Augustine of Hippo: A Life, Henry Chadwick

Early in my Christian life, I remember reading and hearing about this man, Augustine. Who he was, what he did, and why everyone was talking about him was beyond me. But as I read more and grew in my faith, I kept hearing his name and investigated him for myself. Some really early observations I made was he was definitely important. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants all claim Augustine as critical to their faith groups. I read about Augustine’s famous “Confessions” and “City of God.” When reading about the Reformers, I learned that they used his texts as a basis for the refrain of that movement, “Justification by faith alone.” There is little doubt that without Augustine, the Reformation might not have happened. His influence stretches from the 5th century to the present.

Studying him, therefore, is well worth the time. Some of the basic things to know about Augustine is that he was not a Christian in his youth. Augustine’s “Confessions” was really one of the first biographies as we understand them today. Augustine recounts in that work how he enjoyed sinning. He illustrates this by recounting a story about a pear tree: he and some of his friends stole pears out of a pear tree and fed them to pigs. While this seems harmless, it demonstrates how evil Augustine was. There was nothing beneficial about feeding the pears to the pigs; it was an act of pure rebellion. And while this might seem extreme, after all it was just a harmless prank, it shows how contrite Augustine had become over the littlest offense to a Holy God. He soon become a well read man who also had a raging libido. While professor of rhetoric in the Roman Empire, he had an illegitimate child and a mistress. He struggled with sexual immorality and it was one of the big reasons he could not convert to Christianity. But one day he heard a refrain, “Pick up and read, pick up and read” from a small child. What was in front of him was a scroll of the book of Romans. He read Romans 13:13-14 which reads,

“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.”

And with this, he became a Christian, repenting of his sin and changing his life forever.

Quickly he became renown in Christian circles. He soon took a job as Bishop in the church at Hippo. Here he would stay for his life. He came into contact with many controversies. One section of the book, Dr. Chadwick spends an entire chapter about the Arian heresy and Augustine’s view of the trinity. Another chapter, Dr. Chadwick spends that time looking at the Pelegian controversy.

When the Roman Empire fell, many of the pagans blamed the Christians for ruining the society they had built. Many of the Christians blamed the pagans for corrupting society. In this controversy, Augustine wrote his famous “City of God” in which he states that God is sovereign over everything and that nations rise and fall according to His will.

Augustine is an intriguing figure in Church history. He also is very important and worthy to study. Dr. Chadwick was, and still is, considered one of the greatest conservative historians of the 20th century. His work on Augustine solidifies this legacy. It is a short book but a necessary one.

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