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. My grandfather, Solomon Mbatha was the deacon at St Augustine's Mission in Nqutu, Kwazulu - Natal. I started School at St Monica's in Durban. I vote for my church lineage. Augustine of Hippo it is.

  2. Augustine of Hippo, for me, because his writings were foundational, next to Paul, in our understanding of our core doctrines; the Trinity, the Sacraments, the Church as Community and our very human longing for God which he discovered in his own life experience. Imagine this, his intellect and leadership abilities were so remarkable that the community made him a priest, even against his will, and later a bishop. Then he went on to serve faithfully for nearly 40 more years.

  3. Canterbury - he acknowledged cultural and local traditions. No to Hippo because he abandoned his child.

    1. Actually that is explained in other comments above - son went with him to Rome and died at age 16.

  4. This is probably the most complicated decision in all of the years I have participated in Madness.... Do I honor the centuries of theological dialogue, or the tradition of the Anglican branch. I went with Tradition.... the philosopher theologian would understand.

  5. Well . . . had to go with our Anglican progenitor, mainly because he worked to transform pagan Kentish customs, rather than replace them. And the Queen liked him. And the work he began at Canterbury is still there!

  6. Here's another quote from Hippo about social justice:

    Remove justice, and what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a large scale? What are criminal gangs but petty kingdoms? A gang is a group of men under the command of a leader, bound by a compact of association, in which the plunder is divided according to an agreed convention.

    If this villainy wins so many recruits from the ranks of the demoralized that it acquires territory, establishes a base, captures cities and subdues peoples, it then openly arrogates to itself the title of kingdom, which is conferred on it in the eyes of the world, not by the renouncing of aggression but by the attainment of impunity.

    For it was a witty and truthful rejoinder which was given by a captured pirate to Alexander the Great. The king asked the fellow, “What is your idea, in infesting the sea?” And the pirate answered, with uninhibited insolence, “The same as yours, in infesting the earth! But because I do it with a tiny craft, I’m called a pirate; because you have a mighty navy, you’re called an emperor.”

  7. Had to go with Canterbury on this one...the abandoning of the woman who had his son left a bad taste in my mouth for Hippo.

  8. Tough decision today, but Hippo edged out due to this:
    "against his own will—he was seized by the community around him and ordained as a priest."

  9. I went with Augustine of Hippo for his ongoing influence, but appreciated Augustin of Canterbury for his work in renewing the church. Perhaps next year he will be in a more favorable bracket. Also, has St Monica already won already Golden Halo, or can those of us who mother other Augustines look forward to her presence in Lent Madness as we pray with her for our offspring ?

  10. Despite some admiration for his confessions and impact on the Church, I voted against Hippo because I didn't know what he had done to reconcile with his son after he left the son's mother.

  11. Dumping his gal and son so he could go off to find himself/greater glory? Augustine of Hippo is not the first saint to be jerk, but that said I'm going with Canterbury on this one.

    1. Saying stuff doesn't make it so. Hippo moved to Milan with his partner when he assumed one of the most prestigious academic positions of the time. He did indeed accept the arranged marriage prepared for him by his family, but here's how he felt about it: "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."

      1. Freeman, now that I say it over and over again, I realize you're right...It's UH-gus-tun, not OG-us-tun. Also, I've heard before that Uh-gus-tun was Canterbury and Og-us-teen was Hippo, but I wasn't sure it was true. Your answer (and Jules's) inclines me now to think it is.

  12. Augustine of Canterbury is admirable for incorporating old customs into what was new Christianity for the English. I also don't like the way Augustine of Hippo threw off his wife (under his previous beliefs) and son. He seems to have had a problem with women once he got religion.

    1. Problem is, he didn't abandon his son. His son lived with him until his premature death at 16.

  13. Perhaps the hardest choice yet, but went with Hippo because of the breadth and continuity of his influence.
    Also because of the necklace my daughters gave me when I embarked on the Camino de Santiago:
    Solvitur ambulando (it is solved by walking.) Worked for me.

  14. It's Hippo's Day! St. Augustine of Hippo is the patron saint of St. Augustine's University in Raleigh, NC., Bishop Delany's college (March 3).

  15. Definitely Canterbury, not just Pelagius but Hippo's attitude to women in general just encouraged the sidelining of women down the centuries, which we in England are only beginning to overcome, I vote for Canterbury and for women in ministry.

  16. Canterbury; wrote one of my first learned papers on Gregory the Great. Resonated to Gregory's instructions and Augustine's practice to not destroy local practices and buildings, but to show a better way. Could we make the argument that this is what Jesus did with the energy, education, and zealousness of Saul of Tarsus?

  17. I voted for Hippo because I'm a LUTHERAN! -- and I graduated from Augustana (Rock Island) -- SO THERE!

    1. So happy to see that the madness extends beyond the Episcopal Church! Yay for ecumenism! Welcome Lutherans!

  18. Went with Hippo because this is one of my favorite quotes:
    You called, you cried, you shattered my deafness.
    You sparkled, you blazed, you drove away my blindness.
    You shed your fragrance, and I drew in my breath, and I pant for you.
    I tasted and now I hunger and thirst.
    You touched me, and now I burn with longing for your peace.

  19. I voted for Hippo because he is one of those people without whom the Church would be very different from the Church we know: had he not flourished, it's unlikely that someone else would have thought his thoughts or written his words. As to those ideas with which we may disagree: I'm not a theologian, but a quick Wikiwhirl suggests that Augustine was far from being the only exponent of the filioque doctrine, and that in his time it wasn't considered heretical or even necessarily opposed to the idea of procession from the Father, more like a gloss on the meaning of that doctrine.

    I also don't think his regrettable and later regretted conduct before his conversion should be held against him, any more than that of Francis of Assisi and many others -- I mean, isn't that sort of the point of conversion, and hasn't misbehavior preceded many of the most dramatic conversions and subsequent zealously dedicated lives?

    With Canterbury, great though he was, I get the sense from the bio that a lot of the credit for his mission goes to the guidance and indeed prodding of Gregory the Great. I also wonder whether the introduction and spread of Christianity in England weren't inevitable, and that if Augustine hadn't been available someone else would have undertaken and accomplished the task not long after he did. I say this not to disparage the Cantabrigian but to contrast his place in history with the unique role played by his Hipponian namesake.

    1. It also seems (Wiki again) that in the course of the Pelagian controversy Augustine wrote Pelagius a character reference even as he vehemently opposed his theological position.

      1. I have no ethnic horse in this: they were both Italian. (Back when North Africa still counted as Italian, or at least Italic.)

      1. Up at the top! He said, "I voted for Saint Augustine of Canterbury because he converted the English." 😀

    2. Davis, you're back! Missed you! But you are making up for it with lots of words! New avi and everything!

      1. I sort of stumbled into the avi by accident, in connection with a church-sponsored trip to South Africa. Thinking that what I was doing was specific to that group, I posted a picture of myself wearing Zulu face paint and was amazed when it appeared next to my first LM comment. That shut me up for several days, until I could figure out how to change it.

  20. Too bad the inaccurate implication of child abandonment in Hippo's bio led to so many votes against him. Canterbury's only real claim is his office. Ethelbert allied with Rome for political reasons and most likely converts were expressing fealty to their king. Meanwhile Hippo's lifelong struggle for truth and his amazing insights into the love of God are the primary reason for his extreme position on sin. To elevate and glorify the love of God he humbled the role of humanity. It is amazing how a man so passionate about human and divine love and so faithful to both with such an incomparable body of work still inspiring and teaching the church today could come across to so many as less important than a man known only for holding a title.

    1. This is the comment that turned my vote to A of H. May I quote you on my facebook page posting for Lent Madness today, Ellis of Bowerfind?
      This and Freeman Gilbert's measured defense of Hippo. I'm against 'fake news.'

  21. I was very impressed by Augustine of Hippo, but as a Kentish Maid I had to go with Canterbury

  22. Had to think hard about this but Canterbury, because purifying pagan sites instead of destroying them was like the forerunner to upcycled housing.

  23. This is a toughie! I love both because they were, in the end, both willing to heed God's call and travel, literally or metaphorically, to do so. I did vote for Augustine of Hippo because his Confessions resonate with me in his vulnerability and earnestness. Augustine of Canterbury traveled to a strange land to love the people there. He's also at least indirectly responsible for some of my favorite literature. Without him, would we have had Chaucer's wonderful tales?

  24. Gus of Hippo leaves a dark residue of misogyny wherever his otherwise brilliant theology goes; gotta go for Gus of Canterbury.

  25. I can so relate to Canterbury's fear of traveling to Britain. Our first trip was to Canterbury and driving on the wrong side on those country roads was scary. It was a very prayerful trip - in the car and at the Cathedral!

  26. The pictures of each saint turned my vote toward Augustine of Canterbury. Plus, the "unconstrained" life for 15 years then converting back to Christianity is admirable, the fact that "Canterbury" incorporated the local traditions in his conversion of the locals wins my admiration. AofC all the way!