Augustine’s superior abilities led him to start a school of rhetoric in Carthage, then in Rome and Milan. However, he held his Manichean religion (a pseudo-Christian Persian gnostic religion) lightly and was urged by his mother (the relentless prayer for his soul), to follow Christ as revealed in Scripture and by Ambrose his newfound friend and fellow rhetorician, the Bishop of Milan. In late August of 386, at the age of thirty-one, Augustine finally repented and came to Christ alone for salvation; he abandoned his false beliefs, concubines, and hedonistic life, and pursued Gospel ministry. In his great and classic autobiography entitled Confessions, he related his conversion:
Late have I loved Thee, O Lord; and behold,
Thou wast within and I without, and there I sought Thee.
Thou wast with me when I was not with Thee.
Thou didst call, and cry, and burst my deafness.
Thou didst gleam, and glow, and dispel my blindness.
Thou didst touch me, and I burned for Thy peace.
For Thyself Thou hast made us,
And restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease.
Late have I loved Thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new.
In AD 391, Augustine was ordained as a priest and established a monastic fellowship on his ancestral property near Hippo. His fame as a preacher and apologist for Christianity spread throughout the Church. More than three hundred fifty of his sermons have been preserved and his book entitled The City of God is a classic, still read today. In it, he argued that history is the story of two cities, the City of Man wherein dwells though unconcerned of their souls or in rejection of God and his Word, and the City of God, a heavenly city in which all true believers reside. He intended his work to comfort and encourage Christians in the midst of barbarian invasions and the dissolution of the Roman Empire.
Saint Augustine in His Study, by Vittore Carpaccio (c. 1465-1525)
Augustine of Hippo’s influence on the Christian Church of his day and throughout the succeeding centuries has no parallels among the “Patristic Fathers”, till the coming of Thomas Aquinas. His embrace of salvation by grace and of the doctrine of predestination set him apart from many of his time. He spent his last days in prayer and repentance, with the penitential Psalms of David affixed to the walls of his room.
Though he also held heterodox beliefs about Mary and purgatory, and was highly influenced by neo-Platonic philosophy, Augustine’s influence, upon both the Medieval Church and the Protestant reformers centuries later, proved profound and powerful.