10 Things You Should Know About Augustine

“How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose . . . !"

“I cared nothing but to love and be loved. But my love went beyond the affection of one mind for another, beyond the arc of the bright beam of friendship. Bodily desire, like a morass, and adolescent sex welling up within me exuded mists which clouded over and obscured my heart, so that I could not distinguish the clear light of true love from the murk of lust” (Confessions, 2.2).

 

(1) Augustine was born on November 13, 354, in the small North African city of Thagaste. He died on Aug. 28, 430. His father, Patricius, was of the middle class and a pagan. He reportedly professed faith in Christ and was baptized just before his death in 370. Augustine’s relationship with his father was less than ideal, the latter allowing his son to do as he pleased. Augustine had an older brother (Navigius) and sister (whose name was never mentioned).

(2) Augustine’s mother, Monica, was a devout Christian who prayed for her son without fail. Her intercession was fueled by a dream in which she saw herself and Augustine walking hand-in-hand in heaven.

(3) At the age of 11 Augustine was sent to Madaura, 20 miles south of Thagaste, where he was trained in the classical poets and orators as well as Latin grammar. He stayed in Madaura until he was 16.

By his own confession, Augustine was a wild and lawless youth. He stole simply for the pleasure of stealing and excelled at lying. “He was thrashed repeatedly in school, for impudence and for playing dice and bones in class. Years later when he was an old man and wore the miter of a bishop, the memory of those thrashings remained vivid in his mind; he would conjure up in an agony of remorse the stripes on the bleeding flesh” (Robert Payne, “The Dark Heart Filled with Light,” Christian History, Issue 67 [Vol. XIX, No. 3], 12-13).

(4) At age 18 he went to Carthage where he soon became chief in the school of rhetoric. He obtained a mistress, with whom he lived for many years, who also bore him his only child, a son named Adeodatus (lit., “gift of God”).

(5) Augustine became engrossed in the theater and the imaginary joys and sorrows of its actors. He was set free from this fantasy world when he was introduced to philosophy through the reading of Cicero’s Hortensius. He was soon enamored with Manichaeism, a form of Gnostic philosophy that espoused a radical form of metaphysical dualism. The Manichaeans “believed in two eternal and equally powerful forces of good and evil locked in endless combat. Like Gnostics they attributed evil to matter – the creation of the evil principle – and good to spirit created by the good God of heaven” (Olson, 257). He remained a Manichaeist for 9 years.

He became disenchanted with Manichaeism after listening to one of its principal spokesmen, Faustus of Milevis. He went to Rome hoping to teach rhetoric, but when no openings became available he travelled to Milan and resumed his teaching career.

Read More