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Today in Church History

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November 13

Augustine of Hippo

On this day in 354 A.D., Marcus Aurelius Augustinus was born to an unbelieving father, Patrick, and a devout mother, Monica, in the Numidian town of Thagaste. Though this agricultural community was far from the centers of power in Rome and Constantinople, the young Augustine showed tremendous academic aptitude and advanced quickly, eventually studying in Carthage. From there he was appointed to one of the empire's most coveted academic positions, the post of Imperial Rhetor in Milan. Here he encountered the Bishop Ambrose and his fervent and engaging style of preaching. As Augustine tells the story in his Confessions, he at first listened to Ambrose's preaching to placate his mother: Monica's constant prayers, by God's grace, were instrumental in bringing him to faith. Eventually, the Word of God got ahold of him and in 386 he converted to the faith, after a telling episode in a garden outside Milan in which he heard a child's voice chanting tolle, lege (take, read). Alighting on a portion of Romans 13, Augustine left his deeds of darkness and came into the light of Christ. He quit academia and devoted himself to internalizing the Scriptures. On a trip to the North African city of Hippo, in an attempt to win a friend to Christ, he was physically pressed into service as a Bishop. He would remain there, serving as a preacher, essayist, and pastor, until his death in 430. As he lay dying, Vandals swept through North Africa, pulling down the remnants of Roman culture and presence.

Over his lifetime, Augustine wrote more than 5 million words in a wide variety of genres. His three most popular works, The City of God against the Pagans, On Christian Doctrine, and The Confessons, have been perennial favorites and sources of piety and inspiration. Augustine's cri de couer in the Confessions, "Command what you want and grant what you command" (iube quod vis et da quod iubes) so infuriated a British monk named Pelagius that Augustine spent the next 30 years seeking to demonstrate the precise relationship between fallen man's radical brokenness and inability and God's free, electing grace. This treasure store of dense, biblical reasoning, led John Calvin to say, in the midst of his struggles against Roman Catholic opponents, "Augustinus totus noster est" - Augustine is all ours.

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