St. Augustine of Hippo
St. Augustine of Hippo
Not a Good Start
Aurelius Augustinus, or Augustine, was born in 354 in Tagaste, Numidiain North Africa (now Souk Ahras, Algeria). His father, Patricius, was apagan and his mother, St. Monica, was a devout Christian. He was enrolled asa catechumen by his mother when he was a boy. However, his baptism wasdeferred to a later time in accordance with the prevailing custom.
Young Augustine possessed a very inquisitive mind as well as anattractive personality. He set his sight on a career that would bringhim wealth and fame. His parents sought out opportunities to providetheir son with the finest education possible. However, Augustine spentmany years of his life living in wickedness and in false beliefs. He wasconsidered one of the most intelligent men who ever lived and though hehad been brought up in the Christian faith, his pride and his sins ofimpurity darkened his mind so much that he could not see or understandthe Divine Truth anymore.
Seeing her son living a wayward life, Monica ceaselessly prayed forAugustine’s conversion. Soon enough, through Monica’s prayers and thegreat preaching of the Bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose, Augustine finallybecame convinced that the one and true religion was Christianity.However, he did not outright become a Christian then. This was becausehe thought he could never live a life of chastity.
A Voice Woke Him Up
However, one day, Augustine heard about two men who, after reading thelife of St. Anthony, had suddenly converted. He felt terribly ashamed ofhimself! He told his friend Alipius, “What are we doing? Unlearnedpeople are taking Heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, areso cowardly that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins!”Augustine, filled with sorrow and bitterness, went out and flung himselfinto the garden. There he cried out in utter sadness, “How long more, OLord? Why does not this hour put an end to my sins?”
After shedding many tears of guilt and remorse, he heard a child’s voicesaying “Tolle, lege. Tolle, lege”, which means “Take up and read! Takeup and read!” Thinking that God desired him to hear these words,Augustine picked up the book of the Letters of St. Paul. He opened thebook and read the first passage his gaze fell upon. He read theadmonition of St. Paul to put away all impurity and live in imitation ofJesus, just what Augustine needed to hear! From then on, he began tolive a new life.
At the age of 33, Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose, the bishop ofMilan. His decision to finally embrace the Catholic faith and itsdoctrines was at the same time a commitment to spend the rest of hislife as a servant of God in celibacy. This means that he had to leavethe woman whom he deeply loved for years, and with whom he had fathereda son named Adeodatus.
Better Late Than Never
After his baptism, which Augustine received together with his son andAlipius, he returned to his hometown where he desired to live a monasticway of life together with other men who had experienced a radicalconversion to the faith. On their way, at Ostia just outside of Rome,his mother Monica got ill and died suddenly, happy to witness her son’sconversion and commitment to Christ and the Church.
At Tagaste, Augustine and his companions lived a life of intense prayer,work and community life. They shared their insights about Scripture andthe Christian vocation. Three years later, while he was on a visit toHippo, Augustine was summoned to become a priest. This was contrary tohis desire, nevertheless he accepted what he believed was the will ofGod for him. He also established a monastic community in Tagaste whileat the same time he became assistant to the bishop Valerius. Severalyears later, Augustine succeeded Valerius as Bishop of Hippo. While hewas bishop of Hippo, he wrote his Rule for the continued direction ofhis monastic community in Tagaste.
Augustine realized that his desired life of contemplation and asceticismgreatly influenced his pastoral work as leader of the local Church, aswell as a civil official, which the office of bishop at the timeincluded. In addition to his pastoral duties within Hippo, he traveledto church councils in the region of North Africa forty to fifty timesover the course of the 35 years he served as bishop. Augustine overcamestrong heresies, practiced great poverty and supported the poor,preached very often and prayed with great fervor right up until hisdeath.
After years of service, Augustine fell ill in 430. He spent hisremaining days and nights in praying the penitential psalm which heasked to be written on the wall of his room. As the city of Hippo wasinvaded by the Vandals on August 28, Augustine died. His mortal remainswere laid to rest in Hippo, but was later taken to Sardinia for safekeeping, and finally to Pavia in Northern Italy, where it now rests inthe Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro. Augustine of Hippo wascanonized in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII. His feast day is August 28.
Five Interesting Facts About St. Augustine of Hippo
- St. Augustine of Hippo is the patron saint of brewers, printers, and
- St. Augustine of Hippo is one of the four great doctors and Fathers
of the West. With him are Ambrose, Jerome, and Gregory the Great.
- St. Augustine wrote Confessions, his most honest and most personal
autobiography. This work of his is considered to be one of the classics
in spiritual literature.
- Because Augustine’s work was immediately considered very important,
a lot of his writing has survived, about 5,000,000 words (approximately
100 of these books).
- In his Confessions, St. Augustine of Hippo recounted how he first
became aware of sin: it was when he and his friends stole some pears.
Prayer to St. Augustine of Hippo
Renew in your Church, we pray, O Lord,the spirit with which you endowedyour Bishop Saint Augustinethat, filled with the same spirit,we may thirst for you,the sole fount of true wisdom,and seek you, the author of heavenly love.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever. Amen.