St. Augustine or love conquers all 

The life of St. Augustine is an intense itinerary of purification of love, passing from worldly loves to the love of God.

Enrique A. Eguiarte B. OAR-August 28, 2023-Reading time: 6 minutes
St. Augustine

Photo: Detail of the painting "Saint Augustine". Philippe de Champaigne.

The painter Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674) depicted St. Augustine holding a flaming heart in his hand, to imply that the thought and doctrine of St. Augustine can be summed up in love.

St. Augustine himself, once converted, will regret not having loved God before and will say: "Late I loved you, beauty so old and so new, late I loved you" (conf. 10, 38).

The life of St. Augustine is an intense journey of purification of love, passing from worldly loves to the love of God. For this reason, Augustine takes up a phrase of the pagan poet Virgil, who had said Omnia vincit amor. St. Augustine will say that it is not the love of this world, but the caritas, it is the love of God that conquers all. This is how St. Augustine understood it when he heard the voice in the garden of Milan inviting him to drink and read (Tolle lege) the letters of St. Paul. But Augustine's adventure had begun further afield.

Its early years

St. Augustine was born on November 13, 354 in Tagaste (today Souk Ahras in Algeria). His parents were St. Monica and Patricius. After studying in his hometown, he learned grammar in Madaura, and later Rhetoric in Carthage. In Carthage, when he was eighteen years old, he met a woman with whom he lived for fifteen years and with whom he had a son, whom he named Adeodatus (conf. 4, 2). 

After teaching Rhetoric in Carthage, he emigrated in 383 to Italy in search of new horizons (conf. 5, 14). 

Trip to Italy

In Italy he would find more formal students than those in Carthage, but they did not pay him his fees (conf. 5, 22). Therefore, when the post of official orator of the court of Emperor Valentinian II became vacant, St. Augustine took the tests established to choose the best candidate, and was chosen for his extraordinary gifts as an orator (conf. 5, 23). 

Around the year 385 St. Augustine left Rome for Milan where he met with the bishop of the city, St. Ambrose, and was impressed by the close and familiar welcome he received (conf. 5, 23). In Milan he fulfilled his mission as official orator of the court, and it fell to him to pronounce different oratorical pieces in the ephemeris of the imperial court. 

The beginning of your conversion

In Milan he decided to return to the religion in which his mother had taught him. In fact, St. Augustine was never a pagan. From his earliest childhood he had been brought to the Church where he received the rite of Christian initiation and became a catechumen of the Catholic Church (conf. 1, 17). For this reason, after having sought the truth by many paths the Manichean, the Platonic philosophers, the skeptics-he finally returned to the point where he had begun his search, the Catholic Church.

St. Ambrose's sermons showed him that the truth he was looking for was in the Catholic Church (conf. 5, 24) 

Touched and marked by the words of St. Ambrose, St. Augustine decided to break with his past life. To this end, after the scene of the Tolle Lege to which we have already referred (conf. 8, 29), gave up his classes in Rhetoric and resigned from the post of official orator at the court of Emperor Valentinian II. 

Baptism of St. Augustine

On Easter night in 387, St. Augustine was baptized in Milan by St. Ambrose (ep. 36, 32). That night the request that his mother, St. Monica, had insistently presented to God was fulfilled, for she prayed and shed abundant tears before God asking for her son's conversion (conf. 3, 21).

After his baptism, St. Augustine decided to become a monk and set out for the seaport of Ostia. In this city, together with his mother, he experienced the famous ecstasy of Ostia, where both, seated at the window overlooking the garden of the house in which they were staying, began to converse about the mysteries of God and eternal life, and gradually rose above the things of this earth until they touched for a brief moment the very mystery of God himself (conf. 9, 23). His mother Monica would die a short time later in the same city of Ostia, and would be buried there (conf. 9, 17)

Return to Tagaste and monastic life

In 388 St. Augustine returned to North Africa. At Tagaste he established the first monastery. St. Augustine had a dream of spending the rest of his life retired in a quiet monastic life, sharing with his brothers in community and writing his works (ep. 10, 2).

However, God's providence had other plans for him. Thus in 391 he made a trip to the city of Hippo (now Annaba, about 100 km north of Tagaste) to visit a friend and to see about the possibility of founding a second monastery in that city (s. 355, 2). When attending the liturgical celebration in that city, Bishop Valerius asked the faithful people to help him choose a new collaborator in the priestly ministry for the city of Hippo. The eyes of the whole assembly were fixed on St. Augustine. And as Hipponate himself points out (s. 355, 2), he was literally seized by the crowd and presented before Bishop Valerius so that he could be ordained.

Saint Augustine priest

As a priest, St. Augustine was called to fight against his former co-religionists, the Manichaeans. He would also begin his work against the Donatist schism that had afflicted North Africa for almost a century. 

The sermons that St. Augustine delivered as a priest were very numerous. He has left us many works of biblical commentaries from this stage of his life, such as the commentary on the Sermon on the Mount and the exposition of the Letter to the Galatians, among others.

St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

Bishop Valerius not only thanked God for having sent St. Augustine to him, but he had begun to fear that one day they would come from some diocese that had no bishop and take him away (Vita 8, 2). Therefore, he secretly asked the primate bishop for permission to ordain St. Augustine as bishop. Thus, around the year 395 or 396 St. Augustine was ordained a bishop. 

As a bishop, he wrote his most famous work, the Confessionsas well as multiple works of biblical exegesis, theological, apologetic, pastoral and moral works, as well as his Rule that would mark the entire Western monastic tradition. 

Several thousand sermons were delivered by St. Augustine as bishop, although only about six hundred are preserved today.

The city of God

In the year 410 an event happened that convulsed the world at that time. The Gothic troops of Alaric entered the city of Rome and sacked it for three days. As a consequence of these events the pagans accused the Christians of being guilty of the sacking of Rome. They said that Rome had suffered such a humiliation because the worship of the gods that had made Rome great had been abandoned. St. Augustine responded to these accusations with his masterpiece called The City of GodIn the first part, he criticizes history and pagan religion, and in the second part he exposes the birth, development and culmination of the city of God. In this work he reminds us that every believer is a pilgrim or stranger on this earth and is heading towards his eternal destiny in the city of God, where "we will rest and contemplate, contemplate and love, love and praise" (1).ciu. 22, 5).

St. Augustine and the second Christian hospital

An unknown facet of St. Augustine is his great interest in the poor and his own creativity to remedy their needs. In fact, he had a maticula pauperum (ep. 20*, 2)He was the first Augustinian hospital in Hippo, that is to say, a list of the poor of Hippo who were periodically helped, as well as a place to receive them, a sort of diocesan "caritas", something that did not exist in other dioceses of that time. But the great Augustinian social contribution is that he was the builder of the second Christian hospital in history. And if we take into account the Latin world, the work of St. Augustine is the first. Thus, in order to welcome and help the poor, emigrants and the sick, he ordered the construction of a building in Hippo which he called Xenodochium (s. 356, 10). Charity for St. Augustine was not just a beautiful theory, but implied a real commitment to the poor and needy. 

His last years and death

The last years of Augustine's life were not quiet, but were marked by various theological polemics and the unstoppable crumbling of the Western Roman Empire. 

In fact, St. Augustine died in a besieged city, since the Vandals had crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in 429, and had begun an unstoppable advance towards Carthage. In 430 they reached the city of Hippo and laid siege to it. 

St. Augustine died on August 28 at the age of 76 in a city in a state of anguish, surrounded by the enemy troops of the terrible Vandals. Nevertheless, St. Augustine died with the awareness that although something was dying with the fall of the Western Roman Empire, a new world was emerging, and his works would be a fundamental spiritual, human and theological guide for this new world.

The remains of St. Augustine are currently preserved in the Church of San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro in Pavia (Itaia). There, in the monumental ark dedicated to St. Augustine, we can see a recumbent image of the Bishop of Hippo at the top of the monument. This image holds an open book in his hands. This book is Sacred Scripture. St. Augustine is still alive in his works and every time we read his writings, he himself explains the Bible to us and invites us to an encounter with the inner Master, the same one who called him in the garden of Milan in 386 and who continues to call every man and woman to "Take and read" the Scriptures to discover in them that, in spite of all the sorrows, the love of God conquers everything (Omnia caritas vincits. 145, 5).

The authorEnrique A. Eguiarte B. OAR

Pontifical Patristic Institute Augustinianum (Rome)

La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.