despite the warnings of his mother. At 17, he moved to Carthage (present-day Tunisia) to pursue education and a career in rhetoric. During this time, he became a hedonist, seeking wild sexual pleasures. He had a lover, with whom he had a son named Adeodatus (372–388 AD.) outside of marriage.
- During this time, he also became a Manichean, an ancient Persian religion, something that his mother disapproved of. He never progressed much in this religion, however, because of his scepticism towards it. He never moved beyond “auditing” the religion.
- At 19, Augustine became a grammar teacher, and eventually established a school of rhetoric in Rome. At 30, he became a rhetoric professor in Milan, possibly the highest academic position in the Latin world during that time.
- During this time, Augustine broke off his relationship with his Carthage lover, and got engaged with a 10-year-old girl (though he had to wait to marry her because the legal marriageable age was 12). But from this point, Augustine’s life began to change.
- In Milan, Augustine met Ambrose, a prominent church figure who eventually became Augustine’s good friend, mentor, and father-figure. Augustine also made friends with some other Christians. Slowly, he encountered Christianity. Until at one point at age 31, he heard the voice of children saying, “take up and read.” So he took up a Bible, and read at random Rom. 13:13–14, “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” He realised that his hedonistic lifestyle was wrong.
- Augustine became a Christian. Ambrose baptised him and his son, Adeodatus. And Augustine broke off his engagement with the 11-year-old girl.
- At 37, Augustine was ordained as a priest, and at 41, he was appointed as a bishop of Hippo, an area in present-day Algeria. His ministry life was very fruitful. His writings influenced not only Latin Christianity, but also Western philosophy as a whole. He formulated a theory of the doctrine of original sin that is still followed today. He helped develop the “just war theory.” He developed arguments against Manicheanism. Many Protestants consider him the father of the Protestant Reformation because his doctrines of justification by grace through faith was the thing that helped the Reformation.
- Right before he moved to Hippo to become a bishop, his mother died in Milan. And shortly after he moved, his son died young. At age 75, Augustine died when the Vandals invaded North Africa (the Vandals were a Germanic tribe that adopted Arianism; and yes, the root of the word “vandalism” because of their characterisation as a barbaric tribe that ransacked and looted). But he died not from an arrow, but rather from a fever. His writings miraculously survived the Vandals’ burning of the city, and have become a blessing for us ever since.
Mankind is divided into two sorts: such as live according to man, and such as live according to God. These we call the two cities… The Heavenly City outshines Rome. There, instead of victory, is truth.Augustine of Hippo
Ricky Njoto is a pastor of Church on the Corner, an English congregation of Camberwell Methodist Church, Melbourne.