St. Augustine of Hippo

augustineAugustine of Hippo
St. Augustine
13 November 354 – 28 August 430

It is a little known fact that St. Augustine of Hippo was born in about 354 C.E. in the city of (what is now) Souk Ahras, Algeria, North Africa, and was not Christian until his baptism at the age of 33 in 387. He died as Bishop of Hippo, or what is now Anabba, Algeria in 430 C.E., but the influence of his life and writings are today considered with highest regard throughout the Roman Church.

Augustine derived much of his early work from the great philosophers, but most especially Plato’s ontological argument for the existence of God1, citing that the existence of God comes from our search for “a thing a greater than which nothing can be conceived” (Stumpf, 1994). [Ontology is the science of metaphysics that investigates and explains the principles and causes of being. An ontological argument is one which explains a natural or metaphysical manifestation through logical argument – philosophy.] Augustine was also compared with Rene Descartes based largely on his derived argument, “whether he be asleep or awake he lives” (Stumpf), referring to any conscious person who is certain of their existence. However, he often spoke in terms of communities of people using we, us, and our to intimate that together we share knowledge of one another and therefore continue our existence through the awareness of others. Augustine referred to awareness of “things” or how the mind achieves knowledge as a direct relation to our collective experiences and knowledge. This led to his Doctrine of Illumination – his declaration on the relation between sensation and knowledge, but also how the mind makes judgments involving eternal and necessary truths (Stumpf).

It was also from Augustine that we receive the teaching of creatio ex nihilo, or, creation comes from nothing; as well as the most controversial doctrine of the time which now forms the basis of our Creed – filoque, and the Son or and from the Son.

In addition to those crucial theological teachings, Augustine also wrote on morality, ethics, and even love. His works include teachings on evil, free will, justice, community, historical analysis, and science – specifically how things come to be or how we are able to identify those things around us.

In his “Confessions” he wrote, “O god, Thou hast created us for Thyself so that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” It is here where Augustine differed greatly from other philosophers in that here he is saying we are not simply natural products, but created beings: nature did not produce people, God did. It is also not accidental, according to Augustine, that people seek happiness and that our happiness must eventually lead us to God. His entire exercise of “Confessions” led to his Doctrine on Love.

The latter part of Augustine’s life was spent writing and thinking about truth and justice. For him there was a single source of truth for both public and personal life which was the supremacy of eternal law, or what comes from God, however, he also stated that people recognize truth and know it as more of a natural law – the two being similar, but one based in human understanding and the other on God’s eternal existence.

Augustine was a prolific writer with such great works as “Confessions of St. Augustine”, “City of the World”, “City of God”, “On Christian Doctrine”, “On Order”, “On the Nature of Good”, and many others. In fact, he wrote so much it is said that, “the size of the literary output of Augustine is astonishing. A contemporary Augustinian scholar estimates it as being equivalent to “approximately that of writing a 300-page printed book every year for almost 40 years” (Augnet, 2014).

As for Augustine’s life as a priest, he was baptized when he was 33 years old (387 C.E.) and was ordained a priest when he was 37 years old (391 C.E.). He was consecrated (ordained) a Bishop four years later whereupon he gave his entire estate to the church (Augnet). Life was not easy for him as Bishop of Hippo and he spent much of his time trying to convert the people within his Diocese.

Augustine was also one of the few saints canonized by a process known as Popular Canonization or popular vote. He was later made a Doctor of the Church by Boniface VIII in 1298 C.E. The order which now bears his name, the Augustinians, was founded in the early half of the 13th century and received recognition from Rome on the 16th day of December, 1243. Today we celebrate the memory of this great man on the day of his death, the 28th of August.

Resources

Augnet – Your reference site to Saint Augustine of Hippo and the Order of Saint Augustine. (n.d.). Retrieved August 25, 2014, from http://www.augnet.org/

Stumpf, S. E. (1994). Philosophy: History & problems (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

1From Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

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