St Augustine of Hippo

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Bishop and doctor of the church, St Augustine was born in Tagaste, Algeria, in 354. The son of a pagan father and a Christian mother, St Monica, he was brought up a Christian but not baptised.

Augustine studied rhetoric at Carthage and became a lawyer, but he gave this up and took up teaching and further study. For nine years he was absorbed by philosophy and Manichaeism, completely rejecting Christianity and following a hedonistic lifestyle. He lived with his mistress and when he was 17 years old she had a son, Adeotatus (Gift from God).

These early years were a source of great worry to his Christian mother Monica, who shed many tears over him and prayed constantly for his conversion.

Gradually he became disillusioned with Manichaeism and came under the influence of the Christian bishop Ambrose in Milan. After a long interior conflict, vividly described in his Confessions, Augustine was converted and baptised around 387 when he was about 32. His mistress (whose name has been forgotton in his history) went into a monastery in Carthage, leaving their child with him. Augustine returned to Africa and with some friends established a quasi-monastery where study and conversions flourished. He was ordained in 391 and four years later became bishop of Hippo.

Augustine's intellectual brilliance, wide education ardent temperament and mystical insights formed a personality of extraordinary quality. His writings have probably been more influential than any Christian writer since St Paul.

He lived out his faith in community actively involved in preaching and writing, caring for the poor and acting as judge in civil as well as church cases.

St Augustine was an upholder of law and order in a time of political strife caused by the disintegration of the Roman Empire. By the time of his death in 430, the Vandals were at the gates of Hippo.

After his conversion he wrote:

Late have I loved you. O beauty ever ancient,
ever new. Late have I loved you.
And behold you were within and I without. And without you I sought you.
And deformed I ran after those forms of beauty you have made.
You were with me and I was not with you.
Those things held me back from you
Things whose only being was to be with you.

You called, you cried, you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, you chased away my blindness.
You became fragrant. I inhaled and sighed for you.
I tasted and now hunger and thirst for you.
You touched me. Now I burn for your embrace.

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