The Life and Works of AugustineJune 26, 2021
Augustine (pronounced Avgustinus) was born on November 13, 354 AD, in Thagaste (present-day Souk Ahras in Algeria), west of the city of Carthage, one of North Africa’s most important historical settlements.
His father, who was a pagan, was named Patricius, and his mother, who was Christian, was Monica. Augustine said that he owed everything he had to his mother (Confessiones, II, iii). He started his education in Thagaste and was later sent to school in the neighboring city of Madaura. Here he began to read the Latin classics, so he distanced himself from his mother’s faith and thoughts. Despite being a gifted child, his lack of interest in Greek lessons was striking. His weakness in Greek later led to Augustine’s incomplete readings of Ancient Greek thought. This was also true of many philosophers of that period. After his education in Madaura, he went to Carthage in 370 AD to receive training in rhetoric. This city was the largest settlement he had ever encountered. He lived here with a woman and from this relationship he had a son named Adeodatus (given by God).
After reading Cicero’s now-lost Hortensius, he began a search for truth. Therefore, he entered Manicheism, which was an influential religious belief at that time. According to Augustine, this religion made the most rational explanations ever available to him. Manichaeism is a belief system founded in the third century by Manes or Mani. According to this religion, which was based on the reconciliation of some elements of Christianity with the ancient beliefs prevailing in Iran, two powers were ruling in the universe. According to this, a good principle called Ormuzd, that is light, and a bad principle called Ahriman, that is, darkness, ruled in the universe. With this feature, Manichaeism displayed a dualistic view. Both of these principles have an eternal existence, and the struggle between them will continue forever.
Under the influence of this belief, Augustine returned to Thagaste in 374, far from his mother’s religion, where he taught grammar and literature for about a year. In the autumn of the same year, he opened a rhetorical school, this time in Carthage, and remained there until 383.
For Augustine, who was constantly dealing with philosophy, Manichaeism had become unable to answer many questions. Questions such as where certainty comes from in human thought, why the two principles are forever at war with each other, overwhelmed Augustine. Filled with these problems and thoughts, he went to Rome in 383, where he opened a school of rhetoric. The complexity of his thinking led him to the debates of academic skeptics, and for a time they were skeptical. He later met by chance some of the works of the Neoplatonists Plotinus and Porphyrios, who introduced him to first-order philosophical thinking.
Neoplatonism was founded by a thinker named Plotinos (204/205-270 AD) and it had its first organization in the school sense in Rome. Plotinos, originally from Egypt (Lycopolis), founded an academy of philosophy in Rome around 244 and taught there for twenty-five years. The book Enneades, which he wrote, has been an indispensable reference source for almost all medieval philosophers after him. The Enneades was prepared as a 6-part book, each consisting of 9 articles, by Porphyrios (pronounced Porfurios), a student of Plotinos. The main theses in this book are as follows: 1- Reality has an immaterial highest form (Idea). 2- There is a higher level of reality than anything that can be seen or heard. 3- It is necessary to prefer mental vision rather than experiential forms of knowing. 4- Some forms are immortal. 5- The universe is inherently good.
Augustine was influenced by the works of Neoplatonist thinkers who were shaped in line with these thoughts, and these works helped Augustine move away from materialist thought and at the same time to purify his moral life (Maurer, 1982: 3). Augustine began teaching in Milan in 384, where, influenced by the Neoplatonic works of the above-mentioned philosophers, he became interested in Christianity again. He read over and over again the writings of Paul in the New Testament. He began to draw a connection between the wisdom in Neoplatonic works and the life that Christianity said should parallel this wisdom. He was baptized in 387 by Ambrosius, Bishop of Milan, and converted to Christianity. For about a year before that, he had a preparation period with his friends and family members, and meanwhile, he wrote his most important works in Cassiciacum, north of Milan. He returned to Africa in 388 and founded a small monastery in his native Thagaste. He became bishop of Hippo in 396 and held this post until his death on August 28, 430.
Augustine, what is understood today