Augustine of Hippo


b Tagaste, N Africa 354, d Hippo (now Bône, Algeria), N Africa 430. Born to a pagan father and a Christian mother (Monica, to whose prayers he owed an incalculable debt), he received a Christian education. At the Univ of Carthage he studied rhetoric to prepare for the legal profession but then switched to literature, at the same time abandoning any form of Christian faith and taking a mistress. In 373 he turned to philosophy and for 9 years adopted Manichaeism, blending mystery, myth and dualism with an austere lifestyle. Disillusioned by its superstition and ineffectiveness, he then went briefly to Rome to teach rhetoric but this time was disgusted with his own students. His next home was Milan, where he was moved by the preaching of Bp Ambrose (qv) and drew close to a Christian position, holding back only because of the call to holiness. But in summer 386 he had the experience of hearing a voice say ‘Tolle, lege…Take, read’, turned to Rom 13:13, and was decisively converted, submitting at last to ‘put on’ (or be clothed with) Christ. After months in seclusion he was baptized at Easter 387, returning to N Africa in 388 to found a Christian community. But on a visit to Hippo Regius in 391 he was unexpectedly and suddenly persuaded to be ordained; within 4 years he was assistant bishop, then sole bishop of Hippo from c396 until his death there in 430, with the Vandals besieging the city. His leadership and written works established him as one of the universal church’s foremost teachers and ‘doctors’, combating heretical and unworthy concepts of God, including the ‘British heresy’ of Pelagianism which taught that human freewill and good works provided the way to salvation. So Augustine is strongest on concepts of divine grace as taught by the apostle Paul, and successors such as Calvin, the Reformers and Puritans etc. Much of his writing was born of controversy, his greatest works being the Confessions (c400, not merely autobiography) and The City of God (in 22 bks, 413–426 following the traumatic fall of Rome in 410, contrasting the earthly and heavenly kingdoms). Both books have been constantly reissued and re-edited and have remained continuously in print; Charles Colson names their author as second only to C S Lewis in forming his own spiritual understanding, and the American evangelical leaders D James Kennedy, David McKenna and R Albert Mohler jr pay him similar tributes. As well as Augustine’s immense theological influence, resented as it inevitably is by later liberalism, many quotations have passed into popular Christian use in prayers and hymns, as here. No.737.

Hymns and songs by Augustine of Hippo

Number Hymn Name
737 O matchless beauty of our God