A light in the gloaming

One of the towing figures - perhaps the towering figure among the early western church fathers - is Augustine of Hippo (354-430). Best known for his Confessions (about his conversion to Christianity) and City of God (in which he refutes allegations blaming Christians for the decline of Rome), he wrote about much else including his magisterial Expositions of the Psalms. His writings continue to entertain and inspire.


"When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a ruler with discernment and knowledge maintains order." Proverbs 28.2


St Augustine comes across as a CS Lewis type. In his early life as a rhetorician he excelled and dazzled in equal measure. Unlike Lewis, he was also rakish in his behaviour. All that changed when he heard the voice urging him to "pick up and read" and, in the Gospels, met Jesus. Thereupon all that energy and talent was re-directed in service of his new master and fellow believers. The reason for Augustine's enduring appeal probably lies in the fertile combination of his profound faith, his real-world experience and his natural talent. It certainly equipped him to tackle the issues of his day, which he did with gusto...


Augustine seems to have had a particular talent for salvaging what was good in the pagan world he had left behind and embellishing it with a Christian gloss, whether that was the neo-platonic philosophy of Plotinus, the political theory of Cicero, or the reverence with which Roman citizens buried their dead. Combining Christian insights and convictions such as the resurrection of the body, the sovereignty of God, the power of the Holy Spirit with pastoral sensitivity, Augustine offered a compelling vision of Christian identity, which out-nobled Roman aspirations towards nobility! He was particularly compassionate towards rape victims, who had suffered at the hands of barbarian invaders during the sacking of Rome in 410.


Internal battles against heretical movements such as the Manichees, Donatists and Pelagians were also grist to Augustine's mill and identified him as a champion of orthodox, Trinitarian faith in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All this in an era when the apparently civilised world was falling apart. A man for our times?

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