Feast Day: August 28
Augustine was one of the most distinguished theologians in the history of the Church and may have exercised more influence on the shape and character of Western theology, both Catholic and Protestant, than any other. Born at Tagaste, North Africa to a Christian mother and pagan father (who later converted), Augustine left his mark on virtually every aspect of Christian doctrine in the vast library of his written works. He was a brilliant student who advanced rapidly to the highest levels of academic success. At age 17, Augustine moved to Carthage, where he accepted the Manichean teaching of a double principle, one of good and another of evil. He studied the pagan classics but rejected the Scriptures, considering them too demanding and uncultured. In spite of the concessions to indulgence of the flesh permitted by that doctrine, Augustine became a skeptic.
Still unsatisfied, Augustine traveled to Rome, where he became deathly ill but did not ask to be baptized. By the year 384, he was a teacher of rhetoric in Milan and was reunited with his mother, Monica. Upon hearing St. Ambrose give an explanation of Sacred Scripture, Augustine was captivated. Through St. Ambrose, Augustine began to recognize in Christian doctrine a greater depth and wisdom than he had previously supposed. At the age of 32, while shedding tears of anguish, he seemed to hear a child sing: “Take and read.” He opened the Bible at random and read the words of St. Paul: “Let us live honorably as in daylight; not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual excess and lust, not in quarreling and jealousy. Rather, put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:13-14).
After telling his mother what had happened, he made the necessary preparations and was baptized by St. Ambrose. He then went into seclusion, where he composed some works against the teaching of the Manicheans. Later, at Monica’s insistence, Augustine sent away his concubine, the mother of his son. Some three years later Augustine was ordained a priest at Hippo, and in 395 he was ordained a bishop.
As bishop, he lived ascetically in community with his clergy and found time to write some of his major works, including his “Confessions,” his great opus “Christian Doctrine,” and a catechism for catechumens. His own masterpiece, the autobiography “Confessions,” which he wrote at the age of about 43, covers the first thirty-three years of his life. It is from this one book, that we gain most of what we know about Augustine’s early youth. He makes plain throughout “Confessions,” that the evolution of the ‘heart’ is the real stuff of autobiography.
Augustine remained bishop of Hippo for the rest of his life, preaching, writing, administering the sacraments, engaging in a broad range of other pastoral activities (he was especially devoted to the care and relief of the poor), presiding over synods and councils, adjudicating civil as well as ecclesiastical cases, answered letters that came to him from all parts, and defended the faith against heretics. He died at the age of 76, when the Vandals were at the gates of the city of Hippo.
Augustine usually is acknowledged to be second only to St. Paul in influence on Christianity. His writings established the theological foundation for medieval Christianity, and much later influenced the dualistic philosophy of René Descartes. Roman Catholic religious orders and congregations called Augustinians trace a spiritual lineage to Augustine, but date their actual origins only from the 10th and later centuries. The young Martin Luther (1483-1546) was an Augustinian.
“Late have I learned to love you, Beauty, at once so ancient and so new! Late have I come to love You! You were within me, and I was in the world outside myself… You were with me, but I was not with You;” “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You;” “What does the soul desire more ardently than truth? It is known by love;” “Do not try to understand in order to believe, but believe in order to understand.”—Quotes from St. Augustine
Ellsberg, Robert. “All Saints.” New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2010.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. “The Encyclopedia of Saints.” New York, NY: Checkmark Books, 2001.
Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar.” New York: Alba House, 1992.