St. Augustine of Hippo
Given the life he led before he was a monk, it is almost ironic that the writings of St. Augustine (A.D. 354–430) became the most coveted and admired in Christian theology. But, on the other hand, it is perhaps his past that enabled him to have so much understanding of Christianity.
A Changed Life
St. Augustine's path to the monastery was a difficult road full of repentance and prayer. He was a ladies' man and frequently prayed to God to take away this sin from his life. His Christian mother, Monica (now a saint as well), was concerned about her son, especially when he decided to go to Italy. She was convinced that the trip would only add to his wicked lifestyle, but much to her surprise, it had the opposite effect. Augustine heard a speech given by Ambrose of Alexandria, and it changed his life—he decided that he wanted to be a monk.
Inspired by stories of conversions, Augustine decided to retreat to a place where he could devote himself to God without external temptations—he chose the desert. Soon afterward, he was appointed the overseer of Hippo in North Africa (part of the Roman Empire).
The Fall of Rome
St. Augustine was a scholar—considered, perhaps, one of the greatest scholars in Christian history. At fifty-six years old, while still in Hippo, he heard that Rome had been sacked (one of the many times) and decided to help by taking in Roman refugees, feeding them, and finding places for them to live. His next step was to turn inward and analyze what had happened in Rome and what this would mean for the future of Christianity.
The City of God
Inspired by the horror of what happened to the Christian capital, Augustine wrote his epic, The City of God, in which he discussed what Christians owed to God and what they owed to the emperor for the next fifteen centuries to come. It was his look into the future—a way of making sense of the chaos that had brought a blight upon the Christian seat of power.
In The City of God, Augustine also discussed the roles of the church and the state. The church, Augustine believed, supported the soul of the citizens, and the citizens were the power behind the community—the supports behind the city—while the state existed to maintain law and order. But the state was rooted in the power of sin and, therefore, had to submit to the power of the church.
Augustine's The City of God would become a cherished piece of writing and would remain so well into the Middle Ages. It gave people hope for better things to come.