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Saint Augustine

His Works and Teachings

St. Augustine's influence on Christianity is thought by many to be second only to that of St. Paul, and theologians, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, look upon him as one of the founders of Western theology. His Confessions is considered a classic of Christian autobiography. This work (c.400), the prime source for St. Augustine's life, is a beautifully written apology for the Christian convert. Next to it his best-known work is the City of God (after 412)—a mammoth defense of Christianity against its pagan critics, and famous especially for the uniquely Christian view of history elaborated in its pages.

Augustine regarded all history as God's providential preparation of two mystical cities, one of God and one of the devil, to one or the other of which all humankind will finally belong. His greatest purely dogmatic work is On the Trinity, but much of his theological teaching comes from his polemic writings. His works against the Manichaeans, especially Against Faustus (his Manichaean teacher), are important for the light they throw on this religion. Against Donatism St. Augustine directed two works, On Baptism and On the Correction of the Donatists, in which he formulated the idea, since then become part of Roman Catholicism, that the church's authority is the guarantee of the Christian faith, its own guarantee being the apostolic succession.

The most important and vitriolic controversy in which St. Augustine was involved was his battle against Pelagianism. The Pelagians denied original sin and the fall of humanity. The implication of this aroused Augustine, who held that humanity was corrupt and helpless. From his writings the great controversies on grace proceed, and as professed followers of Augustine, John Calvin and the Jansenists developed predestinarian theologies. Though revering Augustine, many theologians have refused to accept his more extreme statements on grace. Another of St. Augustine's important treatises, On the Work of Monks, has been much used by monastics. He was also a supremely important biblical exegete. His letters are numerous and revealing. His most important works are available in translation.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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