Saint Augustine of Hippo was born November 13, 354, in Tagaste, Numidia, and died August 28, 430, in Hippo Regius. He was bishop of Hippo in Roman Africa from 396 to 430 and may have been the most important theologian of the early Christian church during the last days of the western Roman Empire. His best known works are the Confessions and the City of God. The first is an autobiographical account of Augustine's intellectual and spiritual journey toward Christianity, recounting the sins of his flesh and the errors of his thoughts from his earliest days to the temptations of the present. Although his mother, Monica, was a devout Christian, Augustine was not baptized in infancy. His father, Patricius, was a pagan, at least until very late in his life, but Augustine always retained the fondness for Christianity imparted to him by his mother. At the age of nineteen, having shown promise during his earlier studies at home, he was sent to Carthage to study. His family's resources were modest, but Augustine put them to good use. The works of Cicero sparked an interest in philosophy that led him eventually to an interest in religion. At first Augustine became involved in Manichaeanism and with the ideas of the material duality of good and evil, but by the age of twenty-eight he had grown disillusioned. Because of his relationship with a woman of low birth, with whom he had a son, Augustine was allowed only into the lower ranks of the Manichaeans. He was, however, permitted to ask questions of his "more enlightened" celibate superiors. They proved unable to answer his many questions about the divine, and after nine years he left his concubine and son to pursue further studies in Rome. It was there that he came across the Neoplatonists, in whose ideas he found solutions to some of his most fundamental questions about the being of God and the nature and origin of evil. Augustine's most important intellectual moment occurred while he was listening to a sermon by Ambrose and suddenly came to appreciate the insights of Christian theology. In 386 he openly converted, and in the following year he was baptized by Ambrose.
He returned to Africa in 391 and was ordained a priest. Five years later he was made bishop of Hippo, and he served in various capacities as teacher, judge, and pastor. He wrote extensively, applying his critical pen against such heretical groups as the Manichaeans, the Donatists, and the Pelagians. In his master work, The City of God, Augustine took up the questions pursued by earlier scholars such as Origen. Unlike Origen, however, Augustine eschewed the temptation to ascribe much importance to human powers of free will. Instead, he favored a mystical view of the relationship between an omniscient God, for whom all things are known and without whom nothing is possible, and the salvation of the sinner, who bears full responsibility for his actions. This relationship could be encompassed only by an expression of divine grace. Augustine thus marked out a distinct position apart from the Pelagians (among whom Origen is sometimes classed as a sympathetic, intellectual forebear) and set in motion forces that would continue shaping church doctrine until the Reformation. The City of God was in his mind before 410, when Rome was sacked by the Visigoths (one of many Germanic tribes descending from north-central Europe), and took the form of a Christian apologetic against pagan claims that the decline of the empire was a result of apostasy from its ancestral gods. On the day of his death, in 430, the Vandals were besieging Hippo.
The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.
Last modified April 10, 2014