Milpitas Christian Church

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

Latin bishop, theologian, Doctor of the Church, the biggest name in post-New Testament Church history, the biggest influence on Protestantism

These two, God and yourself, I dare promise that I can teach you to understand.


The Gist

  • influenced not just all of Western Christianity, from Catholicism to Protestantism, but also significantly impacted secular areas of European thought and society, through the medieval era all the way to the modern

  • Directly influenced the Catholic order of Augustinian monks and, through them, Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation

  • His autobiography invented a whole new literary genre, where the writer carefully analyzes their own heart and motives, confessing their sins and charting their spiritual growth

  • Of all the church fathers, he is the one most likely to be read today by people who aren’t scholars

  • Main themes of his theology are original sin, God’s sovereign predestination, and God’s overwhelming grace


  • Born in Tagaste, North Africa, to a pagan father and Christian mother. His father eventually converted to Christianity due to his mother’s prayers.

  • In his youth, Augustine was neither a pagan nor a Christian–he drifted around to different philosophies, focused at first on a life of pleasure and fame

  • Because he was incredibly smart, his parents paid for the best education they could afford, hoping that he would be successful in law and government

  • Teenage years were spent both excelling as a student and indulging in a variety of sinful pleasures with his friends, including sleeping around

  • Studying in Carthage, he took on a long-term lover as a concubine, and she bore him a son named Adeodatus

    • This was considered very normal in non-Christian society. Roman men tended to sleep around outside of marriage a lot, even though the Church preached against it.

A Change of Pursuit: From Pleasure to Truth

To many, total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.

~Saint Augustine: On the Good of Marriage

  • While studying the great classical writers, especially the philosopher Cicero, Augustine became convicted that he should be seeking truth rather than just pleasure

  • He joined the Manichees as a student for 9 years

    • Manichaeism was a Persian religion that mixed Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Gnostic Christianity with the teachings of its founder Mani

    • Good and evil were created by the two equal powers of the universe, Light and Darkness

    • It claimed to be purely rational, and it encouraged its adherents to give up physical pleasures so they could become more spiritual

    • Very mystic and impressive; Manichees often ridiculed Christianity for being silly and naïve

    • Map of the spread of Manichaeism

  • Augustine had two issues with Christianity at this point:

    • The Bible, in its current Latin translation (before Jerome’s Vulgate), did not read elegantly or stylishly like the classical literature Augustine had studied. He also found its subject matter, containing many stories of violence, rape, and deceit, to be vulgar and barbaric.

    • The origin of evil: Augustine couldn’t understand how a perfectly good and all-powerful God could allow evil to exist

  • However, Manichaeism failed to answer Augustine’s most profound questions. They kept telling him that his questions would all be answered by the great Manichaean teacher Faustus. But when Augustine finally got an interview with Faustus, the man’s answers were just as empty as all the others had been. So Augustine left Manichaeism

  • He moved around to different teaching jobs for awhile, before settling in Milan

  • In Milan he met Simplicianus –the same person who had tutored Bishop Ambrose in Christianity

    • Simplicianus realized that Augustine was still prejudiced against Christianity, so instead of immediately giving him the gospel, he introduced him to Neoplatonism. Even though Neoplatonist philosophy wasn’t Christian, it did focus on trying to understand one ultimate Principle from which all other things are derived. In contrast to Manichaeism, Neoplatonism defined evil as that which moves away from the good.

    • Augustine became a Neoplatonist and realized that it was possible for there to be a single eternal being of infinite goodness even though evil still exists

  • Augustine still had issues with the Bible itself, feeling it was crude and contradictory. So his mother Monica, who had come with him to Milan, urged him to hear the sermons of Bishop Ambrose.

    • Ambrose’s sermons helped Augustine to see the Bible in a new way, mostly by interpreting many difficult passages allegorically. Augustine found he didn’t have many objections left to Christianity
  • Augustine was now ready to accept Christianity intellectually. However, he was still reluctant, because he didn’t want to do anything half-heartedly. He became convinced that if he became a Christian, he would have to abandon his career teaching rhetoric, abandon all his worldly ambitions, abandon all physical pleasure, and devote himself completely to the monastic life. This was extremely hard for him to decide on.

    • Still seeking God, he famously would pray “Give me chastity and continence; but not too soon.”
  • As he fought this internal battle over whether to give his heart completely over to God or not, he received news of several famous non-Christians, both philosophers and high-ranking civil servants, who very publicly became Christians and renounced their careers in order to follow the spiritual life

Meeting God in the Garden

When I thought of devoting myself entirely to you, my God…it was I that wished to do it, and I that wished not to do it. It was I. And since I neither completely wished, nor completely refused, I fought against myself and tore myself to pieces.

  • Conversion:

    • He was in a garden trying to read from the Book of Romans but getting increasingly frustrated. He didn’t understand it. He hated his own sin but was afraid of surrendering to Christ.

    • He paced back and forth arguing with God, begging for his sin to end, when he heard someone outside the garden say “Take up and read.” So he turned back to his book and read:

      Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:13-14)

    • This spoke directly to his struggles with sensuality, so he decided it was time to really become a Christian

  • Augustine and his son Adeodatus were baptized by Bishop Ambrose of Milan

  • He resigned his teaching job and moved back home to Tagaste, North Africa with his son and his mother. However, his mother died on the trip

  • Sold most of his property, gave away most of his money to the poor, and with some friends he settled into a life of monastic prayer and study.

  • Sadly, his son also died soon after this.

  • He began writing Christian works here. These early ones have a lot of Neoplatonic influence, but he began to grow in his theological knowledge and see the uniqueness of the Bible’s teachings

Minister & Bishop

  • His fame begins to spread locally, and people want him to become more involved in church life

  • 391 - He visited the city of Hippo in order to connect with the local Bishop Valerius. However, Bishop Valerius had been hoping for another pastor to serve the church alongside him. With Augustine sitting among the congregation, Bishop Valerius asked everyone to pray for God’s guidance in helping them recognize a new minister. Everyone immediately turned to Augustine. Reluctantly, Augustine was ordained to serve as a priest in Hippo

  • Four years later, he was made bishop alongside Valerius

    • Yes, it was really odd and kind of illegal for a church to have two bishops, but Valerius died soon after
  • Now Augustine had pastoral duties in addition to his love of study and philosophy. And that’s what determined the direction of most of his writings: concern for the church

Against Heretics

  • The Manichaeans

    • he felt guilty for previously having led many of his friends into that religion

    • Developed his ideas regarding free will and the origin of evil in contrast to Manichaeist determinism

  • The Donatists

    • Remember: Donatists argued that official actions done by “unworthy” priests and bishops were invalid. So a bishop who publicly sinned but then repented was still unworthy, and anyone he baptized had not been properly baptized and was still unsaved.

    • Augustine argued that the validity of a sacred rite had nothing to do with the personal holiness of the person administering the rite, otherwise every single baptism was immediately suspect or invalid

    • Most of the Church agreed with Augustine

    • In these writings, Augustine developed his Just War Theory

    • The Donatists wanted Christians to separate from the world completely, while orthodox catholic Christianity is all about transforming the world (as Augustine argues)

  • The Pelagians

    • Heresy: humans have no corrupted sin nature and can choose to act perfectly and save themselves under God’s Law.

  • While Pelagius and Augustine agreed that God had made man free and that the source of evil is in our wills, Augustine said that we don’t always have mastery of our own wills. He remembered his conversion, when he both willed and didn’t will to become a Christian.

  • Augustine developed the theology of grace: humanity has the free will to choose, but our sin nature has removed holy options from the table so that we can only choose sinful options. Then God gives us His grace to become Christians, at which point we can choose to sin or to obey God. And then in heaven, we will have free choice of wills, but with no sin options available

  • Augustine insisted that the beginning of our faith rests in God’s decision, not ours

  • Developed his theologies of predestination and irresistible grace

  • Broadly speaking, the Western Church accepted Augustine’s arguments against these heresies.

  • However, some of his ideas were not widely accepted, for they were deemed too different from the dominant ideas that the church had accepted for many generations.

    • Many people resisted the idea that we cannot choose to have faith in God but must receive it completely from Him. The most outspoken of these people were in southern France and were called semi-Pelagians after the Synod of Orange in 529
  • Gradually, the mainstream Church reinterpreted Augustinian theology to leave out predestination and irresistible grace while accepting other parts of it.

    • 529 - Synod of Orange agreed with Augustine on the primacy of grace but left out predestination and other more radical consequences of this theology. So for centuries afterwards, theologians would call themselves Augustinian according to what the Synod of Orange accepted even though they didn’t accept his key theologies of predestination and irresistible grace


  • 410 - the sacking of Rome by Alaric the Visigoth inspired Augustine to write The City of God

    • It’s a history of the world in which Augustine emphasizes that earthly kingdoms rise and fall at God’s will, whereas the city of God is eternal. Therefore the Roman Empire served God’s purpose in helping Christianity spread, and now God is letting it pass away
  • 411 - A public debate over Donatism in Carthage – attended by a representative of the emperor – was decided in Augustine’s favor, and restrictions were put on the Donatists

  • 430 - died while the city of Hippo was besieged by Vandals, another barbarian group that had crossed over from Spain to invade North Africa. The Vandals followed the Arian heresy.

Major Works

We, who preach and write books, write in a manner altogether different from the manner in which the canon of Scriptures has been written. We write while we make progress. We learn something new every day. We dictate at the same time as we explore. We speak as we still knock for understanding… I urge your Charity, on my behalf and in my own case, that you should not take any previous book or preaching of mine as Holy Scripture… If anyone criticizes me when I have said what is right, he does not do right. But I would be more angry with the one who praises me and takes what I have written for Gospel truth (canonicum) than the one who criticizes me unfairly_


I do not know to what temptation I will surrender next.

  • Written in his early 40s

  • Invented a new genre, the spiritual autobiography, in which Augustine traces his spiritual development from infancy to adulthood, wrestling with the theological implications of his life experiences. It takes the form of a prayer to God

  • Was not read as often as his other works in the first few centuries, but from the 12th century onward it became very influential

  • He uses his own life to illustrate the doctrine of total depravity – the idea that sin is a corruption that touches every part of our nature to the point where we actually desire sin instead of God, and we are totally dependent on God to change our hearts before we can respond to Him

    • Ex. as a teenager, he and some friends stole a pear from a neighbor’s tree. Not from hunger, or justice, nor any goal which could be construed as good. They just wanted the thrill of being thieves, and as soon as they took a bite of the pear, they threw the rest of it away without eating any more.

    • Reflecting on this, Augustine sees how much the human heart loves sin

  • Under the influence of Bishop Ambrose, he incorporates various Neoplatonic ideas into a theology about the fall and rise of the human soul

  • Meditates on how true perfection is impossible for us to achieve in this life, no matter how much Scripture we study and wisdom we gain

The City of God

  • Written to help everyone process the fall of Rome in AD 410, which was the first time the city had been taken by an enemy in 800 years. The Visigoths quickly retreated and the Romans liberated the city, but the symbolic damage was done:

    • Pagans accused Christianity of weakening the empire and incurring the wrath of the Roman gods; after all, God did not seem willing or able to protect even a“Christian” Rome

    • Christians worried that God had abandoned the“Christian” Roman empire and that maybe the Final Judgment was near

  • Outlines a new way to understand human society and history. There are two social orders:

The City of God The City of Man
Built on the love of God Built on love of self
Eternal Temporal
Destined for victory doomed to destruction
  • In human history, these two cities always appear mixed, but are always at war. But in the end, only the City of God will remain

  • All_human nations are built on self-love and thus are part of the City of Man. They rise and fall at God’s command, for His purposes, regardless of whether they serve Him.

    • So even though Rome was officially a “Christian” empire, Augustine says it still represents the City of Man, not the City of God. This was a shift from the way many people had been thinking
  • Encourages people to accept the place of disaster, death, and disappointment in human affairs while hoping for a better life to come when Jesus returns

  • This book influenced Christian understandings of governments, history, and society for at least 1000 years!


  • In the last years of his life, Augustine wrote a catalog of his own writings, with comments on their compositions and changes he wants to make in hindsight

  • Immensely valuable for identifying authentic writings by him!

On the Spirit and the Letter / On the Grace of Christ and on Original Sin / The Predestination of the Blessed / The Gift of Perseverance

  • These shorter works aren’t as famous, but they develop several of the doctrines which became so important to the Protestant Reformation, like original sin, total depravity, predestination, etc.


  • In the medieval era:

    • Many libraries had more works of Augustine than of any other writer

    • His ideas, especially in The City of God, greatly shaped the medieval era

    • The Synod of Orange in 529 debated Augustine’s doctrines and decided on a middle way, and their decision shaped** Roman Catholic** doctrine:

      • They accepted that we are born with total depravity, unable to choose the gospel of our own choice

      • But they differed from Augustine in saying that baptism gave sufficient grace to begin choosing the things of God on our own.

      • They differ from Augustine in saying that God’s grace can be resisted, although they also rejected Pelagianism by saying that grace is necessary for salvation

      • In the Synod’s view, we must cooperate with grace on our journey of redemption

  • Favorite theologian of the Protestants. Many core Reformation doctrines are Augustinian ideas that the Roman Catholics let drop over the centuries

  • As the most popular and influential of the church fathers, people mine his writings to support their own positions, even for controversies he could not have imagined would exist


  • González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: Vol. 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. New York: HarperOne, 2010.
  • Aristotle
  • Augustine of Hippo
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