St. Augustine St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430) has been called the most influential Christian “between Saint Paul and Luther.” Born under the name Aurelius Augustinus, he was the Christian bishop of Hippo, a North African Roman outpost in the waning days of the Roman Empire, when Christian communities were well established but divided.
St. Augustine’s efforts helped clarify many divisive doctrinal issues and helped define what the Christian church is today. His account of his early life in his Confessions is widely regarded as classic biography of the conversion experience. In addition to the contributions he made to religion Augustine has also been called the first great psychologist, the father of the autobiography and pioneer of using literature to analyze himself and to explore self consciousness. His philosophy drew heavily on Platonic concepts.
Websites and Resources: Britannica on Christianity britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/115240/Christianity ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Historical Jesus Theories http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html ; Wikipedia article on Historical Jesus Wikipedia ; Britannica britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/303091/Jesus-Christ ; Early Christian Writing earlychristianwritings.com ;
Websites and Resources with Christian art and images: Princeton Index of Christian Art ica.princeton.edu ; Early Christian Art oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth212/Early_Christian_art ; Early Christian Art arthist.umn.edu ; Early Christian Art University of Oklahoma ou.edu/class ; Early Christian Images jesuswalk.com/christian-symbols ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images belmont.edu/honors/byzart2001/byzindex ; Space and Motion Article spaceandmotion.com/christianity-christian-jesus-christ. ; Online Icons MIT mit.edu:8001/activities/ocf/icons
Book: History of Christianity by Owen Chadwick; The Faith: A History of Christianity by Brian Moynahan
Book: Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown.
St. Augustine's Hedonistic Early Life
at the school of Taghaste St. Augustine was born in Tagaste in Numidia (present-day Souk-Ahras in east Algeria) on November 13, 354. His father was a wealthy Berber landowner and pagan. His mother, the future St. Monica, was a devout Christian. His father's hedonist ways had a strong influence on Augustine in his early life. He forsook his Christian upbringing at age sixteen to attend school in Carthage, where he "dabbled with astrology."
St. Augustine was a womanizer, gambler and critic of the virtues. He fathered a son from a mistress before he turned twenty, lived with her for 10 years out of wedlock, and then dumped her so he could marry a socialite. Even after he entered a monastery he used to pray, "Give me chastity, but not yet!”
Some scholars believe that St. Augustine was gay. This assertion is based in part on a passage from Confessions about a man he knew as youth. "I felt that his soul and mine were 'one soul in two bodies' and therefore life without him was horrible. I hated to live as half of a life." After the man's death Augustine said he contemplated suicide but “I feared to die, lest he should die wholly whom I had loved so greatly.’"
Despite his hedonistic ways, St. Augustine was drawn to religious cults that preached self denial.
St. Augustine Return to Christianity
with the Holy Spirit After teachings rhetoric for several years in Carthage he moved to Rome, where he converted for a time to Manichaeanism, a sect led by a Persian prophet that viewed spirituality as a struggle within the body and promoted avoiding sex, eating only vegetables and believing that the personal fight between good and evil represented a cosmic battle. St. Augustine was also influenced by the Skeptics, a group that in its extreme forms avoided all activity and human contact by going into the desert. One of its central ideas was that it was impossible to be sure about anything.
St. Augustine became interested again in Christianity when he moved to Milan with his mother and came under the influence of the city’s famous bishop, St. Ambrose. After his conversion and baptism, Augustine retired to a monastery and later returned to Africa, where he spent some years at his family estate before being ordained as a priest.
St. Augustine was consecrated as bishop in A.D. 395 and spent the last 35 years of his life in Hippo (later Bone, now Annaba, Algeria), where he lived ascetically, wrote extensively and encouraged his followers to establish religious communities, He founded a community of women, headed his sister. He died in Hippo in A.D. 430 while it was being besieged by Vandals.
St. Augustine’s Confessions
One of the things that makes Christianity different from other religions is the emphasis on free will and the conversion process, and nobody expressed this more eloquently than St. Augustine. His Confessions describes the conversion process as a struggle between a person’s soul and his or her passions. Filled with irony, wit and insights that still make a compelling reading today, it is regarded as the first intimate autobiography in Western literature, and one that offers interesting insights into the self.
Describing his own conversion in Milan when he was 30, St. Augustine wrote: "So I was seeking and weeping...when, lo! I heard from a neighboring house a voice, as a boy or girl, I know not chanting...Take up and read; take up and read." Instantly my countenance altered...Checking the torrent of my tears, I arose...and read the first chapter I should find...my eyes first fell; Not in rioting or drunkenness, not in chambering or wantonness...but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ...No further would I read...for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away."
In Confessions St. Augustine's described his sinful ways as both an offense against God and a manifestation of self-hatred. He wrote he "has no being of its own" and described his personal struggle against "the lying divinations and impious oaths of the astrologers.” He also expressed the great guilt he felt over stealing pears from a neighbor’s trees when he was a child and confessed the sinful things he did when was a young man.
St. Augustine's Christian Beliefs and Views on Sex
St. Augustine's books Confessions , City of God and On the Trinity had a profound impact on Catholicism that was equaled only by the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. As an avid student of Greek philosophy, Augustine introduced reason into his discussions of Christianity.
St. Augustine's eloquently discussed the "divided soul," and the doubts one has about converting to Christianity. He argued that Genesis was not intended to be taken literally, defined a just war in Christian terms and introduced the notion of "original sin" at the Garden of Eden. His writing on communal living became Rule of St. Augustine , the basis of many religious orders.
In a City of God , Augustine imagined a world of divinity inhabited by people who had given up the pleasures of life in return for a promise of eternal bliss. The book was written in A.D. 410 as Rome fell, which he argued that was a kind of punishment to Romans for their paganism. In the Middle Ages, this book was used to support the belief that the church was above the state.
St. Augustine wrote of celibacy being the most blessed state. After his vow of abstinence he wrote, "Now was my soul free from the biting cares of canvassing and getting, and weltering in filth, and scratching off the itch of lust." Augustine viewed the sex organs as objects of temptation and orgasm was viewed as an abandonment of will and control to the flesh. He argued that sex was for procreation only and any form of sexual activity that didn't result in conception—masturbation, homosexuality and oral sex—was strictly forbidden.
Describing the crucifixion, St. Augustine wrote: "Like a bridegroom Christ went forth from his chamber, he went out with a presage of his nuptials...He came to the marriage bed of the cross, and there, in mounting it, consummated his marriage,...he lovingly gave himself up to the torment in place of his bride, and he joined himself to the woman for ever."
Thomas Aquinas Thomas Aquinas(1224-74) is regarded by the Catholic church as its greatest theologian and philosopher. He wrote Summa Theoligoca , considered one of the greatest books ever written. It's purpose was nothing less than trying to answer all of the great questions about God, humanity and the universe. He was canonized in 1323 and declared a doctor of the church in 1567. Based on the number of books written about him (1,424 in 1999 in the Library of Congress collection), Thomas Aquinas is the world's 27th most famous person. He ranks behind Jesus and Wagner but ahead of Cervantes and St. Paul.
Thomas Aquinas (also known as Thomas of Aquino) was born in the castle of Roccasecca, near Naples. His father was a count. He received an early education at the nearby abbey of Monte Cassino and entered the University of Naples at the age of 16. While he was there he became a Dominican friar, much to his family’s dismay. His brother captured and imprisoned him in Roccasecca. He refused to back down from his commitment to be a monk, continuing his studies in his cell. After two years he escaped down a rope ladders and was sent by the Dominicans to Cologne to study under Albertus Magnus, regarded as the most learned man of his time. He later studied in Paris.
In 1252, Thomas was called to Rome. He spent the rest of his life lecturing, preaching, writing and studying, chiefly in Italian cities and Paris. He died at the age of 49 while on his way to attend a church council in Lyons. His literary output was enormous. Sometimes he dictated to several scribes on different subjects at the same times. His primary works were Summa Contra Gentiles and Summa Theologica .
Thomas has been linked to the rise of learning and scholarship that took place during the time in which he lived, when many of Europe’s first universities were founded and education w as linked with the church. Early thinkers like Thomas accepted Christian doctrines as beyond dispute but also studied and translated the ancient Greek philosophers, particularly Plato and Aristotle, and set about harmonizing their ideas with Christianity.
Seven Deadly Sins and Other Contributions of Thomas Aquinas
SummaTheologiae The writing and theories of St. Thomas Aquinas are the cornerstone of the Roman Catholic church. In 1268-73, Aquinas merged scientific inquiry and Christian thought while ruminating about Aristotle's physical studies and trying to figure the best way to investigate God's plan for mankind. Thomas held that there were two sources of knowledge: revelation (theology) and reason (philosophy) and suggested that revelation was a divine source of knowledge that revealed truths that must be believed by men even if they cannot be understood.
Aquinas said "Christ was either a liar, lunatic of Lord .” He expressed anti-Semitic views and blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus. He referred to sex as "lust" and maintained that the only justifiable sex was sex intended for procreation. He also described four kinds of offensive sex (in descending order of offensiveness): 1) bestiality; 2) homosexuality; 3) any sex position other than the face-to-face "missionary" position; and 4) masturbation, which for men he said was effeminate.
Thomas Aquinas described the Seven Deadly Sins: sloth, gluttony, pride, anger, envy, greed, and lust. Some of the sins are more complex than what they appear on the surface. Gluttony, for example, according to Aquinas, has five forms: overeating, eating too soon, eating too eagerly, eating too daintily and spending too much on expensive foods. Aquinas said that gluttony was the least serious of the deadly sin. Perhaps this was so because he had a weight problem himself.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Symbols of Catholicism by Dom Robert Le Gall, Abbot of Kergonan (Barnes & Noble, 2000); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); Newsweek, Time and National Geographic articles about Jesus, the Bible and Christianity. Also the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011