Throughout the ages, there have been countless influences on not only social and political life, but on religious character and prevalence as well. Aurelius Augustine, who would eventually rise to the position of bishop in the early Catholic Church, was one of the most interesting characters that would surely leave his mark on the Roman Empire, especially in the few decades before the western part of the empire was to be taken over by Germanic tribes from the North. Perhaps, his most influential characteristic that history still records today, was his striking tenacity to preserve the Christian religion as it was ‘supposed’ to be and to spread that influence to all who walked the earth. This, of course, is only a small fraction of the intense influence the great man called St. Augustine of Hippo truly had, and still has, on the world.
The man most would call St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church today, was born as Aurelius Augustine in the year 354, on the 13th of November, in Thagaste. Growing up in the Roman province of North Africa, present-day Tunisia, Augustine would have been “among the many who were enfranchised by the famous edict of Caracalla of 212, whereby almost all the freemen of the Empire became Roman citizens” (Bonner 1963, 36). This can be attributed from the origins of his last name. He grew up in a poor family, one which was ridden with hardship, but this did not stop his father Patricius’s, as Gerald Bonner puts it, “determination to secure for him the best possible education” (1963, 38). What is also interesting to note, is the strikingly opposite sentiments for the Christian religion concerning both of Augustine’s parents. His mother, very devout, as sources would have it, was a catalyst in Augustine’s later years to finally convert back to the religion he was born into.
Most of the information we find regarding Augustine’s life is in reference to his own ‘autobiographical’ writings in his Confessiones, finished sometime between the years 397 and AD 398. This work, one of his greatest, along with De doctrina Christiana (AD 426) and De civitate Dei (AD 426), would spell out his intentions for the Catholic faith in the 5th Century and how it should be practiced. In The Confessions, as it is translated from the Latin, he attributes his whole journey toward the Christian faith to a struggle through many philosophies and teachings, which he would take up and then constantly reject. This would seem to be the pattern of Augustine as he practiced, for some time, everything from Manichaeism to Neoplatonism. He could not seem to grasp the fullness of their teachings and eventually and always found a fault that would not allow him for continuation of the particular faith. But, it would be his boyish ways which would set him upon this path in the first place.
Firstly, one must observe and discuss Augustine’s formative years, especially in the ever- changing empire of Rome, with its countless influences from near and...