Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) was a Latin philosopher and theologian from Roman Africa. His writings were very influential in the development of Western Christianity.

His father was a Roman official who made many sacrifices to ensure that Augustine got a quality education. Augustine's father was not a Christian until shortly before he died in 370. His mother, Monica, was a devout Christian and played a significant role in her son's pilgrimage. Her prayers that her son would become a Christian would have to wait to be answered as there is much to his life that would not lead even a loving parent to imagine that he would become influential in the church. When he was 17, Augustine shocked his family by taking a mistress and together they had a child.

In his teens Augustine decided that Christianity was intellectually second rate as it presented a picture of God that was problematic. In particular, he wondered, how could a good God could allow evil? (This sounds quite contemporary.) Having rejected Christianity, much to his mother's chagrin, Augustine pursued Manichaeism, a form of Gnosticism. Many forms of Gnosticism are dualistic or nearly so and Augustine was content with a Gnostic cosmology that asserted that there was not a single good and all-powerful God, but two divine powers that rule the universe. The principal of light was the good force and the principal of darkness was the origin of evil.

When Manichaeism was no longer tenable to him he turned briefly to skepticism and then to the Neo-Platonism of Plotinus. Platonism shares a similar view of cosmology with Gnosticism. Creation emanates from The One but it would be something of a stretch to call Platinus' The One God in the Christian sense. The notion is that the closer you get to The One, which is at the center of emanations, the closer you are to correctly understanding the world and living properly in it.

Augustine's turning point came when some time in the year 386, Augustine and his friend Alypius were spending time in Milan. While outdoors, Augustine heard the voice of a child singing a song, the words of which were, "Pick it up and read it. Pick it up and read it." He thought at first that the song was related to some kind of children's game, but could not remember ever having heard such a song before. Then, realizing that this song might be a command from God to open and read the Scriptures, he located a Bible, picked it up, opened it and read the first passage he saw. It was from the Letter of Paul to the Romans. Augustine read: "Not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual excess and lust, not in quarreling and jealousy. Rather, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh." (Romans 13: 13-14)

Reading this scripture, Augustine felt as if his heart were flooded with light. He turned totally from his life of sin. He was Baptized by Ambrose during the Easter Vigil April 24, 387. His friend Alypius and his son Adeodatus were Baptized at the same time.

After his conversion to Christianity and baptism in AD 387, Augustine developed his own approach to philosophy and theology, accommodating a variety of methods and different perspectives. He believed that the grace of Christ was indispensable to human freedom, and he framed the concepts of original sin and just war. According to his contemporary, Jerome, Augustine "established anew the ancient Faith."

In 388 A.D. Augustine and a few Christian friends founded the Servei Dei (Servants of God). Centuries later it would be re-founded as the Augustinian Order, the oldest Monastic Fraternity in the West. Eventually Augustine is made Bishop of the town of Hippo, where he establishes a monastery that functions also as a Seminary, training young monks to be Bishops in all of the towns throughout North Africa.

When the Western Roman Empire was starting to disintegrate, Augustine developed the concept of the Catholic Church as a spiritual City of God (in a book of the same name), distinct from the material Earthly City. His thoughts profoundly influenced the medieval worldview. Augustine's City of God was closely identified with the Church, the community that worshipped God.

He would write 93 books that would influence the Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox Churches.  11/23/12  3/23/12  3/23/12