St. Augustine was the son of a pagan father, Patricius, and a devout Christian mother, St. Monica, in 354 in Tagaste, North Africa, and he grew up confused by his parents’ conflicting beliefs. Despite the constant and fervent prayers of his devout mother, in his youth and for many years, he was caught in a depraved and immoral existence, blinded to the truth by his attachment to sin. In 370, he went to Carthage to study philosophy and rhetoric and there met a Carthaginian woman with whom he lived from the age of 15 through 30. Augustine fathered a son with her whom he named Adeodatus, which means the gift of God.
Although Augustine’s desire for the truth intensified, he clung to his sinful way of life and was frozen by indecision and lack of trust. Later a teacher of rhetoric at Rome and Milan, he investigated and experimented with several philosophies, and became deeply attracted to Manichaeism. This ancient, new age cult taught that man’s spirit was from God and his body from the devil and taught a loose moral code through the denial of individual responsibility for evil, and essentially blamed it on the devil. Soon after meeting Faustus, the leading Manichaean, he quickly became disillusioned and broke with the Manichaeans.
Augustine’s quest for wisdom continued and he soon discovered what he had been searching for through the preaching of St. Ambrose in Milan, and the prayers of his mother. Finally, as he wept in bitter contrition of heart, he heard the voice of a child urging him to read the scripture passage that was before him. He took it up and read it and all shadows of his doubt were swept away and he was converted to Christ. His spiritual journey is described in his famous autobiography and best-seller to this day, The Confessions wherein he recalls his battle with evil and sin and his eventual encounter with God’s truth and grace. The famous line “Too late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new, too late have I loved you” is poignantly revealed from Augustine’s soul. It was St. Ambrose who baptized Augustine on Easter in Milan 386, in the presence of his mother, St. Monica.
After the death of his mother in 387, he returned to Rome and then eventually returned to Africa in 388. He sold his property and gave the proceeds to the poor. He was ordained a priest in 391 and was made an assistant to Bishop Valerius of Hippo. He spent the next thirty-five years writing and preaching. He founded a monastery in Hippo and tenaciously defended the faith against Manichaeism and Donatism and other heresies. He was consecrated bishop as coadjutor to Valerius and in 396 succeeded him as Bishop of Hippo.
Augustine was not only an unparalleled spokesman and defender of the Faith, he was deemed a brilliant teacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The most famous of his numerous writings are The City of God and The Confessions. St. Augustine died in Hippo on August 28, 430. He is a Doctor of the Church.
The life and writings of St. Augustine are considered so important today that in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI noted that “A civilization has seldom encountered such a great spirit who was able to assimilate Christianity’s values and exalt its intrinsic wealth, inventing ideas and forms that were to nourish the future generations.”