Augustine of Hippo, St

Major Christian philosopher and theologian and the key figure in the transition from pagan to specifically Christian philosophy. Born at Tagaste in North Africa of a pagan father and a Christian mother (St Monica), Augustine studied rhetoric at Carthage, and taught in Rome and Milan. After periods believing in manichaeanism, scepticism, and Neoplatonism, he converted to Christianity in 386, at the age of 31. Augustine found the theology of Christianity prefigured in Neoplatonism: what Christianity added was the specific belief in the incarnation and consequent salvation. Christianity thus succeeded in showing people how to live, where unaided philosophical reflection failed. In 395 he was appointed coadjutor of Bishop Valerius, and a year later became the Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Of the two works by which he is best remembered, the Confessions were written around 400, and the City of God, occasioned by the fall of Rome to Alaric in 410, was written in the years from 413 to 427.
Augustine's philosophy was always at the service of his theology, although containing fine discussions of metaphysics, particularly of time and free will, and of ethics. As a bishop he fought three major heresies: that of the manichaeans, the Donatists, and the Pelagians . Against the first, Augustine argues that the universe is wholly good, and that evil is only the privation or absence of that which is good. In the case of moral evil, this is the result of free will (see free will defence ). The Donatist schism arose because members of the African church refused to accept a bishop who had been consecrated by someone (a traditor or betrayer) low enough to surrender his bible during the persecutions conducted by the Emperor Diocletian. Augustine in response forges the doctrine of one Church and the efficacy of the sacraments. Philosophically some of his most important doctrines emerge in the third controversy, with the mild Pelagian heresy, against which the steely Augustine affirms the reality of the Fall, and of original sin as the hereditary moral disease that we all bear, only curable by God's grace. This teaching confirms the predestination of the elect, for grace is a gift that is given rather than earned. It was left to Calvinism to add the predestination of the damned (see hell ). Augustine's writing was much admired by Wittgenstein, and his Confessions provide the archetype for all subsequent autobiography.

Philosophy dictionary. . 2011.

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