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LIFE AND CHARACTER OF AUGUSTINE.
'I WE formation of the Christian Church in the early ages of its history was a process involving many elements besides Christianity proper, as represented in the Gospels.
Jewish cabalism, Greek and Roman polytheism, Alexandrian mysticism, Persian dualism, Indian gymnosophism, are among the confluents which emptied their tributary streams into this providential river, and became coefficients of a faith whose triumphs are owing in part to its having appropriated all that was vital in foregone and contemporary creeds and rites.
And not only did the Church inoculate itself with ideas from without; it also absorbed into its system and transubstantiated into its own kind, by "the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus," the blood and temper of many climes. The dreaming Oriental, the volatile Greek, the practical Roman, the impetuous Goth, the fiery African, are all represented in its organism.
To the last-named country the Church is indebted for three, at least, of its greater lights,— Tcrtullian, Cyprian, Augustine. The first distinguished by his moral purism; the second by his stout defence of Episcopal authority; the third by his theology and his great example.
Saint Augustine, whose life and character I now propose to discuss, has become identified with an influence far exceeding that of his compatriots, and coextensive with the Christian Church. The morals of Christendom refused to adopt the stern requirements of the eloquent Montanist; its ecclesiastical polity soon transcended the views of the fervid Carthaginian. But the doctrine of the Bishop of Hippo has survived the decline of the Papacy; has reproduced itself in the formularies of Protestantism; has been transplanted from the Old World to the New by the fostering care of the Puritans, and constitutes to this day the staple of American theology. Since the days of the Apostles no Christian ecclesiastic has exerted such sway or obtained such following.
Externally, the life of Saint Augustine was less eventful than those of most men of note in his time, — that maelstrom of history, which tossed individuals and nations like foam-flakes in its boiling eddies. The deep interior being of the man was very imperfectly expressed in his fortunes, and had no correspondent developments in his external history. He was one of those whose life is a continual drawing from the circumference to the centre.
Tagaste, an obscure corner in the north of Africa, not far from the site of old Carthage, is illustrated by the birth of the greatest of the Fathers. Its historic insignificance, although mentioned by Pliny, excludes it from the ancient maps. Cellarius, the most faithful of geographers, ignores it; French soldiers under General Randon, in 1844,1 for the first time, perhaps, since the Vandals, uncover its site; and Spruner, the latest authority, has noted its locality in that part of what is now Algeria, where Algiers and Tunis join. The 13th November, 354, is the date of his birth. Cast amid humble conditions, the greatest of earthly blessings was vouchsafed to his childhood, — a pious mother, whose dearest wish was to see the son of her affections safely folded in the bosom of the Catholic Church. Her life was breathed in prayers for this end; and the strongest human influence which Augustine experienced was the prayers of Monica. Gratefully conscious of her agency in securing so able a defender of the faith, the Church has raised to "sainted seats" the "Elect Lady," whom filial 1 Poujoulat: Histoire de Saint Augustin.