Saint Augustine

Probably one of the greatest and most influential church fathers of the ages was Augustine. He was born in Tageste in 354. His mother, Monica, was a staunch believer in the Christian faith and she tried to indoctrinate these beliefs into her son despite the hindrance of his pagan father.

While still very young, his parents sent him to law school at Carthage, where he immediately fell into sin. He led a life of shame and violence which he later revealed in his book, The Confessions. Later, after discontinuing his study of law, he turned to philosophy where he was led astray by the heretical Manachean doctrine. Finally, in 384, he was given his professorship in Milan where he soon came under the teachings of Ambrose. It was the earnest preaching of Ambrose that eventually led to his conversion. Shortly after meeting Ambrose, he was converted and baptized.

Four years later, he was at Hippo where he soon became a priest and finally the bishop of Hippo. It was here at Hippo that his first monastery was established. Augustine thought that monasteries were very good to be used as institutions of learning for the clergy. It was also at Hippo that Augustine began to fight so valiantly against the heresies which had crept into the church. First the Manacheans, whom he had joined while in Carthage. They taught that evil is matter and not a power or force. The way to escape from evil then was by means of monasteries and convents in which they could live secluded lives away from the world. Augustine broke down these beliefs by using God’s Word to make them see their error. He said that when one goes into monasteries he can’t get away from sin because those who are shut up in them still have their own sinful hearts which cause them to sin.

Another false teaching which arose at this time was Pelagianism. Pelagius was an Irish monk who taught that man is created good, without blemish, and having no original guilt. He claimed that grace is only an external help for the common man and he could, if he so desired, refrain from all sin and be without need of Christ. He said that man sins because his will makes the evil choice to sin, and that at any time throughout his life he can refrain from sin if he can only break a powerful “habit” which he has formed. Contrary to this, Angustine said that man is saved only by irresistible and unmerited grace granted by God. He said too, that God does not determine the sins of man but only permits them. This puts the free will of man in the place of the determining will of God, and makes Augustine a believer of Infralapsarianism.

Therefore, because of the many new ideas which he started at this time, he is considered the greatest teacher of the Western Church. Many of the later doctrinal issues which sprang up were inspired by the teachings of Augustine.