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Augustine

Augustine (Latin Aurelius Augustinus): Roman orator, bishop of Hippo (Africa),philosopher, theologian, and one of the most prolific authors of Antiquity.

Early Life

A (not ancient) portrait of Augustine from the Porta Nigra Trier

Augustine was born in the Roman province of Africa, in the small town of Thagaste (Souk Ahras, northeastern Algeria), on November 13, 354. In this region, many people were Christians, but they were divided. His parents, Patricius and Monnica, were not really wealthy but the boy could visit school. Later, his relatives paid for his further education and in 375, he settled in Carthage as a teacher of rhetorics, twenty-one years old.

In these years, he was a devout adherent of Manicheism, a dualist religion from the east. After getting acquainted with the philosophical work of the Roman author Cicero, Augustine decided to study philosophy as well, searching for a better understanding of religious truth.

Meanwhile, he had a brilliant carreer. In 383 he moved to Italy and after a stay in Rome, the capital of the ancient world, he moved on to Milan, where the imperial court resided. To further his perspectives, he engaged himself to an aristocratic girl and sent away his African girlfriend, who was the mother of his son Adeodatus. However, when he was about to move to the highest circles of Roman society, he suffered a deep spiritual crisis, which included mystical experiences.

Christianity

Under influence of the bishop of Milan, Ambrose, Augustine converted to Christianity. Already before his baptism (during the Easter Vigil, April 24/25, 387), a second career had started: the professional orator, teacher, and writer was to become one of the main voices of Christianity in the Latin-speaking part of the Roman world. Among his first writings were school books about the seven liberal arts.

Tombstone of Monnica (church of Sant' Aurea, Ostia)

He later moved to Ostia, the port of Rome, where he and his mother shared the mystical unification with the One - the only example in the mystical tradition of two people simultaneously experiencing religious extasy. However, Ostia was also the place where Augustine had to bury his mother (387). Archaeologists have found the honorific inscription that once decorated her tomb.

Augustine now returned to Africa, lived in his hometown Thagaste for a while, but was ordained priest in Hippo Regius, a port in the northeast of modern Algeria (modern Annaba). Four years later, in 395, he was elected bishop, an office he would continue to fulfil until his death. With several friends, he lived in a house in the garden near his church: one of those communities that would later be called monasteries.

During these years, he published several important books, like his his autobiographical Confessions (397/398) and the City of God (426), he wrote hundreds of sermons and a monastic rule, actively debated with rival Christian groups like the Donatists, and took part in ecclesiastical meetings. He also witnessed how the Roman world started to desintegrate: Rome was sacked in 410 and in the final months of his life, a Vandal army was besieging Hippo. He died on August 28, 430.

His disciple Posidius wrote Augustine's biography. His relics and library were transferred to Sardinia and, later, to Pavia, where he lies buried next to Boethius in the church of San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro.

Legacy

Augustine's books, in which he used the Neo-Platonic philosophy (a school founded by Plotinus) to express the nature of the Christian faith, were to be the foundation of western theology. He is therefore considered to be one of the fathers of the Western Church.

Literature

This page was created in 2018; last modified on 3 May 2019.

This page is a stub. It will be expanded to a full-fledged article.