Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Augustine and the First “Modern” Autobiography

St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine of Hippo Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Mihi quaestio factus sum. This is a Latin phrase which means, roughly translated, “I have become a problem to myself.” This was written by Aurelius Augustinus, aka St. Augustine of Hippo. Historians know a lot about Augustine, like when he was born (November 13, 354); when he died (August 28, 430); and just about everything else in-between. The reason we know so much about him is due to his autobiography, The Confessions, written sometime between 397 and 400 AD. While not the first autobiography ever written, it is considered to be the first modern Western autobiography. For 1,600 years, this book has influenced how Christians (and many non-Christians) have penned their life stories.

Hundreds of medieval manuscripts of Augustine’s Confessions survive, the earliest dating from the late sixth century. There are nine surviving manuscripts dating from the ninth and tenth centuries. The first printed edition was made in Strasbourg, France, around 1470, and the book has never gone out of print since then.

Latin Research Topic

Latin Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Roman Catholicism Research Topic

Roman Catholicism Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary







The work, originally titled Confessions in Thirteen Books, is more of a spiritual autobiography than a straightforward telling of a life story, although there is plenty of that in the book as well. Born of a Christian mother (Monica) and a Pagan father (Patricius), Augustine was very early on a deep thinker. He was sent away to the University of Carthage at the age of 16. Augustine doesn’t shy away from dishing the dirt on himself during his early life. He became a teacher of rhetoric and moved to Rome with his mistress and his son. His religion at the time was Manichaeism, a combination of elements of Christianity and Zoroastrian themes. It was in Milan that his life began to change when he came under the influence of Ambrose, the city’s bishop. Augustine was baptized, ordained a priest and in 396 was himself made a bishop in Hippo (Annaba, Algeria).

African Literature

African Literature Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Algeria Research Topic

Algeria Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary








The Confessions is both an autobiography and a theological work. It presents a detailed account of his philosophical and religious development and is the most complete record of any single individual from the fourth and fifth centuries. According to Oxford and Cambridge professor Henry Chadwick, Confessions will “always rank among the great masterpieces of Western literature.”

Augustine also found time to write The City of God, one of the most influential religious/philosophical books ever written. This was penned sometime later than 410 AD, after Rome fell to the barbarians. Augustine died in Hippo as the Vandals were besieging the city.

Literature teachers and librarians can help students learn more about Augustine of Hippo and his works by pointing them toward the many resources in eLibrary, such as our list of religious and theological publications.

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Epiphany: The Three Wise Men and More

We three kings of orient are;
Bearing gifts, we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star

Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo - Adoration of the Magi [Public Domain]

Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo – Adoration of the Magi [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Most people consider the Christmas season to be over after the gifts have been opened, the wrapping paper has been cleaned up and the tree has been taken down. Many, however, carry on the celebration of Jesus for twelve days after Christmas (the inspiration for the carol). Epiphany, one of the oldest celebrations of Christianity, falls on January 6 and is a commemoration of the trip made by the Three Wise Men to honor Jesus after his birth.

Popular tradition has it that the Magi were three kings who heard a prophecy of the coming Messiah and followed a star to Bethlehem. But, the gospel of Matthew–the only one that mentions the visitors–does not call them kings, nor does it name or even number them. (The story of their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh seems to be the basis for the idea that there were three.) One theory is that the Magi were Zoroastrian Mede priests. While such confusion about the biblical and historical records has even caused some Christians to question the story, the holiday remains an important one.

There is more to the religious significance of Epiphany than just the story of the Magi. In the the Eastern Christian Churches, it represents Jesus’ manifestation on Earth. Jesus’ birth and the arrival of the Magi, his first miracle at the wedding at Cana and his baptism are all commemorated in varying denominations.

Epiphany traditions vary by culture, and here a few: In Spanish and Latin American tradition, Epiphany is celebrated with rosca de reyes (king’s cake), a ringed cake with a baby figure or a bean hidden inside. Russians take an icy dip to symbolize Jesus’ baptism. European countries have multiple traditions involving sweets. Some traditions date back to pagan times, and in Britain, some of them have been making a comeback. Since the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, there is a mix of world traditions and unique ones, such as the blessing of homes and a dive for a cross in a Florida bayou.

This was just a quick rundown of the history and traditions of Epiphany. To really dig into this topic and many others, search eLibrary and follow the links above and below.

Research Topics: Bible, Christmas, Christianity, Zoroastrianism

Subject browse sections (Click on underlined words to widen or narrow the scope and click on “View Results” to see eLibrary resources. Items with stars next to them will display Research Topic pages.): Holidays, Religion


SKS Spotlight of the Month: Winter Traditions

Christmas Tree and Children <br \> Consumer Product Safety Commission, via ProQuest SIRS Government Reporter [Public Domain]

Christmas Tree and Children
Consumer Product Safety Commission, via ProQuest SIRS Government Reporter [Public Domain]

Christmas holiday celebrations are the result of hundreds of years of blending with other spiritual, religious, and cultural traditions.

Roman Church Fathers conceived the observation of the Nativity and added it to the Christian calendar about 350 years after the development of Christianity. They wanted to indoctrinate the idea that Jesus was human and so celebrate him by recognizing his physical birth. The event was positioned during the winter season, which was already replete with revels and festivals such as Saturnalia, a pretty wild and lavish time. To the Church Fathers’ chagrin, Christmas followed suit and was soon defined by parties, feasts, luxuries, and drinking, not by religion as they had envisioned. It was only during the 1800s that Christmas transformed into the holiday many know today: an integration of the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and the holiday’s pagan roots of parties, lights, music, and indulgences.

Want to learn more about the evolution of Christmas and other holidays? Visit December’s SKS Spotlight of the Month and explore the winter traditions of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Chinese New Year, and more.