3 Things You May Not Know about St. Augustine the Writer

Augustine of Hippo (354–430) was born in North Africa to a pagan father and a Christian mother. Following a youth and an early career steeped in debauchery and ambition, Augustine experienced a dramatic conversion to Christianity when he turned from his pagan beliefs. His classic book Confessions details his conversion story and, to this day, remains a perennial bestseller.

Over his lengthy career Augustine was a prolific author, a robust theologian, an insightful philosopher, and a tenacious apologist for the truth of historic Christianity. Widely considered the greatest of the church fathers, Augustine’s writings shaped Christian orthodoxy like few others. He is a universal Christian voice within Western Christendom and remains equally important to Protestants and Catholics alike. He also enjoys the pop culture distinction of being the only Christian thinker to be mentioned in songs by Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and Sting.1

Yet while he is one of the most famous Christians in church history, there are three things you may not know about St. Augustine the writer. I hope these details enhance your appreciation for Augustine’s role in history.

  1. Augustine was the most prolific author of the entire ancient world.

Writing and preserving manuscripts presented a significant challenge in the ancient world, but Augustine was an intensely bookish person with a preoccupation for both reading and writing books. Hence, over his lifetime, Augustine’s writings exceeded five million words, making him the most productive author of antiquity.2His Latin corpus of writings extended well beyond all other Latin and Greek ancient authors. In a literary sense, we know more about Augustine than any other writer of antiquity.

2. Augustine created the literary genre of autobiography.

Augustine’s most famous book Confessions gave birth to the autobiography, then a new literary genre in Western culture. Written about 397, the work chronicles Augustine’s intellectual, moral, and spiritual pilgrimage from paganism to Christianity. The title “Confessions” can be understood in a triple sense: Augustine’s candid and contrite confession of sin, his sincere confession of newfound faith, and his grateful confession of God’s goodness. Up until then, people generally did not write accounts of their own lives, especially not about their spiritual journeys.

3. Some of Augustine’s books have become both Christian and Western classics.

Four of Augustine’s classics of historic Christianity especially stand out: Confessions, The City of GodOn the Trinity, and On Christian Doctrine. The first two have also become literary classics of Western civilization and can be found on every great books list. The City of God is considered by many scholars to be Augustine’s magnum opus (Latin for “greatest work”). His most comprehensive work (written intermittently between 413 and 427), The City of God gave the Western world its first philosophy of history and presented and defended a distinctly Christian view of history.

As a writer, St. Augustine’s insights span the centuries. Anyone, Christian or not, stands to benefit from his thoughtful reflection. How about taking up one of the books mentioned in this article and giving it a read? You’ll be reading a classic.

Reflections: Your Turn 

Have you read any of St. Augustine’s books? If so, which ones and what did you learn?

Resources

Endnotes

  1. See “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” by Bob Dylan, “Saint of Me” by The Rolling Stones, and “Saint Augustine in Hell” by Sting.
  2. Guy G. Stroumsa, The Scriptural Universe of Ancient Christianity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016), 66.

  One thought on “3 Things You May Not Know about St. Augustine the Writer

  1. September 10, 2019 at 5:16 am

    I studied politics so dipped into the city of God. And I have a translation of the Confessions which to be honest I’ve only dipped into for the famous quote about our hearts being restless until they find their rest in God, and how he initially became a Christian reading Romans 13- it was as though God switched a light on in his heart.

    • September 10, 2019 at 1:45 pm

      Thanks, Robert.

      I have a chapter on St. Augustine in my book Classic Christian Thinkers in which I explore the Confessions.

      Best regards,

      -Ken Samples

      • September 10, 2019 at 2:18 pm

        Sounds good! 🙂

  2. September 10, 2019 at 11:59 am

    I was sixteen when I first entered college and in my first semester in a course called Humanities I, an introduction to philosophy, we were required to read form The City of God. Perhaps because of immaturity or the quality of the translation, I found it dull and uninteresting. I in no way share your enthusiasm. Perhaps I should go back to it after the passing of these fifty-eight years. Do you have a translation you would recommend?

    • September 10, 2019 at 1:49 pm

      TOA:

      I have a chapter on St. Augustine in my book Classic Christian Thinkers where I introduce Confessions, The City of God, and On the Trinity.

      Penguin classics has a translation of The City of God that I like.

      Best regards,

      -Ken Samples

  3. September 10, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    I have read his “Confessions” many times and just finished “City of God” for the second time. I am curious to know what you think of Augustine’s analysis of life times from Genesis in City of God.

    • September 12, 2019 at 10:09 am

      Thanks for the link, Egg.

      Ken Samples

  4. Barry from Victoria
    September 12, 2019 at 1:22 pm

    What stood out in my reading of City was the discussion of Cicero’s essay on Free Will.

    • September 12, 2019 at 1:29 pm

      Thanks, Barry.

      Ken Samples

  5. Bea
    September 16, 2019 at 10:38 am

    I read Augustine`s “Confessiones” after my “return” … It all made sense then.
    It all made perfect sense. I am thankful for being alive … it`s a grace of God.

    • September 16, 2019 at 10:50 am

      Thanks for your comments, Bea.

      Confessions is a great book.

      Ken Samples

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