Who is Saint Augustine of Hippo?

St. Augustine is perhaps the most famous Doctor of the Catholic Church. He was born in Thagaste in North Africa (present-day northeastern Algeria) around AD 354. His father was a pagan and his mother was a Christian, he was raised as a Christian. By the age of sixteen, Augustine went to Carthage to study the law. His reorientation toward a philosophic came when he read Cicero’s Hortensius (a now lost dialogue). He took a lover as a young man who gave birth to a child (the boy died in young adulthood).

St. Augustine in his study by Sandro Botticelli (1494)

He converted to Manicheanism, a 3rd century Persian spiritual doctrine founded by a prophet named Mani during the Sassanid Empire. Augustine then founded his own school of rhetoric and grammar in Rome around AD 384. Augustine was a contemporary of Jerome, the great Latin translator of the Vulgate. He then became a professor in Milan where he came under the influence of Neoplatonism and St. Ambrose. After a dramatic inner conflict, Augustine was baptized in AD 387. He then returned to Africa to form his own religious community. He was ordained a priest in AD 391 against his wishes. Five years later he was appointed as Bishop of Hippo (present-day northeastern Algeria). He lived with his cathedral clergy for thirty-four years where he wrote a vast volume of work, of which 113 books survive to this day (the two most famous being Confessions and the City of God). Also more than 200 letters and 500 sermons survive to the present-day. His writings were instrumental in allowing Christianity to endure through the dark ages, with ideas like the doctrine of “original sin” and the concept of the “trinity” -the idea that God is one eternal substance embodied in three separate persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Augustine died in AD 430 on the cusp of the dying Roman Empire, just as the Vandals (an eastern Germanic tribe) were invading Hippo.

Earliest known portrait of St. Augustine (6th century Rome)

The Augustinian Order (Ordo sancti Augustini) was founded in 1244 in Italy. The Order follows the “Rule of Saint Augustine” -a document written to guide the monastic life away from extreme asceticism and toward a simple life of chastity, poverty, prayer, and other communal activities.

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