Who Cares About Augustine?
By: Rev. Joe Kramer
Today we are going to deviate from a teaching and remember one individual whom we as Christians have forgotten about. He has become a footnote in history for most of us. But because of him, and others like him, true Christian doctrine has been preserved for our benefit.
It has been said that a man (human being) never stands alone, but on the shoulders of those who came before them. You see we don’t live in a vacuum. A lot of the teachings that we take for granted today come from people of faith from long ago. Some of these people in the early centuries following Jesus’ ascension are referred to as the “Early Church Fathers.” Today I would like to draw your attention to Augustine.
Augustine was born in 354 A.D. and died in 430 A.D. His mother was one of his greatest influences. He was the most influential Apologist (defender of the Christian Faith) of the first centuries. His writings, amongst other early writers, are the basis of the field we call Apologetics and were written to mainly refute paganism.
The interesting part is that Augustine spent a great deal of time among the pagans. You see in his earlier days he strayed from the Christian faith and sought out spirituality in all sorts of ways and religions. During this time he gave into all kinds of evil deeds, including sexual sin and all the pleasures he could find. He found them empty and his life empty as well. He came back to Christianity.
Because of his time amongst the “false religions” he learned quite a bit about them. Because of his knowledge, God used his writings to refute their claims and show just how empty they were.
His writings are too numerous to list here, but I have included a link to a site or two (found at the bottom) to look at his work. CARM lists His remarks on the book of Psalms, His book called the “City of God,” and his seven part book series on Baptism against the Donatists.
We owe a humongous debt to Augustine for his refutation of Pelagianism and Donatism. Pelagius denied the concept of predestination and original sin. He taught that one could reach God on his own merits without the grace of God. This is of course unbiblical and a system of works, not grace which Ephesians 2:8-9 refutes (just an example there are many more). It reads (NKJV), (8) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, (9) not of works, lest anyone should boast. Donatists taught that the sacraments (Baptism and Communion) had to be done by a minister who was Holy enough to give them out, or those sacraments would be invalid. The problem is that no one is Holy enough. The Donatists placed too much emphasis on the sacraments (almost a mystical view of their power) and not enough on the reality of the sacraments. The reality being that the sacraments have no physical power, but are a wonderful outward sign and witness of the change in our lives that Christ has made.
The one thing to remember about Augustine (and anyone else) is that though he did great things, he is not God. As such his (as well as others) writings are not inerrant. So you know what? They can “miss it” just like everyone else. You will find that Augustine leaned into the Catholic Church’s point of view during his time, because he was Catholic. You will find that certain things are difficult to understand because you may not know the historical background. That is alright, because so long as you understand some of his writing God can use it for your betterment.
Places to find information on Augustine’s writings. There only two here, but many more are out there.
Sources consulted in this Article
- Toon, P. (1992). Augustine of Canterbury. In J. Douglas & P. W. Comfort (Eds.), Who’s Who in Christian history (J. Douglas & P. W. Comfort, Ed.) (46). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.
- Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (1797). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
- Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Slick, Matt. Christian Apologetics and Reasearch Ministries. Donatism. http://carm.org/donatism/
- Schaff, P., & Schaff, D. S. (1910). History of the Christian church. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.