[mosaic of Augustine from the Lateran] 28 August: Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Teacher of the Faith, 430: Augustine, one of the greatest theologians of Western Christianity, (as distinguished from the eastern, or Greek-speaking, half of the ancient Mediterranean world), was born in 354 at Tagaste near modern Tunis in North Africa. Mis mother, Monnica, was a Christian, and his father for many years a pagan (although he became a Christian before his death). Augustine was from the beginning a brilliant student, with an eager intellectual curiousity. His mother undertook to bring him up as a Christian, but he was attracted by the fashionable alternatives of the day, first by neo-Platonism and then by Manicheeism. He went to Italy, where he was eventually appointed chief professor of rhetoric in Milan, then the capital city of the Empire in the West. There he met the bishop Ambrose, and there he became a Christian. He tells the story of his conversion, and of the relevant events of his life leading up to it, in his work called THE CONFESSIONS. The following prayer is taken from that work.

     Late have I loved Thee, O Lord; and behold,
 Thou wast within and I without, and there I sought Thee.
 Thou was with me when I was not with Thee.
 Thou didst call, and cry, and burst my deafness.
 Thou didst gleam, and glow, and dispell my blindness.
 Thou didst touch me, and I burned for Thy peace.
 For Thyself Thou hast made us,
     and restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease.
 Late have I loved Thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new.
 Thou hast burst my bonds asunder;
     unto Thee will I offer up an offering of praise.

After his conversion, Augustine returned to Africa, where he eventually was made bishop of the town of Hippo. He died 28 August 430, as the Vandals were besieging that town.

Another outstanding work of his is THE CITY OF GOD. This was written after Rome had been sacked by invaders led by Alaric the Visigoth. Augustine considers earthly commonwealths in relation to the Kingdom of Heaven.

His third great work is his DE TRINITATE ("On the Trinity").

In addition, he wrote many letters to friends and opponents alike. He had a vigorous correspondence with Jerome, and another with the Donatists, a group who had split from the main body of Christians after the persecution under Diocletian. They considered that the Church had dealt too leniently with some of those who had weakened under the pressure of that persecution. Against them, Augustine maintained that the holiness of the Church is not derived from the average level of virtue of its individual members, but is derived from the Holiness of its Head, who is Christ.

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Born in Africa, near Carthage, son of a pagan father and a Christian mother, Augustine was exposed to Christianity at an early age, but had other interests. He was a gifted student, though he never mastered Greek -- he tells us that his first Greek teacher was a brutal man, and he rebelled and refused to study, and by the time he realized that he really needed to know Greek, it was too late, and although he acquired a smattering of the language, he was never really at home in it. However, his mastery of Latin was another matter. He became an expert both in the eloquent use of the language and in the use of clever arguments to make his points. For a long time he was attracted by the teachings of Manicheeism (a dualistic philosophy which taught that there are two gods of equal power and that the universe is the scene of an unending battle between light and darkness, good and evil, knowledge and ignorance, spirit and matter, soul and body, etc.), but finally decided that this philosophy, which claimed to be especially suited for the intellectually elite, and to have anwers for everything, did not have the answers. He eventually ended up as chief professor of rhetoric of the Imperial City of Milan, where he met Ambrose. Partly because Ambrose had answers for his questions, partly because he admired Ambrose personally, and chiefly (or so he believed) because, God touched his heart, he underwent conversion and was baptised. His own account of his life up to a time shortly after his conversion is told in his book, CONFESSIONS, a highly readable work available in English. Although written as an account of his life, it keeps digressing into speculations about the nature of time, the nature of causality, the nature of free will, the motives of human action, etc. After his conversion, he went back to his native Africa in 387, where he was ordained a priest in 391 and consecrated bishop of Hippo in 396. He was a diligent shepherd of his flock, but also found time to write extensively. His book THE CITY OF GOD is a reply to those who said that the Roman Empire was falling apart because the Christians had taken over; he discusses the work of God in history, and the relation between the Christian as citizen of an earthly commonwealth and the Christian as citizen of Heaven. He also wrote ON THE TRINITY, and an extensive series of letters in controversy with the Donatists (a group who held -- this is a great oversimplification -- that a sacrament is only as good as the man who administers it, and that if you were baptized by Jimmy Swaggart, you had better have it done again, or you are in trouble), with the Pelagians (who held -- another classic-comics explanation -- that there is no need for all this fuss about the grace of God: that admittedly sin is a problem, but all that is needed is to get everybody to agree to stop sinning, and then everything will be perfect, right?), and with everyone else in sight. His written output was vast. His surviving works (and it is assumed that the majority did not survive) include 113 books and treatises, over 200 letters, and over 500 sermons. His work greatly influenced Luther and Calvin, to the point where for a while Roman Catholic speakers and writers were wary of quoting him lest they be suspected of Protestant tendencies.

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