St AugustineAurelius Augustine belongs to North Africa at the close of the Roman Empire 200 miles from the Mediterranean Coast and 2000 ft above it, cut off from the sea by great forests of pine trees. He lives with his father, Patricius and mother, Monica, and as a young boy he is beaten because he loves to play and could not see the use of what he was supposed to learn at school.

One night when 16 with his friends he robs a neighbour’s pear tree of its fruit, for the simple thrill of doing wrong, and throws the pears to pigs. At seventeen he takes a mistress “I was in love with love” he wrote, and at eighteen is the father of a son.

He completes his Roman education at the capital city of Carthage and becomes a teacher, opening his own school in his home town of Tagaste. He finds rowdy students frustrating and difficult.

At thirty, however, he is a professor of liberal arts in Rome and soon wins the appointment as Public Orator in Milan, the imperial capital. To acquire a philosophy of life he tries astrology and joins a strange religious sect called the Manichees. But in Milan he meets a saint, Ambrose, and is converted to Christianity. At Easter time and aged thirty three Augustine is baptised with his son and his best friends. He gives up his work and his ambition to become a Provincial Governor and chooses a celibate life with neither wife nor mistress.

Back in Africa he begins to live as a monk in a community of friends. The pursuit of wisdom is the one goal in his life. His son, Adeodatus, dies aged seventeen. At thirty six Augustine is forced by the people to become their priest, and he is only three years a Christian. In five more years he visits the African City of Hippo, and is forced to become bishop. He says ……”I was made to stand at the helm of the ship when I didn’t even know how to hold an oar.” But conversion had flooded his heart with light, he has a brilliant intellect and memory (all of the classics and the whole of the Bible he knows by heart) and he has an all-absorbing faith in God.

Love now becomes the one goal of his life. He unifies all existence, all feeling, all knowledge, all friendship into one love, love to the utmost. He founds monasteries to promote the community ideal but he has to govern and teach the Church in his city and in fact he becomes the Christian teacher of the whole Western Empire.

He is faithful to contemplation but makes time to write one hundred and thirteen books. People steal his books to read and publish them before he finishes writing them. Popular even today are his Confessions (autobiography) and his City of God. He leaves behind him 218 letters and 500 sermons.

In the year 430 aged seventy six he dies praying while the great Roman Empire collapses in confusion and attack. Vandals are at the walls of his own city, murder and pillage are everywhere. But he has become a saint, leaving no fortune and making no will.

So Augustine lives a changing and eventful life. It is an age of distress, civilisation falling to pieces around his ears. He has a restless, seeking dissatisfied youth which he later confesses as “sinful”, but peace settles upon his heart at the age of thirty three. He awakens out of doubt and confusion – a wave of religious faith breaks within his mind. He writes that God called to him, broke through his deafness and touched him: “I came to know you late” he prays.

By temperament, before and after this turning point, Augustine is brilliant and eloquent, needing to love and to be loved. He is timid however and finds it hard to give his confidence to others. He knows the difficulty of entering into communication with another person. But once he overcomes that difficulty, what capacity for friendship, what power of attraction! He remains young right to the end of his life with the memory of his childhood and youth always vividly present to him. He is refined at heart, sensitive to feeling and he loves the truth. His writings: someone said of him “his words have a beauty, an intimacy and a thrill of emotion that I find in no other.”

Sixteen centuries separate us from this Augustine of Hippo. After he died his Christian North Africa disappeared, destroyed; its descendants passed to Islam and now speak Arabic. His land above the pine forests is now called Algeria. But his influence entered Europe, and Augustine is recognised in history as the founder of the Middle Ages and the architect of Western civilisation. In his teaching he established the patterns of learning upon which the first universities were founded. And our Western contemporary ideals of freedom, progress and social justice owe much to him; he is called in fact the spiritual and intellectual ancestor of the 20 th century. People who read his books today discover that he is a truly modern thinker.

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE)

Family: parents – Patricius, a pagan, and Monica, a Christian.
At least 1 brother, Navigius, and 2 sisters (names unknown).

354 Born on 13 th Nov. in Tagaste in Numidia, a Province of North Africa
365-9 Attended school at Madaura
370 (16) Went to school in Carthage, the capital of Roman Africa.
“where the din of scandalous love affairs raged cauldron-like around me. I was not yet in love, but I was enamored with the idea of love….” “This is the school where men are made masters of words; this is where they learn the art of persuasion, so necessary in business and debate.” – conversion of Patricius
371 (17) Lives with an unnamed women. (Will do so for next 15) years.
“At this time too I lived with a girl not bound to me in lawful wedlock but sought out by the roving eye of reckless desire. All the same she was the only girl I had, and I was sexually faithful to her.”
372 (18) His father Patricius dies - his son Adeodatus is born
373 Becomes a Manichee Hearer
375 (21) Returns from Carthage to Tagaste to teach rhetoric Death of a close friend
376-83 Teaching in Carthage
383 (29) Goes to Rome to teach rhetoric
384 Professor of rhetoric at Milan meets Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, becomes a catechumen.
385 Monica arrives in Milan. Marriage with a person of rank is arranged and Augustine is separated from his concubine. However, he soon after replaces her with another woman.
386 Conversion (Tolle Lege, Tolle Lege) retreats to Cassiciacum
387 (33) Baptised at Milan on Easter night, with Adeodatus (15) and his friend Alypius, goes to Rome and Ostia. Monica dies.
388 Returns to Tagaste where he founds a monastic community
389 His son Adeodatus dies age 17 as does his friend Nebridius
391 Forced ordination as a priest at Hippo Regius
396 (42) Ordained Bishop
397-400 Writes Confessions
400-430 Various writings against heresies and other major works (On the Trinity, The City of God)
430 (76) The North African coast is ravaged by Vandals, who raped, tortured and pillaged, burning Catholic churches along the way. Catholic bishops and refugees fled to Hippo, which was a fortified city.

Augustine dies at Hippo on 28th August.

Though Hippo was partly burned, the library of Augustine was preserved from destruction. It contained much of what he felt and believed and has been handed down to us as our priceless inheritance. It comprised some 100 books, 240 letters and more than 500 sermons.

 

“Late have I loved you o Beauty ever ancient ever new, late have I loved you.”
“You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
“How great is it to search for TRUTH together, to deepen our knowledge through study, to mature together and look at the world with a sense of common mission.”
“I prefer to listen; it is He who must speak; I must be enlightened; He is the light I am all ears; He is the word.”
“Enter into yourself; it is in the heart that truth resides.”
“Love and do what you will.”
“You are looking forward to greeting Christ seated in heaven. Attend to him lying under the arches, attend to him hungry, attend to him shivering with cold, attend to him needy, attend to him a foreigner. So it, if it’s already your practice; do it, if it isn’t your practice. Knowledge of Christian doctrine is growing, let good works grow too. You praise the sower; present him with a harvest. Amen.”

 

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