Thousands of books could be written of Saint Augustine and his writings and to narrow down his life and impact on Christianity to a single post would be a grave misjustice. The Path of Sainthood therefore, will run a series of posts of Saint Augustine. Our first post will be an historical overview of his life , followed by posts on his teachings and miracles. If you haven't read the post regarding his mother, we highly recommend reading our article on Saint Monica of Hippo for historical and character background. We will also have links for continued reading at the end of each of our articles to help explore the incredible importance Saint Augustine holds in our Church and Christianity as a whole.
Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis was born on November 13, 354 in Thagaste (which is now Algeria). His family were likely heavily romanized Berbers and Augustine would later write several references to an African heritage. His family name also hints at his family's origins - the gens Aurelia indicates they were freedmen by the Edict of Caracalla in 212 The edit was granted by Emperor Caracalla, declaring all freemen in any Roman Province were to be given full citizenship. Previously to the edit, generally speaking only inhabitants of Italy held full citizenship's). In his book Confessions, Augustine writes that his first glimpse into the world of sin occurred when he was 11 and attending school at Madaurus south of his home town. He and a group of friends stole fruit from a neighborhood garden, and he would write:
'It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own error—not that for which I erred, but the error itself."
Believing his son to have become "lazy" around the home, and with the financial assistance of a citizen named Romanianus, Augustine was sent to study in Carthage. Saint Augustine came under the influence of a Persian religion known as Manichaeism that is based on local movements and Gnosticism. It is also in Carthage that Saint Augustine was involved in a hedonistic lifestyle and entered into a relationship with a woman and brought his son Adeodatus into the world. (Adeodatus means Gift from God). Fluent in Latin, Augustine also attempted to learn Greek here but rebelled against his teacher who he viewed as brutal (tradition holds the teacher would often beat his students) .
In 383, Saint Augustine moved to Rome to attempt to establish a school there (see our article on Saint Monica for the cruel trick he played on her to escape her wishes for his conversion back to Christianity). In Rome, he began to embrace skepticism of the New Academy movement and studied the philosophies behind many of the world's known religions. Dismayed with the poor reception of his school and students, Augustine won a job in Milan as a rhetoric professor for the imperial court. It would be a decision that changed the trajectory of his life forever.
In Milan, he visited Saint Ambrose a Bishop and famous master of rhetoric (and as Saint Monica had followed Augustine to Milan, Saint Ambrose would also become Monica's spiritual advisor and guide). Augustine wrote of Saint Ambrose:
"And I began to love him, of course, not at the first as a teacher of the truth, for I had entirely despaired of finding that in thy Church—but as a friendly man."
At the age of 31, and heavily influenced by Ponticianus's reading of the life of Anthony of the Desert, Saint Augustine converted to Catholicism. According to Augustine, he heard on evening a child's voice say "take up and read" or tolle, lege in latin. He opened the book of Saint Paul's writings at random and read Romans 13:13-14
Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.
In Confessions, Saint Augustine wrote of this conversion with Saint Ambrose:
"That man of God received me as a father would, and welcomed my coming as a good bishop should."
During his time in Rome, Saint Augustine was waiting for his fiance to become of age for marriage and had a concubine. Once converted, his mother begged him to remove the concubine from his life to which Augustine did after much grieving, writing:
"My mistress being torn from my side as an impediment to my marriage, my heart, which clave to her, was racked, and wounded, and bleeding."
It is famously during this period that Saint Augustine gave the insincere prayer of
"Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet."
Augustine and his son were baptized by Saint Ambrose on Easter, 387. A year later, he would complete his apology named On the Holiness of the Catholic Church. O, their way home to Africa, Augustine's mother died while preparing a ship at Osita Italy. After losing his son in Africa, Saint Augustine sold his possessions and donated the proceeds to the poor, turning his family house into a monastic foundation. In 391, he was officially ordained a priest in Hippo Regius. In 395 he was given the title of Bishop of Hippo. He would write his book Confessions in 398 and City of God after the Visigoth sack of Rome in 410 to console his fellow Christians.
In the spring of 430, the Vandals besieged Hippo and Augustine entered into the last days of his life. He would spend his final days in prayer and repentance , having the Psalms of David hung on his walls so that he could read them from his bed. He returned to the Lord on August 28th, 430.
The Vandals would return sometime later and burn the city , but both Saint Augustine's Cathedral and Library were left untouched. Pope Boniface VIII officially recognized him as a Doctor of the Church in 1298 and his feast day is the 28th of August. Among other titles, he is the patron saint of brewers, printers, and theologians.
In Part two of our study on Saint Augustine, we will begin exploring his views, thoughts, and writings. We highly recommend reading Confessions, City of God and On Christian Doctrine, all written by Saint Augustine.