Saint Augustine (detail), by Philippe de Champaigne, c. 1645.

Philippe de Champaigne, c. 1645

Saint Augustine

(354 - 430)

Augustine experienced his conversion while in a garden in Milan in 386; responding to the voice of a child who said, “Pick up and read,” he opened Saint Paul’s epistle to the Romans and read a sentence from it. “I did not need to read further,” he recalled. “It was as though the light of security flooded me and all my doubts fell away.” Augustine was baptized the next year, and became bishop of Hippo in 396, remaining in the post until his death in 430. Lord Byron wrote in Don Juan, “As St. Augustine in his fine Confessions, / Which make the reader envy his transgressions.”

All Writing


Saint Augustine based his definition of original sin on a misinterpretation of the Greek in Romans 5:12. According to Augustine’s misreading, sin is contracted and passed through the human race like a venereal disease. “We all were in that one man,” he wrote of Adam, who Augustine believed contained the nature of all future men, which was transmitted through Adam’s semen. The human race is therefore a “train of evil,” headed for destruction. The monk Pelagius argued against this concept, known as seminal headship. The Council of Orange accepted Augustine’s doctrine of original sin in 529.


“I have personally watched and studied a jealous baby,” Saint Augustine reports in his Confessions. “He could not speak and, pale with jealousy and bitterness, glared at his brother sharing his mother’s milk.” Regarding the baby’s sinister intent, Augustine contends that “it can hardly be innocence,” when the milk “is flowing richly and abundantly, not to endure a share going to one’s blood brother, who is in profound need.”

An unjust law is no law at all.

—Saint Augustine, 395

Nothing is so much to be shunned as sex relations.

—Saint Augustine, c. 387

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.

—Saint Augustine, c. 390


“I don’t believe in miracles, because it’s been a long time since we’ve had any,” Joseph Heller said in an interview in 1988. Some sixteen hundred years earlier, St. Augustine had written, “Men say, ‘Why do not the miracles, which you talk about as having been worked, take place now?’ I might indeed reply that they were necessary before the world believed for the very purpose of making it believe.”

Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.

—Saint Augustine, c. 400

Give me chastity and continence, but not just now.

—Saint Augustine, 397

If a parricide is more wicked than anyone who commits homicide—because he kills not merely a man but a near relative—without doubt worse still is he who kills himself, because there is none nearer to a man than himself. 

—Saint Augustine, c. 420

Issues Contributed