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The biography of St. Augustine

23 Apr 2015, by Rev. Fr. Joel Okojie OSA in Augustinians

Bishop AugustineSt. Augustine, a great Son of Africa, a theologian, a philosopher, an intellectual icon, a man of Godaugustinianlogo, and the Catholic Church’s pride, was born on November 13, 354. He was born in the town of Thagaste in the northern part of Africa, now known as Algeria, though at that time, it was part of the Roman Empire. Like his master and Lord (Jesus Christ), this great man was born into a humble and low-income family. His father, Patricius (Patrick), was a simple civil servant working for the Roman Empire, while Monica, his mother was seemed to be a simple and humble housewife. Not much is available about Augustine’s siblings; at least we know he had a brother named Navigius and a sister.

Patricius was a pagan and had a very lukewarm attitude towards Christianity; he was a hard and difficult man to live with. I wonder how this man got married to Monica, a Christian and a great daughter of the holy mother Church. You may wonder too, but the fact remains that they got married, and the God who can create good out of evil used Monica to transform the life of Patricius and the entire family.

Augustine was an intelligent and promising child; though his father never cared about his spiritual growth, he was very interested in his intellectual development. Augustine was sent to a nearby town called Madaura for studies, but he was forced out of school for lack of money. He stayed at home for a year while his father did all he could to send him back to school.

Patricius may not have been a good Christian. Still, he knew the value of good education for his son, so, at the age of 16, Augustine was sent to a university at Carthage to study literature and poetry. Not very long after Augustine came to Carthage, his father died, leaving him as the family’s head.

At Carthage, the young Augustine may have allowed youthful exuberance to cloud his vision; he tried to set up a home with a concubine that became his Son’s mother, Adeodatus, born about 372.  During this period, Augustine came across a book he read that inspired in him the search for truth in whatever form he may find it; it was Cicero’s Hortensius. This book reawakened Augustine’s intellectual power and made him a restless mind seeking the truth. And we may ask like Pilate; what is truth? In this truth is freedom (Jn. 8:32). Augustine became restless until he found rest in Christ Jesus. He sought truth everywhere before then; he searched the most equipped libraries looking for God, looking for truth. He probably reflected over his mother’s devotion to a God who is supposed to be infinitely good and wondered why it is evil in the world created by a supposedly infinitely good God. The problem of evil in the world led Augustine to join the Manichean school, a philosophic-religious school that claimed to have the answers to evil in the world. As an intellectual, he was attracted by the Manichaean’s’ highly intellectual approach to the problem of evil and their strict moral standards.

After his graduation, Augustine briefly returned to Thagaste to teach but went back to Carthage, where there seem to be better opportunities. He became a renowned public speaker and teacher. Augustine remained connected to the Manicheans, and his wealthy Manichee friends encouraged him to move to Rome in 383, where he hoped to rise to a higher level. Rome, however, did not favor him, so he moves to the city of Milan in 384, where he heard the captivating preaching of Bishop Ambrose. He was confronted with what he never associated Christianity with; intellectual power. Augustine saw Christianity as intellectual backward, but listening to Bishop Ambrose’s philosophical interpretation of the scripture, connecting faith and reason, and his eloquent presentation, Augustine was attracted. He was gradually led into understanding Christianity and made a break with the Manicheans. Meanwhile, his worldly ambition flourished, he became a great orator.

Monica did not give up on her Son; she followed him to Milan, prayed for his conversion, and encouraged him to send his concubine away. God did not ignore Monica’s tears for her Son; in 386, Augustine had a conversion experience that can only be connected to Devin’s intervention. Augustine was spending some time outside when he heard the voice of a child singing a song: “pick it up and read it… Pick it up and read it.” At first, he thought it was a child’s play, but he later realizes that it could be a command from God; he picked up a copy of the bible and read it. The passage he read was Romans 13:13-14: Not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual excess and lust, not quarreling and jealousy. rather, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. This passage of the Scripture made a great impression on Augustine; he was converted and baptized at Easter in 387 by Bishop Ambrose. His Son Adeodatus and his very close friend Alypius were also baptized at the same time.

History has it that before Augustine returned to Africa in 389, he had some contacts with some hermits of Tuscany and had some experience of religious life. On their way home, Monica fell ill and died in the coastal city of Ostia. Augustine returned home to Thagaste and formed a religious community where he enjoyed his newfound faith and later ordained priest and consecrated Bishop of Hippo. He died in the year 430.A great writer

The biography of St. Augustine will not be complete if no mention is made of his philosophical, theological, and spiritual contributions to the Church. He was a prolific writer with so many documented letters, homilies, books, and other writings on various topics attributed to him.