Saint Augustine of Hippo - 28th August

To the reader:

“ I wanted a true church of Christ of the Lord, holy and catholic to benefit from all that I received through wisdom and the word, I did not wish to let pass silently all that I saw and heard throughout my life and from Augustine’s habits, who was predestined to be, and indeed became, a good Bishop (Intr.1).
       “I am not going to recount what Blessed Augustine himslef expounded in his books concerning his own Confessions; how he was before he received the grace and how he lived thereafter” (Ib.5).

Birth – Conversion – back to Africa

He was born in the Province of North Africa in the small city of Tagaste, son of Patriżju, who was a pagan, and Monica, a fervent Christian. He was brought up by them and educated with great care and at some cost; from an early age he was taught profane literature, that is the writings of those disciples who are known as liberals. Initially he taught grammer in his city and then rhetoric at Carthage, which was the capital of North Africa. Later he also taught away from his homeland, in Rome and Milan, where the guiding figure was the Emperor Valentine II. Ambrose lived in that city, a Bishop of great fame who led the Diocese of the City of Milan and was well regarded by both the people and by God. Frequently he preached God’s word in church and Augustine, sitting in the midst of the crowd, used to listen to him with great attention (1,1-3).

In a short time Augustine embraced the Catholic faith and in him was sown a fervent wish to move forward with the beliefs of that faith so that he could receive the waters of baptism during the coming Easter (1,5).  

He was past his thirtieth birthday and his mother was still alive. She used to live with him and was so happy that her son had finally converted to serving God, even more than were she to have grandchildren from him. Thus her dream had come through as she wished (2,3).

Just as Augustine received this grace, together with his friends and people who themselves started to serve God,he returned to africa, to the house and fields that he had there. He remained there for three years and thereafter ceded all his wealth, went to live with his friends, and they began to live for God, by fasting, prayer and good works, meditating night and day God’s law. All that God allowed him to recognise through meditation and through prayer, he used to pass by word of mouth to those who lived with him and, to those who lived far away, through the written word (3,1-2).

For the service of the Church

As soon as he made a priest, he quickly established a monastery near the church at Ippona and he started living with God’s servants in accordance with the norms established at the time of the Apostles. Above all, as regards union between themselves, nobody could have personal possessions but everything was owned in common and everyone was given according to his needs. This way of life both he himself, as well as his brethren, was lived from the time that they were in Tagaste (5,1).

At that time at Ippona the deceitful teachings of the manicheans had infected and weakened both citizens and strangers, who got entangled in the net by a priest from that sect named Fortunatu, and who lived and worked in that city. It so happened that some of the Christians who were citizens of Ippona and some strangers,  catholics and also donatists, went to Augustine and asked him to meet that manichean priest, whom they believed to be wise, so as to discuss with him God’s law. They met in the prearranged date and time, and many interested in that matter gathered there together with a large crowd of curious persons; the writers sat at their tables and the discussion started on the first day and was scheduled to end the following day. In this discussion the professor of the manicheans – as is stated in the records – was unsuccessful in his attempts to contradict Augustine’s arguments and with his own arguments he was neither able to defend the manichean doctrine (6,1-2,6-7).

Augustine used to teach and to preach, both privately and in public, in his house or in church, the word of salvation with great faith against the hermits that cropped up within Africa, especially against the donatists, the manicheans and the pagans; he did this, both with written words as also through improvised talks, and he was praised and admired by the Christians who used to listen to him. Thus, with divine grace, the catholic church started raising its head after, for a long time, it had been made captive by the domination of the heretics (7,1-2).

When Augustine became a bishop he continued to preach God’s word of salvation with even more insistence, enthusiasm and authority not only in the area where he lived but also wherever he was asked to go, whilst God’s church kept growing all the time (9,1).

The clerics in the monasteries that Augustine had established in Ippona, started improving their knowldge and holiness and many of them were ordained priests in the church at Ippona. Thus, one day after the other, it was felt and it became more evident how much truth there was in what the catholic church was spreading and concerning the life of celibacy, poverty and holiness followed by God’s servants. Thus, from the monasteries that that man of God established with such attention, a lot of the religious were being asked to become bishops in Northern Africa. In concequence, peace and also unity reigned within the church (11,1-2).

That memorable man was an important member of the Body of Christ, always ready and for ever looking out for everything that concerned the universal church. Divine will wanted to see from that stage the fruit of his work, principally in the church in Ippona, which he headed, as also other places in Africa. Indeed, he witnessed with his own eyes what had happened in the church because of his work where many manicheans, donatists, pelagians, and pagans were reconciled anew with Christ’s church (18,6-7).

Quality of life.

The clothes and shoes which he used to wear, his underwear, were of medium quality and adequate, not costing very much and not of a very ordinary type. In this regard, men usually wore either clothes that made them look inportant or wornout or tattered clothing, whilst in both cases seeking to be praised, and that is not what was useful. Augustine, as we have already said, lived a middle of the road life, without leaning towards one side or the other. His food was always considered to be balanced and modest and, between the salads and other vegetables that he used to eat, sometimes he used to eat also a bit of meat especially when he was invited. When someone felt sick, Augustine allowed him to eat meat. Augustine’s meals always included wine (22, 1-2).

Augustine knew well how to greet his friends at his home. When having a meal he preferred reading or discussion to food and wine. In the place where they ate there were displayed the words: “Whoever loves to gossip on those who are absent, should be aware that he is not worthy of eating at this table” (22,6).

He used to leave it to the clerics, those with the best ability, management of all that was in his house that was situated next to the church, without his keeping any of the keys. All those who were responsible for the house’s management were entrusted with the responsibility of noting who entered and who exited. At the end of each year a report used to be read out so that all would be aware of the expenses and income, what was distributed to the poor and what was left to be given to them. However, in many ways, he relied on the administrators more than getting involved himself in checking the accounts with any degree of strictness  (24,1).

The entry of the vandals in Ippona and Augustine’s last days.

Divine will and inclination wanted a great army, armed to its teeth and well trained for warfare, made up of Vandals, Arians and Goths and people of other origins who came over from Spain, to invade North Africa from the seaward side (28,4).

This enemy reached Ippona and laid siege to the city, which to that day had never been conquered, because count Boniface had taken the precaution of building bastions. The enemy maintained its siege for fourteen months and even closed all roads leading to the sea. Augustine was a refugee here with his episcopal confres and other colleagues throughout the siege (28,12-13).

Augustine, a man of God, throughout the long life lent him by God, served and looked after with utmost care (in fact he lived for 76 years of which some 40 years as priest and bishop) and, after his conversion, he strove hard to make amends for all the misdeeds he had committed in his life. When he reached the last few days of his life, whilst he was sick in bed, he asked for David’s psalms to be written for him, so that from his own bed he could see and read them and continually cry about his guilt (31,1-2).

His illness had a hold on him till the very end; he did not stop from preaching God’s word, with great zeal and force, with certainity and intelligence. Whereas his aged body was weakened and bereft of hearing, his eyesight was still very good. Whilst he was surrounded by his colleagues in prayer, Augustine slept with his forefathers at the advanced age of 76 years (31,4-5).

He did not leave a will, as he was God’s pauper and thus he had no motive for making one (31,6).

He left to the church an abundant clergy and monasteries full of men and women who practised purity. Apart from this he left libraries full of books and sermons written by both him and other saints; from these one can recognise how much God adorned Augustine in such a wonderful way throughout his lifetime on this earth (31,8).

Possidius (+d. 437)*

*Vita di Agostino, Translated by M. Simonetti, Rome, 1977 (selected extracts).




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