Augustine

by Kevin Au

Few figures stand taller among even the most prominent men in the halls of church history than Augustine. The man’s influence emerges from a time even when world history threatens to drown it out with the momentous fall of the Roman Empire. His writings and teachings have shaped history to an unimaginable extent. Before Luther, before Zwingli, before Calvin, Augustine’s influence predates and sets a foundation for them all. The impact of the reformers and men after the 5th century all owe something to this man’s testimony and work, as his work has oft shaped the thoughts and works of later theologians.

Augustine lived in the tumultuous time in the dying days of the Roman Empire. Born in Thagaste, North Africa in 354 to a middle income farming family, he was bred to pursue worldly pursuits by cultivating his talents as an orator and teacher. His father was an unbeliever, but his mother exemplified a woman of prayer, with her well-documented persistence in praying for her worldly son.

His mother’s prayers would prove fruitful, but not without much persistence, as Augustine did not come to faith until relatively late and after much inner struggle and turmoil. By his own confession, Augustine was a man inflamed with the pleasures of this world and ignorant of the pleasures in heaven. He took a mistress in his youth and had a son by her at the age of 16. After his childhood he took off for Carthage to study and soon after began teaching. Eventually, his teaching took him to Rome and Milan, where he encountered the philosophy of the Manicheists which taught perversions of true Christian doctrine. Augustine was heavily influenced by these worldly philosophies, but later in his life, he became dissatisfied with them as he found them unfulfilling. He encountered Bishop Ambrose in Milan, and after his re-exposure to true Christianity turned away from the worldly philosophies and began to pursue the truth and stop running away from God. He soon came to conversion in Milan.

Augustine, a new man, stripped of the traces of his old life as he parted ways with his mistress and lost his son, would soon receive his ordination as priest and became the bishop of Hippo, a region in Northern Africa. It was here where he began the work that would define his life. It was during this time that Augustine wrote Confessions. He also wrote The City of God, a work written in response to the sacking of Rome, addressing politics and society from a Christian standpoint. He also completed a host of other major works during this time, contributing much of early Christian thought and doctrine.

Many have posited as to why Augustine is such an influential figure in Church history. Much it owes to his place in history, politically and ecclesiastically. With the exception of the Apostles themselves, his work came much earlier than anyone comparable to his stature in church history, so his influence is immeasurable. He also came at a crucial turning point as the world turned over into the medieval ages, also near the beginning of the established Roman Catholic Church, which ironically hails him as a prominent figure in Catholicism as well. Some point to the humanity and breadth of his appeal as the reason for his influence. The details of Augustine’s coming to faith are well known through his most famous work Confessions, a theological yet personal autobiography of his journey wrestling with truth and philosophy, experience and God.

The genuine humanity that readers can see in his Confessions, theologically and personally tells the story of every believer and their struggles with the truth. The philosophical struggles appeal to the intellectual, the earthly passions appeal to even the least of men. The story of a man running from God is one that we all share.

The greatest reason, theories and propositions aside, lies simply in the fact that he had a voice. He did not keep the thoughts and truths in his brilliant mind to himself. He stood against the heresies of his day, and behind it was a man who could not deny that he had been saved from the pitfall of early desires, transformed into a heavenly minded man, who lived and loved God.

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The Beacon is the monthly newsletter for Lighthouse Bible Church in San Diego, California. It covers a variety of subjects including LBC events, church history, current events from a Christan perspective, ministry profiles, and messages from our pastors and elders. To join the Beacon ministry, please contact Stephen Rodgers.

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