Where was Augustine from?
Augustine of Hippo was born in a small town in North Africa (Thagaste, not Hippo) in the mid-300s AD. His mother was a Christian, and she raised Augustine as a Christian. But Augustine’s father followed traditional Roman religion.
Roman North Africa
Early African religion
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Augustine’s parents were not poor. So when he got older and it seemed that he was very smart, they sent him to a bigger city to go to school. He was only fifteen when he went to Carthage to go to school. But probably his parents sent an older enslaved man to look after him. Eventually his parents sent him to Rome to study with teachers there.
Augustine and Manichaeism
At first Augustine was interested in Manichaeism. That’s a branch of Christianity. Manichaeans divide the world into two: the good and the bad, where the good God is always fighting the bad Devil.
What did Manichaeans believe?
Augustine meets Ambrose
While he was studying in Italy as a young man, he met Ambrose, the bishop of Milan. Ambrose (and the general enthusiasm in Rome) convinced Augustine to convert to Christianity.
Who was Bishop Ambrose?
History of Christianity
Soon afterwards Augustine went back to Africa to be the bishop of Hippo, a town near his hometown. He wrote a book, the Confessions, about why he had converted to Christianity.
The City of Rome
Not long after Augustine returned home, he got the terrible news that the city of Rome had been attacked and sacked by the Visigoths (in 410 AD). Augustine was shocked and sad.
Visigoths sack Rome
Where did the Visigoths come from?
Then he heard that people were saying that Rome had been destroyed because the Romans had converted to Christianity and forgotten the old gods. People were saying that they should go back to praying to Jupiter and Mars, and then Rome would be safe.
Augustine was very upset by this. No, it could not be so! He knew that the Christian god was the one true god, and Jupiter and Mars were only demons. But then why had Rome been destroyed, just as everyone was finally converting to Christianity?
Augustine writes the City of God
Augustine devoted most of the rest of his life to writing a book, the City of God, that would answer this question. His answer (in a very short version) was that God wanted the things of this earth to be destroyed so that the new world could come. The City of Man (Rome) was destroyed to make things ready for the City of God (Heaven) which was going to come very soon. Meanwhile, everybody should convert to Christianity quickly, or else when the world ended they would go to hell.
Augustine’s view helped everyone to deal with the fact that the Roman Empire was collapsing around them. His book became very popular.
When did Augustine die?
Augustine died in 430 AD, with the Vandals besieging Hippo, the city he lived in. But he died happy, knowing that when the Vandals took Hippo, it was only another sign that the Kingdom of God was coming soon.
Learn by doing: read the beginning of the City of God
More about the Vandals
Bibliography and further reading about Augustine:
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