Augustine, the Doctor of Grace, is perhaps the greatest of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. So brilliant was his intellect that his ideas dominated Western theological and philosophical thought for a thousand years.
Born in Tagaste, in present-day Algeria, on November 13, 354, he was the son of Monica (later canonized) and Patricius, a pagan Roman official who converted shortly before his death. Augustine received little Christian instruction and was not baptized as a youth.
At sixteen he went to Carthage to study rhetoric with the idea of becoming a lawyer. The pagan environment adversely affected his moral judgment, and he gradually abandoned any remnant of the faith of his mother, became a disciple of Manichaeanism, and took a mistress with whom he lived for fifteen years.
In 383 he established a school of rhetoric in Rome, but soon became disappointed with the quality of his students, so he moved on to Milan, where he accepted the chair of rhetoric. In Milan, while studying Neoplatonic philosophy, Augustine came under the influence of Bishop Ambrose and Simplicianus. He was impressed by the preaching of Ambrose and was convinced by the rational arguments of Simplicianus. Monica’s long years of prayer were answered when Augustine was baptized by Ambrose at Easter, 387.
The next year Augustine returned to Tagaste and formed a sort of monastery, leading a life of prayer and meditation. Three years later he was ordained at Hippo, by popular demand; there he established a religious community which served as a theological seminary. At Bishop Valerius of Hippo’s request, Augustine began preaching in the city–a privilege usually reserved to bishops. His phenomenal success at defending the faith led to his being made coadjutor to Valerius, whom he succeeded in 396.
Augustine soon became the most prominent figure in the Church in Africa. He participated in many of the councils of the time, including those at Carthage. He was tireless in his defense of the Church from heresy. His battles, both in writing and in public, against Manichaeanism, Donatism, and Pelagianism occupied much of his later years. In the midst of a long siege of Hippo by the Vandals, Augustine died on August 28, 430.
Augustine’s mark on the Church was matched only by that of Thomas Aquinas. Undoubtedly one of the most influential men in the history of thought, his most notable works are the autobiographical Confessions and The City of God.