Augustine of Hippo

Augustine of Hippo

Augustine of Hippo was born in Thagaste (present-day Souk Ahras, Algeria) on 13th November, AD 354. His father, Patricius was a pagan but his mother, Monica, was a devout Roman Catholic. When he reached the age of eleven he was sent to school at Madaurus. It was here that he came under the influence of the writings of Cicero.

In 371 he moved to Carthage in order to continue his education in rhetoric. He had been brought up by his mother as a strict Catholic but he abandoned his faith and lived with a woman who eventually gave birth to a son, Adeodatus. During this period Augustine taught grammar at Tagaste.

In 375 Augustine started his own school in Carthage. He was considered to be an outstanding teacher of rhetoric and in 383 opened a similar school in Rome. Although the school was not a financial success, he developed a reputation as a fine teacher and in 384 the prefect of the City of Rome, Symmachus, arranged for him to become professor of rhetoric for the imperial court at Milan.

Augustine's mother followed him to Milan and tried to persuade him to return to the Roman Catholic faith. He agreed to abandon his mistress and his mother arranged for him to marry a woman from a highly respectable family. However, he had to wait two years until his fiancée came of age and in the meantime began living with another woman. It was at this time that he made the comment: "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet".

In 386, Augustine read an account of the life of Saint Anthony of the Desert. This inspired him to return to the Catholic Church. He abandoned his teaching career in Milan and after cancelling his marriage plans, moved back to Africa. Soon afterwards, both his mother and son died.

Augustine gave his wealth to the poor and turned his house into a monastery. In 391 he was ordained a priest in Hippo Regius and over the next few years became an influential preacher. In 396 he was appointed as Bishop of Hippo. The following year he published The Confessions, a masterpeice of introspective autobiography.

Augustine wrote several books including City of God, in which he supported using coercive measures against paganism and non­ conformist Christianity and Augustine died in AD 430 during the siege of Hippo by the invading Vandals.

Primary Sources

(1) Augustine, Confessions (c. AD 428)

I could not see the use of things I was sent to school to learn... I disliked learning and hated to be forced... If I proved idle in learning, I was soundly beaten... But in spite of my terrors I still did wrong, by writing or reading or studying less than my set task... To this day I do not quite see why I so hated the Greek tongue that I was made to learn as a small boy... I hated Greek literature... I suppose that Virgil affects Greek boys when they are compelled to learn him as Homer affected me.

(2) Augustine, Confessions (c. AD 428)

When I was about sixteen I developed a passion for stage plays. How is it that a man wants to be made sad by the sight of tragic sufferings that he could not bear in his own person. Yet the spectator does want to feel sorrow, and it is actually his feeling of sorrow that he enjoys... the more the author of these fictions makes the audience grieve, the better they like him.

(3) Augustine, Confessions (c. AD 428)

One day Alypius met some friends and fellow-students coming from dinner: and though he flatly refused they forced him along ,with them to the amphitheatre on the day of these cruel and murderous dames... When they had reached the Arena they got such seats as they could... Alypius closed up the door of his eyes and forbade his mind to pay attention to things so evil. If only he could have stopped his ears too! For at a certain critical point in the fight, the vast roar of the whole audience beat upon him. His curiosity got the better of him and he opened his eyes... Seeing the blood he drank deep of the savagery. He did not turn away but fixed his gaze upon the sight. He drank in all the frenzy, with no thought of what had happened to him, revelled in the wickedness of the contest and was drunk with lust for blood.