St Augustine or Augustine of Hippo was an early Christian theologian and philosopher. He is widely considered the most prominent Christian thinker after St Paul. St Augustine was the Bishop of Hippo (modern day Algeria) in Numidia (Roman province of Africa).
He is the most well known western Christian Church Father. His written works, especially Confessions and City of God are credited with shaping the practice of Bible.
A considerable part of his written work has survived and has earned him a place well above his contemporaries.
Early Life: Augustine was born in 354 AD in the town of Thagaste (Algeria), then part of Roman Africa. His father Patricius was a pagan, who converted to Christianity only on his deathbed. But, his mother, Monica was a committed Christian.
Augustine started attending school at the age of eleven when he joined a school at Madaurus, a city nineteen miles away from Thagaste. Reaching the age of seventeen, Augustine went to study in Carthage. During these days, he lived a carefree life and started to follow Manichaean religion. Augustine decided to pursue a life of celibacy as a priest when he was thirty one years of age.
Conversion to Christianity and Life as a Preacher: In 386 AD, Augustine converted to Christianity. He was baptized along with his son, Adeodatus in 387. Augustine has narrated the details of his conversion in his work, Confessions. By 388, he had completed his apology, On the Holiness of Catholic Church. In 388, Augustine returned to Africa with his son and started living at his grand family estate. His mother Monica had died by then. After a few years, Augustine’s son Adeodatus also died.
His death had a profound effect on Augustine and he sold his family property, except for the small family home which he turned into a monastery for his friends. The money acquired through the sale of property was distributed among poor people. In 391, Augustine was appointed as a priest in Hippo Regius. He became a well known preacher and delivered Many sermons. Augustine was particularly active in countering Manichaean religion. In 395, he was promoted to become coadjutor Bishop of Hippo and did not take long thereafter to become the full Bishop.
He held this position till the day he breathed his last. Augustine donated his property to Church of Thagaste after assuming the mantle of Bishop of Hippo. In 397, Augustine wrote his autobiographical work, Confessions. After the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410, Augustine wrote ‘The City of God’ to lift the spirits of his fellow Christians, who had been left severely demoralized in the wake of the destruction perpetuated by Visigoths. Augustine’s close friend, Possidius, Bishop of Calama, recorded his later life. He described Augustine as a pious, intelligent and devoted man who spent his life defending Christianity against all detractors.
Possidius depicted Augustine as a man who ate sparingly and hated gossiping. During his life, he preached against slave trade and encouraged his associates to free their slaves. He was particularly against the sale of children. Augustine’s prominent written works are Confessions, The City of God, On Christian Doctrine, On the Trinity and On Free Choice of the Will.
Augustine continues to deeply affect Christian thinkers. The present Pope Emeritus of Catholic Church, Benedict XVI has written in his autobiography, Milestones, that his thought is immensely inspired by St Augustine.
Later Life and Death: In his last days, Augustine suffered from frail health. He spent his final days praying and repenting. He also instructed from his death bed that the library and books of his church in Hippo be secured and preserved. Augustine died on 28th August, 430. He was canonized and appointed Doctor of the Church in 1298 by Pope Boniface VIII. Augustine is considered patron saint of brewers, printers and theologians.