Church Doctors, Church Fathers, Saints of Color:

St. Augustine of Hippo

Saint Augustine of Hippo, was born in 354 in Tagaste, in Latin-speaking North Africa to St. Monica and her husband, by arrangement, Patricius who was a pagan official.  He was the oldest of 3 children born to this union.  His father was much older than his mother and was a perpetrator of domestic violence.   St. Augustine’s meddlesome paternal grandmother lived with the family and frequently made his mother’s life more difficult.    St. Monica was a pious religious woman and her prayer life annoyed his father.  She fought to have her children baptized and her husband refused.  When St. Augustine became sick his father agreed to have him baptized and rescinded when he recuperated.    St. Monica, in the meantime, was continually praying for the conversion of her family.    Eventually, her family, except St. Augustine, converted to Christianity.   St. Augustine’s father died shortly after their conversion and his two younger siblings entered religious life.

St. Augustine started spiraling negatively and was sent away to Carthage at the age of 16 to study law, rhetoric, and philosophy.  Like many young people age, he was became drawn to a wilder lifestyle.   By the time he was 20 years old, he was the father of an out-of-wedlock son.   He joined a cult/gang where he remained for 9 years.  He still managed to complete school, began teaching, and became well known as a philosopher and poet.  He eventually left Carthage for Rome in order to open a school.   Instead, he was offered a teaching post and moved to Milan.    His mother, who was now widowed, followed him to Milan where she continued to pray for him to change his lifestyle.

While in Milan St. Augustine met St. Ambrose, who was the bishop.  St. Monica would plead with St. Ambrose to ask St. Augustine to change his ways.   It is said that St. Ambrose felt that St. Augustine was at the pre-contemplation stage of change and he believed that St. Augustine would find his way through his own reading and study.  St. Ambrose, aware of St. Monica’s fervent prayer for the conversion of her son, further stated: “It cannot be that the son of those tears should perish.”

St. Augustine enjoyed St. Ambrose’s powerful homilies and was moved by the bishop’s life of prayer and charity.    Through St. Monica’s 17 years of perseverant prayer and the influence of St. Ambrose,  St. Augustine’s life began to change.  He had his final conversion experience as he was walking through a garden and cried out to God.  He heard a voice that led him to Romans 13:13-14 – “let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” 

After St. Augustine read the passage he fully accepted the Lord into his life.  He acknowledged the bad choices he had made in life.   He would later write: “But my sin was this, that I looked for pleasure, beauty, and truth not in Him but in myself and His other creatures, and the search led me instead to pain, confusion, and error.  St. Ambrose baptized him on Easter 387 and he was fully received in the Church.    His mother died shortly thereafter.

St. Augustine returned to his hometown in 388 and formed a religious community.  Despite St. Augustine not wanting to become a priest, St. Ambrose ordained him in 391.  Elevated to Bishop of Hippo in 396, he would spend the next 34 years of his life serving God’s people. He was a highly educated scholar, a sophisticated thinker, and a prolific writer.   His writings include a profound explanation of the doctrines of
original sin, grace, and justification.  One of his greatest literary works is “The City of God” in which he challenges the worldly and the heavenly.  He developed theology and philosophy programs and penned a catechism for catechumens.  His home became a house of formation for those in religious life.

During his lifetime St. Augustine had to deal with several incidents of personal loss.   He lost his father, son, mother, and one of his closest friends.   He was so moved by the death of his mother, St. Monica, he was inspired to write his “Confessions”.   The book covered his early life up to the age of thirty-three.  He described his tumultuous relationship with his mother.  He wrote: “So be fulfilled what my mother desired of me–more richly in the prayers of so many gained for her through these confessions of mine than by my prayers alone”.  He also wrote of his relationship with God and others.

St. Augustine died in Hippo at the approximate age of  75.  He has been declared one of the great Fathers of our Church.