Question: "Who was Saint Augustine in church history?"
Answer: Saint Augustine was a philosopher and theologian who had a profound effect on both Protestant and Catholic theology. He was born Augustine Aurelius in A.D. 354, in Thagaste (in what is now Algeria), during the Roman occupation of that region. The son of a Christian mother and a pagan father, he developed a strong interest in rhetoric and philosophy, and he left home in his late teens to study in Carthage. Although his childhood had a heavy Christian influence, Augustine did not follow Christian teachings or practices, but rather lived a hedonistic lifestyle. While in Carthage, he associated with other young men who boasted of sexual exploits, and he himself began a long-term affair with a woman. At the age of 20 or 21, he began to teach rhetoric, and by the age of 30 he was one of the premier academicians in the Latin world, teaching rhetoric at the imperial court in Milan, where he took another lover, having left the first.
While in Carthage, still as a young man, Augustine left the Christian church to follow the Manichaean religion. Manichaeism was a syncretistic form of Gnosticism which taught a dualistic view of good and evil. Creation was seen as flawed and under the equal influences of light and darkness. While in Carthage, Augustine began to move away from this school of thought, and he left it entirely while in Milan.
In Milan, at the urging of his mother, Monica, Augustine converted to Christianity and was baptized in A.D. 387. He subsequently left his teaching position and returned to his native Thagaste where he was ordained into the priesthood, becoming a well-known preacher. Just a few years after his return, he was ordained as the Bishop of Hippo, in Africa. He lived a mostly monastic life until his death in A.D. 430 at the age of 76.
Augustine was a prolific writer. He is best known for his Confessions, a personal account of his life, and City of God, written to encourage Christians after the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in A.D. 410. He remains one of the most influential thinkers in history. His ideas of memory and the nature of time formed the framework for our modern understanding of those concepts, including the theological idea that God exists outside of time, in eternity.
Augustine, who was himself heavily influenced by the works of Virgil, Cicero, and Aristotle, also exerted an influence on secular philosophers, such as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Also, his works strongly affected the ideologies of such church figures as Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux. Later, Reformation leaders such as Martin Luther and John Calvin looked to Augustine for inspiration. Many modern Reformed theologians still look to him as a key source for their own writings. Much of Reformed doctrine, especially in relation to predestination, original sin, the bondage of the will, and efficacious grace, has been attributed to the work of Augustine.
Paradoxically, Roman Catholicism has also gleaned much from Augustine’s writings, so much so that he is sometimes called “the Father of Roman Catholicism.” His contributions to Catholic doctrine include the necessity of infant baptism, the perpetual virginity of Mary, and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He was never officially canonized but was accepted as a saint early on by consensus. He is considered the patron saint of brewers, printers, theologians, and those with sore eyes. Catholics observe August 28 as his feast day.
Among his other influential views, Augustine pioneered the idea of two aspects of the Church: visible and invisible. He also advanced the doctrine of a just war to defend innocents and preserve peace. For both Protestants and Catholics, it is impossible to measure Augustine’s effect on church history.