Biography of St. Augustine
One of the most famous autobiography’s in the world, St. Augustine’s Confessions, begins in this way: “Great art Thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised . . . Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” (Confessions, Chapter 1). For a thousand years, until the publication of the Imitation of Christ, Confessions was the most common manual on the spiritual life. It has had more readers than any of St. Augustine’s other works. He wrote his Confessions ten years after converting, and after being a priest for eight years. In it, St. Augustine confesses to God, narrating the writing addressed to Him. St. Augustine admits to God: “Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new. Late have I loved Thee” (Confessions, Chapter 10). Many learn from his autobiography how to bring their heart closer to God’s heart, the only place to find true happiness . . . Just who was this ‘sinner turned saint’ in the church?
St. Augustine was born in Northern Africa in 354, to Patricius and St. Monica. He had one brother and a sister, who all received a Christian education. His sister became an abbess of a convent, and shortly after her death St. Augustine wrote a letter to her successor with advice about the future governance of the congregation. This letter later became the chief basis for the “Rule of St. Augustine,” in which St. Augustine is one of the great founders in religious life.
St. Augustine’s father Patricius was a pagan until shortly before his death, which was an answer to the fervent prayers of his wife, St. Monica, for his conversion. She also prayed much for the conversion of her then wayward son, St. Augustine. St. Augustine left for school when he was sixteen, and while in this new city he allowed himself to be drawn into pagan ideas, theatre, his own pride, and into various sins of impurity. When he was seventeen he entered into a union with a girl with whom he lived with out of wedlock for about fourteen years. Although not married, they were faithful to each other. One child was born from their union, a boy named Adeodatus, who died when he was in his late teens. St. Augustine earned his living at this time by teaching grammar and rhetoric, at which he was very admired and successful. From the age of 19 to 28, to the deep sorrow of his mother, St. Augustine belonged to the heretical sect of the Manicheans. Among other things, they believed both in a God of good and a God of evil, and that only the spirit of man was good, not the body, nor anything of the material world.
St. Augustine’s Conversion
Through the powerful intercession of his mother, St. Monica, grace triumphed in the life of St. Augustine. He began attending and being deeply touched by the sermons of St. Ambrose on Christianity. He also read the conversion story of a great pagan orator, as well as reading the epistles of St. Paul, all of which had a great effect on him to turning his heart to the truth of the Catholic faith. For a long time St. Augustine desired to be pure, but as he said to God, “Make me pure . . . but not yet” (Confessions, Chapter 8). One day when St. Augustine was in a garden praying to God to help him with purity, he heard a child’s voice singing to him: “Take and read; take and read” (Confessions, Chapter 8). With that, he felt inspired to open his Bible at random, and he read the first thing his eyes fell upon. He read the words from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans chapter 13:13-14: “not in rioting and drunkenness, not in carousing and impurities…but rather put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” This event marked his life, and from that time on he was firm in his resolve and able to remain chaste for the remainder of his life. This happened in the year 386. The next year, 387, St. Augustine was baptized in the Catholic faith. Soon after his baptism, his mother became very ill and died shortly after when his mother was 56, and St. Augustine was 33. She confided to her son not to trouble himself about where she would be buried, but only to remember her whenever he came to the altar of God. These were beautiful words spoken from the heart of a woman with deep faith and conviction.
Bishop of Hippo
Following the death of his mother, St. Augustine returned to Africa. He desired nothing but to live a monk’s life - living a quiet and monastic style of life. However, the Lord had other plans for him. One day he went to the town of Hippo in Africa, and attended church there. The Bishop, Valerius, who saw St. Augustine there and knew of his reputation for holiness, spoke fervently on the need for a priest to help him. The congregation thus began to clamor for St. Augustine’s ordination. Their cries soon won out. Despite St. Augustine’s being moved tears, his reluctance, and his entreaties to the contrary, he saw in this the will of the Lord. He then allowed himself to be ordained. Five years later he was made a bishop, and for 34 years he governed this diocese. He gave generously of his time and talent for the spiritual and temporal needs of his flock, many of whom were unlearned and simple people. He wrote constantly to refute the teachings of his day, went to many councils of bishops in Africa, and traveled much in order to preach the Gospel. He soon emerged as a leading figure of Christianity.
St. Augustine’s love for truth often brought him into contention with various heresies. For instance, the main heresies he spoke and wrote against were the Manicheans, to which sect he had formerly belonged; the Donatist schismatics who had broken away from the church; and, for the remaining twenty years of his life, the Pelegians, who overstated the role of free will to the neglect of the role of grace in saving humanity. St. Augustine wrote much on the importance of the role of grace in our salvation, and later won the title in the Church of doctor of grace especially because of his dealings with the Pelegians. In this vein, he wrote much as well on original sin and its effects, infant baptism, and predestination.
We can consider Saint Augustine as the greatest Father of the Latin Rite Church: man of passion and of faith, of highest intelligence and untiring pastoral solicitude. The importance of Saint Augustine among the Fathers and Doctors of the Church is comparable to that of Saint Peter among the Apostles. This great saint and doctor of the Church is very well known, at least by fame, including by those who ignore Christianity or are not even familiar with it, because he left a most profound mark on the cultural life of the West and of all the world. Saint Augustine is, in addition, the Father of the Church who has left the greatest number of written works. As a prolific writer, apologist and brilliant stylist, his best known work is his autobiography, Confessions (400), where he narrates his early years and his conversion. The Confessions is an extraordinary spiritual autobiography, written for the praise and glory of God. The Confessions, precisely for its attention to interior life and to psychology, constitutes a unique model in Western literature - and not only Western, for it also serves as a model for non-religious and modern literature. This attention to the spiritual life, to the mystery of self, to the mystery of God that is hidden in self, is something extraordinary, without precedent, and remains forever; in other words, it is a spiritual pinnacle.
He also wrote a grand treatise over a period of 16 years entitled On the Trinity, meditating on this great mystery of God almost daily. He wrote as well the City of God, which began as a simple and short answer to the charge of the pagans that Christianity was responsible for the fall of Rome. It was written between the years of 413-426, and is one of the best Christian apologetics for the truths of the Catholic faith. In it, the ‘city of God’ is the Catholic Church. The premise is that the plans of God will be worked out in history as the organized forces of good in this city gradually overcome the organized forces of the temporal order which wage war against the will of God. A line from this book is as follows: “So it is that two cities have been made by two loves: the earthly city by love of self to the exclusion of God; the heavenly by love of God to the exclusion of self. The one boasts in itself, the other in the Lord. The one seeks glory from men, the other finds its greatest glory in God’s witness to its conscience” (City of God, Book 14). His other writings include the Epistles, The faith and symbol of the apostles, Manual of Faith, Hope, and Charity, Of Christian Doctrine, The Trinity, Homilies on the Old Testament, the Psalms, and the Gospel of Saint John, as well as many other moral and pastoral works…
Conclusion of His Life
In 430 St. Augustine became sick, and he died that same year on August 28. His body was buried in Hippo, and was later moved to Pavia, Italy. St. Augustine has been one of the greatest contributors of new ideas in the history of the Catholic Church. He is an example for us all - a sinner turned saint who gives all of us hope. He is now one of the thirty-three doctors of the church. His feast day is celebrated August 28.
Quotes of St. Augustine
“Love God, and do what you will.” -Sermon on 1 John 7:8.
“Nothing conquers except truth and the victory of truth is love.” -Sermons 358, 1. “Victoria veritatis est caritas.”
“Love is the beauty of the soul.” – St. Augustine
“Late have I loved you, O beauty ever ancient, ever new. Late have I loved you. You have called to me, and have called out, and have shattered my deafness. You have blazed forth with light and have put my blindness to flight! You have sent forth fragrance, and I have drawn in my breath, and I pant after you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst after you. You have touched me, and I have burned for your peace.” -Confessions, Chapter 1.