Agree or disagree, now or after reading this issue: After Jesus and Paul, Augustine of Hippo is the most influential figure in the history of Christianity…

1987 marks the 1,600th anniversary of Augustine’s conversion to Christ and baptism. The anniversary is noteworthy not only because of Augustine’s influence on Christendom, for his pivotal role in history extends well beyond the ecclesiastical; it is noteworthy because he is one of the central pillars on which our entire Western civilization is built.

Time magazine acknowledged this in its September 29 issue of 1986, when it devoted a full page to a summary of and commentary on Augustine’s life and influence. Time observed that Augustine, in each of the 16 centuries since his conversion, has continued to exert a “major intellectual, spiritual and cultural force.”

Here at Christian History we have probably had more requests from readers for an issue exclusively devoted to Augustine than for anyone else. We thought this anniversary year was a perfectly appropriate time to present one.

There is no greater expression of human beauty, nor is there any greater exaltation of human nature, than when individuals or groups are humbled under, touched by, and made aware of the reality and presence of God’s grace. And none, apart from the biblical writers and characters, did more to help us understand the supreme joy of life in God’s grace than the man from North Africa treated in these pages.

He lived at a time when the waves of barbarians surging into the Roman empire must have created public anxiety similar to that experienced today because of the threat of nuclear holocaust. The barbaric Goths sacked Rome in 410 A.D., and the Vandals were besieging the city of Hippo even as Augustine, the city’s bishop, lay on his deathbed. Smoke from Vandal-set fires was wafting through the windows of his room as he breathed his last.

During his life he also had to deal with the pagans’ repeated attacks against Christianity and the church, and with divisions within the church sparked by heretics who used methods both physically violent and intellectually challenging. His time, like ours, was one of those moments in history when the potential destruction of our culture and civilization was more than an occasional nightmare—it was perceived as an imminent threat.

Augustine did many things in response to the crises of his 5th-century world, including write The City of God. Partially as a result of his efforts, paganism in that era was defeated, though never fully exterminated, and doctrines were developed to answer heresy. The barbarians eventually became Christianized, even if only nominally, and the church grew stronger, though not necessarily better. His resolute and intelligent responses to these crises have significantly influenced numerous sojourners in the city of man to establish their citizenship in the City of God. When and how we come through our crises (some would say if ) is yet to be seen. But it wouldn’t hurt to dust off The City of God and give it another look. Were Augustine alive today, might he not still write much the same?