Thursday, November 5, 2009

Author Sketch: Augustine of Hippo

Augustine of Hippo (also known as Saint Augustine, Augustinus, St. Augustine the Blessed)
Born 354 CE in Tageste, Numidia
Died 430 CE as a retired Bishop of Hippo
Works under consideration: The Confessions

Events that occurred during Augustine’s life:

Pics and Scots cross Hadrian’s Wall and attack Britain
Roman Legions begin to evacuate Britain
The Huns invade Europe
Accession of Theodosius the Great – the last Emperor of a united Roman empire
Scrolls begin to be replaced with books
Hymn singing is introduced by St. Ambrose of Milan and “Hallelujah” is born
The first written records of Japanese history
Alchemy begins with the search for the Philosopher’s stone and the Elixir of Life

Saint Augustine was born in the small village of Tageste on November 13, 354. Tageste was located in the North African Roman Provence of Numidia, present day Souk Ahras, on the eastern border of Algeria. Both of his parents were of Roman descent with possible Numidian genetic lines and Augustine is thought to have been a native Punic speaker. His father, Patricius, was a Roman administrator of Tageste but due to the village’s small size was only able to provide modestly for his family. Augustine’s mother, Monica, was a devout Christian and a constant influence on Augustine’s life. He was highly educated in the liberal arts and ultimately became not only a transitional literary and theological figure in his time but was also torn between dueling cultural belief systems caricaturized by his pagan father and his devoutly Catholic mother. Christian schools framed the beginnings of his educational influences; however, Augustine was not baptized during his early childhood. Perhaps it was the stress of living between two ideologies or the fact that, as he later believed, God allowed him to anguish upon a path of sin in order to show him the true faith, the ardent search for truth became Augustine’s life-long pursuit.

At the age of 11 or 12, Augustine journeyed 20 miles south from his birth place to Madaura where he began his study of grammar and literature. He excelled in his studies, especially Latin, and his father was so inspired by his son’s aptitude and his own hopes that Augustine would become a lawyer that he endeavored to gather the necessary funds for Augustine to continue his education. Ultimately, a local benefactor named Romanianus sponsored Augustine to study rhetoric at Carthage. During this time, Augustine read Cicero’s Hortensius which he described as the foundation upon which he built his life-long interest in philosophy. At Carthage, he became a member of the Manichean cult whose claim to “reconcile religion with philosophy” must have been very appealing to a young man of 17, caught between a mother who despaired for the salvation of his soul and his own youthful appetites, both of the body and the mind. He shared a relationship with a concubine for ten years who bore him a son named Adeodatus. By all accounts, he loved this woman deeply though they would never marry. During and after his studies at Carthage he lived his life as an “intellectual pagan” and a teacher of rhetoric.

Lamenting the lack of discipline of his students in Tageste, Augustine spent a year in Rome where he began to formally break from the Manicheans and embrace neo-Platonist concepts. He was also introduced to St. Ambrose who later performed Augustine's long awaited baptism into the Christian faith. His full conversion occurred in 386 and, after the death of his mother, he journeyed back to Africa with Adeodatus and other pupils to lead a monastic life. However, a skilled orator and prolific writer would not long live an isolated life. Also, around 391, he assumed what he called the “burden of the episcopate” when he was made a priest of Hippo. He would later hold the title of Bishop for thirty five years. He died of natural causes at Hippo in 430, in the midst of a Vandal invasion.

It is speculated that Augustine wrote over 232 separate titles not including personal letters and sermons. The Confessions and The City of God are two of his most known works but the totality of his written contribution to the western canon is quite impressive. He would later inspire such scholars as Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther and John Calvin among others.

No comments:

Post a Comment