Why Augustine Is The Shaper Of The Western Church


Saint Augustine or Augustine of Hippo was among the most significant figures in the development of Christianity. He was an early philosopher and Christian theologian whose writings influenced Western philosophy and Western Christianity. His writings, such as The City of God and Confessions, show a competent rhetorician’s theological skill, including his depth of faith. Augustine’s explanation of the doctrines of predestination, God, illumination, evil, grace, original sin, and free will have become standard for several Western Christians. This study will mainly focus on the formulation of Augustine’s Theology against Heresies, Manichaeanism, Donatism, and Pelagianism.

Augustine of Hippo was born in the town of Tagaste, which was located in North Africa. Augustine was lucky enough because he was born into a respectable family. His father was a pagan and a government official of the city, while his mother was a Christian. Augustine began his early studies in the town of Tagaste. He later joined a literature school in the city of Madura. His father wanted to send him to Carthage for a forensic career because he was proud of his success. However, his father could not gather adequate funds for his studies. Augustine did not do anything during this time and engaged himself in sinful acts. At around 370, Augustine made it to Carthage, where he engaged in a rhetoric career.

Saint Augustine spent a significant amount of time studying philosophy despite his profound understanding of theology. Augustine attained the notion that an individual could learn in two various ways during his studies. Faith is the first way, which denotes that a person must acknowledge and accept what he has not yet seen. Secondly, an individual can learn through reason, which is the perception of what is factual. He claimed that some things are believed yet never apprehended. Also, he asserted that a believer could never witness some events, and some things are charged as soon as an individual believes in them. Specifically, these modes of thought are mathematical and are associated with human reason. Also, some things are first supposed with the notion that they will be understood later.

In addition, Augustine claimed that three levels of reality exist: God, spirits, and body. According to Augustine, the top layer is God, and he claims that God will remain the same and will never change. He asserted that morals, logic, mathematics, and religious truths are all on the top level. The middle class entails the created spirits which go on by moral and cognitive circumstances. According to Augustine, the spirits are not subject to changes in the universe. Studies indicate that all the spirits will be separated from God eternally or will either attain eternal peace with the creator. The third level is the body, and Augustine claims that it has no real perpetuity. He relates these three levels to the beliefs of Plato that there are two worlds, the invisible and the visible.

Formulation of His Theology against Heresies

During the lifetime of Augustine, the Christian Church was extremely faced with the three heresies of Pelagianism, Donatism, and Manichaeism. Saint Augustine proved to be an influential and central theological leader who protected and illuminated the faith of Christians against the heresies. He wrote various letters and treaties against the heresies. For that reason, this was how his theology was created and formulated. Augustine’s theology turns out to be insightful and creative, thus, influencing Western Christians. Augustine became one of the important philosophers and theologians, influencing several generations.

Augustin’s Theology against Manicheanism

Manichaeanism was developed in the third century as a mixture of Gnosticism, the old Babylonian religion of the Ophitic type, including Zoroastrianism. Manichaeism was founded by Mani, who was recognized as the supreme “illuminator” and the “Apostle of Light.” He held himself as the final successor in a long line of prophets such as Jesus, Zoroaster, Buddha, and Adam. Mani viewed previous revelations as limited in effectiveness since they were communicated in one language. Also, he regarded himself as the conveyer of heavenly messages.

This religion was dualistic of the two separate, co-eternal principles of darkness (Satan) and light (God). Mani prepared an extensive mission program and ordered the translation of his writings into other languages. Manichaeism religion spread till the fifth century throughout the Roman Empire, even influencing the Christians. As they moved west into the Roman Empire, the Manichees adopted various traits of what is usually termed Gnosticism. Mainly, they acknowledge themselves as the advanced version of Christianity, as the intellectually gifted, and as the faith the sacredly mature. The Manichees also asserted that they had solutions for everything, and their philosophies were based on reason rather than authority.

Augustine became fascinated with Manichaeism, which asserted that there was a god of evil and a god of divinity. Augustine of Hippo was drawn to this religion for nine years before his conversion for at least two reasons: firstly, since he felt exempted from any accountability for his sin due to the fatalism of Manichean; and secondly, because his question of why evil is very lethal in the globe appeared to be addressed conceivably by its dualistic view of the world as a mixture of Satan and God.

After some time, Saint Augustine met with Festus, a Manichee bishop. Augustine was not captivated by Faustus’ view and knowledge about religion. Since Augustine did not find any science in this religion, he became uncomfortable with Manichaeism. He cherished the scientific understanding of nature; thus, he rejected the Manichean doctrines he had adopted earlier. Saint Augustine left and began teaching in Milan after rejecting the Manichaeism religion. He met St. Ambrose after he left for Italy, and he was captivated by his teachings; hence he began attending his sermons. During this period, he embraced the philosophy of scholars. The works of Plotinus and Plato influenced Augustine, who finally saw his true calling. In the year 387, Augustine agreed to be baptized by Ambrose. After his baptism, he travelled to Rome and started debating against the Manichaeism religion.

Augustine was elected and became a priest in the year 391. Later, Augustine took Valerius’ place, and he was ordained as the Bishop of Hippo. Augustine preached the gospel regularly and for enormously long hours as a bishop. Every individual embraced his sermons, and he could sometimes preach for as many as four days at a time. As Bishop of Hippo, he did more than just write books and preach. Augustine endeavoured to correct the mistakes of Christians and fought against heresies. Augustine of Hippo felt the need to protect the Church against Manichaeanism as soon as he became a Christian.

Felix was among the leaders who conveyed the views of Manichaeism throughout the country. Augustine was an early controversialist who raised various objections against the heretics’ beliefs. Augustine overcame Felix’s thoughts after he confronted him at a public meeting. Felix became a Christian after being defeated, and he acknowledged that the views of Saint Augustine were correct.

Augustine of Hippo acknowledged that Satan did not exist from eternity and God is immutable, infinite, and all-powerful. In contrast, Manichaeism affirmed that God’s power is limited in front of Satan. In addition, Saint Augustine asserted that every creature is good, whereas Manichaeism held that the universe is a mixture of evil and good. As for Neo-Platonism, Saint Augustine believed that all being is good. Also, Augustine of Hippo presented his view of evil as insignificant. Augustine considered evil the diminution or deprivation of a good being in terms of form and order. According to him, evil is corruptible, changeable, and still finite since it participates against God, who is incorruptible, unchangeable, and infinite. He attributed the likelihood of evil to the “free will” of rational creatures like humans and angels.

Augustin’s Theology against Donatism

The Donatists is a movement that originated in the African capital of Carthage in 311 C.E. The Donatists were a group of cruel Christians in North Africa. The Donatists belong to early Christianity that generated the Melitians in Egypt and Novatianist and Montanist movements in Asia Minor. Circumcellions were their peasant warriors, and they had a program of social uprising. In church affairs, the Donatists opposed state interference. Donatism lasted until the extinction of Christianity in North Africa despite persistent pressure from Byzantine and Vandal.

This movement began when Felix deified Caecilianus as bishop of Carthage. Studies indicate that Felix was a traitor and persecuted several Christians in 3003-3005 C.E. The Donatists during this period were determined to face martyrdom rather than working together with the Roman authorities, who endeavoured to force Christians to surrender their sacred objects, such as Holy Scriptures. Some Christians obeyed the orders of Roman authorities by turning over their scriptures. However, some Christians refused to obey this order, thus, suffering torture and even death. Several Christians did something in between during this period, like fleeing or hiding to escape the persecution.

This movement asserted that they were the only pure and faithful Christians. The Donatists did not allow individuals outside the Donatist Church to administer the sacraments since they claimed not to be holy. This movement asserted that any individual willing to join the Donatist Church must be re-baptized to be holy. These schismatics became violent, furious, and event resentful after being persecuted by Emperor Constantine. For that reason, the unity of the Church was rigorously endangered.

Augustine is indeed the shaper of the Western Church because he took pains to address this problem, and he was at the forefront against the Donatism. Donatism had existed for about a century when Augustine came to Hippo. Saint Augustine greatly challenged the Donatist heresy during the early fifth century and late fourth century. Augustine was a theological champion who was on the site when the Donatist movement approached a rigorous conclusion. Augustine preached about faith to the bishops at Hippo Regius, developing a profile for himself among other churchmen, particularly concerning Donatism. Augustine steadily stepped up his polemical generation against Donatism.29 In some of his works, written between 397-400 C.E, he superficially took an irenic stance, indicating how displeased he was that the force of secular power was utilized to coerce the schismatics into communion.

Augustine’s work on baptism, against the Donatist Church was certain. Saint Augustine distinguished between the efficacious use of baptism and its gift itself. He asserted that the former is present in every place, whether outside or inside the Catholic Church. He claimed that baptism could be deliberated even by schismatics and heretics as long as they offered it in the name of the Holy Spirit, Son, and the father. Saint Augustine argued that the source of baptism is not a human being, but its real source is God. He asserted that individuals do not need to be re-baptized.

Critics state that the Catholic Church is far from perfect, containing good Christians and bad ones. However, Augustine stated that baptism would be profitably and efficaciously utilized if people love one another. Augustine referred to St. Cyprian to display the significance of unity in the Church. Augustine referred to him because he was very loving, patient, and humble. Augustine of Hippo showed much sympathy and love towards the Donatists, urging them to reform.

Augustine took a lot of time-fighting against Donatism. The combat certainly influenced his theology against the Donatism. To conquer Donatism, he devoted continual attention for at least ten years after his consecration as Bishop of Hippo. Saint Augustine conducted various treatises and sermons and wrote several letters concerning the nature of the sacraments and the Church. The Donatist controversy provoked his greatest theological attainments. However, he is greatly condemned for his handling of the Donatist dispute. Saint Augustine utilized the legal and political power of the Roman Empire to overpower Donatism. It is essential to note that Augustine never called the Donatists to be executed or tortured.

Augustin’s Theology against Pelagianism

Pelagianism can be referred to as a set of beliefs related to Pelagius, a British monk. Pelagius taught in Rome in the early fifth centuries and late fourth centuries. The argument over the will between Pelagius and Saint Augustine mainly focused on the doctrine of original sin, including the nature of grace required for people to lead lives of holiness and faith. Augustine and Pelagius were among the first people to argue about the nature of human will after the fall of Eve and Adam.

Pelagius was against the doctrines of predestination, total depravity, and original sin. As a contemporary of Augustine, Pelagius asserted the moral ability of people to stay sinless even without any supernatural aid. Pelagius believed that divine grace consists of humans endowed with the gospel, law, and free will. Pelagius claimed that there is no need for God’s intervening grace since individuals need to decide on their own to act according to the will of God. He argued against original sin, saying that individuals could overcome evil through moral struggles. Pelagius contended that the sin of Adam and Eve was in no way possible to be attributed or passed down to the rest of the human race. According to Pelagius, Eve and Adam just offered a bad example, followed by the rest of the human race. Due to this belief, Pelagius believed that grace merely assisted people to live holy lives and know what to do.

According to Pelagius, Grace was to be apprehended as God’s revelation of will and purpose. He claimed that it was God’s way of assisting humankind and located in the teaching of Christ and the Law of Moses. Pelagius did not see any opposition between the gospel and the old covenant, while Saint Augustine of Hippo critically opposed Pelagius’ views. Augustine considered Pelagius’ views as heresy. Before the fall, Augustine believed that Eve and Adam were in a state of friendship and righteousness with God. Both Adam and Eve were offered intellectual gifts, and they were also immune to death and physical illness. However, when Adam and Eve sinned, they destroyed the opportunity for the rest human race.

Augustine debated that the sin of Adam and Eve affected the will of each individual who followed, rendering them incompetent of loving God or following God’s commands. Augustine sees the nature of humans as critically mutable, disordered, corrupted, and wounded due to Adam and Eve’s initial sin. Due to this, God’s grace is not just illuminatory but exempts the will and allows it to obey and love God.

The controversy started at a council in Carthage in 412, with the denunciation of Celestius, who was a follower of Pelagius. Celestius was condemned for believing that an individual can be without sin and keep the divine commands. He believed that there were people who did not sin before the arrival of Christ. Celestius was also denounced because he believed that every human being neither rises on account of Christ nor perishes on Adam’s account. He believed that Adam’s sin did not affect the human race but injured himself alone. In addition, he was denounced since he believed that Adam and Eve would have died anyway because they were created mortal. For that reason, Pelagius was forced to defend himself after the condemnation of Celestius. Most critics of Pelagius’ views were westerners such as Augustine. Augustine of Hippo developed a campaign against Pelagius. Augustine generated the doctrinal works that would convey the objections that would result in Pelagius’s denunciation and define Pelagianism for Christians in the Western. For that reason, Saint Augustine can be deemed as the shaper of the Western Church.


In conclusion, the information presented in this paper is relevant in various ways for the Church today. For instance, Augustine’s works presented in this paper are able to teach Christians even today. Christians can follow the inner journey of this man who was passionate and humble to God. Saint Augustine teaches Christians the significance of love and urges Christians to love God as the supreme good and love one’s neighbor. In addition, Christians can learn the significance of a real relationship with the Supreme Being. An individual should be aware that faith is important in the Christian journey and should endeavour to stay away from sinful ways. Satan did not exist from eternity, and Christians today can learn that God is immutable, infinite, and all-powerful in the universe. Individuals should learn that they must completely trust God and not depend on their inheritance and their qualities to attain salvation.


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