There is no reason to doubt the assertion by Possidius that Augustine's writings had been reproduced far beyond Africa by the end of Augustine's lengthy life. Indeed, a list of Augustine's correspondents supports this conclusion.
Furthermore, the fact that almost all of his written works survived for posterity (as checked against his own tabulation of them in his Retractions) is yet another indication that his legacy was considered important by the scholars of his time, and by scholars subsequently Is such a powerful and lasting legacy possible? It does, on the face of it, seem improbable that a man born in 354 A.D. in a provincial town in what is now Algeria would have much to say to us today. But Augustine is no ordinary thinker, no ordinary person. From the time of his conversion to Catholic Christianity in 386 until his death in 430, Augustine wrote some 117 books, as well as his sermons and his vast correspondence.
In his works, he touches on all the central themes of Christian theology and Christian life: the nature of God and of human persons; the problem of evil; the self's understanding of itself; war and human aggression; the bases of social life and political order; Christian vocations; church doctrine - the list is very lengthy. Because he touched upon so many Christian themes and because de facto (along with his contemporaries Saints Ambrose of Milan and Jerome) he largely set the agenda for Christian controversy in his era and for the following centuries, it is not surprising that his foundational writings remained in the forefront of subsequent Christian - and even secular - writing. Subsequent authors could not develop these themes without including references to Augustine's thought.
But it was more than his "early position" in the history of expression of Christian thought that accorded Augustinian his eminence. As well, it was the high-powered quality and range of his thought that saw him tower over his successors. He became an authority, whose thinking on subjects that he covered could not henceforth be ignored. For centuries after his death, authors were able to do little more than to come to grips with the quantity and quality of his thought, and to re-present it in a more systematic matter than Augustine - as a busy bishop and frenetic correspondent - had had the time to do. The Church needed a period for the digestion of the nutrition that he had provided. In his biography of Augustine, Peter Brown claims that Augustine has "come as near to us . . . as the vast gulf that separates a modern man from the culture and religion of the later empire can allow." (See at bottom of this page: Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography: Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967, page 181, and there is a later revised edition.)
Can the words of Augustine be placed into modern categories?
Attempting to section the writing of Augustine 1,600 years ago into what we mean today by the categories of theology, philosophy, ethics, politics, etc. is treating his work in a way that he could neither have anticipated nor have provided for. Augustine was thinking and writing before there were clear specialisations of this nature. Furthermore, Augustine wrote in what today would be termed a multi-disciplinary manner, across the borders of many categories.
This usually happened because his work was most often a response to a real and specific intellectual, moral or theological challenge that was being faced. For example, the reason he wrote his City of God, and what he actually then wrote, accurately illustrates this. And he often was not writing as an academic who had the luxury of being able to define and isolate a small portion of thought on which to focus; rather, Augustine was most often addressing a situation that cut across the boundaries of what we call now theology, philosophy, ethics, politics, etc.
If Augustine was such an influence on the Western Church and Western civilisation, why is he not read more often and quoted more frequently?
Since his time others have been able to specialise their thinking, either based on Augustine or branching in a new direction in light of the insight that Augustine offered. And as to politics, he said that God gave humans authority over the beasts (Genesis 1: 26-31) but not over their fellow humans. Augustine regarded that social hierarchy, inequality, domination, and specifically the keeping of slaves, were a consequence of the weakness of humanity. God had not intended them, and they arose as the negative effects of sin. Augustine held that it was "natural" - and, indeed, necessary - in an imperfect world that the few would rule over the many. In the anthropology of Augustine, this happened not in order to satisfy the desire of anyone to dominate, but so that the few in leadership could help the rest of the population in the pursuit of virtue.
Augustine of Hippo: A Biography. A New Edition with an Epilogue. By Peter Brown. University of California Press, November 2002. ISBN 0-520-22757-3 (paper) 576 pages, US$19.95.
Pope John Paul II. Apostolic letter on Saint Augustine of Hippo, 1986. http://www.cin.org/jp2ency/augustin.html
Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. A lengthy article. ... First and foremost in the legacy of Augustine is the voluminous body of work that encompasses this movement, revealing a range of thought only a handful of ... A lengthy and very technical article on Augustine by Michael Mendelson in the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/augustine
What Augustine Did Not Confess. A new look at Saint Augustine and his legacy. By Jay Tolson in U.S. News & World Report, 23rd May 2005. http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/jod/texts/usnewsreview.html
St Augustine's Legacy to Catholic Education. An eight-minute video clip by Fr Ferdinand Hernando O.A.R. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=of07OT7vEtQ