Friday, August 2, 2013

Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

Augustine was born in 354 in the town of Tagaste about 155 miles (250 km) west of Carthage. His parents were Latin-speaking Berbers but his father was an Olympian while Monica, his mother, was a Christian. They sent him to a nearby boarding school in 365 where he studied Latin literature. As a teenager he developed an interest in philosophy after reading Cicero.

In 371 Augustine left home for the booming city of Carthage—now a Roman provincial capital—to begin his higher education studying rhetoric. After two years he returned to Tagaste and taught grammar.

At the age of 20, Augustine was smart, educated, ambitious, energetic, and ready to define himself apart from his mother. In 374 he went back to Carthage and opened his own school of rhetoric. He abandoned the Christianity in which Monica had raised him and embraced Manichaeism. This religion found the dynamics of history grounded in a struggle between good spirit and evil matter. Finally, he fell in love with a woman, she gave birth to their son but, because his mother disapproved of her, he didn't marry her but did continue to live with her.

In 383 Augustine left Manichaeism in Carthage as he took his wife, son, and ambition to the city of Rome. It disappointed him. Rome no longer stood at the center of an expansive empire. Now Milan served as the capital city of the poorer western half of an empire facing overwhelming chaos. Augustine's fellow teachers of rhetoric cared little for it or their students while his students showed their contempt for him by refusing to pay their fees.

In 384 Augustine applied for and won the job of teaching rhetoric at the imperial court in Milan. His mother Monica didn't trust his judgment and moved to Milan to guide her son. She soon arranged a socially advantageous marriage for him and finally persuaded him to get rid of the woman he had lived with for ten years. This woman, whose name Augustine never mentioned in writing, never saw him or her son again. Augustine eventually decided not to marry his fiancée.

Ambrose, bishop of Milan, helped Monica by persuading her son to recommit himself to Christianity. Ambrose baptized both Augustine and his son in her presence on Easter 387.

In 388 Augustine headed back to Carthaginia with his mother and son. Monica died in the port of Ostia, just outside of Rome, as the three waited to sail back to Carthage. Shortly after their return to Carthaginia, Augustine's son also died.

In 391 Augustine was ordained a priest in Hippo Regius, a port city about 60 miles (95 km) north of Tagaste, and in 395 he became its bishop. He lived a monastic life, even in the bishop's palace, and shared his Rule (for monastic living) with others. He enthusiastically encouraged the people of Hippo to become Christians. He vigorously disputed the beliefs of Christians such as the Donatists and Pelagians and of non-Christians like the Manichaeans.

From 397-398 he published Olympia's first autobiography entitled Confessions. In it he speaks of his experiences as they led to his baptism.

In 410 the city of Rome was sacked for the first time in 800 years. Many among the Empire's educated elite, though nominally Christian, believed the Olympian gods were punishing the people of the city and the empire for switching their loyalty to Jesus. In response, Augustine began serially publishing his book, The City of God, in 413 and continued to do so until perhaps 427. In it he argues that calamities of varying intensity always plague the essentially dark City of Man or our very Olympian cities and states. In contrast, ultimate triumph belongs to Jesus who inspires the bright City of God or all our constructive witnessing to him.

Augustine died in 430 in Hippo as the Vandals were besieging it. Later they destroyed the city while carefully avoiding causing any harm to either Augustine's church building or his library.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.