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August 28, 2019 All Day
Saint Augustine of Hippo
Born: 13 November 354
Died: 28 August 430
Augustine was born in the year 354 AD in the municipium of Thagaste (now Souk Ahras, Algeria) in Roman Africa. His mother, Monica or Monnica, was a devout Christian; his father Patricius was a Pagan who converted to Christianity on his deathbed.
In the summer of 386, at the age of 31, after having heard and been inspired and moved by the story of Ponticianus’s and his friends’ first reading of the life of Saint Anthony of the Desert, Augustine converted to Christianity. As Augustine later told it, his conversion was prompted by a childlike voice he heard telling him to “take up and read” (Latin: tolle, lege), which he took as a divine command to open the Bible and read the first thing he saw. Augustine read from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans – the so-called “Transformation of Believers” section, consisting of chapters 12 through 15 – wherein Paul outlines how the Gospel transforms believers, and the believers’ resulting behaviour. The specific part to which Augustine opened his Bible was Romans chapter 13, verses 13 and 14, to wit:
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.
He later wrote an account of his conversion – his very transformation, as Paul described – in his Confessions (Latin: Confessiones), which has since become a classic of Christian theology and a key text in the history of autobiography. This work is an outpouring of thanksgiving and penitence. Although it is written as an account of his life, the Confessions also talks about the nature of time, causality, free will, and other important philosophical topics. The following is taken from that work:
Late have I loved Thee, O Lord; and behold,
Thou wast within and I without, and there I sought Thee.
Thou was with me when I was not with Thee.
Thou didst call, and cry, and burst my deafness.
Thou didst gleam, and glow, and dispell my blindness.
Thou didst touch me, and I burned for Thy peace.
For Thyself Thou hast made us,
And restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease.
Late have I loved Thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new.
Ambrose baptized Augustine, along with his son Adeodatus, on Easter Vigil in 387 in Milan. A year later, in 388, Augustine completed his apology On the Holiness of the Catholic Church.
In 391 Augustine was ordained a priest in Hippo Regius (now Annaba), in Algeria. He became a famous preacher (more than 350 preserved sermons are believed to be authentic), and was noted for combating the Manichaean religion, to which he had formerly adhered.
In 395 he was made coadjutor Bishop of Hippo, and became full Bishop shortly thereafter, hence the name “Augustine of Hippo”; and he gave his property to the church of Thagaste. He remained in that position until his death in 430. He wrote his autobiographical Confessions in 397-398. His work The City of God was written to console his fellow Christians shortly after the Visigoths had sacked Rome in 410.
Augustine worked tirelessly in trying to convince the people of Hippo to convert to Christianity. Though he had left his monastery, he continued to lead a monastic life in the episcopal residence. He left a regula for his monastery that led to his designation as the “patron saint of regular clergy.”
Much of Augustine’s later life was recorded by his friend Possidius, bishop of Calama (present-day Guelma, Algeria), in his Sancti Augustini Vita. Possidius admired Augustine as a man of powerful intellect and a stirring orator who took every opportunity to defend Christianity against its detractors. Possidius also described Augustine’s personal traits in detail, drawing a portrait of a man who ate sparingly, worked tirelessly, despised gossip, shunned the temptations of the flesh, and exercised prudence in the financial stewardship of his see.
According to Possidius, Augustine spent his final days in prayer and repentance, requesting that the penitential Psalms of David be hung on his walls so that he could read them. He directed that the library of the church in Hippo and all the books therein should be carefully preserved. He died on 28 August 430. Shortly after his death, the Vandals lifted the siege of Hippo, but they returned not long thereafter and burned the city. They destroyed all of it but Augustine’s cathedral and library, which they left untouched.
Augustine was canonized by popular acclaim, and later recognized as a Doctor of the Church in 1298 by Pope Boniface VIII. His feast day is 28 August, the day on which he died. He is considered the patron saint of brewers, printers, theologians, sore eyes, and a number of cities and dioceses.