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Peter Brown’s “Augustine of Hippo.” Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Dec 15th, 2019

Christianity and Paganism

The theme of Christianity and paganism has been discussed widely in this book. Brown describes Augustine’s friend during his youthful years as “the clique of earnest students was to become in their middle age, a formidable group of bishops, controlling the destinies of the Catholic Church in Africa.”1

We also get to know that Augustine’s parents had differences in faith.2 As noted by Brown, “while Patricius was a pagan, Monica was a christian.”3 Brown also notes Augustine’s words that “This same father of mine took no trouble at all to see how I was growing in your [God’s] sight or whether I was chaste or not.”4

Monica was a committed Christian of Berber ancestry5 hence she ensured that Augustine received training from when he was young. Since when Augustine was young, his mother often prayed for him that he would not forsake the Christian way of life when he grows up.6

On the other hand, his father Patricius worked tirelessly to ensure that his son was taught the best pagan education.7 These two contrasting learning experiences influenced Augustine in a great way later in his life.8 Augustine is later on baptized in Milan.9

While in school, Brown notes Augustine’s words that the study was so deep that “it imposed a crushing load on the memory.”8 While Augustine was in school, he met the Manicheans and joined their religion.9 These people must have been pagans because they believed in a person to be the Holy Spirit.10

However these people got to attract Augustine because they based their religion on reason alone.11 However, Augustine later became a sceptic when Faustus was defeated to answer his questions about philosophy.12

Later, Augustine met Ambrose, who was a bishop in Italy.13 On realizing that Ambrose was learned; Augustine gained back his faith in Christianity as this contradicted his earlier thoughts that Christians were not learned.14 Ambrose was able to answer Augustine’s questions, the same questions that Faustus was not able to answer.15

However, though Ambrose looked at Christianity from an intellectual perspective, Augustine did not receive full conviction.16 Again, when Constantine became the emperor; Christianity took the place of paganism and became the main religion in Rome.17 This was not received well by the pagans.18

When the Rome Empire fell, pagans said that it was as a result of the wrath of their gods, thus they laid the blame on Christianity.19 As a result of this, Augustine decided to come up with a book called city of God that as Brown notes would “have a direct confrontation with paganism.20

Brown notes that Augustine defended Christianity “as the natural, true religion of the whole human race.”21 By his works, Augustine encouraged Christians and gave them hope which helped them to get along well with the situation that was in their society.22


The theme of sin is evident in this book.23 Brown notes Augustine’s words that “Yet every Sunday I listened as he preached the word of truth to the people, and I grew more and more certain that it was possible to unravel the tangle woven by those who had deceived both me and others with their cunning lies against the Holy Scriptures.”24Whenever Augustine listened to Ambrose preach, he felt guilty of his sins.25

However, Augustine was not ready to surrender the sins since his body loved them, until the day that he had an encounter with someone with ability to change his sinful state in the garden of Milan.26 In his book the city of God, Augustine explains that despite the fact that sin exists, a day will come when it shall be replaced by the beatific vision of God.27

Brown also notes that that the Pelagiens, as argued by Augustine, lacked the ability to explain the evil that surrounded them.28 The Pelagiens thought as quoted by Brown were “If human nature was essentially free and well-created, and not dogged by some mysterious inner weakness, the reason for the general misery of men must be somehow external to their true selves.”29


First, there was the death of Patricius, Augustine’s father.30 This death made Augustine to look for a job as a teacher in Carthage and later in Rome so as to fend for his family.31 Monica, Augustine’s mother also died in Milan after she had witnessed the baptism of his son.32 Finally, Augustine also died on August 28, 430 in the city of Hippo Regius.33

A critique of the main themes covered in the book.

In the book, we see Augustine‘s decision to accept a certain doctrine being determined by the rationality of the doctrine. For instance, Brown notes that because Faustus was unable to answer his philosophical questions he left the Manichaeism religion.12

Augustine regains his Christian faith when he meets Ambrose, a learned Christianity who used an intellectual perspective on Christianity. In the real sense, Christianity does not involve intellect and rationality because it’s a faith issue.

Secondly, in his work, Brown did not follow a specific timeline in bringing out the themes. This makes the reader not to have a clear understanding of the themes of the book as the reader is unable to predict the next thing that is to be talked about.

For instance, in bringing out the theme of Christianity and paganism in the chapter titled “Monica”, Brown talks about the influence that Augustine’s mother had on him regarding christianity.5 However, by reading ahead, the reader comes to realize that Augustine at some point left Christianity and joined Manichaesm.12 The impacts of these actions are not mentioned again until in the last chapter.

The lack of time line thus makes it hard for the reader to predict the future of the relationship between the mother and the son, thus making the book hard to understand easily as one reads. On the other hand, the lack of time line is advantageous to the author as it makes it possible for him to later explain how Augustine’s mannerisms and system of thought were influenced by various factors.

In discussing the theme of sin, the author shows that Augustine was not convicted to Christianity until he had an encounter with God. This makes the reader to think that for one to be saved, he must have a whole scene with God like it was the case with Augustine. However, it does not always have to happen this way.

Another area of concern in Brown’s work is the various references and citation styles that are used so as to bring out the themes. He has refrained from use of academic citation styles that may make the understanding of the themes difficult for the reader.


Brown’s work in the book Augustine of Hippo brings about several themes. The major themes in the book are Christianity and paganism, sin as well as death. Brown uses distinct writing styles in his work, thus making it very interesting to the reader.

1Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography. (2nd Ed; Berkeley and Los Angeles California: University of California Press, 1990), 12

2Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 13

3Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 14.

4Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 9

5Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 21.

6Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 18

7Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 19.

8Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 122

9Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 24

10Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 29.

11Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 30.

12Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 31.

13Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 32-34.

14Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 41.

15Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 43.

16Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 47-48.

17Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 52.

18Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 55.

19Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 79-85.

20Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 86.

21Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 311.

22Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 318.

23Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 315.

24Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 312.

25Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 325.

26Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 327.

27Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 328.

28Brown, Augustine of Hippo,.348.

29Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 330.

30Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 332.

31Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 349.

32Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 347.

33Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 350.


Brown, Peter. Augustine of Hippo: A Biography.2nd ed. Berkeley and Los Angeles California: University of California press, 1990.

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