EMANATING from North Africa during the height of Roman rule, in what is now present-day Algeria, the ideas and philosophy of Saint Augustine (354–430), one of the real intellectual heavyweights of the Early Church, went on to have a significant impact on the development of Western thought. At the age of seventeen, Augustine went to Carthage to continue his education and soon descended into a life of hedonism. Some time later, he went on to embrace Manichaeism, a Gnostic religion that had been founded by its Iranian namesake. The religion's dualistic cosmology appealed to Augustine for a number of reasons and he established his own school of rhetoric, but soon became disillusioned with the Manichaean hierarchy and, most notably, the rather unsatisfying and ineffectual arguments of Bishop Faustus of Mileve. At this time, Augustine had begun to study Neoplatonism and his mother frequently encouraged him to convert to Christianity. One of the chief influences in this process was Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340-397), himself a master of rhetoric, and Augustine did eventually become a Christian after finding himself deeply moved by the story of Saint Anthony (251-356) and his life in the desert. However, Augustine's migration from Manichaeism to Christianity was hardly a very quiet affair and he produced a detailed philosophical and theological account of the process itself. Known as the Confessiones (Confessions), the work was produced between 397 and 398. Augustine's other great work is De Civitate Dei Contra Paganos (The City of God Against the Pagans), which appeared in the early fifth century. Troy Southgate's detailed study of this saintly figure begins with a broad overview of Augustine's life and times, before moving on to look at the Confessions in some depth. It also seeks to establish whether the conversion of 386 was, as Augustine claims, really due to the teaching of St. Paul, the example of the monks and divine encouragement. The author also examines the issue of whether there is a contradiction between Augustine's views on freedom of the will and those of religious conversion, before completing his work by taking into account the actual manner in which Augustine sought to pacify those who blamed the Christian ages for the sack of the Eternal City.
September 16th, 2014, Black Front Press, paperback, 100pp. Cover design by Zbigniew Bogusławski.
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