St. Augustine of Hippo
Feast day 28 August
Patron of brewers, printers, theologians
by C. L., a high school student in Northern Virginia

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On November 13, 354, Aurelius Augustinus was born in the city of Tagaste, in what is now Algeria.  His father was Patricius, a pagan Roman official who converted to Christianity before his death, and his mother was Monica, a devout Christian who was later canonized by the Catholic Church.  She decided early on to bring Augustine up as a Christian, though he was not baptized as an infant.  While he agreed with his mother about Christ and Christianity, he was a great disappointment to her because as an adult he became proud and impure.  His parents wanted Augustine to succeed in life and give him the best education.  In 370, he went to the city of Carthage to study rhetoric to become a lawyer, but became more interested in writing and literature.  Gradually he abandoned his Christian faith because he was more interested in having a good time.  From age sixteen on, he lived with a mistress who would bear him a son named Adeodatus.

Augustine lived during relatively peaceful times.  When he was 19 years old and a student in Carthage, he read a treatise by Cicero called Hortensius, in which Cicero places wisdom and the pursuit of truth above the value of rhetoric, or the art of persuasion by speech.  Reading this opened his mind to the delights of philosophy.  In his quest for philosophical wisdom, he embraced Manichaeism.  The fundamental principle of Manichaeism was that there was a conflict between good and evil, and evilness could be traced back to a supreme being who worked in people to commit sins.  This philosophy suited Augustine's immoral lifestyle well, and he found the doctrine to be convenient: "Give me chastity and continence, O Lord, but not yet."

In 383, Augustine left Carthage for Rome, and only stayed there for awhile until he went on to Milan.  While he was in Milan, Augustine's closest friend died.  When the Manichaeistic philosophy was not able to comfort his grief, he became disenchanted with it and was left in a state of confusion with a complete lack of confidence.

Curing this low point in his life, Augustine started attending church again to hear the sermons of the Bishop Ambrose.  Augustine was startled to find Ambrose to have a reasonableness of mind, a keeness of thought, and a certain integrity of character far exceeding what he had found elsewhere.  For the first time in his life, Augustine  saw Christianity as a religion fit for a philosopher.  Yet he did not become a Christian then because he thought that he could never live a pure life.  One day, he heard about two men who had suddenly been converted upon reading the life of St. Antony, and he felt terribly ashamed of himself.  "What are we doing," he thought one day, "When unlearned people are being taken into heaven by force, while knowledgeable people are so cowardly that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins!"

Full of bitter sorrow, Augustine prayed to God to put an end to his sins.  At that very moment, he heard a child start to sing, "take up and read."  Viewing this as a sign from God, he picked up the book of the Letters of St. Paul, and read the first passage.  In that passage, St. Paul said to put away all impurity and to live in imitation of Jesus.  Augustine immediately converted to Christianity, was baptized along with his son, and began to live a new and holier life.  His mother, who had joined him in Italy, rejoiced at this answer to her prayers and hopes, though she died soon after his baptism.

As Augustine's appreciation for the scriptures grew, so did his dissatisfaction with his career in rhetoric.  He saw it as selfish, shallow, and wretched.  So, four years after his conversion in 386, Augustine became a priest at the age of 36.  He decided he wanted to write an autobiography of his life up to a time shortly after his conversion.  He entitled this book Confessions, and it demonstrates his intellectual brilliance, ardent temperament, and mystical insight.  His understanding of the Christian Revelation was depicted in his writings.  In the Confessions, he tells how he found the peace that he had sought outside himself had been inside himself all along, unacknowledged, and how he regretted that he had not found it sooner.  His analysis of time, memory, the nature of casualty, free will, and the fundamental emotions in this book are psychologically superb, and it is considered to be one of the greatest theological books ever written concerning the Christian Faith.

Augustine decided to return to his home in North Africa and was named the bishop of Hippo in 395.  He held this position until his death.  His years as bishop took place during a period of political and theological unrest: Barbarians sacked Rome and threats of schism and heresy plagued the Church especially in Northern Africa.  During the course of this conflict, Augustine developed his philosophy to explain original sin, divine grace, divine sovereignty and predestination.  He wrote The City of God in reply to those who said that the Roman Empire was falling apart because the Christians had taken over.  The place of prominence held by Augustine among the fathers of the Church is comparable to that of St. Paul among the apostles.

St. Augustine is thought to be one of the greatest saints who ever lived, being very devout and charitable.  He overcame great heresies, practiced great poverty and supported the poor, preached often and with great fervor up until his death.  "Too late have I loved you!" he once cried to God, but with his holy life he certainly made up for the sins he committed before his conversion.  He is the patron of brewers because of his conversion from a life of loose living which included parties, entertainment, and worldly ambitions.  His complete turnaround and conversion has been an inspiration to many who struggle with a particular vice or habit they long to break.

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