In broad terms, what generally was the political and ecclesiastical environment in which Augustine was called to minister?
Historically speaking, Augustine lived in Roman Empire during a time of its serious decline and disintegration. The Empire was strained by perpetual warfare as it defended its borders in the North and the East; as a result, taxation was heavy.
At Adrianople in the year 375, only twenty years after the birth of Augustine at Thagaste in 354, Gothic tribes entered the imperial regions in force.
In the year 410, when Augustine had been Bishop of Hippo for fourteen years, Alaric and his Visigoths captured Rome.
This event doubly shocked everyone in the Empire because it was the first time that the capital city had fallen in seven hundred years.
In 428, two years before Augustine died there, the Vandals surrounded the fortified city of Hippo. They succeeded in destroying it months after he died.
And finally in 476 the last section of the Western Empire at Ravenna left Italy entirely, and moved east to Constantinople.
Militarily, politically and economically, imperial Rome had collapsed. It, too, needed rescuing by new spiritual, moral and intellectual forces, and by a new uniting and empowering community.
These came, although slowly, from the small Christian church. Author Peter Brown noted that by about the year 400 AD the Christian Church of Rome was distinguished from all other religions in the Roman Empire by being privileged, and by the fact that its rivals were repressed in varying degrees.
The Church united the inheritance from Greece and Rome with new biblical and theological formulations.
The legacy of Augustine was to be a major intellectual and theological contributor to the civilisation in Europe in these centuries that followed.
In fact, it has been said that in a practical sense the Middle Ages began with Augustine.
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