A Changed Life: Augustine (354-430)

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Augustine of Hippo, who stands as a church father of theology, was an intellectual giant whom I must confess I fall short in writing about. He wrote over 100 books, 500 sermons, and 200 letters. Many who read Augustine relate to him because of his rebellious life and the inward struggle with truth. The Bible reminds us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV). Augustine as a new creation was able to look at truth, which he passionately pursued, with new, clear lenses. With a clear look at truth, he saw that truth is found in Christ. He is a world changer—he impacted not just those in North Africa in the 4th century, but so many believers throughout history because his writings have been preserved.

Augustine was born in Northern Africa (modern day Algeria) at a time in history when it was not illegal to be a Christian (though it had been just a few decades earlier) as Rome adopted Christianity as the national religion under Constantine (AD 272–337).

His mother, who was a strong believer that prayed fervently for Augustine, played a very important role in his faith. Augustine as a young man cared more for fun and pleasure than truth and religion. As a child, he did poorly in education, as he lacked discipline and had a poor work ethic.

Augustine’s parents sent him off to school in Carthage and as a teenager he took this freedom to mean he could indulge in anything and everything. He became a father at a young age in taking a concubine—not wanting to marry, as that would hinder his status and educational direction.

Just like Ecclesiastes reminds us of Solomon and how he pursued pleasure, money, and popularity, and came to the conclusion that it was all meaningless, Augustine would eventually come to that point as he met a very intelligent and powerful Christian communicator named Ambrose. Though he did not repent and follow Christ right away, the seeds that were planted by his mother began to be watered.

Augustine was having somewhat of a personal wrestling match outside in his garden. Something was gripping him spiritually. He heard a child’s voice telling him to, “Take up and read. Take up and read.” He recounts that it was songlike and thought that it was a neighbor but couldn’t find the source. He took it as a message from God and nearby was a copy of the book of Romans. He opened it up and his eyes gravitated to Romans 13:13–14 which says, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (ESV).

Augustine would recount that it was at this moment these words struck his heart and he said, “The instant I reached the end of the sentence, it seemed the light of peace was poured into my heart, and all shades of doubt faded away.[1]

Augustine was converted and he adopted the monastic life and returned to North Africa, to the city of Hippo. Eventually he became the bishop over the city and much of the writing we have today from Augustine deals with more than just combating heresies and communicating doctrine. He dealt with turmoil in the time of Roman history. The Visigoths attacked and overcame Rome and many of the Christians fled from Rome to North Africa, where many asked if the Roman gods were punishing them because they turned to Christ. Augustine answered their questions and he wrote them down in the classic City of God. He encouraged Christians not to dwell on the city that is but the city that is to come.

The Power of a Praying Mother

In Augustine’s most known work, Confessions, many times he attributes the change of his soul to God’s sovereignty and the prayers of his mother.

Augustine recounted a situation in which he was so ill that he was close to dying, when he was not yet a follower of Christ, and he remembered his mother’s prayers:

“My mother did not know I was ill, but she was praying for me, though not beside me. But you [God] are present everywhere. Where she was, you heard her, and where I was, you had mercy on me so that I recovered the health of my body. I still remained sick in my sacrilegious heart, for though in such great danger, I had no desire for your baptism. I did better as a boy when I begged for it from my devout mother, as I have recalled and confessed…I cannot speak enough of the love she had for me. She suffered great pains in my spiritual pregnancy than when she bore me in the flesh.”[2]

We can sense his mother’s love for him and also Augustine’s appreciation for his mother’s spiritual care.

This is a reminder to me that it was my mother who prayed fervently for me and my salvation. I am thankful that she was faithful in her prayers over my salvation when she could have been tired or frustrated.

This is also a reminder to us that we do not know how the Lord will use our faithful prayers but, just like Augustine’s mom, who prayed even when others might have given up, we must be faithful in praying for others. Have you been praying for someone in your life to respond to the gospel? Do not grow faint, as these prayers are not wasted. Jesus reminds us to, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7 ESV).

 

 

[1] Augustine. Confessions. PG. 153.

[2] IBID. PG. 83

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