St. Augustine

St. Augustine was born in Rome in 354 AD. He was raised by a Christian mother, but did not convert to Christianity until he was 32. Prior to his conversion, he had a concubine who bore him a son. He led the life of a middle class Roman, and was clearly a man of strong passions. In his Confessions, he describes his attempts at chastity, writing ". . . the madness of raging lust exercised its supreme dominion over me." This quote in many ways summarizes Augustine's viewpoint -- that individual human willpower is no match for the temptations of the body.

He was born into a changing Roman empire. Forty years earlier Constantine had converted to Christianity, changing the nature of Roman rule. Christianity was in transition from a small persecuted sect to a religon accepted by, and even favored by, the state. With this change of fortunes came new stresses and opportunities for the growing Church.

As a Christian, St. Augustine rose in power and was eventually appointed Bishop of Hippo (in what is today Algiers). John Chrysostom, his contemporary, was bishop of Antioch, a position of greater esteem and influence than that of St. Augustine. Both men were affected by changes in the political climate, but interpreted those changes in very different ways. Chrysostom took a traditional view of Christianity as separate from the state, and saw the individual as capable of personal rule. The individual is free to be tempted, or to resist temptation. He was scornful of Roman laws, describing them as "for the most part, corrupt, useless, and ridiculous." John Chrysostom's beliefs on human free will were in keeping with the Christian tradition: ". . . the wrongdoer must be corrected not by force, but by persuasion." St. Augustine's views on the need for social control and human frailty were radical at the time: ". . . man has been naturally so created that it is advantageous for him to be submissive, but disastrous for him to follow his own will. . . ."

St. Augustine's views prevailed over Chrysostom's, even though they implied greater restriction in the lives of individuals. The reason for acceptance seems to lie in the growth of the Church as an institution. Chrysostom retained the traditional view of the Church as separate, even at odds with the state, while Augustine moved to integrate state authority into the growing Church. Augustine's argument that man is a creature easily tempted, in need of outside rule, made it easier for the Church to assume control of the lives of its subjects, and helped turn the Church into a governing body. These views changed the Church's views of personal liberty, and have persisted to this day.