Aure'lius Augusti'nus or St. Augusti'nus
the most illustrious of the Latin fathers, was born on the 13th of November, A. D. 354, at Tagaste, an inland town in Numidia, identified by D'Anville with the modern Tajelt. His father, Patricius, who died about seventeen years after the birth of Augustin, was originally a heathen, but embraced Christianity late in life. Though poor, he belonged to the curiales of Tagaste. (August. Conf.
He is described by his son as a benevolent but hottempered man, comparatively careless of the morals of his offspring, but anxious for his improvement in learning, as the means of future success in life. Monnica, 1
the mother of Augustin,
was a Christian of a singularly devout and gentle spirit, who exerted herself to the utmost in training up her son in the practice of piety ; but his disposition, complexionally ardent and headstrong, seemed to bid defiance to her efforts.
He has given, in his Confessions, a vivid picture of his boyish follies and vices,--his love of play, his hatred of learning, his disobedience to his parents, and his acts of deceit and theft.
It would indeed be absurd to infer from this recital that he was a prodigy of youthful wickedness, such faults being unhappily too common at that early age. None, however, but a very shallow moralist will treat these singular disclosures with ridicule, or deny that they open a very important chapter in the history of human nature. When Augustin was still very young, he fell into a dangerous disorder, which induced him to wish for baptism ; but on his recovery, the rite was delayed.
He tells us that he was exceedingly delighted, from his childhood, with the fabulous stories of the Latin poets; but the difficulty of learning Greek inspired him with a great disgust for that language.
He was sent, during his boyhood, to be educated at the neighbouring town of Madaura, and afterwards removed to Carthage in order to prosecute the study of rhetoric. Here he fell into vicious practices; and before he was eighteen, his concubine bore him a son, whom he named Adeodatus.
He applied, however, with characteristic ardour, to the study of the great masters of rhetoric and philosophy.
In particular, he describes in strong terms the beneficial effect produced upon him by reading the Hortensius of Cicero. Soon after this, he embraced the Manichaean heresy,--a wild and visionary system, repugnant alike to sound reason and to Scripture, but not without strong fascinations for an ardent and imaginative mind undisciplined in the lessons of practical religion. To this pernicious doctrine he adhered for nine years, during which he unhappily seduced others into the adoption of the same errors.
Works and Life
After teaching grammar for some time at his native place, he returned to Carthage, having lost a friend whose death affected him very deeply. At Carthage he became a teacher of rhetoric, and in his twenty-seventh year published his first work, entitled, de apto et pulchro
, which he dedicated to Hierius, a Roman orator, known to him only by his high reputation. Of the fate of this work the author seems to have been singularly careless; for when he wrote his Confessions, he had lost sight of it altogether, and says he does not remember whether it was in two or three books. We agree with Lord Jeffery (Encycl. Brit.
art. Beauty) in lamenting the disappearance of this treatise, which was probably defective enough in strict scientific analysis, but could not fail to abound in ingenious disquisition and vigorous eloquence.
About this time Augustin began to distrust the baseless creed of the Manichaeans, and the more so that he found no satisfaction from the reasonings of their most celebrated teacher, Faustus, with whom he frequently conversed.
In the year 383, he went, against the wishes of his mother, to Rome, intending to exercise his profession as a teacher of rhetoric there. For this step, he assigns as his reason that the students in Rome behaved with greater decorum than those of Carthage, where the schools were often scenes of gross and irrepressible disorder. At Rome he had a dangerous illness, from which however he soon recovered ; and after teaching rhetoric for a few months, he left the imperial city, in disgust at the fraudulent conduct of some of his students, and went to Milan, designing to pursue his profession in that city.
At that time Ambrose was bishop of Milan, and his conversation and preaching made a good impression upon Augustin.
He was not, however, converted to Christianity at once, but fell, for a time, into a state of general uncertainty and scepticism.
The great mystery of all, the origin of evil, especially perplexed and tormented him.
By degrees his mind acquired a healthier tone, and the reading of some of the Platonic philosophers (not in the original Greek, but in a Latin version) disposed him still more favourably towards the Christian system. From these he turned, with a delight unfelt before, to the Holy Scriptures, in the perusal of which his earlier doubts and difficulties gave way before the self-evidencing light of divine truth.
He was greatly benefited by the religious conversations which he held with Simplician, a Christian presbyter, who had formerly instructed Ambrose himself in theology.
After deep consideration, and many struggles of feeling (of which he has given an interesting record in the eighth and ninth books of his Confessions), he resolved on making a public profession of Christianity, and was baptized by Ambrose at Milan on the 25th of April, A. D. 387. His fellow-townsman and intimate friend, Alypius, and his natural son, Adeodatus, of whose extraordinary genius he speaks with fond enthusiasm, were baptized on the same occasion. His mother Monnica, who had followed him to Milan, rejoiced over this happy event as the completion of all her desires on earth.
She did not long survive it; for shortly after his conversion, Augustin set out with her to return to Africa, and at Ostia, on the banks of the Tiber, his mother died, after an illness of a few days, in the fifty-sixth year of her age. Her son has given, in the ninth book of his Confessions (cc. 8-11) a brief but deeply interesting account of this excellent woman. Augustin remained at Rome some time after his mother's death, and composed his treatises de Moribus Ecclesiae Catholicae et de Moribus Manichaeorum, de Quantitate Animae,
and de Libero Arbitrio.
The latter, however, was not finished until some years after.
In the latter part of the year 388, Augustin returned by way of Carthage to Tagaste.
He sold the small remains of his paternal property, and gave the proceeds to the poor; and passed the next three years in seclusion, devoting himself to religious exercises.
At this period of his life he wrote his treatises de Genesi contra Manichaeos
, de Musica
, de Magistro,
(addressed to his son Adeodatus), and de Vera Religione.
The reputation of these works and of their author's personal excellence seems to have been speedily diffused, for in the year 391, Augustin, against his own wishes, was ordained a priest by Valerius, then bishop of Hippo. On this, he spent some time in retirement, in order to qualify himself by the special study of the Bible for the work of preaching. When he entered on this public duty, he discharged it with great acceptance and success.
He did not, however, abandon his labours as an author, but wrote his tractate de Utilitate credendi,
inscribed to his friend Honoratus, and another entitled de duabus Animabus contra Manichaeos.
He also published an account of his disputation with Fortunatus, a distinguished teacher of the Manichaean doctrine.
In the year 393, he was appointed, though still only a presbyter, to deliver a discourse upon the creed before the council of Hippo.
This discourse, which is still extant, was published at the solicitation of his friends.
In the year 395, Valerius exerted himself to obtain Augustin as his colleague in the episcopal charge; and though Augustin at first urged his unwillingness with great sincerity, his scruples were overcome, and he was ordained bishop of Hippo.
He performed the duties of his new office with zealous fidelity, and yet found time amidst them all for the composition of many of his ablest and most interesting works. His history, from the time of his elevation to the see of Hippo, is so closely implicated with the Donatistic and Pelagian controversies, that it would be impracticable to pursue its details within our prescribed limits. For a full and accurate account of the part which he took in these memorable contentions, the reader is referred to the life of Augustin contained in the eleventh volume of the Benedictine edition of his works, and to the thirteenth volume of Tillemont's "Mémoires pour servir à l'Histoire Ecclésiastique," --a quarto of 1075 pages devoted entirely to the life and writings of this eminent father. Of those of his numerous works which we have not already noticed, we mention the three following, as especially interesting and important: His Confessions, in thirteen books, were written in the year 397. They are addressed to the Almighty, and contain an account of Augustin's life down to the time when he was deprived of his mother by death.
The last three books are occupied with an allegorical explanation of the Mosaic account of the creation. His autobiography is written with great genius and feeling; and though the interspersed addresses to the Deity break the order of the narrative, and extend over a large portion of the work, they are too fine in themselves, and too characteristic of the author, to allow us to complain of their length and frequency.
The celebrated treatise, de Civitate Dei,
commenced about the year 413, was not finished before A. D. 426. Its object and structure cannot be better exhibited than in the author's own words, taken from the 47th chapter of the second book of his Retractationes:
Interea Roma Gothorum irruptione, agentium sub rege Alarico, atque impetus magnae cladis eversa est: cujus eversionem deorum falsorum multorumque cultores, quos usitato nomine Paganos vocamus, in Christianam religionem referre conantes, solito acerbius et amarius Deum verum blasphemare coeperunt. Unde ego exardescens zelo domus Dei, adversus eorum blasphemias vel errores, libros de Civitate Dei scribere institui. Quod opus per aliquot annos me tenuit, eo quod alia multa intercurrebant, quae differre non oporteret, et me prius ad solvendum occupabant. Hoc autema de Civitate Dei grande opus tandem viginti duobus libris est terminatum. Quorum quinque primi eos refellunt, qui res humanas ita prosperari volunt, ut ad hoc multorum deorum cultum, quos Pagani colere consuerunt, necessarium esse arbitrentur; et quia prohibetur, mala ista exoriri atque abundare contendunt. Sequentes autem quinque adversus eos loquuntur, qui fatentur haec mala, nec defuisse unquam, nec defutura mortalibus; et ea nunc magna, nunc parva, locis, temporibus, personisque, variari : sed deorum multorum culture, quo eis sacrificatur, propter vitam post mortem futuram, esse utilem disputant. His ergo decem libris duae istae vanae opiniones Christianae religionis adversariae refelluntur. Sed ne quisquam nos aliena tantum redarguisse, non autem nostra asseruisse, reprehenderet, id agit pars altera operis hujus, quae duodecim libris continetur. Quamquam, ubi opus est, et in prioribus decem quae nostra sunt asseramus, et in duodecim posterioribus redarguamus adversa. Duodecim ergo librorum sequentium, primi quatuor continent exortum duarum Civitatum, quarum est una Dei, altera hujus mundi. Secundi quatuor excursum earusm sive procursum. Tertii vero, qii et postremi, debitos fines. Ita omnes viginti et duo libri cum sint de utraque Civitate conscripti, titulum tamen a meliore acceperunt, ut de Civitate Dei potius vocarentur.
The learning displayed in this remarkable work is extensive rather than profound; its contents are too miscellaneous and desultory, and its reasonings are often more ingenious than satisfactory. Yet, after every due abatement has been made, it will maintain its reputation as one of the most extraordinary productions of human intellect and industry. The Retractationes
of Augustin, written in the year 428, deserve notice as evincing the singular candour of the author.
It consists of a review of all his own productions; and besides explanations and qualifications of much that he had written, it not unfrequently presents acknowledgments of down-right errors and mistakes.
It is one of the noblest sacrifices ever laid upon the altar of truth by a majestic intellect acting in obedience to the purest conscientiousness.
The life of Augustin closed amidst scenes of violence and blood. The Vandals under the ferocious Genseric invaded the north of Africa, A. D. 429, and in the following year laid siege to Hippo. Full of grief for the sufferings which he witnessed and the dangers he foreboded, the aged bishop prayed that God would grant his people a deliverance from these dreadful calamities, or else supply them with the fortitude to endure their woes: for himself he besought a speedy liberation from the flesh. His prayer was granted; and in the third month of the siege, on the 28th of August, 430, Augustin breathed his last, in the seventy-sixth year of his age.
The character of this eminent man is admitted on all hands to have been marked by conspicuous excellence after his profession of the Christian faith.
The only faults of which he can be accused are an occasional excess of severity in his controversial writings, and a ready acquiescence in the persecution of the Donatists. His intellect was in a very high degree vigorous, acute, and comprehensive; and he possessed to the last a fund of ingenuous sensibility, which gives an indescribable charm to most of his compositions. His style is full of life and force, but deficient both in purity and in elegance. His learning seems to have been principally confined to the Latin authors, of Greek he knew but little, and of Hebrew nothing. His theological opinions varied considerably even after he became a Christian; and it was during the later period of his life that he adopted those peculiar tenets with regard to grace, predestination, and free-will, which in modern times have been called Augustinian. His influence in his own and in every succeeding age has been immense. Even in the Roman Catholic Church his authority is professedly held in high esteem; although his later theological system has in reality been proscribed by every party in that communion, except the learned, philosophic, and devout fraternity of the Jansenists.
The early Reformers drank deeply into the spirit of his speculative theology ; and many even of those who recoil most shrinkingly from his doctrine of predestination, have done ample justice to his surpassing energy of intellect, and to the warmth and purity of his religious feelings.
The earliest edition of the collected works of Augustin is that of the celebrated Amerbach, which appeared in nine volumes folio, at Basle, 1506, and was reprinted at Paris in 1515
This edition did not, however, contain the Epistolae,
and the Enarrationes in Psalmos,
which had been previously published by Amerbach. In 1529, the works of Augustin were again published at Basle, from the press of Frobenius, and under the editorship of Erasmus, in ten volumes folio. This edition, though by no means faultless, was a considerable improvement upon that of Amerbach. It was reprinted at Paris in 1531-32
; at Venice, with some improvements, in 1552, and again in 1570
; at Lyons in 1561-63
, and again in 1571
. It was also issued from the press of Frobenius at Basle, with various alterations, in 1543, in 1556, in 1569, and in 1570. In 1577 the valuable edition of Augustin prepared by the learned divines of Louvain, was published at Antwerp, by Christopher Plantin, in ten volumes folio.
It far surpasses in critical exactness all the preceding editions; and though, on the whole, inferior to that of the Benedictines, it is still held in high estimation. No fewer than sixteen of the "Theologi Lovanienses" were employed in preparing it for publication. It has been very frequently reprinted : at Geneva in 1596; at Cologne in 1616; at Lyons in 1664; at Paris in 1586, in 1603, in 1609, in 1614, in 1626, in 1635, and in 1652
. The Benedictine edition of the works of Augustin, in eleven volumes folio, was published at Paris in 1679-1700
It was severely handled by Father Simon; but its superiority to all the former editions of Augustin is generally acknowledged.
The first volume contains, besides the Retractations and the Confessions, the greater part of the works written by Augustin before his elevation to the episcopal dignity.
The second comprises his letters.
The third and fourth include his exegetical writings, the fourth being entirely filled up with his Commentary on the Psalms.
The fifth volume contains the sermons of Augustin.
The sixth embraces his Opera Moralia.
The seventh consists of the treatise de Civitate Dei.
The eighth comprehends his principal works against the Manichaeans, and those against the Arians.
The ninth comprises his controversial writings against the Donatists.
The tenth consists of his treatises on the Pelagian controversy. Each of these volumes contains an appendix consisting of works falsely attributed to Augustin, &c.
The eleventh volume is occupied with the life of Augustin, for the preparation of which Tillemont lent the sheets of his unpublished volume upon this father. This valuable edition was reprinted at Paris, in eleven thick imperial octavo volumes, 1836-39
The edition of Le Clerc (who calls himself Joannes Phereponus) appeared (professedly at Antwerp, but in reality) at Amsterdam, in 1700-1703
It is a republication of the Benedictine edition, with notes by Le Clerc, and some other supplementary matter; besides an additional volume containing the poem of Prosper de Ingratis, the Commentary of Pelagius on the Epistles of Paul, and some modern productions referring to the life and writings of Augustin.
Of the numerous editions of the separate works of Augustin the following are all that we have space to enumerate --
Editio princeps, e monasterio Sublacensi, 1467, fol.
; Moguntiae per Petr. Schoeffer, cum commentariis Thomae Valois et Nic. Triveth, 1473, fol., reprinted at Basle in 1479 and again in 1515
; commentariis illustratum studio et labore Jo. Lud. Vivis, Basileae, 1522, 1555, 1570, fol.
; cum commentariis Leon. Coquaei et Jo. Lud. Vivis, Paris, 1613, 1636, fol., Lips. 1825, 2 vols. 8vo.
editio princeps, Mediolani, 1475, 4to.
; Lovanii, 1563. 12mo. and again 1573, 8vo.
; Antverp. 1567, 156;8, 1740, 8vo.
; Lugd. Batav. 1675, 12mo. apud Elzevir.
; Paris, 1776, 12mo. (an edition highly commended)
; Berol. 1823, ed. A. Neander
; Lips. (Tauchnitz), 1837, ed. C. H. Bruder
; Oxon. (Parker), 1840, ed. E. B. Pusey.
editio princeps, Coloniae, 4to. 1473
; ed. Jo. Hennichio, Francof. ad M. et Rintelii, 1652, 8vo.
Helmstad. 1629, 8vo. ed. Georgius Calixtus, reprinted at Helmstadt in quarto, 1655
; Lips. 1769, 8vo. ed. J. C. B. Teegius, cum praef. J. F. Burscheri.
Lips. 1767, 1780, 8vo. ed. J. C. B. Teegius
; Regimont. 1824, 8vo. cum praef. H. Olshausen.
Jenae, 1698, 4to. cum notis Jurisconsulti celeberrimi (Joannis Schilter) quibus dogma Ecclesiae de matrimonn dissolutione illustratur.
The principal sources of information respecting the life of Augustin are his own Confessions, Retractations, and Epistles, and his biography written by his pupil Possidius, bishop of Calama. Along the best modern works on this subject are those of Tillemont and the Benedictine editors already mentioned ; Laurentii Berti " De rebus gestis Sancti Augustini," &c. Venice, 1746, 4to.; Schröckh, " Kirchengeschichte," vol. xv.; Neander, " Geschichte der Christlichen Religion und Kirche," vol. ii.; Ballr, " Geschichte der Römischen Literatur," Supplement,
vol. ii. For the editions of the works of Augustin, see Cas. Oudin. " Commentarius de Scriptoribus Ecclesiae Antiquis," vol. i. pp. 931-993, and C. T. G. Schönemann's " Bibliotheca Histor.-Literaria Patrum Latinorum," vol. ii. pp. 33-363. On the Pelagian controversy, see (besides Tillemont) G. J. Vossii " Historia de Controversiis quas Pelagius ejusque reliquiae moverunt," Opp. vol. vi.; C. W. F. Walch's " Ketzerhistorie," vol. iv. und v.; G. F. Wiggers' " Versuch einer pragmat. Darstellung des Augustinismus und Pelagianismus," Berlin, 1821.