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Apr 24 Baptism of St Augustine

Today we remember how Augustine of Hippo was baptised by Ambrose in Milan as a 33 year old man - a 'late convert'.

His writings and his thoughts would go onto to shape much of Western Christianity - whether through original sin, just war theory or his idea of the 'City of God'. His autobiographical 'Confessions' is one of the greatest works in the Western Canon.

One of the four great 'Doctors' of the early church with Jerome, Gregory the Great and Ambrose who baptised him today.

In today's pod we explore his life, thought and legacy.

This was the end of one of the most significant conversion stories ever. Augustine arrived at the baptismal font after an agonizing process of deliberation. According to his autobiographical book The Confessions, "We were baptized and all anxiety for our past life vanished away." Augustine had one of the finest minds in the ancient world, he would eventually become a Bishop and a Doctor of the Church, a title given to saints recognized as having made a significant contribution to theology or doctrine. His thinking has been massively influential in the development of Western Christianity. So what was the anxiety that he talks about in the Confessions? In his earlier life, he was as a teacher of rhetoric and pagan philosophies at some of the Roman Empire's finest schools.

At the age of 17, the talented student went to Carthage to continue his education in rhetoric. By his own account he had lived a hedonistic lifestyle for a time, associating with young men who boasted of their sexual exploits. Inexperienced and with the desire to impress his peers, he had a relationship with a young woman in Carthage, she had remained his lover for over fifteen years and gave birth to his son . He had finally ended the relationship in order to prepare to marry a ten-year-old heiress. Having to wait for two years. because the legal age of marriage in the ancient world, for women was twelve, during the wait he decided to become a Catholic priest and the marriage did not happen.

Reading Cicero as a young man, had sparked a lifelong interest in philosophy. Although raised Catholic, Augustine became a Manichaean, much to his mother's chagrin. The Manicheans were from Persia, followers of the prophet Mani and taught an elaborate dualistic cosmology. They believed in the struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness. Mani was revered as the final prophet after Zoroaster, the Buddha, and Jesus. However Augustine, under the influence of his mother, Monica, and the famous bishop Ambrose, turned back to Christianity. His baptism by Ambrose, today, marked his entrance into the church. He would become the bishop of Hippo Regius in Numidia, North Africa. His writings have influenced the development of Western philosophy and Western Christianity, and his books are still influential, including The City of God, On Christian Doctrine, and Confessions. His impact was recognised at the time as another famous contemporary, Jerome (the compiler of the Bible) who said that, Augustine "established anew the ancient Faith".

Augustine developed his own approach to philosophy and theology, accommodating a variety of methods and perspectives. Believing that the grace of Christ was indispensable to human freedom, he helped formulate the doctrine of original sin which has had a profound effect on civilisation. Augustine's understanding of the consequences of original sin and the necessity of redeeming grace was developed in the struggle against Pelagius a Scottish theologian who was eventually condemned as a heretic. Theology is often developed as a result of a dispute, when the other person in dialogue with you forces you to clarify your ideas. Pelagius and his disciples refused to agree that the disobedience of Adam and Eve was the cause of universal original sin as Augustine called it. Augustine argued that, although their disobedience was caused by pride, their nature was wounded as a result. This woundedness he called concupiscence which affected human intelligence and will, as well as affections and desires, including sexual desire.

In later times psychoanalysis would refer to this as libido. The subtler points that Augustine was making was that we do bad things not because we are possessed by an evil spirit but because we are wounded in some fundamental way. This state of concupiscence was the privation of good, acting like a wound. The Pelagians, argued that human nature cannot lose its moral capacity for doing good, but that a person was free to act or not act in a righteous way. Pelagius gave an example of eyes: they have capacity for seeing, but a person can make either good or bad use of it. Augustine pointed out that humanities tendency to doing bad things was deeper rooted that this, it was like we are always being dragged backwards by some unnamed force. For him the apparent disobedience of the flesh to the spirit, as St Paul described it, concupiscence was as a result of original sin.

Many modern thinkers dismiss Augustines ‘obsession with sex’ however the Italian scholar, Agostino Trapè insists Augustine's personal experience cannot be credited for his doctrine about concupiscence. He considers Augustine's marital experience to be quite n