Today, August 28, is the Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, bishop and Doctor of the Church.
Fr. William A. Jurgens, esteemed Church historian and editor of the three volume The Faith of the Early Fathers, wrote, “If we were faced with the unlikely proposition of having to destroy completely either the works of Augustine or the works of all the other Fathers and Writers, I have little doubt that all the others would have to be sacrificed. Augustine must remain.”
Such is the impact and importance of the saint the Church honors today.
Born in Tagaste, modern-day Algeria, in AD 354, Aurelius Augustinus was the oldest child of the pagan civil official, Patricius, and his Christian wife, Monica. Monica succeeded, after much prayer and effort, in bringing her husband to the faith just prior to his death in 371, along with Patricius’ mother. Monica was also successful in passing on the faith to her two younger children, both of whom entered religious life. Augustine, however, proved a greater challenge to Monica’s prayers and tears. He was sent to Carthage for studies and there encountered Manicheanism, a religion that taught that creation was a struggle between light and darkness, between good and evil. Darkness ruled the temporal realm and when one died he was transported into the light. However, nine years after joining the Manichean sect, he met the great Manichean teacher, Faustus of Milevis, and came away thoroughly disillusioned.
In 383, Augustine moved to Milan to assume a position teaching rhetoric. There he met Ambrose, the impressive bishop of the diocese, whose sermons and expoundings on the Scriptures demonstrated to Augustine that it was possible to be both a learned, rational person and a Christian. In 386, Augustine brought his mother, Monica, and his son from a youthful relationship, Adeodatus, to Milan where he prepared to be baptized. In the spring of 387, Monica’s prayers were answered as she witnessed Ambrose baptize her eldest child. Monica and Augustine had hoped to dedicate their lives to bringing the Gospel to Africa, but she died shortly after his baptism in the port city of Ostia.
For the next three years, Augustine lived a monastic life in Tagaste. During this time, his son died, leaving him alone. Augustine was ordained to the priesthood in 391, then as co-bishop of Hippo in 395, assuming responsibility for the diocese on the death of his predecessor, Valerius.
For thirty-five years Augustine served the Diocese of Hippo as bishop. Over the course of those year, he composed some of the most personal and important Christian writings, including his Confessions, On Christian Doctrine and City of God. Augustine remained a staunch defender of orthodox faith against the false teachings of the Manicheans, Arians, Pelagians and Donatists. His teachings have had an inestimable influence on the Church as well as on Western thought and philosophy.
Augustine died on August 28, 430, just as the Vandals had Hippo under siege. The Vandals lifted the siege just after Augustine’s death, but returned shortly to burn the city. Augustine stayed, confined to his sick bed. He had given permission to his priests to escape, only asking that his library of books be preserved. When the Vandals burned the city, they left Augustine’s cathedral and his library intact.
Augustine was canonized by popular acclaim and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Boniface VIII. He is regarded as one of the four “Ecumenical Doctors” of the West, along with Pope St. Gregory I, St. Jerome, and St. Ambrose, because of his influence over the entire Church.
From St. Augustine’s Confessions:
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.
I will be giving a four presentations on St. Augustine of Hippo for the Nicodemus Club at All Saints Catholic Church. The dates for these presentations are October 1, November 5, December 3, and January 7. The dates are subject to change based on my work schedule. The Nicodemus Club meets every Sunday after the 8:30am Mass at All Saints.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.