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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Happy Birthday, Augustine!

On November 13, 354 A.D., in what is now called Algeria, a young pagan named Patricius and his Christian wife, Monica, welcomed a baby boy into this world.  Little could they have suspected the impact he would have on history.

As a boy, Augustine would study rhetoric and even teach it. But it wasn’t his academic life as a youth that is well known.  It was his after-hours lifestyle.  Augustine embraced a life of hedonistic pleasure, much to the dismay of his Christian mother.  Monica faithfully prayed for her son, and those prayers would be answered a thousand fold.

According to Augustine’s own well known testimony, he was wandering in an Italian garden when he heard a childlike voice almost singing “tolle, lege; tolle, lege.” The Latin phrase means “take up and read” which Augustine interpreted as a divine command to open a nearby copy of the New Testament and begin reading.  He opened to the latter half of Romans, and the rest is history.

Augustine rose through the ranks of the church to become the Bishop of Hippo, back near his home in Northern Africa.  He became a leading scholar in the church, most notably defending the true faith against heresies like those of Pelagius.  And the impact of his theology and writing has been felt for over 1,600 years.

There are some who are hesitant to embrace Augustine, since after all he is known by many as “Saint Augustine,” a stalwart figure in Catholic history.  But a reading of his works shows that Augustine had a firm grasp of the Gospel of Grace. 

The great Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, in defending his own theology said this:  “I preach the doctrines of grace because I believe them to be true; because I see them in the Scriptures…Those truths which have enlightened so many ages appear to me to be ordained to remain throughout eternity. The doctrine which I preach to you is that of the Puritans: it is the doctrine of Calvin, the doctrine of Augustine, the doctrine of Paul, the doctrine of the Holy Ghost. The Author and Finisher of our faith himself taught most blessed truth which well agreed with our text. The doctrine of grace is the substance of the testimony of Jesus.  (Sermon in 1887, “All of Grace”, from Unusual Occasions)

So Spurgeon sees a divine chain of doctrine coming from Christ, through Paul, to Augustine and down to the Reformers, then to us.  Not that we embrace everything he ever taught.  But as Spurgeon also points out in recommending on of Augustine’s commentaries:  “To the wise a mine of treasure. Augustine is often fanciful; but even his fancies show a master-mind. Much that passes for new is stolen from this prince of theologians.” (From Treasury of David on Psalm 92:1)

Augustine is indeed a heroic figure in the history and theology of the Christian Church.  For more I would suggest reading this wonderful article from Dr. Timothy Paul Jones of Southern Seminary, which includes several other good links. (You’ll love the second video at the end!)

So happy birthday to Augustine of Hippo.  How do we celebrate?  Well, Dr. Jones has suggested running around a park somewhere singing “tolle, lege; tolle, lege.”  And maybe singing isn’t a bad idea.   Augustine reports of himself, “that when he came to Milan and heard the people sing, he wept for joy in the church to hear that pleasing melody.”

Dennis Gunderson of Grace and Truth Books suggested maybe going to the zoo and kissing a hippo.  Augustine of Hippo, get it?

Maybe just go pick up a copy of Augustine’s Confessions, or the City of God, or something.

Well, however you celebrate, it’s good for the church to remember those men whom God has used in such powerful ways to teach and preserve the truth of His Word.  May we all be as faithful to the truth. 

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