St Augustine, Doctor of the Church (354-430)

Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

Augustine was born at Tagaste on November 13, 354. Tagaste, now Souk-Ahras, about 60 miles from Bona (ancient Hippo-Regius), was at that time a small free city of proconsular Numidia which had recently been converted from Donatism. Although eminently respectable, his family was not rich, and his father, Patricius, one of the curiales of the city, was still a pagan. However, the admirable virtues that made Monica the ideal of Christian mothers brought her husband the grace of baptism (before it was too late) and a holy death.

 

St Monica signed him with the cross and enrolled him among the catechumens

One of three sons, Augustine was brought up a Christian and was registered as a catechumen. Once, when very ill, he asked for baptism, but, all danger being soon passed, he deferred receiving the sacrament (in accordance with the contemporary custom, baptism was delayed until adulthood). His association with "men of prayer" left three great ideas deeply graven upon his soul: a Divine Providence, the future life with terrible sanctions, and, above all, Christ the Savior.

"From my tenderest infancy, I had in a manner imbibed with my mother's milk that name of my Savior, Thy Son; I kept it in the recesses of my heart; and all that presented itself to me without that Divine Name, though it might be elegant, well written, and even replete with truth, never totally beguiled me."(1)

The great St Augustine's life is unfolded to us in documents of unrivalled richness, and of no great character of ancient times have we information comparable to that contained in the "Confessions," which relate the touching story of his soul, the "Retractions," which give the history of his mind, and the "Life of Augustine," written by his friend Possidius, telling of the saint's apostolate.

 

His education was wholly oriented toward academia and the Christian faith. At 16, he went to Carthage to finish his education.  While there, he abandoned his religion  and instead devoted himself to the study of rhetoric. He took a concubine at age eighteen, with whom he had a son of his own, Adeodatus, ca. 373.

 

Augustine joined the Manichees, a religious sect that not only rejected the Old Testament, but also renounced most of the ordinary pleasures of life associated with eating, drinking and sexual expression. He taught rhetorics and grammar in Carthage ca. 376. In 383, he, his companion, and their son sailed for Rome. He was appointed professor of rhetoric in Milan, whose eloquent bishop, Saint Ambrose, started to have an influence on him. His mother, Monica, followed him to Milan. It is the beginning of his conversion, which is marked by the sending away of his mistress and his son, but later he unfortunately took another concubine.

His conversion in a garden of Milan

Augustine was suddenly touched by God's grace in a Milanese garden, while trying to explain to one of his students the inner battle that wrenched him. He then left the world and took refuge in a monastery.

 

The Saint is not only a true giant of Western theology. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest geniuses of all times. He had a remarkable understanding of the human condition and perceived man's irrepressible yearning for the Infinite. He is our spokesperson. We can, with St Augustine, declare:

"...late have I loved You. Oh, Infinite Beauty, ever ancient and ever new!"

Augustine expressed the conviction that Mary made a vow of virginity

In the West, Augustine appears to be the first Father and Doctor of the Church to have expressed the conviction that Mary made a vow of virginity. He explained that she gave birth to the Head of our Church and the Church gave birth to us. Mary preceded the Church as its model. He felt that all faithful Christians can share the same spiritual motherhood of the Church by giving themselves over to the will of God. And that every consecrated virgin, male or female, married or unmarried, can exercise a very fruitful, spiritual motherhood. It was very clear to Augustine that Mary is both sister and Mother to Jesus. Jesus told us exactly this in the Gospel. Since the blessedness of faith is superior to the blessedness of motherhood, in a sense it is more important for Mary to be Christ's disciple than to be His mother.

"Moreover, every faithful soul is a mother of Christ, and by doing the will of his Father through charity, which is a most fruitful virtue, every faithful soul transmits life to all those imprinted with the image of Christ. As for Mary, she fulfilled the Father's will; in this way, while physically she was only the Mother of Christ, spiritually she was both sister and Mother to him."

 

Saint Augustine

The Blessed Virgin is our model of holy modesty

 

Another personal virtue of Mary emphasized by Augustine is Mary's humility or holy modesty. She manifested her glorious behavior and action throughout her simple life. This is most notable in the Annunciation, the finding of Jesus in the temple and the wedding feast of Cana. Mary has always considered herself less than she is: as a servant, follower and profound believer. Augustine said she was unstained, untouched, unknown, and unappreciated.

God did not need Mary to become man in the person of Jesus

Augustine informs us that God did not need a woman to become man in the person of Jesus. When God created the first man He did not need a woman. As He was born a Man without the cooperation of a man, He could have been born without the cooperation of a woman. He was born of Mary to reveal His infinite love for both sexes. The dignity of both sexes is emphasized by the Incarnation. Through woman, poison was poured upon man, in order to deceive him. Salvation is poured out upon man from a woman that he might be reborn in grace. The woman, having become the Mother of Christ, will repair the sin the other woman committed in deceiving the man. Mary is the Mother of grace, the diffuser of grace and the graceful mother for Jesus, Augustine and each of us. Mary's power and God's grace touched the Bishop of Hippo.

Augustine's holy love for God poured itself out into pure love for God's creatures

Later, once spiritual love was incorporated into Augustine's authentic life style and daily habits, he said: "Love and do what you will." Then and only then, this saint really knew the difference between a love for life and a life for love. "Augustine's holy love for God's poured itself out into pure love for God's creatures. He gives us the perfect prescription by showing us how to love God and creatures unitively. He is also called the Doctor's Doctor or Doctor of Doctors. When we are touched by grace, as the "Doctor of Grace", we'll know God's love in all of Its infinite and rich dimensions. Fr Christopher tell us that Augustine's friend and biographer, Pisidius, said that we can learn more from Augustine from what he showed and did for God and neighbor, than from his writings." (2)

 

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(1) Confessions, I, iv. [Augustine's Confessions tell about his youth and his conversion.]

(2) The 33 Doctors of the Catholic Church, Fr. Christopher Rengers, OFM. Cap. TAN Books and Publishers