One Christian author in history owns the distinction of having been read by popes, rock stars, and leading atheists. He lived almost 1,600 years ago and was from North Africa. He is the single most prolific author of the ancient world and has influenced countless Protestants and Catholics. Named after two Roman emperors, he is known to us as St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430).

After a youth filled with restlessness and rebellion and an early career characterized by the pursuit of pleasure and ambition, Augustine experienced a dramatic conversion to Christianity when he turned from his pagan and skeptical-based beliefs. His classic book Confessions details his dramatic conversion story and, to this day, remains a perennial bestseller that is read in great books programs as well as by famous individuals from diverse worldview perspectives.

Over his prestigious career Augustine wrote more than five million words. He was a robust theologian, an insightful philosopher, and a tenacious defender of the truth of historic Christianity. Widely considered the greatest of the church fathers, Augustine’s writings shaped aspects of Christian orthodoxy like creation, the Trinity, original sin, and salvation by grace. He is a universal Christian voice within Western Christendom and remains influential among scholars and laypeople alike.

Let me identify some of the diverse and well–known people who have read and been influenced by Augustine.

Favored Church Father of Catholic and Protestant Thinkers
In his medieval theological masterpiece known as Summa Theologiae, the great Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) calls Augustine “The Theologian” and quotes his writings extensively. Thus, arguably the greatest Catholic thinker in history, Aquinas, was an appreciative student of Augustine.

In his blockbuster theological work Institutes of the Christian Religion, Protestant reformer John Calvin (1509–1564) also quotes Augustine extensively and makes a case for Protestants being in the Augustinian theological stream. So arguably Protestantism’s leading systematic theologian, Calvin, was an ardent pupil of Augustine.

The Augustinian Pope
Writing in personal, subjective terms about his life and thought attracts people to Augustine and causes them to reflect upon their own lives. The appeal of Augustine’s biography Confessions has extended all the way up to the head of the Catholic church. Pope Benedict XVI (now pope emeritus, born Joseph Ratzinger), is one of the most scholarly popes in recent centuries. Benedict is himself an Augustine scholar and has said that he is more attracted to the theological system of Augustinianism than Thomism.1 The pope even noted earlier in his career that he developed his basic theology in a dialogue of sorts with Augustine.2 Ratzinger’s doctoral dissertation was on “The People and the House of God in Augustine’s Doctrine of the Church.”

Patron Saint of Wayward Rock Stars
It has been said that Augustine was a great sinner that became a great saint. His early reputation for worldliness appears to attract the attention of some of rock-n-roll’s leading stars and bad boys. He enjoys the pop culture distinction of being the only Christian thinker to be mentioned in songs by Bob Dylan (“I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine”), the Rolling Stones (“Saint of Me”), and Sting (“Saint Augustine in Hell”). Augustine’s candid honesty about sin and his declaration of the absolute need for grace touches people from all walks of life.

Augustinian Atheists
Augustine’s insights have not been lost on Western Civilization’s prominent thinkers, regardless of religious affiliation. Christian philosopher James K. A. Smith, author of the new book On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts (2019) has suggested that Augustine may have been the world’s first existentialist philosopher.3 Not only were existential forerunners and Christian thinkers Blaise Pascal (Catholic) and Søren Kierkegaard (Protestant) serious students of Augustine, but leading atheist thinkers such as Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, and Jacques Derrida paid careful attention to Augustine’s writings as well.4 Augustinian themes of each person having inner longings and experiencing angst and estrangement in life while nonetheless seeking personal meaning, no doubt attracted these secular existentialist philosophers.

What is it that so many different kinds of people find in St. Augustine? I think the answer is that we see ourselves in him and in his descriptions of his life. Some scholars suggest that the Confessions is really about the human pursuit of God. Smith states: “When you really spend time with Augustine he is remarkably vulnerable, humble, and very much imagines himself as a co-pilgrim with people, rather than sitting up on this dais, sort of announcing and denouncing.”5

Augustine’s broad appeal therefore includes theologians, artists, philosophers, and everyday people attempting to make sense of life and the world. If you haven’t, I invite you to take up and read Augustine. Start with the Confessions. You’ll be reading a classic of both Christianity and Western Civilization.

Reflections: Your Turn
Have you read any of Augustine’s works? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Resources

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

Endnotes

  1. Timothy George, “Benedict XVI, the Great Augustinian,” First Things, February 19, 2013, https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2013/02/benedict-xvi-the-great-augustinian.
  2. Jerry Filtreau, “Theologians Reflect on Pope Benedict XVI’s Theology,” Catholic Education Resource Center, reprinted with permission from Catholic News Service (May 2005), https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/theologians-reflect-on-pope-benedict-xvi-s-theology.html.
  3. Church Times, “The 20th Century Was Augustinian,” October 11, 2019, https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2019/11-october/features/features/the-20th-century-was-augustinian
  4. Albert Camus, “Between Plotinus and Saint Augustine,” translated and postscript by David Rathbone, Academia.edu. https://www.academia.edu/11350881/Albert_Camus_Between_Plotinus_and_Saint_Augustine_; https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2019/11-october/features/features/the-20th-century-was-augustinian.
  5. Church Times, “The 20th Century.”

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.



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