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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Saint Augustine (354–430)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Samuel Hart
 
ST. AUGUSTINE of Hippo (Aurelius Augustinus) was born at Tagaste in Numidia, November 13th, 354. The story of his life has been told by himself in that wonderful book addressed to God which he called the ‘Confessions.’ He gained but little from his father Patricius; he owed almost everything to his loving and saintly mother Monica. Though she was a Christian, she did not venture to bring her son to baptism; and he went away from home with only the echo of the name of Jesus Christ in his soul, as it had been spoken by his mother’s lips. He fell deeply into the sins of youth, but found no satisfaction in them, nor was he satisfied by the studies of literature to which for a while he devoted himself. The reading of Cicero’s ‘Hortensius’ partly called him back to himself; but before he was twenty years old he was carried away into Manichæism, a strange system of belief which united traces of Christian teaching with Persian doctrines of two antagonistic principles, practically two gods, a good god of the spiritual world and an evil god of the material world. From this he passed after a while into less gross forms of philosophical speculation, and presently began to lecture on rhetoric at Tagaste and at Carthage. When nearly thirty years of age he went to Rome, only to be disappointed in his hopes for glory as a rhetorician; and after two years his mother joined him at Milan.  1
  The great Ambrose had been called from the magistrate’s chair to be bishop of this important city; and his character and ability made a great impression on Augustine. But Augustine was kept from acknowledging and submitting to the truth, not by the intellectual difficulties which he propounded as an excuse, but by his unwillingness to submit to the moral demands which Christianity made upon him. At last there came one great struggle, described in a passage from the ‘Confessions’ which is given below; and Monica’s hopes and prayers were answered in the conversion of her son to the faith and obedience of Jesus Christ. On Easter Day, 387, in the thirty-third year of his life, he was baptized, an unsubstantiated tradition assigning to this occasion the composition and first use of the Te Deum. His mother died at Ostia as they were setting out for Africa; and he returned to his native land, with the hope that he might there live a life of retirement and of simple Christian obedience. But this might not be: on the occasion of Augustine’s visit to Hippo in 391, the bishop of that city persuaded him to receive ordination to the priesthood and to remain with him as an adviser; and four years later he was consecrated as colleague or coadjutor in the episcopate. Thus he entered on a busy public life of thirty-five years, which called for the exercise of all his powers as a Christian, a metaphysician, a man of letters, a theologian, an ecclesiastic, and an administrator.  2
  Into the details of that life it is impossible to enter here; it must suffice to indicate some of the ways in which as a writer he gained and still holds a high place in Western Christendom, having had an influence which can be paralleled, from among uninspired men, only by that of Aristotle. He maintained the unity of the Church, and its true breadth, against the Donatists; he argued, as he so well could argue, against the irreligion of the Manichæans; when the great Pelagian heresy arose, he defended the truth of the doctrine of divine grace as no one could have done who had not learned by experience its power in the regeneration and conversion of his own soul; he brought out from the treasures of Holy Scripture ample lessons of truth and duty, in simple exposition and exhortation; and in full treatises he stated and enforced the great doctrines of Christianity.  3
  Augustine was not alone or chiefly the stern theologian whom men picture to themselves when they are told that he was the Calvin of those early days, or when they read from his voluminous and often illogical writings quotations which have a hard sound. If he taught a stern doctrine of predestinarianism, he taught also the great power of sacramental grace; if he dwelt at times on the awfulness of the divine justice, he spoke also from the depths of his experience of the power of the divine love; and his influence on the ages has been rather that of the ‘Confessions’—taking their key-note from the words of the first chapter, “Thou, O Lord, hast made us for Thyself, and our heart is unquiet until it find rest in Thee”—than that of the writings which have earned for their author the foremost place among the Doctors of the Western Church. But his greatest work, without any doubt, is the treatise on the ‘City of God.’ The Roman empire, as Augustine’s life passed on, was hastening to its end. Moral and political declension had doubtless been arrested by the good influence which had been brought to bear upon it; but it was impossible to avert its fall. “Men’s hearts,” as well among the heathen as among the Christians, were “failing them for fear and for looking after those things that were coming on the earth.” And Christianity was called to meet the argument drawn from the fact that the visible declension seemed to date from the time when the new religion was introduced into the Roman world, and that the most rapid decline had been from the time when it had been accepted as the religion of the State. It fell to the Bishop of Hippo to write in reply one of the greatest works ever written by a Christian. Eloquence and learning, argument and irony, appeals to history and earnest entreaties, are united to move enemies to acknowledge the truth and to strengthen the faithful in maintaining it. The writer sets over against each other the city of the world and the city of God, and in varied ways draws the contrast between them; and while mourning over the ruin that is coming upon the great city that had become a world-empire, he tells of the holy beauty and enduring strength of “the city that hath the foundations.”  4
  Apart from the interest attaching to the great subjects handled by St. Augustine in his many works, and from the literary attractions of writings which unite high moral earnestness and the use of a cultivated rhetorical style, his works formed a model for Latin theologians as long as that language continued to be habitually used by Western scholars; and to-day both the spirit and the style of the great man have a wide influence on the devotional and the controversial style of writers on sacred subjects.  5
  He died at Hippo, August 28th, 430.  6
  The selections are from the ‘Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.’  7
 
 
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