Saint of the Day – 28 August – St Augustine (354-430) born Augustinus Aurelius (13 November 354 at Tagaste, Numidia, North Africa (Souk-Ahras, Algeria) – 28 August 430 at Hippo, North Africa) – Doctor of Grace and one of the original Four Fathers & Doctors of the Latin Church – Bishop, Theologian, Philosopher, Rhetoritician, Writer, Preacher, Teacher, Advisor, Reformer, Confessor, Apologist, Apostle of Charity. Patronages – of theologians, brewers, printers, 7 diocese, 7 cities, against sore eyes, against vermin. Attributes – Child; dove; pen; shell, pierced heart, holding book with a small church, bishop’s staff, mitre, flaming heart, an allusion to a passage in his Confessions.
Augustine was born in the year on 13 November in 354 AD in the municipium of Thagaste (now Souk Ahras, Algeria) in Roman Africa. His mother, Monica, was a devout Christian; his father Patricius was a Pagan who converted to Christianity on his deathbed. Scholars generally agree that Augustine and his family were Berbers, an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa but that they were heavily Romanized, speaking only Latin at home as a matter of pride and dignity. In his writings, Augustine leaves some information as to the consciousness of his African heritage. For example, he refers to Apuleius as “the most notorious of us Africans,” to Ponticianus as “a country man of ours, insofar as being African”and to Faustus of Mileve as “an African Gentleman.”
Augustine’s family name, Aurelius, suggests that his father’s ancestors were freedmen of the gens Aurelia given full Roman citizenship by the Edict of Caracalla in 212. Augustine’s family had been Roman, from a legal standpoint, for at least a century when he was born. It is assumed that his mother, Monica, was of Berber origin, on the basis of her name but as his family were an upper class of citizens known as honorable men, Augustine’s first language is likely to have been Latin.
Augustine Aurelius still unbaptised and burning for knowledge, he came under the influence of the Manicheans, which caused his mother intense sorrow. He left Africa for Rome, deceiving his mother, who was ever anxious to be near him. She prayed and wept. A bishop consoled her by observing that a son of so many tears would never be lost. Yet the evil spirit drove him constantly deeper into moral degeneracy, capitalising on his leaning toward pride and stubbornness. Grace was playing a waiting game; there still was time and the greater the depths into which the evil spirit plunged its fledgling, the stronger would be the reaction.
Augustine recognised this vacuum; he saw how the human heart is created with a great abyss; the earthly satisfactions that can be thrown into it are no more than a handful of stones that hardly cover the bottom. And in that moment grace was able to break through: Restless is the heart until it rests in God. The tears of his mother, the sanctity of Milan’s Bishop Ambrose, the book of St Anthony the hermit and the sacred Scriptures wrought his conversion, which was sealed by baptism on Easter night 387. Augustine’s mother went to Milan with joy and witnessed her son’s baptism. It was what it should have been, the greatest event of his life, his conversion — metanoia. Grace had conquered. Augustine accompanied his mother to Ostia, where she died. She was eager to die, for now she had given birth to her son for the second time.
In 388 he returned to Tagaste, where he lived a common life of prayer and solitude with his friends. In 391 he was ordained priest at Hippo, in 394 made coadjutor to bishop Valerius and then from 396 to 430 bishop of Hippo.
Augustine, numbered among the four great Doctors of the Western Church, possessed one of the most penetrating minds of ancient Christendom. He was the most important Platonist of patristic times, the Church’s most influential theologian, especially with regard to clarifying the dogmas of the Trinity, grace and the Church. He was a great speaker, a prolific writer, a saint with an inexhaustible spirituality. His Confessions, a book appreciated in every age, describes a notable portion of his life (until 400), his errors, his battles, his profound religious observations. Famous too is his work The City of God, a worthy memorial to his genius, a philosophy of history. Most edifying are his homilies, especially those on the psalms and on the Gospel of St. John.
Augustine’s episcopal life was filled with mighty battles against heretics, over all of whom he triumphed. His most illustrious victory was that over Pelagius, who denied the necessity of grace; from this encounter he earned the surname “Doctor of grace.” As an emblem Christian art accords him a burning heart to symbolise the ardent love of God which permeates all his writings. He is the founder of canonical life in common; therefore Augustinian monks and the Hermits of St. Augustine honour him as their spiritual father.
As bishop, Augustine worked tirelessly for his people. He fought false religious teachings, protected the people from corrupt officials and invaders and cared for the sick, the poor and those in prison. His many sermons, letters and books reflect the ever-deepening love he felt for God. He wisely observed: “You have made us, O God, for yourself, and our hearts shall find no rest until they rest in you.”
He wrote and advised bishops, popes and councils. His influence on the Church and his fight against heresy were exceptional. He was loved by many, for he had struggled much and could help others who were struggling.
In 430 Vandals invaded the province. For three months Augustine inspired Christian hope in his people. 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. vv 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.
St Bede’s True Martyrology, recounts that Augustine’s body was later translated or moved to Cagliari, Sardinia, by the Catholic bishops expelled from North Africa by Huneric. Around 720, his remains were transported again by Peter, bishop of Pavia and uncle of the Lombard king Liutprand, to the church of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro in Pavia, in order to save them from frequent coastal raids by Muslims. In January 1327, Pope John XXII issued the papal bull Veneranda Santorum Patrum, in which he appointed the Augustinians guardians of the tomb of Augustine (called Arca), which was remade in 1362 and elaborately carved with bas-reliefs of scenes from Augustine’s life.