Bishop of Hippo and Doctor of the Church
Saint Augustine was born in 354 at Tagaste in Africa. He was brought up in the Christian faith but did not receive baptism, result of the practice, common in the first centuries, of deferring it until adulthood. An ambitious schoolboy of brilliant talents and violent passions, he early lost both his faith and his innocence. He pursued with ardor the study of philosophy. He taught grammar, rhetoric and literature for nine years in his native town of Tagaste, and in Carthage. He persisted in his irregular life and doctrinal errors until he was thirty-two. Then one day, stung to the heart by the account of some sudden conversions, he cried out, The unlearned rise and storm heaven, and we, with all our learning, for lack of courage lie inert! The great heart of this future bishop was already evident.
When as a genial student of rhetoric, he was at Milan, where Saint Ambrose was bishop, Augustine tells us later in his autobiography, the Catholic faith of his childhood regained possession of his intellect, but he could not as yet resolve to break the chains of bad habit. His mother helped him to separate from the mother of his son, Adeodatus, who had died as a young man; and she, after this painful separation, retired for life to a convent, regretting that she had long enchained this soul of predilection. Augustine’s mother, Saint Monica, died soon afterwards.
Urged also by a friend who had decided to adopt a celibate life, Saint Augustine took up a book of the Holy Scriptures, and read the Epistles of Saint Paul in a new light. A long and terrible conflict ensued, but with the help of grace the battle was won; he went to consult a priest and received baptism, returned to Africa and gave all he had to the poor. At Hippo, where he settled, he was consecrated bishop in 395. For thirty-five years he was the center of ecclesiastical life in Africa, and the Church’s strongest champion against heresy. His writings, which compose many volumes, have been everywhere accepted as a major source of both Christian spirituality and theological speculation. The great Doctor died, deeply regretted by the entire Christian world, in 430.
Reflection: Read the lives of the Saints, and you will find yourself living amid company to whose standards you will be forced to raise, at least in some measure, your own in your daily life.
Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 10; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).