Augustine of Hippo vs. Augustine of Canterbury

Congratulations! You have officially survived the first full weekend without Lent Madness voting -- an activity that continues throughout the weekdays of Lent. Your reward? The long-anticipated Battle of the Augustines! Will it be Hippo or Canterbury? The choice, dear friends, is yours.

For those who didn't receive news of Friday's results (and you can always go back to the original post or check the Bracket tab), Raymond Nonnatus   ripped apart John of Nepomuk 83% to 17%.

We also have good news to report on ReviewGate, the controversy that recently touched the inner sanctum of Lent Madness. Last Friday we shared the news that someone had (shockingly!) given Lent Madness a 2-out-of-5 rating on our Facebook page. In fact, over the years we had garnered a 4.8 star rating. That might seem high but when you consider yourselves "Supreme" that's just not good enough. Thanks to the hundreds of Lent Madness fans who shared our outrage and posted their own reviews, we are up to a full 5-out-of-5 star rating with nearly 1,000 reviews. In other words, all is now right with the Lenten world.

Augustine of Hippo

Fourth-century Bishop Augustine of Hippo is, along with Paul of Tarsus, one of the most influential theologians of the Western Church. His writings on creation, the sacraments, the Church, the Trinity, and grace are considered seminal works of Western theology. While Augustine’s work is often described as academic—and occasionally bordering on pedantic—Augustine also exhibited vulnerability, as is memorably seen in his Confessions.

From a young age, Augustine avoided saintly living. While his mother Monnica raised him as a Christian, he was never baptized. He abandoned Christianity in his youth, studying rhetoric, philosophy, and Manichaeism, a chief religious rival to Christianity in North Africa. Augustine lived a free and unconstrained life for fifteen years living with a woman and fathering a child outside the bonds of marriage. He eventually abandoned his relationship, moving to Rome to start a school and finally to Milan to serve the court as a professor of rhetoric. Augustine fell under the influence of Ambrose, Milan’s bishop, and he reached his own religious crisis, which he describes at length in his Confessions. In 387, Ambrose baptized Augustine on Easter Eve, and Augustine found the rest in God for which his heart had so longed. He returned to North Africa and lived a quasi-monastic life as a layperson until 391 when—against his own will—he was seized by the community around him and ordained as a priest. Within four years, he had been ordained to the episcopate, and he served as Bishop of Hippo until his death in 430.

Augustine’s breadth of life experience, his profound intellect, and his prayerful demeanor are evident in his writing. Augustine countered the Manichaeans’ insistence on the existence of a force in eternal opposition to God, affirming instead the goodness of creation. He defended the doctrine of the Trinity, arguing for the rationality of the three-in-one and one-in-three nature of God. Augustine asserted that the church is holy because of the calling its members receive from God. Above all, Augustine’s theology is rooted in a deep yearning and desire for God and a profound sense of the importance of the community of the Church and of all its members.

Collect for Augustine of Hippo
Lord God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you: Help us, following the example of your servant Augustine of Hippo, so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-David Sibley

Augustine of Canterbury

Details of Augustine’s early life are sketchy. He was born in sixth-century Rome, most likely into an aristocratic family. He is thought to have been a student of Felix, Bishop of Messana, who was a contemporary and friend of Pope Gregory the Great.

Often called the Apostle to the English, Augustine began his journey to Canterbury in 596 CE, after Pope Gregory called him to lead a group of forty (mostly monks) to the kingdom of Kent in Britannia. Travel was treacherous, and the group returned to Rome after reaching Gaul, where tales of Britannia frightened them. Pope Gregory was not sympathetic and promptly sent them back on their way, where they landed on the Isle of Thanet in 597.

The Kentish people met the monks’ ministry with interest and hospitality. Though Christianity had been previously established in southeastern Britain, many Christians had gone into hiding following the Saxon conquest. Augustine’s arrival allowed Christians to be more open about their faith. King Æthelberht of Kent was married to Queen Bertha—a Christian—and Æthelberht responded kindly toward Augustine and his fellow monks, allowing them to use an old church from the Roman occupation located in the village of Canterbury. From this modest beginning, the parish church and the town were transformed into the center of Augustine’s work and ministry.

Pope Gregory suggested—and Augustine complied—that Augustine purify rather than destroy the area’s pagan temples and practices. Working with local traditions, Augustine and his brothers spread Christianity while retaining some of the cultural traditions of the Kentish people. Augustine evangelized widely, establishing churches and schools, celebrating the sacraments, and baptizing converts. Augustine is reported to have baptized thousands of people on Christmas Day 597.

Augustine was seated as the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 597, forming the first link in an unbroken, unwavering succession of Archbishops of Canterbury. Augustine died on May 26, around 604, in Canterbury, where he is buried. His feast is celebrated on May 26.

Collect for Augustine of Canterbury
O Lord our God, by your Son Jesus Christ you called your apostles and sent them forth to preach the Gospel to the nations: We bless your holy Name for your servant Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury, whose labors in propagating your Church among the English people we commemorate today; and we pray that all whom you call and send may do your will, and bide your time, and see your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Neva Rae Fox

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Augustine of Hippo—Simone Martini, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Augustine of Canterbury—By We El at nl.wikipedia Public domain, from Wikimedia


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321 comments on “Augustine of Hippo vs. Augustine of Canterbury”

      1. Same here. Showing how previous beliefs fit with a larger truth shows more respect than just throwing them out as being terrible.

        (Not suggesting the other Augustine did that, mind you.)

        1. Agreed. He reminds me a bit of st.patrick who did likewise and his mission to Ireland

      2. I did, too. Hanging of the Greens, the New Fire, that sort of thing - we Anglicans/Episcopalians can't get enough.

        1. Yes, this helps me vote for this Augustine for these reasons rather than a judgmental one I have with Hippo. We never hear more about his child out of wedlock? Did he escape fatherhood by turning to the monastic life? If so, shame on him. If not, shame on me for being so quick to judge. Still Augustine of Canterbury gets my vote. Love those people who live on those isles.

          1. Allison,
            The relationship between Augustine and his concubine ended in 385, but he clearly still had a relationship with his son, Adeodatus, because they were baptized at the same time at the Easter Vigil in 387. Augustine's mother, Monnica, died the following year and Adeodatus died soon after.

          2. I'm with you Lisa and Allison. Who gets ordained 'against his own will'?
            Augustine, the First Archbishop of Canterbury❤

          3. Spoiler alert but we DO know quite a bit about Augustine's relationship with his son, Adeodatus. He did not abandon the boy. See link here:
            We know less about the relationship with the boy's mother, who is never named. That long-standing relationship was also complicated by Augustine's own mom. Lent Madness is sometimes about the snap judgement, but also an opportunity to go deeper into the stories. Whatever that complicated family relationship was about, it was not a one-night stand. I hear a lot of sacrifice in it, for better or worse, on many sides. Same deal with the ordination thing. Augustine loved the monastic arrangement. He must have had some (accurate) idea of the personal sacrifices ordained priesthood and later episcopacy might mean. But he did ultimately answer yes to both calls. Not the first, or last, to do it with some trepidation in his discernment!

          4. I couldn't agree more. Abandoning a child takes you out of "saintly" realm, in my humble opinion.

          5. I find that the Western Church relied to heavily on Augustine of Hippo ignoring the Greek Fathers. Augustine without them is off the mark. While with them there is a nice balance. I voted for St. Augustine of Canterbury because he was one of a handful of missionaries to make a big difference in Great Britain. May St. Gregory the Great (Patriarch of Rome) be remembered for sending St. Augustine to Britain!

          6. I'm so glad you brought up the issue of Augustine of Hippo's apparent neglect of his child. I couldn't seem to get past that fact. I realize I'm putting a 21st century lens on his behavior. However, I was much more impressed with Augustine of Canterbury's positive life experiences.

          7. I voted Canterbury because of his evangelism and his being first in a long line of Bishps of Canterbury.

          8. I too wondered about his out of wedlock child. Seems like he would have wanted to make that situation right.

          9. That was my hold back on voting for Hippo. But I too liked that he held on to some local traditions.

      3. i like the fact that A of Canterbury retained purified local traditions. However since that was Pope Gregory's idea and he pushed that posse to return to the islands, I'll vote for him when his name arises. In the meantime, A of Hippo gets my vote.

      4. I think using local traditions is so important in the Christian church and we're enriched by them. Here in Australia the indigenous people have made great contributions.

    1. I'm glad I read through the comments first, as that was my initial thought, too.
      But A.H. did not abandon his child, though Hippo's family forced him to leave his partner.

    2. That is my quibble with him too -- what I gathered was that he abandoned his partner of 15 years and their son when he got religion. Something wrong with that kind of religion!

    3. I did too, because I liked that he got scared at first, but then tired again and did wonderful things for God. I get scared a lot too, but can can still use me!

    4. But Augustine of Canturbury messed up the established Celtic church, for which I, as a descendent of the Brythonic Celts (i.e., Welsh) have not forgiven him. Also, there were no "English" at the time; they were assorted Saxons & Celts, with remnants of Roman conquerors. And, he was sent to Kent, NOT Britain as a whole. And the Celtic Christians had been sanctifying and using people and places of the old religion for centuries before he appeared. Augustine didn't convert the Britons, he merely subjected them and their church to Rome.

      1. This is an important point. Augustine of Canterbury may have executed his mission in a fruitful and relatively "progressive" way, but I reject the premise that true Christianity must be under the control of a bishop. The unfortunate tradition of conformity and control in the British churches begins here. Whitby was wrong (the synod, not St. Hilda!). That's my interpretation--I don't mean to diss Gregory or A of C. Their time called for different measures than ours, and I do grant them the benefit of the doubt.
        Augustine of Hippo likewise struggled with the creation-denying dualisms that were dominant in his context. He was a remarkably faithful Christian thinker even from that starting point. No doubt he was incorrect in his belief that sex was sinful--he generalized hsi own experience and the prejudices of his culture there. But he went in a creation-affirming direction from that point. Pelagianism remains a popular error in the church today. Pelagius was no heretic, but his absolutization of free will was an error that has had terrible consequences. Augustine remains the foremost theorist of love in the Western tradition, as far as I can tell. If you think love is important to faith, thank Augustine of Hippo. We need Augustine more than ever.
        It's simply false to say he abandoned his son and son's mother. He doesn't say much about her because she wasn't a positive influence on his spiritual life. He was in a sinful yet socially-acceptable cohabiting relationship, and he left it. On the other hand, he has a lot to say about his mother Monica, probably the most important person in his Christian formation.
        I encourage every Christian to read and wrestle with Augustine's Confessions. It's an extremely influential book, and God has really challenged me personally through it.

        1. Thank you Arnold. Your input is filled with important information. My vote is for Augustine of Hippo.

        2. Arnold, you are indeed informative and well-spoken. Others on this feed have spoken of Augustine of Hippo having loved the child he had to leave and its mother--though of course I know no basis for this, as I know little on this subject, but am learning much. It is a hurdle I find hard to get over, that a man abandons his woman and her child--and goes off--as I was often wont to do, even with a family, husband, and household help, seeking, without abandoning my Faith, to fulfill other inquiries and the development of my own talents, which I thought benefitted my family as well as me. But I always considered these blessed mercies as perhaps risking some diminution of the attention my sons may have needed from no one else but their mother. Since I lost two of them in their mid-adulthood, that possibility makes me yearn to know that I got anywhere near doing the best I could for the love I held toward them all.

      2. Very true, Arnold, and I agree with you wholeheartedly. However, I consider Hippo's endorsement and teaching of Original Sin to be an indelible black mark for him. I voted for Canterbury.

      1. No kidding. Christ's redemption transforms places and things as well as people. Just as a person can convert from paganism to Christianity, so a temple can convert to a church.

  1. A difficult one, given that I'm English and was born in Kent. However, overall, Augustine of Hippo gets it for me due to the breadth and depth of his thought.

    1. My mother's family, although it had the Welsh name Bevan, is also from Kent, so I also voted for the Canterbury Augustine.

    2. I voted for Hippo because of his influence on Christian thought and because Hippo is in Africa. I believe Canterbury will win, but Hippo's the Augustine for me.

  2. Augustine -his neoplatonic vision made for beautiful theology. He is the father of western Catholic thought.

  3. It was a tricky one, since so much of Hippo's work is important. But I live in Kent, England and our own St Mary's on the marsh was established by Aethelbert (and therefore A of Canterbury) 1000 years ago.

    1. Agreed, Nancy. Our parish had a pilgrimage to Great Britain last year, in honor of our patron, St. Edmund. We visited St. Mary's on the marsh, and I thought about that visit when I read the bio for Augustine of Canterbury. I acknowledge the great theological contributions of the Bishop of Hippo, but felt called to vote for the first Archbishop of Canterbury!

  4. It was a tough choice, but I had to go with Hippo. Anyone who has been voted into a position "against their will" has to sympathize with Hippo being "seized by the community around him" and being ordained a priest.

    1. Hahaha! I found out yesterday that someone has signed up all us choir members for coffee hour duty in the next few months, so I get your drift; still had to vote for Canterbury!

      1. Yes, A of Hippo was "voluntold" into the priesthood, but I wonder if he was ever voluntold into paying child support.

    1. I vote for Canterbury, too. I am high church Episcopal; love prayer book worship. Am fascinated with all things Celtic; think Pelagius got it right! And I think Hippo messed up human sexuality to this very day. A black miter to Hippo. A brilliant white miter to Canterbury.

      1. I'm not sure yet that A of Canterbury's miter is ALL that brilliant, but at this point in time, at least, A of Hippo's abuse and misrepresentation of Pelagius is undermining his positive contributions too much for my vote. (Mercy! I'm glad MY legacy does not have to be scrutinized this way by Madness voters.)

    2. Me too! I'm very happy to have an opportunity to vote against Hippo, both for Pelagius' sake and because he didn't like women (as a group).

  5. Very Roman choice today -- the Augustine who set so much of the tone for the Roman Catholic Church or the Augustine who converted the English to Rome away from Celtic Christianity. I will go for the first Archbishop of Canterbury.

    1. True, but Hippo is clearly the more fashion-foward, sporting the matching hat and gloves. ;- )

  6. I voted for Hippo because of the way he transformed even if it was by force 😉

    1. Actually, in his confessions, it is clear he did not. His son, Adeodatus (gift from God) traveled with him to Italy. He brought his mother with him to help care for the boy. Augustine was grief stricken when his son died as a youth. As harsh a critic as he could be to people of differing theological views, he was a devoted father.

      1. Thank you for clarifying this. Had this been in the description of Hippo, many would have considered this. There's always more to the story. Thanks for offering it.

        1. I've read the Confessions but must have somehow missed what happened w/his son, so thanks other Jan for the added info. Still leaning towards the Archbishop of Canterbury.

      2. Thanks for that clarification. I was feeling a bit of un-Christian judgement against Hippo for that particular detail. Now they're back to even in my book, and so require further pondering.

        1. I, too, had issue with this, and am glad to see it clarified in a way befitting a man of such faith. Still, I go with Canterbury.

      3. He still abandoned his child's mother. I'm guessing they were of different social stations and therefore never married, but sheesh! They were together 15 years!

  7. Is the SEC trying to influence the outcome by use of pictures? Augustine of Hippo scowls, A of Canterbury smirks... Just askin'

  8. I, along with so many others, had to read Augustine's Confessions as an undergraduate, and I came away with a sense of sin; the body is sinful. While he may be a major figure in the early church, he did not give us a model of constancy in his lack of fidelity to the mother of his child. In addition, Augustine of Hippo imposed the filioque clause on the Western church, damaging relations with the Eastern church. I was not of a mind to vote for Augustine of Hippo today, so I was glad to find Augustine of Canterbury, who synthesized pagan and Christian practices. I responded to the words of the collect: "bide your time." While the African Augustine's prayer may have been, "Oh Lord, give me chastity--but not now"; my prayer is always, "Oh Lord, give me patience--right now!" So I appreciate the affirmation about biding one's time and approaching the problems of the world with patience. I know THE Augustine is a mammoth mountain in Xian history, but today I will remain on my plodding palfrey and keep trotting to Canterbury. Thanks be to God.

    1. The filioque was first adopted in the 6th century at a regional council in Toledo, Spain and spread back toward Rome over the course of several centuries. Augustine of Hippo was long dead by then.

      1. According to Diarmaid MacCulloch (Xity: first 3M Years), "Augustine decided that it would be wise to preserve the Spirit's equality by asserting that the Son participated in the Spirit's 'proceeding' from the Father. . . . The question came to split the imperial Church" (311). He also refers to "the 'double procession' of the Spirit from Father and Son, that proposition of Augustine's which so infuriated the Byzantine Church" (340). The filioque clause seems pretty clearly to stem from Augustine.

    2. I will add that this is a difficult vote for me today. Augustine of Hippo is indeed a mountain of the religion. I really struggle with him though.

    3. Celia, I too read Augustine's Confessions as an undergrad, reading a number of selections in the original Latin. It came off as a whiny diatribe to me!

    4. I just loved your post; it made me happy to think that there are people so well-educated and well-spoken in this world. I believe our minds are nourished by talking with intelligent people who like to indulge in the rigors of thought, as well as its delights. Or some such; I get to talking and never know how it's going to sound. My personal saint was French, Ernest Dimnet, who gave me permission in his book, "TheArt of Thinking," to embark on a rich self-education just by seeking superior minds to my own, by reading all the best writers I can in this life, going always to the "next most difficult book (related to my own interests in life) that I can grasp with any pleasure. " He had come to the United States in the midst of The Great Depression, when middle America could not afford higher education, and he undertook to teach us how to earn that on our own, and to reap its civilized pleasures and joys.

      1. What a great approach to life, to extend oneself and one's thinking for growth and delight! Wish everyone had your attitude! You remind us all that "rigor of thought" and pleasure go together. Very Kantian of you.

  9. Difficult decision, but I eventually chose the bishop of Canterbury. He did so much to spread the word and for me that is so important. Thank you for another wonderful Lent Madness season.

  10. Leaving his family responsibilities behind, even if not legally family, turned my stomach. Nothing to upset the tummy with Canterbury, plus my anglophile streak anyway.

    1. Truth is, Augustine was, or felt, forced to abandon the love of his life, because his family wanted to him to marry a woman of the same social class. Leaving the love of his life broke his heart.

      1. I do like and appreciate all the great comments that continue to inform my introduction to these two Augustines. It will certainly be harder to vote if they ever face one another again in a future Lent Madness.

        Happy Lent.

    2. Augustine of Hippo didn't abandon his son; he took care of him for life. See other comments by Freeman Gilbert.

  11. Augustine of Hippo gets my vote today. For those of us whose young adult years found us as tepid Christians. Rediscovering the wonder of God's grace and being reignited with the fire of God's unending love is a gift that cannot be contained in one's heart, it must be shared.

    1. Your post, Lisa, is eloquent and joyous, and opens my mind to the wonder and fire of God's unending love, as you put it, and reminds me that the only way to be at peace with that gift is to share it. Sharing, historically, you may agree, can and has been difficult. I myself have felt abashed at the thought of even proffering my own fragile and needy belief to anyone--though I do, if they seek help. But your post fills me with joy, and allows me to permit myself to feel the glory and fire and depth of God's love. To me, as a parent who has lost sons, I need no stronger love to envision as God's own for us, than what I discovered in myself for my own three sons--even if, I never served it as well as I hoped, for I wanted it to be holy and perfect.

  12. Gotta vote for Canterbury and for that "unbroken, unwavering succession of Archbishops of Canterbury," for all the Christmas baptisms, for re-purposing the ancient temples instead of destroying them, for England! I have never been able to, um, appreciate Hippo at all; reading his "Confessions" is like chewing old leather!

  13. I voted Canterbury for many of the reasons cited above, but also because, if I recall correctly, it was Augustine of Hippo who introduced the notion of original sin into Christianity. Boo, hiss! Also, my grandfather was English, and I love the notion that kindness was given and received on both sides when Augustine of Canterbury arrived in Britannia.

  14. I voted for Augustine of Hippo because I have studied late Roman history extensively, and genuinely enjoyed reading the Confessions-- in fact that reading encouraged me to reaffirm my Christianity after several years of agnosticism. Also, I think my vote would please his mother, who has been one of my heroines for years.

  15. Here's a quote from Hippo: What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.

  16. How can I not vote for a hippo, or even a rhino? Said folk set the standards for the faith and paved the way for the future Augustines to do their missionary work. Without the hippo, there would be no canter. ❤

  17. Just couldn't vote for a dead-beat dad; plus purifying instead of destroying made a lot of sense.

    1. Augustine remained a loving father to his son who died at 16. Calling him a dead beat dad is just not so.

  18. Voted for Hipppo because of the personal change to his life. "Seized by the community '-- tough Discernment Committee.

  19. Although Augustine of Canterbury managed to win the approval of a king named Æthelberht (which is pretty cool) and was wise in the way he approached his ministry to the English people, the brilliance and broader influence of Hippo gets my vote today.

  20. As an Episcopalian, I feel compelled to vote for Augustine of Canterbury. And looking at their portraits, Hippo seems awfully stern looking while Canterbury seems warm and compassionate. If I arrive at the gates of Heaven and an Augustine is to judge me, I hope it would be friendly Canterbury.

  21. As an Anglo-Catholic Socialist, I love the following statements by Hippo:
    The superfluities of the rich are the necessities of the poor. When you possess superfluity, you possess what belongs to others. God gives the world to the poor as well as to the rich.

    Redouble your charity. For, on account of the things which each one of us possesses singly, wars exist, hatreds, discords, strifes among human beings, tumults, dissensions, scandals, sins, injustices, and murders. Why? Do we fight over the things we possess in common? We inhale this air in common with others, we all see the sun in common.

    Blessed therefore are those who make room for the Lord, so as not to take pleasure in private property. Let us therefore abstain from the possessions of private property – or from the love of it, if we cannot abstain from possession – and let us make room for the Lord.

  22. This was another difficult one for me. I like "Hippo" for his theology and "Canterbury" for his missionary work. So voting subjectively, I "turned against" "Hippo" because he abandoned his partner and child and went for "Canterbury" because of ancestral roots in Kent (not back to his time though). Subjective, so many folks have been voting subjectively so far. First time for me, I think.

    1. "My mistress being torn from my side as an impediment to my marriage, my heart, which clave to her, was racked, and wounded, and bleeding."
      Augustine was pressured into abandoning his partner of 15 years, but never left his son, who died at 16.

    2. By now it should be obvious that you cannot vote against Hippo for dumping his son's mother. However, there is a sense in which he can be suspected of "dumping" all women. His dissing of the Celtic Pelagius seems not to be simply based on any theology of sin but because Pelagius's practice of talking theology equally with women seriously threatened the "good old boys club" that by this time been established in the Roman church leadership.

      1. Oh, my goodness, dear pHil, you raised a question I have to subdue over and over in myself--why doesn't God have a mate, and why, if he is a perfect individual and example that we are created to resemble--does he have to be so resoundingly and constantly, male? The Roman church used to balance that out by offering--as does the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah, an altar equally lovely to the Virgin Mary, which women might find more congenial to approach--but my last close friend in that church, found her "Mary" group of devotees, abruptly closed. That's just an anecdote, slender indeed, on which to base a question: what happened to Mary or to the female side of God, our Father. Why, I ponder often, don't we have a Mother? And, outside of St. Joseph, why do we not see God as expressing some divine marriage with an equally divine female being? Not just with his "bride" the church. And if motherhood is so revered as woman's only or chief purpose in this world, why isn't mother-love as revered in the poetry and piety of churches, as an almighty Father's love?

  23. Augustine of Hippo's comment about the heart not finding rest until it rests in God captures the human condition (and my own experience). Remembering this quote was the tipping point in my evaluation of the two men. I was drawn at the same time to the action of the Augustine who was sent to Britain--he and his fellow travelers faced fears and challenging travel conditions that must have required much personal courage (as well as obedience).