Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Posted: Thursday, February 10, 2011 10:36 pm
The Messenger, February 10, 2011
the Pelegian Challenge
By RB TOLAR
Special to The Messenger
Augustine of Hippo is one of the most influential of the early church theologians. His writings on the doctrines of grace and original sin are still studied – though not always embraced — by the church today. Calvin and other Reformers espoused these doctrines in the attempt to recover the teachings of the ancient church. Modern Reformed theology is Augustinian theology.
Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis was born in 354 A.D. in the provincial Roman town of Thagaste, Numidia (modern-day Algeria). His father, Patricius, worshipped the pagan gods of Rome. His mother, Monica, was a devout Christian. Through her influence, Augustine was raised as a Christian.
Augustine was exposed to paganism as he pursued a classical Latin education, and this resulted in his leaving Christianity to embrace Manichaeism. This form of Gnosticism taught of a struggle between Forces of Light (all things spiritual, and therefore good) and the Forces of Darkness (an evil world consisting of all material things).
The upshot of Manichaeism was that since the material body was intrinsically evil, one might indulge any and all whims and desires of the flesh. This Augustine did enthusiastically. His distraught mother continued to pray for him, and he remained a devoted son in spite of his hedonistic lifestyle.
After finishing his education, Augustine migrated to Rome to follow his chosen vocation as a teacher of rhetoric. Disappointed by the apathy of the students he encountered in Rome, he sought and won a coveted post at Milan (the one in Italy, not Tennessee).
At Milan, he met and was deeply influenced by Ambrose, the local bishop. Through Ambrose’s influence (and the continual prayers of his mother), Augustine began to read Holy Scripture. As he relates in “Confessions,” he was sitting in his garden one day when he heard the sound of children’s voices singing “Tolle Lege, Tolle Lege” (“take up and read, take up and read”).
Thinking this strange, he went into his house and, finding Paul’s epistle to the Romans (which he had been reading), he opened it to chapter 13. In verses 13 and 14, Augustine read: “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.”
Augustine writes that he had been under deep conviction of sin and upon reading this passage “a light of … serenity infused into my heart, and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”
With his conversion, he received baptism.
Within months, he was on his way back to Africa, although the death of his mother and his son during this time left him without family in the world.
Arriving in Hippo Regius, he gave away his inheritance to the poor, except for his house. This he converted to a place of study, devotion and meditation upon God’s Word for himself and his friends. He was ordained a priest in the early 390s, and by the end of that decade he had succeeded to the office of Bishop of Hippo. From there his influence spread, and his scholarly works increased his fame throughout the Christian world of the Mediterranean basin.
In 410, Pelagius also came to North Africa, and the controversy aroused by Pelagius’ teachings prompted much of the theological legacy that Augustine left to the church.
Next week, we’ll look at Pelagius and learn why his teachings prompted Augustine to convene the Council of Carthage.
Editor’s note: RB Tolar, a member of Grace Community Church in Troy, is humbly grateful to be able to participate in this writing ministry.