Augustine and his Writings

Augustine was baptised by Bishop Ambrose of Milan, on April 24, in the year 387AD. It was Easter Sunday. “Augustine of Hippo … is one of the central pillars on which our entire Western civilisation is built…” (Christian History Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 3). His “massive intellect” shaped Western theology (Latourette). His “significance in the church is difficult to overestimate!” (Christianity Today, December, 1987).  Such quotations could be multiplied.

His book, Confessions, written in 401AD is regarded as a classic among Christian literature, powerfully sharing his personal journey and spiritual growth. Roman Catholicism regards him as one of their ‘saints’, whilst many a Protestant finds his theology embedded in Augustine’s writings.

He waged war – verbally and with his pen – against pagans, astrologers, Manichees, Donatists, Pelagians, Arians, Apollinarians, and a host of other beliefs that opposed the Christian faith.

“One statistician counted in his writings 13,276 quotations from the Old Testament … and 29,540 from the New Testament!”  (And that was before the days of Cruden’s Concordance!)

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In his ‘De Civitate Dei’, The City of God, written between 413-427AD and inspired by the fall of Rome to the Visigoths in 410, Augustine separated the moral and spiritual realities of Christianity from political elements. He sought to find the proper relationship between the two forces and saw the church as independent from, if not superior to, the civil state.

One may not agree with all of Augustine’s teaching; nevertheless his impact on the church (one way or another) merits him a place in Christian history.

More information about Augustine’s life and conversion is presented in another post on his life, found at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/ministry/church-history/aurelius-augustine

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

The Prayers of a Mother

Mothers have often felt powerless to see good outcomes in their wayward children. History and the Bible attest to the effect of a woman’s prayers and the actions of a praying mum. Those who follow my daily Church History posts will recognise two mothers in particular who saw their prayers answered for their wayward sons.

Augustine Had a Praying Mother

The famous Christian leader and preacher from the fourth century, Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, did not start his life as a godly man. In fact he was immoral and a shame to his mother.

This caused great distress to his mother, Monica, even though she had great impact on his younger life. She was a godly woman who did not want her son consumed by sin, but hoped for him to serve God. Monica, however, had seen a vision, which she told to her son. She saw that one day he would become a Christian in answer to her prayers. The great Augustine that we remember was in fact the son of his mother’s prayers.

Despite Monica’s vision and her attempts to teach her son godly living, young Augustine pursued those things that appealed to his human mind. He dabbled in theatre, philosophy, rhetoric and heresy. Like many people today, he expected to find the ultimate truth from his personal explorations.

Profligate Living

Because Augustine’s notion of life was that people must find their own truth he also felt free to find his own morality. He had multiple mistresses. In fact he was so given to immorality he was later in awe of simple Christians who could resist the temptations which dominated him.

Now consider a son in such a state. His philosophy of life, intellectual pursuits and immoral lifestyle made him seem unreachable. Onlookers could have considered him a lost cause and a hopeless case.

But his mother did not stop praying for him. She had the assurance that came through her earlier vision, and she had God’s Word to assure her.

Praying Women in the Bible

Jesus gave a parable about a widow woman who deserved justice. Because she was of no social consequence an unjust judge dismissed her case. She was undeterred, but came back repeatedly to cry out for justice. In the end the unjust judge gave in to her demands and gave her justice, only to stop her pestering him.

Jesus used that woman’s situation to show that persistent prayer will be heard by God, who is much more willing to help than that unjust judge was.

“And he spake a parable to them to show that men should always pray and not give up; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubles me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge said. And will not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night to him, though he bear long with them?” Luke 18:1-7

Powerful Powerless Prayers

Even though a woman may feel powerless and unable to demand obedience from her son or justice from her society, yet she can pray powerful prayers which God will answer. This makes the powerless woman into a powerful woman of God.

That’s what happened for Monica, as she prayed for Augustine. She not only prayed herself, but she enlisted the prayers of others, tearfully determined to see her son saved.

One person Monica asked to pray with her was a bishop who comforted her with confidence in her prayers. The bishop said to her: “Leave him there, and only pray to God for him; he will discover by reading what is his error, and how great his impiety. …. Go, live so; it cannot be that the son of those tears will perish.”

While Monica was praying for her son, Augustine came under the powerful preaching of godly Ambrose in Milan. After Augustine was converted he said of Ambrose, “I was led to him unknowingly by God, that I might knowingly be led to God by him”.

Jacob DeShazer’s Mum

Jacob DeShazer was an American airman in World War II who was shot down returning from a bombing raid over Japan. He had not come to faith in God, but his mother prayed for his soul.

On the very night that Jacob leaped from his plane to parachute into enemy territory his mother woke from her sleep with the sense of falling. She did not realise that her experience had a connection with her son, but she prayed. And she continued praying for her boy, as she had done before.

DeShazer ended up in solitary confinement in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp. While others were shot, his life was spared. And eventually he turned his heart to God and asked for a Bible. Once he received it he devoured God’s Word, reading it through multiple times and cross-referencing events to see that the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus were truly fulfilled in his life.

DeShazer came to faith and later returned to Japan as a very effective missionary.

God Answers the Prayers of a Mother

Mums, you may feel that you are powerless as your children head off to lives which you want to save them from. But you are not powerless. God listens to your prayers. God will hear and answer, as you press in and claim the lives of your sons and daughters.

I encourage you to do what Augustine’s mother did. And do what DeShazer’s mother did. Cry out to God for the soul of your child and confidently expect God to answer. He will.

Aurelius Augustine Sets the Course of Christian Doctrine

Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, was born on November 13 in Togaste, North Africa, in AD 354.

His father, Patricius was burgess of the town and a pagan, which set young Augustine toward a self-indulgent lifestyle. However his mother, Monica, was a Christian who devoted herself to prayer for both her husband and son. In years to come she saw both come to faith.

From his earliest days Monica instructed her son in the truth of Jesus Christ and initially her efforts appeared effective. When he fell ill he asked to be baptized, but he put the matter off once he recovered. He then threw aside all Christian principles and followed in his father’s sensual values. He had several mistresses, one which bore him a son, Adeodatus, whom he dearly loved.

While his mother prayed for him his ambition for knowledge led him eventually under the influence of Abrose in Milan. But not before he had become keenly devoted to several philosophies and heresies of the day. His demand for intellectual satisfaction saw his sour with each new hope of philosophic resolution. Meanwhile, however, he had gained a reputation as a teacher of rhetoric and was in some demand.

Thus Augustine came to Milan and came under the influence of Ambrose, of whom he said, “I was led to him unknowingly by God, that I might knowingly be led to God by him.” The main text that Ambrose pressed in those days was 2 Corinthians 3:6, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” This deeply impressed Augustine who was still questing for truth that liberated.

The testimony of Victorinus, a fellow teacher of rhetoric who converted to Christianity, shook Augustine. He told God, “I burned to imitate him. .… He appeared to me not so much brave as happy, because he had discovered an opportunity of waiting on You only. For this was what I was longing for, thus bound, not with the irons of another, but my own iron will.”

Augustine had given in to sensual desires and they now ruled him. He every attempt to transcend sin was defeated and he knew he was a slave to the chains of his own immoral choices. Desperate to come to faith he kept being pulled back by the fear of death to self and the total loss of all sensual addictions.

This is how Augustine described his slavery to evil self will. “The enemy held fast my will, and had made of it a chain, and had bound me tight with it. For out of the perverse will was lust made, and lust indulged in became habit, and habit not resisted became necessity. By these links, as it were, joined together (which is why I called it a ‘chain’), a hard bondage held me enthralled .… made strong by long indulgence.”

Unable to break free from his own evil choices Augustine ran into the garden and flung himself to the ground beneath a fig tree and there wept himself through repentance before God. He was then prompted by a voice telling him to “Take up and read” the Bible, which led him to Romans 8:13,14. “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof” He adds, “I had neither desire nor need to read farther. As I finished the sentence, as though the light of peace had been poured into my heart, all the shadows of doubt dispersed. Thus hast Thou converted me to Thee, so as no longer to seek either for wife or other hope of the world, standing fast in that rule of faith in which Thou so many years before hadst revealed me to my mother” (Confess., viii. 30).

Following his conversion Augustine sought a life of retirement and solitude. This became the basis for the monastic life which he later prescribed and which grew into the Augustinian order. After three years he went to Hippo to visit a friend and was there pressed by overwhelming popular demand to take the position of presbyter. He took the post and progressed from that to the position of Bishop of Hippo.

In that role he wrote extensively, contending with the popular heresies of the day, including some he had previously been devoted to. His writings and his piety set the course for future development of Christian theology and thought.

Augustine’s impact on church history cannot be estimated. Benjamin Warfield says “he transfigured the Christian faith for those who would follow”.

Kenneth Scott Latourette wrote “without Augustine’s massive intellect Western theology would never have taken the shape in which it is familiar to us”.

His autobiography, Confessions, is regarded as a classic of Christian literature.

Roman Catholics canonised him … and a young Martin Luther belonged to the Augustinian order of monks.

His treatises against the heresies of his day reveal him to be the church’s most able apologist. One statistician claims that Augustine – in his writings – quoted the Old Testament 13,276 times, and the New Testament 29,540 times! (Treasury of Evangelical Writings, by D.O. Fuller, page 51).

But not everybody sings the praises of this famous Bishop of Hippo.

Arminius disputes his teaching on election. Baptists question his paedo-baptist stance, pre-millennialists take issue with his prophetic views, and his emphasis that the church should “compel her erring sons to return to the fold” led to the deaths of thousands when baptism or the sword became a matter of ‘conversion’. His passionate insistence that infants need baptism to protect them from their sins is not a belief that is commonly held today.

At the end of Augustine’s life the Vandals, who had been gradually enclosing the Roman empire, laid siege to the city of Hippo. Being ill, Augustine only pray for his fellow-citizens. He passed away during the progress of the siege, on the 28th of August 430, at the age of seventy-five. Thus he was spared the distress of seeing the city all into enemy hands.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.