Who was St. Augustine?
Saint Augustine, also known as Augustine of Hippo, was a bishop of Hippo Regius in Northern Africa. He was an ancient Christian theologian who played a significant role in the development of early Western philosophy marked by the merging of Greek philosophy and Judeo-Christian religious traditions. He had an intellectual bent of mind and was fascinated by philosophical enquiries, and spent his early life exploring various philosophical and religious theories. Even though regarded as one of the foremost figures of Western Christianity, he had not even converted to the religion until he was 31 years old. He was greatly influenced by the Gnosticism, Manichaeism, though later on his interests shifted to Neo-Platonism. After years of confusion he read the Holy Scriptures and became convinced that he could attain salvation only through Jesus Christ. Upon his conversion to Christianity, he started developing his own theories on philosophy and theology which left a profound impact on the medieval worldview. In recognition of his contribution to the Christian doctrine, he was given the title of Doctor of the Church. He is considered a saint by the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Church, and is the patron saint of brewers, printers, and theologians. Such is his impact on the Western religion that his works like ‘Confessions’ and ‘City of God’ are widely read even today.
Childhood & Early Life
Augustine was born at Tagaste, in the Roman Province of Africa, to Patricius and Monica. His father was a pagan while his mother was a Christian, and they belonged to an honourable upper class family.
His parents sent him to attend school at Madaurus when he was 11 years old. There he learned Latin literature and gained knowledge about pagan beliefs and practices.
He went to Carthage at the age of 17 to continue his education in rhetoric.
His mother had raised him in the Christian faith, but he was pulled towards the Manichaean religion.
As a youth he sought out different life experiences and had an affair with a young woman in Carthage who later bore him a son, named Adeodatus.
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He took a teaching job at Tagaste where he taught grammar during 373-374. Later on he moved to Carthage to teach rhetoric, and held this position for nine years.
In 383, he went to Rome to establish a school there, but was disappointed with the apathy of the Roman schools.
He accepted the position of a professor of rhetoric at the imperial court at Milan in late 384. This was a very prestigious post that enabled the holders to easily enter a political career.
In Milan, he met Saint Ambrose who deeply influenced his thinking and philosophy. By this time, Augustine was disillusioned with the Manichaean religion and was moving towards Christianity.
He formally converted to Christianity in 386 and was baptized by Saint Ambrose in 387.
He completed his Christian Apology, ‘On the Holiness of the Catholic Church’ in 388.
He was ordained a priest in Hippo Regius in Algeria in 391, where he gained much respect and fame as a preacher. Several of his original sermons have been carefully preserved.
In 395, he was appointed the coadjutor Bishop of Hippo and was soon promoted to the position of full Bishop, hence gaining the name ‘Augustine of Hippo’. He held this position till 430.
A devout Christian, he passionately defended the religion from its detractors and involved himself in convincing people to convert to Christianity.
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He wrote ‘Confessions’, a set of 13 books in Latin in which he gave an account of his conversion to Christianity. The books are presumed to be written during 397 and 398. His other major works include: ‘The city of God’, ‘The Enchiridion’ and ‘On the Trinity’.
He was a prolific writer who had authored more than a hundred books. His works which have greatly influenced the development of Christian theology include apologies, works on Christian doctrine, and exegetical works.
Saint Augustine is mainly revered for his contribution to Western religion and philosophy through his teachings and various sermons. A man of high intellect, his works have covered various religious fields such as Christian anthropology, astrology, ecclesiology, etc.
Personal Life & Legacy
As a young man he became involved with a woman in Carthage. Their relationship lasted 13 years and produced a son. He did not marry her because she was of a different social class.
His mother arranged his marriage with a girl of her choice, but this engagement did not culminate in marriage. Meanwhile, he had also developed relations with another woman whom he eventually left.
He became very ill in early 430 and spent his last days in prayer and repentance. He died on 28 August 430.
He was declared to be a saint and canonized after his death. Pope Boniface VIII later named him as a Doctor of the Church in 1298.
His first experience with “sin” was when he stole pears from a neighbour’s garden as a child.
His death anniversary, 28 August, is celebrated as feast day.
His mother Monica was also an early Christian saint.