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Saint Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, is known for his openness and willingness to share his struggles with selfish pleasures as a youth. When he is installed by ‘force’ as the priest of Hippo, he becomes a Bishop in less than five years. He goes on to hold the position for 35 years. He did not start as a scholar. Augustine’s priorities were ministerial works and writing.
Early life and education
Saint Augustine was born on November 13th, 354, and died on August 28th, 430 AD. His mother, Monica was a staunch Christian while his father Patricius was a pagan. His mother was an early Christian saint and is honored by both the Catholic and Orthodox churches on different occasions due to her astounding Christian virtues. Augustine regarded his mother as the most influential person in his life and never had a stable relationship with his father.
It is agreed that Augustine’s family was from the Berber ethnic group but were heavily Romanized such that they only spoke Latin as a way to gain pride and dignity. Throughout his writings, the Bishop of Hippo does not give a clear standing as to how he views his African roots.
When Augustine was age 11, he joined the school at Madaurus, the current M’Daourouch. This is where he was exposed to Latin literature and the pagan way of life. His first encounter with sin happened when he and a group of friends stole fruits from a neighboring farm. He tells this story in his book, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, expressing remorse that he did not steal out of hunger but because it was not allowed.
Out of the generosity of fellow citizen Romanianus, the 17-year old boy managed to further his education at Carthage. This was way above the financial capability of his family. His mother often warned him against his pleasure-seeking lifestyle. This is a warning he did not put into consideration and made up stories about the sexual experience just to fit in his group of friends.
Conversion to Christianity, Priesthood, and the Bishop of Hippo
Despite having had a troublesome life as a young man, Augustine got an opportunity to convert to Christianity, which marked his turning point. This happened after reading the writings of Saint Anthony, a Christian monk from Egypt. Augustine later recalled that his decision to convert was instigated by a childlike voice that told him to “take up and read.”
When Augustine opened the Bible for the first time, his first reading was Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Specifically, he read about the Apostle’s guidance on the Transformation of Believers. Here, Paul explained how the Gospel helps transform believers and the kind of behavior that would be expected of a believer.
Augustine was baptized by Ambrose on April 24th, 387, and returned home to Africa the same year. He sold his patrimony and gave all the money to the poor, remaining only with the family house that he turned into a monastic foundation.
Augustine was ordained a priest in 391 and became the Bishop of Hippo in 395. This is where the name “Augustine of Hippo” comes from. His willingness to give everything to the poor and the church helped convince many people to convert to Christianity.
The Bishop of Hippo led the kind of life that every Christian ought to emulate. He was never afraid to confess his childhood and early life ills and maintained that he now led a new life.
Weeping over his sins
In 429, North Africa was invaded by the Vandals, another barbarian tribe from Europe. The Vandals besieged the city of Hippo during the summer of 430; Augustine fell ill during August. According to his biographer, Possidius, Augustine spent the last days of his life studying the penitential psalms, which he had posted on the walls of his room and weeping over his sins. He demanded that no one visit him, giving him uninterrupted time to pray. Augustine died on August 28, 430, at the age of 75, so he did not live to see the Vandals overrun Hippo in 431.