Before we dive into this series on Augustine: Epistemology, Nature of the Soul, and Hope, I would like to give some background information on who he was and the context in which he practiced philosophy and theology. He was born in 354 in present-day eastern Algeria. From a very young age, one could tell he had a gifted mind. He went on to teach literature and public speaking in Carthage, Rome and Milan. He dabbled with Manichaean theosophy, skepticism, and then Neoplatonic mysticism. Neoplatonism led him to search for the origin of evil. He realized that the material world was good but we, mankind, were the ones who corrupted the world. After a long internal struggle, He converted to Christianity in 386 and was ordained as a Christian minister in 391 and became bishop of Hippo in 396 for the last 34 years of his life.
In his ministry, Augustine faced two crises that are pertinent to our discussion today. The first crisis was Pelagianism. The heresy was formed by a British monk named Pelagius who taught that man was born without original sin. He believed that humanity did not inherit Adam’s sin which means that the human soul was born perfect. Since man is born without original sin, they could choose God and the good by their own autonomous free will.
The second crisis that he faced was the fall of Rome. In 378, Rome experienced a massive blow as the Roman emperor Valens and two thirds of his army fell in a single day to Gothic migrants. The empire began to steadily decline until the city of Rome was sacked in 410 by the Visigoths. At the time, Christianity had enjoyed a period of peace as it was the state religion of the Roman Empire. But due to the fall of Rome, things were tense. Christians worried about what would happen from there and what the world will look like for them. That prompted Augustine to write the City of God which is one of the texts we will look at today.
EDITORS’ NOTE: See also the rest of Austin Hobbs‘ series on Augustine: Epistemology, Nature of the Soul, and Hope.